Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Juhn Maing, the man behind Sleevehead, the weeklyish blog on tailors and related subjects, self published Sleevehead's Guide to Sicilian Tailors recently. The work is a short but thorough narrowcast, by which I mean that it is aimed at the relatively few English-speaking men interested in and comfortable with travelling to Sicily to have their clothes made.
The leading, or perhaps bleeding edge of tailoring discussions on the men's clothing forums has moved steadily east these past few years, with Naples receiving most of the recent attention. This interest has been driven by the combination of people's interest in hitherto undiscovered things, cheap air travel, and the hobbyist's passion for hand-made clothing. Lower wages in Southern Italy mean that bespoke jackets can still be made entirely by hand for half (or less) the price of a Savile Row coat with a lot of machine sewing.
Naples was one of the principal stops on the Grand Tour of the 17th and 18th centuries and there was a large British expat community there by the mid-1800's. The Neapolitans learned to make English style suits the same way that Hong Kong tailors did: customers would leave something so it could be copied. Over time, the tailoring got to be comparable to that of London, give or take stylistic and aesthetic differences. And some of the men (and it is a male dominated field) trained in Milan, Rome and Naples brought their craft to Sicily.
Maing's book chronicles his meetings with about a dozen tailors in Palermo, Catania and Messina, ordering jackets, suits and trousers from five of those. The book offers travel advice as well an overview of each tailor's style and substance, illustrated by photos of the men and their work.
At nearly $1 a page ($49 directly from the author), the Guide comes nowhere near to conforming with conventional e-book pricing, but that is hardly the point. For men who are willing to assume the risk that always accompanies experimentation with new tailors and invest in a couple trips to Sicily as well as a translator (most of the tailors have not a word of English), the reward is Neapolitan style tailoring for $800 (600 Euros) or less exclusive of cloth. If all goes well, the savings may pay for the travel with the beauty of Sicily thrown in for free. And for the merely aspirational among us, the Guide is an interesting tale of a tailoring experience far from New York, London and Rome in both space and time.