Cut from the right cloth
Domenico Mazzarelli: The Shirtmaker Who Should Have Made Wine
By Aleks Cvetkovic
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Domenico Mazzarelli is sitting in the first-floor boardroom of his Pugliese factory, wearing a powder blue open-collar shirt and the very warmest of smiles. Beneath us, the humming of sewing machines and hissing of steam irons from the factory floor drift up though the rafters and hang in the air. Next to him stand his two daughters, Monica and Mariangela, one on either side of his chair. Domenico holds their hands on his shoulders as he talks; every inch the proud father. 

“I am the second generation, and this is the third,” he says, leaning back and squeezing his daughters’ hands together playfully. “I can’t speak about the future – that is for them to determine. Me, I am happy with my work. I have improved on the work of my father over this past 50 years; Mazzarelli is now much better known for our craft and I am proud of the shirts we create.” 

So he should be. Mazzarelli’s shirts really do have a certain something; a fitted silhouette, soft cutaway collar, finely-honed single-needle seams and nine stitches per-centimetre all add up to a shirt that feels clean, contemporary and unashamedly luxurious to wear. Mazzarelli makes casual shirts, dress shirts and overshirts – and sits across bespoke and ready-to-wear product categories – but each and every shirt benefits from wonderfully delicate finishing and sleeves set-in by hand. 

We spend an hour strolling around the Camiceria together, and it’s an enchanting place to be. Domenico calls it a factory, but really it’s an atelier; around a dozen craftspeople in overalls sit at machines or stand at cutting tables, striking patterns, hand-felling sleeves and trimming collars. The room itself is a good size, but self-contained, with whitewashed walls and stacks of colourful shirts strewn throughout. There’s a definite system in-place, but the workroom feels distinctly artisanal too. Domenico’s seamstresses chatter away to each other, shirts are passed from hand to hand, and the radio tinkles along in the background. 

“In all these years I’ve only been interested in beautiful things, I’m committed to making beautiful shirts. I don’t know how to make any other kind. This is my passion; it was my passion as I grew up and it’s been my life’s work to improve my shirts – every day we try to get a little bit better.”
— Domenico Mazzarelli

This ambition hasn’t just grown Domenico’s shirtmaking enterprise, either. A few years ago, he bought a grand 19th century villa located just outside of Bari and transformed it into a five-star luxury hotel, the Mazzarelli Creative Resort. Suffice to say it’s as immaculate as his shirts, and the space playfully nods to its shirtmaking owner with its interior design. There’s even a dedicated tailor’s room to fit clients for bespoke orders. Quite apart from fuelling Domenico’s “passion for beauty”, it’s a thoughtful way to host visitors and clients from overseas. 

“There aren’t many factories still alive and growing after sixty years in business,” he continues as we pace between different workstations together. “We’ve worked hard over the years to keep pace with changing fashions, to explore new materials and techniques, and to create shirts that fit beautifully but are comfortable to wear. Comfort is a huge thing in menswear at the moment; the feedback we receive from all our clients is that their customers need to be comfortable in their clothes.” 

Of course, the fabrics Mazzarelli use play a part in creating this sense of comfort too. Domenico favours fabrics with a smooth handle, and cites washed Victoria Denim, Downing heavyweight poplin, and Portland from Thomas Mason. As three of his favourite cloths to work with. “I like the fact Portland is woven with 120s yarn; sure, there are finer fabrics out there but for me it’s the best. It is smooth like silk, easy to iron, and we’ve always found it to be of great quality.” 

Tour complete, we head back upstairs, where Domenico retakes his seat in the boardroom and offers up one last playful thought before we part ways. “My father passed on the culture of nice things to me; the importance of quality in life – particularly with food and wine,” he says, with yet another beaming grin. “I’m 69-years-old, so I have no more time for new projects. If I was still 50, I would plant grapes for wine and grow a vineyard. In my life, shirts are my first passion and wine is my second. I was always going to make something – whether shirts or wine.” 

There’s no doubt Domenico’s wine would have been delicious, but I’m thrilled he chose to make shirts instead. 

 

Shop Mazzarelli’s ready-to-wear collection at camiceriamazzarelli.com 

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