Luca Trabaldo Togna has spent his lifetime in Italy’s textile business, and his attention to detail won him the position to supply Ralph Lauren’s prestigious Purple Label. His made-to-measure business brings him to philosophical heights. During the Pitti Uomo trade show in Florence, Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief, Douglas Gollan, and Editorial Director, Laura Hughes, sat down with Trabaldo Togna to talk about business, family and philosophy.
ET: We are here in Florence at the Pitti Uomo Trade Show, so tell us a bit about the state of the business right now.
Luca Trabaldo Togna: We are seeing in this moment a move from the ready-to-wear order to made-to-measure, which is very important and due to several reasons. First of all, it’s a matter of fact that the made-to-measure order does not give any charge to the warehouse, and this is a great service that all retailers are appreciating a lot. For them it is an incredible asset to have a supplier reliable in both quality and service for the very best product.
Also in the Italian market a lot of master tailors—most of them—are old and a lot are retiring. So I have friends, personal friends, whose master tailors have retired, and they call me and ask if they can use the services of Santadrea’s master tailors. We have 160 master tailors working in the company. So I’m facing an increasing request of this kind of service. We opened what was previously a showroom and transformed the showroom to an atelier in Milano. Today, the Milano Santandrea place has become an official custom tailor shop where you go by appointment and you get service exactly like a real tailor shop.
We had a test in October and November with 30 specific customers and the result—the satisfaction of these people—has been really excellent. So we are proceeding, starting next week, in Milano with a service of custom tailor production in the center of Milano. We are thinking of using the same concept as the Santandrea atelier in our office, or showroom or whatever you want to call it, in New York. I think that people—the sophisticated consumer, the wealthy customer—are willing to spoil themselves with a kind of care that probably before they were not expecting or looking for because they were too busy. Today, I must tell you, frankly speaking, one good side of this crisis is that we have a little bit more free time for ourselves, which is not bad. I mean now I can spend some more time with my family; I’m not as rich as before, maybe in money, but I’m more rich in time. Philosophically speaking, I think that the most valuable thing for a man is his time. The real luxury is to have time for yourself.
If you look back through the centuries, you see that one of the habits of the noble people, of the rich people, that was lost in some way, was the seasonal meeting between the noble and his tailor. We take the time and the pleasure to go to a barbershop to have a haircut and I think it is a great thing to take the time to go and look after your style, your wardrobe, which is an important part of our well-being. If you feel good in your suit, a big part of your approach to life is good. If you do not feel perfect, people around you can tell in some way that you are a little bit uncomfortable in the situation. I think that this is something that we have to get back.
ET: For our readers who have not visited your atelier either in Milano or in New York, tell us a little bit about what they would experience when they got there.
Luca Trabaldo Togna: Well, first of all, you experience the pleasure of the most important sense for the human being, which is touch. Without touch, there is no life. As far as senses for the human being it was found that without sight, without hearing or without taste, you can survive, but without touch you cannot even live.
When you come to an atelier, of course, the first part is going through the fabrics. You can go through the finest wool, cashmere, vicuna, silk, all the very best cottons. This is an incredible sensation, and you can decide in that moment what you’d like to have on yourself, on your body.
The second part is more difficult to understand, but easier to feel, which is the fit. If you wear an industrial-made suit, whatever the fit, even the very best, it will never be exactly fitted to your body. A custom-tailored suit is something that fits you and gives you the sensation of absolute pleasure. Combined with the fabric, a great fit makes you live in the most comfortable way possible. In recent years we’ve lost that, and like fast food, everything is made quickly.
The fast food of garment manufacturing is ready-to-wear. I think that in this, the human being has lost a little bit of the pleasure of a customized product. So it’s good if some people, some sophisticated consumers, are getting back to taking the time and the pleasure to get into a custom tailor shop to have a suit made exactly for his body and with the very best of fabric. I think it’s a great upgrade in quality of life.
ET: Sounds very enticing. Maybe some of our readers aren’t personally familiar with you and the company, so can you tell us a little bit about your personal history and the history of the company and how everything came to be where we are today?
Luca Trabaldo Togna: Well, let’s start with the history of the company. The company started four generations ago. I am the fifth generation. It started in 1840 in Turino with a fabric manufacturing company, a mill. I had started working almost 20 years ago in the textile company, and I went through the world of fabric. I learned a lot of things starting with, of course, the pleasure of putting my hands into the bunches of fabric and understanding the difference between, say, cashmere and wool. There’s a difference in the different kinds of wool that are produced. It’s like a sommelier understanding the difference between a Bordeaux, a Burgundy, a Barolo or a Chianti. It’s the same thing with the hands; you can feel the differences in these qualities.
But I came to a point where I wanted to understand and to learn more. I understood that to learn more about the fabric, I needed to jump on the other side of the table and understand what was going on and what was made after the fabric left the mill. To do that, the best thing was to enter the tailoring side. It came by chance that I got this opportunity to acquire this tailoring company that was called Saintandrews. We transformed the trademark into Santandrea because it sounds much more Italian.
ET: When was this? When did you buy this company?
Luca Trabaldo Togna: I bought the company almost three years ago. It seems that through buying this company, I discovered a whole new world. Looking from that part of the world at what was happening with the fabric on the tailoring side, I understood a lot of things. I understood the request of certain qualities. I understood the value of combining the fabric to a specific construction of the jacket or the trouser, and to a specific use for that kind of suit. There is an incredible difference between the construction of a tuxedo and the construction of a sport coat because the use is totally different. The fabric is totally different, the fit is totally different, the construction itself is definitely totally different.
Now, I hope, I think, I really believe that I just started. So this trip that started 20 years ago, to me, every day it’s as if I started the day before, because every day I have a lot of things to learn. But every day my dream is to communicate the pleasure of living in this kind of business—though that is not the right word because it’s not a business. It’s not even a job. It is passion. My love for this work, for this craftsmanship is a passion that I want, I would like, I dream to communicate to the people that are willing to understand a little bit more of that. Also in exchanging points of view, there is always something to learn.
ET: Obviously, you’re very passionate about what you do. But outside of the business, are there any other hobbies or things that you have passion for?
Luca Trabaldo Togna: I’m in love with nature, with the mountains. I was born in an area on the Alps, so my other big passion is tracking in the mountain. I think that a man feels good, feels excellent, when he is close to his roots. I also love traveling around the world. I like to go to the seaside. I like to go to other countries and also visit big cities; New York is my favorite place to go and I often stay for a week or more. I get a lot of ideas when I come to New York. But when I go back home and spend the weekend with my family in my house surrounded by the mountains, I really feel like myself there. There, I find my soul.
ET: When you’re out traveling—you mentioned New York—any favorite hotels when you travel the world?
Luca Trabaldo Togna: For me, the hotel does not really make the difference. Yes, of course, the comforts of a room are important. But for me, what is most important in any place I go are the friends I have. I love New York because I have a lot of friends, and it’s a big pleasure to go to a place where you know people who bring you around to visit the city. Then, second are the restaurants because I like good food and drink. So these are the two things that I really love. I also like to go and see the stores or places where I can see other masterpieces of the kind of art that I produce. I mean, the kind of craftsmanship they produce, the fabrics and tailoring.
ET: You mentioned you’re the fifth generation. Is there a sixth generation?
Luca Trabaldo Togna: Well, I have four kids, two girls and two boys.
ET: How old are they?
Luca Trabaldo Togna: The girls are 21 and 20, and the boys are 16 and 11. They make me feel old and young at the same time because when I see them growing, I think time is really flying. But when we are all together around the table, there is such a good feeling, and there is such happiness and it really makes me feel young because I enter their world and speak their language, and I feel really great when I’m with them.
I don’t push them to come into the company though. I’d rather push them to go out and visit the world and learn, because there are many experiences to be had when you’re young. But of course, in my heart, deep in my heart, I dream that one day in the future they will come and take on the example that I try to give and have the love and the passion for the job, for the work that I do.
ET: You’re a fifth generation, so obviously you spent a great deal of your career in a family company. So for any of our readers who also have family companies, and maybe have their children coming into the company, from your experience, what advice would you give to them about creating a successful environment?
Luca Trabaldo Togna: Every family, every situation is different. But there are some common threads in many situations. I think that the most difficult part—and also the most important—is to pass the message of the values of life to the kids. This message was the education that I received and was the education that my parents received from their parents, and so on, going back by at least four generations, from what I know. The values are not economical or tangible values, but are ethical values. So whatever you can teach to a new generation must be related to the love for what you do in life. I have four kids, as I told you. I do not push them to come to work with me. I push them to do what they love to do, because life has a greater value if you end up doing what you were born to do.
ET: You said that well.
Luca Trabaldo Togna: I hope I passed that message. I never go back home in the evening fed up with my job. I always tell my kids that whether it’s hard or stressful, the job that I do is always a pleasure, even during the hardest time. I see in their eyes a lot of interest in listening to what I tell them. So this is something that I try to teach them every day, because that is the real sense in life—doing something that you really enjoy. I think that it’s very sad for people who take a job they don’t like. That is the saddest part of life you can have.