Naples. August. Muggy. I pick my way through the narrow back alleys from the City Centre, to the Spanish District, trying to find a needle in a haystack… and that’s being generous. Inside a haystack, at least the needle looks different, so you’ll know when you’ve found it. Finding Ambrosi is like trying to find a specific piece of hay in a haystack.
It seems a common theme in the world of men’s custom clothing that very often the best in a given craft are the hardest to find. Gaziano and Girling (until recently when their new London store opened) were in the basement below Huntsman on Savile Row (I eventually gave up looking and went in to Huntsman to ask them where the hell G&G were). Bijan sits semi-hidden above a cafe in Sydney’s O’Connell Street and Ambrosi exists as a small handwritten name next to a buzzer, of a non-descript building, behind iron gates in a city known for being chaotic and hard to navigate at the best of times.
Regardless, I found it. After pressing the buzzer marked “Ambrosi” in small letters, the gates clicked open. The noise of Naples quickly subsides after walking through the small courtyard, where I’m met by Salva, the fourth generation and future of the Ambrosi family. Ambrosi have earned somewhat of a cult following and they’re regarded by many as the benchmark against which others are measured. So it was for that reason, I wanted to meet Salva and have a pair of trousers made.
One of the things I love about Salva and his family is that there is no pretense or chest-beating about what they do. It’s a humble workshop, far from the Grand Maisons of the French Ateliers, it simply offers them enough space to get on with things, while pictures of Maradona and the Madonna keep watch from the walls.
Salva travels frequently for trunk shows around the world, so I asked him how much involvement he had in making the trousers. No response. He simply offered up one of his fingers as testimony. Scratched and scarified from countless needle points pricking it since he was a boy.
Having now built a wardrobe with a decent amount of solid colour tousers (no patterns, just a single colour), that part of my wardrobe is more or less ticked off, I asked Salva if we could look through some options in windowpane checks (a simple square or rectangular pattern repeated consistently throughout the cloth). I wanted a pair which I could get a lot of use from, as well as a cloth which would last, so we needed to straddle the line between a weight which could be used for most months of the year, but which wasn’t so light that it would want to fray too easily and wouldn’t drape well.
Holland and Sherry’s “Crispair” range was a front runner for a while as its ability to resist creasing is well known and the weight makes it suitable for most months of the year in warmer weather (about 8/9 oz from memory). The cloth that won out in the end was a Vitale Barberis Canonico 9oz grey sharkskin wool, with navy windowpane. It can be able to be worn on all but the coldest and hottest days and should last for a long time.
One of the most quickly evident attributes of Salva is his straight forwardness. He wasn’t too concerned whether I actually ordered a pair or not, his main interest being that if I did order them, that they be what I wanted. I’d found a few cloths which I particularly liked, but that in his opinion would wear too quickly. Knowing I wanted long term wear out of them, he steered me away.
Given the prominence of the check, I asked if he’d be happy to match all the lines for me at all the seams. He said that’s standard practice, so it wouldn’t be an issue.
My measurements were taken and a couple of basic details decided on. I wear my trousers above my hips, so pleats will be included allowing them to clear my hips and drape cleanly (see my earlier post here on trouser height). We also chose belt loops, not side adjusters. I usually wear braces or side adjusters with suits, as it’s more formal and cleaner aesthetically, but for separate trousers, which these are, I wear with belts.
When we catch up again next week, Salva will have made up a trial pair for me. They’ll most likely be out of muslin (a basic cotton cloth which tailors often use, so trial garments can be easily put together and played with, without ruining a customers actual cloth) and we’ll go through all of the finer details of the final pair, such as cuffs, buttons, pockets etc.
For the record, Ambrosi are located on Via Nicotera Giovanni 80132. If you can’t find it, just ask some of the old Italian men who’ll be sitting on the side walk, they’ll point you in the right direction. If Naples is too hard to get to, then you’ll be able to catch Salva at any of his various trunk shows around the world each year. You can follow him on his Tumblr at http://ambrosi-napoli.tumblr.com/
I’m can’t remember the exact cost of Salva’s trousers, now, but from memory the standard price through a trunk show is around 1,100 Euro (give or take a little). Those visiting Salva in Naples will usually be given a 20% discount on that price.