Canali: Discreet, refined menswear

Inside the go-to label for politicians, royalty, movie stars and discerning logo-phobes


Elisabetta Canali dislikes talking about herself. While her self-professed shyness comes as a surprise given her media-focused role, the trait corresponds with Canali's image as a luxury brand: a bastion of Italian tailoring, it has become a byword for discreet, polished and impeccably refined menswear. Elisabetta herself is softly spoken and graceful; she refers to her team as a second family.

"I don't like to work with too many people," she says with a gentle Milanese lilt. "Just a few, but the best."

Founded in 1934 by Elisabetta's grandfather Giovanni and his brother Giacomo, Canali has been
a go-to label for politicians, royalty, movie stars and discerning logo-phobes for decades. Barack Obama wore one of its suits following his election as US President in November 2008; Michael Douglas has starred in the brand's campaigns, while George Clooney is an honorary Canali signore, choosing the label for the red-carpet circuit as well as his speedboat jaunts on Lake Como. A video released ahead of Canali's SS17 show in Milan in June this year featured male gymnasts spinning on ropes inside
a web of laser beams; this is about as flash as things get for the fashion house, which prides itself on
its ultra-luxe 'Made in Italy' hallmark.

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Now in her forties, Elisabetta joined the family business at the age of 27. Two brothers, one sister and three cousins occupy key senior roles within the company, but hers is by far the most hands-on in terms of image and aesthetic output. "I knew I wanted to work in the creative field, but I needed to balance this with a rational side," she explains.

Her answer was to study law in Milan before embarking on her career as the company's spearhead. "My studies opened my mind, helping me understand that there are always rational and irrational aspects to life. I was passionate about law, perhaps because of my interest in equality and freedom of rights."

Elisabetta's message is far from spiritual; her aptitude for diplomacy and negotiation
has presumably served as a trump card in what continues to be a male-dominated industry.
She certainly doesn't suffer fools gladly: "For me, first impressions are everything. I must
feel comfortable with the people I work with. It doesn't matter if they are extremely good;
I cannot work with them if I don't have a kind
of – how to describe – skin feeling," she explains, unaware of her charming, Italian-spun solecism.

Her entry into the family business was not altogether smooth. She admits she was reticent to return to Italy – at her father's suggestion – after an "amazing" year away in New York as
a law graduate. "It was an incredible challenge, because when I started [at Canali] it was just myself in the department."

Today, she heads an 18-strong team of coordinating staff, based across three continents. While strategies have changed dramatically to accommodate the brand's unbridled global expansion – it currently has 250 boutiques worldwide – heritage has remained Canali's focus. "We are a tailoring company," says Elisabetta.
"It is important to underline this aspect. We don't want to be anything different. Of course we want to grow up, but we must keep our identity."

By 'growing up', she means embracing modern silhouettes, dynamic leisure wear and technical advances in fabric development, which have led to innovations such as the Nuvola ('cloud') blazer – it weighs less than 9oz – and
a cotton shirting material that uses body heat
to even out creases.

"Keeping your DNA doesn't mean you always have to do the same thing," says Elisabetta, striking a more serious tone. "This is completely wrong. You have to evolve with the markets and be contemporary."

Elisabetta Canali may come across as reserved and demure, but she is undaunted when it comes to decision-making. "I love my job, and I try to push a little further with it," she explains. "Not everybody always agrees, but if you think something is right, it is worth fighting for."

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