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Interview with Luciano Barbera, the grand finale.

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
Here is the conclusion of my conversation with menswear icon Luciano Barbera. You can read the earlier parts here and here.

StyleForum: Is it possible to for made-to-measure to produce as good a fit as a bespoke suit?

Luciano Barbera: A bespoke suit should have at least three fittings. The first is for the tailor, to see if he has cut the suit well. The second is for the client, to suggest that he'd like a little more room here or there. Then there's the third fitting to correct any small defects.

You have to be aware of the hours of work that go into making such a garment, and the long wait between ordering and receiving the finished product. Modern life, for 99% of the population, doesn't allow for this. There are few people who, having so many suits in their wardrobe that one more or fewer is a caprice, can afford to wait six months for a suit.

Normally a man who is fortunate enough to have his own tailor will never buy a suit made by anyone else. Your tailor is the doctor of your soul. When you have found him, you never betray him by looking for another.

I had the fortune of being dressed for all my life by one of the greatest tailors in Italy. Even with all the other jackets I've tried on in my life, I've never felt the satisfaction of putting on those jackets from my own tailor. The jacket is fitted to and stays with my body like no other jacket in the world but allows complete freedom of movement.

But there are firms such as ours that try to provide a substitute, offering a made to measure service, which will still have the same quality of construction. For those who aren't familiar with the pleasure of a bespoke jacket, they look for the best the market has to offer, and we are here to provide it.

SF: So you used the same tailor your entire life?

LB: I met this great tailor when I was 24 years old. He was my tailor until he passed away - he was older than me. I have perhaps 100 jackets from this tailor. Some of these I can't wear anymore. When I first started going to see this gentlemen, following him step by step, seeing how he handled the fabrics and so on, I was much smaller in the waist than I am now. The suit that will be represented at the RISD museum is the first suit that this tailor ever made me, in the 60s.

SF: And what was this tailor's name?

LB: His name was Mario Pozzi. He rose to the highest level of tailoring. He had his own sartoria, and then Caraceni had an idea. Getting old himself, he transformed Mario Pozzi's sartoria into a collaboration between himself and Mario Pozzi. But he and I maintained a great friendship, and he was always my cutter.

SF: Had you already entered into the world of clothes when you met him?

LB: He was the one who taught me. I was, and am, principally a fabric engineer, fabrics for clothing. I was inspired, in my time spent in England, by men who wore colorful jackets - pleasing colors, with big checks. I returned to Italy and began to design similar fabrics.

In the designs that I do for my own collection, you'll find a sense of Britishness. Mixes and colors that are more beautiful, but there's always a sense of color that derives from the countryside, from hunting clothes, and from equestrian clothes.

In any case, I was designing my own fabrics, for my suits. When I met Ugo Mulas, the great fashion photographer of the 60s and 70s, he asked to photograph me. These photographs ended up taking a trip around the world in the first issue of Men's Vogue. Eventually Murray Pearlstein, a buyer from Louis Boston, one of the greatest clothing stores in the world, came and said, “You have talent and taste, and I would like you to design a men's collection.”

I've always enjoyed learning about how to make clothes. And I set myself to it, having many shirts and pants and shoes made to see the various shapes and silhouettes. I've never been presumptuous. I've always been a great learner. I don't teach, I only continue to learn.

In 1986, in honor of what my father did for me by sending me to England to learn about textiles, I created, in the town of Biella, a Master's program in textiles. The students earn a scholarship, and then get sent to Australia, and New Zealand, to understand where wool and cashmere comes from. Then they follow the entire production process from the fiber to the fabric. These students get a full immersion. Maybe they'll end up specializing in different parts of the trade, but they will have an understanding of each step in the process. This is very important.

For instance, I design a fabric thinking about what it will end up being – a jacket, a pair of trousers, etc. - then if it doesn't turn out well, I have to figure out why. Was the wool not right? Was it not woven well?

These students are able to answer these questions. Even if they don't specialize in weaving, they can understand where something went wrong.

You have to understand every part of the production process before becoming a specialist.

Luciano Barbera, photographed in 1970 by Ugo Mulas.

Luciano Barbera, photographed in 1970 by Ugo Mulas.

Another tasteful but exciting color combination from LB.

Texture and color.

A textile dream come true.

The colors of autumn.

Inspired in England, made in Italy.


More details.
post #2 of 22
The vintage pics from Uomo Vogueicon_gu_b_slayer[1].gif!

Great stuff!
post #3 of 22
Those vintage suiting are bloody awesome.
post #4 of 22
Great interview, D.
post #5 of 22
Great interview. If you ever have a chance to follow up, consider asking him how to evaluate a fabric by feel. What should we look for and how do we do it?
post #6 of 22
Thread Starter 
Thanks for reading, guys. If I see him again this summer, I'll be sure to ask that question, poorsod.
post #7 of 22
Great stuff, ragzzy. icon_gu_b_slayer[1].gif
post #8 of 22
Originally Posted by poorsod View Post

Great interview. If you ever have a chance to follow up, consider asking him how to evaluate a fabric by feel. What should we look for and how do we do it?

That was actually discussed on the LL, but it'd pay to have additional insights from Mr Barbera

There are an awful lot of cloth books around at your tailor’s shops. The choice can sometimes be confusing. Most distributors carry excellent quality cloth and your main preoccupation will be its color, pattern, texture or style. But you really should learn to judge the quality of cloth on your own. I recently read about an internet merchant working the forums selling tweed with polyester. I was simply flabbergasted. And there are other inferior goods being pitched here and there. So arm yourself with the knowledge contained in the following two tests, a lot of sartorial caveat emptor and you will do fine.

In the first test we want to determine the density of the cloth. Remember that the weight has nothing to do with the density of a cloth, you can have a very heavy cloth that is empty and you can have a lightweight cloth that is very full or dense.

So we will take the cloth between the digit finger and thumb and simply rub it between the two. Can you feel your thumb? If you can feel it, the cloth is either too loosely woven or made of inferior threads.



In the second exercise, we will test the vitality of the cloth: is it alive or dead in the hand. We want to see bounce.

Form a pincher with your fingers like this


Now pick the cloth up in the pincher and try to roll it between your fingers. The cloth should roll easily creating a firm and resilient wave. If the cloth crushes, collapses in your pincher such that it will not roll, you have a dead and inferior product that will neither tailor well not wear very long. Chuck it out the window post haste.


Now that you have learned these two fundamental tests you are able to judge the quality of the cloth that interests you with your own two fingers. No need to rely on marketing pitches. Just pinch, squeeze and roll your way to the truth.

Bespoke tailoring is an expensive endeavor, so never skimp on the quality of the cloth you use. It’s a losing proposition that is very easily avoided. If you must have a lightweight fleecy coat, buy one RTW to knock around in. If it falls apart or bags after a few wears, you can still use it for something and you will not have wasted a tailor’s time or your own money.
post #9 of 22

fantastic read. 


"I don't teach, I only continue to learn."


such modesty!

post #10 of 22
This guy is so smooth.
post #11 of 22

Makes me wanna go bespoke right away...

post #12 of 22
Bumped for awesome.
post #13 of 22

Well done. And your fluency in Italian...icon_gu_b_slayer[1].gif

post #14 of 22
Originally Posted by pocketsquareguy View Post

This guy is so smooth.


great finish, unbel. really well done. those vintage pics are amazing.
post #15 of 22

I had the privilege of working for Murray at Louis during the hey-days 80' and 90's.  Not only was he the finest retailer in menswear, he was a real mensch.

We had Luciano in our store many Saturday mornings for that season's collection kick-off.  Listening to Luciano tell his story is hearing a gentleman of ultimate quality, in clothing, style and life.

15yrs later, his clothing still hangs, timelessly in my closet.  I think some of the pieces are just starting to break in!

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