Since the middle of December, I’ve been in Italy visiting the in-laws. We made a few little trips here and there for purposes of tourism, did a short tour of Emilia Romagna, enjoyed many delicious meals, and–of course–did some shopping during the Italian seasonal sales period. Additionally, we visited Florence as well, partly because it is a city filled with art, but also because my wife was working there during Pitti Uomo. During Pitti, I managed to make it into the Fortezza briefly, but I spent most of my time helping out with the Styleforum Maker Space. And I have to say it was a blast to hang out with so many charming people-while having bountiful aperitivi with decent wine, tasty mozzarella di bufala from Caserta, and salumi from the Tuscan countryside. The conversations ranged from materials and construction methods, to typical wines and dishes, to customer service and business practices.
Unfortunately Winson shoes couldn’t attend because of visa issues, but the other artisans more than made the experience great. At the Styleforum Maker Space there were Salvatore from I Sarti Italiani, Marco from Belisario Camicie, Alya from a.b.k. leather goods, and Frank and Jen from GIIN. Everyone was quite friendly, knowledgeable about their respective crafts, and their products were all impressive. If you had visited, you would have found yourself talking to individuals who genuinely find joy in their professions and care deeply about their crafts. From each one, you would have learned little secrets, such as the differences between types of mother of pearl buttons and shells, or which sections of a shirt or jacket require hand stitching and which can be machine stitched.
Over three days, talking with Frank and Jen from GIIN provided me with inspiration their passion and enthusiasm for their product, brand and work is enthralling. Frank is turning under garments on their head, making bonded products with a mix of long fiber cotton and polyester, blending the two together to create a fabric that exhibits the best of both worlds. He provided me with some to try, and I have to say that I am convinced (look forward to a review in the near future). On the other hand, the boutonnieres, the mainstay of their exhibition, were exquisite as always. Their display showed the materials at different steps, and they spoke with great respect about the Japanese artisan who created the process. These flowers were a hit with the Italians, who were shocked to see delicate flowers that were outside of the normal flow of time.
The leather goods from a.b.k. were impressive, especially for those who have a more street wear or rustic aesthetic. I talked with Alya about saddle stitching and vegetable tanned leathers as she sat in the corner hand stitching a pair of shoes that were being custom made for a foreign client. Her leather goods exuded a sort of aesthetic that embodied her personality itself, a reserved but passionate spirit that cares about the quality of the goods and the materials. She told me a wonderful story about the leathers that she works with, most of which come from a small tannery in the south of France that is run by two elderly gentlemen, who have been processing hides for many years in natural and historical methods. Her work combines this historical artisanship for materials with handcrafted methods to craft pieces that would last for a long time, growing more beautiful as they develop patinas through use.
I had used Belisario Camicie in the past to order online some shirts, and they came out well, so I decided to talk with Marco Belisario about modifying my shirts to the exact way that I wanted them. I ended up ordering a shirt with all my vezzi preferiti, including manica mappina and hand sewn buttons a giglio. I was amused that I had recently seen a friend of mine order a su misura shirt from another well-established shirt maker in Italy, only to have a fraction of the options and measurements taken in contrast to Belisario. Marco took a large number of measurements and some photos to create a paper pattern to compensate for my uneven shoulders and sleeve lengths, as well as for my watch on my wrist. He even consulted with the tailor from I Sarti Italiani to best determine how to address my bodies particularities. We discussed the size of armholes, and settled on a slimmer, high armhole as per my preferences. In addition, Marco allows you to choose which handsewn properties you want on the shirt, so I settled for what I most wanted aesthetically. They have a wide selection of different choices for collars (including one of the best one piece, open collars I’ve ever seen–they call it Ischia), buttons, and offer both fused and unfused cuffs and collars.
Last-but not least-was Salvatore Ioco, a 29 year old tailor who has been a tailor for 15 years of his life, learning the tradition from his grandparents. Salvo, the representative of I Sarti Italiani, is incredibly friendly and jovial guy. Based in Palermo, the smaller company is a consortium of 12 tailors and 3 cutters, all of whom work together to realize the garments in the style that the client desires. They produce mostly canvassed garments, but will do minimal canvassing (no fusing) if you desire in order to get an even lighter, more relaxed and casual garment. Salvo brought a wide range of fabrics in his books, showing off both more luxurious fabrics as well as base ones, and we talked about my preferences. I will have him make me a garment, but I’ve yet to decide on a fabric; in the end he took my measurements, talked about my physical abnormalities and my stylistic preferences. I’ll figure out whether I want to do something from him that is Cut-Make-Trim, or rather a suit manufactured in house with him and the other tailors using fabrics to which they have access. Of course, I’ll have to return to Italy for a few basted fittings, once we figure out what direction I want to go.
In the course of the three days, the various artisans had conversations among themselves, creating new dialogues; it comes as no surprise then that all the artisans shared a sort of mentality concerned with making durable goods. Even though reasons for making quality goods might have diverged slightly, they all overlapped in their pursuit of quality. GIIN seeks to preserve our resources by discouraging waste or using natural processes. Alya and a.b.k. is focused with maintaining a low environmental impact through sourcing environmental sound leathers (vegetable tanned), while also creating products that were useful. Belisario and I Sarti Italiani handcraft their clothing with rigor, in hopes of creating pieces that remain in your wardrobe for an extended time. This thoughtful mentality reminds us why craftsmanship and passion is still important today in a world overwhelmed with wasteful consumption.
Here you can see some pictures of the Styleforum Maker Space: