It's nothing new for whoever knows me if I tell them that Naples is one of the cities I enjoy the most and which surprises me the most. There are places one can visit once and never again. Naples is not one of them. It would be absurd to do so. I can't think of a better place to eat a pizza, surround myself with friends, or make myself a suit. Of the latter I come to speak to you, because I only have one favorite pizza, Concettina ai Tre Santi, and you don't talk about food, you eat it.
A few weeks ago I saw my friend Quino on Instagram in a white suit. In reality, Quino isn't a friend, he's an Instagram friend, which is not the same thing as a real friend, but it's more than possible that I speak more to him than any other friend. You can't even imagine the amount of strangers one speaks with, and, even better, one can be grateful for. I suppose in the end it's the common things that unite us, independently of whether we know each other or not. Anyway, back on topic, the jacket was fabulous and I couldn't help but ask him "Who made that marvel for you?" I did so consciously, knowing that that masterpiece couldn't have been an industrial creation. The pleasant aroma of handmadewas undeniable. "Saint Gregory," he replied. "My friend Ennio Collaro Valente, an artist. You should meet him," he continued. The issue stayed put until Quino uploaded another photo with another jacket. "If this is by the same guy I'll contact them," I thought. And of course, that's what happened.
The first contact with Ennio's team went magnificently. They quickly clarified their goal: Make a wholly artisanal and elaborate product respecting the oldest tailoring techniques, using a well-established system using measurements taken remotely, to reach clients from every corner of the globe.
Saint Gregory, as opposed to so many other tailor shops, is not a family business. Saint Gregory is not a surname. Saint Gregory is reminiscent of the famous alley that appears on Nativity Scenes, one of the most emblematic handicrafts in the city, in the historic district in Naples. I repeat, Naples is always a yes. If you've never been, I have no idea what the hell you're waiting for. Saint Gregory is made up of a team of tailors with different origins and each of them with ample experience. Each tailor has brought in his own two cents in the form of wisdom, enriching in this way the house creations throughout the years.
Today I sit in front of Ennio to ask him things about his everyday life, his brand, his clothing. I do it virtually, through a screen. One in Naples and the other in Madrid, vehemently desiring that the next meetup will be in person, and if possible in Naples, because there is no better city to return to than that one in Italy.
Ennio Collaro Valente
Spiff: Good morning, Ennio, it's a pleasure to meet you, even if it's virtual. I hope we will soon be able to see each other again soon and in person. As I mentioned in the introduction, Saint Gregory is not a family business. I wonder if this puts you at a disadvantage with clients regarding others that are family businesses.
Ennio: From our point of view, the fact that we're not tied down to a tailor with his own style and rules is far from being a disadvantage. On the contrary, it makes our tailoring stronger: Saint Gregory is made up of a team of master tailors with years of experience in many different houses of tailoring, stylists that are capable of bringing a modern and contemporary touch to all of our collections and style advisors to guide clients in creating their own personal wardrobe. I tried to unite a team of qualified people to offer the best product available on the market in terms of manufacturing and quality. A Saint Gregory suit is the result of years of research into perfection.
Spiff: RTW, MTM or Bespoke. Which of these do you feel most comfortable working in?
Ennio: Of course we feel comfortable working in all the services we offer, however, our flagship service is MTM. I created this business around the idea of taking measurements remotely. Today we can hand out a suit with excellent adjustments remotely from our retailers, which makes it possible to offer true handmade Neapolitan tailoring easily and in a trustworthy way to most of the world.
Spiff: Who is Saint Gregory's client? Is he young? Old? Faithful? Italian? Neapolitan? International? Detail-oriented? Daring? Traditional?
Ennio: He's an international client who's a lover of luxury, who wants the best and loves Italian style. A man between 30 and 60 years of age who loves being fashionable, who appreciates classic traditional tailoring, but with a modern and contemporary interpretation. In Saint Gregory, tradition and innovation are tightly connected. Our client knows very well what the value of a handmade suit is and that's why we never fall back on a product that was made by a machine.
Saint Gregory Jacket
Spiff: Is Naples the best place to open a business like this or does the obscene amount of small workshops in the city water down the market?
Ennio: There are many tailoring shops here in Naples, however, there is a high demand in the market and, either way, each one has its own style, way of working, and services offered. What often happens is that the tailor in a small workshop or the guy who works from home is not able to communicate himself correctly with foreigners, he doesn't have a structure behind him like that of a company. Saint Gregory was born with the exact idea to slake this thirst, offer up the beautiful product of a tailor to an international client, acting as a bridge between this art and modern boutiques.
Spiff: Let's move on to some technique. When you talk about the Neapolitan cut, what do you mean?
Ennio: The Neapolitan jacket is light to wear, with a light structure that doesn't cover the body but accompanies it without limiting natural movements and, at the same time, accentuating the figure. This is the primary function of the "ripresa" that goes down from the jacket till the pockets. The "barchetta", the chest pocket in the shape of a boat; the wide neck which "rolls"; the folded shoulder and shirtsleeves, these are characteristic designs of the Neapolitan style. You feel like the Neapolitan jacket is your second skin.
Spiff: I understand that all of your suits are with this specific cut or does this go according to the consumer's tastes?
Ennio: For every detail in the suit, we allow the clients to choose freely, however, we're still Neapolitan in cut and style.
Detail of the Spalla Camicia
Spiff: What's the difference one can see in plain view between a buttonhole made by hand and another one made by machine?
Ennio: We always say that the most important artistic work is not visible from the exterior at first glance, however, you'll understand it once you try on a garment made to measure since it will hug your body. This is not just because of the measurements but the artisan techniques that give the garments an exceptional fit. For example, the lining of the jacket is sewn in a way that allows the jacket to adapt to the body of the client, following his movements and natural gestures. An expert eye will only need a simple sigh to recognize a garment made by hand.
Spiff: What is the suit par excellence that Saint Gregory would recommend to have in any masculine wardrobe?
Ennio: Definitely a tuxedo. Also a chalkstripe double breasted flannel suit and a linen suit for summer.
Spiff: A few days ago I actually saw your chalkstripe double-breasted flannel suit, it's amazing. And I was talking about this type of suits, powersuits, with a friend. Suits that were very popular in the decades of the 30s, 40s or more up-to-date such as 90s among Wall Street yuppies... Are we getting back to this type of print or has it never gone away?
Ennio: According to us, they've never gone away. True elegance is timeless. An elegant man will also dare to wear prints and will always be in style. A chalkstripe can also be worn with a t-shirt, a cravatte...
Spiff: There's more. Are we getting back to dressing well or is that just a mirage?
Ennio: We're in agreement in that quality is coming back. People are now putting much more attention into what they're buying and they prefer garments that stand the test of time. This is also an ecological and responsible option for our planet.
Spectacular double-breasted suit in flannel
Spiff: By the way, do you also work with women or are your clients always men?
Ennio: We only work bespoke with women. Women's bodies are completely different and to make a perfect suit, you need the ability and experience.
Spiff: You also sell ties which goes against what they want us to think about ties being dead. Why should the tie never die?
Ennio: Elegance is also in the simple things. Accessories like ties are fundamental.
Spiff: You were saying on your Instagram that Saint Gregory is for those who are able to distinguish between expensive things and things which have value, that trimming a high quality fabric to make a garment badly on a machine is just as bad as wasting work done by hand by a tailor for a fabric in bad shape. We're in agreement, but let's debate. Is tailoring better or is production?
Ennio: Production, absolutely. The best fabric in the market will be seen as cheap in a production made by machine.
Spiff: Any fabric in particular that's an exception in Saint Gregory's work? One which makes you say, we won't work with this one.
Ennio: All the low quality fabrics in general we won't work with. In general, we also don't work with fabrics with too high of a thread count, since they're too fragile to sew and unpick with. We also avoid use of synthetic fibers and fibers that are too excessive, they're not elegant. As I've said before, elegance is in the simple things.
Spiff: Are there significant differences between the local client and the international client?
Ennio: We have both clients, here in Italy and abroad. There aren't big differences.
Spiff: Brands are beginning to retake normalcy and organize trunk shows to get the word out. Have you ever organized a trunk show after the pandemic? Do you plan on organizing any?
Ennio: We've already done a lot after the pandemic. This type of event is important to build up relationships, to remain with clients, to share the Neapolitan lifestyle. On 27 November we're organizing a special trunk show with a dinner to raise some funds. All of our clients will be wearing a Saint Gregory tuxedo.
Spiff: That's amazing. We'll be there for the next one. Will you be at Pitti Uomo? Have you ever been? To anything similar?
Ennio: In general we go to Pitti as visitors and organize our private exhibition in a historic palace. Fortezza dal Basso is more for companies which offer a product of mass production. That's not our style. We prefer to meet with our clients in a different context.
Spiff: Ennio, we hope to meet up soon. At Pitti or in Naples, the first round of Negronis is on us.