INTERVIEW WITH LORENZO CIFONELLI
In 2003, you and your cousin Massimo took control of the family business after starting in the shop in 1993. Have your customers changed over the years?
Of course. When I started my career in the family shop, we were known exclusively as a classic, serious, discrete, almost confidential house. People thought most of our clients were 50 year olds who dressed in bespoke, whether because of family traditions of because of their difficult body shape.
Back then, we made a lot of suits, but we had much fewer clients. For instance, we often made 10 or 15 suits for one single order. Nowadays, even though we still have a few very loyal clients who order several suits, our clientele is much more diverse in terms of age and income.
Who are these new clients?
They are getting younger every year. They don’t choose bespoke out of necessity or because they can afford to, but because they want to. 80% of our clients could easily go with ready-to-wear.
Unlike our traditional clientele, our new clients are around their 40s and only order a few pieces every year. However, they are much more demanding in terms of sartorial awareness and demands.
Some guys in their 30s even come to us for their first bespoke suit. Very early on, these guys are trying to create their personal style and venture into bespoke very thoughtfully. Their demands in terms of style and customization cannot be compared with what we have seen traditionally.
Do you think this clearly different new clientele emerged from a natural market trend or was it more directly triggered by Cifonelli being more open to a more contemporary style?
There really is a trend for customization and gentlemen are more and more aware of all the aspects of personal style.
However, I think that the progressive decline in our clients’ average age has more to do with us becoming more open to bolder and more modern lines, and more aware of the new needs of the modern man.
When my cousin and I took the helm of the business, we started to travel a lot to expand our client base in Japan, the United-States and in some European countries. We were younger at the time, and when you’re young, you’re always more sensitive to trends and, most importantly, to the needs of your younger clients. They are demanding, always on the go, and not willing to compromise on elegance, no matter how, when and where they wear their suits.
This is how we gradually modified the cuts and the lines without touching the fundamental elements that made our reputation: quality and precision. Unlike trends, some things don’t change and cannot be compromised on. You should never compromise on the line for instance. The only way to get perfection is through bespoke and traditional stitching. Trends come and go, but the line remains.
Several style aficionados dream of the Cifonelli line, is it a direct product of your Italian background?
The Cifonelli style is original. I think it was born out of the best elements of three sartorial traditions:
– The Italian tradition of course, with a strong accent on style, flowing lines and softness (sometimes at the expense of quality of assembly)
– The British tradition, with its military heritage and its structured design (at the possible expense of comfort)
– And the French tradition, with Claude Rousseau who spent the end of his career with us, and whose attention to detail was famous: precise detailing, quality finish, topstitching, arrowheads, buttonholes…
I think Cifonelli has, from the start, been successful in bringing forward a very original blend of the best aspect of the three approaches to masculine style. My grandfather was trained as a cutter in England at the beginning of the century. Very quickly, he learned how to blend the British technique with his Italian sensitivity. Soon after he moved to France, added a French touch to his style, and the Cifonelli signature style was born. incidentally we still measure in inches.
Let’s get into details. Part of the Cifonelli signature is the shoulder. Karl Lagerfeld says he can recognize it 100 meters away…
Without going into details, we didn’t even know about Karl Lagerfeld recognizing our shoulder before an American client told us about it. He had read it in a newspaper in the United States: without him, we never would have known of this “tribute” that was then widely relayed in the media.
It is true that the shoulder is very important to us and that ours is quite particular. It is very bold and forward, to streamline the silhouette without losing the masculine aspect.
To make this type of shoulder, we have to use our own construction technique, that we have been using for decades (the sleeve is felted in before stitching, editor’s note).
Although it is the most famous hallmark, there is a lot more to the Cifonelli style. Our suits have a rather small chest, and the vests are cut smaller at the front than at the back. The line is always our ultimate priority. It must streamline the body and be very masculine. Details and finishes are equally important: we always stitch the buttonholes with Milanese rolled thread (difficult to use) and we are very particular about hems: we position the notches very high.
But remember that all these details are linked to our clients body shape and that the Cifonelli is first and foremost about listening, seeing and talking to those who give us the wonderful mission of making them as elegant as possible. We may have our own style, but let’s never forget that we are traditional tailors first.
What piece are you most proud of?
I can’t think of one in particular. In our line of work, pride has everything to do with our clients being 100% satisfied.
Right now our 35 workers (editor’s note: the largest bespoke team in France) on Rue Marbeuf make about 800 suits every year. Our clientele is a lot more diverse than it used to be. For a bespoke house, every suit is a creation in and of itself, because we continually pursue the ideal of the perfect line.
So I can’t tell you which suit is the best. It’s not about the most beautiful suit, because succeeding in making the most beautiful suit to date is a must for any tailor worth his salt.
However we recently developed a line of very original jackets that have brought us to a completely new clientele who is more open to bolder pieces.
In 2007, you reopened the store below the bespoke salon on rue Marbeuf. It offers traditional ready-to-wear and made-to-measure. What prompted this decision and what makes it offering so special?
The idea of renovating and reopening the store was simple: access a broader clientele and offer high quality traditional pieces at quality-based prices.
Even though, of course, it’s not bespoke, it is the same Cifonelli quality and the standards are just as high. We draft the patterns for vests and coats that are then assembled in Parma in an excellent traditional shop. The close proximity of the boutique and the bespoke salon gives our clients access to a wide array of fabrics, as well as opening the possibility for any subsequent alterations and finishing touches. So that for about 2,000 euros, they can get a quality traditional suit and a taste of the Cifonelli experience.
We are seeing a connectivity between the boutique and the salon. Some clients move on to bespoke from our high end RTW. So there is a genuine consistency in the approach, even if the two client bases remain fairly different. It takes money to move up to bespoke but more importantly, you need a lot of patience… a rare quality in the 21st Century!
We know you are a star in Japan: it’s an event whenever you go! Do you have any other overseas project?
We now have a worldwide (Japan, United States, Europe) bespoke client base. We achieved this through a very simple model: I go to some countries, and Massimo to others, and we measure and do the fittings.
Also, in the last few years, we’ve been working very successfully In Japan with Isetan, a top luxury Japanese chain, in which we have several kiosques.
The Japanese are very educated on masculine elegance. The most demanding Japanese gentlemen love our label.
This success has made us consider the possibility of setting up a bespoke shop in Japan. We would manage it ourselves from Paris (through a very precise remote photography system). The suits would be assembled on site by a team under our supervision. It is still just a project, but chances are good because of the very high level of qualification of our Japanese partners.
In the United States, we have been working for quite a while on a very original project, among others, in a Manhattan apartment. I hope to be able to keep you posted on it during the upcoming months.
Because of the increasing international media attention (Vogue, The Rake, GQ, Monsieur, Uomo Japan, Men’s Ex), we are thinking about ways of improving the international distribution of our products, without compromising our style and quality standards.
Parisian Gentleman – Novembre 2009.
© Parisian Gentleman / Photos : Andy Julia