An Introduction and History
Today Italian designers are leaders in the world of men's fashions. Ask any fashion savvy man and he will tell you that Italian fashion, clothing and accessories, are the epitome of chic. Chances are the fashion savvy man will also be Italian. In fact, the Made in Italy brand is so strong that even men who think of fashion as a frivolous, effeminate pastime would know and appreciate Italian menswear.
Not without good reason. The makers of Italian clothing have had long and intensive sartorial experience, a passion for making men look good, and make it seem easy to do so.
On the face of it, Italian men's fashion is all about simplicity, veracity and wearability.
But appearances can be deceptive, and in the case of Italian menswear, they often are. Inside a suit or behind a tie is the work of master artisans. These are tailors and patternmakers who instinctively and with the help of a knowledge handed down the generations know how to hide a protruding stomach, or enhance a broad shoulder.
The History of Italian Menswear
The history of Italian menswear lay in the hands of these personal tailors, who were the only makers of Italian menswear before the 20th century. Castangia, opened in 1850 before the unification of Italy, was one of the first renowned houses. It ruled personal tailoring for men at the time, and today continues to be an exclusive brand. But during this period, despite excellent craftsmanship, Italian tailoring continued to have an image associated with shiny fabrics and vulgar tight fits, worn by dons and gigolos. The privileged Italian clientele for custom tailored suits went to Savile Row: they wanted to look sharp, but not too sharp.
But Zegna changed the equation in 1910 by opening textile school in Biella, and began to provide some of the best suit fabrics at good rates and with reasonable minimum ordering quantities. Domenico Caraceni sartorias also started up at the same time, and in the 1930's was followed by the renowned house of Canali. Other names like Vincenzo Attolini, and the couturier Corneliani emerged in this decade.
But the Italian menswear brand that made the greatest impact was Brioni. Master tailor Nazareno Fonticoli who was trained in Savile Row got together with Gaetano Savini to launch Atelier Brioni after WW II. Brioni went on the menswear fashion map in the landmark event that launched Italian fashion to the world, when on 12th February 1951, they put men's fashion on the ramps for the very first time. This not only brought them success but also paved the way for menswear shows in Sala Bianca which started from 1963, and culminated in the first fair for menswear in Italy, the Pitti Uomo, in 1972. The Pitti Uomo began as a domestic affair, but soon became international.
In the meanwhile, the image of the fashionable Italian man about town was immortalised by Marcello Mastroianni in 1960, in the Frederico Fellini classic movie, La Dolce Vita. Italian fashion for men began to mean easy elegance, a certain cynical chic, and relaxed styling. Much like in the field of women's fashion, Italian men's fashion began to influence menswear in the United States.
Armani arrived with a bang on the Italian and international menswear scene, bringing with him the deconstructed jacket for men. Crumpled jackets became fashionable, and Armani's summer linen clothing for men became immensely popular and remains so to this day. Armani jackets for men are still a classic in comfortable formal wear.
Italian menswear has still retained its lines of Bespoke clothing, with brands like Zegna and Brioni. Made-to-measure Italian suits are still a corporate bigwig's armor of choice.
After dressing James Bond in Bond movies down the years, Brioni has moved on to dressing Tom Hanks in Angels and Demons.
But with the arrival of brands like Diesel, Benetton, Allesandro Dell'acqua, Roberto Cavalli, and Missoni into the menswear scene, Italian clothing for men has developed options that are edgier, more casual, in-your-face-sexy, sporty.
In conclusion, Italian men like to look good, no secret about that, and there's a whole horde of extremely talented designers, tailors, and fashion houses that are helping them do just that.
In this section on Italian menswear, Life in Italy would provide Italian advice for dressing men up, and talk about what it takes to gear up a fashionable man about town, the Italian way.
Damyanti Ghosh, September 2009