Massimo Bizzocchi is the only man I've ever met who could turn an explanation of men's suiting fabrics into something so full of detail, color, and plot line that it could sound like a pitch for a Hollywood blockbuster. Who was to know, for example, just how important humidity in the Scottish Highlands is to the quality of that region's cashmere in any given year? Or how long it could take to identify, much less create, the perfect shade of gray 14-micron wool for the perfect custom-made suit? But then, says Bizzocchi, the 50-year-old Italian-born president of Kiton Corporation, "a fine micron wool is just like a fine vintage wine: It depends on so many things."
And this is a man who should know. As the force behind some of the most prestigious and important Italian fashion companies in the world—Bizzocchi is also the American representative for Silvano Lattanzi (shoes), Herno (outerwear), Lorenzini (shirts), and Avon Celli (knitwear), as well as the president of his own signature line of shirts and neckties—he's helped to define exactly what it means to dress well: i.e., with Euro flair for the American male.
Just watch the brown eyes begin to twinkle and dance as the hands dart here and there, up in the air, then to the book of fabrics on the desk in front of him. Flipping through the pages of Kiton fabrics, he caresses individual swatches with the compassion of a new father and the clinical exactitude of a surgeon. I am suddenly reminded of director Roberto Benigni on stage in L.A. accepting his Oscar for Life is Beautiful. Bizzocchi finds two particularly agreeable swatches, pulls them from the book, and presents them to me. "Look, aren't they wonderful?"
They are: One is a luscious year-round gray wool that's so chic, so debonair that I can think only of Cary Grant chasing Audrey Hepburn through the streets of Paris in Charade; another is a brown cashmere that is so light, so gravity-defying, that it could be (and is, Bizzocchi tells me) worn chiefly in the spring and summer. The color suggests a foamy cup of cappuccino rather than, say, just some ordinary cup of cocoa.
"Feel these," Bizzocchi insists. "Extraordinary, no? You can really tell the difference, can't you?"
Bizzocchi, who was born in the northern Italian mill town of Biella, says that fabrics are in his blood. "My mother didn't feed me milk as a child, she fed me cashmere," he jokes. He started working for Kiton in 1985, strategizing the American launch for the prestigious Neapolitan company, known best for its handsewn suits. Bizzocchi's first move was to open a showroom on New York's Fifth Avenue. (He's still on Fifth, but now housed in what used to be the penthouse apartment of Elizabeth Arden.) Later he would establish exclusive Kiton departments in stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Boston, and Wilkes Bashford.
The ready-made line of Kiton shirts, jackets, and suits may be amazing, but Bizzocchi believes that only someone who has worn "custom" Kiton can comprehend the importance of this prestigious clothier. Only then would someone even begin to understand how one Vancouver businessman could own 80 custom-made suits (a bespoke Kiton ranges from $6,000 to $40,000, depending on the fabric) and 600 shirts ($600 to $750). Or exactly what the San Francisco plastic surgeon meant when he said, "It would be easy for me to change from a Porsche to a BMW. But to go from Kiton to something else? Impossible."
Bizzocchi travels nonstop between Italy and the United States. Several times a year, you will find him at one of the trunk shows staged at Kiton departments throughout the country. Here, Bizzocchi—his Neapolitan tailor Enzo D'Orsi at his side—custom-fits the famous Kiton suits for the true devotee. It's a process that involves three separate visits, a wait of six to eight weeks, and a suit's being cut, stitched, and finished by hand in the Kiton factory in Arzano, a suburb of Naples. (It can take up to eight hours to finish off the breast pocket alone.)
Bizzocchi's personal style is a mix of playful sartorial, eccentric, and winsomely confident. This is a man who can wear—and get you to wear—polka dots, plaids, and pinstripes, simultaneously. Perhaps even convince you to add a pocket square. But Kiton is a very special product, he insists. Take the name, for example. In ancient Greece, Bizzocchi explains, priests and politicians wore what was called a chiton. "This garment, or robe, I suppose you could call it, was said to have been made by virgins from only the very purest of fabrics." When Ciro Paone founded the company in 1968, he named it Kiton in honor of these ceremonial robes.
Admittedly, says Bizzocchi, Italians and Americans want different things in their dress. It is his job to satisfy both. "For the most part, Italians want style first," he says, "comfort comes second. Americans are just the opposite." So what would Bizzocchi recommend for an American who wants to be comfortable but stylish this season? His checklist, he says, would include a double-breasted brown chalk-stripe suit ("I love cashmere flannel these days"); a herringbone sports jacket ("Perhaps in green or bronze tones"); thin-striped blue-and-white shirts ("The cotton-linen blends are wonderful"); and flat-front ("Sorry, I prefer no pleats today") gray flannel slacks.
Ever the gentleman, however, Bizzocchi is quick to add, "Not that you have to wear what someone else tells you to." Unless, I think to myself, that someone is Massimo Bizzocchi.
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Four Elements of His Style
We asked the stylish Signor Bizzocchi what he thinks is involved in dressing well today. Here's what he told us.
• As the world becomes ever smaller through advances in technology and communication, there's no longer that old-fashioned separation between global, national, and local styles. There is, in fact, what I like to call a "glocal" style. That's how I see my personal style. It's based on a glocal mood, and that mood is what causes fashion to change and rethink itself every six months or so.
• Being Italian, I sometimes find myself enjoying the dinner table more than worrying about what I'm going to wear. I find it easier to have more jackets than suits, enabling me to create different outfits.
• Shirts are my great passion, and what I truly love is a blend: 30 percent linen, 70 percent cotton. Checks, stripes, textures, and fabric are all important, and they all need to work together to create impact. Forget those old-fashioned rules about not mixing patterns and colors. That's exactly what creates a sense of individuality and personal style.
• To my way of thinking, picking out the right tie for the right outfit is the most exciting challenge when putting myself together. I often find myself changing ties during the day to suit my changing moods or a particular situation I may find myself in. In fact, ties remain one of the few accessories that a man has that can express his individuality. This season I'm very much drawn to printed patterns in muted colors.