Julien de Luca is the scion of one of France’s great tailoring dynasties, Camps de Luca, famous for dressing King Hassan II of Morocco, the Shah of Iran and much of the Saudi royal family. But when he was young he was told by his grandfather there was no future in the family business; tailoring in France was over, crushed by fast fashion, and he would need to find himself a new career. The grandson dutifully became a stockbroker in London. Then, four years ago, he got a call: maybe business was not so dead after all. Did he want to come back to the family firm? “I decided to put my faith in tailoring,” says de Luca.
It was the right decision: business has grown 15 per cent every year since. There is similar growth at France’s other major tailoring houses, Cifonelli and Smalto. Even luxury titan LVMH is focusing on bespoke thanks to its takeover of menswear group Arnys this year. Indeed, together these companies are spearheading a renaissance in the sector, asserting that Paris, the home of couture, isn’t just for womenswear.
“I think the change in the past four or five years has been that people are discovering quality again. They want to know how something is made and they appreciate the craft of it,” says de Luca, who had to start his training from scratch, but now sits alongside his brother Charles as one of the two cutters at the firm. “That’s particularly true among young people. We recently had a 22-year-old in, working in a bank but by no means the most highly paid, who had saved up to buy his first bespoke suit.”
He’s not alone: though French tailors are even more discreet than English tailors about their clientele, Cifonelli is now dressing Hollywood stars, fashion royalty and actual royalty.
One customer who switched recently from Savile Row to Paris is Alexander Kraft of Sotheby’s. “Having been a Savile Row aficionado, I now love French tailoring, and Cifonelli in particular,” he says.
Hugo Jacomet, film director and founder of tailoring website Parisian Gentleman, says: “The change has certainly come in the past five years. Houses such as Cifonelli have seen an influx of customers who are young but highly educated about bespoke, and there has been more mainstream coverage of it. A ‘dusty’ trade has become aspirational again.”
The French tailoring sector differs markedly, if subtly, from that of the UK. For one thing, there is no equivalent Paris street to London’s Savile Row: tailors are scattered all around the city. Even if they were in the same area, French tailors wouldn’t have the same presence, for they are all on the first floor of their 19th-century blocks, as opposed to ground level (it was traditionally considered undignified in France for clients to be “dressing” on the same level as pedestrians).
Neither is it as diverse as Italy’s, where there are different traditions in the north and south, and even regional differences between Rome and Milan, Naples and Sicily. Though the process in all three countries is similar, with two or three fittings over four to six months and paper patterns created for every customer, Paris is expensive compared with most of Italy and all but the top few Savile Row tailors: Cifonelli suits start at €5,500, Smalto at €5,000 and Camps de Luca at €6,500. At Savile Row tailors, Anderson & Sheppard, prices start at £3,744 for a bespoke suit.
One reason is the almost fanatical attention to detail among French tailors. “Paris is, above all, a city for haute couture,” says Lorenzo Cifonelli, who runs his family firm alongside his cousin Massimo. “The delicacy of that work seeps into what we do, in the same way that high fashion sometimes crosses over into tailoring in London.”
Lightweight cloths and construction have always been more popular in France and Italy than in Britain, prompted by clients from former colonies in Africa and the Middle East. You’ll see far more safari jackets here, cut in linen and with no structure whatever – more shirt than suit – than in either the north or the south. And as Julien de Luca has discovered, there is a growing appetite for French tailoring in Asia. “They appreciate the light weights and the fineness of the finishing there,” he says.
Perhaps the best news for Paris is that a few young tailors are setting up houses – for the first time in 50 years. They include David Diagne, a Senegalese who like Julien de Luca was told not to follow in the family tradition, but rebelled to set up his own shop in 2006. More recently, Paul Grassart left a career in risk consultancy to follow his dream of being a cutter. As they say: plus ça change ...
A cut above: Bespoke Paris
Camps de Luca
Founder: Mario de Luca
Now run by: Marc de Luca
Address: 11 Place de la Madeleine
Tel: +33 142 65 42 15
Starting price: €6,500
Number of tailors: 20
Distinctive style: Right-angled lapel
Established: 1880 Rome (now closed); 1926 Paris
Founder: Giuseppe Cifonelli
Now run by: L and M Cifonelli
Address: 33 Rue Marbeuf
Tel: +33 143 59 39 13
Starting price: €5,500
Number of tailors: 45
Distinctive style: Roped shoulder and broad lapel
Founder: Francesco Smalto
Today: Youn Chong Bak
Address: 44 Rue François 1er
Tel: +33 147 20 96 06
Starting price: €5,000
Number of tailors: 40
Distinctive style: Closed “Smalto” lapel