The French style of Kenjiro Suzuki (and mute cutters)

Friday, May 8th 2020
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How do you make sure your best cutter doesn’t leave, taking customers with him? 

Simple: never let him meet the customers. 

I’ve always been aware that Smalto, the Parisian tailor, had an unusual system in its cutting room. Unlike most tailoring houses, their ‘fitter’ and the ‘cutter’ are different people, with the former meeting the customer, taking their measurements, and conducting fittings - then passing the information onto the cutter. 

To most, this would seem to introduce a needless layer of communication, and possible confusion*.

Indeed some tailors emphasise their proximity to their coatmakers, or the fact they trained as coatmakers themselves, because it helps control the next step in the process (between cutter and coatmaker). 

At Smalto, however, ex-head cutter Kenjiro Suzuki says the system was deliberately set up in different levels, so that the fitter maintained all customer relationships. 

In fact slightly creepily, he suggests it might not be a coincidence that some of the staff were deaf or mute. The head cutter before him was deaf and mute, and two other members of the team were mute. It’s hard to set up a competing tailor shop if you can’t talk. 

More prosaically, the set-up was also aimed at consistency. Smalto is known for having royal clients in ex-French colonies, and the King of Morocco routinely ordered 100 to 200 suits per visit. 

A segmented system, more akin to a production line, is better able to make every suit the same. Unlike smaller tailors such as Camps de Luca (where Kenjiro also worked), where it’s more common for a single coatmaker to make the whole jacket (apart from perhaps the finishing). 

As a side note: never trust a brand which boasts either that each garment is made by a single master, or that the making is purposefully divided among specialists. Neither is necessarily better.

As a factory manager once told me, “It’s the execution that makes the quality, not the system. But that’s a much more boring story for a journalist.”

Actually, all of this is something of a side note. I hope you’ll forgive me: the colourful things are often found down the cracks of the facts. 

This article is intended to introduce master Japanese tailor Kenjiro Suzuki (above), and his wife and team, who are running a superb operation in Paris. 

As is usual, I am covering them now because I’m in the process of having a piece made - or rather have been, for the past 18 months - and can therefore offer more in-depth coverage of the style and service. 

That style is quite similar to Smalto, as you might expect. Most obviously, there is the same ‘fish mouth’ or closed notch on the lapel. 

Readers might recognise the term from my Camps de Luca grey two-piece suit, but Kenjiro’s notch is actually cut rather deeper, making it more dramatic and perhaps attention grabbing. 

He is also varies his style more. For example, he has developed a more classic open-notch style at the request of an English client, and sometimes cuts the lapel flatter and larger. The gorge can shift up and down too.

You can see examples of all of those below. These are taken from the ‘Collection’ section of Kenjiro’s website, which is unusual in showing a really large number of styles - currently 68 of them. More tailors should have galleries like this. 

Kenjiro cuts a fairly padded, sharp jacket, in a similar line to Camps and Smalto. However, it is a touch shorter than others, and certainly a touch closer in fit than Smalto, which tended to larger, boxier jackets. 

“Smalto preferred a heavy canvas, and quite a straight fit,” says Kenjiro. “It was a hard look to get wrong, to be honest, with a lack of shape in the waist. I prefer something a bit more contemporary and fitted.”

Among Kenjiro’s other experiments are a belt he sometimes makes for trousers, in the same cloth. I don’t like the style myself, but it is distinctive. 

Kenjiro is older than you might think, given his boyish looks and ever-present smile: he’s 44 years old, with 22 years in the industry. 

Kenjiro moved to France in 2003, having studied at a tailoring school in Japan and worked as a pattern maker at Chiaki Tamura. In Paris he trained at L’Academie International de Coupe de Paris, while interning at Arnys and Lanvin. 

He was at Arnys together his wife, and they both moved to Camps de Luca in 2005. He switched to Smalto in 2007, was head cutter from 2009 to 2012, and set up on his own in 2013. His wife left to join him when the business was large enough to support them both. 

He has moved once since then, into a new space on Rue de Penthièvre, just around the corner from the Cifonelli store on Rue du Faubourg St Honoré. 

It is there these pictures were taken. The workshop is on the ground floor, which is unusual, and means you walk between the two rows of tailors as you enter (three pictured higher up this post).

But upstairs is a beautiful, bright room, decorated with some lovely bolts, a big side-lit mirror and accessories that Kenjiro recently started offering. 

The suit Kenjiro is making me is a blue cotton - the same 9oz Holland & Sherry cotton I used to make my double-breasted suit with Musella Dembech. I’ve loved how that cloth has worn in. 

Full review on the suit itself in a few weeks. 

Kenjiro’s suits start at €4800. He currently travels to Japan regularly, and plans to start coming to London.

*The exception, perhaps, being those Savile Row tailors where the salesperson takes measurements during some trunk shows, because the cutter can’t be everywhere at once. In that case, the degree of understanding between the two is crucial - but can still work well, with Brian Lishak and Richard Anderson being a good example. 

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt

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Richard

Hi Simon,

Interesting article. Can I enquire whether you have any plans to cover provincial tailors in the UK? There are some good examples out their and many of us are not able to get to London that often.

Lachlan

Hi Simon

On a “kind of” related note, there are some superb master tailors (locally referred to as “sifu” in Hong Kong) in the Mirador Mansion. I worked in HK as a secondee from London for several years, and thankfully with a Hong Konger girlfriend (now wife) I was able to commission 9 suits through different sifus, through recommendations from a few locals (because you need to be able to have a Chinese interpreter in order to communicate with the sifus). I have to say that there are some hidden gems – and some of the suits I made there have very nice cut and exceptional workmanship, comparable to (or even better, in some cases) most of the suits I made through the usual suspects in the UK and Italy. Perhaps worth a coverage one day if you travel to HK – they are worth your time and will give you fresh perspective about how HK Chinese tailors have developed their own style, in a good way of course.

Yours
Lachlan

Anonymous

W Chan is a stand out HK tailor, but not HK prices sadly…….

Lachlan

Simon – This is what I have discovered. Apparently, nearly all of the tailoring shops in HK are middleman only (obviously, the traditional names have their own in-house tailors, like WW Chan and Ascot Cheng) who take measurements and deal with clients – the cutting and work are all done by the “sifus” in the Mirador Mansion. It is very common that a sifu takes orders from different tailoring shops and simply attach a shop’s brand tag to the garment when finished. The sifus don’t open their own shops for the reasons that they can’t speak English or don’t have the capital to start a business, given how expensive it is to rent a shop in Hong Kong.

Turning to my personal experience, I would say that akin to the tailoring houses in the UK/Italy, different sifus have very different cutting style and finishing standards. The ones I have worked with (on recommendation from locals, who are also loyal readers of PS) are very, very good, and do fully hand padded lapel and chest. Some sifus do the suits more “soft” and some focus on more structured constructions, similar to the general English/Northern Italian vs Southern Italian comparison. The sifus (good ones) certainly don’t do boxy cut and has a trained eye on fit. The annoying thing is that sifus generally require you to bring your own fabric (and even canvas) – they simply don’t have these materials, as the tailoring shop will provide such to the sifus when making an order.

There you go – a little personal memory from my secondment in HK. I have to say it’s an eye-opening experience to me, that in the Far East there are such talent tailors who are so passionate about their work, yet are hidden in this rather shabby building that most people would overlook.

Yours
Lachlan

Gab

Had to check if « dumb » had a litteral meaning! 🙂

Anonymous

Simon the use of the word “dumb” is offensive to people who are unable to speak. “Mute” is a much more considerate term and should be used in this context.

Thank you.

Nick

I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while, so thank you! I love the fish mouth lapel of french tailors, could you elaborate more on how you personally compare Suziki’s lapel to that of camps de luca? Also, could you let me know how high the collar of french tailors generally is, is it closer to the English or Italian standard? Even the standard notch is very appealing in his execution. And given the price point it is more accessible than the other French tailors. I also noticed in the ‘Collection’ (which I totally agree more tailors should have) that he does a lot of sing vented jackets, similar to Husbands, which has got me thinking… what’s your take on a single vent? Looking forward to you final piece on this one

On a side note, I agree with the above comment that it would be interesting to have some sort of survey of British tailors, obviously heavily caveated that you have not tried them, but as a n academic exercise it would be good, it might also lead others to experiment a bit.

Jason

Funnily enough, I think a single vent compliments the fish mouth lapels in a certain way and have long been a style signature of French tailors.
Personally I think that vents are largely a question of individual flaneur’s preference and have long been a style element that comes and goes. Although I don’t buy Simon’s ‘Hands In The Pocket’ argument, I do think there is a case for those with protruding bottoms to stick with two.
Looking at this collection, one thing that really stood out to me was the fabulous trench coat.
A question to Simon, did he have a chance to get a good look at it and does it inspire him towards a JV with Private White ? I think it could be spectacular.

Jason

Interesting albeit I don’t quite understand why you would say that.
They did a great job on your trench , your Donegal overcoat and – although I prefer the original PWVC pea coat – with your more intricate Bridge.
What is it that you would think would defeat them with a wool/cashmere trench ?

Stefan

Yes, good idea. I now have an association between Kenjiro Suzuki, Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey that I’m not quite sure what to do with or how to get rid of.

Ian F

“…the colourful things are often found down the cracks of the facts.” Lovely turn of phrase.

Kerloaz

The belt associated to the suit was a Smalto “signature” (yet not the only house in France to do that). As many others elements…!

K.

Daniel

Hi Simon,
On the UK Tailor point. I was born and lived in Leeds for 35 years. I seem to remember one of my school classmates (late 1970’s) being allowed a morning off school to have a made to measure suit fitting. Little or no chance of that happening now but certainly the city had a tailoring tradition. One reason may be its proximity to the mills of Huddersfield and the surrounding area. I have no idea of the number or quality of those that remain but as previous correspondents have mentioned it may not be a bad idea to see the current state of the industry around the UK. I guess 7 weeks of lockdown has had me thinking about home!!. All best wishes
Daniel

Nick Inkster

The Leeds connection to tailoring stems directly from the days when Montague Burton established his factory there before WW2. It was the production centre for the Burton shops, and during the war they produced a significant proportion of the uniforms used by the military.

After the war demobbed soldiers received a coupon for a 2 pce suit from Burtons; officer ranks received a coupon for a 3 pce suit, and this is considered to be a possible source for the saying “the full Monty”.

One tailor of repute still operating in Leeds is Des Merrion; he is particularly interesting as he handles the entire production process himself. I have a number of bespoke items from him and knowing that only his hands were involved from start to finish gives them a special interest.

Nick Inkster

Hello Simon. Apologies for the tardy reply. Yes, I am sure the proximity to the mills would have been key to the choice of location.

Anonymous

Ronnie Lempert and his wife owned PH. Godlove making hand made suits in Leeds until the 1990s.A gentleman.
On another point Simon Ackerman suits had belts made of the same cloth in Leeds.A signature style.

Anonymous

Is that the same Ackerman who founded Chester Barrie? I wasn’t aware he had a connection to Leeds.

Anonymous

Out of interest I visited the atelier once without appointment (Ms. Suzuki was there but her husband wasn’t) and the atmosphere seemed a bit cold, reserved, and unwelcoming, despite so many workers present…what’s up with that?

Dan

Great article. Seeing how Richard Anderson, Michael Browne, Steven Hitchcock, Steed, Stowers, Chittleborough and Morgan, Terry Haste, etc. were able to found their own establishments, sometimes in very close physical proximity, Savile Row seems more accepting of allowing their employees depart more willingly.
I’ve read an interview where Suzuki mentioned that he tends to get the best cut out of a client with sloping shoulders and non-protruding abdomen. Hopefully he’s able to cut an elegant suit for you.

Noel

HI Simon,

I enjoyed the details about how other tailoring houses operate.

It would be nice to see pictures of the Musella Dembech suit to see how the cotton has aged. Perhaps something that could go on Instagram as it doesn’t require much text?

CDBP

Very thoughtful and informative article.
They clearly have enormously high standards of professionalism and workmanship. It is wonderful to see that.
The cut is not to my taste, and even the finishing a tad too fine for how hard I wear things.

Sebastian

Thoughts on Solaro suits? DB or SB, can you wear the jacket with jeans?

Sebastian

What’s more booty than a desert boot but less booty than an actual work boot?

PaulS

I wish Kenjiro well with his tailoring business especially at this difficult time. I hope that he is able to travel to London later in the year as his take on tailoring is refreshing.

Kristian Zarb Adami

Hi simon, excellent article as usual. Do you tend to prefer your trousers slightly short, because the last photograph shows that they ride rather high when you’re sitting down?