FOR EACH OF THE 50 SUITS PIERCE Brosnan and his stuntmen wear as James Bond in the 007 hit Golden-Eye, tailors at Brioni, the venerable Italian clothier, toiled 20 hours and hand-sewed 16,000 stitches—only to see all but five of their masterpieces torn and tattered during the shooting. “We knew that would happen—this is an action movie,” says Umberto Angeloni, 43, Brioni’s CEO. Which doesn’t mean the 10 craftsmen and women at the factory in Penne, Italy, didn’t care. “In one scene, Pierce sits down after being beaten but first lifts up the pleats of his trousers so they’ll break properly,” recalls Golden-Eye costumer Lindy Hemming, who attended a screening of the film with the Brioni staff. “The tailors rose off their seats in approval for that one.”
Such reverence for raiment has long been at the core of Brioni’s relationship with its customers—an elite group that includes Hollywood stars like Al Pacino and Sidney Poitier, Saudi Arabian princes and such heads of state as Nelson Mandela and Argentina’s Carlos Menem. Still owned by the same two Roman families that founded it a half-century ago, the company—named for an island off the Adriatic coast—has, as noted in its new coffee-table book, Brioni: Fifty Years of Style, also outfitted such luminaries as John Wayne, Clark Gable and Peter Jennings. Renowned for their luxurious fabrics and elegant workmanship (on being hired, their tailors complete a four-year training program), the suits are sold in Brioni’s shops in New York City and Italy and in upscale boutiques worldwide. Among fashion’s most costly, they can exceed $7,500 in price. “The fit, the cut and the fabrics make them worth it,” explains client Donald Trump. “They make me feel very well-dressed.” Says Angeloni: “We promote elegance, not extravagance.”
It was that reputation that helped Brioni beat out bigger names like Hugo Boss and longtime rival Giorgio Armani for Hollywood’s most coveted fashion prize last year: the chance to dress the new James Bond. “Bond is impeccable and sophisticated,” says Hemming, who, unlike past Bond costumers, shunned London’s Savile Row. “And no other company could tailor every garment and have them ready in the same quality.” As for Brosnan, a real-life client, Angeloni says he is a “tailor’s dream. He’s’tall and naturally elegant. And he’s not too strong in the derriere, which makes jackets fall perfectly.”
Fashion was something altogether foreign to Angeloni after moving at the age of 5 to Somalia, where his father, Renato, a judge in Italy’s top court, had been enlisted to help the former Italian colony develop its own legal system. “I loved it,” recalls Angeloni, the oldest of five children. “It meant going every day into the bush to watch animals or collect wild fruits.” Later, while studying economics at the University of Rome, he fell in love with and, after graduation, married classmate Gabriella Fonticoli, a member of one of Brioni’s founding families (the Savini family is the other).
After earning an M.B.A. in London, Ont., in 1979, Angeloni started what he expected to be a career in multinational banking. But his wife’s family had other plans. “Because the two founders only had daughters, I was called on to get involved in the business,” Angeloni explains. In 1982 he moved to Rome to take over as CEO, immediately expanding into shirts and ties and creating an aggressive marketing department.
Now, with Brioni’s annual sales at $50 million, Angeloni, who lives in the exclusive Roman neighborhood of Parioli with Gabriella, a homemaker, and their five children, is looking to beef up the company’s women’s-clothing line and launch a men’s fragrance. He has already secured the rights to dress Brosnan for the next Bond movie. And thanks to Golden-Eye’s success, he is confident that more Hollywood studios will, well, follow suit. “Maybe we aren’t the most avant-garde company,” he says, “but once you’ve tasted the best, you can’t settle for anything less.”
TOULA VLAHOU in Rome, ANNE-MARIE OTEY in Los Angeles and BROOKE BIZZELI. STACHYRA in New York City