Elia Caliendo: collaborative tailoring
Elia Caliendo is an intense and very honest tailor. More than anything, he wants his clients to understand him, and vice versa.
He has this way of looking at you, head tilted slightly to one side and wearing a little half grin, as he explains his view on a particular aspect of tailoring. The little grin reassures you that his opinion is not to be taken too seriously; it is merely the first move in what will hopefully be a mutually beneficial conversation. When you reply, the smile disappears. This shows he is taking your opinion very seriously.
While in Naples last month, I began the process of having a summer jacket and trousers made by Elia. The ordering process meant a conversation about style details, pockets and linings etc. I love the way Neapolitan tailors do patch pockets, so I requested both the hip and outbreast pockets to be of that mode. Elia asked, seriously, genuinely, why I wanted a patch outbreast pocket. The classic Neapolitan style was for a barchetta, a curved welt pocket rather than a patch. I explained how square the English patch is, and how I wanted to differentiate from that. He listened (head tilted), understood and agreed. We moved on.
That pattern repeated throughout the session. I wanted the jacket cut a little shorter, in order to be more casual; he didn’t understand that reasoning, and we discussed it. I usually dislike a buttoned fly, but he convinced me to try it. He usually wears a belt; I can’t stand them on worsted trousers, and explained why. On the internal ticket pocket, he won: Elia dislikes the possibility of contents in both internal and external pockets overlapping there. And the line of the trousers was to be his style – narrow, short and cuffed. I make that 3-2 to Elia. Although of course expressing it in such confrontational terms is to miss the point.
Elia is a young tailor and taking over the family business from his father (pictured below, still doing much of the coatmaking). That may explain his natural inquisitiveness. But I think there is also a genuinely inquiring mind at work there, and that’s high praise in my opinion.
The Caliendo atelier is on the first floor of an old Neapolitan block overlooking Piazza dei Martiri. There is an office, a large fitting/consultation room and a back room with three tailors working diligently away. It is minimally but tastefully decorated with images of Naples and, in particular, Vesuvius.
One of the advantages of Elia’s age is that he is one of the few Neapolitan tailors that travels frequently overseas. Most others of his native city, unless they have younger scions to travel for them (Luigi Solito, for instance) prefer to stay at home.
He comes to London every other month and we have a fitting in a couple of weeks. The design we settled on was a lightweight tan, herringbone jacket, quarter-lined, with those patch pockets and single-button cuffs (another Neapolitan signature). The trousers will be in a mid-grey worsted cashmere/wool mix, of the sort that Italians are so fond of wearing with brown shoes and every kind of jacket. Though probably not this jacket.
Second post next month.
Photography: Luke Carby
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