Sunday, March 16, 2008

Paris part 1: Cifonelli and Smalto

Cifonelli

From London, I hopped onto the Eurostar to Paris and embarked at the spanking new Pancras train station, now a dedicated terminus for the high-speed rail link to the continent. My goal was to visit a few of the heirs of the "Parisian five" tailors. Cifonelli was first up and quite impressive (pardon the temporary scaffolding).

Cifonelli

I stopped by their retail storefront on rue Marbeuf and asked the salesman if he spoke English. He did and called the workshop upstairs. A few minutes later Massimo Cifonelli kindly walked down and took me up to the second floor rooms used for measuring and fitting their bespoke customers.

Cifonelli

The Cifonelli cut is distinctive in three ways according to Massimo. I shall defer a more detailed description on this for my book but suffice to say that they involve the chest, sleevehead and shoulder. Massimo's grandfather created this system for comfort and ease of upper body movement. He came up with this system after working in Savile Row and then modifying those techniques to his own vision. The Cifonelli cut is also characterized by a fairly fitted waist (similar to Camps de Luca). The shoulder is straight and slightly roped (“une cigarette”).

Massimo himself prefers the double-breasted suit. He was wearing a black 6x2, which is the preferred DB style he likes to make (I asked about the 4x2 style, which he said could be done but he seemed less enamored with it). He was also wearing a black shirt and black/white patterned tie. Very Parisian, stylish and quite different from the Anglo-Saxon and American sense of style. Another detail of his suit: flared sleeves with one button closures. As he says, the beauty of bespoke is that the customer can change anything. My favorite quote of his during my visit: “You must have a mistake somewhere in your look. You can't look perfect.” In other words, one needs to strike a dissonance, if you will, a minor key somewhere in one's sartorial register.

Massimo obligingly brought out several examples of their work including a completed travel jacket in tweed (with half-lining) and a jacket in basted fitting stage. The level of handwork looked excellent (handstitching in lining attachments, handpadded lapels).

Cifonelli

The firm takes up the entire second floor, employing four cutters and nearly 40 workers. Fabrics include: W. Bills, Holland & Sherry, Drapers.

Cifonelli

Overall, I was struck by the precision of it all - the operations, the cut, the personality. Monsieur Cifonelli himself strikes me as being a very precise and exacting individual. This precision carries through to their documentation. I was impressed by their distinctive and meticulous customer measurement document: a bifolio sheet in thicker linen-based paper embossed with the Cifonelli logo. The second page displays a swirling constellation of variously sized circles containing key measurements (You can catch a glimpse of this document in the slideshow below or here). Whereas most tailoring establishments seem to record customer measurements in a simple notebook or plain sheets of paper, Cifonelli has a system, a plan, a method. I can definitely see how this would appeal to the left-brained sartorialist. C'est logique!

Francesco Smalto

After Cifonelli, I took a quick stroll down rue Marbeuf to Smalto's couture boutique and walked upstairs to the bespoke section. Or rather, to the haute couture section as the saleswoman on the first floor naturally called it. On the second floor, I managed to communicate in elementary French with a salesman.

Francesco Smalto

The starting price for a couture suit is 6,700 euros and normally takes six weeks. There are no US visits. The cut is a structured, straight (or slightly pagoda-like) shoulder with distinct roping and a clean chest. Keep in mind the firm does not, as far as I know, retain the family connection as do Cifonelli and Camps de Luca. But the model suit certainly looked superb for those interested in the Continental style (note the cran Necker notch style).

Smalto bespoke jacket

If you are interested in Smalto bespoke, be sure to bring your best conversational French with you. The saleswomen on the first floor did not speak English nor did the salesmen upstairs. Next stop: Camps de Luca at Place de la Madeleine.

Additional links
- L'internaute video clip (Feb 2008) on Cifonelli. In the video, you'll see Massimo wearing a grey suit in the trim-looking Cifonelli cut.

- L'internaute slideshow (Feb 2008) on Cifonelli

- Styleforum thread on Smalto

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pardon my ignorance, but, who are the other 3 great Parisian tailors, besides CDL? Is Cristiani one of them? Is Cristiani still open? I've tried like mad to find information on them, to no avail.
I'd really appreciate any info you might have.
Thanks for posting your previous Paris visits.
They've really helped my find what I've been looking for.
BTW, have you seen Arnys revamped site?
beautiful.

sleevehead said...

Thank you for visiting, I'm happy to hear my trip helped you out. As for the big five Parisian houses were, I understand they were: Camps, Bardot, De Luca, Max Eveline and Cifonelli.

I take my cue from this discussion thread:
http://thelondonlounge.net/gl/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5777

However, I do remember reading elsewhere a slightly different list of the so-called five (and Cristiani may have been on that list).

I have not seen the new Arnys site but will check it out. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for getting back to me.
I really appreciate it. As many of the forums don't cover French tailors to any signifigant degree, do you mind if I pick your brain a bit?LOL
As only Cif & CDL still remain of the League of Extraordinary French Tailors, are there any other current establishments in Paris, besides those 2, whom you see as having the same high quality & attention to detail?

Also, why doesn't Riva sell to Charvet? I've never seen an explanation for this. Maybe I'm wrong, but, it just seems odd to me, considering C's vast shirting library...

Anonymous said...

Also, any great current Roman tailors besides T&g Caraceni?
Sorry to ask so much, but, there's so little info floating around on Paris & Rome, &, since, from what little I've seen, their asthetics seem to suit me best, I'm just trying to find out as much as I can, so that I don't waste too much time when I actually go to those cities, or, better yet, set up things before I even go.
Thanks in advance.
Don't worry.
I won't ask about shoes.:)

sleevehead said...

Regarding Parisian tailors, I have heard/read good things about Marc di Fiore (trained at Camps) and Gabriel Gonzalez but I have not visited them myself.

Photos of di Fiore and Arnys: http://thelondonlounge.net/gl/forum/viewtopic.php?t=7677

Good question - I'm not sure why Riva isn't represented in Charvet's shirtings. Charvet may have an exclusive relationship with a supplier that they wish to preserve or leverage.

sleevehead said...

Rome, I believe, has the largest concentration of tailors in Italy. The trade magazine Menswear (holiday/winter 2007 issue) did a piece on Italian tailors that covered a Roman tailor named Domenicantonio Carbone. If you have access to a copy, take a look. It has a nice photo of Carbone in a classic Roman cut.

There are many Roman tailors, some of whom I wanted to visit in my last trip but didn't have time unfortunately.

Keep us posted on your sartorial journey!

Anonymous said...

Will do!
And, thank you, Sleevehead!
*'Superman' theme plays in backround*
lol

Anonymous said...

Cifonelli makes a very beautiful suit. When I first went there I had some ideas of what I wanted, but when the elderly head tailor appeared to measure me, he was wearing a heavy gray flannel DB suit. I decided I had to have a suit just like it. They cut my suit in muslin first and then there were several fittings as they were obsessed with the suit looking flawless. The hand work such as the button holes is top quality and the striped lining in the sleeves is really elegant. It's hard to top them. I was wearing an Oxxford navy blue cashmere overcoat that day and the head tailor asked to see it. He took it over to the window where the light was much brighter, examined the coat and said "tres jolie".

sleevehead said...

D'accord. I too was impressed with Cifonelli's almost mathematical exactitude - and I hadn't even ordered a suit yet!

I also didn't know they did muslin trial suits but I'm not surprised at all given their thoroughness.

Like you, I would love to have a Cifonelli DB suit. I had the same reaction when I saw Massimo's black 6x2 DB suit. I think they do the DB very, very well.

rjmanbearpig said...

Cristiani merged into Charvet's bespoke tailoring operation about 10 years ago. Charvet's bespoke tailor is quite good and also does a muslin trial fitting. Gabriel Gonzalez has been absorbed by Cifonelli, as has Rousseau. I have the impression that the Riva-Charvet story is Internet hearsay; in any case Charvet does not like to say who supplies its cloths. You can find just about anything you like there in any case.

sleevehead said...

Thanks RJman for filling in on a couple of the Parisian tailors and Charvet.

Anonymous said...

Yes, thank you, RJman.

wtenyck said...

Great blog! Can you give me an indication of price on bespoke suits in Paris?

sleevehead said...

Bespoke suits in Paris will be tres cher, mon ami. Last year, Smalto was charging 6,700 euros for a two-piece. During my most recent visit to Paris in early December 2009, I heard that's risen to around 7,000 euros!

Thankfully, my understanding is that prices at Cifonelli and Camps de Luca are appreciably lower. I didn't ask Lorenzo for the most current pricing last week but I think it's safe to assume the ballpark is around 4,000 euros and up for a two-piece suit.