2019 Coats & Jackets

The Casentino Raglan-Sleeve Overcoat

By Mansel Fletcher

Jul 13, 2022

The Casentino Raglan-Sleeve Overcoat

I was 19 when I first went to Florence. It wasn’t the tailoring that took me there, I’d never heard of Pitti Uomo, never voluntarily worn a tailored jacket or a tie, and couldn’t understand why all the socks in the city’s shops were knee-high. I’d never been to Italy before and I immediately loved the place. Two separate elements of Florentine style made an indelible impression: the first was that the local population presented themselves in a way that was wholly unfamiliar (I’ve been working to unpick how and why that was ever since). The second was that Florence wasn’t just a beautiful town, it was an additional character in every scene that took place, whether I was eating in a cafe with a view of Fillippo Brunelleschi’s Duomo, walking past the heavy, rusticated stones that make up Palazzo Pitti, or drinking in a bar next to the Santo Spirito church. To stay in the city is to live on one of the world’s greatest theatre sets.

Of course, many readers will have a memory of visiting an Italian city. From Venice to Naples, Rome to Palermo, in the popular Northern European - or American - imagination, Italy is mainly a summer holiday destination, all sunshine, gelati and Persol sunglasses. Florence wasn’t like that when I visited; it was winter, it was cold and sometimes very wet; I drank a lot of thick, rich hot chocolate. Tuscany is usually photographed in the summer, when the earth and plants on the soft hills are dried and baked and the stone walls of the churches and restaurants offer shelter from the sun. What’s harder to picture in the mind is the Tuscany where it snows in winter, when the thick walls keep out the cold, wood fires roar in hearths and the region’s meaty cuisine finally makes sense.

It’s this wintry version of Tuscany that produced casentino cloth, a bobbly, bouclé fabric that’s been woven in the province of Arezzo for hundreds of years. For a long time the only place I saw casentino was in photographs from Pitti Uomo, because some of the best-dressed locals have elegant overcoats made from it. The fabric is reputed to have been originally worn by Tuscan monks and mountain folk, and used as a blanket to cover their animals. It’s a rugged heritage that seems at odds with mainstream ideas about luxurious Italian clothing, but in my eyes it’s an accurate reflection of Florence’s character: sophisticated, but tough.

This season Drake’s is deploying casentino cloth in two very different ways: as a zip-up “fleece” sweater, and as a navy raglan-sleeve overcoat. The idea of a casual overcoat may seem like a contradiction in terms but those raglan sleeves, which are attached to the collar rather than to the body of the coat, make a big difference to the overall impression. Most people won’t, in truth, notice the raglan sleeves, but the lack of structure is palpable, and quietly appropriate in this era of unrivalled informality.

Whether or not you admire the overcoat, I urge you to visit Florence out of season. You won’t exactly have the place to yourself, but it should feel more like a living community than a Renaissance theme park, and your appreciation of a bistecca alla Fiorentina washed down with a glass of Chianti Classico will be all the greater when there’s a chill in the air. Sadly I don’t get there much these days so please tell the city I said “Hi.” I miss it.

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