A couple of months ago Lorenzo Cifonelli asked me if I could introduce him to Joe Morgan next time Lorenzo was in London. Perhaps, he asked, we could even have lunch together. Finally – last Friday – we managed to make it happen.
“I’m such a great admirer of your work” they both said, almost as one. Perhaps I should have expected that, given Lorenzo’s request and Joe’s stated respect for Cifonelli product, but it was still a relief. This was clearly going to go well.
Indeed, most of the time it was hard for myself and Romain (Lorenzo’s assistant) to get a word in edgeways. Joe is loquacious at the best of times, but with the catalyst of Lorenzo’s child-like enthusiasm the conversation ran at double speed. There was feverish discussion of buttonholes, chest cuts, trouser heights, tropical cloths and the order in which a well-known client commissioned his 20 suits.
We talked about the direction in which Joe has sought to take Chittleborough & Morgan since Roy’s retirement, with a group of young craftsmen and a wealth of new ideas – such as his fabric boutonnieres, collared and cloth-backed waistcoats, and bespoke casual clothing. And of course the growth of Cifonelli, including its acquisition of small tailors and imminent expansion of ready-to-wear.
Joe was particularly interested to hear that the tailors at French houses are full-time employees, unlike English tailors that are effectively freelance. If you have a unique style and exacting requirements, as Joe has, it is hard to find and train tailors. Lorenzo has none of those problems; but then again, without the flexibility of the English system, small houses like C&M would find it hard to exist.
Other conclusions: men wear cloths that are too light (of course); the quality of RTW suiting has increased in recent years; and tailors must present their end product as well as a RTW outfitter, to survive – they cannot hide behind the label ‘bespoke’.
At points both men were embarrassed by the compliments of the other. Joe called Lorenzo’s restless approach “an inspiration”, while Lorenzo swore Joe should have the largest shopfront on the Row. I would go further. But I don’t want to embarrass them even more.
(Apologies for the terrible picture – iPhones, blinking, wine glasses…)