Thursday September 27, 2012
From Milan to Malaysia
By IAN YEE
Luxury menswear label Canali has gone from a family-run business to a global brand.
AN IMPORTANT fact you need to know about Canali is that it helped to suit up Barack Obama and George Clooney. But does it really matter that it is one of the few truly “Made in Italy” labels? Or that it only uses fabrics from the finest mills in Italy, and that the suits are put together with the best Italian craftsmanship available? Or that its designs and cuts provide the ultimate fusion of contemporary style and traditional Milanese sophistication?
Of course it matters.
Currently run by third-generation members of the Canali family, the luxury menswear company has succeeded in taking a very specialised, quintessentially Milanese – not just Italian – family craft, and making it universally appealing, from Hollywood to the White House, from Milan to Malaysia.
So for Canali, it’s not just about clever marketing, or being the celebs’ flavour of the week. It’s about living up to the exacting standards of quality set by brothers Giovanni and Giacomo Canali when they first started their modest tailoring workshop in Milan in 1934.
Thanks to their unwavering commitment to providing the discerning gentleman with the ultimate in understated style and elegance with their bespoke suits, along with the best in Italian quality, the company grew so much that by 1970, exports took up 50% of its production. Today, 85% of its revenue comes from foreign markets, with over 1,000 points of sale around the world.
Come December, Canali will be opening its second store in Kuala Lumpur at Suria KLCC, where you can have your measurements taken and sent to Italy for your suit to be made. Canali already has a store in Pavilion KL.
To find out more about the brand, this writer spoke to Paolo and Elisabetta Canali early this year at the Canali headquarters in Milan, Italy. The siblings are two of seven from their generation who joined the family business, where the philosophy of combining innovation with tradition is deeply ingrained.
At the heart of that tradition, is Milanese style, which Paolo describes as reminiscent of traditional British style and more sombre – being in the colder north of Italy – compared to cities like Bologna in the south where the style is considerably brighter.
“Every city in Italy has its own signature style,” explained Elisabetta, the brand’s global communication director. “If you look at Milanese gentlemen, the colours (they wear) are darker compared to other Italians, but there’s always a touch of colour. It could be a scarf, a pocket square, or the socks. There is a kind of understated creativity that makes the look unique.”
The cutting and dimensions of formal wear in Milan today are also easily recognisable – narrow, cuffed trousers that show off the socks and short, tapered jackets. “It’s not for everyone,” joked Paolo, who is Canali’s sales and marketing director. “You have to have a very fit body.”
Maintaining their signature style while staying innovative and fashion-forward is what Paolo calls “a delicate science”, particularly with Canali’s global customer base.
The Fall/Winter 2012 collection, for instance, is inspired by the ironic eclecticism of the British dandy, combining plenty of understated flair with Canali’s bread-and-butter elegant style. The result is a range suitable for the sophisticated connoisseur who wants a dash of colour to stand out in the crowd.
“For us, our priority is to not betray the identity of the company. We’re talking about a high quality, select product. That’s why we are still fully committed to have only one brand. There is no second-tier brand or diffusion line, (even though) it is a way to get a lot of money,” said Paolo. In fact, he said as long as he’s alive and kicking, Canali will never have a diffusion line.
“The bulk of our collections interpret the spirit and identity of Canali. If you go to a shop in KL, Singapore or Milan, you’ll find the offerings are pretty much the same; but you’ll also find a small collection that is geared towards the local market.”
One of the main considerations common throughout all the markets, according to Paolo, is practicality.
“You can make a suit with the finest fabrics, but if you are not comfortable in it, you won’t wear it. We really work a lot on the fit, introducing new silhouettes and new styling in measurements that are perfect for men,” he said.
According to Elisabetta and Paolo, styles to look out for this season, especially from Canali, include the six-button double-breasted jacket, two-button velvet pinstripe jacket and floral printed shirt. Accessories, they emphasised, are a must for Fall/Winter; Elisabetta recommended a jewel in the necktie and a good pair of shoes in addition to the usual tie/scarf.
“(The collection) is a combination of Italian softness in the silhouette, specifically the shoulder, and a touch of irony and patterns that are very British. It will project the typical Italian gentleman, but with a different sense of humour,” said Elisabetta, with a glint in her eye.
The Canali siblings, however, take their work very seriously. Their father, the president of the company, is 80 years old but still works six days a week; that work ethic has certainly rubbed off on the younger generation of Canalis.
“Growing up in a family so dedicated, it was difficult and easy at the same time,” said Elisabetta, who joined the company after completing a law degree. “It’s hard because you don’t have any breaks. During the weekends or on vacation, every moment is a right moment to discuss business. But it’s easy because the relationship with my colleagues – my brothers, sisters, cousins – is quite frank and direct.
“We grew up breathing the passion and tradition of this company. We have the DNA of this company in us,” she concluded.
> Canali’s Fall/Winter collection is priced from RM950. The store is located at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur. A second store will open at Suria KLCC in December.