By David Isle

“Growing up, I slept with suits under my pillow.” – Gennaro Formosa

Men who today complain about how long they have to hold shopping bags while their wives work their way through a shopping mall’s worth of sales sections should see how much time their grandfathers spent at their tailors. The tailor's shop was part workshop, part showroom, part salon and coffee house.    

Like many sartorie in Naples, the Formosa receiving rooms are tucked inside a courtyard, separated from the street on the south side by a buzzered door and from the northside street uphill by a double staircase. Here wealthy young Italians in Naples for their undergraduate studies would convene to meet with their tailor, Mario Formosa. Local men of stature coming for fittings, tailors, and barbers, filled out the milieu. One client, a local upholsterer, whom the clique nicknamed “the lawyer” since he would come to anyone's defense and was never seen in public without his sturdy briefcase, would cook in his gray Formosa suit as the rambunctious crew revisited the previous night’s exploits. Where food and clothes meet, Neapolitan life begins.

Mario Formosa had a quick and brilliant rise to prominence. He became a master tailor in 1951, and opened his own sartoria in 1962.  By the time his son and current proprietor Gennaro was running through the legs of clients as they looked through fabrics, Formosa was already a living legend, afforded an artist’s license to cut lapels that matched his mood and reject clients that didn’t. Those few lucky enough to be granted membership into the Formosa client rolls were the ones who wanted their clothes to represent them as well in life as in the mirror, who could contribute more than just money to the well-being of the house, and whose charisma rose to the personality of the Formosa cut.

Today the area where an upholsterer became a lawyer and turned a workshop into his kitchen is a sleek showroom, air-conditioned and well lit. The tiny stove that turned out so many espressos and pasta dishes is long since gone, and the work benches moved to the current workshop a few feet away. The students who gathered at the feet of Mario Formosa have graduated and dispersed. Mario himself passed away a few years ago.

But there remains a couch, upholstered by the lawyer, and Gennaro, who slept with suits under his pillow in his formative years, and saw realized the dream world that they inspired.