Kiton, Naples-based traditional luxury tailoring Featured

Interview with CEO Antonio De Matteis

Where did the name “Kiton” come from?
It came from the Greek word “kitone”, which was a pure, white tunic that the ancient Greeks used to wear to pray in the temple.

How did Kiton get started?
We started as a textile wholesale business in 1956. At that time, Naples was a city full of tailors. However, my uncle had an acute foresight that tailoring would one day be a disappearing trade. With this in mind, he started a company called CIPA, which focused on tailored products for his 20, 30 customers. He started to enter European countries such as France, Germany, the UK, etc. And when the second generation took over, Kiton entered the United States, the Middle East, Asia, etc. That was from about 1986 to 1990 when Kiton became a more international brand. In 2001, we started to open monobrand boutiques, first in Milan and then also abroad. Today, the US represents almost 25% of our business.

What is Kiton’s signature product?
Jackets are our signature product, and we have lots of exclusive lines. For the past five years, we’ve been purchasing small Italian companies that produce exclusively for Kiton. For example, we have a company in Parma that makes our outerwear, and in Fidenza we have a knitwear company. All the materials are exclusively for Kiton’s use.

How do new customers get to know Kiton?
Almost every week, our boutiques and associated shops around the world have made-to-measure events in store. This week I’m going to San Francisco with four craftsmen: a tailor, a shirt-maker, a tie-maker and a shoemaker. We will be demonstrating how everything is made so that customers can see our quality. When it comes to introducing your products to new customers, you have to educate, educate, educate.

Can you tell us more about CIPA, Kiton’s capsule collection?
This is a collection that goes back to Kiton’s roots. My uncle and I researched the company’s history and revisited the 1960s collections. We not only studied archive models, we also re-discovered all the fabrics and materials used back then. We turned to factories in the UK, in Scotland, in order to have these materials produced again. I’m sure this capsule collection will continue to draw lots of inspiration from our archive.

How would you describe the Kiton gentleman?
He’s someone who is passionate about clothes, and likes to shop for himself. Most of the time, he prefers to go unnoticed. He wants an understated kind of luxury. The average age of our customers ranges from 35 to 55, and they are people who travel a lot.

As an entrepreneur, what’s your greatest challenge today?
To maintain the high standard of our quality is a great challenge. Keeping our production entirely in Italy is something Kiton will never change. The economy is not an excuse to lower our quality.

Can you tell us a bit about the Kiton tailor’s school?
Ten years ago, we established a tailor’s school where we’ve been bringing up a new generation of tailors, shirtmakers, shoemakers. Every year, 20 to 25 graduates start working in our production with 650 workers. Today, the average age of our workers is 36, 37. Imagine the average age out there is 67!

During your travels, what are some of your favourites places around the world?
I travel 250, 270 days a year. It’s hard to name a specific place, but in Milan, I’ve been visiting Hotel Principe di Savoia for the past 30 years. It’s like home. Good food is so important so once we discover a nice restaurant, we always go back. It might not be the most fashionable restaurant in town, but it’s the place where we know we will dine well.

What is luxury to you personally?
To have the time to enjoy what we achieve in life is a great luxury. In the new economic atmosphere, we have to work a lot harder for what we want to achieve. I was blessed to have my uncle as teacher. He taught me so much. He used to say that if work ever becomes a dread, then stop. But I love what I do! Kiton is not just a family business to us, it’s our life.

For someone who doesn’t know Kiton very well, what would you say to them?
I personally invite them to visit us in Naples! We have a lot of visitors especially during summer when most of them are sailing or on vacation in Capri, Positano, Ischia. At our factory in Naples, you will get to see how everything is created. Just give us a call!

Click here to find Kiton's boutiques
Kiton opens in Las Vegas (January 2010)