As I’m sure most of you know by now, this Tuesday marks the start of Pitti Uomo 82, which means that everyone and their blogger will be turning their attention to Italy this week to see what’s next. But before we all collectively look forward, I figured we should take some time and look back at a brand that forever changed the way American men look at Italian tailoring-Brioni.
At the close of World War Two, tailor Nazareno Fonticoli and entrepreneur Gaetano Savini joined together in Rome to start Brioni, taking the name from a series of Croatian Islands that were once a vacation hotspot for Italian aristocrats. It was their goal to tap into the American market to bring the Italian cut to the states, and for the two men, the timing couldn’t be better. During World War Two as American G.I.’s traveled to Italy, they were able to get a taste of the nation’s rich culture, and it was Fonticoli and Savini’s intention to capitalize on the American’s newfound Italian interest by making their style more accessible in the states.
To do this the two men approached expanding and marketing Brioni in an unprecedented manner. The first step in this plan was a fashion show, which might be the norm today, but for Brioni it was a revolutionary event. In 1952 at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Brioni put on the world’s first fashion show to feature men, a spectacle that forever changed the way we receive collections and moved Brioni into the forefront of the Italian menswear scene.
The next move for Fonticoli and Savini was American expansion. In the mid fifties Brioni outposts opened up in New York and Los Angeles. The brand had already built up quite a reputation thanks to their presentations, driving America’s style icons into the store to pick up some Brioni of their own. While Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, and countless other celebrities became some of the brand’s biggest customers, Brioni wasn’t just making progress on the coasts. Department stores began to carry the brand nationwide, bringing Brioni’s Italian style to the masses.
Which begs the question, why was Brioni so well received by the American public? The answer first and foremost deals with the state of American tailoring at the time. The boxy sack suit had prevailed as the end all be all of American style for decades, but it didn’t drape well, was a touch long, and had a conservatively high button stance. As an American, it might be entirely sacrilegious for me to say and I’m sure I’ll catch some heat for it, but the sack suit just wasn’t that flattering. On the other hand Brioni’s style (which was dubbed “the Continenta Cut”) was slimmer in the body, an inch shorter in length, had a low two button stance, and featured the signature Italian soft shoulder. In contrast to a sack suit, Brioni’s garments created a much cleaner, form-fitting silhouette that generally just made most men look better. Not to mention the fact that in the fifties and sixties movies such as Roman Holiday had popularized the Italian style that just looked so damn good on screen.
From the fifties on, Brioni was renowned for their ability to bring something fresh to the American people. Not only in their cut, or presentations, but also in their patterns, colors, and details, which added an aesthetic that couldn’t be found in any American suiting up until that time. While this penchant for innovation is what made Brioni instantly famous, it’s their craftsmanship that has always kept them at the top as one of Italy’s greatest brands. Brioni really lead the way by taking the tradition of handmade Italian tailoring and making a larger business out of it. To ensure the continuation of the craft for years to come, the company opened up a tailoring school in 1985 that offers a four year course on Italian tailoring.
Over the past few years as the soft shoulder has returned to prominence, Brioni has been right there at the top, taking their now legendary continental cut and offering it in bold colors and patterns. Despite their recent resurgence in popularity, it’s interesting to look back on Brioni and realize that they’ve been doing pretty much the same thing since they were first established in the forties. Brioni will continue to build upon their heritage, experimenting as they see fit, allowing for trends to catch up to them not the other way around.