Off The Cuff is honored to welcome Hugo Jacomet, founder of the incredibly stylish blog Parisian Gentleman, to the States.
Hugo will be an occasional guest contributor here at OTC and I will likewise offer the men of Paris OTC’s modern take on Ivy League East Coast classics.
So, without further ado…
There is no doubt that legendary tailor Cifonelli has an exceptional story to tell. There are two main reasons why this family business is so unique – really the only one of its kind.
First, there is the unique style of their creations (and creations they are: client after client, suit after suit). Each one displays a unique blend of typically British strictness and Italian creativity, topped with a quality of finish à la française. Such “fusion”, unique in the sartorial art world, is in the DNA of this traditional label whose style is far more eclectic than its name at first glance would suggest.
Then, there is the family history of a house still 100% in the (expert) hands of its 4th generation, steering the company through its transformation from confidential bespoke workshop for insiders into world class luxury brand. The family has accomplished the feat of passing on its savoir-faire to next generations without giving in to big luxury conglomerates. The family has also resisted the temptation to promote (or bank on?) its famous name through mass distribution, unlike what is done by some tailors of the Row, such as Henry Poole expanding in China and beyond.
One might suggest that the “marketing of tradition” has become essential for any enterprise with a specific know-how. Several tailoring houses have a narrative that tells of a savoir-faire passed down from distant generations. Dozens of label names end with the very popular “& Sons” while an increasing number seems to have been “founded in 1860”, a historical claim that can go unchallenged. Let’s just make it clear that Norton’s son doesn’t work for Norton & Sons and that there are no Andersons or Sheppards cutting for Anderson & Sheppard.
Let’s take another example from Italy: Domenico Caraceni founded the famous Caraceni house in Rome in 1913. Then conflict tore the next generation and brought the family to the absurd point that it has reached today. Brace yourself: aside from the (small) original shop that is still up and running in Rome, there are no less than three Caraceni shops (held by “dissident” Caracenis) posing as the “real” Caraceni house. Insiders say that it is the A. Caraceni shop, owned by Mario (Domenico’s nephew) in Milan, which is the truest to the family heritage. Complicated, isn’t it?
The Cifonelli family history reads like an epic saga, resembling few others, especially in the second decade of the 21st century. Unlike families we’ve already talked about, the Cifonellis preserved their history and passed it down from one generation to the next. Hence, the Cifonelli house might have become the only bespoke house in the world where you will always be greeted by a family member. Say hello to Lorenzo and Massimo, 4th generation Cifonellis, a name that goes hand in hand with the art of being a tailor.
The house was founded (for real!) in 1880 by Giuseppe Cifonelli, who first set up his workshop in Rome. His son, Arturo, expanded the business and will forever remain the soul of the style and the true artist of Cifonelli.
Very soon, Arturo was sent by his father to London to be trained in the art of cutting at the very proper “Minister’s Cutting Academy”. His diploma is dearly held in the shop rue Marbeuf (pictured below).
The Cifonelli style, a clever blend of British strictness and beautiful Italian lines, is shaped and developed by Arturo in his first Paris workshop. One opened in 1926 on Rue Courcelles and the second, still standing at the center of Paris’ golden triangle, was inaugurated in 1936 at 31 rue Marbeuf.
Slowly, Arturo began to gather a client base of demanding and elegant connoisseurs. His excellent reputation grew as more and more famous politicians and artists start wearing his amazing bespoke suits. Arturo was often described as demanding, uncompromising and passionate. He was both loved and feared by his workers who, legend has it, made the sign of the cross before sending him a suit for final inspection. If he didn’t like it, it could be cut all over again and started from scratch…
When Arturo died in 1972, his son Adriano took over and carried on developing his father’s work until the beginning of 2000. The Cifonelli reputation slowly started to spread outside of the closed circle of stylish and wealthy gents. True, the most famous ambassadors for Cifonelli always had quite a bit of panache: Paul Meurisse, Lino Ventura, Marcello Mastroianni and, most importantly, François Mitterrand (whose Cifonelli collection was recently auctioned at Druot). Notably, between 1992 and 2007, the Cifonellis also made all the bespoke suits for Hermes (1992-2007).
In the early 1990s, Lorenzo (Adriano’s son) and Massimo (Lorenzo’s cousin) truly enter the business, after spending their youth around bundles of fabrics, pattern paper embossed with luxury stamps, watching workers hand stitch most utterly perfect Milanese button holes.
In 2003, the two cousins officially took control of the bespoke workshop at rue Marbeuf. In 2007, they developed an exacting made-to-measure line and opened a RTW storefront right below the original workshop.
At that time, two important events proved the Cifonelli commitment to perpetuating their sartorial expertise; such skill had been put under considerable threat in other labels (including on the Row). This threat was brought on by an aging workforce (on Saville Row, über specialized workers can be much older than 75).
The first of these two important events occurred in 2000 when Cifonelli acquired Claude Rousseau’s workshop (and its workers). The second was the 2008 purchase of another famous Parisian tailor’s shop and staff, Gabriel Gonzalez. If you are familiar with the small world of (very) high level bespoke houses, you understand the importance of these acquisitions, that successfully brought back together, under the Cifonelli impetus, the legendary Camps de Luca team, 30 years later after its separation (when Mr. Camps was at the helm). Back then, the team had Smalto, Rousseau and Gonzalez on board. Talk about a dream team!
Lorenzo credits Claude Rousseau, who has since retired, for teaching him the extreme art of detail and an obsessive care for finish. Gabriel Gonzalez still works on rue Marbeuf, as passionate as ever about tailoring despite being 72 years old.
Parisian Gentleman was delighted to be welcomed into the Marbeuf workshop. In the next installment you will be able to read our long interview with Lorenzo Cifonelli, who talked about the Cifonelli style (and its famous shoulder), of its obviously renewed clientele, of development projects for Japan and the United states.
As a side note, should you be in New York City next Monday or Tuesday, January 11-12, you may wish to stop by the Plaza Athenée Hotel at Madison Avenue and 64th Street to personally visit with Lorenzo Cifonelli himself.
Isn’t it exciting?