[Be]Spoken Like a True Gentleman

Discussing menswear, Neapolitan tailoring and Fall trends with Luis Antonio Torres

Antonio luis torres has an alter ego named Massimo Ferrari. “Mass,” as he’s sometimes called, travels the world but is at home at Cafe de Paris as he is in some smoky back room in Macau. Born to an Italian winery father and French-Brazilian heiress mother, Mass’s actual age is unknown but ranges from 35 to 46 depending on which passport he shows you. He is often seen in Switzerland during the winter months. You will regularly see his parked Mercedes Benz Gull-wing outside Fer A Cheval, his favorite restaurant. He routinely summers in Capri, stepping off a private jet with his tie stuffed in his jacket pocket, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Mass hitchhiked from London to Cambridge after a night at the Clermont Casino simply because he wanted to… However, this year sees Antonio taking back his identity as he sits down with Oi to explain the evolution of his brand and the fashion industry’s dos and don’ts.

Tell is about yourself.

I am the Creative Director and Founder of the Massimo Ferrari brand in HCMC. Seven years ago I acquired my own factory with my partner Ken Ly and we ventured into developing our own men’s brand. We started this brand because at that time there weren’t any quality men’s boutiques to buy clothing from. We carved ourselves into a niche market and our reputation has earned itself the highest accolades in the local market as well as being one of the first pioneers to embark on producing a domestic luxury brand within Vietnam.

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There are many well-known Vietnamese designers like Nguyen Pham Anh Tuan, Vo Viet Chung and Nguyen Cong Tri who do womenswear, but none that do menswear. Why?

The men’s market here is not booming because of fashion training and education, and the fashion business is not teaching men how to dress and why [there is a need] to spend money on clothing. For the men who do shop with us, it has been an education for them in color, quality, cut, style, lifestyle and understanding. Getting into the mind and lifestyle of the client are key. Trust is also the key factor to win over the local men’s market here. If you say you’re a luxury brand you had better own it. Because it’s very easy to see what is real quality and what is not. Many men here have never really had to put a suit or a nice pair of shoes on in the past, however, nowadays, they are having to realize that they must match their wives or their girlfriends or their thriving businesses.

A lot of designers throw in the word “bespoke” to just about anything that needs a little tweaking so they can charge more, so the word has lost some of its true meaning. What does “bespoke” mean to you?

First of all, the word “bespoke” has become a bastardized word. The true meaning of this word is 100 percent handmade and created for you, which means the patterns made are created for each individual customer. Each individual client has a meeting with the head designer and tailor, consults on the fabrics, weight, constructions of the jackets and fit, then we take the vital measurements. Once this is completed, we then draft a pattern of the jacket and pants or shirts then begin to make a muslin or try- on garment. This garment is then marked and chalked in the first fitting, taken back to the atelier for adjustments and corrections then sent back to the store for another fitting. The process may seem daunting to some but for those who want a truly “bespoke” experience this is the way it is done. Bespoke takes time. It’s a journey down a sartorial path to create the perfect cut.

You import your materials from overseas but have them assembled here. Why? Is craftsmanship in Vietnam considered low quality?

All of our leathers, fabrics, buttons, hardware, etc are all imported from Italy, France, UK, Japan or Spain. These countries have had hundreds of years of experience making fine quality fabrics and leather tanning and, quite frankly, they’ve kept that knowledge in Europe for centuries. The materials of a garment are nearly 95 percent of the entire game. If I were to sew a local cloth with completely handmade stitch work, it kind of makes no sense to sew that level of quality on shoddy fabrics. We have been looking for local fabric and leathers here for many years. We have tried a few prototypes, but we can’t ever say that it looks or feels like luxury.

Vietnam is perceived as having an inferior fabric industry or catering to mass volumes and low quality brands. Most of the yarns needed to produce fabrics are not even coming from Vietnam; no cotton plantations are here to support that in Vietnam. Therefore, all the yarns must be imported, which takes months and also requires huge minimums, so most local fabric retailers a) don’t have a customer base to sell this and b) cannot reach the minimums to buy from the mills. So unless your fabric and brand business is focused on luxury production or high quality weaving, it makes no sense to import high grade yarns into Vietnam. Then there is the investment in machinery and water treatments that are required to produce high grade fabric like the ones we buy from Europe. Very little investment has been put into the luxury sector in Vietnam, and that is why most of the manufacturing that is done in Vietnam is mostly labor, not full package.

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Your background is in Neapolitan tailoring. Describe what this means and how is it different from how men dress in Vietnam?

Neapolitan tailoring is, in my opinion, the art and essence of fine handcrafted Italian tailoring and style. Neapolitan tailoring, first of all, is all made by hand not with machines. There are many techniques to these jackets that cannot be done by machine and therefore, this is why a lot of makers here don’t know how to do these sorts of jackets. Most all of the jackets we make are all handmade in every aspect. We are not just talking about a few decoration stitches, we are talking about the inside, the linings, the canvas, the chest pieces, button holes, the collars, everything. The next most critical point about the Neapolitan jacket is the softness and the weight. The Neapolitan style is always soft, supple and deconstructed. We use 1/2 canvas or full canvas chest pieces for structure, but the thickness and application of these components are super light. Hence, you have a tailored jacket or suit that looks the money, but are soft and lightweight and natural to the wearer.

There are also key Neapolitan nuances on the shoulder line, sleeve heads and sleeve setting which earmark a Neapolitan jacket. Most of the men in Vietnam, I would say, are wearing suits in the American or British cuts. Those cuts are nice to some, however, they oftentimes have too much padding on the shoulder. They are heavy, bulky and have no drape. They fit very boxy, and they are stiff and robotic looking suits. Once men try a Neapolitan style jacket that is made for them, I can say that 90 percent of them will never turn back to the ones they were making before or buying off the rack. Once they try this drug, they are hooked for life.

Do you think Saigon will ever be on the same level as Milan, Hong Kong, NYC, Paris or Shanghai?

I do believe Vietnam has the potential to become one of Southeast Asia’s fashion hubs in the future, however, more than anything else, in order to get that status, the government and the apparel industry in Vietnam must boost the local industry and brand Vietnam as a country where luxury and high quality products are made and are being sold. Throughout Asia, Vietnam is looked at as cheap among other Asian countries so the industry first has to work on removing this idea, then we can start to see the fashion industry here boom. The next problem is the tax levy on imported luxury brands. Consumers in Vietnam with dollars to spend go overseas to buy luxury goods because they are sometimes 40 percent less than the prices in Vietnam for the same products. How does that help build a luxury and a consumer market domestically? It doesn’t. In fact, money that could be spent here is now going into Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and many other developed Asian markets. In order for Vietnam to ever see the retail and fashion light, there is so much that needs to be done in these two aspects. The real question you should be asking is: Will people, brands and designers be patient enough for things to change or will they just move on to other markets that understand how retail and country promotion of branding works? And if that happens, then what is the result? That’s the course Vietnam is on now.

If you could throw away just one item of clothing that every Vietnamese man wears, what would it be?

The plastic cream color slipper. Turn it back into some other rubber product.

What’s trending this season for men?

Lots of tweeds for Fall. Green, orange and blue are the colors to start picking up as they are this season’s colors.

Will you expand into womenswear? What’s next for Massimo Ferrari?

For now our focus is totally on menswear. Not to say that we don’t do women’s already because we do – it’s only in bespoke ranges. The next move for Massimo Ferrari is rebranding the name to Antonio De Torres. This will take place this fall as we expand the brand internationally to Singapore and Shanghai.

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