Kiton – From Label to Brand
De Matteis has come from Milan especially for the interview, and that is where he will return as soon as he is finished here. He has not been CEO at Kiton for long. Owner and founder Ciro Paone, his uncle, only withdrew from the operative business a few years ago after reluctantly obeying the dictates of health. From a list of 18 potential successors that consisted entirely of nieces, nephews, sons-in-law, and children, Paone chose five – the best five – who now run the Kiton concern between them. These five include Paone’s nephew, Antonio Paone, who runs the branch in New York, his daughter Maria Giovanna, who manages the business headquarters in Naples, and Antonio de Matteis in the director’s seat.
Quality is not inherited. An understanding for quality and aesthetics, however, can be acquired.
De Matteis learned a lot from Signore Kiton, as Ciro Paone is still often referred to, including the value of family and the advantages this provides a company. The company’s hierarchy is identical with that of the traditional Italian family. Indeed, it is sacrosanct. This means the decision-making process is short and transparent, and decisions can be realized more quickly than elsewhere. All the same, the new generation at the head of Kiton has brought innovations as well. The product range is expanding, every once in a while a new store is opened in yet another fashion metropolis, a fragrance has been added, the Kiton women’s line is being further developed – and yet nothing happens in unseemly haste. The original brand concept of a traditional and upscale sartorial enterprise in Naples remains intact at the core. From the beginning, this manufacturer has stood for quality in suits and men’s shirts. Expensive, Italian, and exclusive. A reputation that will be upheld.
“The best of the best + 1,” was the slogan the brand used for advertising their collection in 2009 and 2010. A logical step up from their earlier slogan “The best is simply not good enough.” The major brand component implied by the extra plus in the slogan is exclusivity.
We don’t just sew our labels into an existing suit. We create the suit from the bottom up. Only then can it meet our expectations.
All the basic materials that go into making the final product are select. The material itself is produced only for Kiton. This eliminates the possibility of another brand using the same cloth. Each bale of cloth has the guarantee “Produced exclusively for Kiton,” woven into its border. And at last year’s New York Fashion Week, de Matteis revealed that they had taken over the company “Carlo Barbera.” A sensible move. The prestigious textile producer uses only wool, mohair, and cashmere to create their quality cloth.
Francesca Capotosti, de Matteis’ assistant, leads us through the factory halls of Kiton. Wearing high boots and a short Kiton dress, the slim, young mother strides with her enviable legs through the facilities giving explanations. At a rapid pace, she tells us what is being done with the cloth that is specially produced for Kiton each step of the way. It takes a total of 25 hours to sew a suit, and the company’s philosophy is pragmatic: division of labor. «That way you never lose your eye for detail,» she laughs. In the largest of the halls, hundreds of tailors and seamstresses are at work. They sit on low stools around tables with their legs crossed, the cloth spread over their knees, and sew. In front of them lay spools of thread, here and there a battery-operated kitchen radio, and beverages that they have brought along with them for a long day’s work under artificial lights. Pictures of saints and football heroes are stuck to the table legs. Whilst some are punching out buttonholes, others are ironing small cuts of material in order that these can be sewn together by yet again others. Capotosti’s brunette locks bob in rapid tact, her pencil-thin heels clattering briskly as she leads the way, continuing her explanations all the while.
It takes 45 separate steps to make a suit. And every single step is executed by a different person.
As she speaks, she is also checking e-mails and ably fielding the hellos that can be heard from every corner: “Ciao, Franci, ciao!” – along with an occasional appreciative whistle. Compliments that she does not really take in because she has already gone on to the next thing. She whisks by two tables bearing sewing machines particularly quickly. They do not fit in well with the select image conveyed by the “entirely-hand-made” philosophy. However, the sewing machines are only used to join two single pieces that do not need a flexible seam – and this in just one place. Hand sewing offers the decisive advantage that the seams of a suit remain more flexible. With these, the suit will adjust to the wearer’s body over time.
Back in de Matteis’ office we get the impression that the man’s passion for his brand borders on the stubborn. He is utterly uninterested in what the competition does. Kiton, after all, has its own benchmarks. He couldn’t care less about advertising. The product and its value are well-known already. And, though he travels a lot, other cities do not inspire him.
I want to make something happen there, where I am. This city may have its problems, but it’s my hometown.
He refuses to consider that his approach may be just a little bit blinkered. Kiton is the best, so why look left or right? That would only be distracting.
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The Brander is a publication of the Branders Group