“You have got to meet Frank Conforti,” The Florentine‘s Marco messaged me months ago, attaching a selfie of himself next to a dapper-looking fellow. The idea was stored away in the stockpile of article ideas. Then, at Thanksgiving, Frank’s name came up again, this time in conversation with Maximilian Fane (of Firenze Number Nine). “He was featured on the Jimmy Fallon show after being on the cover of the fall issue of WM Brown.” Impressive. “He has one of the most effective broadcast lists in Florence.” Does he? “His brother shot himself out of a cannon at Frank’s 50th.” Huh. “How can you not know Frank? I’ll set it up.” And so, off I went to meet Frank.
Situated in a nondescript industrial area in Montemurlo, northwest of Prato, an unassuming sign indicates our destination: Fratelli Conforti. Designer fabrics since 1948. I’m beginning to wonder what all the fuss is about until the metal door swings open into another world. Vintage motorbikes and mopeds line each side of the entrance, but the main draw is row after row of roll upon roll of fabric. Silks, cottons and denims, deadstock marked by designer provenance: Blumarine, Max Mara, Bally. Warm and welcoming, Giovanni Conforti switches comfortably between Italian and English as his brother, Francesco Conforti (“the legendary Frank”, as another Pratese, my colleague Giovanni Giusti, remarked), appears from the office. Hair combed back, sporting a denim jacket embroidered with sailor’s motif, on-trend baggy jeans and brown lace-up boots, Frank cuts a fine figure. His movie-star looks and debonair charisma (he’s an old-school air hand kisser) provide a dash of je ne sais quoi, in addition to a semi-swagger and a borderline devil-may-care attitude. Not that Frank doesn’t care, he does. He just likes to live life to the full.
Other than the convincing Badiani-Fane tag team effort, what piqued my curiosity about Frank is his recent appearance on the front page of WM Brown, a high-end men’s lifestyle magazine. “It was a coincidence. Matt Hranek, the founder/editor, and I are good friends. We met at Reschio [the five-star luxury hotel in Umbria], he came here to buy some denim and liked the place. While he was covering the story, he was wondering what to put on the cover. By pure chance, the same photographer came up with an image he’d shot of me on a vintage motorbike coming out of Pitti Uomo.” And the appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show? “It turns out that Jimmy Fallon subscribes to WM Brown and he decided to ask Matt Hranek onto the show. He went on straight after Depeche Mode. That broadcast had an audience share of 25 million Americans!” What was the fallout from such visibility? “At a dinner at Palazzo Corsini al Prato, I met Max Poglia, who makes artisanal knives as well as being an influencer. Together we did an advertisement for The Glenlivet 18 Years Old for the US market. We do all this for fun! As a business, Fratelli Conforti doesn’t even have its own Instagram account!”
Frank’s interests don’t stop there; he also dabbles in the movies. In 2018, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Fratelli Conforti, he directed an ironic film starring Maurizio Lombardi (The Young Pope, Pinocchio) loosely based on the family business after the Second World War. Prior to that, Frank wrote and produced the documentary L’Ultima Zingarata based on the 1975 cult film Amici Miei, which involved restaging Perozzi’s funeral in piazza Santo Spirito. (“The way he would have wanted it with a band, the army and prostitutes.”) “More than 1,000 people turned up for the filming from all over Italy. I’d always loved the film and then we did several interviews with the actors and also with the director Mario Monicelli, who endorsed our production.”
Despite all this outlier creativity, the Conforti’s core business remains textiles. “Our grandfather started the company in a deconsecrated church in the centre of Prato in 1948. Our uncle, Mario, joined him in 1955 and our father, Roberto, in 1960. They bought fabrics from the various mills around Prato and sold them to the many fabric stores that existed at that time. Then came the crisis caused by ready-to-wear. In 1980, Dad had the idea to buy the final few remaining items of a young designer called Jean Paul Gaultier’s collection. He was using innovative fabrics that would have been incinerated or thrown away. Instead he bought them and gave them a second life.” Then, in 1984, the business boomed after Roberto and Mario secured a load of denim stock from Colombia (“approximately half a million metres”) when the world was going crazy for jeans and it was nowhere to be found.
These days, Fratelli Conforti sell deadstock quality fabrics in small quantities at affordable prices to young designers at the start of their careers. In addition to selling designer fabrics, they also provide bespoke appointments with a tailor. “Our clients come an hour beforehand to choose their Italian fabrics for a total Conforti look!”
A certain famous line from a certain famous film comes to mind on leaving Fratelli Conforti. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Frank Conforti, Clark Gable: the resemblance is uncanny.