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L.B.M 1911: The Essential Sports Jacket

Posted on January 11 2019

We are obsessed with L.B.M 1911 and have been carrying their products for men for over 7 years. We were thrilled when the New York Times wrote about them in print and online in "The Little Sports Jacket that Could" by Guy Trebay on January 8, 2019. Need this essential piece in your wardrobe? Click HERE to purchase a sport jacket of your own! 

Away from the Instagram glare of the self-conscious influencers that descend on the huge Pitti Uomo trade fair are bread-and-butter labels like L.B.M. 1911 that deliver the goods.

L.B.M. 1911 sports coats are produced by a century-old company in the northern Italian city of Mantua.

Is there a medical insurance code yet for street-style whiplash? Everyone in Florence, Italy, develops it at some point, a chronic neck ache caused by abruptly swiveling your head to get a load of some Instagram apparition in dandy drag.

The complaint is particularly acute during Pitti Uomo, the twice yearly trade fair that is to men’s wear what Coachella is to indie bands. Style mobs from all over the planet descend on this Renaissance city, trunks crammed with looks used to bait the style paparazzi who also arrive in hordes.

Part spectacle, part farce, these so-called influencers have become so essential an element of the theater of fashion that without them the giddy atmospherics of most fashion weeks might burn off like industrial gas flare. What we’d be left with would be the reality that these trade fairs are no more intrinsically interesting than a boat or auto show.

Yet here is a notion out of left field: Maybe it is time to tune out social media. Perhaps by filtering some of the seductive static produced for online consumption by guys wearing plus-four trousers or spats or capes or waxed mustaches or deerstalker caps, we can refocus on things no less radical for being subtle and discreet.

Consider L.B.M. 1911, for instance. Fashion insiders are sure to know this family-owned label, produced by a firm founded more than a century ago in the northern Italian city of Mantua. They automatically equate it with what might be the best utility sports coat a man can buy.

Andrea Benedini, the great grandson of the company founder.

Unlined and unfussy, it still retains distinguishing elements of fine Italian tailoring — that is, high armholes, a fitted but far from exaggerated body and subtle palette resulting from the use of uncolored fabrics that are garment dyed after manufacturing.

Roughly a decade ago, Nick Sullivan, the fashion director of Esquire, named the L.B.M. 1911 blazer the one jacket any stylish guy needed in his wardrobe, an opinion he has since found little reason to revise.

“I instantly loved it," Mr. Sullivan said. “It had all the hallmarks of Italian tailoring and personal style, but it wasn’t crazy expensive.”

By that he meant roughly $700. And, while inexpensive labor, technology and some of the less salubrious dimensions of a free market have made it possible to buy a decent (well, acceptable) suit for as little as $300 in the United States, the added value of looking better than basic comes with a cost.

Before M. Dumas & Sons, a 102-year-old retailer in Charleston, S.C., began offering the L.B.M. 1911 jackets that are now a staple, its offerings tended toward American labels and a brand of styling that was, to put it tactfully, middle of the road.

“We hadn’t done a good enough job in evolving to include Italian product or European products in general,” said Gary Flynn, part owner and president of the store.

“Our business is pretty casual, but the L.B.M. 1911 is a soft coat, an unlined coat, what we call an empty coat,” he said, one that both meets the sartorial needs of guys occupying that sartorial gray area between the straitjacketed corporate drones and the Hoodie Horde of Mountain View, Calif., and that also justifies its price tag with the inner construction that linings are often used to hide.

Anyway, customers at M. Dumas & Sons don’t get hung up on the price of an L.B.M. 1911 blazer, Mr. Flynn said. And why should they when, as Mr. Sullivan points out, a pair of Balenciaga sneakers costs $900 and it is easy for many to drop $400 on video games without thinking too much about it?

“Guys at work are still throwing on a sports coat, but maybe with a pair of jeans,” Mr. Flynn said. “And, if they’re on the fence about price, they say: ‘Oh, shoot, it’s only $795. It’s not, like, $1,495 or $1,795.’”

Inside the Lubiam factory in Mantua

Inside the Lubiam factory in Mantua

What the typical consumer of L.B.M. 1911 — which occupies a central booth in the main pavilion at Pitti Uomo, just a short stroll away from that of Brunello Cucinelli, a designer who also parlayed a variant of what he calls “casual Italian elegance,” into a multi-billion-dollar global empire — is not likely to know is that every jacket comes with an unusual industrial back story.

“It’s the Model-T Ford of jackets,” Mr. Sullivan said. And, as it happens, Edgardo Bianchi, the son of the master tailor who started a small shop in Mantua in 1911, is often referred to as the Henry Ford of the Italian fashion industry.

Like Ford, Mr. Bianchi was single-minded to the point of obsession about efficiency and streamlined production. He measured his own quotidian rituals with a chronometer, organizing his regimen according to a schedule that allotted two minutes each morning for shaving and exactly enough time at breakfast to consume 28 grapes.

In reality, as his grandson Andrea Benedini said, he preferred to eat more, yet removing the detested seeds proved too time consuming. So he designed a special utensil — part knife and part spoon — that allowed him to reach his preferred allowance of 30 grapes a day.

Mr. Bianchi died in 2003, having built his modest family business into an industrial empire and been rewarded for his efforts by a knighthood conferred by the Italian government. The company he left behind is still run according to his belief that every action in life is repeated in an unending loop.

“He was obsessed most of all with statistics,’’ said Mr. Benedini, the international export manager for Lubiam, the parent company of L.B.M. 1911. “Organization was the key word for him not only for business but for life.’’

The company plant in Mantua.

Efficient assembly line methods are hardly the stuff of fashion innovation, and Mr. Benedini is the first to say that his men’s wear label may be, by some lights, boring.

“We don’t like a jacket with 10 pockets and a hole in the back,” Mr. Benedini said. “If you look at our collection, the models are pretty much the same each season.”

But that is not exactly the case. While a label specializing in subtle modifications by season — the current one features luxurious cotton corduroys and herringbone knits — and theme-and-variation is never going to become Instagram catnip in the age of likes and followers.

But there’s something stealthily sexy about the low-key way that L.B.M. 1911 has built a clientele without the aid of influencers or salaried peacocks or Gucci-style frippery.

“Guys have really embraced this deconstructed concept," said Steven Ramenofsky, the general merchandise manager of Garys, a specialty men’s wear retailer in Newport Beach, Calif.

“Sure, other labels make soft jackets,” Mr. Ramenofsky said, citing better-known brands like Canali or Boglioli or Peter Millar, all of which cost considerably more than the Mantua-made jackets with the signature ceramic button on the lapel. “But, however you look at it, L.B.M. 1911 sure does hold its own.” 



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