Craft / April 2017

Neapolitan Pride: House of Rubinacci

Nick Foulkes finds out how Rubinacci has preserved the sophistication and character of the city’s distinct sartorial culture.

The Rubinacci family: (from left) Marcella, Luca’s twin sister Chiara, Alessandra, Luca and Mariano and his wife, Barbara.

I have known Mariano Rubinacci for about 10 years, during which time we have become great friends. One of the things that are so appealing about Mariano is his modesty. He is a charming man. Not one to bruit his name about, he lets the clothes do the talking and they do a pretty good job — whenever I wear his clothes, I receive compliments. I suppose that part of Mariano’s understatement comes from his upbringing and the nature in which he succeeded his father in the business. His father had been brought up a gentleman and a courtier. The first Rubinacci fortune was founded in shipping during the 19th century, and Mariano’s grandfather never had to do anything more than live pleasantly on his estate just outside Naples, leaving the grounds only for such vital trips as his twice-yearly sortie to London to buy walking sticks.

His son, Gennaro — Mariano’s father — was an officer in a fashionable cavalry regiment and became a dandy in early-20th-century Naples; he was a frequent visitor to the royal and princely families, who, though shorn of official power in the new Italy, still exercised a near-complete dominance over the social and cultural life of the country. Young men of good families entrusted Gennaro with their appearance and would constantly ask him for advice on cut, fit, cloth and style. “Everyone asked to go to the tailor with him,” recalls Mariano. His presence at the fittings of the Neapolitan beau monde became such a ritual that he decided to open his own tailoring enterprise. “My father started it as a joke,” he says. “After all, he was not a tailor.”

When Mariano was still at school, Gennaro died; so, since 1961, Mariano has had to run the family tailoring business — and it really is a family firm, one that involves his wife Barbara and his four children. Maybe Italian family firms are protected by the language barrier, as there are businesses, big or small,  throughout Italy that function as family fiefdoms, and it is wonderful to see them still in the hands of the founding families. But because they are so close to the business, regarding it almost as an organic part of their lives — inextricable from family life and just as familiar as spouse, offspring and siblings — sometimes these family businesses fail to appreciate their cultural importance. Such, I believe, was the case with Mariano Rubinacci.

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Nick Foulkes