May 7, 2018 by Ville Raivio
“ll meglio del meglio più uno“ or The best of the best +1 is the slogan of Kiton, that Neapolitan tailoring factory with the red dot logo. Their shirts take 22 steps to make, nearly everything is sewn by hand, and they allow some six hours of production time for each shirt. This is more than any other shirtmaker I know of. Only the edges of cuffs and collars, and the side seams on the sleeves and body are sewn by machine. This ensures clean lines, but those side seams are afterwards hand-sewn for decoration. The most time-consuming point, I wager, is the hem that’s folded and sewn like the edges of artisanal handkerchiefs. I also wager that Kiton sees this effort because they can, and because most companies won’t bother. The shirtings of choice for Kiton’s shirts are woven by Carlo Riva, a tiny shuttle loom operation in Como. Legends have it that Riva allows their finished fabrics, which are not treated with chemicals, to set for a year in store before they’re sold. It was finally time to see what the fuss was about with an example shirt from Naples.
The shirt’s fabric feels extremely silky, light, smooth, soft, and looks translucent. If handled blind-folded, I would likely say it has plenty of silk woven in — but no, all’s cotton that glitters here. This is the Riva way. For whatever reason, the wash tag states that the shirt can handle 60 C washing, which is rare to see. The cut is a standard one, not as close as what Turnbull&Asser offers but not one of the sailcloth shirts called “traditional” cut. The chest measurement per side is 59 cm, and the sleeve on the bicep is 19 cm per side on a size 39 shirt. Another detail I haven’t seen from other makers: the body’s pattern curves inwards on the waist. Nearly every maker cuts a straight body. The notched button cuffs are shirred cleanly. The shirt has no placket, the wide buttons are sewn with that decorative Neapolitan chicken foot -stitch. The buttonholes are minutely fine and dense, the folded hem is as well superbly clean and tightly sewn. The yoke is, surprisingly, only a single piece instead of the usual double.
The stripe fabric is cleanly matched on the cuffs but not so where the left shoulder meets the sleeve, far from it. The collar’s back height is 4 cm and point length 9 cm, enough to make it stand out among a sea of boring collars. It’s fused and light, and the two-part collar is hand-sewn on both seams — something I haven’t seen from other makers. Supposedly it ensures that the collar never collapses, even when worn without a tie. Its backside and points feature oxford cotton contrast lining, a nice add of colour that no one will see. The mother-of-pearl buttons are undyed, flat but wide. It remains to be seen how well all this hand-sewing holds up with wear and washes, but Kiton’s artisans really do shine in their work. All stitching is only some 4 mm apart, straight, with tiny picks visible, a time-consuming choice that calls for a steady eye and hand.
Kiton shirts retail for some 400 euros in Europe. This is a grand sum, more so as one can get two bespoke shirts for the price of a single readymade piece. Thus, it is difficult to justify one of these as a shirt…but rather as an example of artisanal craft at its finest. One does not simply get a Kiton shirt because it’s reasonable. The fabric, the components, the shape of the collar, the fineness of the sewing — all appear to be among the highest quality available.