I’ve had an itch for some time. It’s been tickling me ever since my first trip to the International menswear show in Florence that is Pitti Uomo.
It’s a condition known as Italophilia – “the admiration, general appreciation or love of Italy, its culture, society, arts and/or people.”
For me, it’s their threads that I adore, and of course, the flair, confidence and way in which they are worn. The Italian dandy, in all his finery, is the espresso sipping peacock of this planet.
Ever since I got into the game, I’ve been seduced by the royalty of Italian bespoke tailoring.
Brands like Zegna, Brioni and Kiton need no introduction, and every suit connoisseur will have Attolini, Panico, Liverano & Liverano, and Rubinacci on their radar.
Talking generally, the Italian style is softer than the English look, with less canvas and wadding inside their garments and a more natural shoulder.
The overall style is often more laid back, embracing the spirit of sprezzatura, creating an air of nonchalance and invoking a rakish, devil-may-care attitude.
I will always love the hallmarks of a typically English suit – an imposing shoulder line, a chest (like soft armour) that curves powerfully down to a nipped in waist and a slightly flared skirt.
To me, it speaks of tradition. Dignity. Dependability. A sense of order. Gentlemanly values.
It is, of course, entirely possible that underneath this cloak of respectability lies a bounder of the highest order, but, taken at first sight, a chap will be given the benefit of the doubt.
There are many occasions when a level of formality is entirely appropriate, and this is the perfect backdrop for an English suit to shine.
That said, there are times when we can take a chill-pill, lower our guard, and wear clothes that will help bring out the more playful, unencumbered side to our personality.
This is the time to go Italiano.
Well this month, the time came to scratch my Italian itch, fly to Pisa and find my inner Giuseppe.
It started with a whisper from an Italian cloth agent. A workroom, near Florence, tucked away in the tumbling countryside, with thirty people making a product to rival that of Brioni and Kiton.
I investigated further and liked what I heard (apart from the price!). Cloth was despatched and last week I headed out for a first fitting on my trial garment.
First of all I was introduced to their cutter and striker, pictured below. Would you believe the cutter (on the right) is fifty one years old?
What better argument for a diet of red wine, olive oil and mamma’s cooking!
Next it was a trip round the workroom and everything that you’d expect from a low volume, top-notch operation.
Full canvas construction throughout, absolutely everything sewn by hand (here’s a clip of an Italian Button Hole being made), and my god, the enthusiasm for their work was exceptional.
One lady glowed with pride, her bejewelled hands dancing through the air, as she sang the importance of using, not just the eye, but touch and ‘intuizione’, when positioning canvas and pads.
It was then to the office where I was fitted by their master-tailor.
How refreshing and enjoyable to be ‘the customer!’
As far as first fittings go, it was straight sailing. The sleeves were slimmed, coat shortened, fronts cut away a bit, button position raised a touch. Minor tweaking. Balance and fit, spot on.
The cutter had clearly done his job well and taken into account my square shoulders, drop right and slightly sway stance.
It was then finally down to the nitty-gritty and a huddle with the master-tailor and their pattern cutter.
It is vital that I understand exactly what inlays are provided, the location of balance points, and when I ask for key measures (such as the finished half waist), we are all on the same page as to where, and how, they are taken.
This is when the fireworks began. Italians are generally passionate people, that’s what I love about them. They are noisy, wave their hands around in the air like a Jewish mother on amphetamine sulphate, and will argue their point like their life depends on it.
We got there in the end, hugged it out (totally true!) and, you guessed it, headed out for a very late lunch.
The place had no frills. Clean, quirky, a very warm welcome, three things on the specials board and I can honestly say, the best bowl of risotto I’ve ever eaten.
In three weeks time, the finished threads will land and then the judge and jury is out.
I’ve paid top dollar and my expectation is high. The quality of finishing is everything and all that passion, time and energy invested in its creation, will hopefully give me the fit and feel I’m looking for.
It’s busy times here at Michelsberg Tailoring. Whilst the “British Bespoke” remains the back-bone of my business, we are also looking at other manufacturing partners, and not standing still for a second.
Whilst this may mean more late night tussles with the customer service kings of Ryan air, on the upside, the wardrobes of Messers Anderson and Michelsberg, are not looking too shabby.