Measuring up to his own expectations. Only the best was ever good enough for Ciro Paone, the founder of the Italian bespoke tailor’s Kiton. Which is how the son of a family of cloth merchants came to transform his – apparent – eccentricity into a family firm which even now is still synonymous with highest-quality craftsmanship and continues to defy every takeover attempt by its investors.
The core business: suits. Ties were only added in the early nineties, then shirts and knitwear came at the end of the nineties, finally followed by shoes and, two years ago, bags. The company started its womenswear line twelve years ago; even now it only represents ten per cent of the total output – the label is allowing itself plenty of time to expand the range. Why? Because at Kiton nothing is produced as a mere part of the franchise. They didn’t just decide to start stocking shoes, they wanted to make them themselves: 15 pairs a day.
“We aren’t a standard company. We don’t make huge profits because we invest so much,” Maria Giovanna Paone, the founder’s daughter, recently explained in an interview with the FAZ. Their annual turnover: €120 million.
Setting their own standards
The 350 tailors at the production site, roughly 20 kilometres northeast of Naples, are the heart of the company. They work on the exclusive suits in groups: up to 45 tailors are involved in any one piece. 80 per cent of the 21,000 handcrafted suits sold by the company every year are ready-made. Even now, there are neither computers nor cutting machines nor any similar technical equipment at Kiton. Even the heavy irons have done several decades’ service.
When Ciro Paone started out in 1968, he employed 20 tailors and remained loyal to handicraft at a time when, in the seventies, the first signs of mass consumption and serial production started pushing down prices. The loss of craftsmanship ultimately made it necessary for him to found the company’s very own tailoring school. Every year since 2000 Kiton has trained 13 to 14 students itself, with the majority of them later ending up at the company and remaining faithful to it for their entire working lives.
In the recent past the company has also invested in its suppliers: the Carlo Barbera mill in Piedmont, a knitwear factory in Fidenza and a producer of casualwear in Parma are all now part of the Kiton corporation. It’s the only way to control quality throughout, explains CEO Antonio De Matteis, the founder’s nephew. The latest addition, just two years ago: Palazzo Kiton, which now heralds their presence in the fashion capital of Milan. The former Gianfranco Ferré headquarters is home to everything – from atelier to fitting room, from art collection to Neapolitan restaurant – that belongs to the Kiton universe.
Anyone who has ever slipped into a hand-sewn suit never wants to wear anything else ever again. Kiton is convinced of that: with a machine-sewn seam, you simply can’t achieve the same elasticity and comfort as with a hand-sewn seam. And anyone who invites their customers to slip into fabrics like cashmere or vicuña, who has a specialist dedicated to every single step of production from buttonholes to armholes, can only measure up to their own expectations, no one else’s.
The craftsmanship, the passion, the perfectionism, the company values: those are the most essential criteria to make a sought-after brand. Something that you can best sense when you’re surrounded by the goings-on in the heart of the company. We have been permitted to visit the studios of the labels in the Goldenes Quartier and look over the shoulders of the creative minds who work there.
Part 6 in the series: Kiton.