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Salvatore Piccolo: Modern Artisan, Shirting Savant

“I am not a businessman. I am a shirtmaker,” declares Salvatore Piccolo in his distinctive Italian accent.

While there’s no doubt that he is one of the world’s best shirtmakers, he also has an undeniably astute business sense, having filled what was once a void in the market between formal and casual shirts for men.

But let’s start at the beginning. Like his mother before him, Piccolo started working at a shirt factory in Naples when he was young—just 16. While there, he developed a keen (some may say obsessive) appreciation for high-quality fabrics and a talent for the art of pattern creation and the cut. He soon struck out on his own with a small bespoke business and quickly became one of the best-kept secrets among a discerning clientele.

Naturally, when we found out that Piccolo had decided to create a small, off-the-rack collection, we snapped up the exclusive as quickly as we could. And we’re glad we did.

What’s remarkable is that the pieces you can now find at Barneys New York feature the same attention to detail and quality that you’ll find in his bespoke shirts. As John Totolis, Barneys’ VP of men’s tailored clothing and furnishings, puts it, “In the world of sportswear, it is extremely rare to find a shirt with this much handwork.”

At Piccolo’s factory in Naples, a full 6 hours of work is devoted to each shirt, and he cuts many of them with his own hands. And take it from us—you’re in good hands. Piccolo is a self-professed perfectionist; his craftswomen have often declared his requests (like hand-sewn button-holes on a particularly sturdy fabric) to be impossible. He’ll respond, “No, it’s not”—and he’s usually right.

Piccolo shows the same stubborn commitment to quality when it comes to his fabrics. He knows exactly what he wants and isn’t shy about cajoling mills and fabric-makers into making it for him. This ought to drive them nuts, but instead they seem to appreciate his respect for and knowledge of the craft; as such, around 70 percent of the fabrics Piccolo uses are created exclusively for him by the world’s top mills.

But the true trademark of a Piccolo shirt is the cut. His slim, clean lines are inspired by icons like John F. Kennedy, Marcello Mastroianni and Steve McQueen. Add to that a unique feature that has become Piccolo’s signature: hidden pleating inside the elbows. Why? Well, let’s conduct an experiment. Stand up and let your arms hang by your sides naturally. They don’t hang perfectly straight; instead they have a subtle curve. So why are shirt sleeves traditionally cut stick-straight? By closely following the contours of the body—in addition to curved arms, Piccolo’s shirts have a higher arm hole—his pieces allow for greater comfort and ease of movement (Piccolo demonstrated this for us by performing some impromptu calisthenics).

There’s no need to take our word for it though. After a recent trip to Pitti Uomo, the renowned trade show in Florence, Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean declared: “Almost everything I liked at Pitti ended up being an upcoming Barneys exclusive—so it is safe to assume where I will be shopping for the foreseeable future.”

Shouldn’t you join him? Shop the Salvatore Piccolo collection at Barneys.com. Ladies, hold the envy—Piccolo created a collection of equally sophisticated, handsewn pieces for women, and it’s sold exclusively at Barneys New York.