The Last of its Kind
A 300-year-old loom designed by Leonardo da Vinci
The wheels of the car bump along the rustic road as I meander my way to Poggio ai Segugi — the country manor of Stefano Ricci, founder of his eponymous bespoke menswear brand. After an hour’s drive, the gates to the estate open; pheasants greet me, as comfortable here as in the wild.
In an understated elegance like his clothing, Ricci’s impressive home sits atop a hill amidst the rolling Tuscan hills of Mugello, land originally owned by the Medicis, the leading Florentine family since the 15th century. Spread across 1650 acres of wilderness, game, and life — Poggio ai Segugi is an outdoorsman’s paradise, and sanctuary. The hunter’s lodge lies adjacent to the main house, and the Riccis dutifully maintain the ecosystem’s balance by preserving and sometimes hunting wild animals roaming the property. Any game hunted on the premises is donated to the less fortunate in neighboring towns.
Of all Ricci’s properties around the world, it’s no surprise this is his favourite. The home’s harmony with the land reveals his true nature — a man who reveres tradition and the natural order. He even spends every May and June in Africa on safari, hunting for inspiration for a new collection.
The classic Tuscan architecture reflects the essence of the Renaissance era, with its rustic limestone walls, arched doors and stately windows — the same aesthetic you’d find less than 70 kilometres away in Florence, the birthplace of the Western golden age. Walking into his manor, it’s as if passing from the perfection of nature to that of man.
Inside, the Stefano Ricci home collection adorns the interior, with its immaculate objects such as hand-crafted crystal water glasses and hand-hammered silver wine goblets — just like those of the Renaissance — harmonized with the masculinity of taxidermied hunting trophies on the walls.
The presence of Stefano Ricci, the bearded patriarchal founder, fills up the room, radiating the aura of his brand’s marketing slogan, “Honour, Power, Pride” — though he somehow does it with an approachable warmth and humility.
“I am a normal person in a normal family, which has old tradition,” Ricci says, an ethos which has been passed on to his two sons, who now help him run the company — the elder Niccolò, CEO, and younger Filippo, creative director. “That is a treasure, it’s an asset for my kids to have grown up with the same spirit.”
While Ricci’s classic Florentine bearing permeates his home and menswear brand, it’s traditional Italian values that drive this sophisticated look worn by celebrities worldwide — Robert De Niro, Tom Cruise, and Andrea Bocelli, to name a few.
“My job is men’s fashion, and it’s more men’s tradition, because there are two worlds,” says Ricci. “The one where the designers like to dress a man like a woman, [and the] real tradition of men’s clothing, which is tailoring and a completely different world.”
The brand’s eagle logo symbolizes that masculine strength, while also suggesting a visionary, an ability to see far away — or down the road — a quality the founder clearly possesses after leading the market for 45 years in bespoke men’s fashion.
“This is not just a cloth, but also a heritage — the continuation of the spirit of Florence, a continuation of culture,” he says.
“I really feel very lucky to make some contribution to the preservation of these traditional crafts.”
Reviving the Renaissance
Ricci has always emphasized the impact of growing up in Florence, the birthplace of Dante, da Vinci and Michelangelo, and, more recently, the fashion icons Gucci, Pucci, and Ferragamo — a city of timeless tastemakers, inspiring Ricci in the creation of his own brand.
“I don’t want to be luxury, I want to be different,” he says. His legacy is a return to “quality, quality, quality” — classic, bespoke, hand-crafted clothing, rightfully earning $500 a tie and $30,000 a suit. “If you really love what you are doing, you want to put your own touch on what you learned from the Florentine culture.”
A tailoring and necktie aficionado — with a collection of 150 Hermès ties growing up — Ricci decided he’d write his own chapter in the history books. In 1972, he designed his first collection with the hope of making the best ties in the world, inspired by the handmade craftsmanship and classical paintings of the Renaissance.
Two years later, in his early 20s, Ricci and his maiden collection were lauded at Pitti Uomo, the preeminent international menswear event. Soon, leading international department stores were lining their shelves with Stefano Ricci ties.
“Today, to make a brand, you can do it in two ways — one is with a huge advertising campaign, the other is good quality. I never compromised the product for the price — it’s exclusive because there are a few made of that item,” he says. “The ladies’ cloth, the quality of the cloth, never gets even close to the material that we use — not even haute couture.”
Ricci’s current collection, the “Patchwork” series, also known as the world’s most expensive ties, beautifully showcase the handcrafted quality one expects from the Stefano Ricci label. Hundreds of small silk pieces are hand sewn together using fabric painstakingly spun on centuries-old looms, which can only produce two ties’ worth of silk in one hour. But the high cost never deterred Ricci, who deeply believed traditional Florentine style and workmanship were the only way forward.
“If there is no passion, you don’t go anywhere,” Ricci says. “I was pushed to expand by the request of the market, by the consumer.”
Only two years after his first tie collection, Stefano Ricci added top-quality shirts and small leather goods, and then continued to build out the men’s wardrobe, from suits to shoes to jewellery. True to the company’s Florentine roots, Ricci set a timeless standard of quality around the globe, all while going in the opposite direction of the industry.
In the 1980s, as Italy shifted from an agricultural country to an industrial and service-based economy, Italian fashions moved away from haute couture to ready-to-wear clothing. The new more affordable styles found in Milan deposed Florence as the reigning fashion capital of Italy.
Ricci and other powerful Florentine fashion families formed a philanthropic consortium called “Classico Italia” to bolster the presence of Florence and to protect its artisanal heritage. Its “100% Made in Italy” label signified production carried out exclusively in Italy, versus the cheaper alternatives in Asia quickly gaining in popularity.
Nothing can exemplify that “100% Made in Italy” bespoke experience of Stefano Ricci quite like the creation of its custom suits, where they even photograph a client’s stride to ensure the most natural, precise fit. From exquisite fabrics of cashmere, wool, and silk, to 186 production steps all graced by the hands of master artisans — the quality, comfort and look of a Stefano Ricci bespoke suit can’t be matched by a machine.
“What can be done in one minute with machine, with technology, is done in four to five hours by hand,” Ricci says.
As demand continued to grow for Stefano Ricci clothing and accessories, in 1993, Ricci opened his first monobrand boutique in Shanghai — a bold choice at the time.
“Twenty-three years ago, nobody really expected what China would be,” says Ricci. On a previous visit to China, Ricci saw something that other entrepreneurs might have missed. “I was looking at the way the young generation was moving, walking, the energy of the eyes.”
The Chinese embraced the Stefano Ricci brand, even though ties cost an equivalent of four months salary for a well-off Chinese. Ricci’s sons, Niccolò and Filippo, saw huge potential in the brand’s artisanal heritage, and bit by bit, with their marketing savvy, Stefano Ricci opened a total of 52 boutiques internationally, from Dubai to Beverly Hills to recently, the flagship store in Vancouver, Canada’s first. Ricci personally designed every boutique himself, each 100 percent made by Florentine craftsmen.
Staying true to the soul of the brand, Niccolò and Filippo came across a business opportunity that was less about economics and more of a responsibility to their heritage. The speed and cheap cost of modern industrial production were putting artisanal textile mills out of business, including the legendary silk mill Antico Setificio Fiorentino, which had been producing fabrics for royalty since 1786.
In 2010, from the Pucci family, Stefano Ricci S.p.A. bought Antico Setificio Fiorentino, a magical place that truly takes you back in time. The ancient mill is tucked away along an alley, not at all where you’d expect to find the production of Europe’s finest, most expensive handmade silks, costing 2,000 euros per metre. When you open the iron gate and walk towards the burnt-red front door, you can faintly hear a rhythmic thumping and clicking from the 17th and 18th century semi-automatic looms, singing like an orchestrated symphony. Inside the historic mill, master weavers line the walls working on ancient wooden looms, as one lady in the corner patiently uses a warper designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself, with his sketches still hanging on the wall.
“I really feel very lucky to make some contribution to the preservation of these traditional crafts,” Ricci says, happy yet still humbled by his role in history, a legacy and heritage he wants to preserve and pass on. “Now is the moment to think about the future. Stefano Ricci and the approach to quality is something for the new generation, the young generation.”