Luigi Borrelli might be one of the most interesting companies you’ll ever read about. Some of you may recognize it as one of the premier shirt making companies in the world, but very few will know about the family tradition that stands behind it.
The Borrelli tailoring tradition begins in 1900 with Anna Borrelli, who made and sold shirts first out of her home in Naples, Italy, then out of a small atelier shop she ran with her son, Luigi. It was through this business that Luigi learned the artful details of Neapolitan shirt making. In 1957, he started his own company, which is now run by his son Fabio, the third generation to carry the family business.
Borrelli shirts are truly distinctive. Each shirt requires four hours to make and nine hand-sewn operations. This includes the forming the characteristic Neapolitan puckered set-in-sleeve, which is a hallmark of quality Italian hand crafting (I’ll discuss this detail in a future installment). The handiwork also includes basting the collar and sleeve to the shirt’s body, applying contrasting and embroidered triangular gussets to the bottom of the side seams, and attaching mother-pearl buttons with the company’s distinctive three-point chicken-foot stitch. It’s commonly misunderstood that this chicken-foot stitch is a tradition in Naples, but it’s actually distinct only to Borrelli. Anna Borrelli made the mistake in her early samples, but the company has kept the design detail ever since. Likewise, the triangular gusset at the hem of the shirt, which adds durability and facilitates flexibility when sitting, originated with Anna Borrelli, though it’s now copied by nearly every shirt maker.
What’s most incredible about Borrelli is its production process. The company employs nearly a thousand people at this point. Despite its size, however, it spends no money on marketing or advertising. Instead, all of its money is invested in quality fabrics and higher workmanship. More impressively, keeping with the company’s family-driven tradition, some of the production occurs on the Borrelli estate, where Fabio and his wife live. Workers are often invited to share coffee and antipasto with the family during the workday. Visitors to the factories often comment on how cheerful the workers are. In fact, often when new Borrelli stock arrives in stores or customer’s hands, it still carries the scent of tobacco - a reminder of cigar-smoking tailors who made the garments.
Today, the company makes a full hand-tailored menswear line in addition to their shirts. Here are some photos of their collection over the years. Click behind the cut to see more.
Addendum: Start With Typewriters kindly corrected me about the handiwork in Borrelli shirts. Apparently Borrelli shirts are more machine made these days. In my understanding, which was true up to at least two or three years ago, Borrelli hand sewn the shoulder, sleevehead, placket, collar, yoke, buttons, and gusset. I confirmed with SWT that the buttons are still hand sewn, but apparently the sleevehead is no longer set in by hand. Quite a major detail, actually, given that the handsewn sleeve is probably the most distinctive characteristic of a Neapolitan shirt.
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