Italy equals leather in the same way that England equals gardens. In Rome and Florence well-ordered workshops are easy to find on the main tourist streets – in Naples, amongst the best in business especially for gloves, there is no sign.
Naples never hands anything to you.
The maps app took us to the exact address and … nothing. No shop window, no big sign, no smell of leather, no sounds of tapping and stitching, no gloves. We were up in the top end of the city and Omega srl had vanished.
I asked a lady for ‘guanti‘ and she waved us back up the street towards the palazzo on the left. Unconvinced we went into the courtyard and repeated the ‘guanti‘ question.
“Ah,” said a man. “Sei francese?”
“No,” I replied, flattered for some reason.
He shrugged, pointed us through a doorway and said we should head for the third floor. There, through an open door, we found an elderly lady at a sewing machine.
“Sei francese?” she asked.
“No,” I said and tried to explain we just wanted to buy some gloves.
“Mauro …,” she interrupted. “ Mauro …“, she pointed down the passageway behind her towards a man busy at a computer.
“Ah … sei francese?”
“No,” I replied, “siamo inglesi.”
He shrugged, smiled, removed his glasses, and cleared two chairs of leather handbags. “Prego,” he said, then added in English: “The French are here on a tour. You must have coffee first and then you shall have a tour.”
“I just wanted to buy …” the words faded. My seventeen-year-old son was already well-settled and waiting for his coffee. My credit card twitched nervously.
Mauro, third generation of the Squillace family to head Omega srl, gave us a good twenty minutes of his time and then, post coffee and our mixed-lingual chat, he asked his son, tour guide to the previous French group, to show us round.
This was not a hyper-organized, over-effusive type of tour. It was just us, led by one gentle young man around the different work-posts beneath the windows each surrounded by boxes, tools and cuts of leather.
It felt old, people-rich, and like the streets outside it held its own tried and tested order.
We were told that when the leather first arrives in Naples it is cured, dyed by immersion at a separate site, and then passed to Omega to be stretched, cut, stitched and finished – each stage by hand.
The cutting is done on a high wooden table flooded with natural light. At one end bundles of cut pieces waited to be sent out to different homes to be sewn and returned later for the final check.
It’s this that matters to Omega – that its gloves are not mass produced but made with the help of families who have worked in the trade for generations and who all link in to this small workshop.
Mauro Squillace’s proudest point is that from the first cut it takes 25 different pairs of Neapolitan hands to finish a pair of his gloves.
Our private tour ended with the chance to buy a pair but no insistence that we should. The aim for Mauro was the connection, the chance to spread the word about his elegant gloves – soft as shadows.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2017
If you have the time please try these links – they are under ten minutes each and show the story of Omega srl and its glove making. The clips are in Italian and subtitled in Spanish but the pictures alone are worth the watch. The music is perfect.