Neapolitan tailoring company Isaia celebrates 60 years with new looks and a book
We talk to the president and CEO of the family-run business about the difference between tailoring in Naples and Milan, and his future plans for the label
The renaissance of men’s bespoke and made-to-measure tailoring in recent years has helped Italian tailors, particularly those from the southern port city of Naples, to garner international success and influence.
One of the several dozen invariably family-run Neapolitan tailoring companies, Isaia is celebrating its 60th anniversary. For this, Isaia is launching a commemorative book this week, but it’s not the typical fashion coffee table book according to president and CEO Gianluca Isaia.
“It’s a book about hand gestures,” says Isaia explaining that the subtlety and nuance of Neapolitan hand gestures can be impenetrable to outsiders, and even to other Italians. “We talk with our hands in Naples so we thought it would be playful, ironic and self-referential,” he adds.
Isaia, 54, says the bookis a reflection of Naples – he’s as keen to promote the city as his tailoring business – the two are indelibly linked. The red coral used for the company’s logo, for example, is considered lucky in Naples.
“We are very proud of Naples, and its tradition and history in tailoring. Naples is where the unlined jacket was born,” says Isaia.
This enthusiastic promotion of Naples is echoed by other notable tailoring houses from the city including Rubinacci, Kiton, Borrelli and Marinella, and the collective effort has seen all the companies benefit with greater global exposure. The peculiar camaraderie and esprit de corps of the tailors was captured in O’Mast, Gianluca Migliarotti’s 2011 documentary on the tailoring industry in Naples that was another important factor in attracting global attention, especially from Asia.
“It’s more about Naples than Italy,” says Isaia. “We are very different from Milan for example. Milan is a more engineered garment. For me, they have no soul. It’s a very well done jacket, for sure. It’s just a different approach. I would say there was more heart and soul in Neapolitan tailoring.”
Asked why Naples has done a better job of promoting itself than Milan, Isaia is blunt: “We have a very good relationship with all the other brands in Naples. From what I know about the north of Italy they don’t like each other.”
Isaia is the third generation of the family to run the company and his stewardship has come at a time of globalised expansion in fashion that has in the most part been fuelled by private equity and IPOs. He says that the company is approached “almost every day” with investment proposals but he remains steadfast in his refusal.
“People ask me why we don’t take private equity money and grow faster, but it’s not that simple. We produce everything ourselves, in-house, we cannot double the production in two seasons, it’s a very artisan-based product. It’s impossible to grow much more than we are growing, so why should I open the company to investment?”
Isaia says that although the company is much larger than when his grandfather and father ran it, the essential element of ‘family’ is still there and as important as ever. “Some people have been there for 40 years and more. I know all their names. The concept of family in the south of Italy is very strong, even when we have disagreements, in the end the family wins,” he says.
Despite its traditional structure, the company hasn’t shunned new retail practices and technology, on the contrary, Isaia says they are about to launch a new online platform with Oracle and have pushed their products strongly with e-tailers such as Mr. Porter. However, Isaia is firmly committed to
bricks and mortar as that is the best way to “experience” the brand.
“The best way to communicate is if a guy puts on the jacket. He will feel the love, he will feel the heart and soul,” he says.
With steady growth, Isaia hopes the next 60 years will be just as fruitful. The company is expanding its product range, which now includes eyewear and small leather goods. “We are now making shirts, ties, jerseys all in-house. We want to increase what we can do ourselves, that way we can control the quality. We want to get a point where we can offer made-to-measure services in all categories, not just suits,” he says.
The changes will come at a measured pace that has characterised the company so far. “When you grow fast, you can go down fast,” he says.