When Italian master tailors come to town


Gennaro Sannino, the marketing manager for Sannino, a luxury shirt brand from Italy during an interview on June 11, 2022, at Social House, Nairobi. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

Italian master tailors. Three thousand luxury fabrics. There are many ways to consume fashion, but to do so through made-to-measure and customised clothes is by many yards the most exquisite and exclusive one.

Twice every year, Little Red, a luxury fashion shop in Nairobi, organises made-to-measure events, inviting master tailors from abroad to Kenya to take measurements of clients for suits, shirts and jackets that they specialise in. The tailors then return to Europe to cut and stitch the items before sending them back to the country as finished products.

This year’s edition was held at The Social House Nairobi and featured four master tailors representing different fashion houses from Italy.

“We do this to showcase the tailors and their craft to our discerning client; clients who like to be dressed how they want,” Karim Fazal, the organiser of the event, tells BD Life.

It is a one-of-a-kind event that is the epitome of luxury fashion where Little Red also exhibits some of its designer clothing collections, handbags, accessories, perfumes, and shoes.


A model from Italy poses with a designer luxury shirt from Little Red during an exhibition at The Social House Nairobi in this photo taken on June 11, 2022. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

This family-owned shop sells ready-to-wear, made-to-measure and bespoke outfits by international brands such as Michael Kors, Principe D’Eleganza, Sannino Valentino for Women and Luisa Spagnoli.

Like family-owned premium whiskey brands that have run distilleries across generations, most made-to-measure tailoring companies in the world are small outfits that pass their craft down the lineage to maintain exclusivity and uniqueness.

This is the case with Sanninno, a small family-owned shirt shop in Napoli, founded slightly over 30 years ago. Its marketing director, Gennaro Sannino, says his brother Alessio Sannino and father are in charge of the shirt-making process.

‘‘They supervise our tailors to acquire fabrics from different mills in Italy and stitch them.”

Made-to-measure is about attention to the tiniest of details. It is also about finesse and giving to a client the worth of every spent coin.

To highlight just how exclusive the process is, Enrico Manzo, a master tailor from Principe D’Eleganza, a luxury suit brand from Napoli, Italy, says his company makes only about 300 suits annually for its clients globally.

“We make a jacket that is like a second skin. Wearing this type of suit is the pleasure of life,” Manzo says. He is the third generation of tailors in his family.

Over the years, the made-to-measure practice has grown in popularity in Kenya, with more clients participating in the exercise. Karim notes: “Many people are not only curious about the event. They also want to try out the outfits too.”

But how does the made-to-measure process work?

“When a client comes to us, we first start by establishing what their desires and tastes are. We take about 10 different measurements of the client’s body. Thereafter, the process of selecting the fabrics, which range from the basic to luxurious and the exclusive from different mills, starts. There are many styles of shirts, and we must meet each of the client’s expectations.”

There are thousands of fabrics to choose from, and Sannino has access to nearly 3,000 of them.

He explains: “The final step is to sort out the style detail for each shirt, from collar style to cuff style, the front and the back. There are almost 15 style details for shirts.’’

Lastly, the tailors start stitching up the shirts, with a turnaround period of delivery between four and five weeks. He adds: “Making shirts with all these specifications is a multi-layered process that takes time, patience and skills.”

Intimate journey

Manzo argues that even with thousands of luxury fabrics, the difference is in the stitching of a garment.

“A hand-stitched garment is different from a machine-stitched one. Most people do not notice the difference. I take measures, cut the suits and stitch them,” he says and adds that the process is an intimate journey.

Clients have the leeway to choose the type of stitches, the fabric and buttons. Says Manzo: “Made-to-measure is about constructing your style with the tailor to help them produce a garment that lends you elegance.”


Some of the rare luxury shoes found at Little Red exhibition shop at Social house in this photo taken on June 11, 2022. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

On the targeted clientele, Sannino explains: “We target the discerning gentleman. A person looking for unique items that are customised from start to finish. This person is educated about fabrics, stitching and quality.”

Contrary to popular belief that such clothing items target the community of expatriates, Karim notes that Kenyans are their biggest consumers.

Each made-to-measure market in the world, he says, is defined by a different set of factors. In Kenya, the discerning wearer is driven by colour preferences while his Jamaican counterpart is all about the stitching of the shirt. In North America, clients go for shirts that are value for money.

Sannino notes men are sometimes “boring when it comes to colours”, going mostly for navy blue and brown while tens of other options exist. “We should be bolder with colours and try out different shades instead of settling for the common ones,” he says.

That the Kenyan market is hungry for information on fashion is Manzo’s verdict and that education for the market is necessary to satisfy the curiosity of potential clients.

“Kenyans are like Napolitanos. They trust themselves. The market of made-to-measure suits in Kenya is coming up strongly. Some Kenyans are well travelled and they know much about customised fashion.’’

For this tailor and others dealing in made-to-measure items, this trend can only mean one thing: better business prospects.

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