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When Neapolitan Tradition Meets High-street New York

Custom tailor Nedo Bellucci has brought Neapolitan tradition (and an imposing piranha) to his clubby New York atelier

Published: Sep 26, 2014 06:17:18 AM IST
Updated: Sep 26, 2014 08:26:12 AM IST
When Neapolitan Tradition Meets High-street New York
Image: Franco Vogt

“If i can show American men, one on one, how they can improve, they are going to love me!” says Nedo Bellucci, New York’s tailor to a celebrity clientele that includes Liam Neeson and Rupert Murdoch. I am contemplating myself, not altogether comfortably, in the triple mirrors of his clubby tailoring aerie above 57th Street off Fifth Avenue. Bellucci has a fistful of my shirtback, giving me a kind of armpit wedgie: My Brioni shirt, bought on sale, makes me look like a schlub.

Bellucci is sporting jeans and a white tee, with a perfect dark blazer set off by a cranberry-check linen scarf and a blue felt hat, from his fellow Neapolitan expat friends at Worth & Worth. A fit 39, he looks like the perennial club kid he in fact is. (The morning we meet he had been out on the town with a client, actor Zach Roerig from The Vampire Diaries, until 4 am.) He is right at home in his two-year-old atelier—three private-elevator-accessed floors he calls Palazzo Bellucci (belluccinapoli.com), done in shades of black, white and grey, that include a VIP club downstairs with a terrace view over his neighbours Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and Tiffany.

We are having a teachable moment with my shirt. Problem number one: The shoulder stitching falls below my shoulder line, giving it what Bellucci calls a “slope-y look”. This happens 99 percent of the time with shirts, he claims, professionally amazed by the obliviousness of it all: “Most tailors still take their measurements from the collar to the cuff, the classic ‘34 length’ or whatever. The issue is that when you design the shirt this way, you don’t know where the stitching of the shoulder sits. But the stitching is a visual point—and that gives a rounded-shoulder image.

“In the moment that you raise the stitching up onto the shoulder”—here comes another armpit wedgie—“you enhance the shoulder; you are defining the space geometrically. What we do, we measure two points, shoulder blade to shoulder blade, then design the sleeves. This opens up the eyes of all our clients: ‘Oh, my God! My shoulders looked slope-y, and now they look athletic!’”

The Gospel of the High Shoulder Cut is a Bellucci addendum to the great Canon of Sartoria Napoletana, the received tradition of Neapolitan tailoring he preaches: Unpadded, lightly lined or unlined jackets with unstructured “soft shoulders”, high armholes and lots of hand stitching (30 to 40 hours’ worth in his $3,500 top-of-the-line bespoke suits). The whole assemblage is designed to facilitate natural movement and comfort. (“Napoli jackets are famous because they wear like a second skin; when you can manage this, you are a success.”)

When Neapolitan Tradition Meets High-street New York
Cut above: Bellucci's bespoke suits cost $3500

But in this mix-and-match era, Bellucci believes, a jacket with Neapo-litan tailoring confers yet another huge advantage over a boxy, padded-shoulder English cut: Since it is less obviously dress-to-impress formal, the Neapolitan coat is inherently more versatile, looking as seamlessly at home with jeans or khakis as with the actual pants of its suit.

Bellucci, once a portfolio manager for Generali’s private-wealth practice, came by these tailoring convictions from the other side of the measuring tape. “My father brought me to his tailor for my first suit when I was 10,” he remembers. “In Napoli, that is normal. The experience of going with my father, and how he’d meet up with friends in the tailor shop, that helped me build my dream when I came to New York.” So did his Neapolitan connections. When he was starting in New York, waiting tables by day, his childhood friends Oscar and Luca Blandi, celebrity hairstylists, signed up for his first shirt sales and gave him a few client leads. It was through another expat, restaurateur Emilio Ballato, that he met Murdoch. (They went through the News Corp chairman’s closets together, and Bellucci would like to set the record straight on his famous client: “People who don’t know him say things, but I was shocked and impressed by how humble he is.”) Yet another New York Neapolitan connection introduced him to the financier client who would become his silent backer in Palazzo Bellucci.

A visit to the Palazzo combines retail therapy, Old World acculturation and forms of entertainment you might have overlooked. At a raised desk in the back of the showroom, for example, stands Simone Olibet, a Neapolitan master shirtmaker. He will, if properly induced ($595 per shirt is a start), create a shirt from scratch in 24 hours, pressing it when you arrive so it is delivered still warm (“fresh from the oven”). “Many clients like to watch him work,” Bellucci notes. “It’s actually fun. He lays out all the pieces, and believe me you cannot guess from looking where they will go.” Further entertainment is provided in the VIP room, where eight or 10 guys in suits are perched on leather sofas staring at laptops or leaning against the bar or doing the cellphone-to-ear walk.

Rain prevents us from lounging on the 18th-floor terrace, but soft jazz from the $40,000 KEF sound system provides consolation. In a substantial aquarium, swims a toaster-size piranha. One grey-suited denizen, 30-something going on 12, looks up bright-eyed and says, “Hey, if you’re here in an hour, they’re going to feed it a goldfish!”

So, sure... a little Neapolitan tailoring, a Campari on the rocks, a friendly fish feeding. “They used to say that peace in the world was built in tailor shops, networking, mingling,” says Bellucci. “That’s our idea, too.”

(This story appears in the Sept-Oct 2014 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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