The Valstar story could be divided up into two distinct eras: Before-Valstarino and After-Valstarino. B.V. Valstar was a completely different brand, one that had been founded in the late eighteen-hundreds as “English Fashion Waterproof” with a focus upon raincoats. In 1911, this company moved their offices to Milan to become Italy’s first rainwear company, dropping their convoluted name along the way in favor of the more streamlined Valstar moniker. For the next twenty-four years they continued to churn out effective, if not ordinary, trench coats, until the creation of the Valstarino in 1935. With its cropped body, knit collar and unstructured design, the Valstarino was a revolution, not just for Valstar, but for Italian style as a whole.
The Boglioli story has always begun with the jacket. Soft shouldered and unstructured, this small wonder of casual tailoring (my favorite pseudo-oxymoron) has defined Boglioli since their inception nearly a century ago. And yet, with their Spring/Summer ’15 collection Boglioli has made it ever more clear that to them the jacket is just the introduction. While some Italian labels have been content to rest on their soft-shouldered laurels, Boglioli is charging full-speed ahead, fueled by admirers that are at once appreciative of the company’s heritage and actively interested in the future of the brand.
It could be said that Italian menswear is in the midst of a rediscovery period. Classical tailoring and high fashion are no longer the Sharks and Jets of the clothing world, occupying the same territory and yet perpetually in combat. Now, more than ever, it is not enough for a tailoring house to simply make garments, they must also be “designers” in all senses of the word. An Italian tailoring house should cater to their diehard roster of bespoke customers, while also appealing to the whims of those that diligently observe the comings and goings of runway shows throughout Europe. The key to this (as in most things clothing related) is balance – don’t alienate the clients that brought you success all along, but don’t appear complacent.
Dario Cecchini is not a butcher, he’s the butcher. He’s unlike anyone I have ever encountered. As part of our whirlwind one-day adventure in Tuscany, Fontodi owner Giovanni Manetti took us for lunch in Panzano at Dario’s place, a lunch on a warm Italian afternoon which ended up being a life changing event. The butcher shop is forever changed after an afternoon with Dario Cecchini.
Dario’s shop is actually three places in one: a butcher shop on the ground floor, a steakhouse upstairs and a casual terrace restaurant out back. The whole place has to be Panzano’s most significant tourist attraction. It’s a destination for hospitality, a dose of Dario’s legendary energy, and of course, a temple for red meat. If ever you find yourself in Chianti, your presence is required at Dario’s table. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like this before.
Upon arrival Dario —who is probably the world’s most famous butcher thanks in part to his appearance in Bill Buford’s Heat— proceeded to instantaneously grab (read: pick up into his arms) Giovanni like he was a long-lost friend. It looked like they hadn’t seen each other in years, but it had only actually been a few days since they celebrated Giovanni’s 50th birthday together. I know this because they were talking about the massive steaks that Dario butchered and cooked for the party. A second later an iPad mini appeared with Dario holding two of the most massive chunks of beef that I have ever seen.
When people think about the food in Italy, it’s probably safe to say that steak is not the first thing people would call out. Though, the pleasure of Bistecca Fiorentina and a bottle of Super Tuscan are rarely out shined.
The massively thick chunk of rare meat paired with a delicious wine is a meal that I enjoy roughly twice a year in Florence if I am lucky. And while I only get to enjoy this meal a handful of times, it’s something I constantly crave it throughout the year. Every New York steak house is blunted by my desire for super thick and rare beef with crispy edges. No matter how good the steakhouse, no matter how delicious the bottle, nothing compares to having the real thing in Italy.
On my most recent trip to Italy, I decided that the best way to spend my last day would be to make the roughly hour drive from Florence to Chianti Classico near the town of Panzano to spend the day at the Fontodi winery with its owner Giovanni Manetti. A visit to Fontodi was a recommendation by the respected Italy-based food writer Faith Willinger. She extolled Fontodi as both an excellent producer and also an estate that is known to be extremely beautiful. Both of these facts were quickly confirmed. Looking back, Faith couldn’t have suggested a better place to visit and it would be difficult to find a vineyard that is more hospitable.
Situated in some of the best grape growing land in Tuscany, the area is referred to as “Conca d’Oro” (the golden shell), due to the way it is situated to receive extended exposure to the sun. Fontodi is best known for Flaccianello, its excellent Super Tuscan. The flagship wine is made using a delicate process that has been refined and masted over several generations by the Manetti family. The family is also a long-time maker of terra cotta and many of the orange tiled roofs of Florence have been made by the family for hundreds of years.
The scene for this summer’s vacation was, again, thankfully Ischia. It’s an island I am getting to know (and love) more and more each year. I was educated about Ischia by Tom Kalenderian from Barneys, a man who will always be light years ahead of me when it comes to matters of good taste. My fiancé and I visited in June, a month in which the island ticks along with very nice weather and about half as many people as you would likely find in August. The combination of those enjoyment related two details all but guarantees me a return visit next year.
In my mind, there’s no better place to be really, and a lot of the charm has to do with the simple way of the island. When you visit don’t expect to see rows of luxury shops, because there aren’t any. There isn’t much to do there really, which is actually very nice. If you are get tired of sitting by the pool or swimming in the sea, hire a boat to take you around the island to have lunch in one of the hidden coves that only the locals know about. Or start in on the wine and get to bed early. There’s no fear of missing out — nothing is happening anywhere else, and even if it were, who cares.
On the surface Slowear doesn’t appear to be much different from a variety of other Italian brands. Nice fabrics, good construction and some interesting design, but not over designed. The difference becomes more clear the minute you actually wear the product. It’s at that point that you will very quickly place the brand on an altogether higher level. At dinner last night, my friend randomly asked me what my favorite brand was. I had no real answer, I was stumped. Today I woke up and saw this great video from Mr Porter profiling Slowear and my choice was right there. Now I am thinking that if I were deserted on an island and could only wear one brand for the rest of my life, I would easily choose Slowear.