TIÑO has been a leader of excellence in bespoke tailoring since the 1990’s and has had the honor of dressing some of the country’s elegant and fine men. The man behind the brand, master tailor Napoleon Arienza unveils his humble beginnings and never been revealed experiences as a tailor in the Philippines.
Napoleon’s Beginnings in Tailoring
It was a usual expected busy day in the store and everyone was preparing for the clients to come in for their scheduled fitting. While the master tailor was laying down the pattern paper on his cutting table, I on the other hand, was preparing for the interview that I have been looking forward to for quite some time. I opened my notebook, brought out my pen and voice recorder to write the story of the Filipino Bespoke Tailor in the Philippines whom I was most honored to meet.
Master Tailor Napoleon Arienza or often called “Mang Nap”, “Kuya”, “Sir Nap”, “Nap” or “Dad,” found his passion in tailoring during his teenage years. Though a native from Surigao Del Sur, he pursued finding his career in the concrete jungle of Metro Manila.
He followed his elder brother, Lando, who landed a job at a tailoring shop called Toppers where he worked as a salesperson. Toppers was a well-known place for celebrities during those days. The company made the suits of Filipino matinee idols like Dolphy, Luis Gonzales, Fernando Poe Jr. a.k.a. “FPJ”, former Philippine President Joseph “Erap“ Ejercito Estrada just to name a few. Napoleon started out as a ‘boy’ at a tailoring shop. A “boy” is a local term in the Philippines who run errands and chores for his employer. He recalled, “I was the one sweeping the floor, cleaning the shop, etc.”
Napoleon eventually took the same job as his brother. He and Lando lived in an apartment with other tailors and that is how he came to know how much money a tailor earns as compared to an average Filipino working boy of the 1960’s. He turned to me in amazement and told me, “I can earn big in tailoring!” After their sales work, they tried to squeeze in sometime to learn from other tailors. In 1967, the minimum wage was around Php4.00 per day; however, a tailor could earn Php6-8 per day. When compared to the salary of a bank manager during that time, their monthly income is Php480, but surprisingly, a tailor could earn a whopping Php600 or more in a month only! While Napoleon is earning at tailor shop, he continued his studies and finished a degree in Bachelor in Science in Business Administration but as expected, he developed his passion in tailoring instead. To widen his knowledge in tailoring, he also bought instructional tailoring books and created patterns and garments out of it.
Nap’s Flourishing Career in the Tailoring Industry
Napoleon started cutting the pattern paper while he reminisced again about one of his challenging experiences in his career. During the time of President Marcos, tailoring shops would only hire experienced tailors and has his own sewing machine. “Tailoring shops cannot provide a sewing machine if they don’t have a vacant one for a newly hired tailor. I was only 18 years old back then, and the shops would only hire the more matured tailors. So, to nail the job, I travelled from one tailoring shop to another while carrying my own sewing machine! During the interview, I would turn on my machine, work, and that’s how I proved to them that I am truly a tailor.” Amazed by his persistence, I said, “That’s a hefty effort, Nap!” He smiled and continued telling me more about his beginnings.
Napoleon gratefully told me that he was appointed as the master cutter at a tailoring shop owned by an Italian designer and businessman, Giovanni Sanna where he worked there from 1978-1984. A Filipino-owned company, Fashionland Corporation, hired Giovanni to put up a tailoring shop. The style and cut of the suits would usually be led by his direction, but his Chinese master tailors that he got from Pierre Cardin in Italy, whose orientation were Hongkong-English-British bespoke, primarily worked on the construction. The company was a collaboration of English/British construction with Italian design assistance from Giovanni. Napoleon learned more about tailoring from them and their suits are already full-canvassed. A true bespoke suit is a full-floating canvass suit. It requires a laborious process of hand sewing the interlinings together. The pieces of a full canvassed suit are hand sewn with layers of horsehair canvass, felt and basted stitches-like a skeletal framework of the suit. The interlining of the coat that drapes on the wearer naturally and it conforms to the body over time. “Their house-cut was British, it was classic, loose, and not too much tapered,” he described.
After his fruitful years with Giovanni, he decided to resign before the store closed in 1995. “I went to different tailoring shops because I was seeking new methods in tailoring,” he recalled while holding a new pattern to start with. He became the headmaster cutter at Rustan’s Monsieur Boutique in Makati City.
In 1997, Brioni hired him; the branch was located at Shangri-la Mall along Shaw Boulevard. This famous tailoring house made suits for the iconic “James Bond” during the 1990’s. Its Roman-style emphasized a form-fitting suit, high-waisted pants, square shoulder and this was considered the “Power Look.” Brioni helped popularize this style, as shown in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film, “La Dolce Vita.” With Napoleon’s tailoring prowess, his skills enhanced further when he stayed for two months in Brioni at Penne, Italy. He remembered a tailor reminding him during his training, “He told me, ‘be careful Senior Arienza, a part of the coat you are holding will be worn by James Bond’, I didn’t know that it was for Pierce Brosnan until I went home in the Philippines and heard of it on TV and Radio!” His eyes widened and shared that with astonishment.
Beginning of TIÑO
In the early 1990’s tailoring shops have taken its toll in the country. As sewing machines arrived from abroad, mass production of clothes has increased. Many tailoring shops in Manila closed and there came the Ready-To-Wear or RTW clothes. Napoleon educated me that RTW clothes were produced in Europe, USA and China and eventually imported to the Philippines. Despite of this stage of tailoring in the country, Napoleon did not stop with the craft of bespoke tailoring.
Napoleon, along with his family started out a tailoring business that offers mass production for office uniforms. Their business was then called “Naparienza”, a coined term from Napoloen’s nickname, “Nap” and his surname, “Arienza.” The business was doing well until by 2001, Napoleon’s daughter, Eilene Ramirez supported the talents of her father. They want to expose the dying craft of bespoke tailoring make it more well-known and build it a lucrative business. They were able to find a space in Makati, which is now a high-end fashion company, TIÑO. The brand name came from a European term meaning, “sureness of touch” that they found it fit for its craft because bespoke tailoring is done by hand.
TIÑO aims to promote the craft of bespoke tailoring in the Philippines and uplift the quality of life of its craftsmen. Why bespoke? Driven from its term, “been spoken for”, it is a complete custom-made garment made to fit your body and allows you to have it made to your specification. While Napoleon is spreading distorted pieces of a coat in front of him that he is about to alter, he paused and told me, “Bespoke shows the importance of making a quality suit that is handmade. Bespoke is by hand and we want to achieve what the client wants for his suit. There are techniques in tailoring that it can be accomplished flawlessly by hand as supposed to using a sewing machine.”
TIÑO: Today and Tomorrow
The family that makes up TIÑO lives with its vision, “To provide the products of the highest quality and deliver sincere service to achieve a sustainable life for the company, to all our stakeholders and to the Filipino community.”
TIÑO is about to mark its fifth year in the business. I asked Napoleon the challenges that he encountered in the past years. “There are many demanding clients. I have to face them so I can make a solution, so that they will be satisfied with my service. At times, these meticulous clients would ask me to do this and that, even though I know it is wrong, I just do what they want. I want to satisfy them and make them come back. The customer is always right.”
Amazed by Napoleon’s passion for his craft, I did not stop there; I was curious with what is in store for TIÑO and he answered with eagerness, “We want to teach the craft so more tailors would learn how to do it. The way I look at it, in a few more years, I know that this business will expand. More and more clients are becoming more familiar with the craft and their need to have their own customized suits. We’ll have more tailors, and I believe that TIÑO will have more stores that will offer Ready-to-wear suits, men’s accessories and more.” After marking the pieces of fabrics he was holding, he rolled the pieces together, tied it and stored it in a crate, ready for his homegrown tailors to build it again. He turned to me, anticipating the next question I will throw at him.
Speaking of his homegrown tailors, Napoleon still wants to teach more young people to learn bespoke tailoring. Like his tailors now, they all grew up with him, most of them are high school graduates, but their positive drive made them become impressive skilled and loyal tailors of TIÑO. “I want to teach the younger ones. They can learn easily and while they are growing up, it is easier to expand the craft. A child is naturally inquisitive and interested, as supposed to adults who already knows a lot and what they want to learn can be selective.”
Overwhelmed with my interview with the only bespoke tailor in the Philippines, I closed my pen and turned off my voice recorder. I thanked him as I watched him preparing for his afternoon snack with his favorite coffee.