“Italians see fashion as a search for beauty,” says Matteo Persivale, one of Milan’s best-dressed men and a senior writer at Corriere della Serra, the country’s leading daily newspaper.
Perhaps that’s why those in less tropical climes are still so drawn to the Italianate style — it breaks free of the workaday pragmatism of traditional tailoring, and lives with a passion that most rarely allow their more buttoned-up wardrobes to experience.
Italian style has a classic quality about it, but right now it’s also pushing envelopes and generating hype for fun. Luxury brands like Gucci, Moncler and Stone Island – all with strikingly different heritage – are enjoying crossover success, appealing to one-percenters and streetwear-loving millennials alike.
Not that you have to be a high roller to sprinkle some sprezzatura over your wardrobe. Here are 10 of the finest Italian menswear brands, and the particulars of their own search for beauty.
Best For: Versatile Trousers
Venetian label Incotex is part of the much-loved Slowear collective — a group of craftsmen and design houses with a shared belief in producing higher quality clothes and a distinct aversion to disposable garments and fast fashion. The brand’s simple but expertly built chinos are a staple of most Italian men’s wardrobes, where their understated colourways and traditional detailing means they’re equally at home below a blazer or paired with a T-shirt and sneakers.
Best For: Expertly Engineered Outerwear
Since 1969, Aspesi has specialised in the kind of lifelong clothing companions that will weather any storm and grow better with age. The brand’s founder, Alberto Aspesi, seldom gives interviews and designs his garments without any outer logos. Instead, he lets the garments speak for themselves, mainly through their precise craftsmanship and rich materials. Its field jackets, for example, are some of the most coveted in the world thanks to their military-issue detailing, utilitarian feel, and year-round versatility.
Best For: Indulgent Investment Pieces
It’s little wonder the Italian press dubs Mr Brunello Cucinelli ‘The King of Cashmere’. Aged 25, having recently dropped out of university, he took the bold step of being the first to dye the ultra soft textile to create his designs. Today, Cucinelli’s clothes sit at the higher-end of the men’s market, worn by everyone from the Hollywood elite to royalty, but they’re characterised by such next-level craftsmanship that they’re well worth saving up for.
Best For: Neapolitan Flair
Triple-pleated trousers! Voluptuous silk pocket squares! Butter-soft ‘Belgian’ loafers! Rubinacci is Neopolitan flair incarnate. But this dandified label isn’t just the fare of Pitti Peacocks and their overly choreographed carelessness, this is the real deal. Founded under the watch of Gennaro Rubinacci in 1932, the brand continues to be run three generations later by the same family. The Napoli-based house’s construction is near masterful, with an emphasis on super light tailoring and exquisite detailing: most Rubinacci blazers, for example, are silk-lined and printed with extravagant baroque scenes.
Best For: High-Fashion Fun
Under the visionary gaze of Alessandro Michele, one of Italy’s most established fashion houses has finally got its groove back. Though timeless staples like the horsebit loafer add a pinch of classic Ivy League style to any outfit, it’s in the newer, more outlandish designs and collaborations that Gucci has come to life (and been restored to the top of luxury fashion’s best-seller list). Don the label’s statement outerwear or ornately embroidered knitwear for a dose of go-to-hell Italian expressionism.
Best For: Cashmere
For Loro Piana, it’s all about the fabric. Since its conception in 1924, this family business has weaved some of the finest cashmere known to man and is still the world’s largest producer of the soft stuff today. That’s not to say the design and finishing aren’t pretty special too — expect versatile wardrobe staples like chambray shirts and suede trucker jackets in a range of high-tech finishes. The wind and water-resistant Storm System coating, for example, protects its baby cashmere without ever diminishing its handfeel.
Best For: Statement Footwear
Few things embody that certain un certo non so che (the Italian version of ‘je ne sais quoi’) like a pair of Tod’s Gommino driving shoes. Their soft soles, each set on the brand’s signature rubber pebbles (133 to be exact), and illuminated colourways show a healthy disdain for our soggy Anglo Saxon weather, but they’re worth a punt no matter the climate. Owned by the achingly stylish Della Valle family, Tod’s has also developed a wider range of sturdier, year-round options that will complement any wardrobe. We particularly like its take on the traditional chukka boot.
Best For: Double-Breasted Suiting
Perhaps Italy’s best-known designer, Giorgio Armani is a purveyor, ambassador and creator of truly immaculate tailoring. The house, which is still overseen by the eponymous man himself, made its mark with the kind of flawless double-breasted suits that could create an A-lister overnight (we’re looking at you, Mr Gere), with subtle touches such as patch pockets on half-lined blazers that continue to be adored the world over.
Best For: Retro Colour
After starting life as a high-end leather goods shop in 1913, Prada quickly became a darling of the Italian royal family and its official supplier of livery and court clothing. Though today we don’t have much use for ornamental gold epaulettes, there is a space in most wardrobes for the label’s distinctly retro, 1970s-inflected suiting, mid-century Cuban collar shirts and bold, nigh-on fluorescent sneakers.
Best For: Dolce Vita Eyewear
Steve McQueen wore Persols religiously, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the eyewear dons. Rugged yet refined, equally at home on the open road as on the red carpets of Venice, a pair of Persols is the ultimate Italian accessory. Their silver hallmark, dubbed the ‘Supreme Arrow’, is a sign of remarkable build quality and badass elegance wherever it’s spotted. One for the pub quiz: the company developed the first ever flexible stem sunglasses, which allow the arms to contour to any head shape.
How To Dress Like an Italian
“Italy’s a diverse country, with a diverse climate, diverse habits and diverse cultures,” says Persivale. As such, the accessories that Italian men wear are personal, unique and distinctive.
“Your ties, pocket squares, the patterns of your fabrics: every accessory carries the values of the Italian man who wears it.” Translated, accessories can be extravagant and overstated (most often in the south) or muted and understated (in Milan and the north), but they should always be true to the wearer’s own style.
Live And Breathe Sprezzatura
“Sprezzatura is the gift of making difficult things look easy,” says Persivale. “It’s hard to explain to people that it can’t be forced.
“Look into yourself, find the piece of wardrobe that better expresses your taste, your attitude, and go ahead. Rules aren’t really there any more, just break them in a way that makes sense to you, and allow them to tell a story.”
Master Unstructured Tailoring
Lighter, less structured tailoring is a staple of Italian dressing. And even though it lends a more relaxed look to an ensemble, there are still conventions to observe.
“A higher armhole and a fuller sleeve are a thing of beauty on unstructured suiting,” says Persivale. “Also, I’d rather have a slightly higher waist than a too-low waist.”
Trouser Length Is Everything
“I’d always advise paying attention to the way the leg falls on your shoe when you’re having your trousers altered,” says Persivale. “It doesn’t matter if you’re sample size or need significant alterations, find the best tailor for alterations that you can afford.”
The general rule for elegant trousering the Italian way is simple: “Show your shoe without necessarily showing your ankle.”