The gap between bespoke tailoring and ready-to-wear can seem like a chasm: one is high craft, complex and slow, the other practical and quick but missing that special feeling of artisanal products made to the very highest standards. This impression has only been reinforced by a long history of bespoke tailors putting their names on prêt-à-porter garments that share neither the style nor the quality of the “real” thing.
As several forward-thinking Neapolitan brands have proven, it doesn’t have to be this way. With a dedication to quality and the patience to explain the proposition to customers, there’s nothing stopping tailors from offering bespoke-quality garments in standard sizes. This is how menswear favorite No Man Walks Alone began offering artisanal Neapolitan suits off-the-peg in New York. “We essentially pioneered this space in 2013 with [Sartoria] Formosa, making ready-to-wear garments in their bespoke workshop,” founder Greg Lellouche told me.
In shirtmaking, Luca Avitabile has cut a similar path. A third-generation artisan, Avitabile grew up surrounded by the craft, working in his father’s workshop in Naples before traveling to Milan to study pattern making in 2000 and subsequently entering the bespoke trade, first under the label of Satriano Cinque and then under his own name.
While he has always made ready-to-wear pieces, Avitabile says his focus used to be squarely bespoke. Now, he offers an equally robust selection of both. One factor in his revaluation was the success of the Friday Polo, a handmade shirt made in collaboration with journalist Simon Crompton. Another was the need to maintain his business without traveling for trunk shows over the past eighteen months. Both have proven that there’s appetite for bespoke-quality garments made off-the-peg. “Now, the brand is not bespoke but handmade,” Avitabile says.
Regardless of the product, Avitabile stresses, the craftsmanship remains the same: “We have just one workshop, they switch from ready-to-wear to bespoke.” The ready-to-wear shirts are cut on the slimmer side through the waist with a broader chest, a silhouette that suits most physiques. The sleeve is attached by hand, allowing its generous cut to fit neatly into the high armholes. Some of the numerous small details, like the pitched sleeves, are for comfort; others, like the handmade buttonholes, are purely decorative. Together, they yield a garment that’s nothing like industrial ready-to-wear. Avitabile doesn’t aspire to offer the typical camiceria catalog of blues and whites, he says, but a distinctive collection of signature pieces such as denim, washed Oxfords and linen.
The recently added over-shirts are cut from weighty Irish linen for a versatile summer garment that looks equally at home rumpled over a t-shirt and swim shorts or worn pressed in place of a tailored jacket. Avitabile’s has two chest pockets with horn closures and two waist pockets placed on-seam, giving it a clean look but the relaxed feel of a bomber jacket. A collarless winter version is planned in cashmere and cotton moleskin.
Another pioneer is Pommella, the brand founded by trouser maker Lino Pommella (formerly of legendary Neapolitan house Rubinacci) and filmmaker Gianluca Migliarotti, best known to menswear aficionados for his mesmerizing love letter to Neapolitan tailors, the documentary O’Mast.
At Pommella, too, bespoke practices are used to make unparalleled garments in standard sizes. “Almost everything is handmade in the ready-to-wear,” Migliarotti tells me. “There’s no cheap way or solution. It’s all about quality.” This isn’t always an easy position to take. “The truth of the matter is that when you look around in Italy, the highest quality ready-to-wear trouser is something completely industrial. The standards are very different, but the marketing is stronger. When you come to the real thing, the level of finishing, the quality of the cloth is completely the same as bespoke.”
The bespoke heritage of Pommella’s trousers is unmistakable. The house cut is clearly influenced by years of experience fitting real people. Starting at the natural waist, it’s slightly draped over the hip (thanks to the pleats), slimmer through the thigh and sufficiently ample below the knee to allow a clean line to fall from top to bottom. Pommella’s rare achievement is to cut trousers that flow smoothly without bunching, and yet fit flatteringly close to the body. The waistband and signature Thomas Mason cotton lining are attached by hand and buttonholes are handmade.
Mark Cho, who stocks an exclusive model at The Armoury, suggests that the ready-to-wear option is a great way into the brand, since you can try a real, finished product rather than having to imagine it from images. Equally, Pommella’s ready-to-wear lets you ride first class without the complications of bespoke.
A bit further North is the Roman firm Giuliva Heritage, founded by husband-and-wife team Gerardo Cavaliere and Margherita Cardelli. Earlier, in 2012, Cavaliere started tailoring operation Sartoria Giuliva, which is where he met Cardelli. They soon began dating, married and, in 2018, launched a women’s ready-to-wear collection to considerable acclaim, offering classic men’s styles boldly re-cut for women. In 2020, they turned their attention to back to menswear.
“Giuliva Heritage is the Sartoria Giuliva’s rib,” Cardelli says. “It’s the little sister brand that encapsulates all the handmade and bespoke Neapolitan tailoring techniques on a ready-to-wear line.” She explains that the brand, like their partnership, comes from a shared passion for design and quality, exemplified in a newly launched lifetime repair guarantee for their garments.
For Giuliva, bespoke is an ethos: Cardelli draws my attention to a humble matchbox, transformed into a lavish, hand-engraved brass-and-gold accessory with the owner’s initials. This season, their summer collection is bright, bold and unmistakably Southern in style: rumpled, flowing jackets and safari shirts, high-waisted trousers and enormous lapels. It has all the swagger of bespoke’s finest, available with considerably more ease.