Tales from Osaka — Sartoria Raffaniello

Noriyuki Higashi of Sartoria Raffaniello (previously Sarto Domenica) captured at Strasburgo, Osaka. (Photo: Jamie Ferguson)

I think I might be the first Australian, as far as I am aware, to write anything about Sartoria Raffaniello. It’s been briefly covered in the Permanent Style series on Japanese tailors, but wasn’t afforded as much attention, given Simon Crompton had to fit four tailors into a single article. As such, I’m fairly pleased that this is going to be the debut article. I haven’t been paid to do it, I just like the jacket and the tailoring house.

Sartoria Raffaniello is headed by Ring Jacket and Sartoria Pescariello alumnus, Noriyuki Higashi. From designing patches for his ‘uncool’ high school baseball team uniforms to doodling men’s suits in classes where he was supposed to be studying women’s dresses at the Takarazuka School of Art and Design, he’s had a fairly interesting run.

More Noriyuki Higashi! Great textures on the linen sportcoat, and darker tones with the silk knit tie. Worth noting that he also used to sport the anime haircut.(Photo: Rex Lee)

Higashi’s dedication to the craft is almost like something out of a shonen anime. Awestruck by his contemporary, Noriyuki Ueki’s growth after returning from a Pascariello and Dalcuore apprenticeship (Ueki heads Ciccio, arguably Japan’s most famous tailor), Higashi ‘realised his limitations’ in not being able to replicate the same effects merely by staying at Ring Jacket, and instead sought out this opportunity for an apprenticeship by recommendation with Antonio Pascariello himself, who eventually gave him the nickname, well, “Raffaniello” (Pascariello being one of the great cornerstones of Neapolitan tailoring). Literally given 90 days to learn the craft because his wife was due in 3 months, he hustled over to capitalise on this chance, on encouragement from his wife. He came back just before the birth of his son, but he also came back to what was, by then, an incredibly crowded market for Japanese tailoring, in a period of deleterious economic recession.

Go Ishimi outlines a chronology of Higashi-san’s journey in his own publication, Muuseo Square — if you can’t read Japanese, don’t fret. I can’t either, but Gina has been gracious enough to help me with a translation. The most impressive part is how well Higashi-san’s managed to balance his commitments. While working in a salaryman position throughout the working week to support his family, on Sundays Higashi-san would also do hand-stitched contracted work for Coccinella’s Chujo to keep up his suit making skills, and even started up a blog known as Sarto Domenica (Domenica = Sunday) to share and document his thoughts and knowledge. This gained a massive cult following, to the point people were ordering commissions off his blog. When the blog allowed him to get acquainted with Yamagami Masanori of Yamagami Shirts, he knew he was heading in the right direction — this lead to a gig being the in-house tailor at Strasburgo (the OG menswear emporium in Osaka), working alongside Yamagami. This same Domenica venture has blossomed into a fairly successful one, with trunk shows heading around Decorum in Bangkok, Last & Lapel in Singapore, and new Korean emporium LaMarche, in Seoul. What a mouthful of a resume.


A sartorial exegesis of Raffaniello’s market position is interesting. Western tailoring is so ubiquitous now in Japan, and the market is neatly stratified according to price points (e.g a whole sub-industry dedicated to post-graduate suiting options), as well as cultural influences (English drape, Italian softness, Parisian refinement, etc). Raffaniello fits within the Italian category, which in the last decade, has exploded in popularity as a reactionary movement to early cuts being mostly based around the English drape (there’s a small return to that depending on who you go to, like Vick’s Tailors). More specifically, he is part of a growing wave of Italian-inspired tailors, rather than the original early adopter.

The competition is stiff; right across the Osaka CBD lies Takashi Chujo of Coccinella’s Florentine style (who has a solid claim to being №1 in the West), possible God incarnate Noriyuki Ueki of Ciccio in Aoyama (Tokyo), the Japanese early adopters still residing in Italy such as the legendary Kotaro Miyahara of Sartoria Corcos, and the genius Yuhei Yamamoto of Tailor CAID (Tokyo); the list goes on. Social media has allowed the work of other Italian influenced tailors such as Pecora Ginza, Anglofilo, and curators Sarto Ginza, to gain a platform, and the overwhelming versatility of choice means that it is fairly difficult for anyone to distinguish themselves in a radical manner — differences will come in the details, but also wealth of experience and established clientele. Moreover, Japanese tailors, as part of a culture that looks outwards, borrows techniques and executes them with Japanese flavours and precision, don’t typically engage in producing aberrant designs. This fine balance between accessibility, function and personal pursuits for individuality can be found across the spectrum of all creative outlets; some never reconcile these elements, but I think Raffaniello has done well.

I obviously don’t have the funds to buy suits from all these places. I spent it fuelling my depressive alcoholic proclivities and Family Mart fried chicken instead. I did get a sport coat made for the winter from Raffaniello though— Dark olive green wool/cashmere blend (90/10) in a herringbone pattern from the Standeven Grenesk bunch (I’m tempted to say this might be akin to the Superflannel 140’s bunch readily sold today). The alternatives were anything in Brown/Rust tones with a Donegal/Harris Tweed set, or the more expensive Caccioppoli books. I was (and still am) ultimately impecunious, so the Standeven would have to do — I think the Grenesk bunch is fairly solid, at least for jacketing options (less for trousers). The cost itself is fairly reasonable for the reliable cut you’re getting, and mirrors (in price point) what you would be paying for other MTM services. If you have a unfettered 4–5k to spare, a two piece from either his normal bespoke line or completely fatto a mano (completely hand made) line is for you. This will include hand-sewing, felling seams, buttonholes, hand padding the chest and lapels — the works. Otherwise, the MTM line is much more accessible.

The Standeven Grenesk fabric — an incredibly soft wool/cashmere blend in a herringbone pattern. The olive green is interlaced with specks of navy and occasionally yellow/green for some great visual interest and detail. Also note the teardrop buttonhole hand work. (Photo: Rex Lee)
The array of colours and varied texture, with a close up perspective. Featured here is the default functional 3 button sleeve, with teardrop buttonholes for...well, horn buttons. I felt this was more appropriate than natural nut ones that were also offered. (Photo: Rex Lee)

THE SPORTCOAT

The cut is balanced, with nothing absurdly radical like a 70’s Sexton/Nutter cut — it behoves me to describe, to the best of my ability, the Raffaniello style from top to bottom, with the aid of some pictures I have taken of the jacket. TL;DR It’s a reliable, solid cut executed very well — it has a lot of similarities to other Neapolitan cuts.

Featured here in the ensemble include bespoke shirting from Ascot Chang using the Thomas Mason books, a chocolate silk schappe tie from Conrad Wu, and Cacciopoli flanneled single-pleated trousers from Anglo Italian. (Photo: Rex Lee)
The Shoulder Shot — In focus here is the back seaming/bias cut seam (rather than straight across). Also, the left shoulder has slightly more of the very distinctive spalla camicia (basically ‘shirt’ shoulder). It’s a much more relaxed style with greater shirring (see the ripples), befitting of the Neapolitan climate, and allows for a more ‘rounded’ and soft silhouette, with the deltoid filling out the space. There’s a tiny bit of material around the lats to allow for actual movement, which is nice. (Photo: Rex Lee)

THE UPPER AREAS

In typical Neapolitan fashion, the bias cut shoulder seam keeps the front view absolutely clean, and allows for a comfortable hugging of the collar. This also lends itself to supplementing the transition into a spalla cadente morbida (still incredibly soft) over the slightly extended shoulder, which accompanies a higher armhole and larger sleevehead for great mobility (also something featured in Ring Jacket and other Neapolitan pieces). Consequently, you get the impression of more width in the shoulders without excessive padding (Hi, every RTW producer in Australia). There’s no excessive shirring or grinze, and even where there might be, the drape of the fabric masks this well. The jacket does not feature the otherwise archetypal Neapolitan double back stitching — I’m completely fine with this given the material used makes it visually otiose. Lastly, the sleeve pitch is well adjusted to a shoulder rolled slightly forward — as Raffaniello’s main customer demographic is Asian, this is not surprising.

The “Lookbook” Shot — it’s an incredibly comfortable fit, and isn’t constricting my arms like a Sunday pork roast tied up with twine — this seems to be more in line with a 2010’s reactionary movement of everything needing to be ‘slim fit’. (Photo: Rex Lee)

There are many publications out on the Internet that cover Neapolitan construction really well — PutThisOn, The Rake, just to name a few. The best way to experience it though is seeing and trying one on in person, where you can. My photos with incredibly dramatic natural lighting can only do so much.

THE CENTRAL AREAS
The presence of the ever so slightly lowered gorge (it’s still high, but lower compared to PJT, and Saman Amel) and buttoning point to elongate the torso and remove space between buttoning point and trouser waistband are instead somewhat reminiscent of Pescariello, Ciardi, and the AMJ Model 3 from the Armoury x Ring Jacket collection of ’16 — you can see how Higashi-san has come out with a cut assimilating all these influences. The lapels and collar width are generous and definitely provide some BDE — mostly a straight cut without too much belly, for a contemporary look on a single-breasted (conferatur Yuki Inoue), but the jacket still maintains a splendid lapel roll through the adroit use of canvassing, hand padding and the 3-roll-2 stance. The lapels also don’t drastically dive in and out in a convex pathway through the buttoning point (see above picture) like Liverano, some Pescariello cuts, and even Prologue — you get a clean presentation of line and form instead.

There’s great softness through the chest piece, leaving enough room so that the garment looks as good in motion as it does sitting down, and as it would if I were simply standing stationary. Fused canvassing and rigid tailoring will result in metallic tape measure-like bending around the lapel when the jacket is even slightly hoisted — luckily, there’s none of that here. The longer Barchetta edge is fine; I don’t necessarily have preferences, but the Neapolitan curvature is visually interesting to look at, if nothing else.

Things to look out for here are the front darts (vertical line moving downwards to slim the jacket), the jetted pockets, marked by the clean horizontal line, and how the waist isn’t overly tight. The ‘skirt’ of the jacket then comes cleanly around the hips, but is not constrictive. ‘Quarters’ of the jacket (watered down) refer to the flaps of the jacket meeting below the buttoning point. (Photo: Rex Lee)

HIPS, SKIRT AND QUARTERS
Moving downwards, jetted/welted pockets around the skirt make for a more sleek cut around the hips, given its supplemented by gentle waist suppression. I personally feel the fabric choice lends itself to either flapped or jetted pockets, rather than Pignata-style patches (not normal patch pockets); the only time I would consider those would be for hopsack blazers, of which I have none yet.

Additionally, somewhat open quarters navigate a balance between a Sunday afternoon frolic around the Botanic gardens to something that’s still fairly useable in artistic client meetings (please don’t take this to the boardroom) — the overall impression is more casual. The front darts aren’t obtrusive, and you also get side darts approaching from under the arm and through the skirt of the jacket -this runs all the way down to the bottom seam, but the visibility is lessened by the pattern itself. The side darts are primarily a by-process of the MTM option (in their workshop/factory), whereas this may differ in bespoke pieces (here, usually the front darts will be the ones to go right to the bottom). Some Neapolitan tailors will omit the full-length dart; it’s a case by case basis.


For a comparison of other commissions of his I’ve really taken an eye to, check these ones out!

I specifically had to comment on this DB cut with the 30’s-40’s style gorge, and elongated (and somewhat dramatic) line from the tip of the peak down to the ever-slightly lowered buttoning point. You can also see how the front dart extends beyond the jetted pocket down to the seam (as it is a bespoke piece). The phrase ‘the devil’s in the details’ is maybe thrown around a bit too liberally, but for example, one thing that separates this DB cut, and by extension, the Raffaniello house style, from even Ciccio, would be the angle of the gorge’s mouth/opening.


CONCLUSION

I’m very pleased with the jacket — and I’m more than thankful that Higashi-san was incredibly kind and accommodating with a slightly (read: quite) hungover Australian kid barging into his workshop. It’s no secret to many publications that he wants to create garments that are ‘charismatic’, ‘sexy’, or have ‘substance’. It’s also no secret he has many influences across different tailoring styles. Make no mistake though; these are no mere slavish copies — he understands, and has said himself, if he just follows the formula on whatever theoretically needs to be done, his own work will lack clarity, and identity. This is the culmination of 15 odd years in being obsessive about tailoring, and it’ll only get better with age; whether or not you believe that Japanese tailoring will offer its own autochthonous styles, you still can’t help but admire some good craftsmanship. Indeed, some might even make the incendiary claim that the Japanese do it with more precision than some Italians.

These are exciting times ahead for Higashi-san and Raffaniello — maybe one day, like Higashi-san hopes, there’ll be an anime-like rivalry between Ciccio of the East and Raffaniello of the West. Comparatively younger guys (middle-aged still counts as young now), who are clued up on bespoke details and have more stringent standards are lining up outside every door they can get for these tailoring services. I’ll be back to burn more dollarydoos when I can, and when this happens, I’ll also be back to get the lighter Caccioppoli shades. And a double breasted piece. And the entire store. It’s worth noting that if you have preferences for your own commissions, Raffaniello will account for them (e.g possibly roped or pagoda shoulders), so if you weren’t a fan of the cut of the jacket presented today, it’d be worth procuring your own commission!

Where you have the chance, do check him out in Osaka, or at his multiple trunk shows around SEA. I can’t guarantee I can bring him to Australia, sublet in my apartment and run appointments, but you CAN catch him in his next trunk show in September (on the 3rd, 4th and 5th), with Last & Lapel of Singapore.

Once again, thanks for indulging me,

Rex.