Antonio De Matteis, 2nd Generation CEO of Kiton, one of the world's top men's clothing brands, speaks about why Kiton is at the top of the industry
The essence of Kiton, as told by its CEO, who leads one of the world’s top Italian brands, offering timeless jackets and suits for life. We spoke with him about the traditions Kiton has maintained as well as the changes that come with the times, from their philosophy to manufacturing to human resource development.
The Kiton’s story
Kiton is a family company. My uncle, Ciro Paone, is the founder. We sold the fabrics to tailors. We started from very modest production in 1956, about 10 pieces a day, but today we are well known worldwide. We are producing a lot of other products, not only jackets and suits but also sportswear, knits and shoes. This is quite a normal evolution because Kiton is over 60 years old. Our core value lies in quality. Kiton is always seeking quality. When we talk about quality, we are talking about the lifestyle, not only the final products. Each of the ingredients come together to compose a garment in our production. Starting from fabrics, they include our DNA, lining, interlining, buttons, service and so on. It requires great experience and skill to identify them all.
How can fashion be timeless?
For Kiton, it is not difficult to make timeless garments. We take pleasure in knowing many of our customers and we can listen to them and understand what they are looking for. We have the experience and skills to be able to make something that can bring satisfaction.
We are required to make something for somebody who already has everything. That is the reason why we cannot make something that will not be in fashion after six months—we must make something that will last them the rest of their lives. We think that purchasing Kiton’s items should be like an investment for the people who buy our products. Our customers can wear the same jacket for 10 or 20 years, as we can make some adjustments for them even if their shape changes.
Kiton welcomes many visitors to our factory, especially during the summer season. Many customers come to Italy on holiday and visit the Kiton factory. It is always a pleasure to talk with them and understand what they are looking for. That is one of the secrets of Kiton’s manufacturing. We structure our collection based on what our customers want, not based on our rules or fashion. And that is why I think Kiton is a timeless collection, and not a collection that sticks around only for one season.
Another point to think about: In every season we need to stimulate customers to buy something new.
What is the core of Kiton?
The core of Kiton is to create new fabrics and designs. But we have to keep in mind that we should never stray from what they are looking for. They are not people who want to show off, and not people who are looking for praise from others.
We build our collection by meeting our customers and talking with them. We sometimes have lunch or dinner together. We think it is essential to spend a long time with our customers and understand what they seek. Our work is not based only on mode or fashion. We try to make collections dedicated to our customers. Our customers are everything.
What is tradition for Kiton?
Tradition is very important for us. I think tradition is a way of life, a philosophy and a respect for the past. It does not mean the garments stay the same. We still make jackets the same way we did 30 or 40 years ago, but everything from the fabrics to the linings has changed in these 40 years. With suits, however, how we approach customers and listen to them have always been part of our tradition; that is, the way we make a product, how we treat and respect our customers.
How does one’s clothes define one's sense of self?
I think that is the first reaction when our customers try on a jacket. The first reaction is the most important thing for us. When customers feel the jacket, stand in front of the mirror, try on a jacket and see how it fits and start a dialogue with our garment, they will be our customer. The customer becomes one with the jacket, which becomes something like a second skin. If they only care about whether they look good in the mirror, they might not be ready for Kiton.
Best materials to make best garments. Is it true?
We believe the best suits require the best materials. For us, it is very important to use the best materials. The materials used for our collections are the most precious and the most expensive in the world. Kiton is very well known for using fabulous materials. When someone talks about fabrics, everybody would say that Kiton uses the best fabrics in the world. We always start our fabric selection at the point where other companies have reached their upper price limit.
What is the feeling of putting on Kiton jacket for the first time?
When you try on our jacket at the first time, what you feel from it is very important. The lightness, the weight, and how the jacket fits. For us, however, it should be the nadir for a Kiton jacket because the new jacket does not yet fit them well. The more often you wear it, the more it fits your contour. That is what set Kiton apart from other companies, although it is not widely known. As you wear our jacket, it fits your body. It becomes your jacket, and is no longer a Kiton jacket. If you keep the same shape, you can wear your Kiton jacket for life.
I appreciate the fact that it’s an industry-leading product.
For sure, for my family and me, it is very important to make these kinds of products. Without our products, I wouldn’t have had any opportunity to meet people like Kiton’s loyal users. Kiton is appreciated by the most powerful and most elegant people in the world. I’m glad that I have met our customers, although I can’t say who they are. I am sure if I were not at Kiton, it would have been impossible to meet people at such elevated levels.
We use Bemberg, our customers’ choice.
Like all the material used in our product, linings are also very important. We don’t think we can make a good product with low-priced linings and other accessories. Such linings make the fabric feel very light. It’s very important to make the fabrics and lining fit well and follow the movement of the shell fabrics. That is why we use only the best linings in the world.
When you see our production site, you know how we treat the linings and how we sew the linings to follow the movement of the body.
The linings must be soft, to follow the fabrics, products and the body of the customer. The secret: You do not feel the linings and the difference between the outside and the inside of the jacket. That provides them with superior comfort. It is the key to everything. They are looking for styles as well as comfort.
That would be what our customers feel with Bemberg linings. And that is the reason why we have used Bemberg linings for 40 years.
Kiton's motto: the best of the best plus 1.
The best of the best plus 1 is something my uncle came up with. It always reminds us that we cannot be satisfied with what we are doing, and we should always try something better, improve our product, our services, our relationship with our customers.
What is the future for Kiton?
The world has changed a lot in the last 10 years. Today, our consumers are looking more for leisure clothes than formal wear. That is our direction. They want more relaxing clothes and styles. Comfort is becoming the most important point for our consumers and certainly for us. Customers are always looking for more comfortable clothes for travel, vacation or everyday use. This is the direction we are taking. We are committed to pursuing this prevailing trend and our customers’ requirements.
Highly experienced tailors preserve our tradition.
There are tailors who have been working in our company for 35 years. They are extraordinarily experienced. Kiton founded a school for tailors 18 years ago to foster a new generation. Even our most inexperienced tailor has worked for us for 10 years. Tailors at that level of experience are regarded as juniors in our company. Without question, the senior tailors are very important for us because they can teach and show their craftsmanship. After their retirement, some of them become teachers in our school. This is a good way to continue our tradition. I think preserving tradition is the key to the company. We don’t want to lose our traditions. And that is the reason why we founded the school 18 years ago.
Bemberg and Kiton in the same direction
I think they will not face any big problem if Asahi Kasei follows the tradition of Bemberg and keeps the Bemberg brand. That is a very important point for us. We think it will be good that they retain the quality even as the product evolves. Every product is required to evolve to satisfy new market needs. We don’t think that significant evolution is a problem. That is a very important point. It is also the tradition of our company. Kiton is not what it was 20 years ago, but I want everyone to know that the tradition behind Kiton is the same.
I think that linings, especially Bemberg, are as important for our future as all the other materials we use. For sure, we are looking for quality every day in developing new products, for both ourselves and for Asahi Kasei. In addition to quality, we have to be contemporary, and that is an important issue, and a challenge for all of us, especially two traditional companies like Kiton and the brand Bemberg. It is important that we can do something for the future. With Bemberg fabric, we are creating a future for good companies, as something for tomorrow.
Antonio De Matteis
Born in 1964, he joined the Kiton Group in 1986 and became CEO in 2007. As the head of the second generation, he has led 750 employees and the world's top apparel group, which boasts 47 stores worldwide.