William Gilchrist - A love letter to Naples

Welcome to Naples or to paraphrase Goethe “See Naples and live”.  A city that was founded upon the spot where a siren / mermaid, Parthenope, washed up on the shoreline. You are no longer in Italy and the locals are not Italian but Parthenopean. Welcoming, ebullient and at times seemingly completely unaware of your presence as they go about their day, they are the beating heart of this beauty and she will seduce you. Oh yes and did I mention that like all good lovers she will also infuriate you, repel you, confuse you and love you?

I’ve spent most of my life travelling and loved every moment of it. There are places where as soon as you get off the plane / boat / train etc you feel a kinship. You know those moments when you’re at a party or a bar and someone is giving off an energy that just pulls you in? Well Napoli has that effect on me. I moved to Naples full time about three and a half years ago, so when Oli showed me his Summer ’22 collection it just made sense that the two should meet. Like most cities, Naples isn’t immune to the dearth of sportswear that will never go faster / higher or longer than the walk to the pizzeria but alongside this the elegance of the Neapolitan cut persists. The softer shoulder, un-canvassed jackets and looser cuts are still readily available both from the master tailors of Naples who introduced them back in the 50s and some of the off-the-peg clothiers. 

"They don’t have many mosquitoes but they do have many mopeds, expertly driven and at high speed. Just follow the law of chaos theory - anything can happen at any given time, then you’ll be fine!"

Talking of pizzas the Neapolitan pizza is made under strict guidelines from the width of the crust to the tomatoes, San Marzano, that make the sauce. However the tomato that best exemplifies Naples is the Piennolo, small and thick skinned these are the ones that get Neapolitans through the winter. Thick skinned and grown on the slopes of Vesuvius they are strung together to resemble a bunch of grapes.

As we shot early in the year, we needed to get lucky with the weather. The app showed a week of clouds and some rain with one sunny day, Thursday, and so to Naples. There are so many different aspects to this city but we wanted to focus on the bay, so Posillipo, Mergellina and the “Old City” down by Castel del Ovo, where Virgil placed an egg in the foundations to ensure it’s fortitude. They added his bones later. From the corniche or “lungo mare” we stopped by the marina of Mergellina where if you time it right you can buy fresh fish from the fleet of small fishing boats returning from their day’s work. If you miss them head to Ciro’s for an ice cream, pastry, cocktail or all three.

Being by the sea the weather can change quickly so locals usually start the day in jacket and trousers, yes the suit survives here, unlined, un structured and effortlessly cool, they’ll grab an espresso in the bar, possibly already paid for by an anonymous previous customer. Maintaining the Neapolitan tradition of a “cafe sospeso”. As the thermometer rises jackets come off to reveal a good linen shirt which thanks to the humidity stay uncreased for longer periods.Once it’s time for an aperitif the cool winds from the sea cool the city down and the jackets go back on.

The Oliver Spencer collection is infused with that same spreezatura spirit. Unstructured linen blazers providing ample insurance against the irrepressible heat. We styled them with tonal Cuban shirts, the soft roll of the flat collar spooning with the jacket’s lapels as if pressed in place by the Neapolitan sun. Otherwise, it was the soft waffle-knit jersey and terry cloth rendered in the silhouettes of short-sleeved shirts and polos that provided a cooling textural layer in soft neutral tones. Walking around Naples, you’re made aware of the multitude of textures battling for your attention, from the crumbling walls to the sun-bleached paint and the footpaths prone and submissive under the weight of centuries of human energy. In many ways, this it was this textural juxtaposition we tried to recreate in styling the various elements of the collection, matching up terry cord with linen, linen with organic cotton jersey, mixing and matching to show its inherent versatility.

Fairway Jacket
Padworth Stone

Havana Short Sleeve Shirt
Cannon Beige

Hawthorn Polo Shirt
Duport Cream/Ochre

Naples is a walking town. They don’t have many mosquitoes but they do have many mopeds, expertly driven and at high speed. Just follow the law of chaos theory - anything can happen at any given time, then you’ll be fine. The streets range from wide and sweeping to narrow and “how on earth do you get a car down that?”, but they do. It’s also built on hillsides and at times resembles Hong Kong, just built 200 years before. Instead of escalators there are stairways that will take you from Vomero (top of the hill) to the shoreline, where myriad of boats await. From cargo ships and cruise ships to kayaks, the place to view them is by the castle, where you have a great vantage to spot a docked sleeping beauty. 

But back to food, because that is what preoccupies the Neapolitans, no matter what time of day it is. Always the next meal. Fresh ingredients are standard here but what one does with those ingredients is another story and a story that always has a happy ending is a visit to Diego d’Ascensione. Chef Diego and his brother Mario will take you on an excellent adventure from your seat in the lovely Piazetta d’Ascensione.  The best fish I have ever had. Diego is often sent videos by the fishermen as they bring in a catch so he can place his order. So as well as shooting through the streets we managed a stop there, now that is a happy ending. Good friends, great food, impeccable clothing.

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