Naples and its tailors
5 March 2012
Neapolitan coffee, at KitonI was in Naples last week for this site and The Rake, talking to tailors, shoemakers and those of associated crafts. It was nice to spend a few days in the city and get to the point where I knew my way around, where I had never really had time previously.
One of the things I always find interesting in such trips is how priorities vary between tailoring cultures. Not just the different styles to a lapel, but the little things that are so accepted as to be rarely discussed in one city, yet ubiquitously contradicted in another.
Little things like buttons. English tailors will use unpolished horn buttons 90% of the time. A polished button is considered showy, too like ready-to-wear, perhaps a little too similar to plastic. Certainly the difference between a polished horn button and a good fake on a Ralph Lauren jacket is far less pronounced. Most Neapolitans consider this silly, polishing their horn (as it were), and using corozo nut buttons as often as horn – which can look even more like plastic.
Silk lining in jackets is another. I remember when I was first learning about bespoke and speaking to English tailors, everyone said exactly the same thing about linings: synthetic silks like bemberg are much better, for longevity and breathability. So how come no one in Naples uses it, where the weather is that much hotter? Even in fully lined jackets.
To stray onto something a little more fundamental, the attitude to hand work, particularly on shirts, is completely different. One young Neapolitan gentleman genuinely told me “I’d simply die if I couldn’t wear shirts with handsewn buttonholes.” It was rather Anthony Blanche. And yet, as I pointed out, English shirtmakers put no hand work into their shirts – even the aspects that could be considered more functional, less aesthetic, like attaching sleeves or sewing collars in the round. These guys love English brands; but they don’t quite agree with their principles.
There are hundreds of differences. (Buttonholes on jackets being another. Fine or double-sewn work is considered rather foppish and associated with north Italy or France, yet a waterfall at the sleevehead is not.)
I have deliberately steered away from differences that are obviously matters of taste, such as padding and pocket shapes. The number of little things that remain should perhaps serve as a warning to anyone who takes his principles of tailoring too straight or too seriously.
Writer Giancarlo Maresca, with Talarico umbrellaPhotography: Luke Carby