Pal Zileri and the Future of Tailoring

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My latest article for Cool Hunting.

What is the difference between tailored and factory menswear? Often we consider these two categories as distant or even conflicting. However, there are many who actually know how to combine these both, companies that use industrial processes to achieve quality products, in which the experience of the hand and the precision of the machine operate on the same wavelength. This is what happens at Pal Zileri, a historic Italian menswear brand.

At Quinto Vicentino, in north-east of Italy, the Forall Confezioni factory was founded in 1970 by Gianfranco Barizza and Aronne Miola. Here, the Pal Zileri collection was launched in 1980 and since it has targeted the contemporary man, in love with sartorial tradition and modern lifestyle. During a recent factory visit, we witnessed the production process of men’s formal suits, and in particular of jackets. Here, hundreds of skilled artisans make clothes, for which quality is the ultimate obsession. Each jacket is made in 140 to 180 single step, which include cutting, assembling, sewing, ironing, adding linings, pockets and shoulders, but also spare parts such as buttons, zippers and labels. The front part of the jacket dictates the entire process and the amount of hidden details is impressive. Most phases are industrially executed using laser cutting, sewing machines, presses, conveyor belts; nevertheless, some steps are still completely handmade, like in an old tailor workshop.

Since July 2014, Mauro Ravizza Krieger has been the artistic director at Pal Zileri. After plentiful experience with many prestigious national and international menswear brands, Ravizza Krieger is now successfully working on the next chapters of the brand. Pal Ziler has a very long tradition of formal menswear. A few years ago new investors joined the company. Qatar-based Mayhoola for Investments (also owner of Valentino) and Arafa for Investments and Consultancies from Egypt, helped define this new course for Pal Zileri. Ravizza Krieger plays a very important role in this delicate passage.

“First of all, I tried to understand how the company works. The concept of creativity is far more difficult to apply to an industry. We are making a path of transformation from an industry to a brand, fostering a closer bond with the creative process,” Ravizza Krieger explains to CH. Today men’s tailoring is undergoing a renaissance, but it is necessary to update its codes and logistics. As Ravizza Krieger says, “It is important to rekindle an interest in the world of tailoring, without distorting its canons, evolving them without revolutionizing, focusing on the contemporary world, on updates that do not lose the previous values of the company.”

Vicenza, where the factory is located, is a land of art and excellent crafts, characterized by the magnificent architecture of Andrea Palladio and a centenary tradition of jewelry and fine leather-making. And Ravizza Krieger loves to find his inspirations in arts. “My references are very tied to the art world. Our previous collection was inspired by Joseph Albers, who has spent his life calibrating colors on a square shape, something not banal,” he says. “His vibrations, his color combinations create always different moods. And when I work on an artistic period, I always try to bring it to the Italian references.”

As a matter of facts, at Pal Zileri they do not want to rely on a stereotypical vision of Italy, a postcard-like view of something that does not exist anymore. They focus on a less obvious Italy, like that of abstract, optical and kinetic art of the 20th Century. “Creativity should not be sought after at all costs and simply glued to a collection, it should be a thing that belongs to you in each step,” he continues. “For example the inspiration linked to kinetic and Italian optical art gave origin to a capsule collection with optical prints, as well as a variety of fabrics for the evening all in black and white. From abstract Italian art we originated the research on the color palette. The color range definition is an important step because it kicks off the creation of fabrics. In fact 80% of the fabrics that are seen in the catwalk and in the collection are exclusive.”

The evolutionary process of traditional men’s fashion has to be constant, organic and slow. “[We proceed] slowly, without exaggerating. We must not forget that we are in menswear, where there is also a deep need for culture. We do not want to create some weird things and force change. I focus on the contemporary tailoring, where I want to evolve established codes, until they become usable. The continuity of tailoring will only be guaranteed by a continuous updating of its historical values, through the easing of a number of values,” says Ravizza Krieger.

As the technicians explained the difference between the types of construction, we realized that they often used the term “sports jacket.” As many know (at least in the States), in the world of tailoring, the very concept of “sport” takes on many meanings, here being an inherently comfortable suit jacket for more casual events. “Formal classic style is struggling today,” Ravizza Krieger observes, “because the world is less formal, relationships are less formal. Social networks and mobility have made us more informal, so we need to give our clothes different connotations.”

Ravizza Krieger’s ideas are very clear on this contemporary balance of formal and informal. “I believe that the dream of many people is to have a profession that lets them free, where they can be themselves. [For this reason] I think a lot more about freelancers rather than managers, because they are self-determining. They dress themselves, it’s not us who dress them. I think of a style for non-homologated people, who know how to interpret clothes.”

Annunci

Making Louboutin

A few months ago I was in Naples for a rare occasion to visit one of the factories that make men’s shoes for Christian Louboutin. I love to witness the making of things, in particular when it comes to handmade stuff.

In the past few days the official Louboutin Homme Instagram account is showcasing some of the pics I took at the factory. Seeing those wise hands at work, in the act of transforming those precious materials into pure beauty, makes me live once again those wonderful days. And understand why #CLLovesNapoli.

If this is not enough and you want to read the full story I wrote for Cool Hunting, just follow this link.

Factory Visit: Cotonificio Albini

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My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Visiting the Albini Group—a glorious Italian enterprise that specializes in fabrics for shirting—is an experience of contrast. It’s a facility that feels futuristic, while remaining in the tradition of its deep history. It’s a busy, mechanical factory located in the picturesque Italian town of Albino—in a valley surrounded by the Alps. Founded in 1876 by Zaffiro Borgomanero, today Albini is run by the fifth generation of the original family, and we witnessed the production of fabrics that will become sophisticated, quality shirts sold all over the world.

Every year Albini Group produces an enormous 20,000 new fabrics and over 4,000 exclusive variations conceived for specific clients (these are developed by 30 textile designers). The list of international clients is incredibly long and—in some cases—strictly confidential. As well as working with some of the most talented independent tailors around the world, they provide fabrics to the likes of Burberry, Etro, Brioni, Armani, Zegna and more.

While production is a quintessential, time-honored Italian mix of machines and handmade processes, Albini is a multinational company. In addition to five factories in Italy, they own sites in Egypt and the Czech Republic. There’s a balance of tradition production and future-forward technology: some phases are completely automated (including the coloring, weaving and warehouse organization) while others are entirely manual.

Albini Group’s president Silvio Albini tells CH, “After many years of hard work, today we can finally say that our company controls the entire production—from the cotton seed to finishings. In this long process we can control the most intrinsic qualities of our product. We have also reached a complete traceability and we know where every meter of our fabric was made.” While showing us each single step of the production process, the staff reveal an authentic enthusiasm and a rare generosity—along with true pride for their part played in the creation of such quality products.

While fabrics may be flat, they’re not two-dimensional. Weaving is not just about wrapping and wefting, but if the technology is sufficiently advanced the woven fabric can come out of the machines in unlimited tridimensional variations. Optical effects and peculiar shapes can be created using different techniques, threads, colors and materials. (In fact, there can be over 16,000 threads in one single square meter of fabric.) Some fabrics are so precious that they are called “diamonds,” but unlike a diamond, they are soft. Touch is—of course—one of the most important factors in shirting. It differs when fabrics are single- or double-ply. In the second case, two separate threads are rolled up together so that they’re more resistant and colors become more shiny and long-lasting. You can tell the difference when caressing the fabrics. Other important processes include the various washing steps and mechanical procedures aimed at fixing colors. Finally, after these last stages, the fabric is ready to be quality-controlled, before heading off to become a shirt.

When wandering through Albini, it’s the contrast between the sci-fi-esque plant and the archive room that embodies what they stand for most. Walls of ancient books and catalogues with the fabrics glued inside (which date back to 1796) are still in usable condition, lovingly preserved, with colors so bright they seem to have been produced mere minutes before.

Factory Visit: Christian Louboutin

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My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Since setting up his eponymous label in 1991, French designer Christian Louboutin’s shoes have become synonymous with power, prestige and class thanks to their sexy, edgy design and extreme creativity. Lesser known is the fact that Louboutin produces men’s footwear as well—something that should be on the radar of all shoe enthusiasts.

On a very hot day this July, we had the chance to visit a factory in Naples, Italy, where skilled artisans create these rare, esteemed objects. This area is already known around the world for the production of high-end footwear, continuing a tradition rooted in the 19th century that exploded culturally after Word War II. The production process behind Louboutin shoes is entirely led by hand and consists of a minimum 30 steps. Fine leathers and precious fabrics (like cashmere and grosgrain) are cut, sewn, shaped and combined—but everything starts with a drawing.

Louboutin and his staff’s sketches are fleshed out into shapes and turned into a tridimensional design. The pattern-maker obtains a series of flat pieces that will be used for prototyping and—once the final prototype is approved by the designer—for production. The cutting process is key and is also done by hand. Depending on the piece of leather, the single parts are carefully positioned and cut in order to leave as little scraps as possible. It takes almost 15 years of experience to become a professional cutter and it’s incredible to see how fast and precise their hands work.

Precision is of the utmost importance when it comes to working with precious materials such as alligator. In this specific case only one animal skin can be used per shoe. The leather is chosen very carefully in order to make the two shoes as similar as possible, since each animal is unique. Once again it is a matter of fine eyes and expertise. The pieces of leather are flat after cutting, but soon take the shape of the part of the foot they will hold. The curvature is obtained by using machinery that combines pressure and temperature.

Stitching takes place next. The different pieces that will form the upper unite meticulously. “One single upper can be made of 12 different materials,” reveals one of the production managers who took us through the production lines. The artisans focus on their sewing machines with intensity as each stitch is a matter of millimeters, especially with Louboutin’s complex designs.

A red sole acts as a declaration and Louboutin’s signature. Interestingly, this color is obtained not by tanning, but with a secret lacquering process. “This complicates the process quite a bit,” the production manager shares. The soles arrive to the factory from a different production facility and, to avoid scratches, they are protected by a transparent film. It is only removed before when the shoes are boxed.

One artisan spreads a special mix of cork and glue onto the interior of the sole before it’s joined to the insole and upper; this padding will make the shoe much more comfortable. This (also secret) blend is kept inside a yellow tin with the logo of a very famous French champagne house. We asked if the blend includes chopped champagne corks, but the Louboutin staff simply smiled without an answer. The phase of sewing the sole consists of making several tiny passes—also rather complex. The hands of the artisans seamlessly switch from cutters to brushes, from cogwheels to wax sticks. Their elegance recalls that of a skilled classical musician.

As soon as the shoes are fully assembled, it’s time to polish. Leather is carefully and repeatedly caressed with pure cotton cloths for almost one hour, using French polish and other potions. Alligator leather, however, comes to the Louboutin factory in white (these blank skins are called “crust”) and it’s not dyed until the shoe is complete. As a final step, the artisans imbue a cloth with the color and literally paint the white upper, very rapidly and with extreme precision. This process guarantees deep and intense shades of color, since the pigments have never been warmed up or even touched during production.

Before leaving the factory, the shoes are inspected and all the edges painted tone-on-tone with a marker, making the shoe sharp and visually uniform—the process comes full circle with more drawing. It’s a gesture that truly feels like a signature by the team of these Neapolitan artisans—and a bond with Paris and the creativity of Christian Louboutin.