A COMMUNITY OF QUALITY: CESARE ATTOLINI – FINAL DRAFT
Title: Good Music
Three year ago, in a menswear boutique in New York City, I had a wonderful conversation with the legendary vocalist Tony Bennett. He told me, “James, there’s only one kind of music. Good music. Music is either good, or it’s not music. It’s always been this way, and always will be this way. The other stuff—we only call that music because it sounds like music, but it’s really just bad sound. Music is good,” he submitted, “or it’s not music.” Then, he leaned in towards me, and looking into my eyes with a concern so genuine it was at once as unsettling as endearing, asked softly, “Understand?”
Sometimes, when I’m speaking to men about tailored clothing, I’ll tell them about the Tony Bennett encounter, and about good music and bad sound. For me, the same theory applies to men’s tailored clothing. It’s either good, or it’s not clothing. We only call it clothing because it looks like clothing, but it’s really just body covering. Clothing is good, or it’s not clothing. It’s always been this way, and always will be this way.
The Neapolitan clothing firm named Cesare Attolini knows well of what Mr. Bennett speaks, for at Cesare Attolini, there is, always has been, and always will be, only one kind of clothing: Good Clothing. Attolini’s clothing is composed of precise tailoring architecture that borders, and often crosses into, genius, and near-obsessive awareness for orthopaedic science. What’s rendered by the tailors at Attolini is a garment exhibiting a flawless harmony of British elegance and Italian artistry; a garment so classically rooted, and so imbued with authentic soul it transcends perceptions of what men’s tailored clothing can be. Cesare Attolini clothing is, in a word, sublime.
It all began for the Cesare Attolini brand—when ‘brand’ meant little more than how a rancher identified his herd—in the 1930’s. That’s when Cesare Attolini’s father, Vincenzo Attolini, began his career in earnest, in his Neapolitan atelier. At the same time, to the north, in Rome, the legendary Domenico Caraceni was working too, creating his masterful men’s tailored garments with needle, thread and thimble in what was termed [the] Roman Style.
But it was in Naples, in the atelier of Attolini, where something revolutionary was taking place. Vincenzo Attolini was applying his dynamic Neapolitan tailoring aesthetic to the classically styled, yet rigidly constructed Saville Row-influenced apparel which dominated his fellow Neapolitan tailors’ aesthetic at the time. Vincenzo’s mastery for sculpting softness into the complex British-influenced architecture of jackets, using only shears, needle, thimble and thread, was something radically new. It was also something rapidly noticed and accepted by a growing clientele of internationally prominent men in politics, business and entertainment who traveled to Naples to have their clothing made. Soon more men, from Europe and North America, were made aware of Attolini by the early adapters who named “Attolini” as their tailor. This second wave of men came to see and feel also that in the tailoring of this Attolini fellow, there was a uniquely pleasing, but indiscernible sensibility. It was something not found in the tailoring of others from Naples, or on Saville Row, or in Rome or even New York City. Soon, Attolini and Caraceni were traveling by train and car, to Rome or Naples respectively, on Sundays, to have lunch with each other. And locally, Attolini began similarly enriching professional relationships, rooted in shared passion for mastery of their craft, with other Neapolitan tailors. Vincenzo Attolini was rapidly ascending in the small community of the world’s finest makers of men’s custom tailored apparel.
By the 1950’s, Vincenzo Attolini had trained his son, Cesare, in his tailoring methods and aesthetic: Use only needle, thread, thimble and shears to create lightness, softness and resiliency—and use only steam and your hands to shape the coat—purity will result. The jackets created by Vincenzo and Cesare were as classically styled and as well-fitting as the bespoke clothing made on Saville Row, but had a startling lightness. They seemed to have no substructure of canvas or padding; their weight was that of a shirt, and they draped against male muscle and bone with a curiously contradictory sensation: the garments felt intimate, but also wholly unrestricting.
In 1957, at the age of only twenty-two, Cesare Attolini became consultant to a large men’s clothing firm in Turin. He was called to teach this concern his craft and production methods. Cesare consulted in the facility in Turin for less than one year; he found it too commercial for his taste and desire, and so, he returned to Naples, and resumed work in his own shop for his clients.
In the 1970’s, Cesare was invited to join a Neapolitan clothing company named CI.PA, managed by a man named Ciro Paone. Over the next five years, Cesare’s forward-focused vision on aesthetic purity, and his installation of technical evolutions for production of apparel so positively influenced CI.PA that in 1975 Paone created a new men’s apparel label born of Attolini’s tailoring and teaching wizardry. The new label Paone launched was named Kiton.
Fast-forward twelve years: Cesare’s two sons, Giuseppe and Massimiliano, are now grown, graduated from university, and installed as principals in their father’s business, Sartoria Attolini. They move Cesare’s company into new, larger facilities in Casalnuovo, just outside of Naples, and begin nurturing an embryonic and daring new business concept to meet the coming 21st Century.
In this new business, the Sartoria Attolini atelier—soon to be renamed Cesare Attolini—would leverage its design talent, custom tailoring skill and production knowledge to redefine, refine and then, amplify the meaning of ‘custom clothing’.
Cesare Attolini would make clothing—customized, hand-sewn clothing for men—as it always had, with shears, needle, thimble and thread, but not based on individualized patterns and multiple fittings for every client. In this new business, garments would be created in multiples by an expanding roster of pattern makers, cutters, tailors, pressers and finishers, each garment based on standardized measurements and patterns. This new and daring direction would allow the growing company to increase production and revenues while legitimately holding fast to its roots of one garment at a time, for one man at a time, made entirely by hand.
The idea worked, and stuck. Today—on this very day—this is how Cesare Attolini makes a garment. Their facility in Casalnuovo, on the edge of Naples, completes forty garments a day. It doesn’t begin work on those forty on the same day—it completes all the work on forty new garments a day; there is a difference.
THE ATTOLINI JACKET
The coat made by Cesare Attolini is a uniquely tasteful second skin which fairly grafts onto the body of its wearer. The sleeves are cut, sewn and shaped to have a delicate forward-directed bowing, because the human arm is so shaped. The sleeve also tapers, almost imperceptibly, towards the wrist, because the human forearm is so shaped. At its opposite end the sleeve widens gracefully, starting at the bicep, and flares ever so subtly outward at its head, where it meets the armhole. This “trumpet” shaped sleeve-head is then sewn into an arm-hole which is smaller than it—an armhole placed very high on the wearer’s torso. This fabric and tailoring Origami is Attolini engineering at its most sophisticated.
When the wearer hinges his arms, the high, small armhole anchors the coat to the body, while hundreds of hand-placed stitches—little hinges—flex within it, and within the sleeve-head. As the arms move from the shoulder, the hinges move, and the sleeve in turn moves harmoniously with the muscle and bone and skin it covers, with its trumpet-shaped top providing the necessary extra fabric to allow freedom of range.
On the coat’s front, there is further respectful attention paid to the masculine form. The coat’s breast pocket is gently curved, in the shape of a boat’s hull, and rests sympathetically on the part of the wearer’s body which also curves in the same direction: his pectorals. On the lapel of the single breasted coat, the notch is placed extraordinarily high, elongating the lapel’s roll, and enhancing the masculine form of the wearer’s chest. If there is no form in the wearer’s chest, the Attolini coat will supply it with the aid of an all-important and transformative strip of fabric called the collar piece.
Atop the lapel’s high notch is the collar. This crescent-shaped slice of cloth wraps the neck, merges into the shoulder’s silhouette, winches the lapel into its intended posture and is a primary player in defining how the coat drapes—how it looks—on the wearer. At Attolini, only the most surgically-sure and skilled hands cut, shape and sew into place this most important part of the coat.
THE ATTOLINI TROUSER
The jacket isn’t the only art exhibition produced by Cesare Attolini. Trousers too, are works of design and engineering mastery. Attolini trousers are created from a near-fanatical awareness for the physical male form and male psyche.
The trouser fly and waistband architecture contains not an industrially installed zipper (although one can be installed if requested) and a sterile, metal clasp closure, but eight jewel-like buttons, each resting atop a flexible stem of tightly wound and intricately knotted thread.
There are four buttons on the fly closure, and two buttons attached to an interior cotton extension tab at the fly’s top, just below the waistband, on the wearer’s left leg side. This tab is attached to a partner tab’s button holes on the wearer’s right leg side. When fly and tab are buttoned, the fabric of the trouser crotch, hips and thighs drapes in balance. One small, hidden button sits above the fly, behind the extension tab, and affixes through an on-seam buttonhole where waistband meets trouser cloth proper. This little button’s purpose is to ensure the vertical drape of cloth on the fly. And there is a final button. It is the one buttoned last when dressing, and first when in reverse. It closes the waistband’s extension tab, and rests beneath the belt
These buttons are astonishingly easy to navigate and operate, even in the direst circumstances related to a man’s need to open—or desire to remove—his trousers. Because the buttons are sewn on by hand, secured atop a flexible stem of hand-twisted thread, they’re able to flex and sway, moving the trouser cloth they’re anchored to as it needs to be moved—when the wearer moves.
There is, perhaps, more architectural finery and logical design in a Cesare Attolini trouser waistband than there is in an entire suit made by all but the smallest group of tailors in the community of quality to which Attolini belongs.
Today Cesare Attolini is a third generation company, run by Vincenzo Attolini’s grandsons, Massimiliano and Giuseppe Attolini. Cesare, their father, now in his seventies but reporting to work each day with vigor, oversees quality control, and supplies invaluable spiritual and technical advisement. From their one facility outside of Naples, employing just under three hundred persons, Cesare Attolini manufactures, by hand, suits, jackets, tuxedos, trousers, denim jeans, neckwear, top coats, over coats, rain coats and shirtings.
The clothes a man can create in collaboration with Cesare Attolini are as varied as a man’s good taste can range. From cloth, to size, to styling to even the style of stitching used in visible seams, this is custom-made apparel in its purest form. The singularly British-inspired fabrics used by Cesare Attolini to make this clothing is either designed by Cesare Attolini or designed by Attolini in collaboration with decades-old Scottish producers which mill them, and have milled them exclusively for Attolini, for decades.
Sometimes, when I’m speaking to a man—or men—about tailored clothing, I’ll tell the story of my encounter with Tony Bennett, and the theory of good music and bad sound. But sometimes, I’ll say this instead:
When a man allows Cesare Attolini to make his clothes, Cesare Attolini makes love. For ninety years, I’ll say to these men, the Attolini family has done only one thing. They have made one garment at a time, for one man at a time, with only needle, thread, thimble and shears. It’s not so much a suit or jacket or coat they’re making, I say, as it is an expression of love.
Try one garment, I’ll say. You’ll see.