Photos by Jerel Fajardo
Early this February, The Signet Store pulled all the stops to bring a small family owned bespoke leather operation called Sartoria Melina Napoli for their first trunk show in Manila. But before that, Calibre was there to talk to master tailor, Carmela, and her daughter Jolanda Caruso to get the scoop on what it takes to make handmade luxury leather garments. And since Carmela didn’t speak a word of English, Jolanda did all the talking.
Created in 2010, Sartoria Melina Napoli is based in Sarno, Italy, a little town about twenty-five minutes by car from Naples and according to Jolanda, the genius behind the business is her mother, Carmela. “Since she was six years old, her desire was to be a tailor,” said Jolanda. “And as early as that, she started working for a local tailor in our town of Sarno.”
Apparently, Carmela was on to something even as far back as 2006 when she started creating fully handmade, leather jackets that were being commissioned by many high-end fashion brands. And the atelier that exists today is the natural evolution of that.
Indeed, even compared to the already ultra-luxurious men’s wear items on display in The Signet Store, the clothes that Carmela and Jolanda brought with them stood out. And that’s because the atelier’s raison d’être is ‘bespoke.’ According to Jolanda, Sartoria Melina Napoli produces “fully made bespoke leather garments.”
And to avoid any confusion, everything is made by hand. “Everything, the stitching, the cutting is done with hands, no machines!” says Jolanda. Machines only come in to attach the front to the back of the leather jacket because of their weight.
To be sure, what these Italian craftsmen do is NOT ‘made to measure.’ Speaking indignantly, Jolanda insisted that, “bespoke is very different from made to measure.” Apparently, only certain aspects on an existing jacket can be changed with made to measure, such as its length and the length of the sleeves.
Bespoke is different because the garment doesn’t exist and is literally created from the ground up! And we’re not even talking about bespoke leather garments yet. “Bespoke leather is very different from fabric,” says Jolanda, and that’s because, “leather cannot be fitted.”
After taking all the measurements of the customer, the first step is to create a “working” sample of these measurements made of canvas. This canvas sample is then used to make all subsequent alterations in measurements and style. “If the customer wants a longer or shorter (jacket), he can change the lapel or anything he wants,” says Jolanda. Only after all changes are final will the cutters even begin to think of how to cut the leather.
And we’re talking not just any leather, here, Sartoria Melina works primarily with leather from a baby calf, because according to Jolanda, “baby calf can be worked by hand.” And what incredible leather it is! Examining a bomber jacket that Carmela and Jolanda brought with them, the leather was just this side of incredible.
How does one even describe the tactile softness of baby calf leather? To be sure, it was the softest leather we had ever felt. The expression, “softer than a baby’s behind” only hints at how sumptuously soft this leather is! Nothing comes close…not even your baby’s behind.
According to Jolanda, “Nobody in the world produces leather garments bespoke.” She also says, “It (being bespoke tailors) is not a job, it is an art, because she (Carmela) is an artist.” Indeed, ‘everything the customer desires’ seems to be the motto of Sartoria Melina Napoli and it takes a certain level of artistry to accomplish that.
According to The Signet Store, this is just the first step of what they hope will be an on-going relationship with Sartoria Melina Napoli. And from how gorgeous these garments are we certainly hope they can make that a reality.