What Is Neapolitan Tailoring?
Neapolitan tailoring, known for its modern style, has roots dating back to the 14th century with the formation of the Confraternita dell’arte dei Giubbonai e Cositori, the oldest tailoring association in Italy. Members created ready-to-wear men’s garments and sold them to royalty and the wealthy.
In the late 19th century, after Italy’s unification and Naples’ financial decline, tailors such as Giacchino Trifari and Filippo De Nicola dressed the remaining wealthy residents. Suiting by Neapolitan tailors closely resembled those made in Savile Row or Rome until Vincenzo Attolini, an apprentice at Gennaro Rubinacci’s British-inspired London House, created a new style of Neapolitan tailoring in the 1930s. Rubinacci, an ‘arbiter elegantiarum’, suggested a more unstructured, unlined, and unpadded suit that would better suit Naples’ hot and humid climate. Attolini combined this with inspiration from Roman tailor Domenico Caraceni’s soft lines to create the unique style that we recognize as Neapolitan tailoring.
This new style of Neapolitan tailoring quickly gained popularity among the residents of Naples and soon spread to other parts of Italy and eventually the world. Today, Neapolitan tailoring is known for its soft, unstructured, and natural look, which is achieved through the use of high-quality fabrics and a focus on craftsmanship and attention to detail. The style is often associated with a relaxed, Mediterranean aesthetic, and is often worn by those looking for a more casual and comfortable alternative to traditional, structured tailoring. Despite its origins in the past, Neapolitan tailoring continues to evolve and adapt to modern tastes, making it a timeless and enduring style.
The Neapolitan jacket is defined by a number of distinct features that set it apart from other traditional styles of tailoring. These include an extended dart on the jacket front, a generous lapel with a high gorge and notch, minimal lining or no lining at all, a boat-shaped chest pocket, a three-roll-two button stance, curved patch pockets, and a double handmade backstitch on the lapels and pockets.
However, it is in the shoulders where Neapolitan tailoring truly shines. Unlike the heavily padded and structured shoulders of other tailors, Neapolitan jackets feature soft, unstructured shoulders that require a high level of skill and precision to execute. The jacket features a high and snug armhole into which a larger sleevehead is carefully handstitched, creating a shirring effect known as ‘grinze’ which is highly prized by aficionados of Neapolitan tailoring. The shoulder is also characterized by a backward-oriented center seam that creates a natural and comfortable embrace around the neck.
In addition to the unique shoulder construction, Neapolitan tailors are also known for their use of luxurious fabrics, such as high-quality wool and cashmere blends, as well as their attention to detail and craftsmanship. The jackets are often left unstructured, unlined and unpadded, which gives them a relaxed and natural look, as well as making them more comfortable to wear in hot and humid climates. The Neapolitan tailors also put emphasis on the fit and balance of the jacket, ensuring that it flatters the wearer’s body shape, and that the proportions are aesthetically pleasing.
The Neapolitan tailoring tradition continues to be passed down from generation to generation, and today, there are still many master tailors in Naples who continue to uphold the standards and techniques of this iconic style. The city of Naples is considered the center of Neapolitan tailoring and many of the best tailors can be found there, but the style is also appreciated and used by tailors around the world.
When it was first introduced, the revolutionary new Neapolitan style of tailoring was not an instant success. The style, characterized by its soft, unstructured, and natural look, was considered avant-garde and took time to gain popularity. However, the style’s creator Vincenzo Attolini and his grandson Massimiliano, who runs the Cesare Attolini brand, didn’t give up. They developed the ‘Neapolitan System’ in which instead of one tailor making an entire garment, individual craftsmen specialized in a particular task, allowing for increased expertise, efficiency, and speed in the production process.
This artisanal production line method is now used by many tailors in Naples, such as the house of Enrico Isaia and Kiton, which was founded in 1968 by Ciro Paone and now led by his nephew Antonio ‘Toto’ De Matteis. Attolini produces around 11,000 suits per year, each requiring 30 man-hours of work, while Kiton turns out 20,000 jackets per year. Bespoke Rubinacci suits, on the other hand, take 54 man-hours to make from scratch, but can be turned around in a week for those with tight deadlines.
Antonio Panico, who started tailoring at the age of 12, opened his own workshop on Naples’ Via Carducci after spending 22 years with Rubinacci, where he oversees a team of 12 craftsmen creating bespoke garments, with his heirs Luigi and Paola in training. Orazio Luciano, who established his eponymous house in 1992, and his son Pino, not only create bespoke garments but also have a rapidly expanding ready-to-wear line, crafted in the same exacting standards.
Another father-and-son team, Gennaro and Luigi Solito, specialize in lightweight and reasonably priced bespoke suiting, primarily in the traditional Neapolitan style, but with a willingness to deviate from the traditional style if the customer desires. Sartoria Caliendo also creates traditional Neapolitan style garments, but with a focus on the signature Neapolitan ‘waterfall’ effect caused by the shirring. Sartoria Dalcuore, founded in 1966 by Luigi ‘Gigi’ Dalcuore, creates ultra-snug and soft garments that have won a large following in recent years, particularly in the far east, thanks to the efforts of his daughter Cristina and son-in-law Damiano Annunziato in expanding their market and social media presence.
The Neapolitan tailoring style was created for wealthy aristocrats who had the time and resources to perfect a sharp but laidback sartorial model, tailored to their lifestyle and surroundings. Today, the style is not only popular in Naples, but also around the world, making it an empire in the world of tailoring.