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Monday, April 04, 2005

Gammarelli: The Pope's Taylor

***Update: 04/18/05***

Gammarelli has been working over time to get garments ready for pope's first day

3 Outfits in Large, Medium and Small ready and waiting!

There has already been much speculation about what kind of man will soon be elected successor to Pope John Paul II: Will he be a charmer? An intellectual? An African, European or Latin American? A tight-fisted disciplinarian or a convivial democrat?

But no one talks about his size, and that poses a problem for Filippo Gammarelli, proprietor of Gammarelli Ecclesiastical Tailoring, founded in 1798. The shop has provided ecclesiastical and ceremonial garments for popes for more than 150 years.

When a new pope is elected, a long white outfit with matching skullcap must be immediately available, so he can quickly put them on, leave the Sistine Chapel and greet the crowd waiting for him in St. Peter's Square.

Gammarelli and his team of 20 tailors make three sets in advance: small, medium and large. "We can't be over at the Vatican fitting the new pope at such a time," Gammarelli said.

The clothes will be delivered to the Vatican by the time the electoral conclave begins April 18. Each set will contain two floor-length cassocks, the long robe worn by Catholic clergy, made of about four yards of Italian wool, plus a sash and a mozzetta, the scarlet waist-length garment sometimes placed over the robe. The sets will also include the white zucchetto, or skullcap. "Actually, our white is not white, but ivory," Gammarelli said in a gentle but firm tone familiar to clients of Rome's finer fashion boutiques.

This is a poignant time for Gammarelli. With John Paul's death on April 2, he lost a client of 26 years -- the pope's reign was the third longest in the history of the Catholic Church. When the pope died, Gammarelli cleared his storefront display of hats, shoes, socks and a cassock and set out a zucchetto, which is worn only by popes, atop a red silk piece of cloth.

Inside the shop, with orders for other customers on hold, four tailors are hard at work on the papal sets. "Look at these buttonholes," said Gammarelli, as he held up a cassock. "These are done by hand. We don't have time to waste."

Lorenzo Gammaarelli

Gammarelli's store is a reminder that Rome was once a papal domain full of artisans who served the pope, his cardinals and the aristocracy from which the Roman Catholic Church recruited its elite. The store sits just off Via dei Cestari, a 75-yard Fifth Avenue of clerical garb and religious paraphernalia. If a chalice, crucifix for an altar, or even a whole altar is needed, Via dei Cestari has them.

Gammarelli said that before 1870, when popes ruled much of central Italy, clothing for cardinals and bishops was much more ornate -- lots of silks and gold brocade. Then Italian nationalists, on the way to unifying the peninsula, drove Pope Pius IX into Vatican City. The outfits became more subdued in protest and out of dismay.

Certificates signed by John Paul II, John XXIII and Paul VI declare Gammarelli a purveyor of vestments to the pope. Customers inspect fabric and finished products on a long table in the wood-paneled store. In a back office, a leather-bound book of designs sits encased in a glass cabinet. "These are our trade secrets," Gammarelli said.

The store has outfitted every pope of the past century except Pius XII, who reigned from 1939 to 1958. Pius had a private tailor.

During his years as pope, John Paul ordered one or two outfits a year. He preferred lightweight outfits because of the Roman heat. "I think it was because he was Polish," Gammarelli said. "He was easy to please."

Once popes are named, they stop coming by for fittings, Gammarelli said. The store keeps their measurements and the tailors make Vatican palace calls for final fittings. "As you might imagine, cardinals might come to us. But we go to the pope," he said.


Update : 04/13/05

Italian tailor specializes in making pontiffs look perfect
Gammarelli family preparing garments for pope's 1st day

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ROME — The Gammarelli tailor shop has outfitted seven popes dating to Pius IX in 1846. And now it's preparing three sets of garments — small, medium and large — for whoever is chosen as the next pope.

When the new pope is elected, after the cardinals begin their conclave April 18, he will choose the cassock that fits best and then step out onto the balcony over St. Peter's Square.

The Gammarelli family is one of about two dozen clerical clothiers near the Gothic-style church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, where Inquisition trials were held four centuries ago. This garment district is to the Catholic clergy what Saville Row is to London's best-dressed gents.

The shop windows on two streets are filled with golden chalices, Christian icons and bright vestments with richly embroidered stoles. Inside, generations of tailors have made religious robes by hand, down to the silk-covered buttons.

Barbiconi, for example, has been in business since 1825, when the family started making religious hats such as the pointed miter worn by bishops. Today, the shop also sells chalices, religious medals and vestments — though some are now ready-made.

“Our shop is here, and we send to all the world. We have the website, but many know us, and they call us and ask, ‘Do you have this or that?' ” says Gabriele Masserotti Benvenuti, the fourth generation of the Barbiconi family.

“We are the opposite of regular stores, because most shops get busy at Christmas, and we don't. And we don't have sales,” Masserotti Benvenuti explains. “We have a very good price all year, and all the items we sell are all the same. It isn't like they go out of style.”

But some of the church's most elaborate garments are no longer worn, such as the cappa magna, a great cloak worn by bishops, cardinals and popes. It was made of violet cloth and lined with ermine in the winter and red silk in the summer. The cloak's train was so long it had to be carried by young pages.

Some fabric colors are no longer used, such as rosy pink. The Vatican has reduced the number of colors to five: violet, red, black, green and white. Although vestments are dictated by the church, there is some room for personal taste.

“The color is obligatory — because red is red — but we have this kind of red and that kind of red,” Masserotti Benvenuti says, fingering a bolt of red cloth with gold threads running through it. “Because, for example, for a Mexican or Latin American priest, they like color with the gold. … But for English and American, they like the pure silk (vestments and cassocks) with the silk inside. They like the modern style, you know. It's different.”

Location, the Internet and catalog sales have helped buttress this little quarter from the precipitous drop in the number of men entering the priesthood, as well as the falling value of the U.S. dollar, which makes these garments about one-third more expensive for American clergy than a few years ago.

The exception, however, is clothing for nuns. Their numbers are also shrinking, plus they can buy their simple garments at many discount clothing stores.

“I don't know anymore how these nuns want to be dressed. And I don't know how they're going on, because there are always fewer and fewer,” says his aunt, Marina Masserotti Benvenuti, who also works in the store.

“I like my job, but this is the thing that makes me worry. There are always fewer,” she says.

On the other side of the piazza is Gammarelli's. Bolts of fabric line the walls in the oak-paneled store. There are several shades of purple for cardinals' cassocks, red for bishops and every shade of black for priests. And for each color, there are different weight fabrics for varying climates and seasons.

When Vicenzo Paglia was named a bishop five years ago, one early task was a trip to Gammarelli's.

“I had to, how do I say it, ‘submit' to this process of measuring, then of trying them on, of shortening and taking them in,” he says.

He explains the tradition where friends and fellow clergy help buy their friend's first ceremonial vestments or cassock, as well as the pectoral cross, ring, zucchetto skullcap or miter hat.

The basic, 33-button cassock starts at about $450 and goes up to about $900, but it is easy to spend several thousand dollars on the ceremonial vestments.

“They cost a pretty penny, but in reality, these things were given to me as gifts,” he says.

Although he doesn't need many new cassocks now, he always shops at Gammarelli's.

“It is a very traditional place. And for me, Roman by birth, it is … a must,” he says.

The shop was started by Antonio Gammarelli in 1798 as a traditional tailoring shop. But in the mid-1800s, the shop began specializing in garments for the clergy, explains great-great-grandson Annibale, who now runs the shop with his brother Filippo.

Pope John Paul II had been a client since he was elected in 1978. Annibale Gammarelli says his brother waited on him and described the pope as “a very nice man, very simple, and he's very easy to work with tailoring because he's not so demanding.”

He said Gammarelli's did not prepare any special garments for John Paul's funeral. The thought of today's event filled him with sadness.

“He had a big impact on the history and on the development of political behavior of the world,” he said. “He also worked a lot for the peace in the Middle East and in all the parts of the world where there are wars starting. … I think he was a very grand pope.”

Update: 040905
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The hands of tailor A.Gammarelli hold the 'zucchetto,'' or white silk skullcap, that late Pope John Paul II never had the chance to wear, in the window of the Ditta A. Gammarelli, a tiny tailor shop that served Pope John Paul II for 26 years in downtown Rome, Thursday, April 7, 2005

ROME — The tailoring shop that served Pope John Paul II for 26 years paid a poignant tribute to the pontiff Thursday, displaying in its window a white silk skullcap that he never had the chance to wear.

Resting on a cloth of red silk, the "zucchetto," or skullcap, was the only item on display at the tiny, old-fashioned Ditta A. Gammarelli shop in downtown Rome nestled in the shadow of the Pantheon.
"We thought, as a mourning tribute to the pope, to do a very minimalist window and put no other items on display rather than the papal symbol: the white skullcap," Filippo Gammarelli, one of three people who is running the family business, said Thursday.

Outside the shop, the Vatican's yellow-and-white flag was flying at half-staff.
Meanwhile, the shop was busy preparing clothes for the next pope, with three sets of outfits — small, medium and large — to be shipped to the Vatican.

Work on the outfits for the new pope started Wednesday and is expected to be finished by April 18, the beginning of the conclave. Three to four tailors were working around the clock to finish the outfits, which are handmade.

Each set includes a white woolen cassock, a moire silk white cassock, a red silk "mozzetta," or waist-length robe, a moire silk sash, a skullcap and a pair of red leather shoes.
The chosen outfitter for the church elite, Gammarelli has served scores of cardinals and popes since 1798, including all but one of John Paul's predecessors in the past century. The exception — Pius XII — used his family tailor.

Inside the wood-paneled shop, pictures of the last six pontiffs hang from the wall, black and red cloths are shelved behind the counter — and priests come and go, as the store is a bit of a tourist attraction for clergymen passing through Rome.

The shop is away from the Vatican area, where millions of pilgrims lined up this week to pay homage to the pontiff.

John Paul has been Gammarelli's client since he was elected in 1978.
"John Paul II was not our client when he was cardinal," Gammarelli said, "but once he was made pope, he became our client — luckily."

"John Paul II was very easy to please," he recalled.
"The thing he preferred was to always have very light outfits," he said. "Perhaps because he was Polish, and therefore he was used to a cold climate."
Gammarelli would not say whether the pope would be laid to rest Friday in the shop's clothes.


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At first glance the store looks much like any other tailor. A little old-fashioned perhaps, with rows of small wooden drawers stretching to the ceiling. There is a long, broad counter on which bolts of dark cloth are slapped with a resounding thud, ready for cutting. Immaculately suited men bustle about with tape measures. There is a smell in the air of expensive aftershave, mixed with the odour of mothballs.

But the Gammarelli establishment - just off the Piazza Minerva in central Rome - is no ordinary tailors. There is a sign over the door: Sartoria Per Ecclesiastici, or clerical outfitters. Then there is the window display. No suits or shirts here; rather they are peaked clerical hats and priestly robes. And in one corner, resting on a silk cloth, a solitary "zucchetto" - the small, white skullcap worn by the Pope. Gammarelli is, in fact, the Pope's tailor.

It also serves other clerics - cardinals in their flaming red robes, monsignors in deep purple and cindery black for country priests.

Changing Times

Italy is considered to be the centre of the world's fashion industry and the Roman Catholic Church is not immune to changing tastes. At one time, not so long ago, bishops would dress in long robes, a train of shimmering purple ribbed silk drifting after them. There were plenty of tassels and pom-poms, highly elaborate vestments.

But then came Vatican II - the great ecclesiastical council in the 1960s - which decided the Church should try to move closer to the people and more into the modern age. The council was something of a self-inflicted revolution. For instance, out went - for the most part - the Latin Mass.

Many of the old rituals were done away with. New, more simple, ceremonial was called for and orders were handed down from the Vatican that the pomp associated with the more elaborate vestments and costumes should go.

Red Socks for the Pope

Call it eccentricity, call it a ridiculous fashion statement, but for years - as long as I can remember - I have favoured wearing red socks. The trouble is they are not always easy to come by, not in the right shade anyway. Once, in the midst of a rather tedious European Union conference, a French foreign minister confided that the place to buy such things was here, at Gammarelli. "Ask", he said, "for the same socks as a cardinal." I take a deep, nervous breath and approach the counter.

The pictures of famous customers stare down from the wall. They are not film stars or sports personalities but sombre looking portraits of popes, past and present.

Some of the church hierarchy did not approve of the changes following Vatican II; those who were uncomfortable with the new, less elaborate Church, and in particular the phasing out of the ancient Latin liturgy.

Dress was another matter of concern. Cardinals no longer would wear the "galero" - their wide-brimmed hats. A monsignor told me he was instructed that purple socks - part of his normal day wear for years - were no longer approved. "The Church," he said, "had a terrible outbreak of Puritanism."

Happy Clappy

Is it possible, I ask the smiling man behind the counter, for non clerical customers to make purchases here? Maximillian Gammarelli's family have been running the business for six generations. He could not be more obliging. "Certainly", he says, "and what exactly, would Sir be requiring?" "Well, I was rather keen on buying a pair of red socks," I say. Steps are fetched and Maximillian ascends to the heights.

Interestingly, there is a reappraisal going on of those changes ushered in back in the 1960s at the Vatican II council. There are those who feel that the Church, in losing some of its rituals, has also lost its status, its mystery. Some say the Mass itself, in certain parts of the world, has been allowed to become little more than a "happy clappy" piece of entertainment.

The Pope himself has talked of preserving the Church's traditions and has also spoken of the importance of its cultural heritage. Perhaps the Church pendulum is swinging, ever so slowly, backwards. Some feel it will not be too long before the old, elaborate robes and vestments appear again.

A tissued package is placed on the counter. The covering is peeled back to reveal a flaming red pair of socks, knee length. Maximillian asks me to clench my fist while the sock foot is curled round. This method of measuring guarantees a perfect fit, he says. The label on the socks is in English: "Gentleman socks," it says. "Wash in tepid water with neutral soap."

I am concerned I might be stopping the normal flow of clerical business. The Pope is unlikely to stroll in looking for a new robe but maybe a bishop is waiting to be served. I ask how much the socks cost. Nine euros and 30 cents, just over £6. I take two pairs and walk, a little ecclesiastically, out into the Rome sunshine.

What I do is kick them in the pants with a diamond buckled shoe!
~~Aileen Mehle~~

1 Broken Heels:

Grace said...

What an absolutely fascinating post!
I was looking for something else and stumbled across this. I had no idea all that trouble when into dressing the Pope.

Great effort!