Cut from the right cloth
Luca Avitabile: Like Father, Like Son
By Aleks Cvetkovic
back to all articles

“Handwork and stitching are important, but it’s not all about handwork and stitching,” says Luca Avitabile, sitting on a squat chair in the front room of his whitewashed Neapolitan atelier. He’s wearing a white T-shirt and an un-buttoned navy blue overshirt with washed jeans. He looks relaxed and self-assured, which makes sense because Avitabile knows a thing or two about bespoke shirtmaking. “It’s mainly about fit,” he continues, eyes twinkling. “A good fit, the best fabric and just the right amount of handwork all add up to a great shirt”.  

As we chat, espressos in-hand, Avitabile cuts a gentile figure. He’s softly spoken and slight of build, with a comforting manner. He feels like a man you can trust; particularly with something as precise as the pattern of your next shirt. One senses these reassuring traits run in the family, because in Naples the name ‘Avitabile’ is synonymous with three generations of finely made men’s shirts. 

“My grandmother started making shirts in 1948, right after the Second World War”, Luca tells me. “After some time, she opened our first workshop right near Naples’s central station, where my grandfather used to cut shirts and she’d sew them on one of two machines. Then, my father joined the company as a young man and took it to the next level.” 

The next level in question was a sizeable workshop, more staff and a spotless reputation for high-quality machine-made shirts. Luca decided to join his father in the family business aged just 15-years-old, but his father closed this first iteration of the company five years later, thanks to a grinding economic recession. Instead, Luca went to pattern-making school in Milan, before spending time at another local shirtmaking business where he learned to hand-sew. Then, one fateful day in 2014 – following several years of working in other local menswear brands – he decided to resurrect the Avitabile name as a top-quality bespoke shirtmaker. 

“It was time to do my own thing. I wanted to build a business that focused on bespoke and on the things I told you about before; handwork, stitching, fit and fabric. I like meeting clients and taking measurements; I fit every client personally, I see the alterations needed, take the baste fitting apart and re-sew it as it needs to be. That’s what I’m known for.”
— Luca Avitabile

Luca’s work, in short, is all about balance. His shirts are fitted but not too fitted, and there’s a healthy mix of machine finishing and handworked details like the front placket, buttonholes and set-in sleeves. Every client will go through a basted fitting or trial shirt ahead of placing his first order, and Luca’s collars are also meticulously fine tuned. At first glance, they’re nothing fussy; a button-down or simple semi-cutaway shape with a soft roll through the neck. But, as you might expect, there’s an art to getting these right too. 

“Every collar is cut by hand,” Luca explains. “We have dozens of different styles that we use as reference tools. Basically, our clients can change any part of the collar to suit them. If you want the band three millimetres higher in the front, or you’d like longer points, or you want to close the angle of the collar when it’s buttoned-up, then we can do that. We also cut our collar linings on the bias so they roll gently when theyre worn and give life to the shirt – that’s important too. It’s a real sign of bespoke quality.” 

That said, Luca is most exacting in his approach to fabric. “I’d say that the quality of the fabric accounts for maybe 80 per cent of the first impression of a good shirt – it’s the same with everything in menswear. I’m not an expert in knitwear, so when I buy a sweater the first thing that hooks me in is the look and feel of the fabric.” Moreover, Luca prefers to work with twills over poplins, because the fabric’s weave and structure lends itself to handwork and repeated fittings. “They’re a bit more flexible and forgiving, so I can really perfect the fit of my shirts. My favourite Thomas Mason cloth is the Hampton twill collection for this reason; they make-up beautifully and they’re nice and smooth without being too delicate.” 

What’s coming next for Luca, then? The good news is that despite the disruption wrought by 2020, the atelier is busy and his signature products – like the Friday Polos he first created for Permanent Style’s Simon Crompton – remain as popular as ever. He’s in the process of expanding his e-commerce offering and has started to develop an overshirt model, too. There’s one sitting on a mannequin when we visit cut in forest green lightweight wool; it’s cleaner and more tailored than you’d expect, sewn without epaulettes and finished with side-entry patch pockets on each hip. “I don’t like safari jackets with lots of fussy details,” he says, simply. 

It seems that Luca is at ease with his place in the world, and his craft. Now, it’s over to the fourth generation of the family to reach that ‘next level’ all over again. “I have three boys, they’re all studying now,” he explains. “Hopefully, one of them will join the company and do things differently. I’ve been working for 20 years, so I doubt I’ll change what I do very much now – it’s up to them to take us forward when their time comes.” 

“I remember when I told my father I wanted us to move away from machine-made shirts and to increase the level of handwork in the old business. He wasn’t interested. Listening to your father is good, but at some point you have to do something that you really feel. I hope my sons will do this too.” 

 

See more of Luca’s work at lucaavitabile.it 

Related Articles
last podcast
all podcasts