Naples was a key stop on the itinerary of English gentlemen setting out on the Grand Tour in the 18th century. And arriving in the warmer Mediterranean climes, travellers were quick to enlist the service of Neapolitan tailors, well-trained from catering to the aristocracy of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Their skill at softening and lightening the Englishmen’s heavy, woollen suits so impressed the visitors that soon other grandees were making the style pilgrimage.
Neapolitan tailoring began to change as the cutters translated the formal Savile Row shape for the home market. By the 1920s an Italian menswear craze for all things English had taken hold, though the reproduction was not always to the liking of the client. One memoir from the period recalls how aristocrat Giovanni Serra, while staying at London’s Savoy Hotel, was alarmed to find he was the only guest outfitted in “English” attire.
The latest to step into this sartorial world of competing tastes is Patrizio Cappelli. Though he originally trained as a pharmacist, the 48-year-old Neapolitan has quietly made a name for himself in bespoke circles thanks to his efforts at producing that most demanding of menswear accessories: the tie.
Cappelli was first introduced to needle and thread in his early teens, during his enrolment at a prestigious Naples military school, as cadets were required to sew name-tags onto their clothing. Following this and an unhappy stint at the family-run chemist, he convinced himself that it was time to take a risk. “I always had a passion for creating patterns and here in Naples we have a great tradition of dressing up,” says Cappelli.
When it came to sourcing the silk, Cappelli opted to look outside his homeland and visited English mills in Sudbury and Macclesfield. Steeped in 300 years of tradition, the textile manufacturers gave him access to intricate Jacquard weaves and superior printed silks.
“There is no substitute for them. They use the old machines for printing and the dyeing process is better than one finds in Italy,” he says. Twice a year he visits the mills to update a third of the 1,000 patterns in his collection. He browses the design archives and confers with printers about adjusting a pattern to his liking. As far as style, many ties feature geometric figures that reflect his traditional tastes. “Experimenting with off-the-wall designs can be fun, but it is easy to fall into bad habits.”
Back in Naples, half a dozen workers assist him in assembling the pieces by hand. The nine-step process begins with cutting the material on the bias and is interrupted only by the occasional espresso break. Closing the back flaps of the tie requires practice and even tailors used to making suits have trouble at first. Bespoke or ready-to-wear, his ties are self-tipping and include a slip stitch to maintain their shape and drape. Output is small (10,000 a year), matching what many big businesses churn out in a week, but the quality is unparalleled.
Despite the absence of marketing, businessmen in Milan, Geneva and Osaka have passed the word to their colleagues. Particularly sought after are his bespoke, unlined seven-fold ties, made from a 1m by 20cm silk square. Though 90 per cent of his stock is silk, he carries Italian and Scottish cashmere, wool and linen neckwear.
A sparsely decorated atelier in the heart of the city serves as Cappelli’s base. Service is one-on-one and he greets visitors at the door with a handshake. “I never wanted to have a boutique as I have never been interested in foot traffic.”
With government ministers travelling from Rome to sample his creations firsthand, Cappelli admits he must start to think about the future. “It started out as a passion. Whether my sons will continue with it, I don’t know. After all, I left my family’s business to start this one.”
Cappelli, Via Cavallerizza a Chiaia 37, Naples; +39 081 400 166