Tommy & Giulio Caraceni: Modernising the Roman tailor
Tommy e Giulio Caraceni is one of the great tailors in Italy, but it’s fair to say they’re in a process of transition.
The shop is run by Andrea Caraceni, grandson of Tommy. His father retired last year, and now when in the shop you’re greeted by contrasting generations: the young Andrea and a few younger tailors, and the older generation represented by master cutter Carlo Tonini (top image), who stands at the central cutting board instructing those around him.
Caraceni also moved recently - only a little way geographically, but perhaps further philosophically.
They’re now on the ground floor - which is unusual for tailors on the continent - and at the corner of a block. The windows are large, the door open; Caraceni of Rome now feels like somewhere you might just wander into.
This was a conscious decision from Andrea, who also arranged the store in this spirit of openness. The tailors upstairs are in one large space, rather than the little interconnecting rooms you usually find. And where most tailors have the cutting tables hidden away, here they're on the ground floor, making it impossible to be unaware of the craft going on.
“This is the key problem with bespoke today,” says Andrea (below). “If people understood the work involved, they would also understand the value of it, why it is expensive and why it takes so long.”
Some brief background is probably useful here.
There are three significant bespoke tailors today with the name Caraceni. The founder was Domenico Caraceni, who set up in Rome in 1926. As he became successful and expanded, his brother Augusto set up a branch in Paris, and the youngest brother Galliano set up in Naples.
Both closed after the Second World War, and the family subsequently split apart after the death of Domenico. Augusto started his own business in Milan, becoming the biggest and best-known Caraceni today: A Caraceni, covered previously here.
And Galliano started his own business in Rome, with his sons Tommaso (Tommy) and Giuiio. This is the smaller operation we’re covering today.
Finally there is my tailor, Ferdinando Caraceni. This is the smallest of the lot, and was set up by Domenico’s head cutter. It is run today by Ferdinando’s daughter, Nicoletta, in Milan.
I was wearing a jacket made by Ferdinando Caraceni when I visited Andrea in Rome, and he was interested to see it.
Apparently he knows Carlo and Massimiliano Andreacchio, who run A Caraceni today (the husband and son of Augusto’s granddaughter, Rita) but doesn’t know Nicoletta or her work.
Andrea’s conclusion was that my jacket was similar in some ways to what T&G Caraceni offer, which is a little more traditional than A Caraceni.
“I think over the years they have adapted a little more to fashions, perhaps in length of jacket or width of lapel,” he says. “Whereas we have stayed more with that original cut from the 1930s and 1940s.
(That's me trying on a T&G Caraceni jacket below.)
The differences are pretty small, particularly given any client can specify a particular length or lapel width. All the Caraceni clan seemed to do a similar conservative cut, with a strong padded shoulder line but lightweight body.
In fact, the biggest difference to me between what Andrea and his colleagues were wearing and my jacket, seemed to be that the shoulders had a little less padding, the line a little more natural.
And there was minimal roping on the sleevehead - as you can see in the image of Andrea, Carlo and myself below.
Despite Andrea's modernisations, to be at Caraceni in Rome is to be surrounded by history.
Their most famous client - at least among menswear enthusiasts - looks down from a couple of photos on the wall: Gianni Agnelli. The fitting rooms, meanwhile, are bedecked with such photos, from Hollywood names to local celebrities like Mario D’Urso and Valentino.
"My father always had these in the fitting rooms - I guess showing you were in good company," says Andrea. "But I moved some of them out into the front of the shop, so other visitors see the heritage."
The tradition of candid photos in the fitting rooms started with Domenico Caraceni, and you see it on the walls at A Caraceni as well. Seeing them again here, it reminded me how you can date the ones from the 1970s and 1980s because the prints from that period all have time and date stamps on them.
Another aspect of this history is the archive of cloth Tommy and Giulio built up. “When we moved, this was the hardest thing,” says Andrea. “There was so much of it, all in varying degrees of both condition and of taste!”
The team sorted through it all, got rid of what wasn’t usable and brought the best examples into the front of the shop.
As is often the case with vintage cloth, the lengths on display are significant for their robustness. The flannels are tightly woven, heavy but not necessarily thick - just dense, which gives them a wonderful hand.
The jacketings, by contrast, are more open and spongey, but still hairy. The thing they all have in common is the feeling that they’re built to last.
(Unfortunately the cloths are only available to Caraceni customers. Which is understandable really - it’s something they’ve built up and is a nice selling point.)
Like the other branches of Caraceni, Andrea doesn’t do trunk shows. They all emphasise the importance of both them and the cutter seeing a customer in person.
The most Andrea will do is travel to see one particularly good customer: he will be in London soon, for example, to see a longtime customer who has ordered 20 pieces of tailoring. (“I really hope they don’t need any changes!”)
However, any readers in Rome or that visit the city have a tailor worth visiting that is both storied and forward-looking.
“This evening I will go to see my friend Valentino at his show on the Spanish Steps,” says Andrea. “I think every tailor should be aware of these things - it is my generation’s job to take tailoring forward, to make everyone understand its craft and its style.”
Bespoke suits start at €4500 including VAT. TommyeGiulioCaraceni.com
Photography: Milad Abedi
Andrea’s tobacco linen suit is ace!
Quite similar to The Anthology in style, I suppose.
On a slightly different note, Simon, how do you manage to have meaningful conversations with so many Italian makers given that you do not speak fluent Italian? That probably constitutes a gaping hole in all such reviews, as the tailor’s temperament and disposition is central to the whole bespoke process.
I appreciate that you keep reviews objective in terms of assessing the end-product in the respective house styles, but bespoke by definition ought to be more than that. It is about the coming together of one’s views with those of the tailor and that exercise in collaboration. I would think that it is a tad difficult to achieve the latter when one does not speak the same language. This applies both ways of course, as I know many Italian tailors who do not speak English. Not to say that collaboration is impossible, but it certainly demands greater faith in the unknown than perhaps a typical bespoke customer may otherwise wish to surrender.
I would urge all readers to keep this in mind, especially those who cannot speak multiple languages or have only ever experienced a single culture. As they say, a lot can get lost in translation, especially when the subject matter is not scientific.
I wouldn’t say it was that similar to the Anthology. The Anthology has less padding the shoulder, a more sloping line, rather than more square. The fronts are also more rounded – the Anthology are taking their inspiration there more from Neapolitan style than Milanese. And a shoulder line that is more Florentine.
In terms of language, the vast majority speak English well enough. Andrea Caraceni did here, as does Nicoletta Caraceni for example, and nearly all Neapolitans I’ve dealt with. When they don’t (eg Panico) they will bring in someone, such as Antonio’s daughter in that case, that does speak English.
Do shut me down if I’m way off the mark here. I’ve always loved the overall aesthetic there (in particular the huge range of cloths on offer) but having see a couple of people wear the jackets (separate, not suits), could one say that they are a tiny bit on the boxy side?
Yes, that’s absolutely a risk, JL. Particularly if you are not that slim, as the shoulders are fairly square, and can then drop down straight to the waist, creating that boxy effect. You could see that clearly on Berlusconi, who wore A Caraceni.
I prefer the DBs for that reason, because the lapels give more natural line to the jacket. The single breasted I had from Nicoletta I liked less.
Having said that, as noted in the piece T&G Caraceni seem to have a little less padding that the other two Caraceni houses, which would reduce that effect a tad.
Berlusconi is still alive.
Yeah I didn’t mean he was dead. I meant when he was prime minister (and so very much in the public eye, news etc)
Hi JL, I am a long time Ferdinando Caraceni client and have many SB and DB jackets – both suits and stand alone- from them and really love both. I would agree with Simon that there is a risk that the jacket can look a little boxy on shorter or broader men. If you are interested in the style I’d also suggest a 2 button jacket rather than a 3-roll-2 because the latter tends to shorten the lapels and make the jacket look more boxy, in my opinion.
it is worth noting that it is definitely a sharper cut than the more unstructured, easy Neapolitan and Neapolitan I soirée jackets we have become so used to seeing, so it will always look a bit more formal. I do wear my caraceni jackets with jeans, but usually only the ones made from chunky tweeds. I find the rest don’t really work, the contract in styles is too great.
Sorry, inspired not in soirée. Auto correct is really annoying.
Nice to see content about Tommy & Giulio Caraceni. But please don’t get into photographs composed askew — they always have such an unnatural, disturbing effect.
Interesting read, thank you.
So you would place T&G Caraceni next to F Caraceni in your list of 25 tailors?
Those heavy cloths look tempting. However, I can’t imagine have made those fabrics up in a lightweight construction.
When would you say it’ll make sense to choose T&G Caraceni if one is used to British tailoring?
Yes I would, though of course with the caveat that I haven’t tried them in person, so can’t speak to fit etc.
I’d quite like the cloths in a lightweight construction to be honest – I think it really depends on the balance you want between structure and feeling more the drape of the cloth.
I’d say it makes sense mostly if you like the style, eg those DB lapels. Or if you like the strong shoulder of English tailoring but would like the structure elsewhere to be lighter.
Thanks, Simon 🙂
A personal favourite, great article Simon!
Thank you for reviewing this place. I have a very, very curious question. I wonder in what ways the SB suits of London’s “Henry Poole” and “T&G Caraceni” are different. I waited nearly two years to ask this question😂. Because I’ve been waiting for you to visit here for a long time🙏🏻. I have a lot of questions, but I’d like to ask two questions. 1. What is the difference in design between “Henry Poole” and “T&G Caracen”i? 2. If you were to fit a single suit between “Henry Poole” and “T&G Caraceni”, which would you prefer? (It’s a question in terms of quality and satisfaction.Just your personal opinion..!!)
I’m really really happy to see this post👍🏻 Thank you so much Simon🙏🏻
1. Caraceni has a stronger shoulder line generally – straighter, squarer – but a very light construction elsewhere, lighter than pretty much any English tailor. The finishing is also superb, up there with someone like Michael Browne in England.
2. It’s really hard to say, because I haven’t had an SB from Poole, or anything made by T&G. Possibly T&G, but it’s only really a possibly
Thank you Simon!!
Your reply was so helpful🙏🏻
My first bespoke suit was from T&G Caraceni 22 years ago- a double breasted. Their selection of cloth was overwhelming, and certainly a major selling point for them but for a first time bespoke customer it can tempt you into exaggeration.
My older Italian gentlemen mentors insisted I go to them and not Brioni. 4 million 500 thousand Italian lire in 2001 – god, I miss the lire! That’s half the 4500 euros, today.
It’s funny, but I pulled this suit out this morning and thought about wearing it today. Unfortunately, it’s still too hot and muggy in Rome for a double breasted in 12oz worsted. I still have it but it is a bittersweet relic that I begrudgingly struggle to wear at least once every couple of years. Perfect for sitting in a piazza and getting blind drunk off of Campari spritz’s.
Andrea must of been a child when I was visiting the old location for the various fittings, so I am happy to see he is taking the helm and trying to keep them going.
As for the Caraceni experience?
First, I committed many of the sins a first time bespoke customer often makes except the choice of the cloth, which is beautiful. Double breasted should not be your first commission. I should’ve gone more simple. Caraceni’s lapels were really really wide. I know I t’s their style, but it was too much for me. With broad shoulders, I was very built in my thirties and the objective was to create a slimmer silhouette. On the second fitting where I could see it better, i thought I looked like an aircraft carrier! Don’t go crazy lifting weights if you’re into tailored clothes. You’ll look more like a bouncer than elegant.
I asked them to trim the lapels down a bit, but along with the squared shoulders, I was never satisfied. JL above mentioned it: boxy. You can spot caraceni shoulders on the street in Rome though quite rare and not really in fashion these days like the neopolitan or soft shoulder which suits me better.
A few years later, when I slimmed down, I brought it back to them to see if they could reduce the now massive shoulders, but I was never satisfied with the overall look.
I’ve had other tailors try to adjust, and my current tailor took all the padding out taking it completely apart. and it looks a little better. These tailors pointed out all the errors in construction trying to figure why it never closed correctly. One sleeve was significantly shorter than the other and the front body panel had been botched between the first and second fitting perhaps as a result of my request to reduce the exaggerated lapels. Apparently, the button hole for the lapel had already been cut, and the cloth was recut in a weird way and hidden under the lapel. Whatever the reason, the suit was a disappointment from its construction to the overall aesthetic. Maybe I should have retired it instead of spending all this money to make work, but I lost my cherry with Caraceni and I became emotionally attached to it. Yup, I’m weird.
Sincerely, I have to say that this was my own experience and wouldn’t make a blanket judgement about the quality of a Caraceni. Their reputation is historic, and there is a reason for that. Their style is just that and one should know and appreciate it for that.
Unfortunately, Simon hadn’t started Permanent Style in 2001… I had little to no knowledge about going bespoke, and that certainly contributed to a less than satisfactory result.
Like too many heritage tailors perhaps, Caraceni is a tailor better suited to a significantly more experienced bespoke customer who wants a special look that Caraceni provides.
Maybe Andrea will work on attracting and guiding new and younger bespoke customers better…but this is Rome, and you’re supposed to come out of the womb in a suit, a silk scarf and a pair of Persols before they cut the umbilical cord!
Btw, Even if you speak a little Italian, I’d recommend learning the specific terminology for tailoring in Italy beforehand …there is a lot of French mixed in.
Thank you, wonderful to have the personal experience, particularly given I didn’t have anything made myself.
On the language, I guess it would probably be easier today given Andrea speaks such good English.
Lol. Our former President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda are on the walls. The biggest plunderers of all time and their son is the now president. I guess it’s one of those places they spent their stolen billions. Not bad.
Nice selection of vintage cloth! I personally like the heaviness and drape that comes with it and the fact that it is going to last a long time. Other than the weigt do you think Vintage Cloth was made differently in terms of quality compared to todays cloth? I hear many industry insiders stating this often, but do you have an opinion about this?
It depends what they mean by quality, Veit.
Usually what they mean is the density – how much wool is put in there. It’s the easiest thing to skimp on and the easiest way for a weaver to save money. To do a 2×1 weave rather than a 2×2, to promote lighter cloths that therefore use less wool.
In some ways, modern cloths are actually higher quality – eg they often use higher superfines, finer wools. The problem usually is that these are then used to make less dense or thinner materials
Not having the money to buy bespoke pieces yet, I often go to a vintage shop in Milan. Last year I found a jacket and a pair of trousers made by them in ’87 (if I remember correctly) and, even after 35 years, the cut and condition are majestic. That’s what probably makes me love bespoke so much.
Hi Simon, I am headed to Rome (first time in Italy) later this month. The trip is primarily for work, but I might have a couple of half-days to shop and sight see. Looking forward to your Rome City guide if that might be out before I get there. If not, can you/or anyone chime in with “must visit” shops, restaurants/bars/tourist attractions. Additionally, anything that might seem popular but you would skip?? Any help is appreciated.
Sorry, we have been planning a Rome shopping guide, but haven’t got there yet. I would look at the shops I have covered so far in Rome, and then add Schostal, Patrizia Fabri and Gammarelli. There might be one or two others in the guide, but those are the main ones.
I’m afraid we didn’t do too much sightseeing, or restaurant touring, so I can’t help much on that score. But I would recommend talking to people in all those lovely shops to get their local recommendations.
Thanks Simon, building my shopping/sightseeing/eating list…. appreciate the help.
Long time client here with 50+ commissions.
The cut is their own version of the 30’s era drape. Well defined shoulders, no exaggerated details, very high quality finishing. Nothing that draws attention to the suit.
Modern wearers maybe alarmed by the understated elegance and lack of ‘flash’. This is traditional masculine clothing not meant to draw attention to ones external appearance but to the substance of the wearer themselves. These are not superficial suits for superficial people.