"My uncle used to say, difficult clients make a business"
Due o tre cose che so di Ciro (Two or three things I know about Ciro) payed homage to Ciro Paone, founder of style icon brand, Kiton (1968) during the 2017 Pitti Uomo exhibition held in Florence. Ciro is someone that has brought the artisan ways into the world of the tailoring, with a clinical precision that goes into every final product check.
There is nothing that is ostentatious or screaming at you. Here, they search for perfection, they live in the realm of normal, where 350 tailors hand make each piece that then goes to market. A suit jacket for example takes 25 hours to be fully complete. There are no shortcuts, nothing industrial that goes into their production; it’s secret is all hidden away in how each garment is made. Shoes are made to order, they are also made to rest for one month before they are given to the client.
Ciro’s nephew, Antonio De Matteis has been hard at work. Now, the group administrator, he has overseen the growth of the business and development into the international market. Stores have opened in the US, Russia, Asia and now Paris. In 2016, they closed the year with a €118 million turnover, an increase of 2,5% from the previous 12 months in 2015 with 85% of their sales coming from abroad. So who better to speak about a denim suit that could cost €40 to €50 thousand euros and keep quite calm about it all.
Yours is a handmade success: when did you understand that you had made it? You never know you have made it and you must never even think it, not even in a whimsical way. The fashion industry doesn’t allow you to. Every six months you need to present something new. You must work with love and passion, and be prepared to receive the rewards of your hard work.
The Kiton brand was recently celebrated at Pitti Uomo. Hard work pays off then? Of course it does, together with a level of seriousness and a high quality product.
What makes Italian fashion so special and what makes Kiton such a recognised brand? Italy is the home of culture, of the tailored suit, of eating well, in short, the home of beautiful things. Kiton was born in Naples and it wants to bring to the world high end tailoring by following very specific rules. My uncle put all of his focus and attention into making a jacket that is an internationally recognised Italian product and one that is uniquely our brand.
No one has done a better job of listening to, and interpreting the needs of the various markets. Where do you even begin to get an understanding in these cases? Are they all together that different? You always start by listening to the client. We have the fortunate position of being able to listen directly to the client that is going to be wearing our clothes. We have clients that love wearing high end fashion, men that choose comfort without renouncing high class products that they may purchase only because they want something unique and not per say, to show off to anyone in particular. Our labels are so well hidden that only a keen eye can recognise the brand. The biggest thing that we’ve discovered is that all of our clients from Russia to America and Germany is that they are all very similar. The live their lives in the same way, they are simple in their tastes, curious about similar things, even if they are the most powerful people in the world. It’s no accident that we have one collection for around the world. We are talking about an audience that ranges from the whizz kids of Silicon Valley to the eighty year olds all over the world.
In 2000 you launched your in house school of tailoring. Is the secret based on training tailors/artisans? We needed to bring younger tailors into the mix. Our average age was 55. We were particularly concerned about that average age and so from there we launched our school. There is some distrust towards becoming a tailor so we started with 15 students. That class was all hired by the Kiton group and we haven’t stopped since. The course is 4 years long, 2 years in the classroom, 2 years as rotating work placements. We now have classes that have 25 places and every year we have over 600 applications that we need to choose from. Thankfully we’ve become a testimonial in changing perceptions amongst the youth, that have through their own choices, have decided that learning an artisan trade is both an art and a constant source of work.
Naples is your city, the city of the sun. If I were a beautiful man, how would you dress me? People come to this city to get their clothes made. They have their own preferred shirt makers, trouser makers and so on. I would never tell anyone how to dress, let alone a city: those who wear Kiton don’t need advice. They know precisely what they want, it’s not necessarily the most expensive item but one that they can wear with pride whilst they’re walking through the streets.
Kiton doesn’t deal in women’s fashion. Is that right? We’ve spent 60 years to establish ourselves in in the world of men’s fashion, we’re not going to take the same amount of time to establish ourselves in that field, but we still need time. Right now, women’s fashion gives us around 10% of our turnover, so it is only natural that we continue to see it grow in the right way.
Fashion and food. Italy and excellence. We’re talking symbiosis. How close are these two worlds especially when you consider that you testimonial is done by chef Di Costanzo? Everything starts at the stomach for us at Kiton. Eating is an important moment, all of our decisions are made at the dinner table and not in a boardroom. Eating is part of our philosophy, we’re passionate about simple things, natural foods, no cream, little butter we don’t like to disrupt nature, that’s why we chose Nino (Di Costanzo), because no one interprets our dinner table, tastes and thoughts like him.
What is your favourite dish? Anything with fish, however I would always start with spaghetti.