Part journalist and part fashion maven, Vicki Vasilopoulos knows her way around a rack of clothes. After spending years immersed in the American and Italian fashion scenes, the New York-based Vasilopoulos took an even deeper look into the origins of the textile industry for the new documentary, Men of the Cloth, which examines the oft-forgotten art of master tailoring. The film follows Ardmore’s Joseph Centofanti and two other craftsmen whose daily work honors the rich Italian tradition of this endangered trade.
MLT: You have an extensive background in both fashion and journalism.
VV: I was a journalism major in college, and I spent over a decade working as men’s fashion editor for a news and trade magazine known as DNR, which is now Women’s Wear Daily Men’s. In retrospect, it was good training for documentary film-set productions.
MLT: Tell us about the documentary.
VV: The film is about Italian master tailors—humble men who make exalted clothing. It’s a character-driven film following three tailors: Nino Corvato, Checchino Fonticoli and Joe Centofanti. I’ve profiled each of their stories and life trajectories, each representing a piece of the puzzle in terms of the whole craft. I wanted to celebrate their skills, exalt them as artists and show how the process is a personalized form of theater—a personalized give-and-take.
MLT: How much time did you spend with the tailors?
VV: I followed the men slowly, and I got to know them and became friends. We were done shooting about three years ago, and then Centofanti acquired an apprentice, so we set up to shoot some more. We needed to do more fundraising to cover the budget, but this turn of events happened for a reason.
MLT: Why is custom tailoring so important?
VV: It dates back to the Renaissance, so this art form arose at the same time as Michelangelo, Donatello and all these other amazing artists. Tailoring is simply an authentic expression of true craftsmanship, which is something that is now in short supply. It’s got an inherent value, rather than just a market value, and it’s a highly personalized process in an era where everything we have is mass produced and disposable. These tailored items are handmade and will last a lifetime—like a work of art someone has created just for you.
MLT: What separates these men from fashion designers?
VV: It seems that the term “designer” is thrown around a lot in common parlance, and it refers to someone who’s a stylist for a clothing brand or collection. The contrast here is that these men can create a garment from scratch. They do all the work.
MLT: Is there a future for the art of master tailoring?
VV: I see pockets of it here and there, but one thing is certain: The items produced are incredibly popular at the moment. There’s a great demand for these skills, but the unfortunate thing is that there are fewer people specializing in master tailoring, so the workload becomes higher and higher for the few that do.