Neapolitan tailoring comes to Dubai
How La Villa is raising the bar for bespoke suits in the UAE
There is a long and a short answer to explaining the story of La Villa. The concise version is that it is a little piece of Italy, located in a very smart property on Jumeirah Beach Road.
The more elaborate response is that it is an upscale showroom and social/business hub that showcases art, interior design, wedding dresses, gourmet Italian food and men’s tailoring. Every item, discreetly and tastefully placed on show, is an example of the very best in its field, and if a client is inspired by what they see or experience, La Villa can work with them to create their own home interior or dress or painting or, in the case of the audience for this magazine, bespoke suit. They can also make introductions and broker meetings among like-minded individuals.
Stefano Giuliani is the founding CEO of La Villa. He is dapper, inspiring and, unsurprisingly, very Italian. It is with great pride that he shows Esquire around the villa, proudly displaying the décor, the Italian paintings, the marble surfaces and mosaics, the crystal chandeliers and, possibly our favourite appliance in the building, one of the world’s best sound systems for playing vinyl (though the display of Tom Ford’s very first prototype women’s jacket for Gucci runs a close second). When we pause for refreshments, we snack on exquisite, and very rare, aged balsamic vinegar with fresh Italian-grown tomatoes and prosciutto.
Crucially, there are no obvious brand names on show throughout the building. Although this is ultra-luxury from the world’s top brands, it is all very unshowy. You can see why businessmen use the space for private meetings, or why wealthy brides-to-be love the luxury interiors upstairs and the space where they can view wedding dresses by some of the world’s preeminent designers.
But we’re here to meet the man who makes the suits, Enrico Manzo. The founder of Principe di Eleganza, a highly respected Neopolitan tailoring house, flies to Dubai every few weeks from Italy to meet with clients. He brings with him a wealth of experience, having started his career 30 years ago at Fabio Borrelli, rising to become general manager and taking the company from 70 to almost 500 employees. Then he decided to found Principe Di Eleganza (‘Prince of Elegance’) and is back to his first love — creating suits that fit, in his heavily accented words, “like a second skin.”
Interviewing Manzo between appointments, it becomes clear how passionate he is about his craft. He talks about the difference between fashion (for which he holds a healthy disregard) and timeless, elegant style. And, as with Stefano Giuliani, he is emphatic that true elegance is not about showing off brand names but about quality that you can see and feel. In the case of his suits, this comes from absolutely everything being measured, cut and stitched by hand, including the parts you don’t see. This method of construction, which takes at least 35 man-hours back in his Neopolitan workshop, is to his mind the only definition of a bespoke suit. “Why am I making it this way?” he asks rhetorically, his tape-measure in hand as he busies himself with a raft of half-made outfits that await their owners for a second fitting. “Not to show off to other people, but because I know. This is the reason why I love this job. These suits are born from my hand.”
“Elegance is discreet,” he continues, warming to his theme and occasionally lapsing into Italian. “When I talk with clients I do not need to use gimmicks, because they can touch and experience. They can see with their eyes and understand my passion, my feeling. Believe me, there is no difference to a Russian, Indian or Italian man when you speak about elegance. Good taste is universal. I do not believe it when people say beauty is subjective. I don’t believe that. Beauty is beauty. Absolutely!”
He talks me through the super-fine Italian and British wools used for the suits that help create an exceptionally light, flexible but durable garment. “I make all the stitches inside, all by hand, and, look inside, we have not fused it together. When you are making it this way the jacket is like a sweater. There is no padding because this is your shape. Feel where the jacket sits on the shoulder.”
This is where we dive into the details of what makes a Neopolitan jacket. “Enzo Ferrari said, ‘When you see the well-dressed man he is Italian. But if he is elegant, you’ll be sure he’s Neapolitan’. See, there is no lining.” And indeed you can see from his own suit, which is cut so well that it does not require any support other than what the body naturally provides. This also makes it ultra-light and aids movement. So too does the hand-stitching and hidden folds — again, it’s that second skin theory.
There are other important details to a Neapolitan suit. The shoulder seam (spalla camicia is what an Italian tailor would call it) has a tell-tale ripple, which looks like a minor detail but is an important one. That hand-stitched effect maximises mobility in a close-fitting jacket and helps distinguish a great suit from a good one. The curved breast pocket (a barchetta) looks a bit like the silhouette of a gondola and is another marker. And finally, the cut does not tend to conform to the trends of the day. The jacket length is not measured against the length of the arm or the dictates of fashion, but rather the entire length of the body. And the lapels tend to be halfway between the line of the jacket and the shoulder. In summary, it conforms to timeless proportions rather than passing fads. “Elegance is proportion” he says. Which also makes these suits a true investment. “Look at my suit, it’s 12 years-old,” he says proudly. “When you invest in the true tailoring, you invest in a wardrobe for life.”
He shows us suit jackets in various stages of completion. These have been measured in Dubai and constructed back in his Italian workshop. They will go back to Italy for final alterations, though, given his experience, there will likely not be more than a few tweaks to make them fit perfectly.
And after he talks us through the process, he tells a story about a very famous American fashion designer who comes to him for bespoke suits. “I would say to his secretary, ‘Tell him I need just one hour because I know he is a busy man.’ And then the designer when he heard about this said, “Enrico, next time when you come, take your time, because I am a very important man and run an important business. How much time during the day do I spend for myself? None! So this is my time.”
He recounts how this very designer wanted some of the unseen inside parts to be made with a material that was the same shade as a poker table, to reflect how he’d taken risks in business to get to his position. This finishing touch wasn’t something that anyone would see. It was purely for the satisfaction of the wearer. Which, as Enrico Manzo will tell you, is exactly what true luxury is all about.