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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Adriano Carbone – Master Tailor

What is a ‘master tailor’ ? It is not something that is formalised by a degree or diploma in Australia. It is often, with the case of big international brands, the term used for the head tailor of a company, which in the case of Adriano Carbone is true. He is the master tailor of his workroom of which two other tailors work with him. And, unlike many of the other dying and struggling tailoring workrooms of Australia, Adriano is not short of work. So really, if being the head tailor of a company which employs tailors is what you are, then I have no problem in him calling himself ‘Adriano Carbone – Australia’s Master Tailor’ on google. It has a certain level of truthfulness to it.

Adriano Carbone 

It also has a certain level of colourfulness to it, which is what I found in Adriano. He is an anomaly in terms of tailors. Firstly, his workroom is full of work. Secondly, he is unashamed about working off blocks or replacing machines to use any work that others might pride themselves on doing by hand. One of the first machines he took me to was his basting machine, which might have some other tailors switching off by now.

“My attitude is, if I can get a machine to do mostly the same quality and allow me to get onto other work, why would I bother doing all of it by hand”. Adriano is busy, pumping out roughly 14 suits a week and making sure that he always has work in the room. It is the only way that he can afford to keep this two-storey workroom and showroom open in Melbourne’s historic Block Arcade, located at 100 Elizabeth Street in Melbourne’s CBD.

Suits start at $1400 AUD for a basic suit made off his block. The suit is mostly made by machine with very little hands-on work but it makes for a great sturdy basic suit and it is at a price point which roughly meets up with the offshore ‘bespoke’ suit by made to order tailors with showrooms not far away.

This is not to say that Adriano won’t do hand-work. As he has explained to me, very clearly, if the customer is willing to pay for the work to be done by hand, he is happy to do the work. However, in order to get into a suit using top-end Scabal fabrics with hand-sewing in canvas, top stitching, hand-made shoulders, button-holes and so on, you are roughly looking at $6000AUD which is a price he says is outside of what nearly all Australian men are willing to pay.

And that is where the problem of the Australian market lies. There are too few men who wear suits regularly who are willing to part with the correct price for a suit which adequately reflects both the price of the cloth and the price of the workmanship that goes into a hand-made suit.
Having now been around tailors long enough to see many of them go broke or live off the smell of an oil rag, there is something refreshing about his pragmatism, which also extends to his revenue streams. Carbone supplements his usual tailoring business with work from theatre and musicals in Melbourne and keeps a wall of signed memorabilia from productions which he points to. “If there is a theatre production or musical coming to Melbourne, invariably I get the work. They know me, they trust my quality and they’re always happy’.

Upstairs in the workroom I meet Adriano’s father, whose name escapes me, and through one connection or another we somehow find ourselves talking about a syndicate of criminals in the 1980’s whose batch of hashish was ruined when the vessel that was transporting it was flooded with seawater. The hashish was burnt off at a local tip, alerting the police when the locals were reported being stoned for no reason. In the end, neither of us could remember the name of the criminal we were trying to think of.

Later I meet another of Adriano’s tailors who is working on a custom jacket for a police officer.
Adriano’s wife also works in the business and in many respects, she is the gateway to Adriano, or his pitbull. She is fiercely loyal and sings his praises continuously and says that the reason that the customers come back is that nobody can do what Adriano does.

A blue wool and black satin silk shawl lapel suit nearly finished.

And whilst I am concerned there is an element of shill to all this, I am aware that this a rarefied thing – a two storey tailoring shop and workroom in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, still working with no prospects of slowing down. Adriano has great bunches too, which means he must be moving cloth. There are the bunches of Loro Piana and Scabal, whose agent in Australia, Tony Wain, is very selective about who he drops them to. He has Minnis, Holland & Sherry, Zegna and Dormeuil. In fact, there aren’t too many merchants that aren’t represented in his showroom.

But the quality? What about the finished product? I note that whilst I have heard all that Adriano can do, very little has been said of what he can’t do. As I check the garments and put my hands inside and out, I start to get the feeling that pragmatism has its price. Earlier that same day, I was in Henry Bucks and I saw the sculpted beauty of a Canali suit on it’s hanger and I put my hand across the suit and it felt rich and lithe. It looked like a thoughtful composition of a team that worked together to create a beautiful garment from the ground up, marrying the cloth with the linings, ensuring that the weight of the breast was not too heavy, not too light. By contrast, Adriano’s work looks slightly unfinished, slightly rough on the shoulder seam. The internals are finished in a relatively basic manner, there is no real artfulness to it. And whilst the chest looks fine, it doesn’t quite have that elegance that I witness in the Italian suiting labels.

I like Adriano Carbone and I think that he does a great job for his clients and a great service to this country just by staying in operation – but I have yet to find an Australian tailor that can do what the Italians do off the rack in a custom-made workroom in Australia. But this is not the fault of Adriano Carbone, but merely the reflection of a world which favours those who don’t touch the products they make. You are more likely to be successful running a beautiful Instagram profile and making your suits offshore than you are if you were to pick up some tools and try to craft something yourself. Whilst this phenomenon is not all negative and has given Australian men some wonderful new designers and has educated a whole new generation of men on the art of tailoring and tailored clothes, it has meant that nobody wants to make anything anymore and those that do won’t be able to extract the correct price for their work which often leads to them cutting corners in order to survive.
Sadly, for the time being anyway, one must remain pragmatic.

Adriano's father works on a jacket. 

Adriano behind two suits in the making. 

Adriano at a workstation in his workroom .

A red cashmere and black quilted satin fabric for both the collar, turned back cuffs and pockets.

Machine stitching for the canvas on Adriano's standard finish

Sized suits for Adriano to try on customers to fit for his block MTM programme which is made in house.

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