Clothes make the man, and some men make lovely clothes in director Vicki Vasilopoulos’s documentary Men of the Cloth, a celebration of traditional Italian tailors, whose artistic lineage – as the onscreen text informs us at the film’s beginning – goes back to the Renaissance.
The documentary is an attempt to do for suit-making what Jiro Dreams of Sushi did for Japanese cuisine: A celebration of devotion, craft and, possibly, an endangered art form. Vasilopoulos focuses on three men: Madison Avenue tailor Nino Corvato, who caters to celebrites and New Yorkers with a penchant for Ivy League style; Joe Centofanti, a Philadelphia man in his 90s who made suits for British officers when he was in an African prison camp, and is determined to pass on his art to a young apprentice.And in Italy, Checchino Fonticoli, who trained as a traditional tailor but now works in an assembly-line operation for Brioni, the major employer in the picturesque town of Penne.
All three men are convivial subjects, passionate about beautiful clothing for their customers, and through the film you probably learn more about fitting, cutting, baste stitching and refitting than you’ll ever need to know.
What’s lacking is any sense of how this pampered packaging fits into the economic and social order of contemporary clothing, and why it matters.
Even the basic journalistic information is lacking: You’ll have to look elsewhere, for example, to learn that Nino Corvato made David Letterman’s double-breasted suits, or to discover that Corvato’s prices start at a relatively modest $3,000.
We know Michelangelo was paid 400 florins to create the naked statue of David, so why is it indelicate to ask what his artistic descendant charges to make a smart suit?