By any account it is an impressive client list: Karl Lagerfeld, David Niven, Orson Welles, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and François Mitterand. All have shopped at Cifonelli, Parisian makers of timeless bespoke suiting since 1926.
Today the company also produces more unusual ready-to-wear clothing including knitted tailored jackets and those made of tough yet soft yaks’ wool – tweed with a Tibetan twist. ‘I don’t want to make clothes in the same way my father or grandfather did,’ says Lorenzo Cifonelli.
‘Tailors can be too rigid in their ideas and too stuffy. You have to keep moving forward and understand how people are living now. Paris isn’t so well known for its tailoring for men, but the tailors who are here are very strong on the details, in a couture way.’
Cut from a different cloth
Cifonelli is not alone in providing a backbone of men’s style in the French capital. Parisian menswear goes beyond ‘bourgeois chic’ and among other French menswear greats are Dormeuil, widely appreciated for its fabrics, Zilli which is known for its leather jackets and shirts, Lacoste for the polo shirts that the company invented, and Armor-Lux, Saint James and Orcival, who between them created and popularised the breton top.
And then there are the relative new guns, the likes of casualwear company Benny, rugby-inspired Eden Park, Corthay shoes and directional companies such as Billtornade and APC.
Such leading names, along with the city’s convenient location, making it the ideal place for international travellers who are looking to restock their wardrobes or attend a fitting for a bespoke item while they are passing through.
Shirting the issue
In recent years there has been increased attention on France’s well-established artisan producers and their high-quality items. ‘After all, Paris was the capital of menswear through the 1800s and the start of the next century. In the 1800s, certain levels of craft skill, such as in shirt-making, could only be found in Paris,’ says Jean-Claude Colban, director of Charvet.
Established in 1838, Charvet has counted Charles Baudelaire and Charles de Gaulle among its customers and the company is arguably the creator of the modern-day shirt. It is currently working with cotton growers on the Nile Delta to develop a type of cotton which will allow it to create ‘the appropriate shade of white we want for a shirt, because there is more than one shade of white’.
Along with quality, style is an important factor in Parisian menswear: individual without being outlandish or obviously current, lush without being excessive. ‘There’s a particular ‘flavour’ to Parisian menswear,’ says Colban. ‘It’s classic, but there’s more to it than that. There is a subtlety, and balance.’
Berluti introduces suits
Alessandro Sartori agrees and not only is he Italian, he has worked as a designer at Ermenegildo Zegna and is now the creative head of one of Paris’s most famous shoemakers, Berluti. The company has introduced a men’s ready-to-wear line and recently opened a bespoke atelier in Paris.
For Sartori, Parisian menswear is less about show stopping design and more about a renewed emphasis on weight, texture and richness. He sees this as a return to menswear’s traditional qualities which are in contrast to its recent ‘slightly crazy direction, where marketing and distribution and prices and numbers are driving the collections, rather than an appreciation for craftsmanship and a certain style’.
At Berluti, craftsmanship and style might be a parka in cashmere, a super-soft jumper or a Donegal wool three-piece suit with plenty of hand-finished detail: felled seams, piped waistbands and hand-abraded leather buttons. Such attention might lead to pieces being handed down the generations, from father to son.
According to Sartori, Parisian fashion is less about dressing head-to-toe in any one faddish brand and more about ‘selecting certain pieces and really valuing them and the way they build on your wardrobe – that seems a much healthier way to shop’.