The tailor who is not a tailor

Traditionally, the relationship between a Neapolitan tailor and his client is much more personal than a clean-cut business transaction.

WORDS  ZSARLENE B. CHUA | PHOTOGRAPHY  JONATHAN BALDONADO


“You’ve gained weight recently, yes? Around two kilos?,” asked Neapolitan master tailor Luigi Dalcuore, who was surveying long-time client Kelly See from multiple angles. Mr. See was being measured for two bespoke jackets: a mid-gray double-breasted suit in wool and another—a gift from the maestro—in tweed. Maestro Dalcuore, proprietor of Sartoria Dalcuore, flew in from Napoli, Italy, so he could personally oversee the fitting, which took place during a trunk show at Signet, a menswear boutique in Makati City. After a moment of silence, Mr. See, who co-owns Signet, admitted sheepishly that, yes, he did gain a little weight, and, yes, Mr. Dalcuore was right on target.

Traditionally, the relationship between a Neapolitan tailor and his client is much more personal than a clean-cut business transaction. For one, it usually lasts generations. (A father, as a rite of passage, brings his son to his tailor for his first suit. The son grows up, has children of his own, and the process repeats). For another, a tailor is privy to all the physical defects a client may have, and is a valuable ally in a man’s efforts to keep them hidden from view.

A soft-spoken man advanced in years but still sharp of eye, Maestro Dalcuore earned the right to be called “maestro” spending half a century developing the Dalcuore-style Neapolitan tailoring. “The Dalcuore shoulder is not a very, very Neapolitan jacket. The Dalcuore shoulder is cleaner than the usual Neapolitan shoulder,” he said through his daughter, Cristina, since Maestro Dalucore’s command of English has never been as good as his command of needle and thread.

Neapolitan tailoring is a century-old style that became famous because it is the complete opposite of British tailoring: where the British favor structure in their suits, with padded shoulders and heavy fabrics, Neapolitans prefer soft shoulders and light fabrics, resulting in suits that are more relaxed and informal, keeping with the vaunted Italian sprezzatura.

It is also characterized by a bateau-shaped chest pocket, which is slightly raised outward with the front dart of the coat extending all the way to the bottom of the hem for a more streamlined look; a slightly higher notch and gorge setting; and undone or non-working sleeve buttons.

The jacket is also a bit shorter than its English counterpart.

Unlike the traditional Neapolitan suit where shoulders sport a “roped” looked or shirring, the Dalcuore shoulder is cut in the Victorian style and thus flows smoother from shoulder to sleeve. Another departure from the classic style is Maestro Dalcuore’s insistence on making the back of the jacket the same length as the front (a classic Neapolitan jacket has a shorter back to make the jacket easily “slide” over the body). Because he values originality and artistic freedom over “how-it-must-be-done” traditions, Maestro Dalcuore was nicknamed “the tailor who is not a tailor” by his colleagues.

Perhaps this flexibility is due to the fact that, unlike his counterparts, the 71-year-old Maestro Dalcuore is not from a family of tailors (although he did have an aunt who was a dressmaker). He entered the world of bespoke tailoring in 1966 at the age of 21, a late start compared to others who learned to sew at the tender age of eight.

He apprenticed under Del Duca, a well-known Neapolitan tailor. Del Duca’s atelier was located in the same building as his dressmaker-aunt’s boutique, where the young Maestro Dalcuore spent his free time helping. A few years later, at 26, he went on his own and opened his first shop in Via Cervantes. Sartoria Dalcuore, after moving several times, is now located at Via F. Caracciolo 17. “In Dalcuore, there’s no ‘one jacket for all,’” the Maestro said. “For bespoke tailoring, the difference is not in the market but in the individual customer. Every client is different.”

Much like the tropics, Italy is also burdened by dry and humid summers, which means Neapolitan tailors are experts when it comes to lighter fabrics like hopsack, linen, and fresco. Additionally, their jackets are also minimally lined (half or less), making them less stifling and easier to wear the entire day.

Despite their aesthetic differences, a Dalcuore jacket shares the same essence as its Neapolitan equivalent. It is painstakingly handmade. No machines can be found in the atelier and although the Sartoria employs 20 tailors, Maestro Dalcuore always makes it a point to cut the jacket himself since it is the most important step in the 50-hour process of making a single suit. Because Sartoria Dalcuore has clients all over the world, Maestro Dalcuore and his daughter have racked up miles from flying to and from Naples. He makes it a point to meet clients and personally take their measurements, after which he flies back to Naples and creates a draft of the suit. The father-and-daughter team fly out again for the first fitting, and return to Sartoria Dalcuore to finish the whole suit. After about two months, the finished product is delivered to the client.

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A single bespoke Italian suit can set you back at least PHP265,000 but a single suit won’t cut it since menswear experts agree that you should have at least two—one in mid-gray and one in navy. Black, they add, should be avoided because it is boring and too formal. Gray and navy, on the other hand, are versatile colors, appropriate for all occasions and easy to accessorize. There is, of course, room for experimentation. Style mavens brave enough to wear brighter, non-traditional colors can emulate the Maestro, who wore a royal blue Dalcuore suit during his Signet store trunk show, while his daughter, Cristina, donned a floor-length black coat— also made by her father, naturally.