The classic Italian style of a Francesco Sr. sport jacket
I will admit that the first few times I met Signor Francesco I was intimidated. I remember the day I visited him at his old Bloor Street location. I was there to interview him for a blog post on his history. He sat back relaxed on a large, comfy couch. I sat on the edge of a firm, ornate chair. I placed my audio recorder on the table in front of him. Before I asked a question, he looked at me sternly and demanded in his Italian-accented English: “What do you want from me?”
I asked Signor about the first suit he ever made and a change came over him. He looked into the middle distance and started telling me about “the masterpiece” he made when he was just a teenager. Completely by himself, every stitch. He spoke with a passion for tailoring I’ve gotten to know well. And even though I’ve been interviewing and working with Signor for almost three years, he is still a mystery. Each time we speak, he reveals a little more about himself and his approach to tailoring. Perhaps he’s been revealing it all since the beginning and I was just too thick to understand. Or perhaps it was lost in translation. But I am always amazed, each time we meet, at how much more there is to say, and learn, about a tailored jacket.
Signor finishing the cuff on my sport jacket.
What I have managed to learn, however, guided my vision for this jacket. Instead of focusing on the features—peak lapels, lapped seams or bellows pockets—I wanted something simple. Not only because I believed it would be more versatile and understated, but because I wanted to focus on the bones of the thing. I wanted the tailoring to be on display, without any flourishes (regardless of how lovely or expert they may be.)
I also knew the fabric would be the window dressing. I provided Signor with a special length of wool given to me a few years ago by the kind and generous Francesco Barberis Canonico when I visited and toured his VBC mill in Biella, Italy. It is a 9oz “Mesh” fabric that may look dark blue but is actually a fine, textured weave of a few different shades of blue. Like a knit tie, it adds depth to the jacket without adding extra colour or pattern.
First fitting of my Francesco Sr. sport jacket.
Because the fabric is somewhat rustic, I wanted the design of the jacket to be casual while in keeping with what I consider classic Signor: two-button single breasted; three patch pockets; soft shoulders with shirt-style sleeveheads; and a double vent back.
The second fitting of my jacket on a mannequin in Signor’s atelier.
The finished jacket is, without question, everything I had hoped for. The first time I put it on, once completed, I saw myself transformed in the mirror. I was slimmer, fitter and taller. And yet the jacket feels as light as air. Signor once told me, years ago, a Southern Italian tailoring maxim: that a jacket should feel as light as the breeze off Mount Vesuvius. And although born in Sicily and trained first in Palermo, Signor really learned his trade in Milan, in Northern Italy. It is a region known for more structure, more padding than the south. Signor seems to have made it his mission to create jackets with the look of the north—more shaped than the Neapolitans—but with the lightness and lack of internal structure of the south.
You may assume, then, that it is the lightness of the fabrics alone that explains this. But Signor assures me that isn’t the secret. The lightness starts with his pattern, which achieves an ideal shape without padding. Along with that, he is able to shape the fabric itself, not having to rely on layers of other fabrics to do so. That is the true secret to the lightness of Signor’s tailoring.
But what really matters at the end of the day is fit. Despite how closely the jacket follows my shape, it does not constrict at any point. I can bend my arms without straining the sleeves, and fold them without any pull on the back or shoulders. All this while retaining a lovely shape across the chest and staying in place at the back of the collar.
A few of Signor’s stylistic signatures are evident in this jacket. The most obvious is in the shape of his lapels. They have a belly to them that starts low and gradually tapers in towards the notch. And while the notch itself is placed high on the chest (although not too high), it angles down ever so slightly. Jacket length, button placement and lapel width are all dictated by my proportions and so are classic, to my eyes.
The best way to understand Signor and his approach to tailoring is to understand his history. He left Italy in the early 70s and spent the past forty plus years in the relative isolation of Toronto. His approach, his style and his pattern continued to evolve, but with little outside influence: he tells me that other Hogtown tailors didn’t inspire him. In some ways, then, his style is a continuation of classic, mid-century Northern Italian tailoring. In addition, his tailoring is the result of an obsessive, lifelong desire to understand human anatomy and to better it in cloth.
There is also something rather unique about this jacket: it was made completely by Signor. It is rare for a single artisan to make an entire garment. There is usually a cutter and several tailors involved, who may share the duties of assembly, pockets, buttonholes, lining and so on. But in the Italian tradition, Signor was taught and is able to do all of it. In busier times, of course, he has had a group of people working with him, so that he focuses on cutting and overseeing the make. Right now, however, he is alone at 82 Avenue Road which meant a unique opportunity: to have one of his completely own-made jackets.
There is nothing magical or superior about this, I should add. The jacket is not better than others he has made with his group of tailors. It just means something special to me since it connects me directly with that first suit he made, almost seventy years ago.
To contact Signor Francesco, visit him at 82 Avenue Road, call 647-274-1496 or email.
Full disclosure: this jacket was provided by Francesco Sr. for this review. Also, in 2016, I consulted for the company on branding, PR and marketing.