While he was noticeably absent from his usual spot at the top of the street style roundups out of Pitti Uomo this year, the clear winner of the past week in my eyes was L’Uomo Vogue’s Fashion Editor Robert Rabensteiner. Rabensteiner’s reign over the week began immediately after day one of Pitti Uomo when it became clear that just about every major “trend” coming out of the trade show this year was something that Rabensteiner was already wearing three years ago. While I’ll hold my personal judgement on wether or not floppy hats and shawls have any real place in menswear right now, I do have to hand it to Rabensteiner for basically proving once again that he operates on an entirely different wavelength from everyone else.
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.
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.
I had originally intended to write about Marcello Mastroianni for today’s post, but I realized that with Mastroianni’s reputation already well established, my words wouldn’t really have been revolutionary to anyone. Plus how many more times can we all look at stills from 8 1/2 before they lose their meaning entirely. And then I remembered a photo that has been stuck in my head for a few months now. The photo is a narrow shot that shows Vittorio De Sica, the Italian Neo-Realist film director, departing a plane at London Airport in 1955. If the photo sounds simple it’s because it is, and aside from De Sica’s wind blown tie and smirk, it’s a relatively static image. But what keeps me going back to the photo is De Sica’s attire. His suit’s soft shoulder, wide lapels, and button stance are all simply perfect, making De Sica’s outfit arguably the quintessential example of Neapolitan tailoring.
Raised in Naples, as a kid De Sica worked his way through menial jobs to support his family, although he always had his sights set on acting. In the late twenties De Sica began performing in comedies and building up a decent reputation in the Italian film world. Yet, it was in the forties when he turned his focus toward directing that De Sica truly found his calling, becoming a crucial figure in the burgeoning Italian Neo-Realism scene. Films such as The Bicycle Thieves (probably one of the greatest films ever made) and Umberto D. made De Sica legendary for his graphic portrayal of all aspects of Post War Italian life.
Throughout his life De Sica always remained an ardent follower of the Italian tailoring tradition, a subtle nod to his own Neapolitan background. Yet, De Sica did not work solely with tailors from Naples such as Rubinacci, (who created the suit in the photo above from London Airport,) but he also frequently wore suits from Caraceni in Rome, and ateliers throughout Florence. Photos of De Sica’s suits and sportcoats are still referenced today as some of the finest examples of Italian tailoring. The cut, details, patterns and overall look of De Sica’s wardrobe are what so many of us continue to strive for today in our own attire. De Sica is proof that when it comes to the Italian cut, the past still prevails.
It all started with one sixteen year old kid. Over a century before the soft shouldered sport coat became blogger bait, well before there were Tumblrs dedicated to the style of elderly Italian men, in a time where Gilt and Yoox were just made up words, there was just Luigi Bianchi. As a teenager all Luigi ever set to do was bring some honor to his family, but what he ended up accomplishing was that and so much more.
Luigi grew up in the provincial northern Italian town of Mantova (known in English as Mantua,) where his father and grandfather made a living by traveling door to door as tailors and barbers, offering their services right in people’s kitchens. For the two men this was as far as their trades would ever take them, but Luigi believed that the craft of tailoring deserved better than a traveller’s life. With a head full of dreams, Luigi left Mantova and headed west to Turin, a major city that bred master tailors. When Luigi started his journey in 1896 he was just a boy with an idea, but in 1911 he returned a man that had not only learned the art of tailoring, but was ready to run a company of his own.
Luigi’s vision was manifested as “Luigi Bianchi – Men’s Clothes and Dresses and Suits for Women,” Established at No. 11 Via Pietro Calvi, the shop was everything a homegrown menswear store should be. It offered made to measure, done by Luigi himself and ready to wear, making it one of the first stores to offer both side-by-side. The shop’s textiles and fabrics were some of the finest in the world, a testament to Luigi’s prowess as a tailor and a designer. Luigi’s reputation soon exceeded the small town of Mantova as legends like the Prince of Wales began placing orders at his shop.
Luigi and his family decided it was time to move away from womenswear and streamline their men’s production to keep up with demand. The expansion, spearheaded by Luigi’s eldest son, Edgardo, balanced efficiency and craftsmanship to create products that replicated the quality of bespoke without the expense and wait time. By 1939, the company employed over four hundred craftsmen and had grown into a full-fledged label, dubbed Lubiam, for Luigi Bianchi Mantova.
From day one, Lubiam was a brand that had higher aspirations. Not satisfied with remaining in Italy, they wanted to conquer the rest of the world. Lubiam certainly wasn’t the only well-made Italian brand of that era, but where they really thrived was in their textures. The brand’s textiles and construction gave their unstructured sportcoats a feel that you simply couldn’t get anywhere else, and it was Lubiam’s goal to bring this to the rest of the world. Starting in the fifties Lubiam set up showrooms, sponsored events, had their jackets and suits literred throughout magazines, and generally branded themselves as the paragon of relaxed Italian style. Their efforts paid off and Lubiam gained notoriety worldwide, first in the states and then onto Asia and the rest of the world.
Lubiam is now over a century old, which for many brands is simply a blank figure. Far too many brands that have been around that long are now just shells of their former selves, having been bought and sold countless times. But Lubiam certainly doesn’t fall into this category. As a brand that’s in it’s fourth generation as a family owned company Lubiam has pulled off something nearly impossible in this day and age: they have kept the brand in their family for over a hundred years. And not only that, but Lubiam hasn’t become complacent, they continue to push the envelope, bringing in new fabrics and patterns to create ingeniously beautiful garments. Lubiam creates and we pay attention.
And if I seem biased towards the brand, it’s because quite frankly I am, but I have good reason to be. In the modern era Lubiam has developed a new label, L.B.M. 1911 that makes sport coats in the same vein as Lubiam’s unstructured soft shoulder sport coats only more casual, and less expensive. I personally own three L.B.M.’s and they’re without a doubt three of my favorite pieces. Season after season I’m blown away by what Lubiam and L.B.M. are able to accomplish. Their patterns, feel, and quality are unmatched by any other brand at their price point making Lubiam one the greatest, and smartest contemporary Italian brands. So, over the next few weeks as we begin to get a taste of what Lubiam and L.B.M. have to offer at Pitti and beyond, go ahead and ogle at whatever unstructured gems they’ve got coming, but never forget Luigi, just a sixteen year old who wanted to make his family proud.