Gennaro Santillo, co-owner of bespoke shirtmaker Santillo 1970, describes his mother as by far the best seamstress in the world; a woman who can “create a model fit for our clients just by looking, without any measurements or knowing their size, due to her 50 years of experience creating handmade shirts.”
Indeed, one can expect perfection from Angela Lemma, who founded Santillo 1970 in the Calabria region of Southern Italy in 1968. But don’t expect her, or any of the team (which now includes Gennaro, her other son Saverio, her daughter Annaluce plus two embroiderers and three cutters) to work in a hurry. This is the brand that coined the phrase ‘slow tailoring’, and all the side seaming, collar-cutting and hand-stitching that goes on in this little corner of Catanzaro takes place at a pace which is conducive to utter perfection, in a room virtually devoid of machines.
The Santillo 1970 methodology, one that is honed rather than diluted as it is handed down the generations, perhaps finds its most lucid expression in the brand’s ‘Radici’, or roots, collection. The family’s traditions are strongly tied to their native region, a land once conquered by Byzantines and Greeks. Multiple cultural tributaries have meant a wide repertoire of crafting techniques – the company has even used techniques dating back to the Magna Graecia (8th Century B.C.) era, involving antiquated looms and crochet embroidery.
Another prominent feature of the collection is Santillo 1970’s trademark ‘punto a barchetta’ method of stitching the armhole, which enhances the softness and strength of the fabric in the most stressed point of the shirt. There’s more to the Radici project, though, than the revival of ancient manufacturing methods: Santillo 1970 is also revisiting antiquated methods of fabric making: processing the Mediterranean ginestra plant, for example, and mixing it with linen and cotton to make a soft, unique cloth.