After every visit to Daikanyama, I leave thinking it is the neighborhood I would most like to inhabit should I ever move to Tokyo. It is never really crowded, there’s an Eataly (which pre-dates and surpasses NYC’s consistently chaotic eye-talyon outpost), really delicious coffee, leafy streets and of course good shopping. It sort of reminds me of TriBeCa in a lot of ways. That’s to say it is probably very expensive to live there, which likely means I would not ever be able to call it home, but it’s fun to imagine. Anyway, back to the point at hand: the importance of quality menswear retail. Tokyo has it in spades, much more than any city anywhere in the world. Having been all over the place, I am comfortable saying this rather bold statement because it is undeniable. The consumer culture is borderline insane and that is what makes it so much fun to visit.
The first time I met Gianluca Isaia was years ago on a gray, damp day in Milano. He was wearing a heavy wool double-breasted brown and beige herringbone topcoat. His hair was long and he was throwing back caffe’ like a man doing shots of tequila. He had just arrived that morning from New York and the gloomy Milan climate wasn’t sitting well with him (in fact, it doesn’t sit well with any Italian who hails from Rome and below, but that’s for another entry). Yet, despite the jetlag and the rain, Gianluca had a take-it-or-leave-it lightness to him, a wholly Neapolitan attitude equal parts optimism and fatalism. I would later come to understand it informs everything he does, not least of all his distinct approach to dressing.
“Non pazziar’,” he tells me as he shows me through the spring collection during the latest Pitti Uomo. That’s Napolitano for “no joking” (I can’t help it if I found his blue, red and white Prince of Wales suit and signature leather Capri sandals amusing). But I should know better, when it comes to this venerable brand, style is no laughing matter. That’s not to say, though, there isn’t room for a bit of irony.
My first encounter with the Topo Designs founders Jedd Rose (below right) and Mark Hansen was a perfectly orchestrated meeting over beers that happened completely by chance 4000 miles from home. A few months back I purchased a few items from the Topo online store and really came to love the design and aesthetics. I used the bags a bunch and more often than not people asked me where they came from. Intrigued I followed the guys on Twitter and Instagram and enjoyed the laid back and approachable nature of the company. That feeling came full circle when Mark and Jedd stopped me this week in a bar in Florence after a long day in the hot sun at the peacock friendly menswear trade show that is Pitti Uomo.
There’s no denying the styling ability of the people at Lubiam. There’s also no denying their ability to crush you with texture. I mean crush you in a good way. By now you probably recognize that I am taking a measured approach in doling out my coverage from Pitti, because it’s not like these clothes are going to be in stores for another few months, so what’s the rush.
My appreciation for the hyper-specialized Italian menswear brand Slowear is no secret. While in Italy between Pitti Uomo and the watch show in Switzerland I stopped into the brand’s cozy flagship in Milan. The shop houses a great representation of each of the labels that make up the Slowear brand, with an impressive selection of trousers from Incotex that really caught my attention. Individually, Incotex is by far the most widely known brand of the bunch and the pants have reached icon status in both Europe and Japan. I’m told that the business in America is strong as well. I believe it too, because the brand is strong to me.
My whole life my father has done his best to drill certain lessons into me, to pass along some of his hard won knowledge to make my journey wiser and easier than his. As I started building a business he was always tell me to “focus on what you know,” a lesson that has served me well over the years. It is also a concept I subscribe to in general. To do what you do best. This concept is also something in practice at a company I have become very interested in, Slowear.
With all of my trips to Italy this year I fell in love with the set-up and execution of Slowear. To better understand the concept I pulled some info from the company website:
We believe that the only way to do something well is to have the right expertise. That’s why the four brands that make up the group – Incotex, Zanone, Glanshirt and Montedoro – are all founded on the principle of specialization.
In addition to making hand made custom shirts for some very serious clients in Europe, the U.S. and Japan (fortune 500 CEO types mostly), Salvatore Piccolo also produces a small collection of off the rack shirts and ties in his factory in Napoli. Every detail on the shirts are done by hand, often the shirts are made from exclusive Italian fabrics that the mills produce just for him. I learned recently in a conversation with Tom Kalenderian, the general merchandise manager executive vice president of mens at Barneys New York, that many of the prestigious Italian fabric makers will go the extra mile and bend their rules concerning minimums for Salvatore Piccolo. According to Kalenderian. “The mills love working with Salvatore because he has such good taste and his collections are so well done.”
Looking at the Piccolo shirts at Pitti Uomo (and again at Bread & Butter in Berlin where I snapped these photos) it makes sense why the mills want to work with this guy and why all of those powerful business types want him to make their custom shirts.