Cassok wars: Pope switches tailors


Since his election in April this year, Pope Benedict XVI has created five new saints, reaffirmed the Catholic church’s tough line on priestly celibacy and played host to world leaders at the Vatican. Oh, and he’s switched tailors.

Since time immemorial — or, more accurately, 1792 — the house of Annibale Gammarelli has kitted out popes. But now Benedict is alleged to have ditched the genteel tailor in favour of an upstart firm that has been in business for a mere 20 years.

Rome is agog: what could possibly have caused such a break with tradition?

What is certain is that when the new pope was sworn in, he was obliged to put on robes that had already been made — and not for him. Since no one can know in advance who is to be pope, Gammarelli had followed tradition and prepared clothes in three sizes — small, medium and large.

Benedict, however, seems to be somewhere between small and medium, and when he emerged on to the balcony of the Vatican to greet the faithful, it was observed that the papal cassock was too short. Not long afterwards the pope is said to have turned to the seamstresses at Euroclero, who already knew his measurements, having made clothes for him when he was a lowly cardinal.

This is no small matter, since with the commission goes great prestige. Papal menswear is of course the hautest of haute couture — there is only one buyer for each season’s handstitched collection. Cassocks, capes, embroidered collars, sashes, skullcaps and mitres, a kind of erect cloth hat, are all part of the uniform, and the papal palette is ivory, with the occasional touch of red or yellow thrown in.

Everyday wear is wool, but silk is generally preferred for church services. And there is not only prestige but money at stake. No one knows exactly how much it costs to fit out a pope, but we are surely talking about many thousands of dollars.

Sadly, the Vatican press office refuses to shed light on what have come to be known as the “cassock wars”: “We give out information on the Holy Father’s activities but we have absolutely no information about his tailor,’’ says a spokeswoman.

It is left to the scrupulously polite Filippo Gammarelli to at least attempt a comment: “We have not been informed that we are not the pope’s tailors, so we do not know what the situation is. We would like to know more. Of course we are very worried about it.”