It was a group of Americans, in particular the 20th century’s cinema screen luminaries, who identified, internationalised and directed a spotlight on the tailor commonly perceived as Italy’s greatest: Caraceni. Domenico Caraceni was possibly the most astounding tailoring genius that ever lived. The Muhammad Ali, Ayrton Senna and Michael Jordan of the shears. A man who could, at a glance, size you up and make a perfect suit for you without taking a single measurement. But more than that, he was a peerless innovator and pioneer with his crowning glory, the doppiopetto trasformabile or transformable double-breasted jacket, the stuff of legend. And the subject of his work — the reconciling of form with lightness and comfort — is today more relevant than ever.
In tailoring circles, then, his name is uttered with a reverence usually reserved for the most pious of saints, though his roots were humble enough. Born in the Abruzzo region of Italy to a tailoring father, Domenico’s preternatural grasp of the art of bending cloth and canvas prompted him to dissect the Henry Poole suits belonging to the famous dandy and teacher at the English Court, Francesco Paolo Tosti. (Tosti would send his old suits to his relatives living in the region.) Caraceni’s brilliance was evident in the way he filtered the English-military-derived heroic silhouette through Italian eyes, producing suits so light in their construction that they were as ephemeral as handkerchiefs fluttering in the breeze. So revolutionary and profound was Caraceni’s new form of tailoring that in 1933 he authored a book on the subject, Orientamenti nuovi nella tecnica e nell’arte del sarto (New Tendencies in the Technique and Art of Tailoring), and also patented his techniques under the Italian patent number 28642.
With Caraceni as its champion, the Abruzzo style of tailoring began to rival and even eclipse the Neapolitan school in its fame. Characterised as more stylistically exuberant, closer in fit, and downright sexier yet retaining all the lightness, comfort and mobility of the Neapolitan style, the Abruzzo school soon planted its flag in the capital city of Rome and declared itself Italy’s foremost style of tailoring. First came Italian royalty, then King George V and the Duke of Windsor as well as industrialists such as L’Avvocato, Gianni Agnelli, all searching for that magical reconciling, that elusive intersection between style and comfort. But it was the American movie stars who often came to Rome — as part of their publicity tours or to shoot for Italian directors such as Luchino Visconti — who helped export Caraceni’s vision and made him the stuff of legend.
At times the fitting room at 21 Boncompagni must have seemed like the back-lot at Universal Studios, with many of acting’s greats passing by — Humphrey Bogart, Tyrone Power, Douglas Fairbanks Sr and Jr, Gary Cooper, and even Josephine Baker wanted to be empowered by the transformative, liberating abilities of Domenico Caraceni and his brothers, Galliano and Augusto. Following Domenico Caraceni’s passing, he was succeeded by Galliano, whose two sons, Tommy and Giulio, today oversee the Caraceni shop in Rome, and the equally extraordinary Augusto Caraceni.