10 giugno 2022
by Ilaria Conti

A century around your neck 

 Maurizio Marinella
 Maurizio Marinella

Artisans, with an artistic flair. For 108 years, their creations have adorned the necks of politicians, presidents, actors, nobility and connoisseurs of beauty. From the historic – and tiny – shop in Riviera di Chiaia around the world and back, on a journey of “emotions, quality, sense of duty and passion” that inevitably begins at dawn – with coffee and sfogliatelle – and ends at dinner. Four generations of the Marinella family at the service of elegance and good taste. It all started with Eugenio, who in 1914 opened a little store in front of the Villa Reale in Naples, and goes right down to his grandson and great-grandson who, in 2021, inaugurated a Marinella store in London. An adventure that Maurizio Marinella describes “a miracle.” The secret of such success lies perhaps in not succumbing to temptation of going big: “we cannot and do not want to do that”. “We still enjoy the feeling of creating our own product. And we can't sell a feeling,” he says. The company has no employees but “family members who have always shown great attachment”: this is the recipe for “achieving beautiful results” and those who buy a tie do not buy “just a strip of silk but everything behind it: warmth, passion, handmade, exclusivity and that Neapolitan genius that never fails.”  And this is why Marinella is undertaking a project with the Italian Ministry of Economic Development (MISE) to found a university of ancient crafts in Naples.

The company looks forward without ever forgetting the past and how it became a global brand: “It all started more than a century ago in a 215 square foot store, open from 6.30 in the morning to 8 in the evening: if this would be difficult all over the world, doing it in Naples is on the verge of reality. It was a miracle. We have sought to convey craftsmanship, commitment, a sense of duty and passion, essentially without communication or advertising. It has only been in recent years, with the arrival of Alessandro (his son, Ed.), that we have activated an e-commerce platform and we have a small presence on social networks. Our desire to take Neapolitan and Italian culture around the world is what has made us so recognizable globally,” says Maurizio.

The company has no employees but “family members who have always shown great attachment”

The decision to open up at dawn is a very old story: “In the villa opposite our store, which was previously called Villa Royal,” he explains, “the noble families would come horseback riding at 6.30 in the morning. Only they were allowed to go in, with the entrance guarded by the police who that checked the rank of nobility. At that hour, the noble families would come horseback riding and the young men would come to our store, trying to catch the eye of the young ladies. Matilde Serao wrote in Il Mattino that ours was not a store but a town pharmacy, a meeting place. Today, we still open early because we do two types of trade: until 8.30, we are still the ‘town pharmacy’–people are more relaxed, we offer coffee, sfogliatelle; from 8.30 onwards, people are in a hurry and can’t wait, so our work is more mechanical. We will always open at 6.30 because I have this very intense relationship with the city and I want to keep on with this beautiful way of trading that I was taught.” The working hours of a craftsman… “We see ourselves very much as artisans with an artistic flair. We like to create an object: from the design to producing the silk, to the tie.”

A tradition handed down from father to son: “We have never focused much on budgets, charts or projects. We are dedicated to hospitality, how to pamper our customers and how to convey the image of a beautiful, different Naples that works hard, seeking to offer products of the highest quality,” he says proudly. “We are superstitious and traditionalists: we want to continue in this way. We must always do our best for our customers and, if a customer chooses a tie that doesn’t suit him, we won't sell it to him, because we want our ties, shirts and scarves to create a good feeling.” 

100% Italian elegance, indeed 100% Neapolitan style: “Naples has always been the world capital of elegance. When my grandfather decided to open a store, he wanted to create a small corner of England here. Back then, the elegant man dressed in English style and the elegant woman dressed in French style. He went to England to import big labels that went on to become very famous. There was an imaginary bridge, a kind of ping pong, that linked London to Naples. The fabrics for the clothes had to be English, but the manufacture had to be Neapolitan. We continued to be 50% English and 50% Neapolitan. Neapolitan fashion is made up of large suits, jackets with mappina sleeves–with no padding–and colors. This city is all about sun, sea, genius, unusual combinations. The great tailors are here: some who make shirts, some who make custom-made shoes. Here, we have fine craftsmanship that only Naples struggles to preserve.” And Naples is a source of inspiration for Marinella's creations: “Absolutely! Marinella may never have existed if it had not been founded in Naples. There is a bond, an unbreakable chain that ties Marinella to Naples and Naples to Marinella,” he continues. 

"Forse il  marchio Marinella non sarebbe esistito se non fosse nato a Napoli"

From movie stars to presidents from all over the world, Marinella designs have been worn by the famous and not so famous: “From Enrico de Nicola to Sergio Mattarella, we have had all the presidents of the Republic. From Kennedy onwards, all the American presidents. We haven't reached Biden's neck yet, but we're working on it. And then Putin, Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Chirac, Mitterrand, Macron, Sarkozy and the king of Spain, Prince Charles and the whole English royal family, Netanyahu. Our customers also include many Italian politicians: Fini, Gasparri, Casini, Craxi, Andreotti, Cossiga, Di Maio, Salvini and Conte. In short; Right, Left and Center. And also big showbiz personalities: from Marcello Mastroianni to Vittorio De Sica and Luchino Visconti.”

And Maurizio Marinella recalls some anecdotes: “Eduardo de Filippo had us make undershirts and long knickers that he wore under his stage clothes because he was always cold. Then the great Totò: he came to our store to learn how to tie a bow tie.”

The most demanding customer, he then tells us, was Silvio Berlusconi: “Our most ‘devastating’ customer. I remember that the second year of his term as prime minister, he invited me to Palazzo Grazioli. He asked me to deliver 2,500 ties the following day: we didn't have that many, we couldn't make them in time. We bargained: he lowered the number a little; I lowered it a lot. We agreed on 600 ties. It was fun, a great demonstration of fondness for the company.” 

Speaking of fashion, for Maurizio, man doesn’t have much chance of being able to change it, but “a tie and a nice shirt still convey a sense of respect to the people you meet, not of rigor, but of decency and good manners. I am a big fan of the tie, which sometimes you can even go without, but on certain occasions you cannot not wear one: at a wedding, at a concert, at the theater. Turning up to a first date in a suit and tie gives it a whole new meaning. Instead, I’ve seen people in ripped jeans and T-shirts even at the San Carlo Theater...”

Over time, customer needs have also changed. “They are starting to get more and more complicated,” he explains. “Before, they knew perfectly well how to dress; now, they are targeted by ‘strange’ ideas and fashions, wedding suits with stones, pearls, bows... If I were the bride, I would leave the groom at the altar. We try to guide them. We are for classic style; contemporary, not old fashioned, but classic and simple. Because true elegance is found in simplicity, rigor and respecting the rules.” However, he points out that you can be casual even in a jacket and tie: “There are new interpretations. Lots of young men ask us for narrower ties. We are not for ties every day of the year, but at certain times it can be a means to convey a discreet elegance.” But today's young people don't dress very well… “We are actually experiencing a decline in all fields, in all sectors and clearly also in fashion. We all have to express our character but sometimes it’s taken a little too far. We should start restoring the rules of decency, suggestions. I remain confident.” 

The company is also focusing on sustainability by making ties from orange waste: “We are working hard to go greener. For years, we have been working with Orange Fiber, a Sicilian company that produces a fabric from the fibers of orange peel. The fabrics were such a great success that they have never made it to the store because the project was promoted by the Minister of the Environment, who decided to give the ties away at events. We will expand our production and we are also starting to make sustainable plastic packaging. We are having fun and we will face other challenges.”

"Work does not cost us sacrifice; we still enjoy the feeling of what we do, and we can’t sell a feeling.”

But the most important issue is preventing the loss of the Italian artisan tradition. “Craftsmanship is difficult to pursue and to support,” Marinella argues. “Unfortunately, young people no longer want to do this job and we struggle to find staff. Naples still retains a wealth of many family businesses, which, however, without help, are destined to close. I have a project in progress with MISE to create a university of ancient crafts in Naples. Naples and the whole of Italy are still home to a wealth of crafts that are disappearing. Craftsmanship must be revitalized and it would also be nice to create streets in every city that, instead of displaying the usual brands, are home to the best tailors, the most beautiful shoes, the best mozzarella, the most unusual nativity scene. People would come to visit from all over the world.” Hence also the choice not to please everyone: “We can't do big numbers, perhaps we don't even want to: we feel proud to be artisans. We are pulled by the jacket, and also by the tie, in different directions by the big groups who would like to buy us or partner with us. Work does not cost us sacrifice; we still enjoy the feeling of what we do, and we can’t sell a feeling.”

Finally, the great return of the family business to London: “We were founded 108 years ago importing articles from England and today we export Italian products there. We have opened a store in the most iconic, best known, most typically English place in London, which is Burlington Arcade. It was a bit like coming full circle.”

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