Atelier Bomba, Rome: Chic handmade tailoring
Rome doesn’t have the menswear reputation of Milan, Florence or Naples. But there are some unusual little gems nestled in different parts of the city.
One of the most interesting is Atelier Bomba. Started by Cristina Bomba in 1980, it has a reputation for fine knitwear and unstructured tailoring.
Neither the website nor recommendations we were given really do the place justice, however - particularly on the tailoring.
It’s a small, narrow shop, just off the big Piazza del Popolo. But the whole rear half is a working atelier, with drapey jackets, coats and trousers being made to measure.
The walls are stacked with a stunning range of cloth. Much of it is vintage, and all of it is unusual but tasteful. The example below is a vintage hand-loomed cashmere. It almost had Milad and I ordering based on the cloth alone.
Cristina was on hand, but the day-to-day running of Bomba is done by her son, Michele (pictured top) with his sister Caterina and wife Julia also closely involved.
Michele is actually a trained bespoke tailor, and makes his own suits entirely himself.
“I made a deliberate decision years ago not to make that part of the business,” he said. “The only way to have done it would be to outsource production, to become a manager, and I didn’t want to do that.”
Michele didn’t understand how anybody could make a bespoke garment without the cutter, and ideally the maker, seeing the customer. That led to a long conversation about practices among tailors and shoemakers, which is probably not worth reproducing here. But I guess might make an interesting future post.
When we arrived at Bomba a customer was having a pair of navy linen trousers made. He was wearing them with a black polo shirt and soft slip-ons, and looked very much the easygoing part.
The trousers looked nicely fitted. Inside, they had an awful lot of handwork - not all necessary perhaps, but probably part and parcel of the experience if you like everything being made on site.
The jacket I tried on (below) had an equally impressive amount of handwork, and was nicely styled. Though personally, I’d probably prefer a bit of structure in a classic DB like this. The lapel peaks were a little unruly without it.
“Sometimes we do put a little canvas in the jackets, just one layer of linen,” said Michele, “and no shoulder pads. The pieces can really be whichever combination the customer wants - that’s the obvious aspect of having everything made here.”
The style of some of the jackets was also a little quirky - the jacket I tried on had two buttons of different sizes. But again, Michele emphasised that this was just one style, and many customers made more subtle commissions.
There were lovely craft details elsewhere too. The shirt/jacked pictured above had deliberately matched checks on the buttonholes, for example, which I can’t remember seeing before.
We didn’t have time to try many pieces - I hadn’t realised quite how interesting the shop would be, or how engaging Michele and Cristina - but I suspect a shirt/jacket like this might be more my style. There are also long coats, work jackets and gowns.
The knitwear was equally lovely, and might have broader appeal too.
Apparently one of Cristina’s early obsessions was knitwear with the look of shetland, but light enough to be worn in the Roman climate, so she worked with melange cashmere to get a similar mix of colours. You can see the range in the cabinet above. They're all very light and very soft.
The other knit they’re known for is super-fine merinos. (As in super-fine knitting, not the fibre itself.)
Rather like Umbria Verde, their factory in Como uses old English looms that the founder took apart and remade, in order to get a finer setting. They now work at 45-gauge, which is why the pieces are so transparent (above). Again, particularly suited to Rome.
Bomba, although small, has history and connections. The family was good friends with Vittorio Solbiati, and always made use of their linens.
“When the company was being sold recently, we got a call to come and take what we wanted from the stock room,” says Michele. “That old cloth had been part of the sale, but no one wanted it.
“So we drove up in a van and filled it to the top with the most beautiful bolts. We still have a lot of it in the back of the shop - it will take us a while to get through it.”
They've also been pivotal in retaining the character of their street, Via dell’Oca. “After the pandemic, there were a lot of empty streets here,” says Michele. “We convinced some friends, such as Patrizia Fabri next door, to take them. Otherwise they could have just become tourist places and sandwich shops.”
Those aren't Fabri straw hats below - they're by Bomba - but Fabri's are all made in a little atelier on the other side of the river. Another little Roman gem.
I’ll definitely be back to see Bomba, hopefully this year. There was so much to explore, and Cristina and Michele were so lovely.
Cristina in particular looked achingly chic despite the 35-degree heat, in an white linen tunic, jewellery and sandals. She reminded me rather of the equally stylish Audie Charles at Anderson & Sheppard.
Both are also full of fun. Michele was happy to have his portrait taken, but Cristina said she’d only do so if there could be some knitwear in the shot too.
The first photo below is what she gave us. Then she said the knitwear would look better on the dog, and proceeded to dress him up.
Michele watched on, arms folded, with a smile.
Bomba is not cheap, largely a result of making so much by hand, on site. The jacket I was wearing cost €2800, and a work coat in linen was €1700. The cashmere knits start at €570.
Via dell’Oca 39, Rome
Photography, Milad Abedi