Mariano Rubinacci’s large shop and tailor’s workshop is headquartered in the heart of Naples in the sixteenth century Palazzo Cellamare.
“My son Luca marks the third generation. My father started in 1930 almost by chance. He was from a good upper-class Neapolitan family and frequented high society and nobility like Umberto II, and he was very good friends with the Duchess of Aosta. He always talked about how the duchess ate onions in the afternoon because they were supposed to be good for the health. My father was a very elegant man, a sort of dandy, and his friends would always ask him to come along with them to their tailors. They wanted him to give them advice on the fabrics and the cut of their suits. Finally he decided to open his own atelier.”
And then what happened?
All of his friends started coming to him. He wasn’t a tailor, but he knew how to manage the tailors, and you could say he was a sort of designer of bespoke goods. His suits were very elegant because – unlike other tailors – he knew that world, so he was successful. Afterward, he opened a shop, first in Via Chiaia and then in Via Filangeri, which was there for eighty years.
When did you begin working?
My father died when I was eighteen years old. I adored him, and I didn’t really want to study, but I finished school out of respect for him. Then I entered into the company. At the beginning, I ran into many difficulties. It was 1961, and I was very young and inexperienced.
Who were the clients?
They were my father’s clients. Noble families and the Neapolitan upper classes. I learned the trade little by little, and I began to have my own clients.
What did your father teach you?
Father taught us that when you are raised a certain way, you speak the same language as the clients. And this is what we’ve always done.
You outdid your father, though, opening a tailor’s in London, and taking on the great English tailors on Savile Row. Why was that?
In forty years in business, he’d established a relationship with international clients from Japan to the United States, and so London seemed like a central, fundamental location. So, in 2005, I found myself opening a shop without a specific plan. And ten years later, I think I made an excellent choice. But please don’t misunderstand. I never took on the English tailors. They are excellent, but they come from a different school of tailoring.
Actually, when my father opened his first shop in Naples in the 1930s, he didn’t call it Rubinacci because it wasn’t usual back then to include the family name in your business name. He called it “London House” because London was the model to follow.
Is that no longer the case?
Translating the English method to the Neapolitan method was easy for me in the sense that these jackets that are typically English in shape when translated the Neapolitan way are easier to wear. They are very comfortable and allow you to kiss a lady’s hand without twisting yourself around.
What is the Rubinacci jacket like?
It has a short armhole and a sleeve that is quite roomy and allows for a type of freedom that you don’t find in any other jacket.
Who are your clients?
Oh, there are so many. My father’s clients were, as I said, Neapolitan nobility, the upper classes as well as, for example, Vittorio De Sica whose tail suit we still have, as well as Curzio Malaparte. My clients range from architect Lord Norman Foster to Prince Faisal d’Arabia, the Princes of Kent, to Brian Ferry and many businessmen, American politicians, and bankers like Jacob Rothschild…
What about women?
There are some, and when they have a nice figure, it’s a pleasure to dress them.
Tell me about the fabrics.
They are fundamental. Today they are lighter and more comfortable, but they are difficult to work with traditional methods. We have every kind of fabric. We were more used to working with linens or tweeds. In other words, heavier fabrics. We need to use unique techniques for these new lighter materials to obtain the desired effect.
Does tailor-made still work today?
Yes, it does because personalisation is the height of luxury. I’m talking about “bespoke” and not the type of tailor-made designers sell. Our suits are “bespoke,” especially made and cut exclusively for that client.
What is the most popular type of suit?
Probably the blazer or the grey flannel.
In your opinion, do men always need to be elegant?
Yes. The suit, in and of itself, can make the most of the man.
In an era of down coats and jackets, are overcoats no longer worn?
We have made some unlined coats that are light as a feather. They are certainly very different from the classic English men’s coat, which is very heavy.
Fashions change, don’t they?
For us, no. We perhaps adapt a bit to the times, the client, and needs. You need to have an eye for proportions, the lines, and what looks good on that person. That is fashion.
Are we no longer wearing ties?
Who says so?
Do you feel Neapolitan even if you work between Milan and London?
Absolutely yes. “Leaving Naples to stay in Naples. Selling Naples throughout the world.” This is one of my greatest aspirations. To make others understand our aesthetic sense.
Does your family follow your activities?
Yes my children are very enthusiastic about what I do, though at times they are shocked by their crazy father.
I like to have a new challenge every day. In January, for example, we are inaugurating our new Milan boutique, which we doubled in size. That’s no small feat for us as we are small, and we are still in the midst of an economic crisis. But I think everything would stop without a constant challenge for something new.
How would you define yourself?
An artisan, absolutely, as well as an aesthete. I have my ideas, and I defend them.
Do you think tailoring is a trade that will remain or that will go out of style?
We can’t go around nude, and there will always be a person that needs bespoke because he’s too tall or because his arms are too long or his legs are too short. Today we have the jacket. Perhaps tomorrow everything will be technologically advanced with special materials but in any case, some pieces will be bespoke.
Are you nostalgic for the full evening dress with the tail suit?
Five years after having opened our shop and workshop in London, we had a party organised by then Ambassador Aragona at the Italian Embassy where the theme was full evening dress. More than one hundred people came in tail suits.
How much does a Rubinacci tail suit cost?
It depends on the fabric but around seven thousand euros.
What about a suit?
Around five thousand euros. Our linings are 100% silk even if it is delicate, as are all beautiful things.
How long does a suit last?
A lifetime, and this is our misfortune. But if someone loses or gains a lot of weight, this is to our benefit!
30th December 2014.