New red robes made by old family business

That’s how one could describe the shop of the Gammarelli family, tailors to many of the popes of the last 200 years.

Displayed in the front window are all the vestments of a cardinal, the store’s name in simple letters above the window front. Upon entering the small storefront property, built into the base of the “Palazzo dell’ Accademia Ecclesiastica” (Palace of Ecclesial Academics), there is but one counter, one desk, one tape measure.

Reams of cloth, primarily black and white line one wall. Silks and tapestries — for chasubles — line the other.

The only other adornment — portraits of every pope dating back two centuries.

Since 1793, the Gammarelli family has been making vestments for popes, bishops and cardinals. Always a family business, it is currently run by two brothers, Annibale and Filippo Gammarelli, and their three sons.

The Gammarelli tailors were very busy this past week, preparing scarlet robes, zuchettos, birettas and other items that are the symbols of the office of cardinals. Among those clients was Cardinal-designate Seán P. O’Malley.

The day after his arrival in Rome, Cardinal-designate O’Malley was sized and measured by the Gammarelli tailors.

“They are really an old family business,” said Theodore Lange, a second-year seminarian studying at the Pontifical North American College. Originally from Portland, Ore., Lange has accompanied bishops and other clergy members into the tiny store located behind the Pantheon. “I think they are considered the best clerical tailors in all of Italy.”

According to Lange, “the store really fits the portrait of a traditional Italian business,” a notion often romanticized in movies, but still very much alive in the store.

“They will often measure you two or three times while making a cassock,” he said, noting that if any part of the vestments do not fit perfectly, they alter, free of charge, until everything “fits to perfection.”

“They are definitely not into bulk work,” he added.

Fellow Pontifical North American College seminarian Jamie DeViese agreed. “They do good work there,” he said. Perhaps that is why they have always been tailors to the pope, he mused.