c
 
French tailor Smalto is not talked about much by the bespoke enthusiasts of the world. Yet it is the second-biggest bespoke operation in France (after Cifonelli), has a great history – having been established by Francesco Smalto in 1962 when he left Camps de Luca – and a very strong style.
 
That style is most clearly identified in the Smalto lapel: a smaller notch, known as a fish mouth among English tailors, in which the lapel angles upwards from the point it meets the collar. It can be seen as half way between a notch and a peak lapel.
 
 
 
The jacket style is also characterised by a well-padded shoulder and close waist. While still being lighter in construction than any of its Savile Row cousins, the Smalto suit is cut and made in a strong, masculine style – similar to how Camps de Luca suits used to be, when the house style was driven more by Joseph Camps than the de Luca family, as currently.
 
There are other similarities with Camps de Luca such as the teardrop-shaped ticket point on the inside of the jacket (see picture, top) and – like all French tailors – Smalto the fineness of finishing on the linings and buttonholes.
 
 
One thing that sets Smalto apart from everyone else, however, is its method of cutting. It works from a series of plastic patterns for set chest sizes and styles. These are used to make a very rough, basted fitting using waste cloth, which is substantially altered to cut the actual cloth. One advantage of this system is speed – a first fitting can be done the same day as no cloth is required and the cutting is very simple.
 
Other French tailors often use waste cloth to do a fitting. Cifonelli, for example, has done so with me when I’ve been in Paris for just a day, and Lorenzo Cifonelli particularly likes to do so with female customers and with trousers for a first-time customer – as both can be tricky in the re-cutting.
 
But no one works off plastic in the same way that Smalto does (though it should be pointed out that this is by no means the same as just adjusting blocks, as some cheaper bespoke tailors or made-to-measure systems do). Smalto also uses a three-part cutting process, in which the most important person is the measurer and fitter. He does no cutting himself, but passes on changes to someone else who creates and uses the paper pattern, who in turn passes it to someone else to do the cutting.
 
 
Most large tailors use an undercutter to the do the striking of the actual cloth, but I’m a little sceptical about the virtues of not having the measurer/cutter have any connection with the cloth itself. Then again, I have not tried the Smalto process so I do not pretend to pass judgment.
 
Smalto is not just a tailor. It has two full fashion lines, with ready-to-wear suits retailing at around €1000 and €3000 (bespoke is around €6000), housed in a glamorous corner house. The styling is fairly brash, redolent of Zilli. All the bespoke appointments are taken upstairs, rather than in the same building as the tailoring itself. This does have the advantage that all the RTW can be quickly altered, and to a very high standard.
 
 
As mentioned in my piece on Camps de Luca, French tailors have lot of African clients, and around Smalto you see a lot of lightweight, unlined and Safari jackets/shirt jackets. This does have its downsides in terms of style – one African leader who will remain nameless had ordered a suit in a Scabal cloth that is woven with the client’s name as the pinstripes.
 
But overall, Francesco Smalto’s reputation for quality and innovation seems to be intact. As an example of the latter, one room we visited was covered in print-outs of suit styles and cloths – the working drafts for a Smalto app that will allow bespoke customers to go through the hundreds of options available in cloth and cut, so they can design everything before they even arrive at the shop. 
 
 
Photography: Luke Carby
 

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
19 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
S

SImon,

You write:
“But no one works off plastic in the same way that Smalto does (though it should be pointed out that this is by no means the same as just adjusting blocks, as some cheaper bespoke tailors or made-to-measure systems do).”

By “cheaper bespoke tailors” are you referring to, for example, Graham Browne? I thought they made a specific paper pattern for each customer, but rumor has it that they use block patterns that they adjust. Do you know what their present practice is?

Thanks,
S

the idler of march

I second that. Frankly though even if I found that somehow they were using block patterns I wouldn’t give it a second thought. I have a number of suits from them and the fit is consistently bang on, which is the only thing that actually matters.

Simon, I realize that as a craft enthusiast it’s your inclination to judge quality and not value, but 6000 euros is a hell of a lot of money for a single suit. One thing that irks me about a lot of tailors these days is how the branding efforts have been stepped up and the price has been cranked up. It seems difficult to justify a price tag which seems to be so far in excess of actual production costs, and smacks a bit of the same kind of ugly consumer logic failure which allows some of the big clothing brands to charge way over the odds for only slightly above average clothes. In a sane world, owning a reasonable suit is something that should be within the grasp of the average human being.

Just my two cents on the matter, anyway.

Yoshimi Hasegawa

Dear Simon,
I have really enjoyed your blog about the Smalto , in particular I am producing a book about Japanese cutter who used to worked for the Smalto as a head-cutter and left there 7 months ago.
I totally agree with you that a cutter is vital for tailoring and the current system of the Smalto seems to be different.
In addition, the price of Bespoke suit in Paris is quite expensive rather than that Savile Row tailoring houses ( ex. The Smalto Bespoke is approximate 8000 euro…!)even though a rent price of Mayfair is clearly one of the top prices in the world.
Ultimately, I believe that London is a top place is for tailoring in many ways.

Oz

Hello Simon
A pleasure to visit your website, everyday, during my lunch break! (for many years now)

I need your advice on where to go to, in Paris, for adjustments to my existing wardrobe of suits? I am mainly looking to take in waist,seat and leg on my garments.

I don’t actually live in Paris and having had a bad experience with my local tailor in a small city south of the capital, I am being careful =)

Appreciate your kind help in this regard and apologies if I posted this in a wrong place

Regards
Oz

mervin

I would like to know if you have any stores in South Africa?
There is a store in Johannesburg selling Smalto.

Florian

Hello Simon,

My name is Florian and I was the head cutter at Smalto you talked about – the fellow with the white shirt and tie on the pics 🙂 – I remember well the time you came with Hugo Jacomet.
I since opened my tailoring house with my wife (an ex-Lanvin then Smalto tailor) in Paris in the 8th arrondissement.
My goal is to pursue this beautiful “savoir faire” I learned at Smalto (as it’s in real difficulty as you may know…). I find the Smalto’s cut to be one of the most fabulous ever and I’m very proud to had inherit of it.
If you came to Paris, I’ll be happy to show you our work and atelier!
And in the meanwhile I’ll send you soon our trunk shows dates as we want to travel more for our customers if that’s okay with you.
Thanks,

Florian Sirven

Dan

I’ve read an interview with Kenjiro Suzuki (inJapanese) stating that the reason behind the strange, modular workflow where the fitting and cutting are accomplished by separate craftsmen at Smalto is to prevent/obstruct an ambitious employee who has his heart set on founding an individual establishment from luring the clientele with him.

William Nazaret

Greetings Simon. I own a number of RTW and bespoke Smalto suites. I am particularly fond of a Smalto blazer some of whose cuff buttons are missing. Do you know what would be the most practical way (other than traveling to Paris) that I can pursue getting a set of replacement buttons?

Thanks and congratulation for this amazing piece on Francesco Smalto.

adebisi

Hello Simon, your website is always a pleasure to see.
I have a mint Smalto bespoke from 80’s which has been owned by a famous african president…If anyone is interested I am looking to sell it.

John

Simon,

I’ve followed your immensely informative blog for a few years. Thanks for your hard work in promoting all things sartorial.

I recently picked up a collection of handmade bespoke garments, commissioned by HRH Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, at a local thrift store here in Washington, DC. I’m hoping you might be able to help me figure out what to do with the collection, which includes four Smalto odd jackets, two pairs of Smalto trousers, one Christian Couture Geneve odd jacket, and two pairs of Christian Couture Geneve trousers.

I like each of the pieces, which have beautiful hand-finishing, and the whole collection only cost me $75. However, the jackets are a bit too large and a local tailor has given me a quote of roughly $500 for the necessary alterations. I’m not sure if the garments are worth the cost of alterations.

Another option is to sell the collection, but I’m not sure if pre-owned bespoke garments made for Saudi royalty are especially in demand. If I decide to go that route, I’m also unsure about where to sell them. Ebay is one option, but these are sort of niche items.

Here’s where your informed opinion would be of great help. Do you think it would be worthwhile to have these items altered? Is there much demand for them? Where’s the best place to sell this sort of thing?

Best,

John