Bravo Italian style

The influence of Italian immigration on the Australian cultural landscape has been nothing short of profound.

Without Italian immigrants, Australians cities would not be as cosmopolitan as they are today. We certainly wouldn't have embraced so fondly the restaurant and cafe culture that has come to define many of our most loved suburbs.

It's perplexing, then, that this impact has not been matched by one of the other great Italian cultural strengths: knowing how to dress well.

Admittedly for most of last century, Australians as a rule just weren't interested. And when we did pay attention, we sought to learn from countries whose style was largely at odds with the Australian climate, or which simply had no style at all.

Simply put, when it comes to the finer points of dressing well, Australian men remain undistinguished in global terms.

But there's a shift taking place. While we're not all about to start heading off to work in linen suits and penny loafers, more Australian men are discovering and embracing the finer elements of Italian style. For Tom Riley of Sydney and Melbourne made-to-measure tailor P. Johnson, Italian style beautifully interweaves the artisanal with the everyday.

“I think the clothing is born of the life,” Riley says. “They have a more relaxed approach to it [dressing] that seems to be an extension of the way the Italian day plays out. Compared to a British suit which is more structured and regimental looking, an Italian suit is, in its fullest expression, pretty soft and gentle and a bit more casual and sporty.”

While Italian suits do have a reputation for being intimidating, Riley believes Australian men would do well to take them off their pedestal and embrace the relaxed nature with which Italians wear them.

“There is this nice core to the ease with which people dress in a suit there. Whereas I think for Australian guys it still seems like it's an effort to put a suit on, but it shouldn't be ... you should be able to put a suit on and wear it like it is a pair of pyjamas.”

For Riley, a large part of this is doing away with the thinking that a suit should only be worn to work or on formal occasions.

“Italians get up in the morning and put on a suit and go to work, they then go to dinner in it, a friend's party, church ... it has this beautiful transferable look that is adequate at all times but at the same rate never pompous.”

According to Julian Burak, co-founder of fashion consultancy A Good Man, the concept of a suit possessing a transferable look is something the average Australian male can take a while to understand. This is mainly due to the fact that after the inevitable purchase of a couple of shockers, it can take a while for the faith to return.

“Like many Australian guys, the cut of my first suit owed more to box making than tailoring," he says. "When I asked the salesman whether he could take in the jacket around the waist and make the trousers slimmer, he said I'd ruin the cut. That he felt the suit had a cut worth preserving sums it up completely. ”

Burak has well and truly moved on from those awkward suiting days and now names a Pal Zileri charcoal chequered, double breasted suit with big peak lapels to be one of his favourites.

“When you wear a beautiful Italian suit like this, you can't help but convey confidence,” he says.

While the interest of Australian men in quality clothing is certainly on the rise, it would appear this doesn't solely explain our growing access to Italian artisan manufacturers. In Riley's experience, many Italian producers have seen little need to sell to overseas markets, but times have changed.

“It used to be only the big companies who were really selling outside of Italy. Now the little manufactures are starting to recognise their own values and start trying to trade on those terms and with open arms to other countries,” Riley says.

“The economic climate is so sour in Europe that they have to. The average Italian used to spend all their income on their back and now they can't, so it opens up the market for the rest of the world. So we now find a workshop and ask 'can you do this' and they say 'yep, we can do that', whereas 10 years ago it would be 'no, no, no'.”

Of course, when it comes to classic Italian fashion, the only thing that could surpass the elegance of a hand-made suit is a pair of artisan slim silhouette shoes.

For Neville Colaianni, co-owner of the Melbourne artisan shoe store 124 shoes, convincing artisan shoemakers in Italy's Montegranaro region to sell to him was a bit like cracking a dam wall.

“The main thing to remember with these brands is that they decide if we carry their product. These guys don't care about volume, some make a maximum of 80 pairs a day, so it's largely based on whether they are comfortable with who their brand is being associated with,” he says.

“For example, the Elia Maurizi label is very happy that we are also carrying Primabase and Alexander Hotto, because they know they make quality shoes.

“The other thing is that they all tend to know each other because they're all from that region, so it's easy for them to talk to one another. We're lucky enough that they're all very comfortable with the way we are operating as a boutique business. But it takes a bit to gain their trust.”