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Naples, Kiton: shirts

29 July 2011

I mentioned in my previous post on the Kiton factory outside Naples that the shirt manufacturing impressed me post. In fact, it wasn’t so much the manufacturing operation as the handwork that resulted – something you can see on any Kiton shirt in a brand/outlet near you.

Only two things on the shirt are done by sewing machine. These are the edges of the collars and cuffs (so as to be cleaner) and the side seams up the body and sleeves (to be stronger).

Even on the side seams, however, machine stitching is followed by handwork. The latter is so that the shirt body can move more easily, and is less likely to permanently stretch, while the former is merely a back up to keep the parts together. Most shirts use two lines of machine stitching on the side seams (T&A’s certainly do). This creates a hard little ridge of cloth that should be less comfortable than a hand-sewn edge.

The bottom of the shirt is all finished by hand, delicately turned over like a hand-rolled handkerchief. The cuff is attached by hand, gradually easing in the fullness of the sleeve (though some are also folded in pleats, if the customer or store prefers). The sleeve is similarly attached.

Whether these make any difference to the comfort of the shirt is hard to tell. I couldn’t help buying one myself, and it did feel lovely, but that may just be the flyaway cotton it was made from. I equally cannot judge the longevity of the seams.

But one obvious benefit is the hand-sewing of the collar, which is upturned and fastened with a pin, before the tailor sews it onto the shirt in a circle. In much the same way as a collar being sewn onto a bespoke jacket, this means the shirt collar retains its shape even when unbuttoned. It is less likely to collapse beneath that bespoke jacket when you wear it (and this I can attest to).

Other interesting details are that Kiton uses no interlining down the placket of its shirt, which is actually cheaper but makes it lighter to wear. That placket is basted back onto the shirt by hand. All the buttonholes are sewn by hand, which seems like an awful lot of effort to someone used to closely examining the buttonholes on his suits. The buttons are also sewn on by hand, using the ‘chicken foot’ or three-pointed technique to demonstrate this.

And finally the collar is an interesting mix of fused and floating construction, with a light, floating canvas throughout for comfort but fused sections at both ends to keep them sharper.

Many Neapolitan shirts include hand sewing, where English shirts at the same price would not. Borrelli shirts are a good example, and very good value for the amount of handwork they require. So Kiton is not alone.

But Kiton is the only shirtmaker to include all these steps, and is constantly aiming to innovate. Sebastiano, the head of Kiton’s shirts and in fact a scion of the Borrelli family, is a fantastic example of this.

While I was at the factory Sebastiano, Riccardo (Renzi, London store manager) and I discussed many new points and models. One I particularly liked, being made for the anniversary of Italy’s unification, was a very lightweight shirt made in a long-sleeve polo style. Somehow there was just enough room to get the shirt over the shoulders, while remaining narrow at the waist.

Here’s to a wonderful shirt maker.