The third installment from the ACL Made in Italy tour focuses its sights on the Neopolitan tailor Isaia. Located on the outskirts of Napoli – in a small town called Casalnuovo, a place that has been the home of tailors for generations – in a factory where nearly everyone that works in production is a second or third generation tailor. Isaia itself is a family-run business; founded in 1957 by Enrico Isaia, the clothing maker is now helmed by Enrico’s grandson Gianluca Isaia, and has various other family members involved in its day-to-day operations.
The factory is an expansive two story building that is tucked away in an unmarked alley with a large gate. If I were to find the place without the assistance of Isaia’s driver, I’d venture to say it would have been impossible. More than that, if I had to drive myself through the traffic in Napoli, I don’t know if I would be alive to report about the wonderful tailoring I witnessed. But all of that just adds to the allure of Napoli and of course, the Neapolitans. I find Southern Italians to be charming and friendly with a good sense of humor. I find Napoli to be intense, exciting and renegade. Definitely unlike any other place in Italy that I have been.
At first glance the Isaia factory seems like other American clothing factories that I have visited. Everything starts with a pattern room and technical designers – just like in the states, then you head downstairs and see the cutters. Like in the U.S. (and other places) the goods are cut one of two ways, on a CAD machine or by hand (depending on the fabric). Once the orders are set and the goods are cut, the sewers begin the basic jacket construction on sewing machines. About a quarter of the factory is set up for this – people at machines sewing. The rest of the factory is set up for hand sewing, pressing & processing and for the pants shop. Once the building blocks of the jacket are in place, everything else is done by hand. The sleeves are attached by hand, the button holes made by hand – even the monogram is done by a person hand stitching. It was at this moment, seeing the embroidery done by hand by a woman who made it look as easy as swinging a door closed, that I really began to understand what makes Isaia and Neapolitan tailoring special.
As we continued through the production line, we ended up in the room where the jackets are given their final press and preparation for shipping to the customer. Even this process is mostly done by hand and one single jacket can take hours to be properly pressed with an iron that weighs as much as a Sherman tank. The factory also has its pants shop and a separate shirt shop, all under one roof. This is something I haven’t seen before – jackets, pants and shirts all made under one roof. And everything looked like it belonged in my closet. To say it is beautiful stuff is an understatement.
What struck me most at Isaia were the little details; the way things were finished, the way the fabrics and colors were paired. The place truly is amazing and I haven’t felt so moved by “clothing” in a long time. [Isaia Official Link]