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How De Petrillo Perfected The Recipe Of The Suit

Mr Benedetto De Petrillo’s Neapolitan tailoring goes down a treat

To those who are prone to spillages, and therefore no strangers to sizeable dry-cleaning bills, pasta and fine suits aren’t a natural pairing. However, for Mr Benedetto De Petrillo, the founder of Neapolitan tailoring house De Petrillo, perfecting a dish has a lot in common with cutting and sewing a jacket. “It’s a creative process,” he tells MR PORTER. “You have the basic recipe for what you have to do, but there’s always one ingredient you can’t find, so you use another one. You think, I’ll add this or that. I’ll leave this out. So, it’s almost as if I’m thinking about a new collection.”

His signature dish – spaghetti with clams – is on the menu when we visit him in his hometown of Naples, in preparation for De Petrillo’s arrival on MR PORTER. “I never make them in exactly the same way as the time before,” he says. “A little imagination and passion come into play. And when passion is involved, you always change something. Sometimes it turns out better than the time before, other times it’s not as good.” Though the recipe may not always be a success, Mr De Petrillo still perseveres, in matters of food, fashion and family. “I often wish my sons misadventures,” he says. “Misadventures are things you remember, because you have to have the strength to get back up and continue to grow. The more misadventures you have, the stronger you become.”

Proffering an example, the tailor remembers the first jacket he ever made with perfect clarity. And, much like the proverbial first pancake, it didn’t turn out quite how he expected. “It was constructed with a lot of ideas, which I tried to convey to my employees, but clearly we had no experience of constructing the garments,” says Mr De Petrillo. “The result was a jacket which was pleasing, but with too many details.”

In the decade since, he’s honed the recipe and built a brand to serve up suits that stay true to tradition while embracing the technological advantages of modernity. “The production process that I apply is a hybrid,” he says of his approach, which carefully weighs his tailoring and industrial experience. “Those procedures that I can forgo, which don’t have too disrupting an effect on the jacket, have been industrialised,” he says. “But the fundamental steps – the application of the sleeve, for example, or some cutting operations – I will continue to preserve. If I don’t do that, the final result will suffer.”

A compromise between the two (he estimates his suits are 60 per cent handmade, 40 per cent industrialised) is the only way Mr De Petrillo can offer his customers what he calls “affordable luxury”, a concept that he’s found appeals to his 25- to 40-year-old target demographic, but also to those who are accustomed to the finer things in life. “Consumers of luxury would be unlikely to be satisfied with an industrial product,” he says. “Yet if they come across a product with a lower price than they are used to paying, but with the same characteristics of comfort and quality, they might be attracted to it.”

It’s a refreshing man-meets-machine attitude to a trade that is often seen as an all-or-nothing (that is, bespoke or mass-produced) endeavour. And it’s allowed him to experiment with softer structures and more unorthodox cuts. “Young people in particular appreciate this concept, because when they wear my garments, which are outwardly formal, they are wearing something that is not really formal, and that makes them free,” he says of his silhouettes. “This is precisely the essence of my philosophy.”

Still, like any good tailor, Mr De Petrillo knows it’s the little things – the things that can’t be churned out on an assembly line – that make all the difference, particularly when you’re dealing with an exacting customer. “The elements that make a De Petrillo jacket unique are the details,” he says, explaining that though his style employs classical elements – boat-shaped pockets, lapel and buttonholes – it’s the exact placement and execution that make a De Petrillo suit unique. And how does he know when he’s found the right ingredients? “When a woman says, ‘You look good,’ then I feel I have been successful.”

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