A cut above - Issue 170 - Magazine | Monocle

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Calling on an expert cloth-cutter shouldn’t be reserved for special occasions or formal suiting. Skilled artisans around the world take commissions for everything from made-to-measure shirts to custom-made gloves, ties and footwear designed to last a lifetime. Booking an appointment with a local tailor or visiting a specialist atelier while on the road is a smart investment that will ensure that you feel good and look your best during professional engagements and social gatherings. The process also opens up opportunities to build relationships with the people making your clothes and to follow the process from beginning to end, a refreshing change from fast fashion and next-day deliveries.

Naples is a city that’s teeming with workshops that produce one-of-a-kind items. You’ll find the best ties at Marinella, expertly cut trousers at Marco Cerrato, elegant leather gloves at Omega and the finest-quality shirts at Luca Avitabile. “A made-to-measure shirt offers almost infinite possibilities and a level of comfort that is hard to get any other way,” says Neapolitan shirtmaker Luca Avitabile, who is part of a tight circle of southern-Italian sartorie offering bespoke shirting for discerning shoppers from around the world.

The experience of having a shirt made at Avitabile’s atelier usually starts with a walk along the streets of Naples. Connoisseurs know to steer their way to Via Toledo, a hectic shopping promenade in the city centre. Between the blinking shop signs, they duck through a discreet entryway, walk one flight up an echoing stone stairwell, ring the bell and step into Avitabile’s terrazzo-floored fitting room. After a cup of coffee and the usual pleasantries, Avitabile will pull out a tape and swiftly start taking measurements. It is a seasoned performance. Avitabile was born into the trade – his father was a shirtmaker, as were his grandparents – and also has a degree in shirt-cutting from the Instituto Secoli in Milan.

Precision made
Finished products
Personal measurements
Earning your stripes
Choosing materials

The model of the shirt follows the Neapolitan custom of having slightly higher armholes than the English standard. “It allows for a snug fit without sacrificing comfort,” he says. Then it’s time to get creative and choose from an array of options: the shape and stiffness of the collar, the type of cuff, the question of front pockets. In Avitabile’s drawers, there are hundreds of fabric swatches, from striped Carlo Riva twill to Alumo’s soft Swiss cotton or even Japanese denim. And don’t forget the buttons: should the mother-of-pearl be Australian or Tahitian? Though Avitabile works with old-school rigour, his version of the tailored look is relaxed. On most days the shirtmaker wears the Friday polo, sewn from a lightweight piqué fabric, paired with a sharp overshirt. The casual models were introduced in 2020 as part of a ready-to-wear line and have proven to be just as popular custom-made. “Clients who come for a classic shirt usually add a [made-to-measure] overshirt or a polo to their order,” says Avitabile.

After the introductory appointment, Avitabile sits down to cut a shirt pattern from plain muslin. He then follows this up with a fitting. “This is the most delicate part of the whole process,” says Avitabile, who is a firm believer that there is nothing that can’t be fixed with a few pins and another turn of the sewing machine. “That is my favourite part.”

After the fitting, the atelier is ready to start cutting into real fabric. Within six weeks the finished shirts land on customers’ doorsteps, wherever they are in the world. The workshop archives every customer’s personal shirt pattern, meaning that after your first order, in-person fittings are no longer essential.

Of course, this decidedly old-fashioned process is far lengthier than heading to a department store and picking out a mass-produced item that’s sitting on a shelf. But it’s also a satisfying one that gives you a chance to invest in valuable craft traditions, experience exceptional service and get creative too.

Monocle comment: Fast fashion is convenient but also limited and bad for the environment. Having clothes tailored puts you at the centre of the process – and the outcome. The result? A wardrobe that you’ll love for a lifetime.

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