FTDF: When did you become interested in tailored clothing?
Dirnelli: It all really started when I realized the importance of how we dress. It influences how you are perceived by others, but also how you perceive yourself. When I started my own company 12 years ago (I do have a job other than being a #menswear blogger) I had to meet and convince clients, I realized that confidence – that we necessarily convey to others – was very much related to clothing. Actually, when you wear a nice suit which fits you well you feel more confident. It is as if nothing could happen to you and therefore you are more likely to attract clients and land new business.
That’s when I started to be really keen on menswear, in an analytical, almost scientific way, because let’s face it, like any good blogger I am obsessive and kind of a geek when it comes to it. Dressing The Man by Alan Flusser was very enlightening and influential. It taught me most of what I know on the matter and I still refer to it on a regular basis. I recommend it to all readers.
FTDF: Did the internet play any part in your learning process?
The great thing with the internet is that it allows all members of the #menswear community to quickly get to know each other. It makes you feel a lot better to know that you are not alone when you are surrounded daily by poorly dressed people who are suspicious of any man interested in clothing and style. If I remember correctly, Michael Alden once assessed that only 20 000 people in the World were interested in Bespoke Tailoring. Well, thanks to the internet we all get to know each other by names!
Ebay also played a great part in my learning process. It gave me the opportunity to buy and test many suits, new or vintage from lots of different tailors and renowned RTW makers. I had a crazy period when I thrifted almost every bespoke garment that was on Ebay. Internet has allowed me to easily acquire an impressive wardrobe for only a fraction of the price.
However, thank you God, my period of bulimic buying is behind me, I have finally calmed down, much to the relief of my wife. Nowadays brands offer me to test their garments because not every blogger has such an impressive wardrobe at home in order to make comparisons!
FTDF: Do you give much importance to rules when it comes to dressing?
Dirnelli: Rules are an essential starting point. It is crucial to know them at first. They are like a safety net for beginners. If you respect them you are almost sure to be properly dressed and at the very least much better than average.
Of course once you know them all, they become a straightjacket and are not as relevant. This is when you need to go beyond the rules, to explore new territories and to adapt them to your liking so you can develop your personal style and find the right balance. Copy first then create. Cover the basics before you go further.
It must also be said that when it comes to dressing, theory is one thing and practice is another. Regarding pattern mixing for instance: you can carefully follow the theory and still fail completely in practice. This is the magic of the art of dressing well somehow! Sometimes stepping out of the theory leads to something very relevant in practice, you don’t even know how it worked. These are the most enjoyable moments of the daily sartorial adventure of deciding your outfit of the day! I recently managed to associate lavender and beige in an outfit although it should not be possible but it ultimately worked well because the dominant colors of the outfit were light gray, navy and sky blue which are the three great pillars of menswear colorimetry. I could write pages on the matter…
FTDF: What do you think of Parisian tailors?
Dirnelli: I have great respect for Camps De Luca and Cifonelli and given my experience, I believe I can confidently say that Parisian tailors are among the best in the world, if not the best. They do not yet have the worldwide recognition they deserve on the internet because they are ignored by most Anglo-American blogs and forums. These IGents tend to focus only on what they know or what they think they know, namely Savile Row. Americans have also developed a particular taste for Italian tailoring in recent years so that Neapolitan tailors are now over-represented on the internet unlike French tailors who most of the time remain unsung heroes.
That is why I try, through my own English written blog, to put to the fore the savoir-faire of French tailors and French craftsmen. The quality of their work, their accuracy, their effort and their attention to detail are unmatched by Savile Row and Italian tailors. It is not even close.
It is also refreshing to see that the “French school” of tailoring has given birth to a new generation of tailors, foreigners, such as Kenjiro Suzuki for instance, who come to Paris to master or develop their craft.
French tailoring is often criticized for its classicism or conservatism but I am appalled by this criticism. As far as tailoring is concerned I believe that being classic is a good thing. Classic does not mean rigid. This new generation of bespoke customers which swoons over the Drape Cut of Anderson & Sheppard or the shoulder line of a Rubinacci should be reminded that Claude François danced in Camps De Luca.
FTDF: The Cifonelli silhouette was deemed too feminine by Yukio Akamine. What is your view on this?
Dirnelli: I would start by reminding our readers that Cifonelli has a unique history like no other Parisian tailor. Thus it would be wrong to consider Cifo’ as a typical French tailor. Cifonelli happens to be based in Paris but it does not stand for the French school of tailoring. It is rather a mix of influences from Rome, Paris and London. Cifonelli is the only tailor in Paris where everything is still measured in inches, because Lorenzo and Massimo’s grandfather had been trained in Savile Row before returning to Italy. That’s why Cifonelli stands apart; its cut is a blend of attributes of multiple backgrounds which create a unique style. Furthermore, it is one of the most innovative tailors in terms of designs. They are always looking to improve the cut and as I said before their attention to details is second to none. Looking at their work and garments it cannot be said that French tailors are conservative.
I don’t think for a second that their cut and the one of French tailors in general can be considered too feminine. Quite the contrary, with ropped and fairly broad shoulders and a defined chest accentuated by a nipped waist, the French cut is prototypically masculine. Come on, do not force me to speak ill of Savile Row… I still prefer the Italians, and I note with an amused smile that nowadays Chittleborough & Morgan seems to be really inspired by some elements of the Parisian bespoke style. Even Simon Crompton of Permanent Style, the advocate of the Row seems to have rediscovered Parisian bespoke tailoring recently.
FTDF: Why do French tailors suffer from this reputation of boring classicism? Why are they so underrated?
Dirnelli: As I said earlier the accusation of classicism is unfounded and unfair. It is also due to a lack of marketing skills. I like to say that the French have the savoir-faire, the expertise but unlike the Americans they don’t know how to sell it. The famous Parisian lapel known as the “fish mouth lapel” actually refers to a distant past. Parisian style is supposedly blamed for having remained immobile and unfazed by modernity. However, I recently looked at a Hart Shaffner & Marx ad from the 1920’s featuring a fish mouth lapel similar to the one used today by Smalto. It is very rare to see such a lapel on a jacket nowadays, it has almost become avant-garde. When I wear a fish mouth lapel these days I know that I am wearing something that is quite unknown to most men under forty. Besides, when I cross the path of a man wearing a suit with such a lapel, it immediately catches my eye because it is quite uncommon these days. But it will come back in style, everything does eventually. I’m either old fashioned or avant-garde. Menswear is a spinning wheel that never stops.
Parisian tailors may also be overlooked because of their particularly high price tags. Their lack of marketing skills also explains it. The battle for market shares is now played on the internet, that’s where their future customers are. If French tailors had more American customers maybe they would gain a wider recognition around the World. Lorenzo Cifonelli frequently travels to the United States but Marc De Luca has never held a trunk show there.
Lastly, I notice with despair that Parisian tailors act as if they were “Gallic tribes”; they know little about each other and do not seem to want to gather their forces in order to protect their craft, unlike the English who founded an association on the Row to defend their common interests against the usurpers of some big RTW brands. Nowadays, the customers of French Bespoke tailors are either in Russia, China or the Gulf, but no longer in France, alas. With our declining GDP, we can no longer afford to pay the ever higher prices of a bespoke suit in Paris; unfortunately I believe that these prices have not yet peaked. I bet that despite the stratospheric prices of Camps or Cifo bespoke today, in ten years we will look back at the current prices with nostalgia, the good old days when Parisian bespoke was still affordable…
FTDF: Let’s talk about your blog. How did you get the idea of creating it? What do you get from it?
Dirnelli: I thought about keeping a blog when I began accumulating a lot of suits. I said to myself: “How will I remember if this outfit works or not?” What is the point of having lots of clothes if you always end up wearing the same uniform? I wanted to push myself to experiment and to learn from the process.
Therefore, I told myself that I would take a picture of what I wore each day. Then I would know which garments would work well together, which outfit would work and it would stop me from always automatically pairing the same pants with the same shirt, etc. With 200 suits, and as many shirts and ties in my wardrobe, I challenged myself to never wear the same outfit twice. But how could I remember if I didn’t keep track? Hence my blog, which at first was meant to be purely personal. However much to my surprise, it quickly gained followers, mostly bespoke enthusiasts and igents from all over the world. I honestly never thought I would have any success doing this. I have now people from around the world asking me for advice on how to dress, what to buy, etc. It is pretty fun.
Keeping this blog has enabled me to refine and develop my personal style and to learn more about my tastes. There is nothing better than seeing your outfit caught on camera in order to analyze what worked and what didn’t. Mark my words, it teaches you humility. Readers often show you no mercy when they let you know what they think. I thought and wore some outfits only because I knew I was going to photograph them. For instance, I’ve had the white linen suit I wore last Pitti for almost a year in my wardrobe. I didn’t know when I would have the opportunity to wear it. In front of all the best street style photographers of the world in Firenze a few weeks ago, it seemed quite right (laughs)…
On a more serious note, keeping this sartorial blog requires more than just preparing your daily outfit. Readers who have been following me from the start tell me that my style has greatly improved over the last two years. It is down to the discipline and effort I put in keeping this blog. When I started it I would never wear a pocket square. The blog has pushed me to try wearing one in order to figure out what I liked and disliked about this accessory. It is now part of my style even though I used to be against pocket squares a couple of years back. The same thing can be said about patterns; I am much less conservative than I was initially. It also made me figure that when you wear a flamboyant garment or accessory you need to tone it down with a plain one in order to create balance.
Neither dandy nor conservative, that’s my motto. But my personal style is constantly evolving and impacted by the inspiring outfits which I get to see on various blogs. Some guys, especially in Scandinavia (who knew?), just have an amazing sense of style. Thanks to the internet we get to see it.
FTDF: You are known for being a bespoke enthusiast but you are also quite keen on RTW. It is quite uncommon since it is usually one way or the other. Did you have this open minded approach to clothing from the start or was it something you developed overtime?
Dirnelli: I have always despised guys who proudly wore a hideous big watch simply because it was the most expensive around. Expensive does not necessarily equal to beautiful. Lesser known brands can offer a beautiful product, with a very good value for money, you need taste and education to get it. My motto is “best for less”. Any guy can dress well if he has the money (sort of)… However dressing well on a budget requires dedication and creativity. Finding the three hundred dollar watch which seems to be worth three thousands, that’s the challenge. It takes time and requires taste. It is an uphill battle but it is loads of fun.
I have the deepest sympathy and respect for those in menswear who seek the best balance between looks and spending. I am not even talking about worth; I am not talking about quality; quality of manufacture is something else. You may be surprised but I don’t care much about that. Paraphrasing Alan Flusser’s philosophy, I have often written on my blog that a well-fitting RTW fused suit is always better than an ill-fitting bespoke suit. The most expensive brands do not necessarily offer the best silhouette. You must be able to recognize a beautiful silhouette regardless of the price.
That is why my interest in clothes goes well beyond bespoke tailoring. I am interested in most brands, even the most basic RTW ones as long as they offer something that I find relevant style-wise. I own some beautiful garments that cost me almost nothing and I also own a few expensive garments which are not up to par. One needs to be honest and lucid about this. Some customers are sometimes completely blinded by the price they paid. They go to great lengths to persuade themselves that their jacket is well cut because it cost them an arm and a leg…
I often debate on the matter with fellow IGents and #menswear bloggers. Some consider that a very expensive bespoke garment with imperfections is the ultimate chic because it is a testament to the handwork, it adds to its uniqueness. I strongly disagree. I actually own an Italian bespoke suit cut by a House which I will not name that has a pocket higher than the other. When I think about how much it cost me, such an approximation makes me mad… Neapolitans sell it with a lot of charm, but at least French tailors are less dubious when such things happen.
FTDF: Don’t you regret that you open mindedness isn’t shared by all? Don’t you think that the bespoke community is a bit exclusive?
Dirnelli: I don’t know if I can be said to be open minded when I obsess so much about details, but thanks anyway. I’m very open when it comes to comparing the pros and cons of bespoke and RTW. I see merit in both and I think that paradoxically MTM or more precisely what we call in France “Demi mesure” is usually the most disappointing offer; I could prove it almost scientifically if I were given the time. I subscribe to the idea that a suit should never outshine the man who wears it. I don’t believe in peacocking. Clothes should only be a reflection of who you are, they are the frame of the picture that is you.
When you have a genuine interest in menswear, you tend go beyond the superficiality of garments. Dressing well raises deep issues such as self-respect, respect of others, appearance standards in society, etc. Behind a façade of futility, the way one dresses is much deeper than we might think. Thanks to menswear, I often make great and fascinating encounters with very genuine people.
FTDF: What do you think of menswear in Paris?
Dirnelli: In Paris we tend to be too influenced by fashion. The rules of classic menswear which are the roots of the timeless style we all aim for are too often overlooked here. That is not the case in England and Italy for instance. Scandinavians and Japanese have a lot more style than we do. When you see them at Pitti, they are in a league of their own. I am not talking about dandyism or exuberance. I am talking about classic business clothes. That is the heart of the matter. In France we could greatly improve. It might be a shocking thing to say but a Spanish or a Greek sharp dresser seem to have more style than a French one these days. Many countries have upped their elegance standards in the last few years while we seem to keep going backwards.
In France we tend to be narrow-minded when it comes to clothing. For instance, if I wear a very classic navy double breasted suit to a business meeting in Paris it may draw attention. Even though it doesn’t fall in the eccentric category by any means it is already too bold for the Parisian business world which considers that black is a beautiful color for a business suit…
FTDF: How do you rate the selection of suits available to Parisian men?
Dirnelli: Don’t get me wrong; between the tailors and the different shops we have here, it is possible to dress well. It is definitely not Italy with its many retailers. The main problem in Paris is the chronic incompetence of the sales associates. The advice of a good salesman can be crucial when elegance is concerned. Trained and knowledgeable salesmen could very well be the cure for most Parisian men.
Take the Armoury for instance; what they are doing in Hong Kong and now in New York is amazing. Even if you’ve never set foot in their shop you can still feel their passion and their love for good products from a thousand miles away even though they are “just retailers”. Hats off to them, their endeavor should inspire many retailers especially here in Paris.
FTDF: What are the trends that get on your nerves? Which ones do you subscribe to?
Some trends can annoy you at first but then you finally understand and accept them: wearing the narrower blade of your tie longer than the larger blade for instance. It does work well with knit ties. I was skeptical at first of wearing a button down shirt with the collar unbuttoned like Agnelli, but it sometimes works very well in the right context.
I used to find patched pockets irrelevant on most garments but I have now learned to like them on some jackets.
However, I cannot see a business suit worn well with sneakers. It does not work as far I am concerned. The super tight, super short silhouette where the jacket sleeve fits like a diving suit does not get my vote either.
When you are genuinely interested in classic menswear, you tend to quickly realize that certain rules must not be bent too much in order to maintain a balanced silhouette. When you go too far, your suits immediately becomes associated to a period. Nevertheless, it is sometimes interesting to wear clothes that are in fashion. Sometimes I buy a jacket and I think to myself: “I like it now, we will see if I still do in five years.” You need diversity in your wardrobe in order to have garments which suit your different moods.
FTDF: How important is it to know a good alteration tailor?
Dirnelli: It is crucial indeed. Just for the record I’ve lost more than 40 pounds since I’ve started the blog two years ago. Having spent as much as I have on my wardrobe you can easily imagine the consequences I was facing. Finding a good alteration tailor was a necessity for me otherwise I would have had to start from scratch… However, readers should be aware that alteration tailors aren’t really used to deal with precise and uncompromising customers. It is actually quite difficult to find one with genuine tailoring skills. But now that I have, I sometimes get results from alterations that satisfy me more than what I get when commissioning a bespoke garment. Of course this process takes quite a lot of time, you have to develop a strong relationship with your alteration tailor because one alteration sometimes needs to be corrected several times in order to get the result you want. You guessed it, I’m their worst nightmare! One should take into account that alteration tailors regardless of their skills are not stylists, you need to affirm your taste and be aware of what kind of alteration can be made on each garment in order to guide them and get the fit that you want in the end. Lastly, do not be fazed by the reluctance they can express from time to time.
FTDF: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to the young Dirnelli?
Dirnelli: Watch your weight and your diet. When you are slim, clothes instantly look a lot better. It took me two years to fix twenty years of excess. Given all the money I have invested in buying clothes it was really worth it. My clothes now fit me better than ever.
I would avoid accumulating as many clothes. Although it has allowed me to discover and put to the test many makers and brands if I were to do it again, I would avoid reckless spending. Moderation is the key to lasting enjoyment.
Lastly, I would get interested in wearing odd jackets a lot sooner. Indeed, you can quickly master the art of wearing a suit with its range of colors and few patterns. However wearing odd jackets is a much more complicated endeavor. It may be the work of a lifetime. Actually, only a few people do it well. But on the evening, on the weekends or on vacations it is often appropriate to wear an odd jacket… that is why you need to learn how to wear it.
We thank Adriano Dirnelli for his kindness, his sense of humor and his time.
Paris, July 2014. All rights reserved.