In a sense, you get what you pay for. Stefano still renders the designs by hand, in pencil. "He doesn't even have an iPhone," Filippo said. Many suits are made from limited-edition fabrics, "so there might be maybe 10 suits around the world made of that fabric," Filippo added. Adding to the sense of exclusivity, the company chooses to shred thousands of unsold items each year — shirts, jeans, even suits — rather than offer them at reduced prices in sales.
And while other brands' business suits for the straphanger-class executive are typically made from relatively heavy, durable fabrics like Super 100-grade wool, Stefano Ricci's suits start at the finer, more delicate Super 150, and go all the way to an ultrafine Super 240, woven from fibers one-fifth the size of a human hair, creating a fabric that is highly sensitive to humidity and wear.
"They are beautiful to look at," he said, "but it's like preserving a fine wine."
It is interesting, then, that Stefano Ricci's most famous client, Nelson Mandela, eschewed such attire when attended a 1996 banquet in his honor at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth II. The South African president raised eyebrows by greeting the queen in a look that might be described as Stefano Ricci casino casual: a black jacquard silk shirt and slacks. But as he later recounted to the Ricci family, Filippo said, the queen told him, "You have a very nice shirt."
As much as Milan has come to dominate the Italian fashion landscape, locals consider Florence a cradle of Italian fashion, and, in a sense, of capitalism itself, thanks to ruling families of the Renaissance like the Medicis.
Stefano Ricci the label would be unthinkable without Florence as home, the patriarch said in a telephone interview last week from the family's 1,800-acre country estate, Poggio ai Segugi, nestled in the Tuscan hills north of Florence.
The label's powerful clientele "is literally connected to the city where I was born," Stefano said. "If you are in Florence, you get used to excellence. You get used to the emotion of the sculpture, of the paintings, the detail of the roofs. I approach my job from the only side that I was able to approach it. I don't know any other way."
Stefano, whose family has family roots in the apparel industry (his mother made silk sleepwear for ladies), tends to dress the part of the country squire, padding around his refurbished 17th-century castle, outside of which he keeps 22 hunting dogs and bags wild boar, in earth-tone jackets and gentlemanly hunting attire.
Given the brand's easy relationship with capitalism, it is no wonder the Ricci family loves to joke about how the bearded patriarch is a dead ringer for Karl Marx.
Humor is hardly the only thing that binds the Ricci family, which also includes Stefano's wife, Claudia, and the eldest son, Niccolo, 40, who serve as the company's co-chief executives. "Like all Italian families, the boss is mama," Filippo said.
The family races together, driving museum-quality automobiles like an Aston Martin Le Mans from 1933, or a Jaguar XK120 from 1952, in the Mille Miglia vintage car race.