A glamorous suiter: menswear designer Carlo Brandelli of Kilgour
by Teo van den Broeke
Teo van den Broeke meets Carlo Brandelli, creative director at Kilgour – worn and loved by the stars.
"One of the references I had when originally designing Kilgour was Riva, the Italian boat maker,” says Carlo Brandelli, creative director of Kilgour. The London-born son of Italian immigrants has leant on a famously wide sphere of influence since taking over the brand in 2003 (with a four-year interlude when new owners took over), covering film, art and design, but the boating reference comes as a surprise. “Riva was part of my Italian design reference-bank way back,” he explains. “It was the very pure minimal lines combined with a very luxurious material. That was basically it.”
Boats, in fact, have long played a role in Brandelli’s life, something he attributes to his Italian roots (which no doubt also inform his aesthetic sensibility); Brandelli spends much of his down time off the north western Italian coast. “We went to Forte dei Marmi (northern Tuscany) when I was a kid, and Portofino and various places along the Italian coast.”
We meet among the rails of his recently redesigned shop at No.8 Savile Row. His trademark semi-shaded Ray-Bans partially conceal his eyes and his perfectly slicked-back hair is as immaculate as his surroundings. He is a perfect extension of the brand he has created. Though the shop, which features a Donald Judd-inspired central console that seems to float above the steel and granite floor, is an impressive paean to Brandelli’s manifold influences, it’s the clothes that do the talking.
Single-breasted one-button suits have narrow lapels with shifted proportions and shapes; blazers are slim cut and unstructured, finished with concealed slash pockets; overcoats in textured fabrics fit like crafted cardigans.
The look is sleek and streamlined, accentuated by the V-neck shirts, silk scarves and textured T-shirts Brandelli has designed to be worn with his suits, which are cut to both adapt to and make the best of the bodies within them. The palette is limited to navy, grey, black and other muted shades Brandelli deems “correct” for a man’s wardrobe. Fabrics are textured and comfortable: jersey mixes, flannels and cashmere dominate.
To the untrained eye Brandelli’s approach to menswear may seem somewhat radical, but particularly in its Savile Row context, Brandelli maintains that he has simply taken the natural next step in tailoring, one that many designers on the Row have been too afraid to take. “No one had thought about these shapes before,” says Brandelli. “Why are men happy to wear a peak and a notch [lapel]? Why have they been happy to do so for 80 to 90 years? Even the size of the break of the notch hadn’t been played around with.”
As well as yachts, Kilgour has a long history of film influences and of dressing film stars. Established in 1880 as T&F French (the name was changed to Kilgour, French and Stanbury in 1937 and shortened to Kilgour by Brandelli), the Savile Row tailor has long been lauded for its exemplary bespoke suits. Cary Grant wore a slate-grey two-piece in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra were fans. But it wasn’t until Brandelli took over that the brand was transformed into a globally recognisable force – partly by relying on stars. Jude Law wore little else in the early noughties, for example, while Daniel Craig wore a one button Kilgour two-piece in Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake in 2004 – Brandelli wanted to make Craig look like James Bond; two years later that’s exactly who he was.
These days Brandelli is more interested in dressing names from the worlds of art and architecture, he says. “We like people who are celebrated. So if they’re good at what they do, then we will have them. The ambassadors for the brand now are people like Chris Dercon, director of the Tate Modern, Okwui Enwezor, curator of the Venice Art Biennale and David Adjaye, the architect.”
It’s when we discuss the ultimate yachting wardrobe, however, that Brandelli comes into his own – it’s something to which he has given some thought. “There’s a uniform you tend to wear on a boat,” he says. “Usually a short-sleeve navy polo shirt. The ones that we do are made from rizzo stitch. It’s a very fine stitch. You know how cotton creases? If you use a rizzo stitch it stops it creasing. Not completely, but it takes it down. It’s also 100 per cent breathable.
“Then you’re going to have some kind of navy short,” he continues. “Instead of having a cotton navy short, I like the pieces I’ve made out of lycra: it’s swimming-costume fabric that I’ve cut to look like regular shorts. You get all the function of a swimming short, so it dries really quickly and doesn’t crease. But it looks like a regular short. Oh, and a pair of plimsolls. That’s what I would wear on a boat.”
Teo van den Broeke is senior style editor at Esquire