Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

One of my favorite byproducts of this whole internet menswear movement is the breaking up of the private label monopoly. Thanks to various forums and blogs, the details on exactly is behind the production for some of the world’s biggest brands have now become public knowledge. This increase of interest in “who makes it” not “what label does it bear,” has allowed Rancourt, Golden Bear, New England Shirting, and countless other labels that also operate as contract factories for larger companies to create side projects of their own. 

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH


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At this point, thanks to tumblr, Twitter, Google Reader, and Instagram (if you think I left anything out there, well then god help us all) I’d venture to guess that on any given day I must flip through nearly a thousand photos, which is a revelation that’s simultaneously awesome and horrifying. Of these photos though, probably only ten or so will end up striking enough of chord that I remember them the next day, and from there, probably only one will ever have a lasting enough impact to inspire some idea in my head, but sometimes that’s all it takes. As the weather turned a couple months ago, one image in particular jumped back to the top of my mental queue: this shot by the Sartorialist from just over two years ago now. Published during Scott Schuman’s prime of producing images that were actually informing the budding menswear community, you could take any part of this outfit and make a case for why it’s inspiring, but for me this shot remains all important for one reason – the jacket.

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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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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.

Brioni Employees Outside on their U.S. Stores

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.

Nazareno Fonticoli and Gaetano Savini

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.

Early Brioni Company Photo

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.

Brioni Fashion Show in 1952

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.

Early Brioni

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.

Brioni 1954

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.

Henry Fonda being fit by Nazareno Fonticoli

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.

Nazareno Fonticoli cutting fabric in the Brioni factory

Pierce Brosnan being fit for a Brioni Suit, Brioni has outfitted both Brosnan and Daniel Craig for the most recent James Bond films

Brioni Spring Summer 2012

Brioni Spring Summer 2012

Brioni Spring Summer 2012

Brioni Spring Summer 2012

Brioni Spring Summer 2012


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