Sartoria Cresent is a bespoke tailoring house in Milan, meticulously run by Satoki Kawai. Satoki is dedicated to preserving the classic Milanese style while infusing it with Japanese attention to detail and his own unique twist, born from his profound understanding of Milanese tailoring heritage and the city’s timeless elegance. Satoki’s suits embody sharp lines, exuding a tasteful masculinity and sophisticated expression. The unconstructed shoulder, delicately shaped like a concave saddle, whispers the essence of Milanese elegance, stripping away all unnecessary embellishments. Another defining feature of Sartoria Cresent’s style is the absence of the front darts, a technique passed down from previous generations of tailors, ensuring a clean and uninterrupted front pattern.
How long does it take for a dream to become a reality? For Satoki Kawai, who dreamt of being a tailor since the tender age of 8, the journey was far from smooth. In 1986, a then 8-year-old Satoki watched a captivating documentary on his Osaka home’s local TV program, which introduced the art of tailoring. Instantly mesmerised by the idea of crafting the perfect suit that would both satisfy the client and be one-of-a-kind, Satoki’s passion was ignited. As he grew older, his fascination with suits and jacket tailoring only intensified whenever he spotted them on the streets or within the pages of magazines. At 17, he confided in his civil servant father about his desire to become a tailor, but his father encouraged him to pursue a university education instead. Driven by a deep admiration for English gentleman style, Satoki enrolled at Osaka University, majoring in British culture. Despite his academic pursuits, Satoki had yet to grasp the proper technique of holding a needle. In contrast, many Italian tailors, particularly from the older generation, often embarked on their apprenticeships during their teenage years, viewing tailoring as a means to earn a living. It appears that Satoki’s decision to attend University delayed the pursuit of his dream to become a tailor. However, it’s the detour that imparts Sartoria Cresent its unique style. After honing his skills under the guidance of Milanese tailor Enrico Colombo and the illustrious Milanese house A. Caraceni, Satoki Kawai finally established Sartoria Cresent in Milan a decade ago.
The name “Cresent” is a fusion of “creation” and “feel,” encapsulating Satoki’s philosophy:
Thanks to his meandering journey, Satoki is fluent in Japanese, Italian, and English, allowing him to effortlessly connect with a diverse global clientele. From Japan to Mainland China, Hong Kong to Sweden, and the United States, his customers span the globe. In our interview, Satoki graciously shared his inspiring story of becoming a Milanese tailor, as well as his philosophy on timeless elegance.
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A (Agnes Select): You’re clearly a goal-driven individual who knew from a young age that you wanted to pursue tailoring as a profession. Can you tell me how you first became interested in tailoring?
SK (Satoki Kawai): Absolutely. I actually decided to become a tailor when I was around 16 or 17 years old during my high school days. It all started when I watched a TV program in Japan when I was 8 that introduced the profession of tailoring and the idea of personalising garments to suit customers’ tastes.
A: It’s fascinating how early your passion for tailoring developed. You mentioned being influenced by British culture. Can you elaborate on that?
SK: Certainly. During my college years, I delved into the study of British culture and fashion, particularly from the early 20th century. Initially, I aspired to work on Savile Row, but it was challenging to find opportunities from Japan. So I went to Savile Row while learning English there in London. In the morning, I went to the language school, and in the afternoon, I walked along Savile Row, knocking on doors for apprenticeship opportunities and sending emails to the shops etc.
At last, I couldn’t secure any opportunities there and had to return to Japan. Through the introduction of a Japanese tailor, I found a job in a factory producing MTM suits. At that time, I knew nothing about cutting or suit-making. In that factory, for one year, I had to work in the office. After 8pm, I started to learn something and try to sew something by myself. During my time working in that factory, I realised I needed to learn from the originators of tailoring, the Europeans.
At that time, I started to feel that the British style, although it can be a perfect fit for London’s environment, is too heavy and too masculine for daily wearing in Japan. That’s when I started to be interested in Italian tailoring with its various schools and depth of culture. And among them, the Milanese style is a bit resembles the British style, a bit more masculine and constructed, which is very different from the Neapolitan style.
A: Your journey to becoming a tailor has certainly been a process of exploration and adaptation. Speaking of mentors, is your master, Colombo, still in Milan, and how often do you interact with him?
SK: Yes, my master, Mr Colombo, is still in Milan. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we haven’t been able to meet frequently. However, I recently spoke to him on the phone, and he expressed a desire to visit my atelier soon.
A: It’s wonderful to maintain a connection with your master. Do you still seek his guidance and ask him questions, even after learning from him for five years?
SK: Absolutely. There is still so much I can learn from him, particularly in terms of technical aspects. While I have developed my own style, when it comes to modifying and improving patterns, I often seek his opinion and expertise.
A: You initially started as a coat maker and gradually learned pattern-making in your spare time.
SK: Maybe because it looks very tough, so I want to learn it (Laugh). While I was working for Mr Colombo, I read a lot of technical books. Sometimes I also found those very old books about cutting on eBay. Or sometimes, some old tailor would give it to me. So, I started cutting by making a lot of bad patterns for myself. And keep modifying them and improving my patterns. And I would ask advice from Mr Colombo or experienced cutters in A. Caraceni.
A: Why did you want to learn pattern-making?
SK: Pattern-making plays a crucial role in bringing a designer’s vision to life. In the world of fashion, a designer creates sketches, and it is the pattern maker who translates those sketches into tangible patterns. By understanding pattern making, I can bridge the gap between design and the final product. In bespoke tailoring, having a good basic pattern is essential. It serves as the foundation for realising a well-designed garment. Precise measurements and fittings are also crucial, but without a solid foundation, it becomes difficult to identify and address issues during fittings.
A: How would you describe your ideal style, and what sets the Milanese style apart?
SK: Over the years, working with Mr Colombo and observing various Milanese jackets worn by old tailors or local gentlemen on the street, I developed a great appreciation for simplicity, understated elegance, and masculinity in tailoring. The Milanese style, characterised by slightly wider and concave shoulders (the shoulder shape is called “In sellata” in Italian, meaning the horse saddle), together with the drape around the chest, creates a reverse triangle shape that enhances a man’s masculinity. Everything about Milanese tailoring is understated, without any elements that vie for attention. It’s challenging to describe in words, but there must be a higher society in Milan 100 or 50 years ago. And the character of the city of Milan is very commercial and more social, that open to other areas in Europe. Milanese style is deeply rooted in the history and social context of the city, where elegance and social appeal coexist.
A: Milanese style indeed carries a unique allure. Your choice of vintage fabrics also adds depth to your designs. Can you share your thoughts on the significance of these fabrics and how they contribute to your aesthetic?
SK: Vintage fabrics hold a special place in my heart because they carry a sense of history. They remind me of an era when wearing a jacket or suit was commonplace. There was a market demand for such fabrics, which were rich and collaborative in nature while maintaining a classical appeal. It’s about appreciating the cultural depth and richness that these fabrics embody.
A: It’s fascinating how you incorporate heritage and cultural depth into your designs. How do you pass on this appreciation and Milanese taste to your younger clients, particularly those from Asia?
SK: Initially, it can be challenging to promote this specific taste. However, I begin by understanding the fabric choices that resonate with my clients. We usually start with more common choices like navy or grey fabrics. From there, as they build their wardrobe and expand their tastes, I gradually introduce them to more sophisticated styles and fabrics. Through this process, I aim to enrich their wardrobes and impart an appreciation for the richness of culture and quality of fabrics.
A: Your mission to educate and introduce clients to Milanese taste is commendable, especially considering the distinct suit culture in Japan and other Asian countries. What are your thoughts on the differences between Italian and Japanese tailoring?
SK: Japanese tailoring tends to be immaculate, emphasising cleanliness and perfection. However, Italian tailoring is more friendly and can resonate with people. Italians wear suits throughout the day, effortlessly blending elegance and casualness, avoiding stiffness. The saying “the jacket is a second skin” perfectly captures the Italian approach to tailoring, “The second skin” not only means the perfection of tailoring, but it also means the mental distance from jacket to my own skin is very close. It’s an everyday object seamlessly integrated into one’s style. This is history. This is the culture to be learned.
A: That’s a beautiful perspective. Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences with us, Satoki.
SK: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure to discuss my journey and the Milanese style.