Travelling to a remote town in Italy wasn't on my agenda for December but when I was invited to photograph Umberto Angeloni it was an offer I couldn't turn down. The man who helped to define Brioni as the epitome of luxury in the 1990s has the Midas touch when it comes to menswear and now, 8 years since his departure, he owns the Caruso factory in Italy.
Before setting off on the trip, I mentioned to a few friends the Caruso name in order to gauge the response, and what a response it received. Clearly the brand has a huge reputation and one that my London amico's know all about: "quality, luxury, simply the best". With this in mind, I was curious to find out what drives this man to push to the top. Mr Angeloni has been very open about the split from Brioni in 2007 and I wondered about how this passionate, outspoken Italian would be in person.
As with all interesting people, all my preconceptions were wrong. On arrival I met a softly spoken, warm man who welcomed me into his extended family though the most sincere of Italian methods: food. We socialised over two days as Umberto showed me the land surrounding the factory and the elements of Italian life that inspires him most: fine dining and impeccable tailoring.
What did you want to be when you were a wee boy? Since I was living in East Africa between the ages of 3 and 13, a wild and fascinating land, my ambition then was to become an explorer and hunter.
What is your star sign? I am a Leo, born in the year of the Dragon. Perhaps it's this combination that results in passion and courage overtaking prudence and rational sense.
You're a man who values quality on a deep level, how do you think it came about? Was your father the same? My father was a Roman judge of the old guard who pursued intellectual and moral quality above anything else; my mother was a Piemontese lady who perfected style and quality of life. Once again, this combination generated my appreciation for quality as a value in itself.
Why do you think Italians in particular appreciate menswear? It mainly has to do with self-esteem, which Italians have developed to a high degree, together with their ability to act the part.
Why is elegance important in life? In a world of imagery, where one's deeper traits are shielded in privacy, impressions are based on appearance.
How would you define the ‘Caruso man’? A Good Italian.
If a man can own only one outfit, what would it be? A custom blue suit because he would feel more at ease. He could style it to befit a wider range of occasions, from casual to formal.
I'm a huge fan of tailoring and I'm particularly always searching for the perfect blue. How did Uman come about and how does it differ from Caruso? Uman is a journey into the final frontiers of mens' costume. Empowered by knowledge of the vast tradition, it ventures into the narrow path of evolution: in terms of form, function, colour, construction, material.
We've some outstanding meals while in Italy, what would your perfect meal be? Simple food of superior quality with an idyllic rural setting and empathic company.
What advice would you give a man trying to find his personal style? Firstly, learn about origin and meaning, care for spelling and pronunciation, then experiment with combination and analogy. Same as you would do to elevate the fluency and charm of your speech.
What's in the future for you and your brands? Success, defined as acceptance of the concept by the target consumer and determined by demand for the product.
Leave us with some words of wisdom. My work is based on the faith in man's ability to learn and improve, in his drive to achieve and excel, in his aspiration for pleasure and happiness.