“From today, you are Raffaniello.”
That was what Neapolitan master tailor Antonio Pascariello told Noriyuki Higashi when he came for his apprenticeship in Naples. Higashi didn’t ask for a new name. Probably didn’t know why he was being called Raffaniello to begin with. Something to do with Japanese names being difficult on the Italian tongue.
Still, it could have been worse. His friend, Noriyuki Ueki (yes, another Noriyuki), had also studied tailoring in Naples some years ago and was then renamed Ciccio. In Italian, that’s short for Francesco, but it could also be used to call someone “chubby.”
Ueki is nowhere near overweight, but when translation gets involved, these things get lost easily.
So, what do you do when a tailoring legend just gives you a name one day? You take it as an honor; a rite of passage. And that’s what Higashi did.
Higashi is in Manila to represent Sartoria Raffaniello, his own tailoring house. Right now, he’s taking orders at the Signet boutique in Bonifacio Global City. It’s his first time in the Philippines.
“And how is it?” I ask.
“Very hot,” he says.
“But perfect for linen, right?”
“Linen, fresco, light fabric. Almost the same with Bangkok and Singapore.”
“I guess it is.”
“Same same,” he says, quoting the famous Bangkok saying that, as you can imagine, means “both things are the same.”
Higashi travels between Bangkok, Singapore, Korea, and now the Philippines, as part of his monthly route. Part of the sartorial Silk Road that he’s established as one of the more well-known tailors in Japan.
Before all of this, he worked in Strasburgo for four years: a luxury clothing store that’s famous for its curation. And before that, he was working as a salaryman in the daytime while his friends gave him tailoring work on the weekends.
But that wasn’t how he got his start. How he got it was years ago, when he’d started his career at Ring Jacket, one of the most established menswear names in Japan (you can see their safari jackets in this story).
Higashi stayed in Ring Jacket for seven years, and making ready-to-wear was something he loved. Still, things changed when he saw Ueki’s work (he of the Ciccio nickname). Ueki had just returned from an apprenticeship in Naples, under both Antonio Pascariello and Luigi Dalcuore (you can watch our video of Dalcuore here, where he talks about what makes Neapolitan tailoring so different).
“Sartoria Ciccio, he came back to Japan from Napoli,” Higashi explains. “When he came back to Japan and I saw his jacket. My mind had changed.”
The soft, completely handmade, unstructured, jacket from Naples was exactly what Higashi wanted to make. But things weren’t going to be easy for him. He was 30 at the time, and his wife was midway through her pregnancy. Still, opportunities like that didn’t ever come twice.
“That was my last chance until my baby,” Higashi says. “I went to Napoli. I tried my last chance.”
He pauses, and after a while, he says: “I decided too late.”
Higashi flew to Naples anyway, and studied under Pascariello for three months. It was a short stay, as tailoring apprenticeships go, but that was all the time he had. Then, he made his way back to Japan. Ten days later, his wife gave birth.
With a baby and a wife to take care of, Higashi could only tailor in the weekends, mostly for friends and the people they referred.
“Back in Japan I can’t find tailor job,” he says. “I’m working another job and get a salary. And only Saturday and Sunday I make jacket for my friend.”
Slowly, he built his following, and after a few years as a salaryman, a few years in Strasburgo, Higashi set up Sartoria Raffaniello.
That takes us back to now, and Higashi is currently on tour around Asia. Today, he’s in Manila, and two weeks from now, he’ll be in Thailand, where things are mostly “same same.”
“Thailand is very, very good business. Very many client. Also young,” he says.
Higashi’s clients are mostly men in their 30s and 40s, some in their 20s: all young for a tailoring market. He says this is because of his made-to-measure program (aside from his bespoke work), which sits at a very comfortable price point, not too expensive.
Still, this is also owed to the tailoring boom back in his home country. How big a thing tailoring is in Japan is as big as Tokyo, as wide as Osaka: both cities being home to many young tailors opening their own shops.
The spread of social media platforms over the last decade made it possible for them to attract clients without belonging to one of Japan’s older establishments.
But most of all, this is owed to Higashi’s own style.
“I think my style is Japanese-Neapolitan,” he explains. “Looks like Neapolitan, but little bit different. More clean and looks more sharp but comfortable.”
And it works for Higashi and for his clientele, some of whom are only now getting into this sort of thing. As for how young they are, all he says is: “Very good for me, I think. We can grow up together.”
After all he’s been through, after beating the buzzer for his own child’s birth, after all those weekends spent tailoring while holding a day job down: they probably already have.
Shangri-La at the Fort
3rd Avenue, 1634, Taguig, Philippines