Here & Now: Sew Italian
At Rocco's Tailor Shop, father and son deliver real-deal custom tailoring.
Just the other day, a former captain of industry—I’m not saying who—was spotted in Naples wearing a jacket pinned together with a bunch of worn, mismatched fabric scraps. If you’re tempted to feel sorry for the guy, don’t. Because the man who pinned the scraps onto his frame is Dominic Laquaniti, executing the first of about 120 steps that will lead to a custom, hand-tailored suit, the old Italian way.
Yet, Dominic is no old Italian— he’s young, handsome, and speaks with passion in his eyes and a heavy Italian accent on his lips, expressing a dream that stirs his soul.
But the story starts half a century ago in the town of San Con- stantino in southern Italy. In this village, Dominic says, a boy could become a cobbler, a sheepherder or a tailor.
“My grandmother looked at her first male child and said, ‘We need a tailor in this family.’ And so it was that my father, Rocco, at 8 years old, began an apprenticeship that would last eight years, in a time-honored Italian trade that would last the rest of his life.”
Tailoring in the old country was learned over a lifetime, Dominic says. “For the first four years, my father was allowed only to make buttonholes, or sew a hem on a pair of pants. The fifth year, he graduated to making sleeves. In another three years or so, he made his first suit.”
At 16, Rocco emigrated to Argentina and opened a tailor shop in his home. A decade later, with the money he’d saved, he joined relatives in the Italian community of Somerset, N.J. There, he worked alongside a master tailor and honed his craft. He loved to vacation in Naples, and decided he’d one day retire here.
But leisurely retirement wasn’t for the likes of Rocco. He soon yearned for the workbench of his trade. He went to work part time with an established Italian tailor named Bruno. When Bruno retired, Rocco bought the business.
Meanwhile, Naples was no place for young Dominic, his only child—hip, smart and world-savvy—who had couture fashion in his sights. Growing up in the business, he had no trouble finding his niche as a successful New York textile agent, selling custom fabrics to up-and-coming designers.
Garment District Epiphany
So what changed his mind?
“I was walking down Seventh Avenue in the Garment District of New York,” Dominic says. “Between 39th and 40th streets there’s a bronze statue of a little Jewish tailor. For some reason, that day I stopped and stared at his face. My heart said, ‘What happened to you guys—where did you go?’ I realized that the true art form of being a tailor barely exists anymore. I knew I wanted to go back to my roots. That night I called my dad and asked if I could come into the business.
“My sweetheart, Marissa, and I got married on July 20. On July 26, we moved to Naples, and I joined Rocco in his tailor shop.”
Now back to Dominic’s passion: “It’s my dream to create a village of fine tradesmen like those of my father’s Italy. You drop your shoes off at the cobbler; get a shave while your shirt is being pressed. You have a sandwich or a gelato. She maybe picks up a little skirt at the boutique; he comes to the tailor shop to be measured for a new suit.
“There are others, fine tradesmen like our friend Silvio Palomba, an Italian cobbler here in Naples, who believe the same as we do; who want to keep the tradition alive. Someday we will have our dream village of Old World tradesmen.”
A Limoncello Opening
For now, Rocco and Dominic are relocating to a new, 1,500-square-foot tailor shop in North Naples. But it will hardly look new, with its wide plank flooring, tin-style ceiling and 1930s light fixtures. “We’ll have an open house, family style like in the old country,” Dominic says. “No formal invitations; just word of mouth, no RSVP required. Our cherished old customers, and hopefully some new, will stop in for Italian music and refreshments.
“As for my father, he may stop to share a limoncello or Sambuca with his guests, but any other day, you’ll see him at his workbench, putting scissors to cloth as he, like the bronze statue, has done all his life.”
Starting from Scraps
“The ‘scrap fitting,’ with bits and pieces of wool,” Dominic says, “gives us a sense of how it will fit on the customer. But it’s not just about body shape and slope of the shoulder. We look at the person: the complexion, their lifestyle. For a real estate agent, getting in and out of his car, I’m not going to make the same suit I’d make for someone who works mostly at a desk.
“We hand-cut the fabric and send it to an Italian family in New York for sewing. There will be two fittings, to perfect every detail. This is the old, old way of tailoring. Customers who would otherwise pay $3,000 to $5,000 for a designer-brand, factory-made suit may spend $1,500 to $2,000 on a custom suit, sewn by hand in the USA.
“In New York, my job was to know the fabrics, and to teach my customers, for example, about one type of wool versus another. Some say, ‘Oh, wool isn’t for summer.’ Not true! A beautiful summer-weight wool is perfect for the subtropics. We have each customer’s patterns and fabric preferences on file, so they could call from anywhere in the world to place a custom order, or bring back gorgeous silk from Thailand or linen from Egypt to have a suit made.”
Rocco’s carefully guarded customer file includes its share of entertainment, political, social and business luminaries. But power and position mean little to the Laquanitis. “In our tailor shop, everyone is equal and gets the same respect.”
ROCCO’S TAILOR SHOP
5600 Tamiami Trail N., Suite 17, Pine Ridge Plaza, Naples
Opening fall 2013:
4444 Tamiami Trail N., Naples