“The Brioni standard?” ponders Angelo Petrucci, running a hand over his impeccably-cut grey windowpane-check jacket. “It is above the clouds.”
Petrucci’s claim is not without some bias — he is, after all, the Chief Master Tailor for the venerable Italian couturier. But a glance at our surroundings would certainly indicate that Brioni’s attention to detail, when it comes to suiting, approaches the stratospheric. We’re standing outside the company’s atelier (which looks more like a campus) in the town of Penne di Pascara, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. Before us is a metal frame on which a length of canvas, destined for the lining of a suit, is being “relaxed” in the open air for three days after being washed in cold water. “This makes it more supple and pliable,” explains Petrucci. “This one is a horsehair/beaver mix, but we use more than 50 types here.” He allows himself a triumphant grin. “This is the cornerstone of our philosophy; we are creating a second skin. And the soul is inside.”
That philosophy is put into practice behind us, in Brioni’s 8,000 square metres of workshop, spread over two floors, where some 1,100 technicians, cutters, and seamstresses — sleeve-sewers, iron-men, buttonholers, baste-stitchers — ply their singularly deft trades (at the basting table, the stitches are rattled through at what seems like time-lapse photography speed). The statistics are impressive enough: 210 suits are produced here per day, with 70 percent of the fabrics exclusive to Brioni; 220 people work on a single suit; it takes 22 hours to produce a ready-to-wear jacket, and 50 hours to produce Brioni’s fabled made-to-measure, or ‘su misura’ numbers (the process is actually taking longer today than a decade ago, says Petrucci, because of the finer weaves); each jacket contains 5,000-7,000 stitches, and each tuxedo up to 12,000; and each will be handled an average of 220 times, including 80 pressings. But, according to Petrucci, what the customer doesn’t see is just as, if not more, important: “Eighty-three percent of the stitches will be inside the jacket, between the lining and the fabric,” he says. “There will also be the hidden details, like the tiny cut in the shoulder to give the jacket more flexibility. Most customers won’t know about all the work that goes into a Brioni suit, but they’ll understand it when they try it on and it begins to mould itself to the body.” He smiles. “For me, the greatest compliment is when a customer says that their suit is like a pyjama, that it relaxes their body.”
That quality — of feeling supremely comfortable in your second skin — is surely important to the 33 presidents and prime ministers that Petrucci acknowledges (but doesn’t namecheck) among his clients; and the scrupulous-yet-sensuous Brioni style is presumably just as crucial to the brand’s celebrity fans — Jack Nicholson, Woody Allen, Jean Dujardin, Jose Mourinho, James Bond (in his Pierce Brosnan incarnation) are all seen posing with Petrucci in his office photo wall-of-fame. From its founding in 1945 by Gaetano Savini and Nazareno Fonticoli, Brioni has, says Petrucci, “instilled tenacity in its workforce, and the vision that you have to dare to go beyond the rules of the game.” Savini staged the first fashion show for menswear, in Florence in 1952, and Brioni was among the first companies to create fragrances for men; today, that vision is embodied in the likes of Farouk Shivji, Brioni’s neckwear designer, who cuts his ties with a slight bulge on one side to facilitate a truer knot (“we are the only company that does this”), and ensures that each of his 260 seasonal silk patterns is precisely centred on the point of the blade (“we are unique in this”).
The Brioni torch is also carried by Petrucci himself, whose destiny as a tailor was sealed when, at the age of 5, he cut all the curtains in the family home in half, “because I saw my mother work with her dressmaking needle and I liked it, so my idea was to remake the curtains.” Petrucci is a lifelong Brioni-ite; he grew up in the area (and now lives a mere four kilometres from the atelier), and entered the company’s tailoring school, the Nazareno Fonticoli, in 1985, when he was 13. “This is the best age to start the program, because your fingers are more nimble and sensitive,” he says. “After 20, you can’t learn it.” Petrucci spent four years immersing himself in all aspects of the tailor’s craft, and worked in “every position Brioni has to offer” before becoming a Master Tailor in 1992, and the Chief Master Tailor nine years later (he says he can sew buttonholes with his eyes closed, though this isn’t necessarily a Chief Master Tailor requirement). He describes his life, not without some relish, as a constant round of summonses to presidential palaces and suites for fittings and last-minute adjustments before UN addresses or G8 summits. But only one esteemed personage ever intimidated him, he says, and it wasn’t a head of state.
“Stanley Kubrick,” he grins. “Because I was going to see him in his villa near London in 1993, when I was quite young, when he was making Eyes Wide Shut, and the house was very mysterious inside, all dark and full of corridors, just like The Shining. And he was quite imposing with his big beard and black sunglasses. Otherwise?” He scoffs dismissively. “I am never embarrassed or afraid.”
Perhaps this is because, as Chief Master Tailor, his duties go beyond mere fittings. “I am a tailor, yes, but also a doctor, sculptor, psychologist, artisan, and a confessor to some,” he grins. When consulting with new clients, he probes them about their lifestyles — “will they be wearing the jacket at their desk? In their car? How do they stand? How do they walk?” — in order to build in some of the 150-plus modifications that will ensure a perfect, and enduring, fit. (Petrucci has even been known to follow clients through the streets in secret to see how their bodies revert to slouching type outside the ramrod confines of the fitting room.) “But, you see, it is an art form,” he stresses. “Everyone here at the factory, they are artists in their own way, and that level of finish communicates itself to the customer. We are the last group to make sleeves by hand. We have a table of people hand-sewing tuxedos. And yes, it’s a costly product” — a ‘su misura’ suit can cost up to €6,000, while a fully-bespoke ensemble from Petrucci could reach €30,000 — “but it will last for decades.”
Brioni’s investment in traditional tailoring skills, exemplified by its Penne facility and its tailoring schools — it now has 16 across across Italy, with its Master Tailors, at an average age of 32, being deployed in its 65 worldwide stores — means it has largely weathered the global recession, and, with its acquisition by Francois Pinault’s luxury Kering (previously PPR) Group conglomerate in January, and the appointment of Brendan Mullane, formerly of Givenchy, as creative director, and new openings planned for China (“a priority for us,” says Petrucci), it looks set to continue to broaden its scope, offering ever more casual ranges (which now account for a significant percentage of its sales). But tailoring will continue to be the backbone of the business, with Petrucci acting as its urbane cheerleader. “My preferred customer is the one who demands the impossible,” he says. “Here, we can make people look taller, straighten stoops, align shoulders — anything you like. That is the magic of our art.”
And Brioni’s rivals?
Petrucci puts a hand to his eyes, perhaps attempting to gaze down through the clouds. “They are a long way behind,” he says, emphatically.
Billionaire.com visited Brioni thanks to Uomo Group, set to open Brioni's first boutique in Singapore at Marina Bay Sands in September.