Getting suited up in Sicily


GO FEEDBACK:Bespoke tailoring is another string in the island’s tourism bow, writes  DEIRDRE MCQUILLAN

IT WAS ONCE estimated that in postwar Italy, there were 100,000 tailors dressing around 85 per cent of the adult male population. But with the arrival of Armani in the 1970s and the ascent of Italy as the leading manufacturer of high quality ready-made suits, the bespoke tailor became a luxury few could afford.

But in Sicily today a new form of tourism – in the shape of sartorial vacations – is reawakening old traditions.

Visitors from the UK, Ireland and elsewhere on holiday and in search of a handmade suit can enjoy the region’s many outstanding attractions and wonderful food while their suit is being handcrafted by a fine local tailor.

On a recent visit to Sicily and based in the beautiful, bustling town of Modica, I was taken by the owner of the Palazzo Failla hotel, Paolo Failla, to his tailor, considered one of the best on the island. Sartoria Modica Ragusa Concetto is based in a small shop off the main street in this stunningly located town, considered one of the Baroque jewels of the Ragusa region.

Small, dapper and moustachioed with a needle and white thread attached to a side pocket and measuring tape around his shoulders, Concetto Modica Ragusa was working on a jacket for a local client when we arrived, applying basting stitches onto the supersoft navy Tasmanian merino from Loro Piana (€350 a metre), a company which supplies some of the world’s finest materials. Bolts of cloth were stacked on one side of the shop with spools of coloured threads standing in neat rows on a shelf.

“I am a classic tailor,” said Concetto with a smile. “I have studied English tailoring because I get a lot of English clients and I find their cut incredible, but the way they finish doesn’t satisfy me. Italian tailoring pays a lot more attention to the little details and finish, and it is in those finer details that the difference lies,” he explains.

Concetto’s suits have been described by Esquireas “comfortable Neapolitan, but the demure shape is a London cut”, the style made famous by the great London-based Dutch tailor Scholte who invented the softly draped lounge suit still used by Savile Row.

As an apprentice tailor, Concetto served his time learning his craft the hard way without pay. “Little by little you realise that by excelling in your field, you can be your own boss,” he said. He opened the shop in 1975 and gets fabric supplies from the UK and Italy. Once a customer has selected the fabric they want and the finer details of the suit have been discussed, he measures them up, cuts the pattern, then the fabric and prepares a loosely based garment for the first fitting. It usually takes four days to complete the suit with an average two to three fittings at a cost of €1,000 depending on fabric. “The whole suit is made by me. Once I know the client I prefer to do it all on my own,” he said.

Italian construction, he explained, is lightweight compared to UK tailoring. “The Italian customers want UK fabrics and the English want Italian. Maybe psychologically both need a change! We have fabrics for winter which are warm but light whereas UK fabrics are much heavier and more robust because of the climate. A lot of Italians like the stronger UK fabrics because they give them better structure and more body,” he explained.

His favourite fabrics are the botany woollens of Smith Woollens, UK weavers whose samples he strokes lovingly on the counter. On the walls of the shop I comment on a number of prints from local up-and-coming artists. “I am an artisan,” he said, “so I appreciate art in all its forms. What gives the greatest pleasure in my work is to see a beautiful suit finished.”