The History And Anatomy Of Neapolitan Tailoring

The History And Anatomy Of Neapolitan Tailoring

Light as the breeze that blows over Vesuvius,” or so its proponents say, Neapolitan suiting seems tailor-made for this moment in time, meeting the needs of a generation raised on the ease and breathability of athletic attire, but unwilling to sacrifice sharpness in pursuit of comfort.

Though undeniably modern, the roots of today’s Neapolitan tailoring stretch back almost 700 years, to the founding in the 14thcentury of Italy’s oldest tailoring association, Its members were among the first to create ready-to-wear men’s garments, made in Naples and transported to royals, noblemen and the affluent across the continent.

Fast-forward to the late 19thcentury: after Italy’s unification and the emptying of Naples’ coffers to fill the new nation’s treasury, the once wealthy city fell into abject poverty. Its remaining privileged few saw to their sartorial needs at the atelier of Giacchino Trifari, and later, his protégé Filippo De Nicola. 

Up until this point, the suiting turned out by Neapolitan tailors — such as the famed Angelo Blasi — closely resembled those being made by contemporaries on Savile Row or in Rome. An apprentice of Morziello’s named Vincenzo Attolini is credited with the game changing invention of what today we’d recognise as trademark Neapolitan tailoring while employed at Gennaro ‘Bebè’ Rubinacci’s British-inspired London House.


The Anatomy

The signature characteristics of a Neapolitan jacket remain much as they were in Attolini’s day. These include: an extended dart on the jacket front, running to the bottom seam of the skirt (an invention of tailor Peppino Miniello); a generous lapel, high of gorge and notch; minimal lining — or no lining at all, merely piping on inner seams; a barchetta (boat-shaped) chest pocket; tre buttoni su due (three-roll-two) button stance; pignata patch pockets, curved at the bottom, the shape reminiscent of a brandy snifter; and a double handmade backstitch on the lapels and pockets — though these last two rather casual flourishes may be absent in more formal garments.

It is across the shoulders, however, that Neapolitan tailoring is at its most distinctive, exacting and remarkable. The heavily padded, rigid suiting made by Britain’s more martial and Rome’s most macho tailors can hide a multitude of physical and sartorial imperfections. The soft, ever-so-lightly or entirely unstructured shoulders of a Neapolitan suit, meanwhile, leave zero margin for error. It takes a true magician to create a shoulder that is soft, rounded, unpadded, but that still remains flattering to the wearer.

The Neapolitan jacket features a high, snug armhole (or scye) — essential in order to maintain freedom of movement while ensuring the suit front stays undisturbed into which a significantly larger sleevehead is carefully fed and handstitched(the process is impossible to execute using a machine). Attaching a larger sleeve to a smaller scye inevitably results in shirring known as ‘grinze’ — a puckered rippling, which the tailoring dilettante may view as imperfection, but the aficionado appreciates for its magnificent craftsmanship and degagé beauty.

The shirt-style ‘spalla camicia’ leaves this shirring as is, while the ‘con rollino’ shoulder sees wadding inserted (or, with greater difficulty, the cloth stretched and heated into shape) to lessen the visibility of grinze and create a raised, roped appearance. Whether configured in the natural-looking ‘spalla cadente’, or in the concave, saddle-shaped ‘spalla insellata’, the shoulder of a Neapolitan jacket benefits from a backward-oriented centre seam, which in the words of the local tailoring community, helps the collar hug the wearer’s neck “comme l’abbraccio ’e n’amico” — like the embrace of a friend.

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