Dalcuore: Gigi on expansion, craft and young tailors

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Friday, August 25th 2017
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Gigi doesn’t normally talk much. The master cutter at Neapolitan tailors Dalcuore, he normally stands back, silently, as Damiano and Cristina do the talking.

This is both his character and a result of speaking little English.

It was nice to have a translator on hand, therefore, when we visited in Naples, and a good 20 minutes of picking Gigi’s brain.

Dalcuore have grown hugely in recent years. They travel for bespoke appointments around most of the world (although not always as regularly as other tailors - in London, for example) and both ready-to-wear and made-to-measure have grown even faster.

“We now make around 800-1000 bespoke suits every year, where it was 600-700 a few years ago,” says Gigi. “RTW and MTM, on the other hand, have grown from 200-300 to perhaps 700 today.”

“We’re very keen to not accept more work than we can deliver at the right quality, though,” he adds. “The biggest issue there is people - investing in trainees for the long term.”

Dalcuore’s atelier used to be on Piazza Vittoria until a few years ago. It’s now in a bigger space at the other end of the long city park that runs along the sea front - which is a bit of a walk from the centre (particularly in the summer) but gives them much more space.

There’s a big high-ceilinged room in which to see new models (such a new double-breasted for Brio in Beijing, which was particularly striking), to have some decent stock of cloth, and to still have cutting on site (shown above).

Across the street there are then a couple of rooms containing tailors and apprentices - which will soon move to a space out of town.

“We have some good people in that workroom, but there is a constant issue that young people don’t want to learn,” says Gigi.

This is a refrain that I here everywhere, across a range of crafts.

But it is striking that while there are more applicants than places for Savile Row apprenticeships, and a flood of young people going into bespoke in Japan, there are very few in Italy. Why is craft not fashionable here?

“I think it’s the culture. It’s much more consumerist in Italy - everyone wants everything now, they’re not willing to train or learn,” says Gigi.

That’s a global trend and a generational one, of course, but it does seem to be stronger in Italy than elsewhere.

One Italian factor is that, particularly in the south, young people often have parents or other relations that are craftsmen - and have not had an easy life out of it.

For example, when we interviewed Marco Cerrato the same day, he was passionate about his craft, his product, and about his extended family that all worked together.

But he would never want his son to become a tailor.

“It wasn’t a good life. My parents worked very long hours - they still do - and I would often sleep under the cutting table. It’s a real struggle,” he said. “I want my son to go to university, to be a professional.”

Gigi agrees this is an issue: “It’s hard for young people to see the attraction of the work, of the heritage. They see it as something mandatory that friends had to do after school, or leave school at 13 for.”

“It’s not considered a safe job today, given how quickly the industry changes. Let alone an aspirational one.”

Nonetheless, in those rooms across the road there are five young people working alongside the old tailors.

Three came from the Kiton tailoring school (which I covered years ago - back in 2011) and two have been hired fresh into the workroom at Dalcuore.

“Schools like Kiton can be useful starting points, because they give young people rules and a rigour to the work,” says Damiano, showing us round (and pictured above in cream suit).

“Because Kiton does small amounts of hand finishing, such as hand-sewn buttonholes, they make sure the trainees do enough of it to get their accuracy and their hand-speed up,” he adds.

This is an interesting contrast to the course at Newham College in London, which is sometimes criticised by bespoke tailors for trying to teach everything in a single year, and as a result turning out graduates that can’t do anything to a level that makes them immediately useful.

Walking back across the road (via the local mozzarella dealer), we reflected on the challenges of growing a tailoring business.

Bespoke and ready-to-wear have very different drivers - and there are only so many specialist shops like Brio and Bryceland’s, or highly engaged Japanese buyers, that really appreciate traditional quality points.

As the number of these shops grows, and makers such as Dalcuore grow with them, it will be interesting to see how big they can get.

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

Bespoke double-breasted model
The Brio DB model. A size too big for me, but love the roped shoulders
A new RTW trouser model
The mozzarella man
A child's bespoke trousers!

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Tomasz

Give your employees normal salary and working hours and things will start to change. Trainees are also people that need to live, so should be making a living wage. Of course the end client will have to pay for it, but maybe it’s better to make fewer high quality pieces with people who enjoy what they are doing.

Anonymous

More or less exactly what I was going to write.

I am fortunate enough to work for one of the big luxury Italian tailoring houses. I was seconded to Italy for 6 months last year and have flown out for a week or so a month every month so far this year. I have met some of the tailors and befriended one or two and for the amazing work they do, the commitment to the craft that they’ve learned lived and breathed they don’t earn anywhere near enough money… with the younger generations wanting things here and now it’s little wonder they don’t want to spend 7 years apprenticing to some old grumpy man for the equivalent of £150/200 week. What sort of life is that

Bart

I agree Tomasz. I’ve always thought bespoke tailoring was too cheap as it is. When I, a humble university student, can afford a Ciccio bespoke suit its frankly too affordable. By raising prices they can ensure their employees get paid a reasonable range and keep its client list to only true elites or aficionados.

Timofey

I was informed by insiders in Naples that real dalcuore situation is little bit different : real owner and investor of dalcuore is one Korean men and huge amount of they work is outsourced in different sartoria . Do you know something about that ?

Hao

Hi Simon, I have been following you for a few years, your work and articles are very inspiring. Also I knew Exquisite Trimmings from your blog. I want to let you know, there is something going wrong with Exquisite Trimmings, a lot customers including myself haven’t received our orders from them. The tracking number they gave in the email is invalid. All their phone numbers on their website are fake or no one answers. I ordered a “19 andrea’s 47” scarf from them about 1 month ago, it’s been more than 14 business days, I wrote a few emails to both their customer service and Shaya himself, I got no replies. Left message on the website, no reply. Called US, UK, either wrong number or no one answered. Call you please help us to find out what is going on? maybe remove ET from your blog because it’s going to hurt your credit. Thanks.
Hao

Darryl

Hi Hao
I had exactly the same experience, very dissapointing.

Hao

Hi Darryl,
I think you can still get your money back by disputing that transaction on PayPal. What I am angry about is that I was given an invalid tracking number, I was looking forward to receiving my order everyday. I trust ET so much, I simply thought that tracking number might be a mistake or something until I realized It was intentionally done by the person who sent the email, on the other word, ET didn’t dispatch any parcel at all! That was a fraud!

Darryl

Hi Hao
Yes got my money back through card provider thanks. I agree though that what really hurts is the sense of it being an intentional fraud. Maybe i’m being naive but i just don’t expect that sort of thing from a company such as ET. Am glad that the advert has now been removed so as to protect other members of this community.

Chris Finch

Hi Simon,

Interesting article, however, I feel we can all see the resurgence in craft here in the UK as evident when looking through your recent posts on start-up brands. I wonder if Italy will follow suit.

On that note, I’m looking to upgrade my briefcase and currently have a rather large black double zipped briefcase, which isn’t well suited, as I now rarely wear a suit and looking for something that’s suitable with jeans as it is for more formal meetings.

I’ve always wanted a Frank Clegg but since your posts on Bennett and Winch I’ve spotted a lovely item they call ‘The Brief’. I’m concerned at £650 I’m spending a lot on predominantly a canvas bag, that may not wear well and at that price I could buy a Frank Clegg full leather which would wear better over the longer term. However, my heart is set on the B&W, as I love the mix of smart/casual styling and the leather effect of the ‘Chocolate’ colour.

As you have a couple of B&W bags, do you have any thoughts on how they wear and if you think this briefcase would withstand the daily London commutes over the next few years?

https://www.bennettwinch.com/collections/the-briefcase/products/the-briefcase-brown-for-men-designer-bennettwinch

As ever look forward to your thoughts.

Chris

Chris

Thanks Simon. Think I’ve now also fallen for a Filson briefcase in olive. O the decisions. May have to have both!

Robin

” I think it’s the culture. It’s much more consumerist in Italy – everyone wants everything now, they’re not willing to train or learn,” says Gigi.

For a moment I thought That was talking about the UK!

I’m afraid we can’t expect young people to learn sewing a button for 6 months , as one tailor was made to do as a trainee , in an age of increasing cost of living and economic conditions far removed from 50 years ago.

If you want the trainees incentive them .
Don’t harp on about the “old days” whilst selling MTM for over a £1000 .

Robin

Point accepted.
But this also raises the question , where is the £1000+ of the suit going ?
If not to the crafts(wo)men then is the seller profiteering too much ?
Without sounding like a Marxist , profit adds nothing to the product .

I know it’s a point made before but you/ we need to keep reiterating and being opaque about how much goes into the suit and how much / little is profiteering .

Anonymous

Robin – your view that “profit adds nothing to the product” is a marxist fallacy; profit adds the very existence of the product

nobody offers a product unless he/she derives a profit from doing so, either monetary (e.g. return on capital) or non-monetary (e.g. altruistic satisfaction), or a combination of both

John

“And there will be many that will immediately protest at that – the same people who protest that a fine shop closes, when all they bought there was an occasional shirt in the sale.”

How insulting. Maybe an occasional shirt in the sale is all they can afford.

Wes WP

Simon – Not sure where to place this query (should have searched the archives), but I was hoping you’d – at some point – do a post where you get into the more personal details of the blog, and of the man behind it – giving us a look into your closet (or closets – or do you have storage units for the overstock?), discussing how much you spend per annum on clothes, whether you have kept your day job – and how you possibly balance a full-time job with a second full-time job (and if the goal , how many you have on staff, whether you (alone) answer your comments – or if you’ve trained someone to respond on your behalf, whether you’ve ever had second thoughts, regrets, or lost sleep over a review you’ve written and whether (paradoxically) a style-blog – for any writer – is sustainable: how many truly great artisanal craftsmen exist in the world that you haven’t already commissioned work from (sartorially-speaking – and is that why you sometimes look at things like jewelry and perfume?) . I’m sure your readers have much more pointed (and nuanced) questions than these, but I’m interested in these as a starting point. Thanks for considering – w

S

How about having a guest writer interviewing you Simon, incorprating the questions above? Would make for a good read I think.

S

Chris Finch

I second that. Great idea.

Your passion has certainly kept me reading and transformed my purchasing choices over the past 5 years or so. Keen to understand more about the man behind the wardrobe!

Thanks for staying true to your beliefs and making such a great blog to follow. It’s the only blog I subscribe too across all topics and read little else regarding men’s style and design.

Johnnydevore

I’d love to read that too.

P.S. I founded and run a company by the side with a few millions in revenue each year and still maintain my 9-5. It’s called barbell-strategie.

Tim Fleming

I’ll stick in another vote for this idea as well. I imagine a large percentage of your readers would agree.

That being said, after reading your blog for so long, I think the quality of person you are shows in your writing and even more clearly in your comments, but learning more of the personal side would certainly be fun!

joshgtv

Plus one. Thanks Simon.

Wes WP

You must be part man-part machine! I’d add to my own questions, for now:
-What happens to those sub-par or botched commissions that are not worth keeping (for wearing), because why would a man in your position wear an ill-fitting, or shoddily rendered garment when you have the best of the best? (I’m curious if you throw them away, store them for the museum that you’ll someday surely open, or if you donate)

– How do you make time for your family when you are running a blog-fashion-pop-up-empire, answering these questions yourself, and maintaining a 9-5 gig?

Rabster

Given that this is soft tailoring with little or no canvas would you say it is all the more necessary to have MTM then RTW?

It just on soft shoulders there’s very little room for error and a shoulder will appear too tight or just a bit too big.

I’ve noticed this as a 40.5ish inch chest wearing a 42 Boglioli suit.
The left shoulder sit fine but the right shoulder looks a little big ( not helped by desk work crippling our backs).
Of course buying a 40 is not feasible as then the trouser waist is challenged .

David

The key issue for all of these guys is sustainability.
They address it in different ways but the big mistake is to try and scale up bespoke. It just isn’t possible. Hence the MTM, RTW adventures. Workable if you succeed in becoming a mega brand but the consumer appetite for this is waining . More and more disposable income is being spent on experiences.
Results from the likes of Zegna are becoming increasingly disapointing and the Richemont group are more likely to sell brands off than acquire in the near term. Ditto LVMH.
The most innovative and encouraging strategy of late is A&S with the Habidashery. I don’t know their financial equation but if they are making a double digit margin, I’d say they’ve cracked it. Clever lady Ms.Rowland and she certainly has the best men’s wear store in the world.
Meanwhile, her bespoke continues – unabated – around the corner.
Perhaps Dalcuore and others could learn from this and ensure that the important art of bespoke is kept alive.
Possibly the most sensible option is

Joseph

Your comment on the Newham course caught my attention. There happens to be a tailoring school here, where some 3 years ago a visiting Richard James cutter set up a British bespoke tailoring course. Far as I know, the course only covers between 9-10 months worth of training. This would apparently be insufficient, so my rejoinder is this: would the training theoretically pay off if a trainee were to put in extra time at home practicing everything they had learned? I realise that a tailor is the best person to ask regarding this Simon, but given what you have gleaned from conversations with – and observations of the work of – masters around the world, I surmise you would have a few thoughts on this. Thank you.

Joseph

Oh, jolly good! I’m in your debt Simon, though I have little to my name for that to mean anything significant. I’ll file your insights under the “affirmative (with conditions) column”. This should be of great help in my deliberation on whether or not to go for the course. Speaking of which, seeing as I do have a day job would there be anything peculiar about pursuing the course but not for the purposes of establishing a tailoring business? Like, would it be odd to want to learn tailoring just to make clothes for myself and loved ones or close friends for minimal or no compensation?

Joseph

You’re right, I may just walk down that path someday when I’ve reached that skill level. But I must first make the decision to embark on the craftsman’s journey. This has been an enlightening exchange, Simon. Thank you very much.

Anonymous

Re David’s comment above, look what just happened to poor Tom Mahon.

Re 10 months training, of course it makes sense to practice at home; just like learning the piano……………..

Joseph

Point well taken, monsieur. I was rather wondering whether the almost criminally short training time would make any amount of practice a moot effort, but apparently I am alone in thinking that. Thank you for the added insight.

Alexei

Hi Simon,

I am a huge fan of your blog,

Apologies for an off topic question, but could you kindly recommend a decent tailor in London who does alterations on RTW?

I always used Hidalgo Brothers at 13 Savile Row, but I find their work sometimes a bit inconsistent.

Thank you.

Chris

Hi Simon
Firstly I would just like to say as someone who has a lifetime interest in men’s tailoring how much I enjoy your website.
I would just like to add to the above comments. I live in the North of England and their are still thriving business that are producing high quality bespoke men’s wear to Saville row standards in house, at affordable prices. Brookes of Bernard castle and Cock of the Walk based in Hull who produce , trouser, shirt and coats in house. Any business relies on covering overheads,provincial business outside major cities have lower overheads and therefore a competitive edge and are likely to maintain and develop artisan skills.

Laputa

Hi Simon. As someone who has been on the Newham college course I can confirm that the structure of the course is bananas. Too many subjects taught too quickly in a very limited time. add to that trying to keep to 20-25 students on the same page without people falling behind and missing key lessons. I will say that the teachers do have genuine enthuisiam and are good educators especially Sydney Valentine. the Problem is that Newham is not a specialist tailoring or even craft school; it’s an adult learning college and as such the structure of the curriculum does not produce many graduates who are immediately useful. for me at least it felt like cramming for A-Level exams rather than being taught a craft.

After a couple years away from tailoring I am starting Andrew Ramroop’s Saville row academy in September and hopefully with some hard work and luck I will able to enter the industry in the not too distant future.

Abz

Hello Simon,
Congratulations for all the brilliant work you post on your site.

I am a young engineer with little income. I love the ideas you display here and I take great inspiration from them. I know a tailor who does decent cutting, at least from my inexperienced eye, but the workmanship and finishing is woeful. I think that is due to an undemanding clientele. Any pointers as to how to get him to improve his work?

I am following your waistcoat throry from a while back, and I am getting rave reviews from the ladies??? Thank you for that!

Anonymous

Apologies. I wrongly left a critical post that was personal. The issue is simply that many admire you and PS for your honest, journalistic approach – always being impartial in your reviews whilst acknowledging the people behind the product . With Ralph Lauren you did the opposite – it was almost a puff piece. For long term readers this position is confusing – particularly when you so successfully espouse the qualities of bespoke (qualities that are in diametric opposition to those in the fashion industry).

Anonymous

Hello Simon,
who is the tailor, means the sartoria, behind the Shibumi Firenze Trunk Shows, responsible for the jackets and suits?
Thank you for your Information.

Andrew

Now that Gigi has died from COVID, do you know what is going to happen with Dalcuore? I see they are still doing trunk shows, but is the quality, fit, and cut going to be the same?