DESIGNER ANDREA CAMPAGNA | KEEPER OF THE ITALIAN TAILORING FLAME

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A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of meeting with the Italian tailor and menswear designer Andrea Campagna. I will always remember walking by Barneys that day and stopping to look at the window (a shrine, really) that they had dedicated to Andrea, and his lineage. I was profoundly struck by the incredible legacy that he is a part of– and is now passing down to his own son.

You see, Andrea’s father was the master tailor– Mr. Gianni Campagna of Sartoria Domenico Caraceni, who himself had apprenticed under the master tailor Mr. Giovanni Risuglia– whose most notable personal client was the legendary style icon Gianni Agnelli. Both men are considered to be among Italy’s finest tailors ever. When I tell him this upon our meeting (like some idiot), he says to me modestly and with a warm, acknowledging smile, “Yes. It’s a good start for me.”

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“My father, he started very young. Usually, our tailors, like my father, all start between 6 and 10 yrs old. Actually, my son is now doing some stitching after school. The tailors are kind of jealous when they teach their trade– so they teach you very slowly. What you could learn in 4 yrs– they teach you in 10 yrs. First, they want to see if you’re the right person. Second, they are a little jealous. It’s a process, that took them all their life– and they don’t want anyone to learn it faster than them.” 

“The first thing you learn to do is the stitching under the chest and the collar. There is one operation that takes a lot of hours called “Punti Lenti” (expertly joining and shaping the fabric and canvas at the lapel and collar with thousands of beautiful hand-stitched marks, that looks like herringbone) which now everyone does by machine– from the top-quality brands in the market like Kiton and Brioni, down to the lower brands– they all do it by machine. I still like to work it by hand, because I firmly believe that the handwork brings the jacket to life and cannot be duplicated by machine. A jacket, when it is stitched by machine, has to be worked on a flat table. They don’t have the ability with the machine to turn the fabric and to shape it. By doing the stitching by hand, you roll the lapel– roll it, and roll it, and roll it, until it takes shape. Without this important handwork, which takes hours (instead of minutes by machine) you cannot get the shape– it is fundamental.”

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“Today, something that I really don’t like in the business is that everybody’s telling me that the client doesn’t understand anything– they will not realize if it’s by hand or machine. Sometimes it’s true that they don’t understand, but don’t consider them stupid, and treat them as stupid– when they are not. If someone can afford a suit for $3,000 or $4,000 or $10,000– he made his money with his brain. He is a clever person, that’s for sure. That’s the point where I start from. Maybe they don’t know about fashion. Maybe they don’t know about hand-stitching– but if they are smart people they will have a friend or someone they will meet who will tell them– they told you it’s by hand but it’s by machine. So I firmly believe that if you say it’s handmade it has to be by hand. There is some good quality clothing, but it is still a very industrial suit that is only finished by hand. Whatever you see on the outside is by hand, and whatever is hidden inside the garment is by machine. Right now in the market there is not a real handmade suit. There is no protection, no agency like in the food industry to keep people honest– so everyone is claiming whatever they want. It is not fair. My philosophy, because I’ve been in the tailor shop since I was a kid, and my father before me, he learned at Caraceni which is our company now– it’s a matter of respect for the work that was done before me– by my father and his master tailor before that. I believe firmly that it is important and useful to make this handwork and to keep this quality from the past alive. And I’m struggling to find young people to train.” 

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“For me, in today’s time, there is no more this extreme division between the boring old people wearing suits with shirts and ties, and the young architect or people in entertainment who are going out at night and wearing crazy stuff. I don’t believe in that. Life is no more like it was in the past– nobles and poor people. People now like to mix things in life, there is no longer this separation. I don’t like these stores where there are floors for Classic, floors for Fashion, everything is divided– because that is a setup that was given many years ago that in my opinion is no longer valid.”

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“I’m keeping the quality from the past, but to try to see things from a different point of view. I like to take ideas from the past.  In the past, if you see pictures, there were not two men dressed the same as one another– the colors were different, the styles were different. The more you go back– the more you see that. We became flat– all the same layers, all the same uniform. I like to go back to the past– but to bring it back in a new and modern way. A tailored jacket worn over a pair of jeans that cost 50 bucks. Going back to Gianni Agnelli for example– the elegance was to try and experiment with new things. To wear the suit in a chic and nonchalant way. These people were wearing a jacket since they were a kid. They were used to it, so for them it was the most normal thing– wearing a jacket. Today, people wearing a jacket can look very stiff– like they tried it for the first time yesterday. So the real elegance for me, is like when Agnelli put on suede boots with a flannel suit for a serious industrial meeting– this was a revolution. This was many years ago– and there are still people copying him. If as a designer you don’t try something new, and offer something different then it’s not the client that is stupid– it is the industry that is stupid for not giving them any options and direction.”  

“I’m trying first myself to give an option, and they can come to me and say I want a grey suit because that is what I need for work. Fine, at least we make it in the proper way. But at least I try to give them an option– like they do in Women’s. They give quality, and they give style. Men’s for some reason became like– if you try a something a little too different you must gay or in entertainment. It’s not true. You can express yourself in a suit without being extravagant. I’m not talking about fashion, I’m talking about style– and quality and style fit together.”

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“The suit that we made in 1954 for Agnelli– I saw this suit and for me it was like, Ok, I have to start from here. I began to think– what was it that made Agnelli so elegant? It was that he was never looking perfect. You don’t want to look like you just went to the barbershop, then went here and bought a suit, then went to the next place, and someone else made-up your style. With Agnelli there was always something that wasn’t perfect that made his elegance. My most elegant clients, when they try on a jacket they don’t stand there and stare at themselves in it– they feel themselves in the jacket. You went to test a car, you try it in the curves. It’s the same thing.”

“When I saw the Agnelli suit, it was 60 yrs old and the buttons were very used and I wanted to give the same kind of look. So I used painted bone buttons and then stonewashed them, same process as a jean, to make them look and feel worn. I try to make it as if it was coming out of the past. The fabrics are from Italy and England– woven on the old original wooden looms where I can weave small runs of 20-30 meters. The new machinery today cannot reproduce the same fabric patterns and designs of the past. I try to make them in a softer hand, because the old ones were very stiff– you  could not wear them in today’s time. But I like to keep the same big patterns, because I believe they have more character. And then maybe to put a patch pocket to make it more relaxed, more chic. Personally, I like unlined jackets even for the winter when the fabric allows it, I think it’s very chic. It takes much more time and handwork to sew an unlined jacket, which most people don’t understand. It’s a lot of work. Also on my jackets, the front panels are all one piece, there is no pattern interruption and the quality is better.”  

–Andrea Campagna               

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5 thoughts on “DESIGNER ANDREA CAMPAGNA | KEEPER OF THE ITALIAN TAILORING FLAME

  1. Absolutely fascinating and enlightening article! Very interesting to note that even the high end suit makers (Brioni, Kiton) are not genuine in their claims of hand made suits. WTF are they charging 5 grand and up for a suit for then? GIve me a made to measure over a (fake) bespoke for half the price since they are BOTH machine made. BTW, is the Barneys window still up?

    • Agreed. They want to keep their profit margin intact or even increase it, despite the fact that it was – and it is – unreasonably high. And consider that “hand made” does not mean “hand made in Italy” or “hand made in France” (to mention just two of the most celebrated fashion countries): most expensive Europeans fashion houses use Eastern European or North African factories for their hand-made products.

  2. I have to say, meeting Andrea Campagna was truly inspiring. I’d have to go back to my days at Ralph to recall feeling that in tune with someone with such deep respect for the tradition and quality of the past, while having such a strong vision of personal present style. To be able to appreciate and balance the two well is an art – an art that for Andrea seems as natural as breathing. He’s an amazingly talented, thoughtful and genuine person.

    Color me a big fan.

  3. There is a degree of quality control in the suitmaking world, courtesy of Jeffrey Deduch and his blog http://www.tuttofattoamano.blogspot.com/ He’s the only one out there who can dissect a suit knowledgeably and is blogging about it. Of course you don’t get your coat back :) but you do learn an enormous amount.

  4. I am very pleased and honored of such a great article (thank you!) and I am so happy to see that there are still some people who really understand, appraciate and are interested in REAL quality.

    Sometime is frustrating to see that most companies use just some nice sentences in their marketing, adds and in their stores (“all hand made” ..while it is never) and they are able to get profits out of simply lying to people.
    There should be some real protection about the use of some words that are normally abused in the fashion word : tailored, hand made, ….. . They are totally miseducating the consumers.

    Anyway I wanted to tell you that you are inspiring for me and for people like me that have passion and love for this job. You are giving me the reason to keep improuving and try to do always better.

    Thank you all !
    Wish you a all the best …and a lot new beautiful clothing in your future!

    Andrea

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