While not as visible as his british or italian sartorial counterparts, the French gentleman plays to his own set of aesthetic rules, Writes stephen short
The French gentleman plays to his own set of aesthetic rules
that outstanding upstanding eyeful of a tower, Napoleon Bonaparte, poetry, Marcel Proust, champagne and the guillotine. And in matters of men, from the classic, leisured flannels of Yves Saint Laurent and the precise mode of Hubert de Givenchy to the elegant simplicity of a Hermès jacket, the pencil slim of Dior Homme, the post-prep of Maison Kitsuné and the hip and slick of Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent, nobody does contemporary urbane nonchalance with quite the same je ne
sais quoi. But the French gentleman, dandy or aristochap—a Champs-élysées equivalent of London’s Savile Row or Rome’s finest? Mais non. The French gentleman’s philosophy of dress is distinct from the British aristocrat’s affected insouciance, or the swaggering peacocking of Milanese and Neapolitan males. A French dandy is more studied in his taste, and his style walks the line between tradition and flamboyance. Parisian style is there; you just have to know where to look for it and how to recognise it.
Fascinating it is, then, to discover in the opening chapter of The Parisian Gentleman— a new tome by film director, blogger and allround flâneur Hugo Jacomet, the grandson of a bootmaker and seamstress—that of the four tailors featured extolling the virtues of bespoke French finery (Cifonelli, Camps de Luca, Francesco Smalto and Arnys), only the last is French. And Arnys was bought by Bernard Arnault’s LVMH in 2012 and merged into Italian shoemaker Berluti, which LVMH is developing into a full line of men’s fashion and accessories.
The fact that the other three are Italian is a reminder of the long shadow Paris haute couture has cast over the city’s history as a home to makers of exceptional gentlemen’s requisites. Italian designers moved to Paris in droves in the 1950s and ’60s, attracted by the cachet of being based in the fashion capital of the world and by the French economy, which was more robust than Italy’s. These foreign tailors were faster, neater, cheaper and often more experienced than their French rivals, and they took the local menswear industry by storm. One, Francesco Smalto, moved from Rome to Paris in 1962 and dressed heads of state, including France’s Francois Mitterrand and Morocco’s King Hassan II, right up to his death earlier this year. The late Mario Luca, who learned his trade in a village east of Rome, followed a similar path. After building a name for himself as one of the top tailors in Paris, he founded Camps de Luca in 1969 with his business partner, Joseph Camps. His son Marc and grandson Charles now oversee the brand, which is still based in the iconic Camps de Luca building on Place de la Madeleine.
The Italians may dominate the French tailoring market, but Paris still contains a dazzling portfolio of high-quality French shirt-, shoe- and accessory-makers. Charvet, shirtmaker extraordinaire, best embodies this culture. Set up in 1938, it has just one outlet, at 28 Place Vendôme, and it’s like nowhere else in the