Made in Soragna
We visit Caruso, the tailoring studio behind the suits of Jil Sander and Ralph Lauren.
They say the most beautiful jacket-shoulders are sewn in the Naples region. We visit Caruso in the little town of Soragna, specialist tailors behind the suits of Jil Sander and Ralph Lauren.
LUCA, a fifth generation tailor, speeds his Volkswagen Passat along the main road between Soragna and Polesine Parmensane in Emilia Romagna to be in time for measuring his next customer, René Redzepi, founder of Copenhagen restaurant, Noma. The Danish celebrity chef is visiting the town to sample the region’s speciality, Culatello. This very special ham is made from the muscular hindhip of pigs and is cured for 14–48 months to obtain its unique and silky smooth taste. René’s visit has attracted great interest in the region. Luca shrugs his shoulders when he hears, among other things, that Noma serves live ants. In the town of Soragna, just south of Polesine Parmensane, lies the region’s second well-preserved secret: the tailors, Caruso. At the end of the fifties Raffaele Caruso emigrated from poverty-stricken Naples to try his luck in the considerably more prosperous Parma region. With his Neopolitan tailoring tradition, Caruso established a suit-tailoring studio in Soragna together with his future wife and sister-in-law. During the seventies and eighties they became particularly renowned. In the nineties his sons, Alberto and Nicola, joined the firm. The brothers converted the tiny studio into a state-of-the-art factory, sewing jackets and suits for both quality-demanding fashion houses and their own label. For the past four years, Caruso has been run by Umberto Angeloni, its principal owner since this spring. Angeloni is best known for having developed the iconic Brioni into one of the strongest luxury brands in the world of men’s fashion, increasing sales tenfold. Now Angeloni wants to get back to basics and give the suit a lift.
The suit is the ultimate prestige garment to manufacture. After several years of competition over who can most successfully market mass-produced sportswear, a clear interest in fine tailoring is on the upswing. Foreign investors have begun to notice celebrated tailoring firms who know how to sew suits. Unfortunately often only the name is retained while production is moved out – which can eventually kill both product and brand. “I was looking for a manufacturer with a genuine historical legacy that would add value to a modern product.” Today's customer has decided. To be a premium brand, you need to make premium garments, says Umberto Angeloni. “Many luxury brands have turned their back on their customers. Instead of holding onto their key customers by improving products, they have been looking for younger, fitter and better-looking customers with fatter wallets. I do not want to create a lifestyle brand that is only available for an idealised target group. We will continue to produce good suits for the actual suit wearer.”
Coming here from Brioni, whose brand largely represents an extravagant lifestyle, must have been dramatic?
“One of our most successful campaigns at Brioni was when we filmed the tail fin of a private jet with the text “to be one of a kind”. We showed no garments, just our name. It felt completely right then, but reality has changed. The time for major campaigns and mass-marketing is over. The future will involve directing oneself towards smaller, niche target groups. The industry has for too long had the attitude that the end-consumer does not care about production. But we do.”
Caruso's Costume Factory in Soragna employs just over 600 people. Each month about a thousand made-to-measure garments are produced in addition to some thousand ready-to-wear suits. For their own label, and for large fashion houses like Jil Sander, Lanvin and Ralph Lauren Purple Label. Caruso's suits are characterised by the soft, natu- rally elegant silhouette inherited from Raffaele Caruso and the Neapolitan tailoring tradition. One trick of the trade lies in the selection of interfacing fabric and shorter shoulder cut. Attaching the sleeve by hand creates a smoother, closer shape. The majority of their production is of the so-called fully canvassed construction – which means that the interfacing fabric, as in the classic art of tailoring, is sewn to the front piece of the suit rather than glued. Despite striking developments in gluing techniques since the bubbly lapels of jackets in the seventies, a fully canvassed construction is still superior to glue in order to obtain a balanced chest and shoulder section, falling gently over the body. Although craftsmanship is fundamental to Caruso's production, Umberto Angeloni returns to how construction and quality must be relevant to the modern customer. “Many of today's exclusive suit manufacturers boast about the number of hand-sewn stitches and features in their garments. What does it matter if the jacket is sewn with ten thousand stitches when it is quite sufficient with a thousand? For the end-customer that is merely a number. My belief in craftsmanship has always centred on wedding aesthetics with functionality.”
How important is it for the product that its manufacture remains in Soragna and Italy?
“It is not an end in itself to produce in Italy. It is rather a matter of the skills we and many other talented manufacturers around Italy have built up locally. With the culture we have here in Soragna we would never be able to move production without sacrificing the end result. And how can something be called “Made in Italy” if Italians themselves do not wear it? That is why I am careful that Italy even in the future, will be our largest market. The suit is the world's most successful religion. Although today's suit-wearer has greater demands – the suit should be lighter, wrinkle less and at the same time last longer – a well-fitting suit is still the ultimate proof of style. As the first country to experience the Baroque period, perhaps we Italians have learned to appreciate the simple. There is no need to reinvent a garment that is fundamentally so perfect.
The small pleats that form at the sleevehead are the mark of a true Italian ”Spalla Camacia”. This special feature where the sleeves join the jacket, similar to the construction of a shirt, is typical of the Neopolitan tailoring craft.