Brioni co-founder Gaetano Savini traveled to Japan in 1963. The historical record exists—it's a small, age-stained diary with Arigato=Grazie scrawled across the cover. When Brioni's current steward, Brendan Mullane, turned up the journal in the house archives, it was like he'd received a sign from above. Mullane has made a habit of retracing the Brioni founders' steps (last season, he replicated their trip to London), and he packed his crew up and took them all to Japan. The result is perhaps the most Japanese collection of ultra-luxury Italian suits ever attempted.
The entire enterprise is premised on bringing together the two traditions. It started on the micro level: Mullane spoke of borrowing colors from Caravaggio (rich cherry red, deep green, navy) and weaving them into Japanese suiting wools, then garment-dyeing Italian cashmere coats in a pink the color of Japanese cherry blossoms. From there, it grew to macro: There were traditional Western suits in single- and double-breasted iterations, but the apex of the mix was a suit silhouette inspired by a kimono, with inset lapels and a belted waist. It drew the largest crowd of goggling Italians.
On the trip, between visits to Tadao Ando's building and the Naoshima Biennial, Mullane met with a 450-year-old firm of kimono artisans, from whom he commissioned a custom print featuring cranes, bamboo, and plum and cherry blossoms. It showed up printed onto silk shirts and woven into suits, but its wildest and most luxurious expression was on a bomber jacket hand-painted with the crane motif. It will be a limited edition and, as the euphemism has it, priced on request. Which in the end makes it different less in degree than in kind from Brioni's usual wildly luxe fare. (This is a collection that includes a full-length mink with a Prince of Wales pattern hand-cut into it with a razor.)
Skeptics may wonder at the wisdom of a departure as marked as this one, but wonder is at least as worthy a response as skepticism. "To me, it's quintessentially Brioni," Mullane said of the collection. "Everything has that nod to Italian sartorialism, but taken to the next level." Besides, Savini isn't the only traveler with an understanding that arigato=grazie. Cross-cultural appreciation goes both ways. "Most of the customers of the kimono company," Mullane confided, "are also Brioni customers."