Tight and short jackets are characteristic of the Thom Browne style
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Old school, new cool: are you a Kiton suit type or a Thom Browne?

From Napoli to New York City, from old school to new - the search for perfect cut of suits continues. Here are two labels that represent the highest standards in men's tailoring, and its two faces
Patricia Tumang and Carlo Rufino | Mar 27 2019

OLD COOL KITON'S CLASSIC CUT

Sartorial heritage in Southern Italy traces its roots to the port city of Naples, where the tradition of bespoke tailoring has flourished since the 19th century. Neapolitan tailoring is distinct from that of its Saville Row counterparts in two unique aspects: minimal shoulder padding and softer architecture for suit jackets, which follows the natural contours of the body. These, combined with arguably the finest fabrics and craftsmanship in the world, are what makes a bespoke suit from Naples the most coveted and perhaps the most expensive of its kind.

Ciro Paone, founder of the revered luxury brand Kiton, is an expert in sartorial construction. Paone's fine taste in quality fabrics, which are the hallmark of a Kiton suit, was honed from five generations of his family's fabric business. As a child, Paone would join his uncle in Britain to source Shetland weaves, cashmere, and fine wool; to this day, this connoisseur of fabrics can distinguish their qualities through touch and through his unrivaled quest for perfection. (Paone has also been known to feel with his fingers if there are too many threads in a buttonhole, and will ask the embroiderer to correct it.)

Minimal padding and softer architecture are hallmarks of the Kiton suit jacket.

The name "Kiton" was derived from "chiton," a ceremonial garment worn by ancient Greek aristocracy. The company was officially founded by Paone in 1968, but prior to that, it started out in 1956 as CI.PA, a textile wholesale business that imported high-quality British fabrics and sold them to local Neapolitan tailors.

"I was always convinced we could offer tailored garments of high quality, in fabrics made by hand, with a choice of models even more refined than those turned out by the tailors' workshops," says Paone in the 2007 catalog published by Mondadori. At the age of 23, he expanded the family business by gathering a group of tailors to make bespoke garments.

In the early years of the business, Paone became more popular in Germany than in his home city of Naples. Paone rigorously tackled the international market, starting with Germany before expanding to other parts of Europe, and eventually, to the United States, the Middle East, and Asia. Blown-up images of Paone would grace the boutiques in all the major German cities, attesting to his charisma as a seller with only a suitcase of samples.

Paone's motto, "Quality plus one: the best of the best plus one," has rigorously been adapted by the brand, which currently employs more than 300 Neapolitan tailors or "sarti Napolitani" to produce approximately 20,000 suits a year in its cream and beige marble-lined Kiton factory in Naples. The facility has the look and feel of a palazzo, its lobby a veritable museum of historical bespoke suits and shoes worn by aristocracy, such as the Duke of Windsor. The facility also houses Kiton's tailoring school, which was established a decade ago to teach the art and tradition of bespoke tailoring.

Production is based primarily in Naples, but Kiton does have factories in other parts of Italy that exclusively produce Kiton knitwear and outerwear. "Keeping our production entirely in Italy is something Kiton will never change. The economy is not an excuse to lower our quality," says Paone.

The Kiton motto: “Quality plus one: the best of the best plus one.”

Kiton's master tailors are driven by a fierce instinct and commitment to subdued elegance. The minimalist design of a Kiton suit betrays the laborious approach to its construction; a Kiton suit jacket alone can take over 25 solid hours to make. Since fabric stretches when cut, the cut fabric is placed in an air-conditioned vault for two weeks before being sewn. There are technicians for each aspect of the jacket, from pocket cutters who only deal with lining the fabric patterns, to embroidery experts, who only sew buttonholes. Everything is precise and painstakingly done by hand.

More than half a century later, Kiton is a brand internationally recognized today for its luxurious craftsmanship and fine quality. Though jackets are their signature product, Kiton also produces men's and women's collections. It opened its USD-40-million New York City showroom in 2003, and since then, Kiton stores have been sprouting all over the world, with a concentration in the United States (25 percent of their business comes from America).

 

NEW COOL THOM BROWNE'S SHRUNKEN SUIT

It's been close to two decades since Thom Browne first offered his made-to-measure suits in New York. Not one to follow trends, Browne eschewed sleekness in his designs and instead promoted geekiness injected with a cool sensibility. Through the years, his suits have become much sought-after.

He stands at 5 feet 8 inches, and his personalized suits complement his frame and his aesthetic needs. The sleeves and suits themselves are cut several inches shorter than what is usual, as are his trouser hems. For Browne, it is normal to have an entire cuff of a dress shirt exposed under his jacket.

The front panels of his jackets are fitted close to the chest. The result? His shoulders appear broader, giving Browne a more confident look.

This signature look, a Browne classic, has hints of the 1920s jazz-era style, with the suits looking like they've had an accident at the laundry. The jackets are shrunken—tight and short. The trousers, a test of confidence, hemmed four inches north of the ankles, not only exposes more skin, but they also make the wearer vulnerable to ridicule. Browne's suits are not for the follower nor the faint of heart. Browne's suits ask: "How confident are you?" The truth is, the wearer has to be confident. Very confident.

The signature Browne look has hints of the Jazz era.

In 2006, Browne was selected as the menswear designer of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. He was named designer of the year by German GQ in 2007, and by GQ in 2008. In 2010, he was given the most influential designer in menswear award at the Global Fashion Awards organized by fashion-trend analyst WGSN.

In the fall of 2007, Browne scored a commercial hit when he introduced Black Fleece for the classic label Brooks Brothers. Black Fleece was a simplified version of Browne's iconic style, and the public found it accessible.

Browne also worked at the other end of the luxury market with Harry Winston's men's collection. His collection included cufflinks in white gold with diamonds. Prices ranged from a few thousand dollars, to a sum good enough to purchase prime real estate.

In 2010, Browne decided to present his collection in Paris, where he showed that he had moved on from his original take on tailoring. However, at the end of the day, what sells for Thom Browne remains the same—the shrunken suit that suits the times.

 

This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue 1 2011.