Rifugio’s old villa

Friday, March 17th 2023
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On a surprisingly warm, sunny day last January we visited the Art Deco villa that is Alfredo Rifugio's headquarters in Naples.

It’s not what you expect for an Italian workshop. While there are lots of beautiful little tailors and cordwainers around Italy, most large ateliers and factories are relatively new, in industrial estates or otherwise highly functional.

They’re more like Paolo Scafora or Enzo Bonafé, or the Kiton complex not far away from here: post-war establishments without the centuries-old buildings that are more common in the UK.

It seemed like Rifugio was going to be similar, as we approached along a motorway offshoot, past Pompeii and then stopping outside a newsagent to examine Google Maps.

Shirtmaker Luca Avitabile was driving us, which was nice of him, and he peered at his phone as he tried to find the entrance. It was down a cobbled side street, apparently, between low brick walls hung with foliage.

The reason for the unusual location is that the Rifugio headquarters is actually an old villa - two people unconnected with the company still live there in apartments. 

Surrounded by tall palms, it has a fountain, a small garden and murals. Seagulls from the Mediterranean wheel overhead. 

The location was chosen partly for its convenience: Alfredo Rifugio lives five minutes in one direction, Alfonso Rifugio five in the other. The rest of the company has gradually filled it up over time. 

That team is still relatively small though: 25 employees, five of which are members of the family. 

There is a cutting room, a sewing room, a storage room and a showroom, plus a couple of offices. The sewing room is largest, with perhaps a dozen work stations, but everything else feels very residential in scale.  

This is perhaps surprising, given Rifugio’s reputation. They’re probably the biggest name for luxury leather and suede in the south of Italy, and even though leather is a small industry here compared to the north, they do make for many luxury brands. 

That said, not as many as they used to. Not because the company has shrunk, but because - like many manufacturers we’ve covered in the past 15 years - it's switched business model. 

A few years before Covid, all Rifugio did was white label work, making jackets for others to put their name on. There’s still some of that, but it’s a tiny proportion - we only saw one other brand on our tour. 

For consumers like you, the nice thing is this creates a direct connection between the workshop - as described and illustrated here - and the Rifugio product, whether at stockists or during a trunk show. There’s a clear link between maker and customer.

There’s a list of current stockists at the bottom of this article, by the way, as on our original article on Rifugio in 2019 (which includes more background on the company). Rifugio are about to re-start MTM trunk shows under their name too. 

I often get questions from readers asking to compare the quality of leather-jacket makers: Rifugio for example with Cromford, The Real McCoy’s or Chapal. 

I understand where this is coming from, but it’s a little like comparing a bespoke blazer with a melton pea coat: the biggest difference between those two is type and style, not quality. 

The Real McCoy’s and Seraphin in Paris, for example, make very different types of jacket, with very different leathers. Someone like Cromford sits in the middle, pushing to neither the extremes of hardiness or lightweight luxury. 

Rifugio is firmly at the light, luxury end of the spectrum. The suedes are the softest and lightest you can buy; the shearlings feel just as soft. These are not jackets built for any kind of hard wear, but they're beautiful and more than a little luxe. 

Exhibit A: the riotously orange suede shown above; you’re not going to see that anywhere near Cromford or Real McCoy’s.

Exhibit B: the visible pick stitching on the edges and seams of Rifugio jackets, which I have to say I like only when it’s subtle. 

And last, Exhibit C: my guilty pleasure, the thing I would never wear but secretly long to be the kind of person, in the kind of place, that would: matte-finish alligator. 

My God that jacket was beautiful. The textural variation in the different sizes and types of the scales; the enveloping warmth of the beaver lining, like your upper body has been wrapped in its own radiator-cum-cocoon. But I’d never wear it, and I’d likely be mugged anywhere outside of Mayfair if I did. 

On the subject of hand finishing (from a couple of paragraphs ago), I didn’t realise how much of the internal parts of a Rifugio jacket are also put together by hand: attaching the sleeve, sewing the lining of the armhole and the cuff. 

This is impressive given it’s so hidden - the opposite of the pick stitching. It’s the kind of handwork you get on a top-level ready-made suit, like hand-attaching a collar.

Among other models, Rifugio do some nice blazers, though mostly in the short/slim style of contemporary Naples; the take on a Harrington was extraordinarily light. And there was a gorgeous white calf. Incredibly impractical, but then there is history to white leather at Rifugio: they once made a piece on request for Pope John Paul II. He used it for skiing and hiking.

Main stockists are listed below, most of whom also offer MTM. Rifugio will be restarting their own trunk shows for MTM this year, in London, New York, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo and Geneva, with jackets starting at €2800. You can see ready-made prices on alfredorifugio.com

  • Michael Jondral - Hannover
  • Oger - Amsterdam/Rotterdam/The Hague
  • Just One - Madrid
  • L’Officine - Paris
  • Dantendorfer - Wien/Innsbruck/Salzburg
  • Lutz - Vinkeveen
  • Sobs - Koln
  • HS Fashion - Eindhoven
  • Sovrano - Dusseldorf
  • De Filippo Uomo - Koblenz
  • Joris Lammers - Hertogenbosch
  • Hartung - Copenaghen
  • Schito Store - Zurich
  • Montulet - Maastricht
  • Degand - Bruxelles
  • Runggaldier - Merano
  • Donati - Perugia
  • Guarini - Pescara
  • Direct Tailoring - Bruxelles
  • Cellini Signature - Doha
  • Mario Zell - Baghdad
  • Medallion - Beijin/Shanghai
  • Isetan Men - Tokyo
  • Mitsukoshi - Tokyo
  • Takashimaya - Tokyo/Osaka
  • Wako - Tokyo
  • Marco Cimmino - Palm Beach
  • Sartoria Pardi - Mexico City
  • Solito -Mexico City
  • Senator - Tajikistan

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