Sartoria Partenopea, Lapel Pins, and Conspicuous Consumption

While looking through coverage of Pitti Uomo 84, I came across some interesting photos, taken by Herman of Sartorial Doctrine and Sweden’s King Magazine, of the S/S 2014 collection from Sartoria Partenopea. Partenopea, for the uninitiated, is a younger and somewhat lesser-recognized cousin of Neapolitan tailoring heavyweights like Isaia and Kiton. Despite the brand’s relative youth (founded only in the early 1990s) and small size (full-time staff of fewer than 100 tailors), Sartoria Partenopea produces tremendously high-quality and luxurious tailored clothing on par with that from brands like Kiton and Belvest (think exquisite fabrics, painstaking attention to detail, and substantial hand-stitching, among other things).

As a fan of Partenopea since the mid-2000s, I have found it consistently refreshing that the brand has largely been immune to the “#menswear-ization” of fine, tailored clothing. That is, the brand has avoided hopping on trends overly glorified by the crop of menswear bloggers on the internet and has instead stayed consistent with its central vision, style, and tradition (for instance, no overly cropped jackets or excessive washing or dying). Herman’s photos, along with others, however, suggest that #menswear’s somewhat surprising influence on storied tailoring houses may be spreading to Partenopea as well, albeit in a subtle way.

I am referring, of course, to the new (to the best of my knowledge, at least) purple, button-like lapel pin adorning all of the S/S ‘14 collection’s jackets. Whatever the creative impetus behind incorporating these lapel pins was, it’s hard to fathom that the decision to do so wasn’t at least to some degree inspired by other brands like L.B.M. 1911, Lardini, and Isaia, who also affix prominent lapel pins to their jackets. (Fortunately, though I haven’t yet been able to see the garments in person, I’ve been assured by several who have that the quality is still impeccable and that nothing else in the construction or fabrics used has changed in Partenopea’s latest collection.)

While each brand that does this ostensibly has some reason more than simple whimsy for doing so (the story of Isaia’s red coral lapel pin is perhaps the best known), this seems to me to be no more than an exclusive, targeted manifestation of conspicuous consumption. Followers of menswear love to hate visible logos, preferring to show off their discernment and taste through more subtle things, like “timeless styling” and, to borrow a term a number of bloggers have been dropping recently, “honest materials”. Yet for every menswear writer who shuns the Ralph Lauren pony, how many would also be so quick to dismiss the white L.B.M. lapel pin? (There certainly are, it should be noted, those who do, and this cohort does seem to be growing.) Indeed, just as the RL pony or the Lacoste crocodile may serve as an (admittedly dubious) indicator of good taste or a certain level of income among the general population, the red coral lapel pin ubiquitous on all Isaia jackets made in the past 4-5 years can similarly induce envy — or at the very least, respect — among the menswear-inclined.

I, too, am guilty of this, however, often proudly wearing my Isaia jacket with the pin in — if for no other reason than to be able to tell the story to women, who seem to love it (again, great marketing on Isaia’s part). But perhaps we should stop and think about exactly what it is that we’re doing when we unbutton our surgeons’ cuffs, wear a lapel pin designed with no purpose but to be readily visible when worn, or don one of Lino Ieluzzi’s famous “7” ties. No disrespect to anyone, but personally, I don’t see much other reason to wear a tie with a number representing some guy’s birthdate than to announce to the world, “Hey, I’ve been to Al Bazar and can afford things from there.” With Isaia and Lardini lapel pins sometimes going for up to $50 on Ebay, no one can deny that on some level this is simply very clever marketing and that these things are self-aggrandizing symbols of conspicuous consumption. To be sure, these particular symbols are recognizable to a considerably smaller group of people, but does that make it okay?