Three years after Manuela Vignudelli was born, her parents named their company after her. She is the “Ma” in Marol, a luxury shirt-maker based in Bologna, Italy. Her mother Rosanna is the “ro” and her father Luciano the “l.” On one hand, it’s a sweet gesture, parents including their little daughter’s name in their new company. Especially considering they had lost two previous children. But the gesture could also be a weight. If a company is named after you, are you obligated to join when you grow up?
“Unfortunately, yes,” says Manuela with a laugh. “Unfortunate” because, as she explains, it is a difficult, demanding business that forced her mother to make many sacrifices – like rarely being around to raise her. But Manuela also laughs because she has grown to love her work. In fact, speaking with her in person, it is clear that shirt making is not work but a passion. And yet it is a passion Manuela found later in life. Or more precisely, it found her.
Manuela Vignudelli on the streets of Milan (image courtesy of Chicago Chic)
Manuela’s relationship with her mother was strained and distant, so as a teen she had no desire to join Marol. When she entered the workforce, it was in sales for different companies across Europe. She was good at it and that caught Luciano’s attention. Manuela’s relationship with her father was a good one; he gave her freedom and independence, which brought them closer together. He was also a warm, open and jocose man. However, Manuela feel like he kindly “tricked” her into joining the family business. One day, he complained to her about how busy Marol was becoming and that he could really use some help, just for a couple of days a week. “You can’t say no to your dad,” says Manuela, and before long she was working for the company full time, in charge of sales in various European cities. I asked Manuela if her story would have been different if it had been her mother that asked her to join. She admits she wouldn’t have done it.
Manuela and her father in the mid-90s (courtesy of Marol)
Manuela worked almost exclusively with her father through the 80s and 90s, particularly successful decades for Marol. While Manuela was travelling the world in charge of sales, her mother oversaw production and the creation of ready-made collections. That was until the year 2000, when her father died. “He taught me how to be honest,” Manuela tells me with such emotion you’d assume he had just passed away. “To do everything within my means, to fight, to reach my goals and to be independent.” And the years after her father’s death did involve a bit of fighting, as Manuela learned more and more about shirt design, measuring and construction from her mother.
Rosanna and Luciano in their youth (courtesy of Marol)
Rosanna Saguatti became a shirt maker’s apprentice at age 12. Because of the Second World War and her family’s penury, she had to learn a trade. And so she joined a shirt making company in Bologna. For eight years she worked and studied and eventually, grew to love the process. And so she went out on her own, creating custom shirts for the city’s elite. A determined, driven woman, in a short time she had also created a line of ready-to-wear shirts and found shops to sell them around the region and eventually, with Luciano’s help, around Italy. But in spite of the growth in sales and stature, the company remained small. Rosanna stuck to her founding principles, which focused on the highest quality of materials and construction and an obsession with perfection. In fact, Manuela tells me, Rosanna’s methods and vision are still driving the company today, several years after her death.
Manuela and some of the Marol staff (courtesy of Marol)
Marol remains a small operation, employing around thirty people, almost all of them women. “Ladies have delicate hands,” says Manuela, explaining that shirt construction requires more precision than a jacket or trousers. Almost all cutting is done with scissors, not by machine. The hand cutting helps insure that the rest of the process remains true to their level of quality, for instance that patterns match exactly throughout the shirt. Construction is made by a combination of hand and machine work. The sleeve is basted in place by hand, then stitched in place by machine. Side seems are sewn by machine then cut and finished by hand to a width of only 2mm. “All to create a harmony,” says Manuela, “that represents my parents’ souls.” She laughs as she says this. “Maybe I’m too romantic.”
I wondered, as I spoke to Manuela, about what was particularly Italian about Marol shirts? After all, fine shirts are made around the world. But I think it is this romantic idea—that for the people of Marol these are more than just shirts—that expresses an Italian approach to craft that boarders on the spiritual. Manuela sees her parents in every shirt Marol makes. And she sees them in herself. “I get my character from my father,” Manuela tells me, “but my hard work ethic and passion for perfection from my mother.” Manuela feels that her role is to represent her parents as the company moves into the future.
This concern with the future—Manuela is nearing retirement while most of her staff are not—is one of the reasons Marol has brought in a new co-owner and Brand Director, Bo Yang. “He has the passion and the power to grow the company,” Manuela tells me. And here is the Hogtown connection to this story: Bo spends part of the year in his Toronto home. When he learned about Marol and their passion for craft, he knew he wanted to be a part of the company, specifically to help develop its brand. “They are basically,” Bo tells me, “a manufacturer who happens to have a logo.” What he means is that while the majority of Marol’s production is under their own name (about a third of their shirts are made for other brands) they are not a true international brand. But he wants to change that. He wants to start by helping to define the company, focusing on their quality, precision and durability, with the hopes of growing their global reach and audience. “But we must preserve the Italian spirit of the company,” he says. He defines that spirit like this:
“The Marol aesthetic is decidedly Northern Italian, true to its Bolognese origin, but with a penchant for creativity and fine finish. The house construction is clean, sharp, and sophisticated. Being a shirt-maker from day one, getting the technical basics of shirt-making right is of paramount importance to Marol: matching patterns, cleaning loose threads from cut edges, trimming of neck-holes, ironing of labels, pre-stretching jersey fabrics before cutting. These steps must be followed before any other fancy details are contemplated. Durability and functionality must be considered.”
Bo’s background is not in menswear but I find it interesting that when he found Marol—or it found him—it awakened a passion.
And that is very much Manuela’s story. As she worked closer and closer on the design and creation of shirts, she was shocked to hear her mother say: “you are even more creative than I am.” It took a while for Manuela to take it to heart and believe it. “Life slowly reveals itself to you,” she says. “Step by step, you become someone else, you discover what you have inside you, and at a certain point, it comes out.”
Marol shirts – both custom and ready-to-wear – will soon be available in Toronto. Subscribe to my newsletter to be amongst the first to hear when and where. I will also soon be announcing a special collaboration between Marol and The Hogtown Rake, so stay tuned…