Impressive: A Conversation with Designer Siki Im

When Siki Im moved to New York in 2001, he had no intention of designing clothes. After graduating with honors from England’s Oxford Brookes School of Architecture, Im took a position with a New York architecture firm, but over time realized the job wasn’t satisfying him. Since high school he had liked clothes, admiring  iconoclastic labels like Maison Martin Margiela, Comme des Garçons, and especially Helmut Lang before they were well-known beyond fashion circles. When Im got the opportunity to join Helmut Lang (in the post-Lang era), he took it. After several years working in the fashion industry, he decided it was time to start his own label, and in September 2009 he introduced his first solo collection. Inspired by William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies, it was a hit, earning him the Ecco Domani Award for Best Men’s Wear.

Im’s collections since have taken their inspiration from a variety of sources—Native Americans, the immigrant experience, Michael Jordan—but each works with one consistent vision. Beautifully tailored blazers and coats, billowing pants, and elongated tops, all crafted from luxurious fabrics—often in black—form the foundations of that vision. Im also insists on adhering to traditional methods whenever possible. Most of his blazers are fully canvassed and hand-tailored at Martin Greenfield Clothiers in Brooklyn, and his denim, which he introduced in his spring-summer 2012 collection, is all selvage sourced from Cone Mills in North Carolina. Im’s fans may not know exactly what to expect with each collection, but they can always be certain it will be expertly made, modern, and smart.

Styleforum contributor Marc Bain sat down with Im at his Manhattan design studio to talk about Im’s work, his influences, and whether fashion has a brain.

A lapel-less blazer from Im’s spring-summer 2012 show.

Marc Bain: Walk me through your design process. Where do you start when you’re coming up with a collection?

Siki Im: It’s not very linear. It starts always with something like an emotion or feeling, or even a proportion I’d really like to develop further, and then I test it out for a couple months—or not months, it depends—[to see] if I still like it. Sometimes you listen to great music, and maybe at first you hate it, but it’s stuck in your head and you start thinking about it more and more. Then you think maybe that’s something which is valid, you know? The initiation, sometimes it starts with a mood, like from a book, or once it was a New York Times article, once it was a movie. I try to keep it pretty open. At the beginning I started with books, but then people were asking “What will be the next book?” And if that already happens then it’s not really fresh.

I like to also surprise a little bit. The spring-summer ’12 collection was pretty heavy because it was about the Arab Spring in a way. Then last season I did the opposite more or less. It was a lot of Michael Jordan in the ’90s, because somewhere along when I was developing and designing the spring-summer collection it got very political, which I personally love but I don’t know if it was justified in fashion. I was a huge basketball fan in the ’90s and into all that stuff, so how can I make that into a non-streetwear, non-literal form, you know? So it’s definitely not linear.

MB: You’re known for doing a thesis for each collection. Where does that come in? Is the idea there from the start?

SI: My first collection, Lord of the Flies, it was really parallel. But sometimes it comes way before, sometimes in the middle, sometimes it’s later. If it does come later, usually the mood or the theme was already there; I just had to dig deeper and research more. For me, what I really like is researching more, so every season I can learn something. It keeps my mind going, which I need and appreciate. It’s just also fun. People can dis and say it’s not relevant or it’s too much, and that’s fine, but for my sake I like to learn and research and study.

MB: Do you have a particular person in mind as your customer?

SI: I’d like to say 25-35, male, sophisticated, but no. We do also have women wearing it, which I think is very beautiful. But it’s not for everyone, just because of the fit, the details, the price, the visibility. I think it will already in itself direct to a certain group.

MB: One thing I’ve noticed looking at your pieces is that you choose really beautiful, rich fabrics. How do your fabric choices play into your designs?

SI: Like with music, if you write a song, sometimes the melody comes before the lyrics, sometimes the other way, sometimes they go together. It’s the same thing. Sometimes with certain garments I design I already know what the fabric is, or sometimes I’ll see a fabric and I know what type of garment it should be. So it goes hand-in-hand.

MB: You studied architecture, so how did you end up designing clothes?

SI: It was pure accident. I just like designing. I never thought to become a fashion designer. Somewhere along, when I was working in an architecture office, I was just getting bored doing, like, renderings and drawings twelve hours a day, and buildings take so long to be built because of the scale. I just wanted to try something else in terms of designing. It could’ve been a car or anything else. New York City is so open and so horizontal in terms of how you can move around and meet people—it’s like a playground almost—and I’ve been very fortunate. It took me a really long time to call myself a fashion designer.

Im experiments with silhouettes more than most menswear designers.

MB: You’ve said that Helmut Lang was a big influence on you. What about his work attracted you?

SI: Since probably the end of high school I was really attracted to his aesthetic. I couldn’t tell you why. Then coming to New York I studied more of his stuff, just going to the stores. I liked everything he did. It was always modern, meaning timeless, and always pushed the boundaries of what fashion is. The advertising, store design, the details: it was amazing, and it’s still so valid. If you see his menswear by itself, it’s well-made clothes but very simple. But it’s about the context. Everything he tried to do, and he did, like thinking of new ways to think of menswear and also to think of fashion. He was one of the first advertising on a New York cab. He was one of the first streaming online, on dial-up. And he had a great team, like Melanie Ward, who I was fortunate enough to work with afterwards. They just pushed the boundary.

MB: Do you keep up with menswear blogs at all?

SI: I really wish, just to keep myself, I don’t know, relevant or contemporary. I try to, and there are some that I look at, but not as I used to when I was in the corporate world and had more time [laughs]. I do sometimes now to just get away from reality and see what’s up and what’s out there, but not as much as I should maybe, I don’t know. I’m trying to also be very controlled. I teach at Parsons and I see the students, they come with so much research material and so much research from blogs that it dilutes and clouds. It’s just too much.

MB: So it’s not good that they have so much material?

SI: All the social media is great, but you really have to control yourself so that it doesn’t control you. Especially in design. If you have too much information, when are you going to say stop and do your own thinking, rather than getting inspired and influenced by other things? It could be a very dangerous process.

MB: Your heritage is Korean; you were born in Germany; you went to university in England; now you live and work in New York. That’s a very global experience. Has that had any influence on your work?

SI: It’s very strong, that dichotomy. Even in university, all my theses were about identity, and about anthropology, and cultural context and dissonance. It’s the same thing, I think, with my collections. It’s all about different poles and juxtapositions which could be violent or beautiful. This is what I always love, the tension between, say, soft and hard fabrics, or Wall Street and religious influence [Im’s fall-winter 2010 collection], or—I’m just referencing certain of my collections—immigrant culture and living in the Western Hemisphere [spring-summer 2011], or Middle East meets globalization meets America [spring-summer 2012], or Michael Jordan meets suiting [fall-winter 2012]. I’m always interested in that because I think that is reality and it is honest and imperfect, and this is what I like. It’s also how I’ve been living and experiencing, you know, messing around with identities.

MB: What are some examples of garments you’ve designed that you think demonstrate this juxtaposition you’re talking about?

SI: The tunic. I love tunics. The tunic is a garment which is very, in a way, ethnic. It could be seen as a primitive, vernacular garment worn in the Middle East, certain parts of Asia. But I just love it. I love the proportion. So we took the tunic and made it more modern: this is a silk-cotton fabric, and we made it slimmer and more modern with certain details. But this is like a simple metaphor.

MB: And you incorporate that into a more Western, tailored look?

SI: Yeah. For instance, you have this soft, drapey fabric, and I would put a harder, tailored, fully canvassed blazer on top of it, and that gets a look which people think, “Wow, it’s fresh.” But no, it’s not. In the Middle East, that’s what they do: huge tunics with a jacket or blazer. What I do is nothing new. It’s not that avant-garde, I think. It’s just what I like and what I’ve seen in other cultures, studying them. So that’s a simple example. Or that crazy hat from the Native-American collection [Silent Thunderbird Prayer, fall-winter 2011]. It’s actually from images of Native Americans, and they used to wear these crazy big hats. But ours is done in a rabbit felt and, hopefully, more modern. So using those references from those ethnic or vernacular languages and making them more modern with fabric, with proportions, and then clashing them with denim or a leather jacket or a handmade blazer, something like that.

Mixed influences: a Middle-East-inspired tunic; tailored, asymmetrical vest; and Native-American-style hat.

MB: When you think of someone actually wearing your clothes on the street, is there a particular image or fantasy that comes to mind?

SI: I hope it’s some cool kid who could be a skater, or someone who works in a gallery, or someone who goes to a party, or someone who picks up the trash, that would be fun. But since it’s luxurious fabrics and it’s all made here in America, in New York mostly, there are certain limits in terms of price point, so it will already specify a certain [person], unfortunately. But I’ve heard from a couple of customers who say when they wear my clothes they feel very confident and strong and protected. That’s a very nice compliment.

MB: That raises an interesting question about who has access to your clothes since I’ve read that you’re influenced by a lot of left-leaning thinkers. Is that accurate?

SI: I really enjoy postmodernists and poststructuralists from the ’60s and ’70s to the ’90s and now, like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, or like Martin Heidegger. They seem to be socialists/Marxists, but the reason why I like them is not because they are leftists or socialists but because of their critical thinking and critical questioning.

MB: Do you think fashion can be an intellectual pursuit? I guess by that I mean can clothing ask critical questions or make critical statements?

SI: Yeah, I totally think so, because fashion is cultural in itself and culture is usually a reflection of certain opinions or statements. Even like Michelle Obama wearing a lot of domestic designers, it [offers] an opinion. That’s the beautiful thing about fashion: it’s not just clothes, it’s something more than that, which is how design should be actually. It should have an opinion, I think, or no opinion is an opinion too.

MB: Do you have any favorite pieces from your last collection, or from any past collection?

SI: Yeah. We started denim, and I really like some of that stuff. From last collection, I really like the outerwear a lot. I thought it was quite successful. There’s stuff I don’t like as much, but definitely the outerwear I’m very happy about. I enjoy designing outerwear more anyway probably.

MB: Is there any general direction you see your designs heading, or is it just one season to the next?

SI: What’s really important—and some people see it, some people don’t—is that every season we have certain stories or themes, like Native American, or Michael Jordan, or Arab Spring, but if you take the themes out or the colors, then everything should have the same language. Some people think every season I’m so different, which I don’t think at all just because there are certain things that are alike and will continue. You will always see a tunic. You will always see a big, cropped pant. You will always see a black blazer. And it’s just about the styling or the story put on top of that. So for me it’s really important that I keep my language and keep improving my language. It’s important for me also to work on silhouettes, which I think menswear is not really doing so much.

To discuss Siki Im, visit the official Styleforum thread.

Catching up with Jesse Thorn and Put This On.

Jesse Thorn didn’t set out to be a menswear authority—but through happy accidents and hard work, he finds himself as the main dude of Put This On, a video series and blog about “dressing like a grownup.” Jesse and the PTO crew, including directors Adam Lisagor and Ben Harrison, comedy-type-person Dave Hill, and blogger Derek Guy, have tackled topics like choosing denim, caring for shoes, and developing personal style. In the sometimes impenetrable realms of tailors and industry insiders, PTO’s content is refreshingly forthright and accessible. Rigorous research and respect for tradition inform the series and blog, but the content is leavened with recognition of the silliness of unchecked clothing nerdery. Constantly updating the PTO blog, Jesse and Derek amplify original voices in men’s clothing, and also give readers the heads up on choice sales or eBay auctions. They also write for Styleforum on occasion, and Put This On is sponsoring Styleforum’s 10-year anniversary event coming up May 4-5, 2012.

Put This On recently debuted episode 1 of its second season, and I talked with Jesse about how far PTO has come and where it’s headed this season.

Photo taken at Don Ville shoes by Gordon De Los Santos.


Pete Anderson: Put This On debuted with an episode on denim more than 2 years ago. Your first season had seven episodes of about 10 minutes each, plus some short followup videos, leading up to season two. And you have a Tumblr that’s on the dashboard of everyone seriously interested in men’s clothing. When you first started filming, how much of this was part of the plan?

Jesse Thorn: When we started, the plan was just to shoot one episode. The blog was just a way to engage the audience a bit before that episode came out, but it took off right away. To our surprise, frankly. We set a more ambitious fundraising goal for the rest of our first season, and met it handily, and while we were producing that, Adam was getting busier and busier with outside directing work. I was working on the blog to keep our audience engaged, and it was growing to the point where it was the most popular thing I was working on. At that point, the series and the blog felt like they were feeding each other.

My background is radio and television host, and I wanted to get some on-camera experience working on a subject that I really love, and one that really wouldn’t work in audio. I had a friend who was a brilliant director. Then we sort of discovered accidentally this audience for the blog.

PA: In a teaser for season two, PTO featured writer G. Bruce Boyer, who said in the piece “Real dressing is about understanding yourself and your clothing and the relationship between them.” I think that sums up pretty well what PTO aims for–how accurate is that?

JT: That’s very fair. Derek and I both have our own personal aesthetics, which we’ll give voice to on the blog, but we also both try to make clear that our goal is to encourage people to make thoughtful choices about how they present themselves in the world. Not just because they should always be the best-dressed guy, but because dressing well is a way to show respect to those around you, whatever your aesthetic or cultural context might be.

PA: I thought Jason Marshall (a Styleforum regular) expressed that very well in his piece in episode one, which also includes a segment on Lo-Heads with Dallas Penn, and one on Worth and Worth hats. Why did you choose the topics and interview subjects for season two? How much time did you spend with Penn and the Polo crew?

JT: Before the season started, we did a bracket on our site to find out what our audience thought were the three greatest men’s style cities in the world, and the winners were New York, London, and Milan. We didn’t think we could encapsulate those cities in 20 minutes apiece, so we decided to focus in on a few subjects for each one. In every episode, there’s one man, one place, one feature and one Q&A or how-it’s-made segment. We didn’t really think that we could perfectly represent some truth about the cities with those few segments, but we thought we could offer a few different ways of looking at each one, and tell some interesting stories.

In episode one, we were thinking about what’s really special about New York, and in larger part about the US. It’s a nation of immigrants, and a nation of subcultures, and we wanted to look at the ways that class, race, culture and identity intersect in a way that they only could in New York. I’ve written a little about why we chose the Lo Heads’ story to lead off the season, but in short, I think they’re recombining and reinterpreting the meanings of clothes at an extraordinarily high level. Jason’s a more traditional case—but he’s an elegant and eloquent guy who we met at a screening of O’Mast and were just struck by. Worth and Worth is another place that we liked because it got at that theme—what Orlando and company do there has a very sincere respect for tradition and a very sincere interest in creating something new. And, you know, we just threw Rob Corddry in there because he loves Put This On, and if you’re friends with Rob Corddry, you get him in your show, right? The next New York episode, I go thrifting with the guys from Street Etiquette – who are also StyleForum members – and we talk with Len Logsdail about what’s inside a suit, among other things.

PA: Looking forward to seeing that footage! Presumably you traveled a lot for season two—can you share any good stories about your globetrotting? What good stuff did you bring home, sartorially speaking?

JT: When we were at G. Lorenzi in Milan, I asked Sr. Lorenzi about which scissor I should use to trim my moustache, and he and his salesman guided me through a panoply of options. It was really remarkable. In the end, they wouldn’t let me pay, and I tried to force the issue for journalistic ethics reasons, but I could only go so far. So I took it and resolved to send him one of our pocket squares as a thank you in return. I put it in my dopp kit, which was in my carry-on bag… and when we left Milan, I had to check my other bag, which was big and had gear in it. And the moustache scissors set off the security X-ray (apparently no scissor is small enough to go on a plane these days) and I ended up having to pay a $75 baggage fee to keep the scissors Sr. Lorenzi so kindly gave me for free. On the plus side, the security guard in Milan was exceptionally nice. He said to me, in Super Mario-like English, “These… these are-a very a-special-a scissor.” And I agreed.

PA: Put This On is sort of moonlighting for you, since your day job is hosting Bullseye (formerly the Sound of Young America) a long-running public radio show that focuses on conversations with cultural figures. Describing it that way is honest doesn’t do justice to the thoughtful, often funny, in-depth pieces Bullseye does with people who are genuinely doing original work in comedy, music, film, TV, writing, etc. Do PTO and Bullseye cross paths often? The Rob Corddry cameo in season two was amusing.

JT: Well, our interview with Paul Feig from last season is a good example of the two paths crossing. Paul has been a guest of mine on the radio several times—for his books, and for his first film. It was in the old days, when I did interviews by phone, but we were friendly via email. Then 2 or 3 years ago, Jenna Fischer came over to do an interview, and she said she thought it was sweet that I dressed nicely for work, and said Paul Feig wore a suit to the set every day. When we were thinking of ideas for the show, I remembered that about Paul, and emailed him. He got us special permission to visit the set of Bridesmaids and did that interview while he was on his lunch break. The only rule from the studio was that we couldn’t say the name of the film we were on. But it was exceptionally kind of Paul to finagle us into his schedule—and we still email about clothes nerd stuff. He just had his first Savile Row suits made.

Rob’s been a guest on my comedy podcast Jordan Jesse Go several times, and he was nice enough to invite me and my co-host Jordan to help with a table-read and punchup of a script he was working on a couple years ago at HBO. He loves clothes and I helped him get a tuxedo for The Comedy Awards once, so he recorded that bit for us. There are a couple of other LA comedy people who have PTO connections—when Donald Glover was on tour people kept sending me pictures of him in a PTO t-shirt. He’s obviously a very well-dressed guy. I keep thinking we’ll find a way to work my friend and colleague John Hodgman into an episode sometime. He wrote a great thing about dressing like a deranged millionaire in his new book that we excerpted. Many comedians I know still dress like total slobs, but a surprisingly large number are taking an interest, and some, like Don or Aziz Ansari, are genuinely well-dressed. And I’m always surprised at the people who’ll say something nice about PTO to me when we’re talking about showbiz stuff.

PA: Can you tease any of the upcoming episodes of season two?

JT: My colleague Ben got to spend a day with Luciano Barbera at the Carlo Barbera mill after I lost my passport and got stuck in Brooklyn. We shot some amazing stuff with Guy Hills, the founder of Dashing Tweeds, who is just a phenomenon of a man. And at W. Bill, on the other side of the tweed spectrum. We went to 10 Corso Como in Milan, which will probably be the fashion-iest thing we’ve ever done, but Milan is the world’s fashion capital, after all. The trip to G. Lorenzi that I alluded to nearly left me in tears I was so inspired. We met two men who identified themselves as dandy-artist-pornographers. It was quite an adventure.

PA: You’d said Adam was getting busier and I’m sure you have been to–is season three yet a possibility? How about PutThisOnCon?

JT: Ben Harrison has been doing an amazing job as director in season two, and Dave Hill is stepping into Adam’s on-camera roll in the Rudiments segments. Adam’s still an executive producer, he created the template, aesthetically, and he’s advising Ben, but at this point, it’s really me and Ben’s project. My schedule’s been getting tighter and tighter, but the good news is that our audience has paid us a reasonable wage to make these things, and has demonstrated a willingness to do so again. We’ll see how we’re feeling in a few months when season two wraps up, but I’m excited about the possibilities for more videos.

As for PTO-con—that’s a fun idea, but not one we’ve pursued. We’re really proud to be a sponsor of the upcoming 10th Anniversary of StyleForum. We’re going to show something before Gianluca’s film O’Mast, and I’ll be on-hand in person. A couple years ago at MaxFunCon, Will Boehlke did a great seminar on dressing for men, and I’ve thought about doing something like that myself some year. Frankly, I already do a show at MaxFunCon, and between that and logistics, adding a seminar might be a bit much, so maybe that’s a pipe dream, who knows? People have certainly asked me to, though.

PA: Thanks Jesse—see you in San Francisco.

A visit to Rubinacci, Naples.

Mention Rubinacci to any tailor in Italy and proper deference is paid, which is impressive given how much petty sniping there can be in the trade. Gennaro Rubinacci founded the company in 1932. “It actually began as a joke,” Mariano Rubinacci told me on my recent visit to Naples. “But of course, we take our business very seriously nowadays.”

Rubinacci’s space in Naples.

The Rubinacci family made their fortunes in the silk trade, which they entered in the 18th century. They imported silks from India and sold them to tailors, dressmakers, and upholsterers in Naples. The family built such a dynasty that Gennaro—Mariano’s father—never had to take on a professional career. Like other men in his family, Gennaro led a life of leisure and elegance. He socialized with royal families, lived in villas, and built a world-class collection of Capodimonte porcelains. He was an aesthete, a courtier, and a leading dandy in his day.

He was also an arbiter elegantiarum. The Neapolitan gentry was heavily interested in tailored clothing at the time, and many of the men would ask Gennaro to accompany them to the tailors so that they could get his opinion on various cloths and cuts. His presence at these fittings became such a ritual that he decided to start his own tailoring house, but more as a side hobby than a real business. It was called London House, since London at the time was considered the standard bearer for men’s style, and Gennaro wanted to represent that style in Naples. At its start, the firm was more like a social club for gentlemen. Well-to-do men went there to socialize, ask Gennaro for advice, and order suits.

Silk is a theme.

Many, many suits. Orders for 30, 40, and even 50 suits at a time were not uncommon and some men would even come in for five or six fittings before they allowed the tailor to finish the buttonholes. To be sure, this was partly because they were demanding customers, but it was also a way for them to gather and socialize with their peers. Tailoring at the time was not just about the products and craft, but also the social activities that went along with them.

Over the years, some of Naples’s most important tailors have worked for Rubinacci. Vincenzo Attolini, for example, invented the softly constructed Neapolitan jacket while he was a cutter here. The legendary Antonio Panico, who replaced Attolini, took this a bit further when he made a safari jacket out of a seven-ounce wool gabardine. “At the time, the lightest summer jackets were made out of a 9-ounce cloth,” Mariano said. “In fact, this cloth was mainly used for priests’ robes, but we used it for jackets.”

Pattern, texture, shape.

In addition to being lightly constructed, Rubinacci’s jackets are built with lapped seams that run along the shoulder. These give the jacket a bit of strength and structure, which is useful for when Mariano violently pulls down on the jacket during the first fitting, so that the garment can take the wearer’s form. The seams end at the big, full sleeveheads, which are fed into small armholes. This construction gives the sleevehead little pleats and puckers, which are not only beautiful artisanal details, but also subtly show off the jacket’s Neapolitan, hand-tailored provenance.

Then there are the other details. Two patch pockets at the hips, and the barchetta (i.e., shaped like a boat) or pignata pocket (shaped like a brandy snifter) at the breast. In addition, there is decorative double stitching at the lapels, some drape at the swelled chest, and an extended front seam that goes down to the hem, which helps the tailor put in more shape at the waist.

Coats at Rubinacci.

These are merely the mechanical, production aspects of Rubinacci’s bespoke tailoring, however. As many Rubinacci customers have said, part of what you’re paying for is the tailoring, and part of it is the service. Gennaro, after all, was largely an advisor, and Mariano plays the same role today. Clients come in with some sort of idea of what they want, and Mariano helps them translate it into an elegant look. There are some details, however, to which he’ll always politely say “no.” A two-button jacket? Always a polite no. Center vent? Also a polite no. In my limited experience working with tailors, I’ve come to really value this kind of pushback, as it shows that the person has an opinion and is willing to assert their expertise.

In addition to their bespoke tailoring services, Rubinacci also offers ready-to-wear collections. At their flagship store, ready-to-wear is housed on the entry level, which sits just above the womenswear floor. The menswear level is decorated with mounted stag antlers and antique ships, as well as silk scarves with paintings printed on them, each of which celebrate some aspect of Neapolitan culture.

A tailcoat and bolts at Rubinacci.

The first room on that level houses ties and pocket squares, the second has sweaters and a dressing room (which is separated, by the way, by a beautiful and substantial silk curtain), and the third has ready-to-wear odd trousers and sport coats. The most amazing, however, has to be the last room, which is almost like a treasure vault. Here you can sit on tan leather couches and admire various display mannequins with old, bespoke tailcoats and morning coats. Two of the walls also hold bolts of cloth, including some from the early 20th century, and next to the couches are the company’s original order books. Flipping through those order books and handling the fabrics brought the Golden Age of the 1930s back to life.

Slubly neckwear.

A book of orders.

Mariano took me on a tour of the laboratorio upstairs, where bespoke garments are made and some of the business administration offices are kept. Thirty tailors and four cutters work there, and they’re spread across five or six rooms. The floor is very quiet, almost like a library, since almost everything is done by hand. The only thing you hear is the tailors’ almost in-unison “hello” as Mariano walks into the room. Otherwise, everyone is heavily concentrating on his or her work, though the sunlight and sea breeze coming in through the open windows makes the room feel pleasant and relaxed.

As we walked back to the main floor, Mariano told me he plans to expand into another building, located very close to the flagship. The new space will house a conference room, an additional workspace for tailors, and a museum to showcase some of the company’s bespoke tailoring from the 1930s through 1950s. I was most excited to learn that this will include some of the garments made for Vittorio de Sica, such as the evening tailcoat he wore in Il Signor Max.

Before I left, I asked Mariano what he thought of the future of his firm and Neapolitan tailoring in general. He’s decidedly optimistic. Many of his tailors are in their 30s and in the last decade, he has seen more and more young men come into the shop as customers. (I imagine much of this is due to his son often being featured on websites such as The Sartorialist). Contrast this to other tailors, who often struggle to find new workers and customers. Rubinacci, with their unfailing commitment to craft and tradition, an international presence, and a very visible public face, seems to have none of these problems. The future of Naples’ biggest bespoke tailoring house seems bright.

Discuss Rubinacci on the official Styleforum thread

A visit to E. Marinella, Naples.

The E. Marinella shop is quite small. It looks out across the park towards the waterfront and its entrance is framed with imported English wood and Calabrian green marble. As soon as you walk in, there is a wrought-iron Liberty-style chandelier that hangs above your head and wooden display tables in front of you that hold an array of beautiful ties. Rep stripes and Macclesfield prints, all made in a rainbow of colors, are showcased alongside a small selection of watches, colognes, ashtrays, and leather goods. Everything here is essentially the same as it was in 1914, before the two world wars and three political regimes that Marinella has seen Italy go through.

The finest in soporificity.


E. Marinella has remained here since its opening, even though the company has far outgrown it. There’s simply not enough room here for its inventory or operation. Thus, behind the shop—outside and up the stairs—is a showroom for not only its full collection of neckties, but also all the accessories that the company offers.

Scarves and squares.


Timepieces at Marinella.


For example, there are the watches that Maurizio (the third generation Marinella man behind the company) has put into production. These actually began with a funny story. It’s often advised that you should leave your Rolex at home when visiting Naples, given the city’s reputation for crime and disorder. As such, Maurizio decided to give his clients plastic watches, which they could wear in place of their more expensive pieces while they were in town. These plastic watches, however, soon became collectors items and clients held on to them for their value. After seeing their unintended success, Maurizio decided to produce a small collection of watches that reflected his passion for timepieces and the company’s sense of style. Today, these watches are made with steel cases and Swiss movements and classic designs.

Neapolitan history in ceramic.


They also have incredible ashtrays with paintings of the city’s history, allowing a customer to leave not just with something that reminds them of Marinella, but also of Naples. Near the ashtrays are fine leather belts in a range of brown tones and colorful Kilim scarves.

Loredana, the woman who assisted me at the store, was also kind enough to show me Marinella’s assortment of cufflinks and charms, some of which were made out of precious red coral. Red coral has an elevated place in Neapolitan culture. The origin of the material is believed to be explained in a Greek myth about Perseus. Having just petrified Cetus, a sea monster threatening Andromeda, Perseus placed Medusa’s head on the riverbank while he washed his hands. When he recovered the head, he noticed that Medusa’s blood turned the seaweed into red coral. The material is now believed to protect people from danger and disease, and cure women of sterility. For this reason, a pair of red coral cufflinks would be very special, though also not very cheap.

Links and charms at Marinella.


More affordable items in the store include a handsome selection of Italian leather wallets. The simpler card cases start around $125, and they’re excellently made. The leather is finely stitched and the edges are better finished than I’ve seen on most handmade wallets stateside. There are also colognes and perfumes, starting at $110. The red-bottled 286 smells of lavender, sage, and tobacco, with amber and musk at the base. The unnamed blue bottle has a citrusy, almond scent with hints of marine and musk. One of the upsides to these scents is that they’re hard to find outside of Naples (I know only of De Corato carrying them), which means you’re unlikely to risk smelling like another man.

Perhaps most affordable of all were the bath slippers, which came in either a simple ivory or baby blue, with discreet “E. Marinella” embroidery at the top. At about $60 for a pair, should you not be able to leave with anything else, you can probably at least leave with these.


Derek Guy also writes at Die! Workwear and Put This On.

E. Marinella
Riviera di Chiaia, 287
Naples, Italy
Ph. +39 081 245 11 82

To read more of Derek’s visits to Neapolitan stores, click here

Robert Geller Fall 2012 – Interview and Collection

Styleforum’s Marc Bain brings you a Robert Geller interview and a discussion of the New York-based designer’s Fall 2012 collection.

For his fall 2012 collection, the eleventh for his namesake label, Robert Geller looked to England for inspiration. Models layered with sturdy wools, rain-repellent waxed cottons, and that most British of fabrics, tweed, walked a dirt runway that seemed to lead from an English garden. Gray, brown, and olive dominated the palette, while a few bright notes of marigold and fiery orange sparked amid all the sobriety.  ’80s British post-punk influenced the collection (The Sound’s “Where the Love Is” provided the show’s soundtrack), and a sense of brooding disquiet infused the clothes. Maybe more notable was their debt to English tailoring, with sharply cut blazers and coats, and, in place of Geller’s popular jeans, wool trousers.

Robert Geller’s secret garden.

Although not a departure from his previous work, this was Geller’s most mature show. Some traits were recognizable from past seasons: mesh underlayers and skinny leather pants; sweatshirts, including Geller’s well-known dip-dyed version; ballooning lounge pants. Footwear—suede chelsea boots; balmorals in black, or brown with a black toe—came from the designer’s ongoing collaboration with Common Projects. He also continued his experimentation with the silhouette, balancing slim and voluminous, cropped and elongated shapes. Geller took some of his most successful ideas of the past few years and integrated them into the wardrobe of his slightly older, more sophisticated English muse.

After his show at New York Fashion Week, a smiling Geller spoke with Styleforum contributor Marc Bain about his new collection, English style, and why he really wants his own line of socks.

Dip dye and layers (and non-Men’s-Clothing-approved buttoning) at Robert Geller fall 2012.

Marc Bain: English tailoring and style had a big influence on this collection. What makes English style so great?

Robert Geller: Since I’ve been of an age to recognize style, when I go to London I like the way that the boys dress. There’s a little bit of a dandy-ness to it, but it’s still very masculine. That goes very well with the way I like to dress. There’s still a little sensitivity, a little romance, but I still want it to be masculine. So that really drew me to it, but also the music. I really wanted to look into what it is about English culture that I like so much.

MB: When you think about this collection in the street, do you have a particular scene in mind?

RG: We always design the collection for the street. In the end it’s a business, of course, and I always think about the street. With men, you have your things you obviously need to have: a trenchcoat, you need to have your duffle coat. You need to have all these elements. It’s spinning it in a way that works with what you’re thinking about and where you want to go. So the way it is on the runway, with the bowler hat, isn’t the way people are going to wear it. But definitely some of the layering and the way it’s put together, I would love to see people wearing that on the street.

MB: I imagine it can be frustrating when you make a cool piece that doesn’t get produced. Are there any items this season that you really want to see on the racks in stores?

RG: Yeah, the blazers this season, especially the soft-wool yellow one with the gray trim. I love that jacket. People do buy that from me, but it’s not the main thing people come to me for, like the stronger outerwear, and people want the denim and the shirts. But I’d really like people to get some of the more eccentric pieces.

“I just throw some light / On your cold floors” — The Sound

MB: Are there any fabrics or fabric treatments you relied on a lot in this collection?

RG: Yeah. We actually did a lot of research about the English fabrics, and we ended up using Harris tweed in the collection. We did a lot of coated, waxed cotton, and things that are very British.

MB: For a rainy day, that sort of thing?

RG: For a rainy day, yeah. We have a Mackintosh. All of those things are very directly influenced by England.

MB: You’ve come a long way since Cloak, a line people still talk about. Collectors buy and sell it online and it’s highly sought after. What do you think made it such a popular label?

RG: I think the timing. There wasn’t so much menswear coming out of New York, and I think it surprised people. I look back at it and I think it was cool. I think it was fresh at the time, that look, much fresher than it is today I mean. My development since then has been changing. I’m getting older. That was something I did with Alexandre [Plokhov] and it was a great partnership, but now I’m doing my own thing.

Chunky knits at Robert Geller fall 2012.

MB: You mentioned really liking the tailored pieces from this collection. Do you see yourself heading more in that direction as you mature as a designer?

RG: Yeah, but also I like the mixture. I like to take sportswear and to mix it with tailoring. I think they go together really well. If you’re smart about the styling, I think it can look beautiful. I don’t think it has to be either-or. There are definitely looks where it’s just tailoring and it’s really beautiful, but I like the mixture: the soft and the hard, a little bit playful but refined. You can wear it all day.

MB: Can you talk to me about the collaborations you did for the collection? You’re still working with Common Projects, of course, and now you’re collaborating on socks with Etiquette Clothiers. Why did you want to do socks?

RG: I met this guy, Benjamin [Vergnion], who does this sock brand called Etiquette. We got to talking and I said I always wanted to have Robert Geller socks, and he was like, “Let’s do it.” He makes the finest quality socks in Italy, really amazing, and we knew that we had a lot of these shorter pants—jodhpurs, rolled-up pants—and there were going to be a lot of socks. So rather than buying black socks, because that’s boring, being able to make these really beautiful socks with Etiquette seemed like a great option.

Polka dots and billowy trousers from Geller.

MB: And what about Common Projects? Anything new going on there?

RG: New shoes. I love working with those guys. I think their collection is amazing. We sit together, we think about what we want to do, and season after season we can deliver such a beautiful product.

MB: How has your Robert Geller Seconds line been received since its launch?

RG: It’s good. It’s a way for me to make the things I want to wear when I’m either playing sports or just going out and being casual. You can also integrate it: most of my undershirts are Seconds and the sweatshirt that I have. It’s just a way to make it a little more approachable.

MB: I can see that you’re still playing around with the silhouette in your looks, something you started doing more of in your last collection. Can you talk a little about that?

RG: It started with Raf [Simons], but then definitely with Dior when Hedi [Slimane] was there, it became so slender. I loved it when I first saw them doing it. It was great. But it’s time for a change. It’s not saying, “Now it’s ’80s big, huge shoulders,” but like pushing and pulling the silhouette, mixing it up, and just seeing ways that feel right. I guess I’m figuring out where I feel like it should go as I’m doing it.

MB: I noticed some pieces from previous collections, the mesh for example. Why did you bring it back?

RG: It’s a great styling element, even for me just wearing it in my wardrobe. Instead of just wearing an A-shirt, you have a little bit more texture and you can play around with colors. It’s part of continuing the styling and vision of the past season into this new one. I like that idea.

Grungy Gentleman’s Pitti street style.

Styleforum did not bring a dedicated street fashion photographer along to Pitti (although I think we were alone in that–the place was bristling with $1000 lenses). Fortunately Jace, a.k.a. Grungy Gentleman, agreed to pick up the slack. Pitti is the peacock enclosure at the #menswear zoo, but Jace picked out subjects that are celebrated as much for their work as their personal style quirks.

Lino is sooo good, it’s unfair!

Josh Peskowitz always comes correct. Down vest over a DB blazer? Yes please!

FASHION FACT: The fellas behind the camera really bring it. Nam shut it down with this pink camo jacket.

Let the brain trust behind Isaia teach you how to appropriately rock a DB suit.

Menswear is all about subtle detail. My boy from Amsterdam, Cees Prins looks murderous (in a good way) with those yellow buttons.

Team Details always lookin’ sharp. Eugene Tong and Matthew Marden know the menswear game inside and out. And it shows!

The ever so dapper, Bruce Pask. Have admired this gentleman for years. His content is fantastic.