Going Bespoke in Palermo, Sicily

There are a million and one places in the world to visit, each with its own unique beauty. But I keep finding myself going back to Sicily.

Perhaps it’s because it reminds me so much of my home state of California: a semi-arid terrain with an incredibly varied landscape full of jaw-dropping natural beauty across the spectrum. Within Sicily’s borders are craggy mountains, some reaching over 10,000 feet with snowy ski slopes, and sandy beaches with crystal blue coves and serene waves lapping at the shore. Sure, it has its share of problems – the plumbing in the old part of centuries-old cities often sucks, work can be scarce, lame graffiti is commonplace, and the many of the tunnels need lights. Sicily is not perfect, but really, what place is? Things may take a little longer to accomplish, but that’s not always a bad thing. On the contrary, many, including myself, find opportunity to appreciate the hidden gems that the region has to offer.

One of these gems is classic men’s tailoring. A dying art all over the world, only a handful of tailoring houses still remain, with prices that preclude most from enjoying it firsthand. Nonetheless, viable options can still be found in Sicily, with a few sartorias offering a bespoke suit well within the means of most. The last time I was in Sicily, I visited and commissioned pieces from two small tailoring houses in Messina and Catania. This time, on the recommendation of a dear Italian friend in Marsala, I visited a sartoria called I Sarti Italiani. Their main factory is in Montelepre, with two showrooms in the center of Palermo and Marsala.

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Up to this point, my experience with bespoke has been with small shops, with one guy doing everything – taking measurements, cutting, fitting, and finishing, with the help of one or two family members. I Sarti Italiani is a much bigger operation, employing a group of tailors, each devoted to doing one or two specific steps of the bespoke process. I first went to their main factory to meet up with Salvo, who manages the place and also serves as one of the main fitters. He was kind enough to meet up after working hours, where he walked me around the first floor factory of numerous workstations, peppered with padded desks, ironing boards, steamers, and sewing machines of various types. Everything is made in-house, with a combination of machine-stitch and hand-stitched parts.

Salvo himself is a young man with a renaissance flair and a vast knowledge of tailoring. Whereas most younger Italians only subscribe to the mega-slim cut that has been en vogue for the past 20 years, Salvo knows and appreciates time-honored styles and proportions. When I tried to explain in my limited caveman Italian that I’m going for Gianni Agnelli, with slightly extended shoulders and a lower-than-current notch lapel gorge, he immediately nodded his head and smiled in recognition. “Capisco perfettamente,” he responded, “Lo stile classico.” The fabric being corduroy, he asked which way I’d like the fabric to run. This is because when you rub corduroy in the direction it falls, it stays dark; rub it the opposite way and you’ll feel a little resistance and see the color brighten a bit as the light hits it differently. Small, but important details – you don’t want the top and bottom to run different ways on a corduroy suit, or it’ll look off, and not in a good way. I chose the fabric to run down, so that when I or others rub it (as they often do with corduroy) it’ll feel softer.

After a few days I met up with Salvo at the showroom in Marsala, where Marco Bono manages and oversees the fitting. Outfitted in a perfectly proportioned double-breasted navy suit, semi-spread collar and plain navy tie, one can easily see that Marco recognizes how menswear should fit. “Most suits are too tight,” he lamented, “but everyone looks better in a classic suit.”

When Salvo arrived with the basted suit, we talked about the shape of the patch pockets (come una melanzana), and after ripping off the sleeve and opening the suit to check out the innards, he explained all of the components (horsehair, canvassing) and how they’re attached (sewn, not glued). Since the fabric was a dark brown corduroy, I opted for horsehair canvas to go about 3/4 of the way down, giving shape where necessary in the chest and torso while keeping the overall weight and silhouette soft.

The jacket was to have a 3-roll-2 closure with straight 11cm lapels, shoulders were to have minimal padding, the sleeves manica a camicia, two sleeve buttons spaced apart, and pick stitching a little away from the edge in the same color as the fabric. Pants were to sit just below my navel, with one pleat, slightly fuller thighs, no belt loops, side tabs, buttons for braces, an extended front closure, and 5cm cuffs. He chalked several marks on the back and sides, another to turn the right sleeve to accommodate my lower shoulder, and we made plans to see each other again.

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The day before my departure, I met up with Salvo at the Palermo showroom for the second fitting. That way, if anything needed to be tweaked, he could have it done before I left. However, after putting it on, nothing needed to be done. After his colleague brought an espresso over from the cafe next door, Salvo pulled out the suit for me to try on, and any doubts I had immediately vanished.

The jacket sits just past my shoulders, the sleeves have minimal pleating, and the arms fall almost straight down, with no divots. The notch lapel is a little closer to the classic height, the back of the jacket covers my rear, and the pants sit so that the back of the leg falls straight down – “a piombo.” It stops at the middle of the shoe in the back with a very slight break in the front. Everything fits perfectly, all details and requests were followed exactly as requested, and I got a personalized wax-sealed guarantee covering any future alterations, in case of over-indulgence of pasta and gelato.

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In mainland Italy and abroad, you’d pay anywhere from $1500-$4000 – or even more – for the work involved in the bespoke process. At I Sarti Italiani, I paid full price at less than 500 Euro, excluding fabric. Needless to say, I left the showroom on such a high I wondered if there wasn’t something else in the espresso.

San Francisco is my home, and despite the grime of the Tenderloin, the crazies on Market Street, and the tent encampments strewn about, I still think it’s the best city there is. It’s not perfect, but there’s so much to love that I love it anyway, warts and all. Sicily may not be perfect either, but if I could choose a place to retire, I’m placing my money there, where I can enjoy my golden years with views of the Mediterranean, a short walk away from a sandy beach and an amaro and a short drive away from a bustling city and a tailor.

Just to be clear, I paid full price for the suit, and no plans are being made for “reimbursement” by the sartoria later.

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Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.

34 thoughts on “Going Bespoke in Palermo, Sicily

    • There are both cheaper and more expensive options available in Sicily, but I Sarti Italiani is more affordable than most.

  1. Nice report but please do not even think of retiring in Sicily. A great place to visit but if you live there you will deal with the ponderous hand of the Mafia (that other little “problem” in Sicily you neglected to mention) every day, in ways large and small. Think you own your home in Sicily, or have an ironclad lease? Not if la cosa nostra decides it’s theirs.

    • Everyone’s personal experience is different, but judging from the many friends and family I have in Sicily, the Mafia primarily has moved on to involvement in big business and government contracts. This, of course, is similar to what occurs in other countries, and the real crooks, as the saying goes, are in the conference rooms. I’ve no qualms about retiring there.

      • You’re right Peter, it can go well or not so well depending on the situation. As someone who works part of every year in Italy (with Italian colleagues who have, shall we say, interesting stories from Sicily) and who also plans to retire in the country, I would at the very least not invest a lot of my retirement savings on the island. As the rather cynical but wise saying over there goes, “Fidarsi è buono, non fidarsi è meglio.” But I do look forward to putting my trust in one of local tailors you have visited and I thank you for your reporting.

        • It’s naïve, to be sure, to be blind to the possibility of danger. Fortunately I have quite a few consiglieri that have helped me navigate the waters of the Mediterranean and the bureaucracy. I agree, it’s best not to have all ones eggs in a single basket; it helps to have dual citizenship 🙂

        • D’accordo. Let’s get together in Italy when we are old retired men for un caffe or una grappa!

    • Salve piacere , il mio nome è Salvo ( il sarto che ha avuto il piacere di conoscere Peter e realizzargli d’ abito) vorrei precisare che la Mafia PURTROPPO e ovunque sia in Italia, Giappone,America etc… abbandoniamo lo stereotipo SICILIA=MAFIA assolutamente non è così , la Sicilia è tanto tanto altro…, cultura, buon cibo, mare, sole, montagne, neve, paesaggi, monumenti, etc.etc… è un isola che ha tanti problemi, ma non è più la mafia da diverso tempo…

        • Grazie Salvo, sono d’accordo c’è tanto altro in Sicilia, uno dei posti più belli nel mondo. Comunque, nella mia esperienza (e quello con i miei colleghi), è anche un posto dove si può stare attento con gli affari per certe ragione non detto, soprattutto con immobili. La situazione è proprio triste, ma la verità è difficile. Non voglio rapire questo filo, poi non dirò di più. Invece, voglio dire che mi piace molto i tuoi vestiti e spero impegnarseti qualche volta.

  2. Another great write-up, Peter. It’s nice to get front-line bespoke storytelling.

    What do you think about the length of the jacket? It seems a little short to me–shorter than your other Sicilian jackets–but that might be the camera angle or a request so that you can wear it separately. It still looks very nice, of course. That just jumped out at me. Beautiful suit, though I’m surprised you didn’t go DB!

    • It’s shorter than the Palmisciano but the same length as the Arrigo. Allllllllmost went DB but I may save that for the olive corduroy 😉

      • Ah, interesting about the length. I think I now remember discussion about it when you posted the first Arrigo and Palmisciano jackets. I guess I prefer the longer jacket, but as I said, the new one looks good. Looking forward to the DB!

        • Personally I have a sweet spot for the length of a jacket of about one centimeter. This one is as short as I would ever want it, but still falls within that range. I decided to try a darker fabric first, since it’s generally more flattering and, more to the point, hides imperfections better, should there be any. Usually it takes me about a month of wearing a suit before I decide what I would change/do different the next visit to the tailor.

  3. Your Sicilian bespoke adventure is fantastic Peter. Visited Arrigo this autumn based on your thread, guess we have to visit Palermo next year!

      • Was on the east coast from beginning to mid September, got a navy hopsack VBC single breasted jacket made with Arrigo, I posted a couple of photos from the last fitting. Of course, as you say, the “romanticism” about the family sartoria is something some of us is nostalgic about, but I have to pop into Palermo next time!

  4. Thanks, Peter! Wonderful write-up and wonderful suit. What’s the composition of the corduroy? Did you bring it yourself?

  5. Hi Peter, may I please ask how much the fabric was? Is this the reason you were recently stuck in Zurich? I saw that post too late, otherwise I would have met you for a coffee. I’m a big fab of your articles here and your waywn posts. Best regards, Nathan

    • Hi Nathan, thanks for the kind words. I purchased the wool corduroy from Sultan’s Fine Fabrics in Canada. I wish I could say how much I Sarti Italiani charge for fabric, but I assume it’s similar to other tailoring houses. They carry Zegna, Drapers, and VBC, among others. Edmorel sells great stuff from these makers too.

  6. Peter, thank you for the tip! I love Italy though I have never been to Sicily, but I will now. The price is very reasonable, but what do you believe would have been the price if they provided the material?

    • Hi Oscar, I can only guess as to their prices; I didn’t ask. I’d guess it’s about the same as other tailoring houses, depending on the cloth.

  7. Ah, I see you brought the fabric with you. In that case, approx how much are their own fabrics, if you know? Best regards, Nathan

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