Last Sunday, we presented the new Canali collection for next autumn/winter. It featured a look that I would describe as modern Italian, an aesthetic that is perfectly suited to contemporary masculinity. Understated, expressing a quiet inner confidence and gentle attitude, in my opinion it points to a future route for Italian style for men.
Italian fashion is something that we Italians grow up with, obviously. Trying to explain it to non-Italians is sometimes a little complicated, as it is so intrinsically in our DNA. But if I had to try, I would say it is an expression of Italian history and culture; whatever we make is deeply inspired by what we see around us. If you walk around Florence or Rome, you are surrounded by ancient architecture, by palaces, by masterpieces of art and design. As a people, we Italians are inspired by beauty, and the clothing that we create is an expression of the beauty of the country – and culture – we live in.
‘It is a mistake to think of us as backward-looking: when it comes to design, for example, we are resolutely focused on evolution’
As a Canali, I am talking here about clothes for men, where the Italianate quality is embodied in the beauty of silhouettes. In a jacket or suit, the shoulders, the width of the lapel, the entire proportions in some ineffable way reflect the perfect architectural proportions of our ancient buildings. Our fabrics also draw on the raw materials used over past centuries in our country.
The result is a type of elegance. The essence of Italian style, to my mind, is elegance derived from balance. This can be expressed with different emphases – some Italian menswear embraces a more decorative approach, while in other hands, Italian modernist minimalism is more evident. But the common theme is one of elegance, and skill in construction. “Made in Italy” has become a byword for quality as well as a certain type of sartorial approach.
This is where Canali comes in. We are a family business that makes in Italy and dates back to 1934, founded by two brothers, Giovanni Canali, my grandfather, and his sibling Giacomo. Since then, Canali has been part of the Italian menswear landscape, honing Italian style and perfecting our own version of this. And it is important to say here that although Italians are steeped in a rich history and the past is always somehow present in our present, it is a mistake to think of us as backward-looking: when it comes to design, for example, we are resolutely focused on evolution.
At Canali, this takes the form of constant interrogation of what men’s lives have become. If we were having this conversation 20 years ago, we’d still be talking about tailoring as the uniform of the successful professional. Canali has dressed these people for years. I myself initially did not work for the family business, but instead headed for a career in finance on Wall Street in the ’90s. In those days I worked with men who wore suits bearing my surname. Even the president of the USA, Barack Obama, wore Canali!
But when I decided to come home some 25 years ago and work my way up through the ranks of the family firm, it coincided with a shift in men’s wardrobes as we progressively became more accustomed to comfortable clothing. Slowly the suit, shirt and tie combination became less of a requirement, and the types of suits that my colleagues on Wall Street had favoured – structured and businesslike – started to look too formal, and ultimately a little old-fashioned.
The journey of men’s style is a fascinating one, and Canali is no stranger to its twists and turns. In the ’60s we were well known for our overcoats, and these made up a sizeable part of our business. But at the end of that decade overcoats just fell out of favour. Men stopped buying them in the way they had, and we had to change direction to adapt.
‘A Canali sartorial item epitomises sustainable elegance by combining heritage craftsmanship with conscious choices’
A similar transition has been taking place over the past few years as the boundaries between formalwear and casualwear have become blurred for men. The mistake would have been to abandon our expertise in tailoring and throw ourselves behind sportswear. Instead, we know from history that if you abandon what you know it never ends well. The key is to evolve, and this is what we have done.
Just as we switched our focus from overcoats to suiting in the ’60s, we have been making a transition over the past few years, introducing a softer, more relaxed approach to tailored menswear. The move had started before the pandemic, but those two years really accelerated it, as we were faced with the realisation that people were getting used to non-restrictive loungewear at home. The traditional boundaries between formalwear and leisurewear have faded. With the merging of these domains, versatility and comfort become integral aspects of sartorial expression. Our competitive advantage is that we can apply our sartorial construction skills and know-how to the entire male wardrobe, including leisurewear.
The return to the real world has actually seen a revival of the desire to dress up to go out. It turns out that none of us really wanted to spend the rest of our lives in jogging pants. And yet, the trend towards comfortable clothes that existed even before Covid has now been underlined: modern menswear needs to feel relaxed, even if it looks smart.
Today, Canali’s sartorial-based pieces are still constructed using the tailoring know-how we have developed over nearly a century. But it is precisely that knowledge that now enables us to create a new type of tailored garment. The new collection for spring/summer 2024 is called Mediterranean Craft to reference our artisan techniques and features high-quality fabrics like linen, silk, lightweight wool, terry and washed nappa leather. Everything is made to be easy to wear, with jackets with soft shoulders teamed with linen shirts and textured knits; a colour palette of pastels, Vichy checks at various scales and floral motifs for graphic interest; and warm-weather accessories like raffia belts, slippers with rope soles and bucket hats. There is even a section of hand-crafted garments that have invisible stitching and no seams that are beautifully understated, and a crocheted trucker jacket to put an unusual and relaxed spin on a workwear classic.
‘I still have Canali jackets that are many, many years old in my wardrobe, and I love them because of the memories they inspire’
The effect is gentle – expressive of a gentility in attitude and appearance, and also of a concern for the environment. A Canali sartorial item epitomises sustainable elegance by combining heritage craftsmanship with conscious choices. Carefully crafted in Italy, it carries the promise of quality and durability that respects the planet through reduced environmental impact. Also, the enduring tradition of Italian craftsmanship ensures fair treatment, legal protection and the welfare of the skilled artisans involved, making it a testament to sustainable luxury that stands the test of time.
Indeed, I still have Canali jackets that are many, many years old in my wardrobe, and I love them because of the memories they inspire. Quite rightly, we see how people are becoming more and more interested in buying pieces that last – that can become companions as we live with them.
This combination of elegance, comfort and sustainability is, I believe, the future for Italian men’s style.
Canali, 64 New Bond Street, London W1S 1RR