The night after his election as President of the United States in November 2008, Barack Obama was photographed waving to the crowds in Chicago. As he did so, his jacket fell back and exposed the label of his tailor of choice: yes, he Canali.
Most clothing companies would have seized upon this accidental presidential endorsement – back when the President was popular – and ruthlessly milked it for every available drop of sales-boosting publicity. But quietly quirky Canali – nicknamed “the little frog” among Italophile tailoring aficionados – hops in another direction.
Even five years later, Elisabetta Canali pauses when Obama’s name is mentioned, then says: “Whoever they are; presidents or prime ministers, architects or actors, we prefer not to discuss individual customers. Firstly, that’s because we choose to be known from what we do rather than who wears Canali. And secondly, it’s because every customer is equally important to us, and every customer is treated the same.”
Elisabetta Canali is a third-generation member of this family-owned tailoring business, which was started by her grandfather Giovanni and great-uncle Giacomo in 1934. It began as a modest suitmaker, expanded aggressively in the Fifties, producing accessories too, and now employs 1,300 tailors and 400 further people in its seven factories across Italy – where it makes about 250,000 individual pieces of clothing annually.
George Clooney as Michael Clayton wearing Canali PHOTO: REX
Although Canali’s meat and drink has long been the production of perfectly fitted and personalised business attire fit for a president or any other power dresser who requires one, it specialised in subtly off-kilter clothing, too.
“We don’t think suits are a way to be uniform,” says Canali, “we try to create tailoring that provides something that distinguishes its wearer, makes him a little different.”
Fit, materials, and construction are the three elements that provide these points of difference. In its Bond Street store – it is Canali’s largest single shop, and Britain is the largest market (Italy aside) for the company in Europe – the soft-sell staff are especially adept at leading set-in-their-ways customers to colours and textiles they might not have tried, explaining the merits of a floating canvas (stitched rather than glued), or unfussily arranging for even the most freakishly proportioned to have his purchase altered to a perfect fit.
Spring/summer 2013 and Obama in his Canali jacket PHOTO: CANALI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Typically, every man will need at least one fitting for his personal physical idiosyncrasies to be synched precisely with a new jacket or pair of trousers. While most definitely a member of the “luxury” category – suits start at around £1,000 and Canali’s excellent informal wear is costly, too – it’s not luxury of the ostentiously logo’d, yacht-without-sails-owning, gold buckled-variety.
“We find that our customers, whichever country they are from, are looking for quality, innovation, elegance and uniqueness, which we work hard to produce. But they aren’t trend-obsessed, and they aren’t buying clothes just to display status,” says Canali.
Five years into his presidency, and opinion about Barack Obama seems split. Some maintain he’s an America‑threatening radical dressed as an enlightened moderate. Others are convinced he’s a surveillance-state authoritarian disguised as a galvanising agent of change. Either way, it’s his disguise that’s working. And often, at least when it comes to clothing, that disguise is provided by Canali – an undisputed superpower in Italy’s tailoring scene.
Source: Telegraph.co.uk June 2013