For those passionate about, and duly devoted to, sartorial pursuits the pinnacle of this world is traversing the bespoke route. Through internet forums and blogs, small houses have gained increased exposure over the last few years. Cifonelli is among them, discussed by a new school of admirers with the same reverence of Savile Row and Naples.
Going bespoke is often seen as the eventual destination for those negotiating the path of finely made clothing. The clients are exacting in their standards; the tailors precise in their execution. With respect to tradesmen of the industry, Cifonelli has established itself as a leader in this arena due in part to what’s been dubbed an ‘extravagant’ attention to detail.
For such a storied brand to successfully veer into the world of Ready To Wear would take a brilliant and seasoned navigator with a keen knowledge of the aesthetic, a deep appreciation for the weight of the Cifonelli name and the expectations of an audience accustomed to that refined sensibility with which the name has become synonymous.
In a short few months John Vizzone, Creative Director of Cifonelli’s RTW, will send his fourth collection down the Paris Men’s Designer Fashion Week. In between wrapping up his Fall 2016 collection Vizzone was gracious enough to chat with me about his process, his vision, his particular stylistic endeavors, and most importantly, why and how family is the glue that makes it a cohesive whole.
In June of 2014 Vizzone presented his first collection for Cifonelli to the Paris press. The brand’s relatively new Creative Director of RTW designed a 16-look capsule collection inspired by Rene Clément’s film, Plein Soleil, (Purple Noon) starring the incomparably handsome Alain Delon, a film Vizzone regards as a turning point for clothing.
“It was the first version of a modern movie..." Vizzone stops mid sentence. “The clothes were sexy. I wanted the collection to be very Italian Riviera, very Capri,” he recalls moved by that initial reaction years ago. Appealing. Relaxed. Elegant.
And that appealingly relaxed elegance was captured and confidently and creatively translated into Cifonelli’s first RTW collection.
On a cool fall afternoon, sitting at a midtown Manhattan Italian restaurant with Vizzone proved to be more than lunch with a luxury menswear visionary, it was a deeply satisfying history; three decades of American menswear crammed, but elegantly so, into an afternoon.
Vizzone rose through the menswear world first at Brooks Brother followed by Alan Flusser before beginning a 20-plus year career at Ralph Lauren where he oversaw Purple, Black and Polo labels. While at Ralph Lauren, Vizzone was introduced to Cifonelli.
Through a friend Vizzone was introduced to Lorenzo Cifonelli - who oversees the bespoke tailoring along with cousin Massimo - both great-grandsons of the company’s founder. Predictably, once the commission Vizzone ordered was completed, he was won over by the immaculate fit.
As the brand took on a life of its own, began to grow and expand, it looked to Vizzone. It was a natural, organic fit.
“There’s a DNA that connects us,” Vizzone said of he, Lorenzo and Massimo. “We’re part of the same aesthetic.”
For just that reasoning, Vizzone has seamlessly translated the elegance of Cifonelli to RTW with expertly cut suits and sports coats, luxuriously tonal sportswear and requisite furnishings. Vizzone concedes much the brand’s image was there; it was up to him to present that image for the RTW market. “I’m not creating a history, I’m interpreting a modern version of the aesthetic.”
“I was able to interpret bespoke for pret-a-porter,” Vizzone added. “I took the aesthetic and put it on the rack.” For the U.S. market, Barney’s New York ended up as the ideal fit for the Vizzone’s line. The recently redesigned men’s floor is understated, yet modern and sleek, in line with Cifonelli’s RTW offerings.
Of the collection, Vizzone sees his role as merging the brand’s rich past with the desires of its clientele, the modern Cifonelli man. And who is he, I asked.
“He’s royalty,” Vizzone said in an unapologetic tone. The Cifonelli client is indeed exacting in his standards, and thus, his attire must connote that accordingly, a truth not lost Vizzone, who’s unconcerned with the market trends and what approaches other brands may be utilizing.
“I’m not interested in competing with major brands,” Vizzone said as we continued the interview at the magnificent home he shares with his wife Sandy. “It’s catering to my clients who believe in top products. It’s really about the texture, how the clothes fit the gentleman,” Vizzone added about his primary concerns.
Jackets cut with high armholes for greater range of movement paired with slim, yet accommodating trousers, accentuated by the strong Cifonelli shoulder, makes the suit the cornerstone of the collections. For fall, Vizzone presented bold checks and chalk stripes in three piece suits with double breasted shawl lapel waistcoats, and peak lapel jackets in shades ranging from pale grey to deep charcoal, for a devilishly sophisticated appeal. For the weekend, military-inspired jackets both in suede and leather covered sumptuous cashmere rollneck knits and sharp black trousers.
Formalwear wasn’t neglected, with resplendent velvet dinner jackets in royal blue, plum, deep red and green took center stage over understated white evening shirts. During a brief stop in their downstairs study, the Vizzones recalled a sentimental anecdote about one of the formalwear pieces: Lorenzo Cifonelli had previously made a purple dinner jacket for Sandy. John loved the jacket on her so much he made it part of the collection, and lead the formalwear with it down the runway.
It’s those shared anecdotes John and Sandy regale their company with, coupled with furtive glances at one another that makes you smile on the inside. Throughout the house, the Vizzones have collected pieces by the contemporary painters Marco Perego and Jose Camacho, among others. But the pieces that command the most pride, are those painted by his son Johnny. Despite the runways, the jet-setting, the dream home, it’s his wife of over 20 years and their children, Johnny and Lea Rose that keep Vizzone grounded.
Perhaps it’s cheesy to the cynical – that family is the most important component of life- it can certainly get lost while climbing the dizzying heights of a fickle industry but that’s ok, it’s an ideal many of us are after even if we don’t admit it, even the cynics.
Photos by Bevin Elias
Cifonelli Flagship Boutique
83, rue du Faubourg Saint Honore 75008