Winter woollen wonders

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” said William Morris. It’s a good maxim.

There being nothing of urgency in the former category, Christmas ‘inbound’ this year focused on the latter, and the arrival of several rather gratuitous items of clothing. A little arm-twisting (see the previous post) created the possibility for the shopping to be done by yours truly, which for me is a pleasurable part of the whole process.

Given that the items hardly fall in the “necessary” category, the emphasis was on appreciating the tactility and craftsmanship of lovely fabrics.

Thus, another trip was made to Antonio Bellini at The Italian Shirt Shop in Ipswich, which yielded a beautifully soft woollen roll-neck pullover in golden yellow. While there, I was also taken by a short overcoat, stylistically superb, but high in synthetic fibre. I took a chance, but on getting it home almost immediately regretted it. Sadly, an example of Italian style trumping substance, and (for me) one of the very few ‘misses’ in Antonio’s shop.

After some days, I contacted Antonio, who in the true spirit of independent retailing was greatly saddened by my plight and agreed to a change of plan. Hence a second trip resulted in the return of said coat, and its replacement with two more of his lovely woollens, a rather larger addition to the wardrobe than anticipated, and the whole issue graciously turned from potential disappointment into pleasure. We both agreed that for a generally warm country, Italy’s winter clothes beat even its summer wear – and when it comes to wool, very little of the fogeyism that still dominates British styling. While one might have reservations about its idea of cold weather-wear, the lighter fabrics and closer fit make some lovely items, and so far, they have done their job well.

I had some of the same reservations about buying Neapolitan ‘winter’ trousers. Since buying a pair of his summer trousers, I had been seriously tempted by Massimo Corrado’s direct tailoring service. I took the plunge and again what arrived was superb – deep blue Tasmanian wool; a couple of tweaks to the measurements has resulted in a perfect fit – and all for not so much more than the price of a good high-street pair. What’s more, they arrived beautifully wrapped in tissue in possibly the grandest clothes box I have ever received. So far I have not started shivering.

Finally, Barocco Italia presented some too-tempting items on sale early before Christmas, and this solved the last “what do you want for Christmas?” conundrum. I hadn’t come across Fumagalli1891 before; it claims to be one of Italy’s oldest surviving producers of fine silk and woollen goods. Its website reveals some quirky designs and quite eye-watering prices – so I am not sure what they are doing offering items at much lower prices on Barocco. However, we know what one should not do to gift-horses, so a rather appealing scarf was duly ordered. Again a beautiful piece of fabric, even if it too adds to my over-supply of such items.

The number of clothes that one “needs” is, I think, surprisingly small. Especially if the items are good in themselves, it is very easy just to wear the same few items again and again. It seems to have got worse during covid lockdowns when there have been so few opportunities to go out in the first place.

The problem, however, is that over-wear means items wear out more quickly as they have no time to “rest” – so my new year’s resolution, such as it is, is to try to ring the changes rather more. Antonio told me that newcomers to his shop sometimes struggle with the higher profile of Italian men’s styles: “When would I wear something like that?” is not uncommon – to which his usual answer is “How about NOW?”

Good advice – and having added a few lovely items to the wardrobe, it will not exactly be a hardship…

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