since at least a decade, more and more renowned bespoke tailoring houses have been trying to develop their business through surfing the fame of their patronymic brand by jumping in the gigantic swimming pool of ready-to-wear.
London was the first to shoot, with the once "purist bespoke houses" of Gieves & Hawkes, Richard James, Kilgour, and Huntsman to name a few, taking advantage of the worldwide notoriety of Savile Row (the street which has morphed into a "brand" in its own right), and stocking their ateliers with off-the-peg suits which can be bought and worn in an instant.
Later, Paris followed the movement with Cifonelli and Camps de Luca (who acquired Stark & Sons) introducing ready-to-wear suits.
Italy arrived late to the party (save Rubinacci) to participate in this "spin-off race" to give fans of various iconic bespoke brands a more affordable version of the bespoke house style.
What is the formula to achieve such a feat? Find an outside atelier or factory who can make suits (hopefully) worthy of the house name, buy those suits at wholesale prices, and then re-sell the same suits to make a profit, while giving customers a chance to own a garment with the eponymous bespoke label, at a much more affordable cost.
At PG we've watched this phenomenon unfold for years, without much commentary from us on the topic. But today, we feel ready to analyze the subject, as it touches the heart and spirit of bespoke tailoring.
Let's break the ice : is it even possible to "infuse" a specific bespoke style in a ready-to-wear garment ? To put it differently, isn't the appellation "tailored ready-to-wear" an oxymoron, or even worse, a paralogism, that Immanuel Kant described in his famous "Critique of Pure Reason" as an illusion of the reason ?
Because even with a lot of good faith, it can be difficult for a customer to believe that a garment crafted in Turkey, Portugal or the Mauritius Island will be able to carry the "DNA" of a bespoke house, as many marketing messages boldly affirm!
I'm not submitting that each respectable (even venerable) aforementioned tailoring house is guilty of overstatement and should be put in the same basket. Not at all. The majority of these iconic companies (especially the French ones) sell very decent ready-to-wear and made-to-measure garments. Stark and Sons for example, now managed by Marc de Luca's sons, Julien and Charles, has gone as far as NOT to use the Camps de Luca name on RTW items, in order to clearly define the product being sold as an affordable range made in Italy--a very honest and rare approach, to be credited.
Most concerning is that a few bespoke tailoring institutions, particularly the institutions bought by financial groups, tell fairy tales about suits crafted in undisclosed locations, without addressing the quality and construction of the product (such a discussion should be a minimum expectation from these acclaimed names).
But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Being an insider in the world of bespoke tailoring, I understand how difficult it is to prosper in a business which can require a big and specialized workforce, and an unbelievable number of hours of handiwork to craft a single suit. Thus it should not be forbidden for a tailoring house to try to develop its name with more affordable products, especially when the master tailor has no heir and no one trained to carry the flag of the business forward.
Some bespoke houses do the work and identify excellent ateliers, often from Italy, to craft suits that indeed manage to emulate a certain bespoke house style. This scenario can quickly degrade when bespoke houses seek greater profit margins and resort to abandon their Italian crafters in favor of more cost efficient industrial factories in Portugal, Turkey or even (much) farther countries. Is it then possible for the "DNA" of the brand to survive this longer journey ?
However, to our great surprise, at least one other bespoke company in Naples is trying a different path, which carries more risk and cost, but is also more legitimate and respectable.
The Dalcuore family has recently embarked on what is, to our knowledge, a première in the sartorial world : the creation of their own ready-to-wear manufacture not far from the Dalcuore bespoke atelier in Naples, Italy.
Keeping the Dalcuore ready-to-wear production close to home by creating their own atelier (with Maestro Luigi Dalcuore as head of styling) is a bold and audacious undertaking, considering the substantial investment required for a workforce, the premises, and the equipment. Yet this is the path that Damiano Annunziato and Cristina (second-generation and daughter of Maestro Luigi Dalcuore) have decided to take.
Their ambition is to become a recognized player in the luxury handmade suiting business with the maestro himself transmitting his know-how to the various tailors who are crafting suits. If Dalcuore can achieve this feat of sustaining a reputable bespoke house, while at the same time, operating a 100 percent family-owned ready-to-wear sartoria, then a strong future is on the horizon for the company.
The above is an admirable and courageous decision, especially in Naples, where Dalcuore could have easily given its ready-to-wear production to one of the numerous obscure ateliers that are still alive on the outskirts of the city.
Recently, we had the chance to discover and photograph the first few models handcrafted by Dalcuore's team of tailors working in the new atelier located in Arzano, in the suburb of Napoli, close to the famous Kiton manufacture.
This first collection undeniably carries the typical "flair" of Gigi's creations : Neapolitan in soul, but cosmopolitan in the cut and the silhouette.
The market is reacting positively to Dalcuore's bold initiative, with orders pouring in from acclaimed retailers in Asia like Beams, United Arrows, Isetan, Barneys Japan, Brezza Yokkaichi, Brio Beijing, Bryceland's Tokyo and Hong Kong, the Signet Store in the Philippines and Villa Del Corea in Seoul, to name a few.
In an era where many bespoke tailoring houses are trying to secure their future by developing their "brand" with questionable ready-to-wear products crafted far from their historical locations, this gutsy initiative of the Dalcuore family deserves all our respect and support.
Of course, the company still needs to find its cruising speed, to organize its workflow, to implement a reliable quality control (a very critical point for handmade garments) and to progress in terms of communication and logistics.
But after visiting the Dalcuore showroom at Pitti Uomo, touring the sartoria in Arzano, and observing the workers in action, we can say with confidence: if the garments continue to hold the high standard we've observed to date, then the company has a real chance to make a name for itself in the highly competitive market of luxury ready-to-wear.