This Young Filipino Tailor Is Being Trained by Italian Masters in Rome
ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
Most men will wear a suit at least once in their lifetime. But true gentlemen know the value of a suit: the fit, the fabric, and the minute details that showcase heritage and craftsmanship.
Young Filipino tailoring apprentice Bermon Magat is learning all he can about suits in the sartorial Mecca of Rome, Italy. Bermon, who is currently the creative director of Filipino tailoring house Tiño, has been in the Italian capital since 2019. He is enrolled at the Accademia Nazionale Dei Sartori, where he seeks tutelage under some of Italy’s most renowned maestros.
Living in Italy and studying haberdashery is the culmination of a long-time dream that began in high school. “I had long been fascinated by these cultures, particularly in the context of classical art, architecture, philosophy, and history,” says the 25-year-old Bermon. As a teen, he seriously considered pursuing a classical tailoring program in Europe, but later realized that he was probably still too young to be living on his own abroad, so he opted to finish his studies in the Philippines and gain relevant retail experience for his big move.
Bermon Magat is learning all things suits and tailoring at the Accademia Nazionale Dei Sartori in Rome.
Bermon is no stranger to the local menswear scene. He was a sales associate at specialty store Signet before working with master tailor Napoleon Arienza at Tiño. Arienza, who was a tailor to past presidents and trained in the Italian tailoring house Brioni, inspired Bermon to consider Rome. But as the young tailoring enthusiast quickly realized, a shining CV and letters of intent were not the way in: He had to come knocking on their doors.
“During these two years of work, I made several advances to European tailoring houses but quickly realized that CVs and letters of intent hold no value to masters—I figured I had to be there in the flesh, in their presence, asking for work to get any substantial opportunity,” Bermon shares.
His workstation at the academy
Bermon explains that applying to tailoring academies was the most feasible plan for him to pursue his tailoring dreams abroad. “After a few rejections due to age limits, the choice came down to three academies—one in London and two in Rome—that accepted my application. I figured I would like the food better in Rome.”
Bermon tells Esquire Philippines more about his life as a student tailor in Rome, and what it took to get there.
ESQUIRE PHILIPPINES: How did you arrive at the idea of studying tailoring in Italy?
BERMON MAGAT: The first encounter with actual tailors came during my first job at a local menswear shop, The Signet Store, as they would invite tailors from Naples for trunk shows. During my first encounter with the late maestro Gigi Dalcuore, I struck up a conversation with him using every ounce of Italian I could stutter through to ask about his life, how he began his apprenticeship, and what advice he could offer.
After leaving my job as a sales associate, I began work with a local tailoring house, Tiño, in order to gain firsthand experience in sewing. Master Nap Arienza would entertain my questions about his work for the iconic tailoring house Brioni while putting me through the rigors of apprenticeship.
ESQ: What were the requirements needed for your application to the tailoring academies?
BM: Tailoring academies and houses are often relatively small-scale operations; speaking to the people involved is often convenient and personal. Applying for a visa was slightly more inconvenient because of the apparent novelty of my case. Many of the trade schools throughout the country aren’t accredited at a certain level where they are authorized to issue student visas so there was a lot of back-and-forth between the Italian government and the academy for the required documentation.
‘Reaching a respectable level of proficiency with the language took a brutal three months.’
Requirements depend on the academy or tailoring operation. Some have more stringent requirements than others, going as far as putting a limit to the age of applicants. In my case, I was only required to demonstrate a level of proficiency in Italian as it is the exclusive language of instruction.
ESQ: How long did the preparations take?
BM: Applying and arranging the necessary documents happened in a flash, within a hectic four-month period. Reaching a respectable level of proficiency with the language took a brutal three months. Learning the local language makes living easier, allows room for friendship, and facilitates efficient learning. In the context of work, I believe one should speak the same language as the master out of respect—for the work and the culture it belongs to.
ESQ: Did your previous work experience at Signet and Tiño come in handy?
BM: My previous work experience has contributed greatly to my continued growth as an aspiring tailor. Signet introduced me to visual concepts, fine details that constitute a look: proportions, cuts, how different colors play under varying lighting conditions, and how a look comes together by putting complementary items together.
Bermon (leftmost) at Signet
That sort of intellectual capital gave me a head start as I could begin tailoring with foundational principles that respect classic men’s style. I give that foundation great importance as many people, clients and tailors, simply don’t have a consistent idea of their ideal look or, worse, try to cater to everyone’s tastes. When you don’t have that sort of consistency of ideas, you often end up trying to do too much with one piece of clothing or establish no identity at all.
Tiño is primarily a tailoring house rather than a multi-brand retail concept. Of course, given that distinction, the experience I gained was an understanding of how needle, thread, and fabric work together. Basic stitches and the movements that carry them out were imparted to me by Sir Nap and his most senior apprentice, Ryan. These basic techniques are the foundation of all good tailoring and what I learned from them is no different from the standard among tailoring operations I’ve encountered thus far in Italy.
Master tailor Napoleon Arienza of Tiño
ESQ: In Rome, is there anything you've noticed, in particular, about men's style that stands out?
BM: In the context of the sartoria and tailored garments, perhaps the most salient and distinguishing characteristics of a style can be seen in the structure and shape of the shoulders, the tapering of the waist, and the shape of the jacket opening—constituting what many refer to as a house style.
Garments at Sartoria Ripense
From my perspective, I see the Roman tradition of tailored garments as generally being a mix of the more casual and easy-going Southern Italian tailoring style and the Northern Italian tailoring style, which leans more toward structure and formality. I would infer that these traditions were heavily influenced by their respective climates; however, that may rather be a hasty generalization as styles can vary greatly from house to house within a single city or region.
The effect of social media on tastes is also quite clear as what constitutes styles en vogue can become almost homogenous, even within the more experienced circles of tailoring clients. There were times when I noticed a sudden uptick of commissions of a certain flavor—seasons characterized by cream linens, bottle corduroy, and double-breasted overcoats—and you could almost tell, if you were active on social media, who was heavily influencing these trends.
Once you figure out that balance, you complement it with the discipline of cleanliness and honesty. I have seen tailors who hold every stitch to a certain standard, as well as others who cut corners in aspects clients don’t see immediately. That final press, when done competently, reveals exactly the manner in which the work was carried out.
The inner layers of a full canvas jacket
When it comes to differences between suits made by hand versus by machine, I would say that the differences are indeed significant but that they all have their place in the realm of tailored garments; however, in the tradition in which I am being trained, bespoke at its best is entirely made by hand (including long seams); and the term itself, out of respect, only applies to the method of using full canvas.
ESQ: What is it like being a Filipino apprentice in a tailoring academy?
BM: Similar to other foreign apprentices and students, the primary challenge is always learning and understanding feedback in a different language. Various traditions and cultural notions of beauty one can encounter in working are also quite fascinating.
For example, these little decorative stitches—pick stitches—that I personally prefer to do in a discreet manner, I have encountered many individuals who have told me that the stitches would probably look better if they were more prominent. I would disagree (and even then, it would depend on the visual weight of a fabric). It’s that sort of attention to detail and differences in taste that make the rich variety of styles among tailoring houses.
'Most apprentices only eat one full meal a day, either lunch or dinner. I’ve picked up the habit, much to the dismay of my mother.'
ESQ: What’s a day like as a tailoring apprentice in Rome?
BM: I have a caffè e cornetto at 8:30, then I start work at 9:00. I take a break at noon—another caffè e cornetto. I finish work at 6 p.m. This takes place five to six days a week.
Most apprentices only eat one full meal a day, either lunch or dinner; it’s a mostly sedentary occupation so I can see how that dietary habit makes sense. I’ve picked up the habit as well, much to the dismay of my mother.
ESQ: You've probably already learned a lot from your masters, but what lessons stand out to you about tailoring?
The lesson that stands out: Tailoring is simple. Fashions change but the technique and skills involved in tailoring have been near constant since its inception. The individual involved in tailoring works a balance of two aspects: art and labor.
Bermon and Maestro Sandro Saroli
Art is where technique is in question: How beautiful, clean, and consistent can you make something?
Labor is the business end of things: What methods do you employ and how fast can you turn over an item to make a sustainable tailoring operation?
Finding the balance between art and labor; coupling sewing techniques with patterns should result in the realization of a visual identity: silhouette, shape, drape, and flare.