Many thanks to Tim Mureau for forwarding this video by Paul Hollywood. The video is not only a wonderful introduction to Sicilian food such as cannoli, cassata, arancini and street food but also to Sicilian history. What is less well-known is that understanding Sicilian food is perhaps the ideal way to understand the uniqueness of Sicilian tailoring.
How is that possible?
In the video, Hollywood partners with a Sicilian food guide Marco. Marco describes the delicious cassata siciliana cake the following way – “This is the history of Sicily. You have the ricotta brought by the Arabs…Then the Spanish arrived and make the rich baroque style as you see in the churches. And they started decorating with cherries, candied fruit and so on. This is the result – layers of history in a cake”.
Layers of history. This very apt metaphor also applies to Sicilian tailoring. It is both a figurative and literal layering. Think of the layers of canvas and interlining in a jacket or suit. This layering has a profound impact on the overall softness and shaping of a jacket.
In Western bespoke tailoring, we tend to encounter very distinct traditions. With Savile Row, we find military and equestrian structure and robust shaping through generous use of canvas and cloth. Savile Row was ground zero for bespoke tailoring for the English gentleman and set the stage for well-dressed men for more than 150 years. With Naples, we find nearly the perfect opposite of English structuralism. Neapolitan tailoring specializes in a monoculture of deconstruction, of removing canvas and interlining. The result is the famous Neapolitan jacket.
Unlike the diversity of women’s haute couture, men’s bespoke tailoring has condensed into just two leading tailoring styles – Savile Row and Naples. The reduction of a vast range of tailoring possibilities is perhaps logical in its own way. This reduction simplifies the vast array of possible tailoring choices into a simple binary choice. In turn, this simplification can be quite beneficial for many men interested in bespoke clothes.
As I describe in my book SGST, this is where Sicilian tailoring departs from nearly every other major tradition of Western tailoring. The Sicilian approach is not monolithic. There is no single cut, pattern drafting method or tailoring approach that rules supreme. Instead, Sicilian tailoring blends external influences and traditions like no other.
In Sicily, instead of strict orthodoxy, what rules is an astonishing versatility in making and cutting jackets. There is no single Sicilian cut or pattern drafting method that everyone follows. The overall tendency is sartorial openness, versatility and synthesis. Of course, this doesn’t preclude certain distinct tendencies such as softness in construction.
For the bespoke customer seeking options, this has marvelous implications. Stylistic and shaping differences, often very subtle, very much exist from one Sicilian tailor to the other. For the connoisseur who knows what he wants, exercises patience and has the taste to choose wisely, this is sartorial heaven.
Later in the video, as he wraps up his visit to Sicily, Paul Hollywood shares this piece of wisdom – “Sometimes food traditions get so embedded into a culture that the people around it can’t really appreciate it.” Although it may sound provocative to some, his observation rings true to me. The same can be said about any tradition, food or otherwise. Everyday familiarity can create a kind of mental discount among natives as opposed to visitors who see something for the first time.
Since my first to Sicily nearly a decade ago, I’m very happy to see an ever growing appreciation by Sicilians of their unique tailoring history. Let’s hope that grows and deepens in the years ahead!