Although he is in Rome, just an hour’s train ride north of Naples, Mimmo Siviglia’s tailoring style could not be much further from that of Anna Matuozzo (see yesterday’s post). Matuozzo and her daughters make shirts with mappina sleeves and decorative, nubby stitches. These are not only beautiful artisanal details, but also a way to show a shirt’s provenance to those in-the-know. Some men approve, and for others the details are over the top.
Siviglia also makes shirts with his daughter, but otherwise his approach has little in common with Matuozzo’s. He finds puckers and pleats on shirt sleeves to be distracting and hand stitches, even when well done, to be too messy. Instead, he seeks to create the cleanest, smoothest look possible. For Siviglia, a shirt should direct a person’s eyes upwards, towards the wearer’s face, not direct attention to itself. The goal is to make an unobtrusive, flattering shirt, where all the lines are clean and the seams nearly invisible.
Of course, this is not easy to do. For example, Siviglia had to modify an old buttonhole machine in order to get just the right tension. This allows him to make perfectly clean, straight, and unwavering buttonholes. As well, side seams are executed with a good single needle stitch so that the fabric doesn’t pucker after a few washes.
Achieving a perfectly smooth look also means cutting the patterns just right. If a pattern doesn’t compensate for a sloped shoulder, there will be wrinkles around the collarbone; if it over-compensates, there will be wrinkles near the ribs. Even at the age of 80, Siviglia cuts all the patterns himself.
Siviglia’s approach demonstrates something important. It is widely believed that all things handmade are better than anything machine-sewn, but this is too much of a generalization. In reality, these approaches may serve different but equally attractive purposes. Siviglia’s shirts are clean, unobtrusive and beautiful in their own way. They sit in the background and flatter the wearer. Whether his approach is better or worse depends on the kind of shirt a man wants.
For those who are interested in Siviglia’s shirts but cannot visit Rome, Raphael Rafaelli in New York can take measurements for US clients.