Sunday Reads: Daniel Novela’s Sartorial Journey

Rubinacci Palace
Rubinacci Palace

I have been ordering custom-made blazers and suits for many years, almost as long as I have been collecting watches.  The two things just seem to go together, and comprise two of the three anchors of a man’s outfit: the watch, the jacket, and last but not least, the shoes. They all have to work in harmony.  One thing that has become obvious over time is that when it comes to design, fit, and fabric, the best men’s blazers are made in Italy, and tend to be very expensive. This year, my wife Marcella and I decided to launch a passion project, Casa de Novelas — a menswear line focused strictly on men’s blazers — designed in my hometown of Miami, but made in Italy with traditional Italian fit, fabric, and manufacturing techniques. A New World take on an Old World classic. Before we began our new project, I decided to take a voyage through Italy to meet with three truly great and successful Italian design families, and to combine my passions by finding out which watches they love.

Naples, Italy Rubinacci

My journey began in Naples. It was early June and already quite hot and humid, which reminded me of my native Miami Beach. I made an appointment with Mariano Rubinacci, heir to the Rubinacci brand, tailors to the world’s elite, and father of social media sensation Luca Rubinacci.

Mariano, the consummate gentleman, apologized for being a few minutes late.  We started off discussing Neapolitan tailoring and, most importantly, Rubinacci‘s impact upon it. I wanted to find out how a Rubinacci-tailored jacket is different than any other. A completely handmade garment, a Rubinacci jacket boasts unique detailing, including printed silk lining and unlined sleeves. The best insight from Mariano came when I asked him how the next decade would shape the fashion industry. After a short pause, he said, “I can wear a jacket that was made for my father in the 1930s and it would not look out of place.  We have never had such a long period with so little change. That is what most worries me. What is coming next?” Mariano has always been one step ahead, because he is most concerned with innovation, not trends.

I asked Mariano what watch is special to him, and he showed me his vintage yellow gold Piaget, circa early 1980s—a special gift from his children many years ago. Although I could not tell the exact model, I was sure it was equipped with the legendary Piaget 9P, an ultra-thin hand-wound mechanical movement, which is a mere two milimeters thick and exclusive to Piaget.

A tour of Mariano’s facilities followed, and I was most intrigued by the workshop, where I witnessed jackets being put together by hand. In a space filled with master tailors, I saw only one sewing machine (which, incidentally, no one was using). Button holes, sleeves, and baste stitching were all being done by hand. It was unlike any other tailors’ shop I’ve ever been to.

Outside the workshop, we entered the back courtyard of the Rubinacci palace, where I encountered an unexpectedly grand green space in the middle of downtown Naples. “This is the real Naples,” says Mariano. It’s a well-kept secret, and one that most of us will never see.

Aquatic Show by Ilotopie
Aquatic Show by Ilotopie

Florece, Italy
 Stefano Ricci

Next up, I headed to Florence for Pitti Uomo, the world’s premier menswear trade show. Before I attended the show, I met up with Filippo Ricci, the creative director of the luxury menswear brand Stefano Ricci, for a special evening at Società Canottieri, Florence’s famous rowing club on the Arno River. I rowed in college and remember visiting the club when I lived in Florence as a study abroad student in the 90s, so it was a special treat to be back.

Those familiar with modern Florence may have noticed that its most famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, is hard to spot at night. Stefano Ricci decided to change that by providing the renowned structure with new lighting. During my visit, the lights were switched on for the first time by none other than maestro Andrea Bocelli. Prior to the luminiscent finale, guests were treated to a fashion show at Galleria degli Uffizi, dinner at Società Canottieri, and a Felliniesque-style performance on the river. It was a stunning party, and a great way to kick off a busy week.

What’s remarkable about the Stefano Ricci brand is that since its founding in 1972, it has made it a point of pride to remain a 100% “Made in Italy” manufacturer. According to Filippo, promoting and preserving Florence’s fashion history is something the Riccis have taken to heart — a notion borne out by their recent purchase of the Antico Setificio Fiorentino silk mill.  This ancient Florentine establishment, which dates back to the 8th century, would have ceased to exist if not for the generous intervention of the Ricci family. Today, it weaves silk for cocktail jackets, ascot neckties, pocket squares, and handmade moccasins, all of which appeared in Stefano Ricci’s 2014 collection.

While chatting with Filippo I learned that in addition to his vintage car collection, he also has a watch collection. His current favorite is his Chopard Mille Miglia 2013,  personalized by Chopard with the number 87 — the same number Filippo wore when he raced his 1933 Aston Martin Le Mans at the 2013 edition of the Mille Miglia endurance race. Touting a 44mm case, this racing watch wears big, with a highly legible dial featuring a glare-proofed sapphire crystal, a built-in magnified date window at 3 o’clock, and a white-tipped red sweep seconds hand.

Pitti Uomo

This year marked the 60th anniversary of Pitti Uomo, an event that, I must admit, puts all US-based trade shows to shame. With exquisitely dressed men (commonly referred to as peacocks for their ornate style) in attendance and bars serving complimentary alcohol, not to mention a DJ spinning and live bands playing, it is more of a party than a tradeshow — one that reminds me of the Art Basel Miami fair, where the art takes a backseat. At Pitti Uomo, being fashionable is the main event. What makes it invaluable is that everyone attends.  It has a broader reach than any other menswear show, and that made every exhausting step worthwhile. For the next few days I stuck to business, meeting with potential manufacturing partners for Casa de Novelas.  By the end of the week, I walked away from Pitti Uomo with a profound respect for the show, inspired by the breadth of talent in menswear today.

Pitti Uomo 86
Pitti Uomo 86

Corto Moltedo

My last night in Florence was about relaxing and winding down, so my wife and I decided on a low-key dinner with our friend Gabriele Corto at his Florence penthouse, which has amazing views of the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio. Corto is the founder of the Italian handbag brand Corto Moltedo, and though he would never mention it, heir to the founders of Bottega Veneta. I originally met Corto in Miami  a couple of years ago, so it was nice to catch up in his hometown after Pitti Uomo. Corto is a good arbiter of what’s going on in the fashion world, and my wife is one of the many women who adore his handbags. Corto also subscribes to a 100% “Made in Italy” ethos, and makes all of his handbags at his atelier in Florence.

View of the Duomo from Palazzo Vecchio
View of the Duomo from Palazzo Vecchio

Corto believes that although Italy is experiencing a time of profound change, its excellence in design and craftsmanship will remain strong. He established himself in Florence as a way to continue a family tradition, a second generation dedicated to making handbags of the highest quality. In Corto’s words, “Quality comes from the passion someone puts into it.”Corto’s passion is evident in his recent collaboration with the Bamford Watch Department, as part of a collection of special edition Rolex Submariner models. Corto also created The Time Machine, a limited edition handbag that features a vintage Rolex pocket watch customized by the Bamford Watch Department with its proprietary PVD process. I wonder when we can expect a men’s versión! The next morning I was off to Ibiza for some much needed rest. Though it was the end of my first chapter, my sartorial journey had just begun.

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