Savile Row vs Neapolitan Tailoring: An Introduction

Newcomers to tailoring are entering a world enriched with variables. As with test cricket, the more you learn about it, the more you realise there is still to learn about it – and the more enjoyable the learning experience becomes. A great starting point for novices is a comparison between two very distinct schools of tailoring found in the cities which arguably are its two major focal points: London and Naples

With that in mind, we asked two giants of those two distinct scenes to describe how their local tailoring scenes came about, and what the stylistic nuances mean to them

Article by Nick Scott  Photography by Andy Barnham

SAVILE ROW TAILORING – BY RICHARD ANDERSON

The lovely town houses of Savile Row used to be occupied by doctors and surgeons. It was the son of Henry Poole, after whom Number 15 is still named, who turned things around – literally. His father was a military tailor making uniforms for the Napoleonic Wars, who in 1828 had purchased numbers 4 and 5 Old Burlington Street. When Henry Junior took over the business in 1846, he decided to make the Savile Row back entrance the main entrance. The local medical community was appalled, and moved over to Harley Street, where they remain to this day.

The military styling Poole brought over became the basis for the Savile Row style of suiting: very close, form-fitting cuts; narrow, close to the leg; high armholes to help the wearer hold up weapons with ease; and, of course, structured shoulders – a phrase which refers to a more padded look with stiffer canvassing inside. If you look at the overall silhouette of this style, it’s conducive to standing to attention.

One of the earliest regular Savile Row patrons remains one of its most famous historical customers to date – Beau Brummel, the sartorial advisor to The Prince Regent. Brummel spearheaded the dandy movement which saw bright, colourful garments, often made of exotic materials like velvet, move the military style into more flamboyant territory.

Shortly after that, The Row started drawing international visitors – Emperor Napoleon III, Emperor Wilhelm I of Prussia, and later Crown Prince Hirohito of Japan and all the American financial pioneers. Since then, it’s drawn people of all ilks from all over the world – royalty, politicians, artists, captains of industry, movie stars and – not least – rock stars, the last of whom particularly enjoyed the work Tommy Nutter did in embracing the new paradigms of men’s style in the 60s and 70s: the wide shoulders and bold lapels, extravagant patterns and so on.

But, throughout all the stylistic evolution – upheaval you might say – certain core tenets of that original military style have remained firmly in place. Methods have stayed largely the same – I still construct a suit pattern exactly the same way my masters did 60 years ago. A modern tailor puts his own individuality into it – a tweak of lapel width here; an adjustment of the length there – but the A-Z of how to construct the clothes has never changed.

That’s all part of why Savile Row remains a special, unique place – the name itself still sends shivers. Staff in this neighbourhood accept or reject job offers on the basis that it might involve moving to, or away from, The Row itself as a place of work. It deserves its reputation – but must work to keep that mystique alive. You have to stay relevant – for all the inevitable reverence for the past on Savile Row, you have to not just move with the times but be instrumental in change. Stay the same and your customer base will simply die off or retire, and their sons don’t want outmoded tailoring details thrust upon them: young dandies want what they want.

As for whether Savile Row or Neapolitan tailoring is more elegant, I’d say it’s entirely subjective, and also down to lots of variables – who is wearing the suit, how and where… And that’s just the start of it. It’s fair to say though that both schools – as long as they maintain respect for their traditions yet proactively try and shape the future of tailoring – will remain tailoring powerhouses for the foreseeable and way beyond.

Richard Anderson, Sherbourne House, 13 Savile Row, London W1S 3PH / www.richardandersonltd.com. 

For an in-depth, candid and very humorous read detailing Savile Row’s rich ongoings, Riddle thoroughly recommends Richard’s book, Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed (Simon & Schuster Ltd).

NEAPOLITAN TAILORING – BY GIANLUCA RUBINACCI

When, in 1932, my grandfather Gennaro decided to open a shop where all the best tailors in Naples would make garments for his friends, this wasn’t a fashionable thing to do. In fact, it suggested you needed to work – and noble families at that time, in that part of the world, didn’t toil. They were snobby about work. That, and the fact that Savile Row was the tailoring powerhouse of the world, is why he decided not to name it after himself, but instead call it “London House”. It wasn’t until the 60s that my father, Mariano, changed the company name from London House to Rubinacci.

Gennaro was making his own style of suits for his friends and peers. It was just a hobby for him – not a means to make money. He was considered the “arbiter elegantarum” of Naples, and was therefore famous amongst the city’s high society. People like the actor and writer Edoardo de Filippo and director Vittorio de Sica were regular visitors to his workshop, as was Prince Umberto of Savoy – which is why we have the crown on top of the “LH” part of our logo.I always think that Gennaro didn’t so much invent the Neapolitan jacket as discover the concept. His friends weren’t in the financial business – they were noblemen. They needed clothing that was comfortable and nonchalant, and had the quality that we now call “sprezzatura”. They required jackets suited not for business purposes, but purely to indulge in La Dolce Vita. These people wanted to show off the fact that they weren’t working. They were lucky enough to be men of leisure, and wished to exude the nonchalance that came with that; to show observers that wealth was their birthright, rather than something that had to be earned while wearing a stiff suit. Therefore, they needed something without any padding, without any canvas inside the shoulder – a softer look that I call ‘imperfectly perfect’. I think the warm climate is a factor, but really I believe Neapolitan tailoring has more to do with the attitude and social station of the people who originally started wearing it than the weather.

Now, of course, the world has changed. Today, Rubinacci is dressing the world, not only the upper classes any more. Tailors from anywhere in the world can be very stuck in their ways – if you ask the average 68-year-old tailor in Naples to make an English style jacket, he’ll look at you like you’re stupid; to them it’s like asking a professional footballer who plays centre-half to suddenly become a striker.

Here at Rubinacci, though, we try to be flexible. Today we have Japanese, African, Middle-Eastern customers. Why should they have to go to London for winter suits, Naples for summertime suits? In the modern world, you can’t aim to be judged against the best tailors just because of how well you do Neapolitan, or by making classic English suits – it’s about understanding diverse customer needs. Today, a tailor needs to understand that style and elegance comes from within his customers, not just from the historical traditions of where he is asking for a suit. His clients are unique (making a suit for a sculpture would be very easy; making a suit for a living, breathing, moving individual is a very different task).

That said, our Neapolitan traditions are an important part of our heritage and identity, and we will always cherish them. riddle_stop 2

Rubinacci, 96 Mount St, London W1K 2TB (020 7499 2299); Palazzo Cellamare. 80121 Napoli – Via Chiaia 149 (+39 081 403 908); www.marianorubinacci.net 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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