40 Colori: Italian made-to-order, London

Friday, August 21st 2020
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A reader recently recommended to me the made-to-measure knitwear at 40 Colori, a shop on Lamb’s Conduit Street in London. 

He has trouble getting knitwear to fit, being rather tall, and 40 Colori did a good job of making a piece to order for him, with rather longer body and sleeves. 

That was interesting, and welcome, but the thing that convinced me they were worth covering, after a little research, was the direct connection to Italian manufacturing. 

The co-founder of 40 Colori, Gabriele, comes from a family that runs a factory near to Lake Como. It was started by his grandmother, and originally just made silk ties, before adding knitted ties and scarves. 

His father runs the factory today, and his grandmother still makes a lot of the bowties herself.

Gabriele and his co-founder Cassandre met at university, and when Gabriele graduated from the LSE, they decided to start a small shop selling products made in the factory - initially ties, bow ties and waistcoats. 

They had a tiny shop just off Brick Lane in east London for three years, before moving to Lamb’s Conduit Street more recently. They also expanded their range then, to include knitwear, shirts, tailoring, outerwear and other accessories. 

“The move has been very good for us,” Cassandre told me. “There are more business people around here that are interested in clothes, and frankly more people with money. It’s hard to sell our level of craft, with everything made by small operations in Italy using top materials, in East London.”

Crucially, all these clothes are made by factories or workshops that Gabriele’s family know around Italy. So the knitwear is made by Maglificio Annamaria nearby (shown above), the socks by Calzificio di Roby in Brescia, the tailoring by Sartoria di Maurizio in Arezzo, and so on. All small operations around the country. 

I say this is crucial not because they’re all similar - though that’s nice - but because being small operations makes it easier to do made-to-order, which is the biggest USP for 40 Colori. 

The cashmere crewnecks I was looking at cost £225 ready-made, £275 made-to-order and £325 made-to-measure. The cashmere is all top of the range: Cariaggi or Lanecardate. And the turnaround is 3-4 weeks. 

Ties can be even quicker, and sometimes involve just picking up the phone and talking to the family members working in the factory that day. 

I think MTO is objectively the biggest USP for 40 Colori because it’s a service they have unique access to. Their flexibility and responsiveness enables them to stand out from others offering Italian knitwear and ties. 

But also subjectively, I think it’s the biggest USP because a lot of the clothes are not necessarily my style. The ties are mostly a little too funky or unusual, the scarves chunky or patterned. The aesthetic is a little younger than brands we normally cover: more Slowear than Anderson & Sheppard.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t great classic pieces in there - solid-colour beanies or conservative trousers - but it means the prime area in which I think 40 Colori stands out, and therefore Permanent Style readers should consider them, is the MTO business.

 

In order to try this out and review it, I ordered a sweater and a tie, both of which I will cover separately. 

It was a good initial sign that the MTM operation works through adjustments to ready-made styles, rather than body measurements. 

The latter is a system I’ve tried in the past, most recently with Licia Luchini in Florence, and it rarely works: it’s just too hard to describe how you much tolerance you want, where. Most men have never considred how they like knitwear to fit, and even if they have, there’s little shared language to communicate it. 

40 Colori work off a size set of ready-made pieces. “We did initially try taking measurements and making based on those, but it was too unreliable,” says Cassandre. “For this system to work, you need to be confident that the final product will not just be what you ordered, but what the customer had in mind too. And that's the hardest part.”   

In fact, one thing I should have mentioned is most of 40 Colori is made to order - they only keep a minimal amount of stock, usually one product per size and style. So chances are whatever you buy, you’ll end up going through this process and waiting 3-4 weeks (tailoring is a little longer, more like 5-6 weeks).

I went for a pretty standard crewneck sweater, partly because it’s a good basic thing to review, but also partly because some of the other knitwear styles didn’t appeal. 

The chunky waffle knit is not a style I like particularly, nor is the mock neck. The shawl cardigan was a little fine and slim-collared. 

Of course, design elements like those on the shawl collar can be changed - the possibilities with 40 Colori are huge in that regard - but I would always suggest caution when making multiple design changes to anything. 

If you’re not a professional, I find the chances of getting all those tweaks and choices correct are pretty small. Certainly, I rarely have. Indeed, even designers work through one or two samples before going into production. 

Changing a button position is one thing, and adding or removing pockets. But when you start changing the gauge of the knit, and the shape of the collar, and the fit, the potential for error multiplies.

The tie I ordered, too, was driven by the fact most knitted ties are too short for me - rather than by a desire to design something original. 

Gabriele showed me a big spread of knit samples and textures, mostly designed as ideas to show to brands that the factory works for. But I went for a pretty standard chunky knit, similar to those seen RTW from other brands. 

The only thing I varied, apart from the length, was the material - a linen/silk mix. And then only because I saw a final product in the store, and could try it on.  

This might seem a little cautious, even boring. And there is certainly a lot of fun to be had in playing with designs, trying to come up with something both unique and personal. 

But if you don’t have enough money for the result to be not what you imagined - or for a couple of iterations - I’d always suggest starting small. 

Review of the finished knitwear and tie in a couple of weeks.

Photography: 40 Colori

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Connor

I used to work near Lamb’s Conduit Street and always enjoyed browsing in this place. Even though it’s a bit out of my price range at the moment, Gabriele and Cassandre were very friendly and easy to chat with, and I think their clothes are excellent. I imagine their business might take a bit of a hit thanks to the pandemic so I’m glad to see you covering them.

Jonny

This store seems wonderful. Did they mention any plans for expanding their selection of styles? I’d love to see some cable knit options (I’m assuming that when you say the design options are huge, they don’t quite extend to converting a plain knit to a cable). I’ve used N Peal’s MTO service, which is fantastic in terms of the variety of styles available, but I feel I would definitely prefer somewhere like this.

40 COLORI

Hi Jonny,
Thank you very much for the kind words. We are always expanding our range of styles taking advantage of the large archive of designs that our artisans have developed over the years. We are adding a couple new styles of knitwear to our permanent collection this September, but this will not include any cable knit styles as of now. However, we do have some cable knit options as part of our archive back in Italy and we are always keen to start a conversation with our customers, sharing swatches, colour cards and options to see how we can help with their project. If interested, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at [email protected], we will be very happy to help!
Best regards,
Gabriele

Martin

On their website they offer very small fisherman style beanies that end above the ears. Did you one of these?

40 COLORI

Hi Martin,
Thank you very much for your interest. Our Merino Wool Fisherman Beanie has been part of our collection since day one and has been one of our best sellers every season. The fit of the beanie is not for everyone though and over time we found that it suits best gentlemen with generally smaller heads and not too much hair. It is difficult to judge the fit until having tried it on so, for this reason, we are always happy to accommodate worldwide returns. A further note, like all other products, our beanies can be MTO with a choice of colour from our colour card and a 4 week lead time.
Best regards,
Gabriele

Daniel

It’s a lovely Street with several independents. Oliver Spencer who has 2 stores further down said it’s how a High Street should be. I love that they include background on the various artisans on their website. That connects.

Robert M

I believe I must have been the reader in question, it’s so nice to see my recommendation picked up like this. Especially so because Cassandre and Gabriele are the nicest people and I wish them all the recognition they can get.

I agree with you that some of their products are more “hip” and therefore less in line with the Permanent Style line, but, as you notice, there are some appealing basics. And of course it is much easier to work off the ready-made sizes rather than measurements. Unfortunately this option wasn’t available for me as I wouldn’t travel so far just to buy clothes (not to mention the closed borders at the time). So maybe I’ll just share a bit of my experience.

I went fot the shawl-collar cardigan as this is something I really couldn’t get MTM anywhere else. The self-taken measurements turned to be spot on, probably due to the combination of re-measuring a few times (based on already owned items) and a bit of luck. The staff didn’t have any problem working this way, and they went out of their way to send me colour and button samples through email and answer countless questions – I chose the “Baikal” colour with matching buttons (it’s the colour you show in the photo with the model wearing the cardigan, and it’s lovely!). Again, a bit of uncertainty there if you cannot see the colours other than on a screen, but this too turned out very well.

The same goes for style changes – I agree with you that the collar is too slim and that’s why I asked for a bigger one, and also for pockets. There was, again, no problem with accommodating these changes, and I am pleased with the result. If I would change anything, I’d have the collar made even bigger. But that’s a small gripe in an otherwise highly pleasing product.

Sorry for the long comment, but maybe other readers will find it useful to know that, if they want to, it is possible to obtain a very satisfactory result by going the more “dangerous” route. I hope you’re enjoying the items you had made!

Josh

As another tall reader struggling, particularly with knitwear, to get a reasonable sleeve length, I thank you both, Robert and Simon, for the detailed intro! It’s amazing to me how much a well-fitting garment can compensate for any misgivings about colour or style.

Sam

Simon,

To be honest, when you started writing about MTO knitwear my initial reaction was a bit of eye-rolling at the self-indulgence of it all, like “this is really overthinking a very basic part of the wardrobe”.

Reflecting on it with this article, nearly all the knitwear I own has something that bugs me about the fit, or the length. I make do by rolling sleeves or hoiking up or tucking down, and I wouldn’t say it annoys me enough to justify this kind of expense, but I can certainly see the logic now in achieving a better fit.

So… thanks for that.

Matt

Totally relate to this comment. Also, 40 Colori looks like an awesome shop. I’m excited to find out what you think, Simon.

Ricky

Simon,

Would be interested where you would rate the make/ materials of the cashmere line. Presumably in the same class as Luca faloni?

Being on the shorter end, coupled with prefering higher rise trousers it looks to be a compelling option.

Ian A

Simon How do they stand up next to the made to measure offered by Travelling Simone Abarrchi? Similar price fabric styles?

Ian A

Yes knitwear thanks

Scott

This is a fantastic discovery and I’m looking forward to the individual product reviews. In looking at the website, it appears that the standard design has a bit of a drop shoulder, is that accurate? If so, would the mto program allow for a reduction in the shoulder width? Also, do you know the collar height of the mock neck?

40 COLORI

Hi Scott,
Thank you very much for your comment. Our standard design fits rather comfortable across the shoulders but it is not excessively wide by any means. In any case, yes, we can adjust the shoulder width of the knitwear as required when making the garment to order. As for the mock neck, the collar height is 5cm but this can be changed to any height as well if needed. Do let me know if there is anything else I can help you with. You can also get in touch with us directly at [email protected].
Best regards,
Gabriele

Anonymous

Simon perhaps I’m an idiot and just missed it but what does USP stand for?

Nick

There I was thinking that I probably knew all the menswear shops that could interest me in London, so it’s very encouraging to be introduced to something fresh. Thank you!
I love the transparency of the operation, brands could really do more to highlight factories that actual produce the clothes they sell. Will definitely be paying these guys a visit!

Jason

Simon,
To digress, have you had time to try Begg & Co’s knitwear ?
Also, I’m looking to replace my loved but seriously worn out A&S navy blue crew neck. Who, in your view has the absolutely best one available at the moment ?

Seiya

Thank you for your insightful article, I really enjoyed. I lived near lamb’s conduit St a year ago and bought several socks from them, but now I feel that I should consider furthering my interest to their MTO collection. I look forward to your review.

Anonymous

“That was interesting, and welcome, but the thing that convinced me they were worth covering, after a little research, was the direct connection to Italian manufacturing.”

Simon, are you insinuating that anything materially irrelevant to Italian manufacturing or any Anglo-European traditions is therefore not worth covering? Just curious as to why else you would phrase it this way.

Anon

Hi Simon, not sure if this is the best place for this question, but just wondered if you have any views on the tailors on Lambs Conduit Street (Connock & Locke in particular)?

Shoddy

I’m slightly hazy on the difference between MTO and MTM in this context- if you want a standard pattern but with adjustments to the sleeve and body length and shoulder width is that MTO or MTM? Also, assuming they do merino and not just cashmere, did you see anything in that material?

40 COLORI

Hi Shoddy,

Thank you very much for your comment. I hope this will help to better clarify our offer consisting of RTW, MTO and MTM.

RTW includes any off the peg knitwear that we release throughout the year. As Simon mentioned in the article, we craft a very limited amount of RTW products, rarely more than one unit per size and style. For these RTW products, any of the sizes that are not in stock, can be ordered in at the same price as RTW with the usual 3-4 weeks lead time. Price for all RTW knitwear is £225.

MTO is knitwear crafted in one of our standard sizes and in your choice of any of our existing patterns (such as our flat knit cashmere available with a number of neck styles, our shawl neck cardigan, etc.) and any of the colours in our colour cards (for example, for cashmere this includes upwards of 200 colours). With this service, we can also take care of smaller style edits, including choosing ribbed or non-ribbed cuffs and hems and adjusting the height of the collar and cuff. When it comes to fit, with MTO, we can exclusively adjust the length of the body and sleeves. Price for all MTO knitwear is £275.

MTM is our most complete offer. This is knitwear crafted in your choice of colour and style, including any fit adjustments that may be required to achieve the perfect fit (e.g. body width, shoulder width, sleeve width, armhole depth, collar width and more). As part of this service, we also give our customers the option to customize any of our existing patterns (in all their elements) and even work with us to develop a new bespoke pattern taking advantage of our artisans’ large archives. This involves starting a conversation with our customers, sharing swatches, colour cards and options to see how we can help with their project. Price for all MTM knitwear is £325.

Thus, to answer your question, the proposed edits you mentioned would fall under our MTM offer as you are asking for a shoulder width adjustment. If instead you only need adjustment to body and sleeve length, than this would fall under MTO.

As for merino wool, we do also have knitwear available in 100% Merino Wool (we use Cashwool from Zegna Baruffa). We currently do not have any of these online but we do have our merino wool colour card available to share.

I do hope this helped to clear up any confusion and apologies for the long answer!

If you have any other questions please feel free to get in touch with us directly at [email protected]

Best regards,

Gabriele

robert eckelmann

Great area for mens clothing and accesories. A few tailors, umbrella shop, good coffee spot and a great barber, Huckle the Barber. Ask for Alex (formally head barber at Dunhill) if you ever need a haircut or shave. Everytime I come to London I shop on the street and see Alex the barber there.

Gavin

Thank you Simon,

This article has made my weekend. Gabriele and Cassandre run the most delightful business and I always make a point of visiting on my trips to London, preferably followed by dinner at Noble Rot. I just wanted to add a couple of points to your excellent overview: firstly you are right that some of the ties and scarves are quite bold for a traditional Permanent Style audience, but I have found some excellent, more subdued pieces in the past year, including a stunning slate-grey scarf in cashmere and raw silk and a beautifully finished knitted-silk tie in burnt orange. Secondly, I wanted to provide some reference on the shawl cardigan in olive green pictured in the article. I have the same piece in grey cashmere. As well as the high quality of the cashmere, buttons and finishing, the length is also pleasingly generous, sitting elegantly on the hip and providing warmth on a cooler autumn day. I’ll be very interested to read your follow-up article when your commissions are ready.

Shoddy

I would just like to say that I have had two commissions from 40 Colori and have been incredibly impressed with the charming and knowledgeable service and with the finished product in both cases. The first was an MTM merino wool sweater and the second an MTM three roll 2 jacket in a knitted cashmere/wool fabric. They both took a little while, which was understandable in the current circumstances, and one needed to be remade; but both came out perfect in the end. I think the prices are remarkably reasonable for the quality and originality of the products and service and would unhesitatingly recommend the store for anyone who would like to experiment with knitwear or other clothes which are a little bit out of the ordinary (although very tasteful I think, and mainly unusual in the fineness and precision, rather than the outlandishness, of colour choice).
This is, needless to say, an unsolicited testimonial.