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