Vicki Vasilopoulos has been working for nearly a decade to bring a story to the screen—the twilight of the era of the master tailor. Focusing on three men who make suits by hand in the Italian tradition, Men of the Cloth documents their histories, their work, and the future of an industry that balances fashion, artisanship, and tradition. Vasilopoulos talked with Pete Anderson, editor at Styleforum, about the film, her subjects, and her campaign to complete and release Men of the Cloth.
Nino Corvato and his shears.
Styleforum: It's clear from the trailer for Men of the Cloth that you, as director, see tailoring is akin to art—an idea that has a lot of advocates on Styleforum. What's your background with tailored clothing that led you to that sentiment?
Vicki Vasilopoulos: When I was a fashion editor at the men’s newsmagazine DNR [eds. note: a major menswear trade magazine that shuttered in 2008], I styled countless photo shoots with tailored clothing from both high-end brands and from European and American designers. It was clear that while styling was important, getting the fit right was paramount. And needless to say, there was only so much one could do to make a ready-made sample garment look right—even on a handsome and perfectly-proportioned 40-regular male model. So I acquired an appreciation for fine tailoring and construction; one of my favorite suits that I styled was from the late designer Alexander McQueen. It was incredibly sharp and distinctive, and it makes total sense in retrospect, because, of course, he trained at Anderson & Sheppard on Savile Row.
Tailoring is an art when it’s practiced by someone with the mindset of an artist—with boundless passion and skill. That craftsman commands respect and admiration because we can see that his whole life experience goes into every garment that he creates. And it’s the same with any artist: they see themselves reflected in their work.
How did the Men of the Cloth come about? Had you always planned on documentary filmmaking as part of your career?
I never planned on being a documentary filmmaker. But I always loved movies, and I started taking film classes and going to workshops while I was still a fashion editor. And then I joined the IFP, the country’s largest organization for independent filmmakers. I went to a panel discussion with some documentary filmmakers, and while I was sitting in the room looking up at the stage I had a "light bulb" moment and realized that I had to make a film about Italian tailors. I had always been interested in anthropology, and while some people viewed tailoring as an obscure topic, it seemed so obvious to me at the time: this world is like the lost tribe of the Kalahari.
Joe Centofanti at work in his shop in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.
You worked with Nino Corvato, Joe Centofanti, and Checchino Fonticoli (of Brioni), and spoke to others in the tailoring industry. How did you select your subjects?
Selecting my subjects was a very organic process. I met Checchino when I traveled to Italy on a reporting trip during my tenure as a fashion editor. It was really my entrée to that world in Italy, and I came to realize that his story was fascinating because he was trained as a traditional tailor but ended up with a career at Brioni, a luxury firm that capitalized on an American-style production process. After I left DNR, I did a lot of research and scouted the tailoring terrain in the U.S. My friend Bruce Boyer, a menswear writer, was very helpful in giving advice, as were some fabric suppliers. Master tailors Nino Corvato and Joe Centofanti had eminent reputations. But the critical aspect for me was their personal background and life story, along with their evident passion for the craft. Apart from being superior tailors, they were verbally articulate, and that’s key, because my audience needs to empathize or relate to my characters on screen. In addition, I saw that there was both contrast (in their life path and generational outlook) as well as important similarities that I could underscore in the film. Men of the Cloth is essentially a human story—and that’s what makes it universal.
It's apparent in the 10-minute trailer that's been released that many master tailors are not young men. Did you feel that a next generation of tailors (and customers) is stepping into the shoes of your subjects?
The next generation of customers is definitely there. Because, as we know, younger men (and women) are discovering the inherent beauty and authenticity of something made by hand, and made specifically for your body, with your own pattern. It’s like wearing a piece of art, and there’s nothing like it. However, the next generation of tailors is simply not there. There are isolated exceptions, of course, and there is certainly interest in learning the craft, but there are very few opportunities to do so for a complicated host of reasons, which my film explores through the lives of my characters.
Albert Maysles described making a documentary as "a serendipitous journey"—can you talk about a moment during filming Men of the Cloth that you didn't expect, but that was perfect for the film? Was there an experience you wish you had footage/better footage of, but don't?
I’d prefer not to give away too many details about the course of filming that would act as spoilers for my audience. This is a “serendipitous” and often maddening journey, taking you to places of the mind and heart that you never imagined. My film is essentially a portrait of these master tailors, so there aren’t a lot of fireworks; it has a more elegiac, nostalgic tone. But suffice it to say that I thought I was done filming several years ago, when I learned that Joe Centofanti had taken on an apprentice. I had to raise more money for production, and making this film turned into a ten-year odyssey. But real life is like that: you have to follow the story where it leads you. And ultimately, I realized that this turn of events would make for a richer, more nuanced film.
As for footage I wish I had, where do I begin?! That question goes to the heart of the documentary filmmaking process. You make the film with the footage you have, not with the footage you wish you had. And those “deficits” can often lead to creative solutions in the edit that force you to think outside the box.
Where are you in the production process now? How dependent is that on your IndieGoGo Campaign?
Men of the Cloth is now in post-production, and I hope to complete the film this fall. My editor is about to start work again on the rough cut. It should take us several months to get to a fine cut, which includes finishing the edit, having the score composed, the graphics and titles designed, the sound mixed, etc. I launched the crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo in order to pay for my editor’s services, so yes, it’s absolutely critical that we raise those funds. Apart from a few small foundation grants, this film has been entirely financed with contributions from individuals all over the world. Hence, I know that there’s an audience for this film, even if it’s spread across a broad landscape.
Do you have a target date for completion?
Once we get close to a fine cut, I’ll be able to project a completion date, and this will enable me to access the finishing funds that were pledged to my film by a donor last year. I will then start submitting to film festivals that are on the calendar for next spring and summer, and I’ll plan for the premiere and the DVD release, etc. The sooner I can get the funds the better, because the success of a small independent film like mine is dependent on the exposure it receives on the festival circuit. It raises the profile of the film and attracts media attention and potential distributor interest. I would hate to miss those all-important festival deadlines, or not be able to finish my film with the right production values.
Thanks Vicki, Looking forward to the results!