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Naples, Kiton: suits

22 July 2011

My most extensive visit while in Naples this week was around Kiton’s factory, which is just outside the city. It is a big, well-aired facility that serves a frankly cracking lunch. I’ve never had mozzarella like it. All of the hundreds of staff eat the same food in the same hall overlooking the main suitmaking floor (above), which is peopled by cutters at one end, 10 presses down one side and little clusters of men and women sewing by hand and chatting amiably.

Not that everything is done by hand. Obviously things like side seams on jacket and trousers are done at least initially by sewing machine, as they are at any tailor. But in an interesting switch in priorities, every suit is cut by hand yet most are padded by machine.

The cutters receive a docket for every suit, and cut each individually even if it means the same thing 20 times in a row. The factory currently has 13 cutters. They then pass on the pieces to be checked and have their linings and internal structure attached. The chest pieces are very light, a mix of linen and horsehair, but have all been sewn together in advance.

The exception is the K-50 or Lasa (laboratorio sartoriale), which makes up a small proportion of production but will receive greater emphasis from this Autumn/Winter season. With Lasa, everything is cut, padded and made by a single tailor. No paper or plastic pattern is used. Next season’s catalogue proudly names the 10 tailors that have been selected from the hundreds at Kiton to do just this work.

The switch of priorities from padding to cutting and finishing is all the more striking when you see the handwork going on elsewhere. There are about 10 groups of tailors, each comprising 8-12 people, arranged around low, square tables and doing one particular process by hand. One cuts and sews on the pockets; one cuts, constructs and sews on the collars; three full tables are dedicated to attaching the sleeves, easing between 2 and 2.5 times as much sleeve into the scye; two tables just sew the buttonholes.

You could argue there is less need for hand padding with the lightweight cloths and canvas Kiton uses. I’m not sure I’d agree. But either way, there are distinct advantages to cutting each suit by hand. It makes the Kiton system very flexible, with made to measure orders easy to incorporate and the managers of individual shops able to order specific cuts or constructions that they think will best suit their local customers.

Riccardo Renzi, for example, a good friend and the London manager, plans to have all suits for his store shifted to a ratio of 2.5 sleeve to scye from next season onwards. He also has all ties for London made slightly longer (ties are also all cut individually), at around 150cm rather than a standard 146cm. He also knows the man that does the chest and shoulders for all his suits – the code for London, 786, is etched in biro on that tailor’s wooden workbench – so he can ensure they have the light construction he prefers.

Ciro Paone, the founder of Kiton, is frequently quoted by staff and management. In describing his approach to the workforce, family members (and therefore management) at lunch said his philosophy was “nothing should be rigid and driven by targets, you could stitch, smoke a cigarette, stitch, drink a coffee”. Of course, smoking is no longer allowed inside, but the relaxed and artisanal air still pervades the air in what should not really be called a factory.

For pictures of the suit process, see post here.

In future posts: shirts, shoes and ties. Shirts I found the most impressive and different from anything produced in the UK or US. Shoes are an interesting mix of English benchmade and bespoke.