Old-school Italian suave with contemporary cool

Three distinguished tailoring brands are reimagining classic style, says Tom Stubbs

Brioni cashmere coat, £5,900, wool rollneck, £1,200, and mink scarf, £2,900
Brioni cashmere coat, £5,900, wool rollneck, £1,200, and mink scarf, £2,900

Italian suave is like that of no other nation – from the cocktail-hour verve of Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita to Gianni Agnelli’s business-suit aplomb; from a dynamic urban gilet for zipping about on a Vespa to enough aperitivo-appropriate resort gear for an entire August of Positano passeggiata. Italians even have their own word for this genre of nonchalant elegance: sprezzatura. It’s not just about outstanding cut and fabric, though of course they play a fundamental role; it’s also about attitude, heritage, timeless elegance – and exactly the right injection of contemporary flair. Such a fine balance can be a tall order, but three distinguished heritage tailoring brands – Canali, Corneliani and Brioni – are stepping out of the shadows this winter to deliver strong, confident collections that offer a compellingly modern interpretation of Italian suave vecchio moda. 

Fiat president Gianni Agnelli, 1968
Fiat president Gianni Agnelli, 1968 | Image: Getty Images

Canali has traditionally excelled at sophisticated separates, and under new creative director Hyun-Wook Lee it is reasserting its reputation with pieces in a glorious selection of custom fabrics – including softly muted checks, textured herringbones and bouclés. Classic outerwear includes a sophisticated overcoat (£1,350) with high-notch lapels and a soft shoulder in a mélange of grey bouclé wool/silk/alpaca/mohair, and a three-button, single-breasted taupe or navy cashmere/chinchilla coat (£3,590) worn with a Madras-check bouclé-alpaca sports jacket (£1,010) and fine-check narrow-cut trousers (£280). As well as the brand’s hero Kei jacket (£1,350) in grey bouclé alpaca with a faint windowpane overcheck that’s a masterclass in tailoring, I’m also keen on the suede-shearling blousons (£3,850) with sheepskin collars in deep grey, aubergine or ivory, which telegraph modern-meets-classic Italian elegance. Elsewhere, a striking Prince of Wales-check jacket (£1,100) is teamed with fine-houndstooth plain-front trousers (£400); and herringbone blazers (£1,100) with sporty flannel trousers (£280) and the brand’s check bouclé-wool scarf (£110). There are also ultra-cool wool/cashmere, padded parkas (£1,550). 

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Next, to Corneliani. The brand has undergone a radical reinvention and this season delivers a finely tuned collection of progressive elegance. Outerwear includes a navy raincoat (£1,210) that combines a contemporary silhouette embodying utilitarian chic with technical-wool herringbone, courtesy of an esteemed Scottish mill. Leather and suede update other wardrobe staples with panache, from a lambskin-suede field jacket (£1,960) to an olive-grey leather parka (£2,930). Meanwhile, a double-breasted, belted town coat (£2,040) in charcoal grey, and a classic, mid-length cheviot-check coat in tobacco (£1,300) look fresh and original. 

From left: Corneliani wool/silk coat, £1,300; cashmere coat, £2,040
From left: Corneliani wool/silk coat, £1,300; cashmere coat, £2,040

The design team drew from the Corneliani archives, updating classics enough to turn heads. “Younger men have been discovering the brand for the first time,” says style director Stefano Gaudioso Tramonte, of the current collection. “Many thought Corneliani only made suits. At Pitti Uomo earlier this year, a beautiful light-cashmere bomber made many people say, ‘Wow, you have changed so much,’ but it’s the small things that give a different perspective. Do too much and you lose credibility.” Getting that balance is the secret here. “Corneliani is reimagining Italian suave while remaining true to its heritage,” says Bosse Myhr, director of menswear at Selfridges, which has just launched a 12-piece exclusive eveningwear capsule collection with the brand, inspired by David Bowie. 

Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita
Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita | Image: Collection Christophel/RnB © Riama Film/Gray Film/Pathe Consortium Cinema

Lastly to Brioni, whose collection is a masterclass in cut and fabrication. Take the noble double-breasted suiting (£4,300) and drill blazers (£3,300), cut with confident, graceful lines, or the gorgeously tactile corduroy suits (£4,500) and mid-length, chunky cardigans (£1,800) that are relaxed yet powerful. The strong shoulder line on a taupe herringbone overcoat (£5,900) has inimitable Italian flair, enhanced by a camel mink scarf (£2,900) and cashmere rollneck (£1,200, all main picture).  

From left: Canali suede-shearling blouson, £3,850; wool blazer, £1,100, wool/cotton trousers, £280, and wool scarf, £110
From left: Canali suede-shearling blouson, £3,850; wool blazer, £1,100, wool/cotton trousers, £280, and wool scarf, £110

The collection was designed by Nina-Maria Nitsche, the brand’s first female creative director, who worked alongside Martin Margiela for 23 years, took the helm when he left in 2009, and then had a spell at Vetements. Sadly, she announced her departure this summer after a year in the post, but I very much hope that the design direction will continue on the course she has set.

Brioni wool-gabardine suit with mother-of-pearl buttons, £4,300
Brioni wool-gabardine suit with mother-of-pearl buttons, £4,300

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