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Reviewing an A. Caraceni cashmere coat - are they really Italy's best tailors?




A. Caraceni's history is a pretty tortuous and twisty one: not unlike the confusing ownership of the John Lobb and John Lobb St. James names, it can be hard to disentangle the various tailoring houses that have, at some point, measured, cut and sewn their wares under the Caraceni banner


It started with Domenico Caraceni's first shop in Rome in 1913, with the name eventually making its way down to A. Caraceni, D. Caraceni, Tommy & Giulio Caraceni and F. Caraceni (from a rather more distant relative, in the case of the last one).


Gentlemen's Gazette wrote a nice five part summary of the story which essentially boils down to: tailor starts business a long time ago; has children and grandchildren who also become tailors. Confusion ensues.


Of the remaining businesses, A. Caraceni and F. Caraceni are generally held to be the "best" and I believe the only ones working on a purely bespoke basis. In the same week that we heard that F. Caraceni was shutting up shop, I picked up this sumptuous cashmere coat made by A. Caraceni in 2005, so it seemed kismet that I post a review of that coat, and what it represents about that illustrious name.


It's a double-breasted camel coloured cashmere topcoat. A retail price equivalent would probably run for £10,000+ these days - A. Caraceni are not a company known for their inclusive price structuring. Needing to ask is a strong indicator for not being able to afford.


It was a pretty speculative purchase - I spotted it on Oxfam's website, and although the aesthetic appeal was a bit diminished by characteristic washed-out and blurry photography, the Caraceni name fired some neurons of recognition.


Unboxing it was one of those moments of profound satisfaction known only to eBay scourers and charity shop hounds. It was clearly a far superior garment than what I'd been expecting, particularly for the price. The colour, far from beige, was a rich camel-brown, much more vivid than the listing images. That brown is accentuated by the hazel swirls of corozo nut buttons A. Caraceni favours, pictured below.



The fabric - which on the listing photos had looked a little worn and dirty - was sumptuously soft to the hand and unworn to the point of newness. Camel coats live or die on the quality of the fabric used - get it wrong and it looks far more Del Boy than Gordon Gekko.


The lapels have a swooping, sweeping appeal. They run pretty wide and stand proud of the chest with a strong belly to the cut, dipping noticeably over the top fastened button. To my eye, the biggest visual draw of a well cut double-breasted coat is the contrast between the curve of the lapel belly and the straight drop of fabric from the buttoning point, and that's well represented here.



The shoulders are somewhat padded with a distinctive spalla camicia "waterfall shoulder". The Italian term translates roughly to "shirt sleeve", resulting in a slight shirring of fabric as it falls away from the shoulder seam. It's designed to contour and flow with the wearer's body - thus "waterfall shoulder".


Flipping up the lapels reveals the distinctive dimples of hand-padding. Pretty standard for a coat of this price, but always neat to see. The chest and body of the coat are lightly structured, but it definitely wears more like a topcoat than the rigid form of an overcoat.


On close inspection, there is a tremendous degree of handwork involved. You can see the slight irregularity in spacing indicative of handwork in the pick-stitching around the lapel edges. The hand-worked buttonholes help to fill the otherwise empty void of space on the lapels - below I've included a comparison of those handmade buttonholes with working buttons from a Suit Supply cuff.


As with many of the diminishing returns of bespoke tailoring, I can broadly take or leave the idea of a handmade vs. machine made buttonhole. I suppose it adds a certain satisfaction and sense of authenticity to know it's there while also having no tangible impact on the experience of using it. The same can be said for most diminishing returns in luxury products.






The flap pockets are understated compared to the patch or bellows pockets you might expect on an American Polo coat. The jetting is well constructed and evenly finished, with neat d-rings around the edges. Again, close inspection of the flap reveals that tasteful pick-stitching.



The pockets are lined with a mustard yellow velvet. Pocket linings are certainly one of those areas overlooked in RTW clothes - not something that a company would justify spending extra cash on. It's worth thinking about for a topcoat, which you might well be wearing on a day that's chilly enough for outerwear but too warm for gloves, so a cosy home for the hands is... well, handy.



At the back a single vent with a nice drape. As a topcoat, it lacks the belted back you might expect form an American Polo coat - a belt does tend to add weight to the back and pull the fabric down a bit, and might be poorly suited to a pure cashmere fabric.


Which leaves us with one question: is this the best tailoring Italy has to offer, and is it worth the price tag?


Well, they're both absurd questions. Italy is stuffed to the gills with excellent tailors, and I just don't buy into the notion that tailoring houses don't have a degree of variability in the quality of their clothes. Like Liverano or Cifonelli, the cachet and exclusivity of the name just muddies the water too much for an authoritative answer.


To the latter point on price: I can't afford to spend five figures on a coat. 99.99% of the world's population never will. And diminishing returns are something I've covered at length on this blog. No coat can ever be "worth" £10,000, but if you can afford to spend that without batting an eye, then what does the word "worth" even mean? Is there anything here that's impossible to find on a coat half, or a quarter of the price? Probably not. Am I fascinated by the lifestyle of a man who can afford to commission such a coat in 2005 and apparently barely ever wear the thing? Yes. Yes I am.


I alluded to it earlier, but the reality is that camel coats come with a bit of stylistic baggage. The yawning chasm between Cockney geezer and 80s Wall St. scumbag is easy to fall into. Personally, I think the dress down is logical here - a simple tee or jumper, some light blue jeans. Ubiquitous white Common Projects. Alternatively, a fine gauge black rollneck provides a nice tonal contrast. Maybe some flannel trousers to pick up on the cashmere's texture.


So what's the future for this coat? I'll be keeping it in my wardrobe, certainly. I need to lose a few kilos before it's an ideal fit. In a perfect world I'd add another 1/2 inch to the sleeves as well, which is a bit problematic with working cuffs. If I can find somewhere reputable (maybe the Valet) I'll probably take the sleeves down fractionally. But overall, it's a very welcome addition and an objectively pretty beautiful thing to possess from a tailors that I'll probably never afford to patronise otherwise.




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4 Comments


tomek
tomek
May 28

Great and interesting review , I missed your posts

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Sam
Jun 08
Replying to

Thanks! I am trying to get back up to speed with posting again so keep checking back, various life things have been getting in the way for a while now!

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lizardking80
lizardking80
Mar 27

Nice! Was it priced higher than coats normally are on Oxfam? (Did they know what they had, in other words).

I recently bought a few vintage bespoke coats from Italy. It's possible to find stuff of a very good quality for comparatively little, if the tailor's name is unknown.

I got a double-breasted cashmere coat not unlike yours from a probably long-gone Milanese tailor. It is dated 1987. Another coat, from Bologna, is dated 1971. It fascinates me that, in the case of the second one, it has existed throughout my entire life (and for nearly a decade before it began), just hanging unused somewhere.


The hand-stitched buttonholes are one of the main attractions for me. They are the most…

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Sam
Jun 08
Replying to

Hey, good to hear from you. Yes, it was priced fractionally higher than their usual level. It was still below the 10% rule for super-luxury purchases (where 10% of the original RRP is the most you want to spend). Looking forward to the cold weather again to actually give it a wear!

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