Wardrobe: Shape Shifters

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Naples is shaking again, but this time the trembling has nothing to do with Mount Vesuvius. The tremors began last year, when Gianluca Isaia decided to rethink the classic Neapolitan suit, a garment that has remained virtually unchanged since the 1930s. The silhouette, with its high armhole and exaggerated trim fit, is a look that only the very lean can pull off. Few Americans, however, are built that way, which explains why Neapolitan-style clothing has been slow to catch on in the United States. Consequently, Isaia, a third-generation suitmaker, chose to tweak the suit’s dimensions and increase the comfort level to accommodate a growing—both figuratively and literally—U.S. audience.

“We designed the new models around an American body, which is quite different from an Italian one,” says Isaia, noting that nearly a third of his suits are sold in the United States. “The American body is very big in the chest and arms, but the waist is much tighter. Or, you may have a man who is rounder in the middle.” To accommodate both American body types, Isaia spent months experimenting with new silhouettes before adding three new shapes—the Adriano, the Maxim, and the Giotto—to the company’s signature line of hand-detailed sartorial suits and sport coats.

The Adriano is the most progressive and, therefore, will likely be the slowest to gain widespread acceptance. Unlike a typical Neapolitan jacket, which has lightly padded, natural rounded shoulders, the Adriano has strong, forward-pitched roped, or peaked, shoulders. It also has a broader back, a rounder chest, and narrower lapels similar to the power suits of the 1970s—without their heavy weight.

The Maxim is a longer, fully lined jacket completely devoid of shoulder pads. Most jackets without shoulder pads are unlined for a relaxed look, but Isaia wanted this coat to have structure. “It’s a hipper-style suit designed to get the guy out of the [factory-made] Armanis, Pradas, and Guccis and into the [handmade] sartorial world,” says Andrew Tanner, Isaia’s U.S. sales agent.

The third model, Giotto, is an updated version of the un-constructed shirt-jacket that is distinguished by a small piece of linen canvas on the inside front to stabilize the buttonholes and give the coat more shape. It also incorporates a hand-stitched back seam for greater flexibility. (Most tailors sew this seam by machine.) In addition, Isaia altered the breast pocket, replacing the distinctive canoe-shaped pocket with a patch version modeled after a pignattiello, a traditional Italian terra-cotta pot used for cooking beans.

Isaia’s tailoring tradition dates to 1957, when Gianluca’s father, Enrico, and his uncle, Corrado, founded a factory in Casalnuovo, a small town on the outskirts of Naples. Back then, the company specialized in factory-made private-label suits for Italian shops. Gianluca, however, decided to target a younger American audience with more affordable handmade suits—priced from $1,700 to $2,200—carrying the Isaia label.

If these changes to tradition are unnerving his fellow suitmakers, Isaia remains unfazed. He is already planning another new shape for fall 2003. “It’s a three-button jacket that closes like a two-button. It makes a man look longer and thinner,” he says. “More to the point, it also makes him look very sexy.”

Isaia, 212.245.3733, 888.996.7555, www.isaia.it

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