I’ve recently become very interested in the work of Elia Caliendo, the head cutter at his family’s firm Sartoria Caliendo. I asked him a few months ago if he ever visits California, or even the United States in general, and he said “no, unfortunately only London and Hamburg.” Which is a shame, because I was really impressed with the jacket he made for Simon Crompton and wanted to see if I could get something similar for myself.
Elijah comes from a family of tailors. His father was born in Casalnuovo, a small town just outside of Naples that’s well known for being the birthplace of many tailors and craftsmen. Isaia’s head tailor, Gianluca, once told me a tale about how the first tailor was born here. A romantic claim, to be sure, but a nice one. In any case, the senior Caliendo trained here for six years before opening a workshop in Naples sometime in the 1960s. It was there that Elijah would spend his after-school hours and summers. Like many sons of tailors, he picked up the trade through his father and now carries on the family business.
The jacket he made for Simon is extraordinarily beautiful (you’ll have to go to his site and The Rake to see it). To the extent one can claim anything exhibits a regional style, this is about as Neapolitan as you can get. Soft shouldered, high gorge, and three patch pockets. The pockets and seams are decorated with a double stitch, and the front quarters run back towards the hips. This latter detail gives the jacket two beautiful sweeping lines from the top of the lapels down to the hem. The sleeve cuffs are then finished with a single horn button.
Of course, there’s also the region’s signature spalla camicia sleevehead, which is the slight, rippling “waterfall” effect you see at the top of Simon’s arm. This is created by hand setting and sewing a larger sleevehead into a smaller armhole. The sleeve’s interior seam allowance is then pressed into the shoulder side and secured by a top stitch, which is then visible on the shoulder from the outside (just as it would be on a shirt, thus the term “spalla camicia,” or “shirt shoulder). This detail used to be reserved for light, casual summer jackets, like Simon’s, but in the 1930s and ‘40s, Neapolitan aristocrats started having it included on their winter garments as well. It actually began as an inside joke – a wink to each other that for them, it’s always a summer holiday. Now, it’s just become a sort of regional detail.
Elijah believes in two things when it comes to tailoring. The first is that the cutter must be hands-on throughout the bespoke process. Otherwise, you’re likely to get problems trying to translate went on at the fitting stage to the what needs to be adjusted in the cutting room. He serves as both the fitter and cutter at his firm, so this is never a problem. The second is that all Neapolitan tailors should use the spalla camicia construction on their jackets. “For me, this detail is a rule!,” he wrote.
Hopefully I can experience Mr. Caliendo’s version of it sometime soon.
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