For “Tailor Made in Naples,” Tom Downey visits the artisanal ateliers that define this city’s unique style. Photographer Francesco Lastrucci documented his sartorial quest. Here are some of the stories behind his beautiful photos.
“Lungomare Caracciolo (above) is one of my favorite spots in the city, one of the most beautiful views in the world. I kept going back there to photograph. I especially enjoyed shooting on Sunday, with kids all dressed up for the first Communion, elegant people enjoying a sunny day, and teenagers by the water flirting and kissing on the rocks. And the chubby, inevitable scugnizzi (a Neapolitan term roughly translating as “street urchin”) diving in the water in front of Castel dell’Ovo, joking and playing tricks on anyone.”
“Galleria Umberto lies between Via Toledo, Piazza del Plebiscito and the San Carlo Opera. The 19th century building was the cornerstone in the decades-long rebuilding of Naples, and is now a public shopping gallery and one of the busiest spots in the city.”
“The Galleria is a big center for social life and people gather there to chat. It was a few steps down from where I was staying in Quartieri Spagnoli so I would go through it several times a day. After a few days I recognized the same people hanging out there, talking, cheering, arguing. One man, dressed as a priest, would always stand by the main entrance in Via Toledo, one of Naples’ busiest streets. I never knew whether he was really a priest—the doubt came when I realized he was hanging out there during mass. A pure example of everyday Neapolitan street theater.”
“This was the view from the window of my hotel room. The Quartieri Spagnoli were created in the 16th century to house Spanish garrisons who were there to quash revolts from the Neapolitan population. Soon the neighborhood became infamous for its high rate of crime and prostitution; today the area has some of the highest unemployment in Europe. It has always been the home of tailors, pantsmakers, and shirtmakers, working in small family-run workshops. It was a good place to stay, to become familiar with the neighborhood characters and get permission to photograph them, and to show the contrast between the chic Chiaia neighborhood and the tough Quartieri Spagnoli. After two days I was already chatting with the neighbors, the artisans, the vendors and people walking by. The sense of community is very strong there. The quartieri are a fairly safe and enjoyable area. And it has some of the most interesting and cheap trattorias.”
“The Mola family lives and work in Vico Conte di Mola, a block from where I was staying in the Quartieri Spagnoli. Pasquale Mola (in pink shirt) and his brother and sister made pants for Tom Downey and we went there several times to document the process. While working on the first fitting we were accompanied by the sounds of street vendors and Vespas gunning by outside; a neighbor in a pink Naples soccer team sweater kept yelling jokes to us in strong dialect, making it impossible to photograph without laughing—I was afraid that the photographs would come out blurry.”
“This was taken in the late afternoon in Chiaia, the most glamorous part of Naples, famous for its high-end shopping. My plan was to photograph some street scenes. I started photographing in the late afternoon when people go out to see and be seen. As soon as I started to chat with these gentlemen a beautiful woman passed by, attracting their attention and their comments. No wonder this street is called Vico Belledonne (beautiful women street).”
“As an Italian, I only drink espresso and Naples is the best place in Italy for coffee. Locals always fight about the best coffee in town, just as they fight for the best pizza. To be honest, the coffee is excellent in nearly any bar in town but after extensive research and four or five espressos a day, I decided that my favorite is probably Caffè Mexico in Piazza Dante, in the historic center. The interiors are as colorful as the local clients that hang out there. Usually you don’t spend more than 5 minutes inside a café. You order the coffee, stand at the bar sipping it from an unbearably hot cup, maybe chat for a couple of minutes with anyone there, and leave.”
“In fact I was there photographing for 30 minutes. This woman was dying to be in the shot: ‘Why don’t you photograph me? Come closer, closer!’ she ordered, ‘I want to be famous!’”
For more photography by Francesco Lastrucci, see his website.