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Diego Della Valle

Some guys shop with patience of Job, waiting months and diligently scouring sale sections for just the right deal. On the other hand, there are those guys that regularly pour out a small fortune just to look like they found their clothes in a dumpster. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between, splurging and scrimping from time to time. And then, there’s Diego Della Valle, a man that simply dresses like pure opulence. Of course, it helps that Della Valle is the CEO of a little company called Tod’s footwear so he pretty much dresses up to his title, but when it comes to Della Valle, as with so many other Italian icons (a pack lead that’s lead by Gianni Agnelli who helped elevate Tod’s to another level when he wore them back in the day) how you wear it is often far more important than what you wear. In fact, Della Valle’s clothes themselves are not particularly remarkable (although he is a great template for proper fit, particularly for bigger guys) mainly focusing on blue shirts, navy or grey jackets, washed denim and of course Tod’s.

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In the twenty-five years since Massimo Piombo started his career as a designer, the state of Italian menswear in America has evolved from culty to commonplace. Although, as terms such as spalla camicia, and gorge height have become so standard that we toss them around without a second thought, I often feel like the actual craft behind these jackets and suits goes unappreciated. I’ll admit that, even as I wrote my initial article on MP di Massimo Piombo a couple months back, I didn’t really think twice about the fact that MP jacket’s featured hand-sewn buttonholes, or were entirely made by hand in Kiton’s factories, or that Piombo had sourced products from across the world for these jackets. Which is why, I was more than appreciative this past week, when the good people at Mr Porter offered a chance for me to check out their stock of MP di Massimo Piombo first hand.

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It opens with a Princeton crested navy blazer, closes with a duffle coat and in between The Talented Mr. Ripley traverses between the Ivy League world of New York City, the cobblestone steps of Italian cities, and concludes with a nod to the English countryside.  As the diabolical Tom Ripley (played by Matt Damon) arrives in Italy from New York to bring Dickie Greenleaf (played by Jude Law) back to the city and his father’s shipbuilding empire, he is clothed in pleated trousers, a black knit tie, and what appears to be a Brooks Brothers button-down, which would’ve been standard issue for any “Princeton man” of 1955.  I won’t spoil the story by detailing Tom’s exploits as a con artist, although Damon’s performance as one of the most finest liars to ever grace the silver screen is worth the price of admission alone.  But it’s the costumes, running the spectrum from trad to Neapolitan to Anglo that wrap the entire film in a blend of hopsack, cord, wool, and cashmere which covers all the character’s ruthless deeds and personality flaws, making them seem all the more sinister from behind those fine threads.

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This past summer, during an exceptionably slow day at work, my friend (and former co-worker) Matt spontaneously summed up the entire current menswear wave with one word: “Italiatrad.” While Matt’s impromptu portmanteau was all we needed to kill a day discussing the marriage of Neapolitan and Ivy, after that day I’d practically forgotten about the word altogether, although I’m pretty sure Matt’s been searching for a “real” definition of the word ever since.  This past week though, I found Italiatrad back at the forefront of my mind, as I sat there reading the announcement that Antonio Ciongoli was leaving his role as deputy creative director of Michael Bastian to spearhead the creative direction of Isaia’s resurrected diffusion brand, Eidos.

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Walking into the L.B.M. 1911 showroom this past week, I had one question on my mind: what happens after the hype?  When the unstructured wave hit menswear in full force a couple years back, L.B.M. was perfectly positioned.  Accessible, well-made, and designed to meet the demands of a younger audience that suddenly wanted to wear jackets, L.B.M. quickly became one of the most talked about menswear brands. The kicker with L.B.M. though was that unlike say Brunello Cucinelli or Thom Browne, the twenty-something bloggers that were writing about the brand, were actually wearing their jackets too.

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Roped Shoulder (via the Armoury)

Dare I say that we’re nearing the end of the soft seasons?  Fueled by menswear’s Neapolitan love affair, for years now the dominant belief has been, the more unstructured the body, the more subtle the shoulder the better, but based on what I saw this past week I have a feeling we might be heading toward a changing of the guard.  This isn’t to say that I’m relishing the day that the soft shoulder is no longer king, I mean to be fair the jackets that I throw on most often are all Italian made, unstructured slopping shouldered sport coats, and I happen to think they fit me better than anything else in my closet.  Yet, even I’ll admit that it’s high time we get a few more options out there.  The soft shouldered jacket is an undeniably great piece of design, but that doesn’t mean every label should go find their own tailoring house in Naples and forget every other suiting style out there.  Which is why, a couple collections I saw a week ago felt like a breath of fresh air, albeit a very small one, but menswear is glacially slow, and it all it takes is a handful of looks now, and maybe things will be different in say half a decade or so (if we’re lucky.)  What I’m referring to of course, is the return of the under-appreciated roped shoulder.

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With the announcement last month on the impeding untimely death of Daffy’s, there’s been a lot of talk about the loss of the discount retailer and it’s random inexplicable deals.  Shopping at Daffy’s was far from enjoyable, it was an insultingly ugly and poorly laid out store that was constantly ransacked, but it still always drew me in thanks to the consistent stream of rumors about (insert illustrious Italian brand here) being available for dirt cheap.  Overtime I heard stories of Cucinelli, Isaia, and Zegna all being sold for below cost at Daffy’s, but every time I’d go there, all I ever found was a bunch of shoddy products from brands I’d never heard of.

Yet, Daffy’s did have one “true deal” that you could always count on if you were willing to ween through a sea of garbage, and that was Incotex pants.  Daffy’s sold the Italian brand’s slim-fitting pants in a bevy of colors for well below what they were worth and when it comes down to it that’s probably the only real reason to mourn Daffy’s.  While you can now pick up Incotex at Mr. Porter, Barney’s, and the ilk, there was obviously something appealing in getting an incredibly well-made, tailored trouser for next to nothing.  Nonetheless, I’m sure Incotex will get picked up somewhere else and they’ll find a way to offer it for just as cheap (looking at you, Yoox) and then everyone will slowly forget Daffy’s even existed.  While I never ended up buying anything at Daffy’s I still owe it to them for creating buzz around Incotex, not because I wear their pants often (full disclosure, I’ve never owned a pair, although my dad swears by them) but because they turned me onto Slowear.

Slowear could be considered Incotex’s “parent company” although that’s probably not the best term for them.  Slowear is an Italian based company that produces pants branded as Incotex, knitwear branded as Zanone, shirts branded Glanshirt, and jackets as Montedoro.  Now why they decided to have every facet of their line be a different “brand” I’ll never understand, especially because Slowear is such a great name on it’s own, but when you put all these products together you have what I believe is the next “big” Italian label.  Slowear was founded in 1951, producing private label trousers for other brands, but in the seventies they decided to go out on their own, starting Incotex with the philosophy of creating simple contemporary pants that were remembered for their fit and attention to detail, not for branding.  In the early aughts they applied this system to the rest of their “brands” creating a larger company that wasn’t just about pants but a complete wardrobe.

To me Slowear sits in a similar position as Cucinelli or Loro Piana in that they’re an Italian brand that’s trying to be about the entire package not just individual pieces.  Much like Cucinelli, Slowear has a relaxed sensibility to them, the colors are all a bit earthy and the garments have a comfortable, broken in feel to them.  While I doubt Slowear’s production is as meticulous as Cucinelli’s (therefore the prices are significantly lower) they are all still Italian made (except for Incotex, which I believe is partially made in Spain and partially made in Romania.)  What’s most fascinating to me about Slowear though, is not that they’ve built up this entire attitude without having many solid accounts here in America, it’s that when you look at their website, you can’t help but wonder what they’re waiting for.  Their look-books seem like an Italian version of a J. Crew catalog, they have a journal that covers everything from green living to food in Beirut, their products express that clean look that has come to define Italian design, but where are they expanding is slow and a bit perplexing having just opened up a store in the unlikely market of Mexico City.  Slowear is about totality, it’s a packaged lifestyle that is refreshingly forward-thinking, the only thing to do now is wait for them to really hit the states.

Last week I was fortunate enough to pick up an item that has instantly ascended to the top of my wardrobe-an Isaia Aquaspider sportcoat.  The four-season wool jacket is arguably one of the most important items in anyone’s closet, and yes, pretty much every label ever has some variation of it packed into their collections, but to be fair Isaia’s Aquaspider collection is on a whole ‘nother level.

While the name might sound like some rejected comic book character, the Aquaspider is the one of the keys behind Isaia’s indisputable reputation as one of the most innovative brands in Italian tailoring.  The material is unique to the label and has become one of their most frequently used fabrics within their collections, and with good reason.  In layman’s terms, Aquaspider is water-repellant and stain-resistant, but to put it that simply doesn’t really do the material justice.  Unlike most materials that are treated with water and stain coatings as a final step once the garment is completed, Aquaspider is treated during the weaving process which makes the repellants both more concentrated and more natural looking.  Another important note about the weave itself is that it’s significantly wider and longer than the average fabric and only one hundred percent Merino wools are used in the fabrication process.

The result is a jacket that is nothing less than gorgeous.  While most water or stain resistant materials have an awful plastic-like sheen and texture that can only be compared to that of a garbage bag, the Aquaspider’s hand is soft and oddly organic.  There’s no shiny look to the jacket, yet it still catches light just so, showing off a nice dynamic pattern and hue.  The thicker weave also gives the Aquaspider on if it’s most desirable attributes-the drape.  Aquaspider molds itself around the wearer for a fit that can only really be described as the jacket literally remembering it’s owner’s frame.  Isaia might be one of those unavoidable names in modern menswear, and I know that after a while we all have a tendency to start ignoring those brands that become too talked about, but after putting on that Aquaspider for the first time I can assure you Isaia deserves all the attention that they get.

Heading into this week I had thoughts of biker gangs, Indian cycles, Steve McQueen, and all the American pride that goes along with that, but as I’ve started to dig into these posts, I’ve been preoccupied with something from the other side of the Atlantic.  It could be the summer heat or just the seemingly unflappable popularity of Italian style, but the Vespa just seems to fit right into my current state of mind.

The First Vespa, the MP-6

Post-war Italy was in disastrous shape, with most of their industries left all but gutted, and Piaggo & Co. had taken one of the biggest hits.  During World War Two the company had been a major producer of fighter planes for the Italian military, but the allies bombed their factories to oblivion over the course of the campaign.  After the dust settled Enrico Piaggo, who’s father Rinaldo had founded the company, decided it was time to start anew, leaving the aviation industry behind, he began to steer the company in a new direction.  Enrico had a vision for a contemporary and affordable invention that would revolutionize the way the Italian’s lived their lives as they rebuilt their country.

Always searching for that edge, the U.S. was constantly sending over new technologies from the states throughout the war.  Once such vehicle was the Cushman scooter, a vehicle small and maneuverable enough to bypass the Nazi’s attempts at bombing out roads and bridges.  It was that scooter that gave the company their inspiration to create a vehicle never before available to the Italian people.  The first attempt was led by designers, Renzo Spolti and Vittorio Casini in 1944, they dubbed their invention the Paperino, or Donald Duck in Italian, but their design was closer to a typical motorcycle than something revolutionary and Enrico instantly rejected it.

Dissatisfied with the work of his in-house team, he decided to call in an outsider, aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio, who delivered the first Vespa in 1946.  D’Ascanio hated motorcycles, proclaiming them bulky and impractical, so he aimed for something compact and lightweight.  What he developed was a two-wheeled, step through scooter, with the engine in the rear, and an enclosed chain mechanism.  Upon seeing the scooter, Enrico emphatically proclaimed “Sembra una vespa!,” or “it looks like a wasp!” and the name just stuck.  Piaggo promptly patented the vehicle, began cranking them out using “Ford-style” mass manufacturing and promptly launched it to the public during the 1946 Milan Fair.

At first people were a bit confused, the design was unlike anything they’d seen before and they didn’t exactly know how to respond to it, but nonetheless they began to sell, and slowly but surely the Vespa began to take over the streets of Italy.  The Italian people were starving for something to get excited about and the inexpensive, agile scooter was exactly what they needed.  In just a few years Piaggo’s sales had climbed to over fifty thousand Vespas annually.  From the businessman riding to work in his unstructured Navy suit, to the teenager cruising around in a half buttoned dress shirt and scuffed up loafers, the Vespa became an integral part of Italian life.

The international push came in 1952 with the release of Roman Holiday, as Gregory Peck rolled through the Roman streets with Audrey Hepburn at his side sales skyrocketed.  With interest piquing Vespa expanded production and sales throughout the world, marketing the scooters as a paragon of that incredibly desirable laid-back Italian attitude.  With new markets came even greater success and by 1956 Vespa sales reached into the millions.  Over the years the Vespa has gone beyond it’s Italian roots, taking on new meaning for each generation.  During the sixties it was the mods in England, for whom the inexpensive vehicles meant freedom.  The young Mod rocker, riding around in a kitted out Vespa all decked out in a slim fitting suit and matching wingtips was a common sight throughout London for years.  Beyond that everyone from the Japanese, to Hollywood stars, to American urbanites have had a love affair with the Vespa at one time or another, drawn in by that uniquely appealing Italian design.

Luca Rubinacci

Patrizio Cappelli

After my post on Lubiam a couple weeks ago, the good people in charge of PR for the brand reached out to me, inviting me up to their showroom to take a look at what the brand has on deck.  So last week on the first of what is sure to be many unbearably hot summer days, I walked into a sun-soaked office in New York’s Garment District and was greeted by the familiar sight of the brand’s unstructured jackets.

I was mainly intrigued by what L.B.M. 1911 is working on, not only because their casual sport coats have become a cornerstone of my daily uniform, but because it wasn’t that long ago that I first read about the brand.  In just a few short years, L.B.M. has built up a dedicated fan-base due largely to their unstructured jackets that everyone seems to be after these days.  Early on the brand was heralded for their accessible price point, yet stockists were always an issue and the jacket’s weren’t exactly easy to find.  All this changed when Gilt began carrying the brand, a move that actually only increased demand for L.B.M.’s jackets, and led to even more accounts.

Today L.B.M. can be found in one hundred twenty stores nationwide, and after taking a look at the brand’s latest collection, I can say they’re clearly evolving in all the right ways to keep up with this new higher profile.  The basic framework is still there-washed, soft shoulder, fully unstructured jackets with a nice slim cut, yet it’s great to see L.B.M. elaborating on the area that I believe has always made them so noteworthy: their fabrics.  The textures and patterns of L.B.M.’s jacket’s are in my opinion their strongest point, and for their next season they continue to expand on this, bringing in a range of fabrics that could pack an entire closet.  Covering everything from the simplicity of a solid navy jacket, to the intensity of a bold tartan complete with suede elbow patches, the collection really runs the gamut on soft shoulder tailoring.

Building off this L.B.M. is also introducing a new break out line this year called FLY.  These jackets will be slightly narrower in the body and a bit more cropped than the average L.B.M., yet they’ll be made from loose-knit fabrics to compensate for this tighter cut.  The FLY jackets that I tried out felt closer to a sweater than a traditional jacket, and seemed like they were made for a fall weekend, bridging the gap between a lightweight L.B.M. and traditional outerwear.

In a move that seems like a natural step for an expanding brand, L.B.M. is branching out into the world of scarves and pocket squares.  The lightweight linen scarves featured paisley motifs in muted colors that undoubtedly reflect the brands Italian heritage.  As for the pocket squares, their translucent linen construction and soft tones seemed like the perfect compliment to the brand’s jackets.

It’s refreshing to see a brand progressing in an intelligent manner, understanding what’s worth playing with, and what should just be left alone.  With such a strong collection, I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t the last you’ll be hearing from me about L.B.M.  Thanks again to Cristiano and Blanca from Cristiano Magni Public Relations for extending the invitation, and for their hospitality.

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