Lunedì, 22 Ottobre 2018

New pope will step into ready-made togs


Rome, February 15 - The odds on the favourites to
succeed Pope Benedict XVI are jumping around each day but one
thing is already stitched up - the suit the new pontiff will
step into as soon as that famous white smoke plume goes up.
That's thanks to the foresight and skills of Rome's
Gammarelli clerical outfitters, tailors to popes since the
mid-19th century and what a Catholic website calls "the
Rome-based equivalent of an ecclesiastical Brooks Brothers."
"We have no magic tricks but we do like to be discreet
and thorough," says Filippo Gammarelli, 68, latest to lead
the bespoke dynasty, in a rare break from the firm's
tight-lipped line since Benedict stunned the world with the
first papal resignation in 600 years Monday.
The Gammarellis already have three sizes of vestments
waiting: small, medium and large.
The famously zipped-up tailors give nothing away but
Vatican watchers think the large one could be based on the
measurements of top tips Angelo Sodano of Milan or New York's
Timothy Dolan, both heavyweights in the physical and
ecclesiastical senses.
The medium-sized one might well be modelled on the solid
but sleeker figures of Africa's two great hopes, Peter Turkson
of Ghana and Nigeria's Francis Arinze, observers think.
And the models for pope suit mark three could be the
slender Leonardo Sandri of Argentina or pint-sized Filipino
contender Luis Antonio Tagle, some reckon.
Even if the conclave opts for a really gigantic or
minute candidate, the Gammarellis won't be fazed.
They've already taken measures to ensure they won't have
to dive into their rolls of white silk and start snipping and
stitching at the last minute.
The three sets of robes, Filippo Gammarelli explained,
are cleverly made to have a lot of give or take in them.
With that leeway, the Vatican's seamstress nuns are able to
make major adjustments before the brand-new pontiff steps out to
greet the world.
Then, that night, the Gammarellis step in for the more
intricate work that moulds a figure-hugging outfit.
But that's not all. The Gammarellis actually offer the
pope a choice of white silk or fine white wool with silk
"To be precise, it isn't really white, it's ivory," says
Filippo Gammarelli.
Founded in 1798, the Gammarellis have a deserved
reputation for immaculate service and the utmost discretion.
This only seems to fuel the media's imagination.
Reporters have said the weirdest things about the
Gammarellis: that they use the most exotic plumes of a rare
South American bird for part of the pope's outfit, or that
they use the finest wools from Andean beasts for their
All nonsense, of course, as head tailor Massimiliano
Gammarelli, 47, briskly confirms:
"All we use is the best Italian wool: the best, not the
The only other materials are the silk that goes into
sashes, buttons and braids and the linen used for flowing,
embroidered surplices, he said.
All the outfits are handmade in the same style and the
work is carried out in the time-honoured, lovingly crafted
way that maintains the shop's name.
"Our products are the best publicity we have," says
79-year-old Annibale Gammarelli, patriarch of the clan.
The Gammarellis were fuming at a recent allegation that
they pride themselves on being able to predict the next pope.
Among the past reports they've angrily dismissed was
that Pope John XXIII, a big man, got the wrong box and nearly
burst out of his cassock back in 1958.
The tailors' rather un-Italian reserve is so watertight
that they won't say how much any rig costs, won't name their
customers, and won't for the life of them go into any details
about their number one client, the pope.
Asked how many popes the Gammarellis have dressed,
Massimiliano Gammarelli was typically cautious: "The last
eight popes for sure...before that things are a bit mistier."
The small shop near the Pantheon is working overtime at
the moment, creating the six sets of vestments.
As soon as the white smoke appears and Rome's bells
start a huge celebratory din, the two floor-length cassocks
are whisked over to the Vatican.
The cassock - the main robe that all clergy wear - will
be made of about four metres of the best Italian fabric.
Then there'll be a a sash and a mozzetta, the shorter
waist-length garment worn over the robe, often crimson in
Gammarelli is only one - and one of the smallest - among
a clutch of clerical tailor shops huddled behind the Pantheon
in a sort of Vatican Saville Row.
But it invariably lands the most select orders.
The Gammarelli name has become synonymous with papal and
clerical dress. In 1998, when Pope John Paul II travelled to
Cuba, Time magazine published a cut-out pope with garments and
accessories, citing Gammarelli.
Before that, in 1995, when the Vatican reminded prelates
that they should wear proper clerical dress to show respect
for the sanctity of their office, a magazine called it "Bad
news for Benetton, good news for Gammarelli."
"Perhaps one of the things that makes us stand out is
that we make everything by hand, including the button holes,"
Filippo Gammarelli says.
John Paul had 30 buttons on his cassock, a fairly typical
size. During his 26 and a half years as pope he ordered an
average of one or two a year.
"He wasn't fussy at all. He was a delightful customer,"
Gammarelli says.
Benedict cut a tidier figure with 28 buttons and was "a
little more attentive to detail," as the German pontiff's fame
as a fashionista who revived long-gone snazzy hats and shoes
Virtually all Gammarelli's tailoring business is with
But the tailors' reputation is so high that they are
inundated with requests from the laity, some of which they
accept: a tuxedo, perhaps, or an officer's uniform. Former
French premier Eduard Balladur, a man with refined dress
sense, ordered his socks from the little shop.
Some of the Roman aristocracy's better-known dandies are
also known to pride themselves on the delicately woven
pinkish-red socks usually only sported by cardinals.

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