Hand-Made in Napoli | Salvatore Piccolo

Earlier this month I flew to Italy to cover the new spring / summer 2015 collections being presented at the trade show Pitti Uomo. But before heading to the Fortezza da Basso, I made the trip down to Naples to see my favorite Italian shirtmaker (and tailor) Salvatore Piccolo and witness first-hand how he creates some of the finest hand-made shirts in the world. Having been to factories in Italy before, I knew this would be a great opportunity to document this unique process and partnered with Canon to tell the story behind the photographs.

When ACL began, it wasn’t with a specific plan in mind. I never thought I would be seeking out well-made things, or visiting factories. In fact, I never really expected the site to be anything more than a journal of the things I personally was interested in, it never seemed possible that any quantity of people would actually be following what happened here. At the same time I never intended to become a photographer. I understood the importance of photos on the web, but up until 2007 I never really took any pictures, ever. As I went to discover new things for ACL, my camera played an increasingly important role to the success of the site, and I started to find that I became increasingly interested in becoming a better photographer. My camera and ultimately my knowledge (and desire to own) different lenses helped raise the bar for ACL dramatically. I was quick to discover the importance of a good camera and quality lenses with great optics.

Having never considered myself a “photographer” and not having any formal (or informal) training with a camera, I learned what I do know about taking pictures by just going out and doing it. At first I would have to shoot hundreds of shots to get the 10-12 that would satisfy the story. The more I shot the, the more I learned about how to control the outcome through set-up and through the equipment. I did some research and landed on Canon as a platform.

My workhorse is now the Canon 5D Mark III. I love Canon’s L Series lenses for their clarity and their performance in low light environments. I often find myself shooting in stores, at trade-shows and in factories, places with all sorts of mixed and challenging lighting. (Sometimes though, I get to shoot in places where the light is great, like in beautiful Solomeo.) I learned quickly that my choice of lenses made all the difference. The body did too, but the lenses could elevate things in a noticeable way. I continued to shoot and shoot and shoot, working on white balance, consistency, framing and style. While I have come a long way, I still think I have a long way to go. The great thing about photography though is the fact that it is never mastered completely. There’s always a way to improve, always more you can do and there’s always more work you can put into it. It’s rewarding in a major way, but it’s also just elusive enough to keep you hooked.

Telling stories like that of Salvatore Piccolo and his workshop in Naples has become the foundation of what ACL is. When I landed in Italy and headed over to the factory, I had no idea what to expect when I got there, but was thrilled to finally getting the opportunity to shoot

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Salvatore Piccolo at Pitti Uomo #86 in Florence. Shot with the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens.

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Naples is a city like no other. As we walked over to lunch the streets were calm, but normally it’s a normally chaotic scene. Shot with the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens. The 35mm lens is always a go-to because I never know where I am going to end up shooting and want to be able to always shoot in natural light. With the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens I can stop it down to get nice light and great clarity either in a workshop or out on the street like above.

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The workshop was filled with fabrics, and Salvatore is obsessive about the materials that become his shirts. I loved the way this background framed the photo of all of these fine fabrics. Shot with the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens. The 17-40mm works well because there was good natural light in the workshop and I could crop in if needed to capture a close-up.

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A hybrid-pajama styled silk shirt that is a part of the SS15 collection. The Neapolitans certainly have a great understanding of color. Shot with the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens.

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Salvatore’s mother has worked in this factory since she was a young girl. Below is a picture of her at the shirt factory as a child. Salvatore now owns the factory and works alongside his mother, sister and niece. It’s three generations of family making shirts in the space that it all started decades ago. Shot with the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens.

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Above: newly made shirts come back from the wash where they are given one rinse to soften them up. Shot with the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens.

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It was a hot summer afternoon and there weren’t many people in, but the shop was humming with the SS15 samples and AW14 production headed for stores all of the world. The interesting thing was the noise, or lack there of. Because there’s so much hand work, you don’t hear much coming from the sewing machines. The factory scenes above were all shot with either the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens (as it is great for showing a wider look at the whole space) or the EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens because it can help me capture things with natural light.

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Above: the hand stitching that goes into each shirt is what makes them sing. Shot with the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens.

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Special linen collaboration shirts headed to Japan.

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Salvatore was constantly running around while I was there and this was a nice moment for him to pause for me to take his picture. The chambray shirt and tie he was holding has come to be known as a signature look of his. Shot with the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens.

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Some technical details: Everything in this story was shot with the Canon 5D Mark III with either a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens or the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens which I use to capture wider images. When I travel I am often very picky about what equipment I bring on a shoot, and I try to limit my lenses as much as possible. I’ve found that these two Canon L Series lenses are my best bets for capturing these constantly changing conditions. I will also add a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens into the mix if I am shooting any small details. At Salvatore Piccolo everything that I shot was on aperture priority, with auto shutter and auto white balance. I performed slight tweaks to exposure, color and contrast in post before exporting the images for the web. Even if I hadn’t partnered with Canon on this post, I would still be shooting with a Canon camera and Canon optics as I normally do.

Comments on “Hand-Made in Napoli | Salvatore Piccolo

    Cory on July 17, 2014 11:10 AM:

    Nice post, and amazing clothes. Some of Salvatore’s fabrics are beautiful. I’m also an avid photographer and Canon user. Canons are all I have ever used since inheriting a 35mm Rebel when I was a very young man.
    You’re living my dream, Michael. I’d love to make a living with a website about fashion featuring my photographs. This post is inspiring me to try and make that happen. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to become a mentor of sorts?

    jc on July 17, 2014 11:19 AM:

    Great, you got some lenses and a decent camera. Now go get yourself a flash. You need one.

    Francois on July 17, 2014 2:48 PM:

    Hi, I understand it’s a sponsored post, but is there a need to mention Canon 20-some odd times in the post, we got the picture ;)

    Patrick on July 17, 2014 11:12 PM:

    Naples is one of my passions. Thank you for post, it brought back sweet memories.

    Dahl5yankees on July 19, 2014 3:12 PM:

    As a full-time Ebay seller of men’s high end clothes, I’ve had the opportunity to
    see (and wear) the best shirts in the world. For me, Salvatore Piccolo shirts are
    my favorite along with Kiton. Piccolo shirts are like art, you can tell that the
    tailors making them take their time and do beautiful handwork. I highly recommend

Comments are closed.