Take a burning interest in the classic values of male elegance, combine it with the streetsmarts of a blogger and you’ll have Fabio Attanasio. Today the blog The bespoke dudes attracts more than ten thousand visitors. Plaza Uomo travelled to Milan to receive a lesson in sprezzatura.
Simply arriving at Malpensa airport in Milan is enough to make you realise why some people call it the menswear capital of the world. Everywhere they look, new arrivals are met by light boxes advertising for this-or-that fashion house or international representatives appearing at upcoming fashion weeks. On the train into the city, toned American models share updates about their latest assignments.
Nothing, however, can beat the sight that greets me outside Panino Giusto, close to Porta Venezia in central Milan. The combined café, bar and restaurant is located inside a beautiful old building adorned with fresco paintings, which are well worth a visit in their own right. Here stands Fabio Attanasio. The young voice of a well-tailored Italy.
In less than three years his name has become increasingly associated with words such as authority and icon. His blog, The Bespoke Dudes, attracts tens of thousands of unique visitors, pulled in by his Instagram account, with 46,000 followers, or his Tumblr. Fabio Attanasio is only twentyseven years old.
On the blog he interviews – in multiple languages or with online broadcasts – menswear tailors around Italy. Sometimes shoemakers, or perhaps barbers or wool weavers. There’s also a wealth of photos of Fabio himself as a model, demonstrating everything from cloth, cuts, sewing, buttons and regional styles to his own combinations, advice and tips. The classic style of gentlemen, an age-old craft, filtered through the lens of a young social-media phenomenon.
The story of Fabio Attanasio, a Neapolitan law graduate, has something of the fairytale about it. When he moved to Milan to attend the prestigious Bocconi University at the age of 19 there was nothing else on his horizon aside from the legal profession. But something was niggling at Fabio.
“I noticed that I spent more time reading books, magazines and blogs about male elegance, or watching old black-and-white films about my Neapolitan culture, than studying,” he says over a glass of Peroni.
“Later, when I started the blog I had no plan, no marketing survey, I just had to share my passion. And so I started hanging out at tailoring houses. Sometimes they’d shoo me away: ’Get out! What are you hanging around here for?!’ But I wanted to learn and share the stories of this noble profession and these gentlemen: the bear-
ers of the classic values of male elegance”.
Fabio Attanasio repeatedly returns to this: elegance. He resists the word fashion, and terms such as ready-to-wear are brushed away with his hand as if they were annoying crumbs on the table.
“Fashion is a code. Elegance comes from within yourself. With bespoke clothing you are the one who decides everything, from the cloth to how many centimetres there should be between the breast pocket and the shoulder seam – it is your style, no one else’s. But elegance is about so many other things; how you think, how you behave towards others. I know fashion people who are more than happy to speak about elegance but who don’t pay those working for them, that is not elegance,” he says and continues:
“Some believe that elegance is to dress well, attend parties and present an image of a beautiful life. But elegance is the opposite of showing off, elegance is humility. And this is where clothing brands come into the picture – people who wear brands are looking for an identity but in the world of tailoring, brands are only allowed on sports clothing. If you’re wearing a logo you’re imitating somebody else’s idea.”
While some might see Fabio Attanasio talking about his passion for unique stitching as elitist, the sheer amount of faithful followers in his media channels, in a variety of countries, paints another picture. He believes that the success of The Bespoke Dudes – I’m the one using the word success, Attanasio humbly demurs – could be partly attributed to him having been the first Italian to report from within the welltailored Italian world, and partly to his age. In addition to that, the fact that he writes in both English and Italian. You could also say that the blog is imbued with a no-nonsense quality and functionality.
“And I only paid 200 euro for the web design,” he says with a laugh.
That’s what he’s like, Fabio Attanasio. Very courteous, precise in the way he moves and expresses himself, incredibly modest. And naturally divinely dressed – a classic style with a twist here and there, in fabrics, cut and colours to die for. A perfectionist. At the same time there is a casual air about him and he is far from a know-it-all or a snob. He orders beer after beer while we’re talking and looks offended when I, in the manner of a journalist, offer to pay. He laughs a lot and shrugs his shoulders. He also tells me that he was crippled by shyness when he first started modelling clothes: “I couldn’t even look at the camera.” Classically elegant and a dude all-in-one. The new gentleman.
And one with a bright future ahead of him. When clothing becomes critically scrutinised from a sustainability perspective – quality and authenticity are in demand – the interest in tailoring reawakens. More and more people want to know where the material is from, how items of clothing are manufactured, and from what. Fabio is getting more technologically intricate questions from visitors who enquire about the whole manufacturing process. It is a development driven by the young, he says, people who want to spend less but focus on quality.
“Fifteen years ago being a tailor in Italy you’d have been perceived as something of a loser, unless you were famous and tailoring suits for celebrities. But ever since the economic crisis more and more people are questioning the value of getting an academic education – say, in economics or law – when you might not even get a job. So today more people want to become tailors again, and it’s even the case that some are keen to say that they are a tailor without actually being one. Like pattern cutters, an important job in itself,
“FASHION IS A CODE. ELEGANCE COMES FROM WITHIN.”
”My favourite place for suits is Naples, the cradle of Italian menswear tailoring.”
but they’re not tailors. It’s not about unearthing an ancient and buried profession, instead it is about changing and developing it. That’s started to happen now – tailors are travelling around the world to gain inspiration and new knowledge. Things are happening.”
“This is interesting in other aspects as well. Modern humans are close to forgetting what things actually feel like. Only fast things are interesting. I want to go in the other direction, I want to honour the slow side of life.”
Fabio quickly noticed that other people felt the same way. When he began to shine a light on well-tailored style it was enthusiastically lapped up all around the world. He laughs about the early days, how he didn’t earn a penny in the beginning, but nevertheless paid photographers out of his own pocket. Eventually people began to understand that he was on the side of both tailors and his followers.
“And that’s when tailors started approaching me and wanting to dress me for a feature story. I realised that there was a business here.
These days Fabio Attanasio charges for his services. But only if he likes what the tailor is doing, or in his own words: if they are true to the values.
“I say no to several in a week. Otherwise I go there, interview them, get to know how they work, I bring a photographer, I write and publish. All of this for a very small sum considering the context, and in most cases for more readers than an advert in a magazine. And I get a new suit. Everyone’s a winner.”
“But nothing foreign. I was offered a lot of money from a clothing brand, which isn’t Italian, to become their spokesperson. A lot of money. But, and I have no idea where I found the courage, I told them no. Being able to stand behind something completely is a core value of the blog.”
Fabio Attanasio frequently talks in terms of “we”. He points out the plural form of dudes and suggests that he should merely be the vehicle for the stories.
“You don’t follow me to find out about how I live my life, and I don’t give them that, or even to find out how I dress. This is about our passion for the craft. A service for like-minded people. The reason I chose ’dudes’ instead of ’gentlemen’ for example, is just to emphasise that we are normal dudes, but with a special interest.”
This is where we get onto the subject of sprezzatura, and here Fabio Attanasio straightens his back and leans forward. The expression was coined by renaissance author Baldassare Casteglione as early as 1528 in his book Il cortegiano – a guide of sorts on how to best behave at court as a courtier, lady-in-waiting or guest. The expression can be loosely translated as “conscious nonchalance, not trying too hard”.
“Not trying to look pretty, never become a peacock,” says Fabio. “To ignore that the handkerchief in the breast pocket should have a certain number of corners or the perfect, symmetrical Windsor tie knot. I hate the Windsor knot. And I don’t like the word dandy, that’s excess. I’m more in favour of understatement. A sober balance is key – maybe not when it comes to alcohol [he laughs], but for everything else.”
“Someone from GQ Italia [Attanasio contributes for the magazine, Ed.] asked, ’Fabio, how should a man dress?’ But that is not something for me to decide, he must to do so himself. It also depends on the situation; to be dressed appropriately with regards to his environment, the colour of his eyes, his body – he needs to find out what it is that will make exactly him elegant.
So how do I find that, who is “my” tailor?
“That is a good question. I think that the most important aspect is the tailor’s own style. If he looks a bit tacky you will find the product a bit tacky. Regardless of the quality and the execution. So get a sense of who they are, talk to them. And look at them.”
“But be prepared for a battle. If the tailor is sixty-five years old you will differ in opinion in some areas. That is why I’m looking for younger tailors, they understand my requirements. Or a hairdresser, I was never really satisfied. But then I came across a salon where the hairdresser was an elegant guy, and look – now I get the haircut I want, every time.”
Italy is still characterised by a number of regional specialities and style ideals. For an outsider it seems like a jungle that changes surroundings with every step you take: Milan, Florence (The Be-
spoke Dudes offers an interview with Antonio Liverano, the father of the Florentine jacket with its slightly extended shoulders and ‘sloping’ sides) Naples, Rome, Apulia, Sicily, Venice …
“Ethan Newton from The Armoury in Hong Kong compared it to food – a pasta dish could be as good in Bologna as in Bari but they will taste different. Different peculiarities that will suit your taste or perhaps not.”
“My favourite place when it comes to suits is Naples, the cradle of Italian menswear tailoring and where it is still a tradition to bring your son to a tailor on his 18th birthday.”
Fabio Attanasio begins to squeeze and weigh the cloth of his jacket. He prods and pulls at the material while holding out his jacket over the café table.
“Feel how light it is. Just a lining, nothing beneath, no shoulder pads whatsoever. I love it. “However”, he says holding up an index finger, “this vertical seam in the waist is typically Neapolitan and … not good. Here I prefer the Milanese style with one whole piece. So, to continue with the food metaphor – a Neapolitan pizza with a bit of Milanese topping? I’m trying to get tailors in Milan to make a Neapolitan jacket.”
And how is that going?
“Good, if they’re young. But some of the older ones are incredibly conservative. They throw their hands up: ‘It’s impossible.’ In Naples I asked a tailor for just two buttons for the cuff: ‘No, signore Attanasio, we can’t do that.’ I never got my two button cuff [he laughs].”
In the manner of a missionary, Fabio Attanasio takes his time to convince others of what is right and wrong, although in a gentler fashion. And it seems as if he is slightly amazed by the lack of knowledge and the misconceptions. Especially that you need to be rich to afford tailored suits when they can cost less than ready-to-wear, or all the people mistaking made-to-measure for bespoke tailoring.
“But then everything isn’t black or white. I managed to get a good made-tomeasure jacket once and I’ve even got one from a brand that a tailor changed just a little bit. I’ve also experienced tailors failing to meet my expectations. But that’s passion, sometimes it will disappoint you.”
“Like Naples. One of the most beautiful places there is, but also one of the most dangerous. It’s not possible to either hate or love Italy, you’ll do both. It’s like a beautiful woman, you know that she is unfaithful with every man she meets but you can’t stop falling in love with her.”
The dial on the Dictaphone shows we are close to approaching three hours. Over coffee and a tiny cube of ice cream, Fabio Attanasio tells me about the latest news on the blog, his latest development:
“Our own line of eyewear! TBD by Kadór 1962. I found this maker of sunglasses who has been running his own family business since 1962. This 82-year-old man still bends every frame by hand. Everything, everything, is hand made. Look at these four tiny screws between the frame and the earpiece. And they still use pumice for the polishing. In a year they produce what the large factories do in a day, it can take months to get a pair, but it fully ties in with my philosophy: Craftsmanship. Attention. Slow.”
In addition Fabio Attanasio is writing a book. About what? Italian tailoring culture, of course.
“But it’s taking some time”, he says. Naturally, it has to be crafted to perfection.
Irish linen suit by Edesim Napoli, tie by Chiaia Napoli, shirt by Camiceria Besani, handkerchief from Serà fine silk and Cran light tortoise frame sunglasses from The Bespoke Dudes Eyewear.