In this day and age of mass market fashion, it's increasingly rare to find a brand that still chooses to focus solely and entirely on creating just one single garment. Indeed, it's similarly rare to find a craftsman so devoted to his craft that he spends his entire life constantly striving to better himself with every new thread. Ambrosi Napoli is that brand, and Salvatore Ambrosi is that man.
Starting out under the tutelage of his grandfather at the tender age of just 12, Ambrosi is the fourth generation in his family of trouser-makers, and represents a name that has become synonymous with the perfect hand-crafted pair. Recently in Singapore to present his very first trunk show, I sat down with Salva to find out why it's neccessary to start from the very bottom, and the importance of fabric for a pair of travelling pants.
Fabrics that don't wrinkle are popular because people travel a lot. in the olden days, people would occasionally dress up and then spend all their time sitting down, but now Everyone is always on the move.
So, was this always something you wanted to do? Was it love at first sight?
Not really. Actually, it started because Napoli was quite a dangerous city at the time. My mother wanted me to start work as a means of staying at home instead of going out and messing about with all the other kids. At the beginning, I wasn't really excited about trouser making, but, my grandfather was just one of those people that told stories that everyone wanted to listen to. That's how I got into this. It was really because I wanted to spend more time with my grandfather. At 12, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but the craft grew on me gradually and now, I love my work. It's my passion.
Let's talk about the work then. How long does it take to make a pair of trousers entirely by hand?
When I travel around the world, I start off by meeting the clients and taking their measurements. Two months later I'll be back to fit the trousers, which at that point doesn't have any pockets or detailing yet. Roughly three weeks after that, you'll get the trousers. The whole process takes about three months initially. The second time is a lot quicker because I've already got your model, so if measurements don't change, you can pick the fabric and we have the trousers ready in three weeks. The reason it takes time is because we start from absolutely nothing — just a piece of fabric and your measurements.
How much of an end product is the result of your customers' requests, and on the contrary, your input?
It really depends. A lot of the time these days, guys really don't know anything when it comes to trousers. They'll come to me and say, "Salvatore, make me whatever you want". When people said that to me ten years ago, I truly did whatever I wanted. I made them how I wanted to, and people complained as a result. Now, with all that experience behind me, when somebody now says to me "whatever you want", I ask them many questions so I can understand what they like. In the end, the most important thing is to make the client happy, and the only way to ensure this is by understanding his tastes and demands.
You travel all around the world, and as much as individual demands change, so too, I presume, the demands according to each country. Now that you're in Asia, what do you find is most popular here?
Fabrics that don't wrinkle are popular because people travel a lot. In the olden days, people would occasionally dress up and then spend all their time sitting down, but now everyone is always on the move. Linen is lightweight so it works well in Asia, but it also wrinkles a lot so it's not the greatest. People will only really buy linen trousers, or say cotton chinos, once they've already amassed a good number of trousers in their wardrobe. Only once they've got their staples do they then start thinking about variety and build up their closet with more casual pieces.
Where should someone start then if they're only just beginning to build their wardrobe?
I always believe in starting with a medium grey. That's the best choice because it can go with anything in your wardrobe. Seriously, you can match that with anything.
I notice that your blazer matches your trousers. Assuming they weren't both acquired at the same time, which came first?
The trousers. I always say the trousers should come first. If you're in the car or in the office, you can take your blazer off, but never the trousers. Comfortable trousers — and shoes — are the most important part of a man. If your jacket is not comfortable, you can always take it off, and carry it. Taking off your trousers, however, is not an option.
Do you feel that trousers are often overlooked?
Nowadays, people are really interested in trousers. In tropical countries like Singapore where it's very hot, people can do without jackets or ties, but everyone will always wear a shirt and trousers. You will always need a good classic pair.
Where do you stand on trouser length? What's the perfect distance between the bottom of your trousers and your shoes?
In my opinion, the trousers need to kiss your shoes, without any break in between. Otherwise, you will break the silhouette of the trousers and everything starts to look messy. Just touching is the perfect length.
Ambrosi Napoli focuses purely on trousers, you don't make anything else. Do you foresee yourself branching out into other garments anytime in the future?
No, I think I will always concentrate only on trousers. That's all I know. I cannot focus my mind on other things. It's better to concentrate on what you know and always do it well.
That's admirable. I know a lot of companies branch out into different products just to make some extra coin, only to then end up diluting their brand.
Yes, that's the problem with the world now — people sometimes work without passion. If you have a passion to make ties, for example, you should just stick to it and try and make your product better. However, sometimes people just say, "Alright, I've done everything there is to do with this particular product, I need to make more money now. I need to make shirts, because shirts match trousers. And then I think I need to do shoes." You'll ruin your brand because you're no longer exclusive. You're no longer a speciality brand. You're now just like any other fashion brand. I want to stay exclusive. I want people to come to me because they want their trousers to look amazing.
So this is your maiden trunk show in Singapore. Is it also your first visit to the country?
No, I've actually been here once before, but it wasn't so much for work. Before I come to work in a city, I always come first to see the people and their style. I travel to about 20 different cities a year and every city has a different style. I can sell yellow trousers in New York but I can't sell them everywhere.
What would you say is the style here in Singapore then?
People here love to keep things classic. They don't like to be too crazy like in Tokyo or New York. I wouldn't say it's low profile, but it's definitely low colour, with a lot of people liking dark grey. This is why it's so important to see the city to discover what's going on around you and what people are wearing before any work starts. Otherwise, if you see clients in Singapore and think you're still in New York, you won't be able to sell him the right trousers and people will think that you're crazy and an idiot.
Ambrosi Napoli is available at Leong T in Sultans of Shave, 11 North Canal Road.