Tailors find inspiration in their relationships with clients
around the world.
In a basement room on a street where motor bikes and honking
horns drown out even the insistent church bells, Davide Tofani is
working on a typical Neapolitan soft jacket. "When I make a suit, it
is like shaping a second skin of my customer," the tailor says. "I
cannot imagine making a suit without knowing the body that will use
Over the last century, the personal tailor, working one to one
with a client, has become as symbolic of Naples as its Roman
sculptures and Baroque churches. Many men socializing with friends
on the city streets or sitting on public benches wear elegant
jackets, in tweed or linen, lightweight, unstructured -- and
indisputably tailor made.
And the Neapolitan tailors seem to be more successful than the
chaotic city itself in moving further into the 21st century. Like
the waters of the bay that rise and fall along the coastline, they
have had good years and bad. But, today, the bespoke suit is back
and doing well, even against the challenge of factory-made ready to
To show that the tide of tailoring has turned, the big names in
Naples have opened stores around the world. They also fly experts
to their clients or offer them a home-away-from-home welcome in
Rubinacci is one of those names. The store here is on Via Chiaia
in part of the historic Palazzo Cellamare, with its imposing
staircase and history of lodging the artist Caravaggio. The
tailors, who work by hand in rooms above the shop, have views of the
vast stone building right down to the swell of the sea in the bay.
Mariano Rubinacci, sitting in the April sunshine on a bench in
front of the store, looks like an old-school tailor in an impeccable
jacket and one of the same smart ties on sale in the store beneath a
picture of his father. Yet he and his family are constantly
traveling. His son Luca is the brand's creative director and he "is
always in a plane from Kazakhstan to New York, Korea or Singapore,"
Mr. Rubinacci said. His daughter Chiara complements her twin brother
by running the seven-year-old store in Mount Street, London.
Mr. Rubinacci said he was proud that more than 20 of his 35
tailors are younger than 40. "I have my son. I have to build
something for him," the master tailor said.
Out of the city center, in the industrial area of Arzano, is the
home of Kiton. The brand is recognized worldwide for its tailoring,
created in a cluster of buildings linked by a glass corridor that
displays formal pieces from the wardrobe of the duke of Windsor, the
British king who abdicated for love.
Kiton was founded in 1956 by Ciro Paone, a fifth-generation
fabric merchant who made a visionary move into tailoring, according
to his nephew, Antonio De Matteis, now the company's chief
executive. Another nephew, Antonio Paone, is president and runs the
business in the United States.
In the workers' canteen, Mr. Paone, who uses a wheelchair as the
result of a stroke, lunches with other working members of his
family, including his daughter Raffaella and her cousins.
The company is housed in an elegant palazzo decorated with
historic furniture and modern art bought to celebrate each
profitable year. Behind these flourishes, attached to the back of
the building, is the vast workshop for Kiton's 350 tailors, who
create front panels, backs, collars, pockets or lapels in the
handwork factory. (A traditional bespoke tailor would make the
entire jacket with his own hands. …