A curious thing happens when you attempt an online search on Italian trouser makers Ambrosi Napoli: first, you will find that the family-owned company does not have its own dedicated URL or website, save for a Tumblr page that hasn’t been updated since 2015. Yes, they’re on Instagram, but click and you’ll see that the profile is locked. (It’s now set to public at the time of this writing, but that may again soon change.) In a day and age when every startup and even heritage fashion brands are scrambling for relevance via a constantly updated digital presence, influencer shout-outs and collabs, and clever, witty hashtags, it almost feels like an anomaly.
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But this is, in fact, entirely deliberate, says the man behind the brand, Salvatore Ambrosi. “Luxury brands, they don’t need to be a part of this joke anymore,” he says. Yes, you read that right—and he continues: “For me, social media is, like, a joke. You can post photos, you can say you are the best, but… that’s not true. I like the idea of customer-to-customer, the old style. Word of mouth. Building your customer day by day, this is the best marketing you can have. For bigger fashion brands, social media is okay. But for artisanal brands, something very unique—you don’t need social media.”
Right off the bat, you can tell Ambrosi is not one to mince words. Besides, he can rest easy in the knowledge that Ambrosi Napoli’s reputation as one of the most sought-after bespoke trouser makers in the world is secure.
Upon meeting Salvatore, you will find that he is so distinctly Italian (or maybe, to be exact, Neapolitan) that he almost seems like a character straight out of a movie. On a sweltering hot Manila summer day, he looks unflappably cool in an all-white double-breasted suit and shiny gold jewelry. He converses with clients in a candid, familiar manner, asking about their wives, commenting on their weight, like he is catching up with old friends.
He peppers his speech with the occasional curse word. Every so often, a cigarette dangles from his lips as he steps out to take frequent smoking breaks. Once at work, the cigarette is replaced with a sewing pin, the needlepoint end sticking out of his mouth as he gets down on his hands and knees and works to adjust a pair’s fit, offering his opinions on cut and color and fabric.
“A chino has to be lower waist, if you want it to be casual,” he explains to one man. “A higher waist is better for formal. If you have a high waist on a chino”—and at this point, he pulls up the seat of his own white trousers and throws open his jacket to illustrate: “It looks ridiculous.” The client nods; point taken. You’ll never have to ask Salvatore twice if you want to know how he really feels.
And there is one thing Salvatore Ambrosi can do indisputably well: create a killer pair of bespoke, hand-stitched trousers, refined over generations of study and technique. The fit is such that it cuts slim, regardless of your weight, and makes you appear a lot taller, crafted in fabrics well-suited to southern Italy and Manila’s balmy weather. “We have never changed. This is the only way I know how to make trousers. The difference is easy to see; it’s the fit. It comes with experience. After many years of doing this, I understand what the customers want. That’s the most important part: satisfying your customer and imagining what he wants. Some people, they don’t know what they want, but they know,” he says. His job is to fill in that invisible gap and translate that into an impeccable fit. “When you dress, it’s all about your character, too. How you are, what kind of business you’re in, what city you live in.”
Growing up in Naples, Salvatore looked up to his grandfather and never aspired for anything other than to take up the mantle of the family business. “I didn’t have anything else to do,” he says matter-of-factly when he began his apprenticeship at just nine years old. “I was born and raised in Napoli, and when you’re in Napoli, you don’t have many choices. I never went to school. My mother wanted me to do something, so I started to train as a tailor with my grandfather. Day by day, I grew to like it. The business became a passion.”
Luckily for men this side of the globe, you don’t need to make the pilgrimage to Italy for a pair of bespoke Ambrosi Napoli trousers. Salvatore pays visits to Manila regularly, participating in trunk shows hosted by Signet, the fine menswear emporium. “The Asian customer still wants to look smart,” he observes. “In other parts of the world, like the US or Europe, people are more relaxed, they like wearing casual stuff. But here, people still want to dress up and look great. That’s good. They love the traditions and family businesses, they appreciate what we do.”
Asked if there is anything about style Italian men can teach Asians, he replies, “Color! Most people here like sad colors; we are more loud, we like to match colors. We can teach Asians to have a better mix of colors.” But if you would like to build a basic trouser wardrobe, it is best to start with just three: “We always recommend dark gray, medium gray, and light gray. With this, you can match whatever you have in your closet. The rest, you can do whatever you want.”
And what, in his opinion, can Asian men teach Italian men about dressing? He raises an eyebrow with his signature Neapolitan confidence and swagger. “Nothing,” he says. “Not for style, at least! For other things, like the business side and being more professional… but on style, we are still the top. We don’t need lessons.”
Signet is located at Shangri-La at the Fort, 30th St. cor. 5th Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig and Power Plant Mall, Rockwell Center, Makati.