My most extensive visit while in Naples this week was around Kiton’s factory, which is just outside the city. It is a big, well-aired facility that serves a frankly cracking lunch. I’ve never had mozzarella like it. All of the hundreds of staff eat the same food in the same hall overlooking the main suitmaking floor (above), which is peopled by cutters at one end, 10 presses down one side and little clusters of men and women sewing by hand and chatting amiably.

Not that everything is done by hand. Obviously things like side seams on jacket and trousers are done at least initially by sewing machine, as they are at any tailor. But in an interesting switch in priorities, every suit is cut by hand yet most are padded by machine.

The cutters receive a docket for every suit, and cut each individually even if it means the same thing 20 times in a row. The factory currently has 13 cutters. They then pass on the pieces to be checked and have their linings and internal structure attached. The chest pieces are very light, a mix of linen and horsehair, but have all been sewn together in advance.

The exception is the K-50 or Lasa (laboratorio sartoriale), which makes up a small proportion of production but will receive greater emphasis from this Autumn/Winter season. With Lasa, everything is cut, padded and made by a single tailor. No paper or plastic pattern is used. Next season’s catalogue proudly names the 10 tailors that have been selected from the hundreds at Kiton to do just this work.

The switch of priorities from padding to cutting and finishing is all the more striking when you see the handwork going on elsewhere. There are about 10 groups of tailors, each comprising 8-12 people, arranged around low, square tables and doing one particular process by hand. One cuts and sews on the pockets; one cuts, constructs and sews on the collars; three full tables are dedicated to attaching the sleeves, easing between 2 and 2.5 times as much sleeve into the scye; two tables just sew the buttonholes.

You could argue there is less need for hand padding with the lightweight cloths and canvas Kiton uses. I’m not sure I’d agree. But either way, there are distinct advantages to cutting each suit by hand. It makes the Kiton system very flexible, with made to measure orders easy to incorporate and the managers of individual shops able to order specific cuts or constructions that they think will best suit their local customers.

Riccardo Renzi, for example, a good friend and the London manager, plans to have all suits for his store shifted to a ratio of 2.5 sleeve to scye from next season onwards. He also has all ties for London made slightly longer (ties are also all cut individually), at around 150cm rather than a standard 146cm. He also knows the man that does the chest and shoulders for all his suits – the code for London, 786, is etched in biro on that tailor’s wooden workbench – so he can ensure they have the light construction he prefers.

Ciro Paone, the founder of Kiton, is frequently quoted by staff and management. In describing his approach to the workforce, family members (and therefore management) at lunch said his philosophy was “nothing should be rigid and driven by targets, you could stitch, smoke a cigarette, stitch, drink a coffee”. Of course, smoking is no longer allowed inside, but the relaxed and artisanal air still pervades the air in what should not really be called a factory.

For pictures of the suit process, see post here.

In future posts: shirts, shoes and ties. Shirts I found the most impressive and different from anything produced in the UK or US. Shoes are an interesting mix of English benchmade and bespoke.
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Roger

Brilliant last two posts. The set-up you describe at Kiton is what has been lost in British large-scale tailoring, and a situation that would have to return were British tailoring ever to restart proper moderate volume tailoring worth wearing.
My mother worked for Burton’s during the last period they actually made decent clothes and I remember the workshop on her last day.

Economic targets and stupid profit over quality production has destroyed this in most of Europe. It would be interesting if you could find this sort of thing in Britain or elsewhere in Europe, like how Bookster have revived clothing made in England.

Full-marks for your tireless coverage of this.

Yuriy

Great post, too bad for the lost pictures.
Which measures are taken to define sleeve/scye ratio mentioned above ?
Cheers from Slovenia, Jurij

Anonymous

Very interesting post.

I must admit that this is why I love so much our Spanish tailors. Once a brand, o even a tailor or shoemaker, becomes worldwide famous the way things have been done in the past must be changed. In other words, the traditional artisan way of making suits must be swap for a more industrial way.

And I am not just talking here about Kiton. Even very famous Italian and British tailors give part of their work to outsiders to help them, for example, with the trousers.

Here in Spain, and obviously in many other places, no matter when you go to your tailor shop you can see all your suit parts. It is not only that the main tailor checks other people work but also he is involved (and very involved) in all the process. It is not surprising that the tailor remembers perfectly all your suits.

To me, and this is only a personal opinion, when a brand needs a factory to supply to its demand the quality and finishing cannot be the same anymore. You can have a very well-known brand in the lining of your jacket but the involvement of the person with that name in your suit was if not minimum at least not as deeply as it is in those small shoemaker workshops or those little taylor shops. Or in other words this is why I prefer shoemakers like Stefano Bemer than John Lobb or tailors like Jaime Gallo than Brioni.

Regards Simon (the book is again in its way….sorry for that)

EA

Ville Raivio

Mr Crompton,

I’m eagerly waiting for your take on Kiton’s shirts: from what I’ve read and seen in pictures I gather Kiton has the most lavishly hand-made shirts available. Even hems are stitched by, hopefully, plump and happy Italian hands. I’m sure this does nothing to improve the seam strength, but it sure does look lovely.

Cordially,
your avid reader

Anonymous

I understand the comments of the Spanish gentleman, but I would put forward a counter. It is precisely the combination of scale AND quality that is exciting. This is a business, it is not a museum of traditional skills. What Kiton has done superbly is to maintain quality while building scale. People focus on the wrong stuff in my honest opinion ( I thought Kilgour sending work to China was great). My only issue with Kiton is that their prices are outrageous. It must be a highly profitable business ! As a capitalist I have nothing against it but as a suit purchaser I can get high quality for much less money. But my headline is : Bravo Kiton !

Daniel Douglas

Very informative blog. We stopped a guy we saw in a great suit on Park Avenue and asked him who was the tailor. “Kiton,” he said, “but you’ll do almost as well at Ascot Chang.” NOt bad. You have written, “…as a suit purchaser I can get high quality for much less money.” Where do you we go suggest in NYC? Many thanks

Franck

@ Daniel Douglas. I have seen some work done by Michael Andrews Bespoke. It looks very nice, soft style. I don´t know much more (I am from Northern Europe) but when I visit New York again I would be curious enough to visit them. It could be attractive considering the historical weak dollar 😉

Best, Franck

Anonymous

Thank you for the great post. I have always been fascinated with Kiton and how they create their suits and shirts. Based on your experience with SR tailors and now Kiton, would you say that a house like Huntsman has as much handwork and attention to detail as Kiton, or less so? I sometimes wonder if the artisan attention Kiton creates its products with has more benefit that the “bespoke” process that maybe has less artisanship along the way.