It would be impossible to understate Italy’s contribution not just to menswear, but fashion in general. The Southern European nation is a shoemaking mecca, it’s one of the world’s tailoring capitals and has been a global leader in luxury leather goods for centuries.
It was also the engine house for the designer clothing boom of the 1980s, and as such, is home to some of the most esteemed names in modern menswear. From razor-sharp suits and industry-leading haute couture to cutting-edge sportswear and textile innovation, Italian brands are behind some of the most desirable clothing on the face of the earth and if you’re not already familiar with the best ones, you will be soon.
Below is a compendium of Italian brands that have helped shape the menswear landscape in some way. It’s by no means Encyclopedic, but it contains all the labels that we at Ape feel should be on our readers’ radars. It’s the creme de la creme, so to speak. Or il meglio del meglio, as they say in Italy.
Traditionally a maker of textiles – it produces over 1,000 different cloths each year – this family firm has, more quietly, become a benchmark in tailoring. The company pioneered ready-to-wear suiting in Italy, and has since gone on to ensure excellence by running a fully vertically integrated operation: from its own sheep in Australia, via its mills and tailors in its homeland, it controls every step.
A hot contender for biggest high-fashion label in the world, Gucci has been at the cutting edge since 1921. Having played host to creative forces including current creative designer Alessandro Michele and the great Tom Ford, the Florentine fashion house has spent much of the last few decades remoulding the industry in its own image. It’s fashion’s premier trendsetter and, by extension, one of the most important names in menswear today.
Giovanni and Giacomo Canali established their eponymous label back in 1934 in Brianza. By the 1970s, the company was a specialist in outerwear – still an area in which it’s expert – before expanding into all areas of menswear, with suiting at the fore. It now has thousands of employees and sells in over 100 countries, where it’s Made in Italy mantra still matters.
Arguably the first brand to take the functional aesthetic of military and workwear and develop it into contemporary garments using high-tech materials, Stone Island (and its brother brand CP Company) is one of the 20th century’s most influential menswear labels. Founded by Massimo Osti, driven forward by Carlo Rivetti, it has advanced the likes of woven steel, transformable clothing and garment dyeing while garnering a legion of streetwear fanatics along the way.
Cucinelli is the Italian fashion designer who started out making brightly coloured cashmere sweaters and grew to become a purveyor of the minimalist, carefully coordinated, super-luxe aesthetic his namesake brand now embodies. Most pieces are still made by a network of some 2,500 or so small-scale artisinal craftspeople across Umbria and Tuscany, ensuring the highest quality standards. Growing up in a peasant farming family, such was his insistence on properly pressed trousers that he won his nickname, “The Lord”.
Better known, of course, as one of the biggest “designer” brands in Italian fashion, Giorgio Armani deserves special mention for the sheer weight of the impact he’s had on menswear. It was Armani who deconstructed men’s tailoring, who first played with its proportions, underscored the classic menswear palette and styled some of the most iconic movie wardrobes to boot, from American Gigolo to The Untouchables. He’s still going strong too…
Now one of the most iconic names in fashion, Prada began life as so many high-fashion houses do, by crafting luxury leather goods for the upper classes. Fast forward to present day and the collections have expanded to include everything from tailoring to logo T-shirts, although footwear and leather bags are still the label’s main pull.
Designs are typically sleek and understated with clean lines and restrained branding. That said, don’t be surprised to find the odd retina-burning print on a camp-collar shirt here and there when the summer collections land.
Fit, quality and fabric: the holy trinity of menswear and three qualities that Boglioli embodies wholeheartedly in every single garment. Still, the same could be said for many similar brands within the casual tailoring niche, but what really sets this Italian label apart is its unique take on classic pieces.
Boglioli was arguably the first brand to look at a blazer through a sportswear lens, experimenting with unstructured cuts, garment dyeing and pre-washing for a more relaxed, lived-in look. The result was a style that has become an integral part of contemporary menswear, bridging the gap between smart and casual.
Brioni broke into the limelight by outfitting the Pierce Brosnan-era James Bond. But, of course, the Roman tailor had an established reputation since its foundation by Nazareno Fonticoli and Gaetano Savini in 1945. Brioni staged the first ever menswear catwalk show, in 1952, and is said to have invented the trunk show (a kind of travelling showcase). But its heart has always been in classical tailoring rather than seasonal trends.
Rome many not be short of quality hatmakers, but there’s only one king: Borsalino. Having recently turned 160, the brand was passed from the founding brothers, Alessandro and Lazzaro, to son, then to nephew. But perhaps it is more famous names than the family name that has kept Borsalino in the limelight. Among many others, the “Borsalino” – its patented version of a felt fedora – was worn by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. It even had a cult French new wave detective film named after it.
Look to oligarchs, presidents and global CEOs and there’s a good chance they will be wearing Stefano Ricci (featured image, above). Much of Ricci’s products are simple, wearable and exactingly made – suits with that enveloping Florentine flavour, cashmere sweaters, crisp shirting, all fitting that Italian bella figura sassy classicism. And some of it leans towards the flashy: platinum belt buckles, jewel-encrusted cuff-links, crocodile sneakers and the like.
Founded in 1966 by Michele Taddei and Renxzo Zengiaro, this leathergoods and accessories label is best know for its “intrecciato” leather work, in which leather strips are woven to create a chequerboard pattern. Later relaunched under designer Tomas Maier as a full collection brand, it’s to Bottega Veneta you turn for some “stealth wealth” dressing.
Travel to Lake Inle in Burma; extract fibres, by hand, from lotus leaves; then weave them within 24 hours before deterioration sets in. The result? An extremely rare, silk-like yarn that’s plush but always natural – just the kind of textiles Loro Piana specialises in. It’s another family firm, established 1924, that likewise made vicuna a thing, among the many super-luxe yet discreet fabrics Loro Piana works with.
Tod’s may not have invented the driving shoe – that honour falls to another Italian company, Car Shoe, which in 1963 developed a moccasin with a rubber-studded sole – but it was Tod’s, under founder Diego Della Valle, that drove the idea forward in the late 1970s with its signature Gommino style. Now a fully-fledged footwear brand, Tod’s continues to keep comfort and craftsmanship at the heart of everything it produces.
Missoni may be another Italian brand that has latterly branched out into producing top-to-toe collections, but its historic specialism is knitwear – especially boldly colourful and textural designs crafted from upscale yarns like cashmere, yak, alpaca and silk blends. From intarsia to embroidery, patchwork to unusual silhouettes, Missoni does not make the kind of sweater you’re happy to introduce to moths.
It may not be as widely known as its younger, sportier sibling, but C.P Company laid the foundation for Stone Island with its military-inspired designs and distinctive branding. Founded by Massimo Osti in 1971, C.P Company became known primarily for its outerwear. The jewel in its crown was the Mille Miglia jacket, a motorsport-inspired design which features a pair of goggle lenses stitched into the hood and is still in production today.
The Capello family has been handcrafting traditional hiking boots in its Tuscany factory since 1908. Each pair is lovingly stitched together using the finest locally-sourced leather and shipped off to discerning customers around the world. That much has stayed the same for more than a century. What has changed is Fracap’s range, with high-end shoes and sandals now as much a part of the business as the boots.
If you haven’t heard of Aspesi, that could be down to the fact that the 50-year-old label likes to maintain a low profile. Rather than expending resources on marketing and runway shows, Aspesi instead focuses all of its attention on creating what founder Alberto Aspesi calls “normal” clothes. To our minds though, “normal” doesn’t quite cut it. Yes, Aspesi’s garments are casual and unassuming, but their typically Italian focus on style and craftsmanship renders them anything but pedestrian. Think wardrobe basics, the European way.
From 1970s tennis courts to Premier League terraces; from simple knitwear to high-fashion collabs. Over the course of its century-plus lifespan to date, Fila has risen, fallen, gained cult followings, risen again and eventually emerged as a global fashion phenomenon.
There aren’t many brands you can pick up at your local sports shop that have also shown at Fashion Week, but this Italian heritage label is one of them. Admittedly, the design heads have a lot to answer for where chunky sneakers are concerned but we’re certainly not averse to a well-cut retro tracksuit when styled with a little panache.
Inspired by the style heritage of its native Venice, Barena produces simple, well-made pieces that ooze character and quality. It’s something the label has been doing since 1961, helping to crystallise that elegant mix of breezy casualwear and soft tailoring that Northern Italy has come to be known for.
Expect to find unstructured blazers next to drawstring trousers and lived-in looking tees, along with the occasional statement piece. Long story short: there are worse brands to stock an entire wardrobe with.
Fracap may be the oldest Italian brand specialising in traditional leather hiking boots, but it’s by no means the only one. With a list of manufacturing clients including Chanel, Gucci and Maison Margiela, Diemme produces upmarket artisanal footwear that blends progressive design with traditional styles.
Models like the Roccia Vet boot and the Marostica sneaker are instantly recognisable and have established themselves as cult classics. This explains why you’re likely to find Diemme’s footwear lining the shelves of the world’s trendiest contemporary menswear boutiques, as well as on the feet of many an industry insider.