March 28, 2014 by Ed Kennedy
Rich Story Sewn Into Life By Ricci The Italian Tailor
by Ed Kennedy
Niccola Ricci is not foreign to fame. Walking into his shop and looking across the slew of jobs he is to finish one can see carefully strewn across the walls inklings of a great past and a quiet but proud acknowledgement of the recognition his work has brought him.
Ricci is one of the last great tailors not only of Carlton – but all of Melbourne. At 90 years old his work now is driven far less by necessity and more by ritual. On the days he feels unwell he does not arrive to open up shop on Rathdowne St. For those who’ve quickly need jeans shortened or a tear in a shirt repaired he may not be your man then. But, given the quality of the work done – and the clear evidence across the store of a ongoing demand for his talents – the willingness to wait a little longer for something done well seems something his customers are more than willing to accept.
This theme of quality has been key not only to Ricci’s attitude to work but attitude to life. Having begun his career in tailoring by learning in a small Italian town eventually Ricci moved to Rome and from there into a glorious era of working on film sets. In spite of this Ricci refuses to accept – despite the evidence of many who say differently – that his story is anything special – “The big fashion houses like Valentino or Versace are special – I’m just a simple tailor.”
While his life is rich with a glorious past Ricci feels much of his work concerns things that are timeless. “Many men come in with a suit that is the wrong size for them. This is a problem right away.
So too if it’s made of bad material. I can make a suit fit better, and I can work with good material but the wrong size or poor quality cannot be altered. So I say to people – men and women – buy clothes that are good. Then we have much to work with”.
This belief in having ‘much to work with’ not only applies to his craft but to his neighbourhood. Having been a feature of Carlton for multiple decades Ricci has had the chance to see Carlton change in a way few would.
“For a long time I think many felt Carlton was not the best place to live. But, its funny, now with such a great neighbourhood being built up everybody wants to live here.” He said.
Though he has seen great changes in his life this tailor is happy to see them keep on coming but does have one lingering wish. “If there is one thing that saddens me about my career and experience in Carlton it’s that not only have so many tailors, cobblers and others like us disappeared – but that there’s few new people coming up. It would be great to see some new people coming along because it means knowledge on how to do good work can be passed to the next generation”
While giants of Australian fashion such as Peter Jackson and R.M Williams have always sought to retain a sense of ‘Australianess’ within their brands and given their size shall surely always be here it is the people and groups at the edges of the Australian industry that surely mean the most to the local communities. Therefore, the story of Nicolla Ricci is notable.
Whereas the new north-side ‘it’ store Dejour jeans in Brunswick has garnered much fame and praise for selling inexpensive and in-house tailored jeans – and thereby offering a great hope for those who would wish to again see a local touch added to the clothes we wear – so too does Ricci’s story show that perhaps we need not worry as much about bringing back great artisans and crafters to the industry – because some never left and remain very close.
Article first appeared in The Northsider March 2014Ed Kennedy is a journalist, ghostwriter, and web developer from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via firstname.lastname@example.org on Skype or LinkedIn.