Presented as part of the cultural program for Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, ACMI’s annual ‘Fashion on Film’ season premieres this weekend with the new feature length fashion documentary by Vicki Vasilopoulos.
Men Of The Cloth focuses on three Italian tailors working New York City. Nino Corvato, Checchino Fonticoli and Joe Centofanti share a devotion to their craft while facing challenges due to the changing nature of their business. I was lucky enough be able to ask Vicki a few questions about the documentary and the culture that surrounds the world of bespoke tailoring.
Can you please give a brief description about your background before “Men of the Cloth”.
Before embarking on filming Men Of The Cloth I was a men’s fashion editor for the trade magazine DNR (now a part of Women’s Wear Daily). And then I worked as a freelance writer covering style, arts and culture.
What was your main inspiration to make this film?
Since high school, I’ve loved studying sociology and anthropology. That’s why I went into journalism. And fashion has been a lifelong love of mine. I’ve always been fascinated by visual artists and artisans – and the beautiful, handmade things that they create. They imbue them with their very essence and passion.
As a fashion editor, I saw how our culture exalts “status” purchases with little intrinsic value. By contrast, my characters embody an Old World tradition that exalts the individual and values artistry above any financial gain. Nino, Joe and Checchino are not only supremely accomplished in their trade –they’re also charismatic and sympathetic. I see Men Of The Cloth as akin to the Slow Food of clothing, and these gentlemen’s personal stories were my true inspiration for the film. They’re unsung heroes, and I wanted to celebrate their craft.
How did you find out about Nino, Checchino and Joe?
I found Nino, Checchino and Joe through good old research, the journalist’s stock in trade. I met Checchino first on a trip to Italy where I was reporting on the luxury market. He gave me a tour of the Brioni factory and school in the town of Penne, and then introduced me to his cousin, who was the last remaining independent tailor in town. I immediately became hooked. I couldn’t help thinking that craftsmen of his background and caliber were like the last tribe of the Kalahari. That planted a seed that would take eleven years to take shape and come to fruition as a completed film.
What were your thoughts about bespoke tailoring before making this film?
I always had an appreciation for fine men’s tailored clothing when I worked as a fashion editor and produced photo spreads, but I was not intimately acquainted with the bespoke process. Making the film was a crash course in this art.
I know in Australia particularly bespoke tailoring is a dying art. What are your thoughts about American culture and tailoring?
There’s been an upswing in interest in bespoke tailoring in America, especially for younger men who have discovered the great pleasure that can be derived from dressing up and from collaborating with a tailor to get a custom suit that will last a lifetime. I think part of the appeal is that you’re breaking the rules (by not buying off the rack) and there’s also the appeal of experiencing a different aesthetic value system that makes you stand apart.
Do you think the upcoming generations will want to take on this type of work?
In my experience, the younger generation is most definitely interested in learning bespoke tailoring. They attend all my screenings – from New York, to Chicago to Amsterdam and Toronto. But there are very few master tailors left who can devote the time and resources to train this next wave of artisans.
What are you hoping this film will do to the cultivation of bespoke tailoring?
I hope that Men Of The Cloth heightens the interest in bespoke tailoring, but more importantly, I hope that it creates a cross-generational dialogue on how to “solve “ the dilemma of carrying on this craft for a younger generation.
Final question, any future films my readers should look out for?
Men Of The Cloth had its World Premiere last November at DOC NYC, the largest documentary film festival in the USA. That feels like yesterday! Since then I’ve been deep in the throes of doing festival and theatrical screenings in the U.S. and abroad, which has entailed a great deal of travel on my part. That doesn’t leave much time for rest or developing other projects! But I’ve unexpectedly started pre-production on my next film (and shooting in the Midwest the same week as my screenings at the ACMI). The film explores the impact of a non-profit organization working to help children in Africa. I’m also developing a personal film that relates to my Greek heritage.