Meet The Circle Of Designers In Paris Who Are Mastering A Modern Craftsmanship In Menswear
Nicolas Gabard of Husbands, Gauthier Borsarello of Holiday Boileau and Massimo and Lorenzo Cifonelli of Cifonelli all have different approaches to clothing. The Cifonelli cousins are building on the heritage of their grandfather’s esteemed tailoring house, Borsarello is breathing life into the word luxury through carefully considered ready-to-wear designs and Gabard is twisting the tailoring game into a platform for cultural enlightenment. All cite the importance of countries such as England and Italy in their design process, but what really ties them together is their French philosophy: a shared spirit to prioritise quality, craftsmanship and authenticity through clothing.
With this ethos, their resulting three labels have coined a very specific industry of style in Paris. Ask any one of them what the word means and you’ll receive a set of very similar answers. Unsurprisingly, none are based on a single piece of clothing. These men see style as the outcome of a recipe, one that mixes carefully crafted garments with an assured state of mind. Their designs are best tailored to men who view clothes as finishing layers to their identity, rather than cover ups. Basically, they’re dressing the characters who burn (in different directions, but my God burn) like fabulous yellow Roman candles. With the assured folk flocking to this ignited world, Paris is suddenly experiencing a resurgence of classic French elegance.
It’s nothing short of refreshing to see a series of menswear designers who are grounded by traditions but layering that with cultural understanding. That French quality appears to have got a bit lost in the ever-demanding fashion schedule of the 21st century, but thanks to Gabard, Borsarello and the Cifonelli’s, its flame is slowly brightening. Swerving all stereotypes of Paris (berets, baguettes and, in 2019, bird scooters), this GQ writer travelled through the small circle of the city and shook hands with the men who are truly honouring the word “craft”.
Nicolas Gabard – Husbands
You’ll find Husbands between the orbits of tailoring and fashion, plucking the craftsmanship from the former and stories from the latter to fill an otherwise uninhabited space of the industry with culture and style. The mind behind it, Nicolas Gabard, is as clued up on the technicalities of suit making as he is on the depths of Francis Bacon’s figurative art. This sharp understanding of two worlds has allowed him to birth a bespoke identity of design in the city: tailor by trade, enlightener by reputation.
“Craftsmanship is the secret of style,” Gabard says as we sit down in the basement of his boutique, located a stone’s throw from the Palais Royal. If it wasn’t for the right word of mouth, you’d probably pass by it. There’s no branding over its glass front, nor is there a huge indication of its unique offerings. It looks more like the studio of an artistic director, though that’s not entirely inaccurate: inside is a split between rails of clothing and an archive of personal assets. Gabard talks about the clothes first. “Husbands comes from an obsession with the body – of precision and details. We keep the full canvas of tailoring and its construction because it guarantees a lasting garment. Technically, we offer a perfect piece, but its life comes when the wearer composes something with it.”
That’s where the culture comes in. Gabard views fashion as an outlet for “phantasm” and, after stitching on the roots of tailoring through one eye, he seals his designs with stories through the other. They originate from expressive interests. “When I was young, music, film and literature were important ways of defining yourself. By listening to The Smiths, Joy Division and Television, or watching films by Truffaut and Rohmer, you became self-conscious of vital oeuvres and found out a lot about yourself.” Walking through his store space and seeing such a wide breadth of art books, tasteful interiors and, of course, the most elegant wardrobe imaginable, I could see that Gabard was an extremely assured man.
Fortunately for those with a smaller pool of cultural nous, education is as important as design to Gabard. “When you have an aesthetic shock, it can change your life. That’s the perfect ecosystem of our brand: we catch people with the style icon and then give them the culture through the work that these figures made.” Husbands isn’t trying to sell you a wide-lapelled, pinstripe suit because Serge Gainsbourg wore one like it and, if you do too, you’ll instantly be dubbed stylish. No. Rather, Husbands is proposing the thread of an interesting style icon and then using this as a hook to dig people into exploring the possibilities of their own identities. When you begin to know yourself, you’ll arrive at the ethos of Husbands and its clothing will carry you through any occasion, whether it's a wedding or an intoxicated night. Gabard wants to dress you for the situation of life.
That’s a very authentic (and, for the record, French) philosophy. Husbands sources its materials from England and manufactures its suits in Naples, but Paris is the base that provides an essential interplay with the individual’s state of mind. As Gabard says, “You don’t have to live the life of other people and that’s the same for clothing – you have to wear your own garments with your body, your culture, your dreams, your past, your phantasm.”
It is here that I observe Gabard’s choice in attire. He is wearing a single-breasted wool pinstripe suit, semi-unbuttoned white shirt and black box calf boots. He looks elegant, authentic and given the well-worn look of each piece, assured in his style. I know it probably took him two minutes to get ready this morning, but as I leave Husbands my mind continues to think about his ideology. Even my own jacket appears different to me in the light of our chat. That's the most simple way to define the Husbands effect. Once you follow Gabard's gravitational pull, you’ll find yourself arriving at a wavelength like no other.
Husbands, 57 Rue de Richelieu, 75002, Paris at husbands-paris.com
Gauthier Borsarello – Holiday Boileau
Paris has two authentic villages. The first is Montmartre, located up north in the 18th arrondissement. The second, located in the southwest 16th, has a less official (but completely merited) title: Village Boileau. This is the community of menswear outfitters who are using their prowess and pride to deliver a well-made wardrobe with a morally eternal value. The base was born on Rue Boileau, just off which stands Holiday. Through its doors, you’ll find Gauthier Borsarello: the label’s designer and maestro of this group who is sharp and refreshing with his opinions. And, of course, he’s inherently stylish.
Borsarello is an open book and Holiday Boileau is almost a library of his stories – the published ones sit on the top floor while archival material can be assessed below. We wind down a set of stairs to chat in the heart of their brand. “Holiday Boileau comes from this showroom,” he declares first, gesturing to his impressive collection of quality clothing that he interprets into contemporary designs for each collection. Categorically, you would call his selection utilitarian menswear, but each piece he sources has its own distinct charm. The scarlet jeans he’s wearing, for example, were sourced in Texas and are clad in “SYLA” (short for “See You Later Alligator”). Straight up, unashamed and certainly unique, they’re a fine piece of evidence for his design ethos.
Borsarello considers himself a stylist. People in the know speak of him as more of a genius (which he doesn’t agree with), but he does run a series of highly influential projects from this small and peripheral Parisian area. Founder of Le Vif – the boutique that sells his curation of period clothing – he is also the editor-in-chief and fashion director of L'étiquette magazine: a French media outlet that he declares as the “guide to masculine elegance”. At Holiday Boileau he's style director, designing two ready-to-wear collections a year to compliment the biannual release of Holiday Magazine. It’s a lot, but Borsarello doesn’t think of it as a job. “I’m just a guy who is really passionate about how clothes are made. People always ask me if I’m tired, but I don’t even feel like I’m working. I just love it.”
Teaming up with artistic director Franck Durand, each Holiday collection Borsarello designs is centred on an old date and a city. The intention is to capture a vital cultural moment from the past and shift it into a relevant design for today. Borsarello doesn’t think about where he’ll be in the future, let alone what he’ll be designing, but he is seriously conscious of how his current designs are going to age. In that sense, he thinks like Nicolas Gabard. “The 16th has always been a wealthy area and it fits Holiday’s main design value: to be bourgeois,” he says. “Real French clothing is about craftsmanship – everything I do starts with the quality and then I add the art.”
His current collection for Holiday nods to Texas in 1958, filled with heavy fabrics, flares, hoards of tweed, denim, big hats and even bigger cowboy boots. “It’s a mix of French bourgeois codes and a Texas theme – it’s weird but it works well.” A weird concept of words, maybe, but if you take one look at the material result you’ll see the vision in Borsarello’s mind: a well-cultured silhouette grounded by luxury. He has an assured opinion on the topic. “Luxury is a misidentified word in the minds of people these days. The only definition of luxury for me is the time that’s dedicated in making a product.”
Because of this essential priority, Borsarello believes that he isn’t going to move fashion forward. I both agree and disagree. Agree, because he isn’t set on pouring out an endless stream of clothes, nor is he driven by money. Disagree, because he’s offering something that will work (and last) for the long run and that’s a very original sensibility to push for in 2019. Visit his village and you’ll find yourself smack dab in the middle of fashion’s greatest modern revolution.
Holiday Boileau, 11 Rue Parent de Rosan, 75016, Paris at holiday-paris.fr
Massimo and Lorenzo Cifonelli – Cifonelli
On a search for Paris’ most historic hub of sartorialism, I land at the Cifonelli workshop. It’s located on Rue Marbeuf (just off the swarming Champs-Élysées) but throughout the second floor of its discreet building, the largest atelier in the world is hard at work. The team consists of 45 staff and at the forefront stands Lorenzo and Massimo Cifonelli. Great-grandson’s of Giuseppe Cifonelli, who founded the house in 1880, the pair speak and move with a grace that’s vital to the world of bespoke. By heritage, they’re Italian, but by way of thinking, they’re undeniably French.
That much you can tell from their atelier, which, upon entering, is easily mistaken for a sophisticated apartment. Fully carpeted and filled with flowers, the atmosphere feels historic and homely. But with the finishing additions of art deco furniture, you can tell there’s a modern touch to it. Art deco is the perfect way to categorise the house of Cifonelli: a combination of fine craftsmanship, rich materials and contemporary styles that, together, produce a suit that’s bound to sit in your wardrobe (or stroll the streets) for a long time. “The cut of Cifonelli is historic and unique, designed by our grandfather Aturo, who was part of Cifonelli’s second generation and was originally from Italy," explained Massimo. "But the spirit of this house is to always bring a touch of modernity. We work to make a soft jacket that the client can move in, as opposed to armoury.”
Comfort is key to this fourth-generation of the Cifonelli family, who took the reigns of the house in 1994. But the originating cut of Massimo and Lorenzo’s grandfather, Aturo, introduced that liberated take on tailoring long ago – most notoriously through a unique shoulder. It’s constructed through a form Lorenzo cites as “Le Cigarette”, a rolled sleeve head that is shifted towards the front of the jacket’s small chest (another signature touch). The result? A sharp stature along the foremost horizontal line of the jacket, declaring an assured sense of sartorialism, while also elevating the body with elegance as its edges appear soft and light.
Oddly, Paris’ history of menswear tailors isn’t half as extensive as it is for womenswear couturiers. The modern Cifonelli’s know that, so since arriving at the house 25 years ago, Massimo and Lorenzo have repositioned the brand to align with Paris’ most notorious craft. Lorenzo elaborates: “We have the Italian roots and the British structural patterns – we cut in inches rather than centimetres – but as for the French part? It’s the quality. We’ve modernised the way our jackets are made on the inside to be more reflective of a French couture house.” The pair treat each order individually, focusing on the uniqueness of each person and then executing at least three trials on the first suit to arrive at a perfect fit. It’s classic couture in contemporary culture.
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Massimo invites me to try on a jacket before I leave. He pulls out a velvet tuxedo similar to the one Josephine Baker wore, created by the house almost a century ago, styled with a wingtip collared shirt and top hat. As I take in the details of its design – elegant shoulders, a lean sculpted chest yet complete freedom of movement – it occurs to me that finding an eternally stylish wardrobe isn’t hard. All these garments ask for in return is for a person of great character to wear them. Once you feel a sense of confidence in that, these three labels will be waiting for you in Paris.
Cifonelli, 83 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008, Paris at cifonelli.com