A visit to Cilento, Naples.

 

The scene at Cilento.

Cilento is the oldest men’s store in Naples, possibly even all of Italy. Like many good things in Naples, it’s not something you’d easily come across unless you knew what you were looking for. It’s outside of the main shopping districts and close to some government buildings. Nonetheless, it’s quite well known to the locals and a real treat to visit.

The shop was founded in 1780, but it wasn’t until 1820 when it was moved to its present location on via Medina, where it’s currently spread across two buildings. The main shop holds a range of clothing, footwear, and accessories that would satisfy the taste of any businessman or outdoorsman. Here you see mannequins with waxed field jackets and floppy cotton hats. Fine leather bags decorate the tops of old wooden shelves, which in turn hold stacks of neatly stacked, soft, woolen knits. Casual trousers and surcingle belts hang from the same display rack, and next to them is a large, heavy wooden tray that holds a selection of handmade ties. Further back in the store, bolts of English wools are set alongside Italian cottons, both ready to be made into custom suits and shirts for incoming clients.

Well stocked.

There’s also a large selection of shoes. In keeping with the store’s classic taste, these include models by John Lobb, Edward Green, and Alden. There is an emphasis on brogues, chukkas, and derbies, and a surprising number of them are black, given Neapolitan men’s reputation for mainly wearing brown.

Exotic skin in loafers and laceups.

The secondary shop is just outside and a few steps away. This one is a renovated boutique dedicated primarily to ties. The room’s central display table holds a beautiful array of seven-folds, each handmade out of English silk. The designs are conservative and elegant, often using small flower or figured patterns not unlike those I found at Marinella. More ties are displayed in heavy wooden trays at the sides of the room, and under them are innumerable drawers holding sample fabrics for bespoke commissions. Prices start around 100 euros, which seemed typical of the high-end neckwear in this city.

Tie fabric from the 1930s.

To some degree, much of this description sounds like any high-quality classic men’s store in the world, but what really sets Cilento apart is the small studio above the tie shop. Go through the back, up the stairs, disappear through another set of doors and you suddenly feel like time has stopped. Spread through these five or six rooms is a complete private collection of objects from the company’s 232-year history. There are counters and shelves with old shoes and wool fabrics; beautiful early 20th century furniture, paintings, and prints; and original receipts from the family’s previous business in the shipping industry. There are also forgotten artifacts, such as an old trouser press and sample silk swatches for custom ties in the 1930s. In the other rooms, there are vintage women’s scarves, made for Fiat using some of their 1920s advertisement designs. The whole place is a veritable museum of Neapolitan sartorial history, narrated through the original tools, garments, and even cloths of their time. Ugo, the eighth generation Cilento behind the company, tells me they host many parties and social events here. You can watch video of last October’s and November’s events on YouTube.

Tailoring history everywhere you look.

A vintage scarf made for Fiat.

Before I left, Ugo was kind enough to give me a bottle of the company’s wine. Only 450 bottles are made per year, and they’re usually given to the company’s best clients. I went home that night, had a few glasses, and listened to the street noise as I thought about how satisfying the day was. It’s not every day you get to check out a men’s store as old as America itself.

M. Cilento e F.llo dal 1780
Via Medina 61 A-B
80132 Napoli
Italy

Tel. +39 081 5513363
Email: cilento1780@fontelnet.it

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.


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