The New Generation of Tailors - Milena La Montagna
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Milena La Montagna, I have just turned 30 and I am a tailor and owner and founder of Sartoria La Montagna.
Why are you a tailor today?
I became a tailor because sewing has always been a passion of mine that I could never have neglected. Having grown up in a family where almost all the members worked in the world of tailoring with different skills and tasks, it was not difficult to approach this wonderful craft and be able to have a basic preparation in 360 degrees of the various aspects of the work and the construction of a sartorial product. A tailor must know how to do everything.
How do you see the sartorial world in the next five, ten or twenty years to come?
I see a great future for tailoring. The market of this sector has experienced a great comeback and rebirth thanks to classic taste and the pleasure of returning to tailor's fitting rooms by men and also women. It was a dwindling passion, that of periodically meeting your tailor to commission a garment. It required time, patience and money, things that over time and with the evolution of society are increasingly valuable. It's much easier, faster and cheaper to choose a product from a store display and take it home after examining it rather superficially. However, I have noticed a strong return in the demand for quality and in the search for figures like that of the tailor, a job that nowadays few people mistakenly think is worth learning. The fact that with increasing frequency I receive requests from rather young customers is what makes me think that tailoring will continue to have a prosperous future.
What would you describe as the characteristics necessary for a high-level tailoring house?
We work day after day to realize our idea of tailoring. Personally, I believe it is essential to continue a discussion of continuity with the past and with the sartorial tradition, both in the various stages of the process and in the image of the tailoring. However, I think it is essential to be able to understand and interpret the requests and needs of the contemporary client, the modern gentleman, or the sophisticated and trend-conscious woman. This is possible by putting together a young and dynamic team, prepared and enterprising, sharing a common vision, the vision of passing on, transforming and projecting the Sartoria into the future. A tailor must also be "educated," be able to speak different languages and deal with cultures other than their own.
Which phase of your work gives you the most satisfaction and why?
The delivery. At the time of delivery you present to the customer the result of the investment of time, money and trust. It is the realization of the customer's desires and for the tailor, the proof of his ability. The satisfaction of both at the delivery, is for me, undoubtedly the most satisfactory moment of the entire bespoke process.
What is happening to the number of tailors today? Are people looking to get into tailoring as a career?
What I have seen is that in recent years, the number of young people interested in this profession is increasing and at the same time the number of true tailors is decreasing.
Unfortunately, the craft of the tailor in the last twenty years has lost its appeal, while the world of fashion design has burst into the streets, schools and universities, all the way to the infinite world of the Internet. The return of classic taste in dress however has inspired only the most courageous and willing young people to embark on this professional path ridden with challenges and sacrifices.
What sacrifices have you made to get where you are today?
All people who are willing to reach a goal know they have to make sacrifices. This is a necessary condition when starting from scratch as I did. Sacrifices, dedication and a lot of patience are the way to achieve what you really want.
The most recent sacrifice I made was to give up vacation to renew the ambience of my little shop. You always have to make choices and prioritize. I always wanted to learn this craft and start my own tailor shop, led by and representing myself. I sacrificed years of my time that my peers have spent having fun or traveling. I still had fun, maybe in a different way from theirs, and now I travel often too, even for work!
What is the most technically difficult part of making a suit?
In my opinion, the shoulders, the collar and the sleeves are the most complex parts of the work to learn and put into practice with excellent results. I learned, thanks to the valuable advice received from the older tailors that I met while having the opportunity to work and learn the trade, perfecting my technique by repeating each stage of the process again and again. I can’t say exactly how much time it took to learn each process because each of us learns in a different way. I don’t think there’s a set time when a person can say that they have learned this job. At a certain point, skill and talent surely take over, those are the qualities that distinguish tailors from each other.
Have you ever felt as though tailors have tried to hide knowledge from you?
I feel very lucky to have rarely had this feeling. In my journey, I have often encountered a certain willingness to teach me as much as possible by the older teachers, who must have seen in me so much spirit of sacrifice, dedication and passion in trying to learn and to improve myself.
How did you learn pattern making?
My first teacher taught me the basics of cutting. Working in different tailor shops, I then got to absorb what I liked most about the different cutting methods of the other masters to develop my own. I still try to experiment with new techniques, especially in my personal garments, and then propose them to customers.
What was your experience with L'Accademia dei Sartori like? Do you think it is the best path to become a tailor today?
I did not attend the three-year course of L'Accademia dei Sartori, but I joined the association in 2016. The Academy is certainly an excellent way of preparing to become part of this world and learn the basics of this ancient and noble profession, being itself an ancient institution founded in 1575. Over the years The Academy has developed a very good teaching method and provides support to those who want or need to learn and to those trying to excel in the field of tailoring.
On which aspects of your work would you like to improve in particular?
Improvement must be constant from all points of view if one wants to stand out and distinguish one’s own product from all the others. Constancy is a fundamental part of this work.
What are the tailors you admire today?
I love the style of Rubinacci as well as Sartoria Ferdinando Caraceni, led today by his daughter Nicoletta. I also admire the greatness achieved by Gaetano Aloisio, who brought the figure of the tailor to a very elevated and modern level.
What makes a real tailor?
A true tailor is the person who does this job with conscience and respect for the customer, who meets customer needs and requests without resorting to shortcuts and dedicates all his experience and skill in every single step of the realization of a garment. A true tailor is not born a tailor, he is a healthy person who learns and grows day after day, stitch after stitch, from a seam that must be unstitched to the result that borders on perfection. To become a true tailor is not to obtain a title, an award or recognition, but to reach the awareness that what he makes is a work of art, handmade with care, precision, and done well.
I have never given myself a title alone, but I have always wanted my work to be judged, appreciated or criticized by those who have carried on this art form for many years but of course, I feel like a better tailor every day, one satisfied customer after another.
Why do tailors talk deeply about the trade with journalists but not necessarily with apprentices or employees? If you disagree, why?
Not all tailors are like that. There are tailors who do not talk much to journalists and who do not communicate with enthusiasm what they do, however give valuable advice to their students if they see certain qualities in them, though there are very few tailors like that.
In fact, there are tailors who like to tell their stories and talk about their work through newspapers and media. They like to feel at the center of attention and sell their product. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s part of the job. If they do not do the same with their apprentices and workers it is certainly out of jealousy of their own knowledge, but also for fear of teaching too many people who can then abandon them to seek new opportunities. This is why it is said that an apprentice tailor must "steal the craft with his eyes," because it is very lucky to find a tailor willing to give all his knowledge to a worker.
The history of the formation of the Sartoria La Montagna?
La Montagna tailoring was born at the beginning of 2019, so it is a very young tailor shop. I decided to start it after graduating from a fashion school and then beginning an apprenticeship in some of the most important workshops in Naples for about 3 years.
I decided to learn the trade a few years earlier, when I began to appreciate the timeless value of Italian craftsmanship and especially tailoring, which I have always admired and been fascinated by. I come from a family in which everyone learned to sew from an early age, from my grandfather who was "the tailor of the family," my grandmother who was a skilled embroiderer, and my mother, who was in charge of making hand-made trousers in her youth.
I analyzed what the market of tailoring could be, which seemed to be back in vogue after a historical moment in which fashion and the ready-to-wear industry had taken over. What I understood was that there were some excellent job prospects although those in tailoring were in a niche market aimed at a restricted audience of super-fans and that it now fell into the luxury industry itself.
During my apprenticeship I immediately noticed my inclination to quickly learn the theoretical and practical notions of this art, finding a certain satisfaction of my masters in seeing me at work. The older figures, the more experienced ones, that I met in the tailor shops in which I was trained have always encouraged me to deepen my knowledge and to experience alone what was not shown to me, for if I had not, I would have remained on a stool for years and years, so that's what I did.
I was very fortunate to have competent people in the family, who were able to advise me on methodologies and techniques that were unknown to me but I tried to approach it by reading and putting into practice what I had seen, or when all else failed, I’d take out old clothes from my grandfather’s closet!
I decided that was my path, I got it in my head that I had to do everything I could to perfect my technique and I never stopped studying and putting into practice the notions and the "secrets" that in the course of time have been gifted to me by the most experienced masters.
For a young person, it has always been difficult to emerge in this field because the experience is fundamental to obtain a result equal to what can be defined as a well-made sartorial garment. However, what was lacking in terms of years of experience, I compensated with much commitment and constancy in research and study. I understood that never wasting time is an extremely important resource for a tailor but especially for someone young and even more so if you are a girl who wants to make it in men’s tailoring!
So, after a few years, I felt satisfied with the path I had taken and with my first sartorial creations, so much so that I began to have requests from people who observed my work through social media. At that point I realized that it was necessary to take the important next step. It was time to put myself in the game and face the challenge that until then I had only imagined or dreamed of. Not without doubts, uncertainties and obstacles to overcome, in 2019, I decided to open my small tailor shop, Sartoria La Montagna di Casalnuovo di Napoli.
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