A bit of European heritage lands in India. Luxury menswear maison Cifonelli is showcasing its ready to wear line for the first time at a special trunk show at the Taj Diplomatic Enclave, New Delhi. Cifonelli, with its roots in Rome (in 1880 Giuseppe Cifonelli’s bespoke suits could be seen on the city’s most elegant gents), a flavour of London (Giuseppe’s son Arturo was sent to London to learn the secrets of cutting the perfect suit, British style), and a heart in Paris (Arturo moved there in 1926, where to this day 40 craftspersons create bespoke suits daily at 31 Rue Marbeuf; the ‘Cifonelli cut’ and ‘Cifonelli shoulder’ were to become world-famous) has been a favourite of stars like Cary Grant and Charlton Heston. Today, Arturo’s grandsons Massimo and Lorenzo are carrying forward the legacy, launching their ready to wear label four years ago (with a chic boutique on Rue du Faubourg St Honoré in Paris), and enlisting former creative head of Ralph Lauren, the renowned John Vizzone, as its creative director.
John, a native New Yorker, is tanned, and extremely fit. It’s a hot, humid day, but he’s clad in all black. “My love affair with Cifonelli started when I first saw one of their velvet jackets with a ’70s vibe,” says John. “The best suit I own is a Cifonelli – the way it fits, close to the body with high armholes. It changes you and moves you to another place.” He shows me a jacket on a mannequin. “We have what we call a ‘cigarette shoulder’. You can see this slight roping. It doesn’t look extreme. It’s got a small chest, almost military in style, and you have this amazing definition,” he says. The story goes that the legendary Karl Lagerfeld once remarked, “I could recognize a Cifonelli shoulder from a 100 metres away.”
When John joined Cifonelli, for the first two years, he showcased only at the Paris weeks. “Then we decided to move to Milan, because it’s the hub of menswear and all our competition is there,” says John. Today, all the suits, jackets, shirts, ties, and shoes are manufactured in a facility just outside Milan – all fabrics are Italian, as is the leather (“They have the best tanneries.”). And all the clothes are designed in John’s head, he tells me. “With our maison’s history, I go back to the archives, do the collection in New York, bring it to Madrid (they have an office there), and finish it in Milan,” says the jet-setter, who beats jet lag by catching naps in his hotel room whenever he can.
Obsessed by vintage fabrics and vintage movies (black and white films play on loop at his New York home, sometimes without sound), last fall John rediscovered the look of tweed, and found all his fabrics in England, using heavyweight cashmere or lambswool instead of the heavier, scratchier tweed. With his collections, he’s ‘travelled’ to the Italian Riviera (think Alain Delon in the film Plein Soleil, or Cuba, with his aesthetic. “I will travel somewhere the way Chanel does it,” he says, “I use the trends to reflect in the silhouettes. These are beautiful, movie-star clothes – they spell romance.” His muse is the guy who’s in shape – who rides a motorcycle or a horse – and everything he puts on looks incredible. Old world, but with a modern twist.
Does he want to imagine an entire lifestyle world that we as customers, would want to be a part of? “Ralph Lauren created a world that you wanted to live in. I am not doing that,” says John. “I am creating a wardrobe and a lifestyle, but you don’t have to live in an old English mansion. You can live in an all-white modern house, and wear a leather jacket with skin-tight black jeans, and still be the Cifonelli guy.”
Every RTW product is designed by John. “I design multiple products. I don’t have the staff; I design everything, and it’s natural. This way, it looks like a collection that has come together with one point of view,” he says. His next collection will be inspired by “old school London”, his ninth collection.
What Cifonelli wants to do in India is not open a retail store, but a “men’s club”, a lounge so to speak. “You can come in, hang out, and have a drink,” says John. “It’s the coolest men’s club you could ever think of. We are changing the retail experience. There are people in India who will welcome this with open arms. Today, I met the perfect customers – they were rich; their clothes were pretty, and they looked good. It sounds terrible, but it’s true!”