Rome is puzzled since days who will make the robe for the successor to Benedict XVI. Two Roman “clergy tailors” are in the race for this prestigious job.
The family Gammarelli, that dresses the Cardinals at the Vatican since 1793, and the younger rival Euroclero, who supplied Josef Ratzinger with robes during his 20 years as a Curial Cardinal, and to whom Benedict has remained loyal in his years as Pope.
Sizes small, medium and large
The tailor shop that receives the order from the Vatican must make three complete Pope robes until the beginning of the conclave – in sizes small, medium and large. Because it is unclear what stature the new Pontiff will have, several vestments must be sewn. As of this writing the story is told in Rome about John XXIII., the “good Pope,”: the full-bodied Italian looked like a “sausage” in his too-tight suit. Before he appeared on the Loggia of St. Peter’s after the “Habemus papam” in 1958, the back seam had to be unstitched. Each Pope robe includes also a hat, cape, sash, cassock, red shoes and a whole lot more.
What Armani and Versace are to the secular fashion, the Roman tailor Gammarelli is for the dignitaries of the Vatican. Tradition is a top priority in the business close to the Pantheon in the heart of the eternal city, which equips the Roman Catholic clergy since 1793. The tailoring was founded by Giovanni Antonio Gammarelli under the pontificate of Pius VI. “Our tailoring has served hundreds of bishops and Cardinals, as well as the Popes Pius IX, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI”, says Annibale Gammarelli, who runs the shop in via Santa Chiara with his son Massimiliano.
Almost exclusively manual work
Even though the measurements are now taken via computer and credit cards are accepts, the operation remains personally and the vestments are manufactured almost exclusively by hand. This also applies to the more than 30 button holes of the Cardinal’s cassock.
Racks with bolts of cloth made of wool and silk occupy an entire wall of the dimly-lit shop – red for Cardinals, purple for bishops and black for priests. The transactions are prosessed over an ancient wooden counter on the ground floor, the tailors equipped with old-fashioned to cutters, sewing machines and irons are accommodated on the first floor.
Gammarelli has retained the title as the official “House Tailor” of the Vatican during Benedict’s pontificate, though competitor Euroclero made the clothes of Benedict’s. Euroclero enjoyed the fullest confidence of Cardinal Ratzinger during his time. When he then was elected Pope, Benedict XVI. did not want to go without the services of his favorite cutter. The head of the Catholic Church asserted his will against Gammarelli. Gammarelli was said to be peeved, and so the Vatican decided that the old tailor may continue to use “papal” – a not to be underestimated competitive advantage in the segment.
Benedict’s fashion sense has often caused a stirin his pontificate years. In 2008 he was named “the most stylish man in the world” by the magazine “Esquire”. In the advent season of 2005, he attended an audience on Saint Peter’s square in a fur-trimmed hat, that reminded of Santa Claus. The headdress with specific name “Camauro”, turned out to date back from the Middle Ages. On another occasion Benedict wore a beautiful red velvet cape trimmed with ermine – another traditional papal garment that has long been forgotten.
When Benedict wore bright red slippers in 2008, rumors circulated that the Pope would wear Prada shoes. The Vatican newspaper “L’Osservatore Romano” replied that the interest of the pope on clothes has nothing to do with fashion, but with the liturgy and its symbols. “The Pope is therefore not wearing Prada, but Christ,” the paper wrote.