Chef and restauranteur Mario Carbone sympathizes with the modern man’s dilemma, in part because he’s responsible for it. Imagine: this guy (it could be you!) has finally reserved that table at one of New York City’s most notoriously difficult-to-book restaurants—naturally, Mario’s own postmodern red-sauce joint, Carbone. (I’ll refer to him as Mario to avoid confusion with the restaurant that shares his name.) “He’s out with his girl and he’s trying to impress her,” Mario says, painting me a picture. “He’s looking through his closet and what’s he going to pull?” A suit feels too formal, graphic streetwear not quite right. Mario has an idea: how about a jacket-and-pant set and a crisp white short-sleeve button-up, all from his new menswear line Our Lady of Rocco?
If it seems somewhat unlikely that a beloved chef would moonlight as a fashion designer, then you aren’t familiar with Mario Carbone. His restaurant empire Major Food Group is best known for merging high-low dining with an exacting, specific sense of image. Carbone is a high-end take on the red-sauce joint, where fast-talking, tuxedoed servers make Caesars tableside; the Grill and the Pool, in the old Four Seasons space, update midcentury luxury for the Instagram age. The vibe is as critical as the food. Mario is exacting about the details: at Carbone, the porcelain must come from historic Italian manufacturer Ginori and Zac Posen was enlisted to create custom red tuxedos for the waiters. “I never thought of [designing clothes] as that foreign,” Mario says. “Maybe it’s because I am so involved in all the details of what I do every day.”
Consider Our Lady of Rocco the next step in the evolution of flambé-hot restaurant merch. The collection is made in partnership with New York-based womenswear brand La Ligne, and offers much more than just screen-printed tees and hoodies. The collection includes those aforementioned matching jacket-and-pants sets—Mario calls it a leisure suit—a satin bomber jacket, T-shirts stitched with the brand’s name, a knit polo the deep red of marinara, pleated white pants, elastic-free tracksuits, hats, and a white tank christened the “wife pleaser,” Mario says. Prices range from $95 to $595 and are on sale at the brand’s website.
Our Lady of Rocco isn’t plastered with restaurant logos but it’s still heavily indebted to Mario’s day job. The script on the T-shirts is inspired by old pizza joints, he calls the white pants “bakers pants” because they play well with flour, and the whole line happens to share a color palette with Carbone. “I wanted to draw a line to the restaurant without making restaurant swag,” he says. Food hasn’t served such divine inspiration for fashion since the making of Phantom Thread.
For Our Lady of Rocco, Mario drew from the same well of inspiration that powers his restaurants. Namely, the New York City of the ‘70s and ‘80s he grew up in. At the time, he says, he was more fond of ratty New York Giants sweatshirts than anything else, but he looks back on the way people around him dressed with great admiration. “There was a general sharpness to them, doing even the most casual things,” he says. That’s the “why” of the matching leisure suit, for instance: it takes all the difficulty out of looking put together. And even if you weren’t lucky enough to be around, Carbone says the look is recognizable, thanks to movies like The Pope of Greenwich Village or Mean Streets. Everybody in Soho dressed like this then; everybody in Soho dresses like this now.
Ideally, Our Lady of Rocco will play a small but crucial role in the painstakingly assembled Carbone universe. At Carbone, Mario says, ”I’m creating the uniforms, the playlist, the menu, I’m setting the stage, quite literally, it’s almost a theater and we’re putting on the same show every night for a different group. And I thought, could I actually have my hand in creating something that the guests wear, too? And now it’s a completely perfect period piece.” He adds, “How sick would that look?”