Rifugio is a Neapolitan leather manufacturer, which in the past three years has followed a path well-trodden by many modern makers: leaving pure manufacturing to set up their own brand.
I’ve seen several Rifugio pieces over the past couple of years, and went to see founder Alfredo and his son Alfonso during Pitti this summer, to get more of the back story.
Alfredo (below) has been a tailor of leather jackets for over 50 years (as with many such feats, it helps that he started young, at 13).
He gained a reputation as the best worker of leather around Naples, and was at one point commissioned to make a white piece for the Pope.
Alfredo's small operation made for many of designer brands, including Loro Piana. It worked with only the finest skins, and did much of the finishing on jackets by hand.
Since the brand was launched, more of the range is now machine made, but the quality elsewhere remains.
Alfonso (below) was the driving force behind the change in direction, and he’s proved a success so far: the tailoring team has grown from six people to 15 since the move.
It was he who was very much in charge of the booth and the presentation when I visited.
I was impressed and surprised by the range of skins available. There were jackets in goatskin, deerskin, exotics and calf, both leather and suede, plus cashmere, perforated leathers and shaved lightweights (this was the summer presentation).
For a small operation, there was a lot on offer and some of the newest treatments too: deerskin that was treated on the inside, for example, to make it smooth (it would normally be too rough to have unlined - but it needs to be unlined to work in the summer).
Super lightweight suedes that are shaved down, as mentioned, and perforated ones that have so many holes there’s more air than leather (below).
I’ve both tried many brands of leather jacket over the years, and visited several ateliers as research for Permanent Style, and Rifugio belongs among the very best of them.
(Indeed, I'd only be covering them if they did.)
The quality of the materials is the same as a Loro Piana, Tom Ford or others, and the work the same if not better - considering the little points of hand finishing.
(There is normally a little more handwork than on the pieces shown: winter clothing generally has more because unlined pieces would show the back of the stitching inside.)
The range of styles is nice too. Everything from flight jackets to bombers and blazers to Harringtons, plus longer safaris and even trench-style coats in the winter.
Alfonso is also trying out making jackets in synthetic materials - such as Storm System - in a separate factory.
My favourite was the baby goatskin suede (above), purely because it was the softest and most luxurious. It was so light you could fold the sleeves back as easily as on a shirt. (Well, perhaps a thicker denim shirt.)
I think my first order might be something a bit more versatile, like a dark-brown piece in a heavier suede, but this would definitely be my next choice.
As a customer, the only frustrating thing is that Rifugio is still only starting out, and doesn’t have a distributor in the UK yet.
Still, there are quite a few in Asia and central Europe. I've included the full list at the bottom of this post. Alfonso also does trunk shows at most of the stores.
In the UK the best option is probably The Rake website. It carries quite a wide range, with short suede jackets around £1300 to £1500, those with hand work around £2200, and then deerskin above that. All good value - those designer brands would be much more.
- Oger - Amsterdam
- Michael Jondral - Hannover
- Sartale - Wien
- Mundwmode - Bad Soden
- Degand - Bruxelles
- Kelly's - Kiel
- De Filippo - Koblenz
- Classic Club - Kiev
- Montulet - Maastricht
- Perkase - Astana
- Marco Cimmino - Palm Beach
- Hazelton V - Toronto
- Avedon - Beverly Hills
- Isetan - Tokyo
- Mr. Fenice - Tokyo
- Mitsukoshi - Tokyo
- Estnation - Tokyo
- Estantion - Osaka
- Breazza Uomo - Tokyo
- Lamarche - Seoul
- Genttio - Beijin
- Medallion - Beijing
- Medallion - Shanghai
Sartoria Melina, by the way, split from Rifugio to set up on their own when the brand launched, as mentioned in my Melina piece here. They wanted to focus on just MTM garments, all with handwork.