Six Cult Italian Brands You Need To Know
From Aspesi to Rubinacci, the labels you’ll find in the smartest wardrobes
In Italy, being well-dressed is more than just a desirable quality; it’s an essential philosophy. They even have a name for it: la bella figura. Little wonder, then, that the country has produced some of the world’s most iconic fashion brands. Gucci, Prada, Valentino, Missoni, Armani, Ermenegildo Zegna, Tod’s: the names will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever flicked through a glossy magazine, strolled along an upmarket shopping street or perused MR PORTER’s What’s New section. If you think that these big-hitting heavyweights are all that Italy has to offer, though, think again. Complementing this all-star line-up is a peerless supporting cast of lesser-known brands, ranging from Milanese labels such as Aspesi and MP Massimo Piombo to family-owned Neapolitan tailoring houses such as Rubinacci and Isaia. These designers may not be backed by major billboard campaigns, but when it comes to style, they pack just as much of a punch as their more illustrious cousins. Looking for the secret to dressing like a true Italian? Look no further.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Milanese are an exceptionally stylish bunch. Somewhat less clear is just how they manage to achieve that distinctive look, which is at once smartly dressed and yet utterly casual. The answer? They shop at Aspesi. This under-the-radar brand has been keeping the city’s style elite in lightweight outerwear, impeccably cut tailoring and chambray shirts for nearly half a century, earning itself a reputation along the way as something of an insider secret. This shroud of mystique has a great deal to do with the lack of any visible branding on of its products – don’t expect to see logo T-shirts or monogrammed luggage emerging from the Aspesi design studios any time soon. Instead, expect versatile cotton-twill field jackets, unstructured technical blazers and a range of sleek, understated basics, all designed with an obsessive eye for detail.
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Barena is a Venetian brand through and through, its name a local term used to describe the shoals and sandbanks that fringe the vast lagoon upon which the city is built. The clothes, too, are inspired by the area’s unusual geography. Venice is known as an extraordinarily glamorous city, boasting a history of fashion as rich as anything you’ll find in Milan or Naples. But the unique pressures of lagoon life also demand a practical approach to dressing. This is a place that was historically home to just as many fishermen as gondoliers, and you’ll see this expressed in the brand’s range of ruggedly informal overshirts, drawstring trousers and T-shirts, which come in a range of lively summer hues and have a soft, broken-in feel. Barena also pays homage to Venice’s history as the textile capital of Europe, with a commitment to sourcing only the finest Italian fabrics.
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Those looking to achieve the flamboyant style associated with the gentlemen of Naples could do worse than to begin their search with Rubinacci. Founded in the 1930s by the late Mr Gennaro Rubinacci and now under the control of his son, Mr Mariano Rubinacci, and his grandson, the dapper street-style star Mr Luca Rubinacci, the company has become one of the premier proponents of the effortlessly elegant Neapolitan look, which is characterised by breezy, unstructured tailoring and a bold approach to colour and pattern. Of particular note are Rubinacci’s pleated trousers and shorts, which exemplify the current trend for a more relaxed leg. Look out for the brand’s accessories, too, which include leather bracelets, velvet slippers and intricately printed silk scarves, many of which reference Naples’ maritime history.
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Many of the fashion world’s biggest names have entrusted the production of their ready-to-wear lines to Caruso over the years, a fact that should tell you all you need to know about the credentials of this tailoring company based in Soragna, a small town half an hour from Parma. Founded in the 1950s by Mr Raffaele Caruso as a small bespoke operation, it’s now under the control of Mr Umberto Angeloni, a man who arrived at the company in 2009 with a wealth of sartorial expertise, having spent the previous 17 years in charge of Brioni. Under his stewardship, Caruso has stepped out of the shadows to establish itself as a brand in its own right. It still makes some of Italy’s finest suits; the only difference is that they now have the name “Caruso” stitched onto the inside. Look out for the signature Butterfly jacket, a garment that is softly constructed and partially lined.
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05. Officine Creative
Leather, as we’re so often told, gets better with age. But why wait? Since 1998, Mr Roberto Di Rosa’s cult shoemaker Officine Creative has been providing customers with a handy shortcut to that perfect patina. From its leather laboratory in Montegranaro, Le Marche, it handcrafts shoes and boots that have that appealing lived-in feel before you’ve even slipped them onto your feet. This is all thanks to a painstaking procedure of more than 100 steps, in which leather is burnished, polished, creased, distressed, kneaded, buffed and washed until it’s soft, supple and full of character. The shoes that emerge from this process look and feel like you’ve walked a thousand miles in them, but are in no imminent danger of needing to be resoled. A win-win.
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06. MP Massimo Piombo
Mr Massimo Piombo looks for beauty in imperfection. Through his eponymous brand, MP Massimo Piombo, he promotes an alternative vision of luxury, one that rails against homogeneity, finds balance in imbalance, and is defined by its quirks and peculiarities. Though he lives in Varazze, a small seaside town on Italy’s Ligurian coast, Mr Piombo spends upwards of 200 days a year traversing the globe in search of exotic artisanal fabrics, and his resulting collections are designed with a similarly well-travelled gentleman in mind. In the current collection, you’ll find linen- and cotton-blend suits, smartly tailored white Bermuda shorts and double-breasted tuxedo jackets, the latter cut from a sumptuous blend of wool and alpaca and finished with broad satin lapels. It’s a wardrobe fit for a man of the world – albeit one with an Italian passport.