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.

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