A self-made pearl in a house of rubies.
Long streaks of rain streamed across the window pane of carroza #9 on the Frecciarossa, the Italian bullet train.
It was 7:20am and we were enroute to Milano. Rain always throws an unexpected twist into the equation with natural light photoshoots.
I had a 10am meeting scheduled with Mr. Luca Rubinacci; according to GQ one of the world's 10 best dressed men... a regular staple on The Sartorialist... and a 3rd generation descendant of the house of Rubinacci.
It was Luca's grandfather that was one of the original creators of the Neapolitan suit. A suit that broke all the rules, and continues to do so today.
At 10am, with the rain now coming down decidedly hard, I darted across via Montenapoleone into Luca's shop.
Moments later, Luca walks into the room -- his eyes pin me like a hawk, assessing me.
A tamed smile creases his face.
After a few moments of 'getting to know you' chatter, I shared a story about a Master I had recently photographed who also came from a long family tradition and the attached expectations bestowed on him as the next in line to rule the 'house'.
Luca responded with a very personal dissertation on that very point which blew me away.
He was impressively sharp.
We agreed to meet later that day, hoping the rain would relent upon us?
At around 4pm, the clouds broke away and we were walking the streets of Milan.
For many, Luca is a Master of colour & fabric composition; an art few truly ever succeed in.
I came to have this sense, that if there were a rule, Luca would break it only to see why it ever existed as one. To destruct the idea, the notion, seemed a process of creation for him.
To have a conversation with Luca, is to inescapably grow aware of your surroundings. He is constantly inhaling the world around him for ideas. Acutely aware. You can observe it, even sense it? But he never breaks a conversation, or skips a beat. He's just taking quiet mental pictures.
A red light brings us all to a momentary pause. A young woman, ignoring the red warning, scoots across the street pulling her camera out of her bag.... and walks right up to Luca:
"Excuse me, Sir"
"May I please take your photo? ... I am a personal stylist, and I love what you're wearing"
Luca gently and generously agrees. A few quick snaps... the girl darts off, though not before taking one final peek. Forming some sort of mental note.
Luca barely registers the event. No doubt it's something that happens often to him, though that was not always the case.
According to Luca, some odd 10 years ago he was in the crosshairs of many an editorial claiming he would ruin the Rubinacci brand, and that he had no place in fashion... all due to his rather bold sense of colour and style.
Off course, all that, is no more. The world is undoubtedly his oyster, leaving many in his wake.
In the years to come, Luca Rubinacci will not only be breaking the rules as his forefathers before him did... but he will likely be forging new, unchartered paths.
My grandfather decided to open a store, making the tailor trade more accessible. In the early 1900’s tailors were always in a basement and difficult to reach by people in high society. His vision to open up a store and get the best tailors in Naples to work for him materialised in the ‘London House’ in 1932, the first Rubinacci store. He didn’t call it Rubinacci then as it wasn’t accustomed at the time to call a store by the a family’s name.
In 1938, my grandfather was granted the permission of putting the initials of LH on a crest, in honour of servicing the royal family. He also practically invented the Neapolitan cut.
My father who took over the business in the 60’s, removed the London word and replaced it with our family name, which was soon after destined to be known across the whole of Italy. The 1990‘s were an important decade for us. We begun selling in the US market and making a name for it, while at the same time there was a much thought of decision to focus more on the bespoke design.
In 2000, little Luca arrived at the store and was puzzled at what his purpose was there (laughs). When I started working, my father was already one of the most famous tailors in Italy serving esteemed members of the Italian society, while being venerated by many as a guru of the men’s classic.
Naturally, it was quite an undertaking to be the son of Mariano. The competitive blood of the sailor and sportsman in me wouldn’t settle that easily.
So when the time came to train, I asked my father to send me to practice with his fiercer competitor. You see, tailors hate each other since time immemorial. They hate each other cause think they think they are the best.
So my father proceeded to send me to Kilbury in London, which in 2000 was one of the biggest tailor outlets on Savile Row.
He provided me with my first bespoke wardrobe, one blue suit, a grey suit and a sport jacket which made me so proud at 19.
As it turns out, I arrive at Kilbury and moments after having walked in the store, I was placed in the middle of the room by the chief tailor who started making fun of the suit I was wearing, making comments about my shoulder fold, this and that cut, about my lapels being all wrong and all messed up.
Following this cold shower of a reception, I rushed to call up my father to firstly tell him he was the worst dad ever and also to get me a return ticket the next day. I couldn’t understand why he would have made me the wrong suits without telling me.
So then my father began to laugh and said to me: “Luca I’m very happy. It’s your first day at work and already somebody is teaching you something. Now you can tell the difference between the Neapolitan and the English cut.” He then proceeded, and I’ll never forget that, for the next two hours to tell me all about the differences.
Next day? I return to the shop. Face proudly radiating all the way up to the sky. They had prepared for me a little table in the corner, as far away as possible from the chief tailor. But I couldn't resist. I went up to the 70year-old guy and started telling him about what was right about the seemingly wrong details of my jacket and its Neapolitan signature.
He was stunned. This old guy was taken aback by a 19year-old trying to teach him something new. Instead of my little distant desk, I was now positioned right beside him. I remember him saying “leaving here, you’ll know enough about the English cut as much as you do about the Neapolitan, so you can choose which one you like the most”. So this is how I started. And the lesson about holding my ground in the face of rejection and doubt was one that stayed with me ever since.
At the end of my training I understood clearly one thing. That the English cut was fantastic and that the Neapolitan cut was incredible. The one thing devaluing their worth, their inability to meet and talk with each other. In other words, failing to evolve by holding back from the necessary exchange between their styles.
So when I went back to my father, I said to him, you are doing a great job and they too are making a great job. The thing missing was a mix that would lead into great tailoring.
In a time and age where everyone is coming from everywhere, you have got to never cease to explore unknown territories in your trade.
Following that early time, the Rubinacci brand has become known all over the world and my face has travelled as the front cover of our brand. I remember my father telling me ten years ago: ‘Never put your face out there, because you’ll be the first to be killed’. And I would answer that regardless of the risk, I had to follow my intuition. If people followed then let them follow. I was and continue to do something because I love it. This is my status. It’s like what Confucius said about finding the work you love and you won’t have to work one day in your life. This is my philosophy. People often think that I’m never seen working, but this is perhaps what they choose to see or what I’ve led them to believe. But this very thing is how I manage to summon the power to think and give myself wholy to my trade.
If you want to know about me, you merely have to look at my family’s tradition. My father never worked to get money, but dedicated himself to the happiness of the customer. This is what ultimately brings you money. My father always told me “do whatever you want, but do it at the best value”. Who would care if you made something that nobody would wear? Do something at the best value possible, because somebody would like it, love it and give you credit for it.
How can I describe it... I’m a doctor in a way. My philosophy is that I have to ‘cure‘ that person, the man who’s wearing that jacket, by making them happy. I don’t care about the fashion, I don’t care about the product. When a customer comes in I look at him as a psychologist, like a barber even. I’m trying to capture the style within my customer and then I try and make for him the right clothes to dress his innate style.
Another thing I would never stop doing is everyday learning. And I receive lessons from everyone. Literally from everyone and everything. People know more things than they care to understand and make use of.
Last winter for example, I made what I call ‘smocking pyjamas’ for a customer. It all started by a question: “Luca, I’m having a tuxedo party in my new house in the new year. How can I look different from everyone else?”
I instantly remembered my father’s story about the smocking jacket and how it was designed in actual fact to serve as the ‘smocked’ jacket, before it became formal attire, for the purposes of being worn in the house for smocking occasions in the place of the actual clothing, to prevent good clothes from becoming smocked.
So, I made this guy a smoking tuxedo outside and a pyjama-like outfit from the the softest garments on the inside. He called me a few months later to tell me how he was the talk of his circle for months after and how all his friends now wanted a set themselves.
A good man? But I think, this is the kind of question you ought to ask my friends. If anything, a happy person. Very lucky to have my family’s fortune. I am not making anything different than any other man would have done had they been privileged with the same tradition; my father’s tradition.
In essence, I am not more than making real value that adds to what my father has built, and his father before him.
It’s some kind of a mission. I want to change the world of the men’s classic. But it needs to be retaught. If we were in the 30s, you could have said we are being futuristic. But today we live in the future. We have exchanged our origins for our influences. And this is how the new generations are starting to be the real main players in this game. The average age of my customers dropped in ten years from 50 to 30! This means I am now growing all my future customers.
Today, style is not set by big money. Money perhaps buys a brand. That’s boring. Today people are adept at forming their own personal opinions about style, and many are returning to the authentic eclecticness of the ‘real gentleman’. This is one of the reasons I am putting my face behind my design, to reinforce this process and let people see there is someone real fashioning their style ethos.
Everything is details. Everything, even when there aren't enough details.
I don’t need a complex concept to sparkle my creativity, but just the right detail, the sort of which can be found in everything. Did you know that the regimental tie got inspired out of a detail on a surfing board? This is what artistic process is about.
If this is the case, then it’s probably because I like to operate outside this craft. I even present myself as I am in the real world for everyone to see. This has allowed me to be critical and constructive, while if I would have remained insulated inside the Rubinacci tradition per se, I wouldn’t have been able to judge and foresee with a clear vision. In the end it’s not about selling clothes, it is about becoming aware, discovering and rediscovering.
Run. you always see people being stuck. Even on an escalator I keep walking, I don’t let myself be taken somewhere, I’d rather go there myself every time and if people want to follow, let them.
My father, because of the trail he has blazed.
I consider myself to be a spiritual person, but ultimately it’s the creative feeling that get’s you up in the morning that has a fundamental importance for me.
I hate people that are stuck. That let things happen to them, instead of taking action for themselves.
My sister. She is my life.
The soul and energy that this person uniquely expresses.
I don’t want to be remembered. I want to be known.
Something you cannot buy, but search and find.
An expression of what is real. Regardless of mistakes, it’s what you gain despite of everything that happens. A life that is owned by the very person living it.