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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Victor Hugo - No The Other One! Victor Hugo da Costa, An Interview With The Cutter Of Francesco Smalto In Paris

Victor Hugo da Costa strikes me as a pretty impressive man for 27 years of age. So far in his life he has gone to three fashion schools : The Paul Poiret high school where he received a diploma in bespoke tailoring, The School Of Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne where he received another diploma and finally he trained at the Federation of Master Tailors Of France to improve on his existing knowledge. His first job was at Cifonelli, that famed Parisian tailor which graced the cover of The Rake last month. Then he worked for a smaller Parisian tailor called Brano who taught him a great deal of his current knowledge. Finally his best friend who worked at Francesco Smalto, one of the other ‘top top’ Parisian tailors, offered him to come on board as a suit maker and eventually he made his way into the role of cutter at Smalto which he had held for over 2 years. I asked Victor to tell us a little about his work and to impart with us some of his accumulated knowledge.

Hugo, many people in the blogging sphere would not understand the importance of the role of  cutter in a tailoring workroom. Can you explain to menswear devotees just how important the role of cutter is?

Everything starts with the cut. A suit begins to live when the pencil touches the paper. We try to make a “second skin”. The realisation of a pattern requires a lot of thought and reflection. Nobody is perfect and therefore we must try and successfully create a client’s body on a piece of paper to best hide his defects and accentuate his positive attributes.
Then comes the cutting of the fabric. This is a very important step because have just one chance. If we make a mistake on the paper, we can erase it and start again. This is not the same story with the fabric. We can’t simply cut a new piece of fabric. The most expensive suit fabrics we use cost 4000 euros per metre and you need at least three metres to make a suit – knowing that means an error could be fatal. Placing the pieces of the pattern onto the fabric is like a jig-saw puzzle – you must place them using the least fabric possible because it has to be profitable for the tailor and for the customer. But, before this step, we have to inspect the fabric and if there are imperfections or faults, if there is dust between the threads then we will need to place the puzzles of the jig saw differently. At the same time, we are making the pattern pieces according to the customer’s physical attributes; for example, low shoulders, large hips etc. Then we in the fabrics and cut them out.

Once the fabric has been cut then we cut the remaining items which is the lining, canvas, felt and other materials that will be used by the suit makers to sew the suit.

When a new customer comes in to Smalto, I gather you are not the one doing the physical measurements – therefore, how important is the communication you have between the staff measuring customers to the work you must undertake?

A tailor has a very special relationship with his client. A balance is formed between the tailor and the customer so that they can travel in the same direction. The tailor understands what the customer wants. We, the cutters, don’t have this opportunity to meet the client and therefore we cannot know exactly what his desires are.
This is why the communication between the tailor and the cutter is really important. It allows us, without seeing the client, to imagine him, to visualise his physicality and to know his expectations.
In order to do this we use measuring sheets on which are written all of the customer’s measurements as well as any peculiarities such as the height differonce on the shoulders, his hips, whether he is overweight, if he is vaulted etc. 
All this information allows us to transpose this on paper to achieve the optimal metamorphosis from fabric to the customer’s personally tailored suit. Thus when the tailor makes the final fitting there should theoretically be very few if any alterations to be done afterward.

Casting your mind back over the work you have done, what would be the most difficult suit to cut in terms of style and cloth?

Some of the customers live in hot countries, so we offer very lightweight suits such as the Sahariana. It’s really hard work to cut, especially if the fabric is very light or white. It is difficult to chalk over, there are a lot of pieces in this pattern which you must remember to cut, such as the back which is composed of three pieces, four if there is a belt, there are four pockets with flaps, there are cuffs on the sleeves and the interior is cust from the same lightweight fabric. On top of all this you have to add an extra small piece of fabric for the makers to hide the seam. For this type of suit you must be careful not to forget anything!!!

I understand you sew at home, can you show us something you have cut and sewn yourself that you are particularly fond of?

Reference Photo 1: I am proud to say that I made this wool coat with a mink collar. It is elegant and very suitable for a  Parisian winter.

Reference Photo 2: I made this suit, it has patch pockets and on it I used a cashmere summer wool by Holland & Sherry. It is so fresh, soft and comfortable to wear.

Reference Photo 3: For my next jacket I am about to embark upon I am using a silk without lining for a lightweight look, but this is very difficult to work. This is a recreation of a jacket created by Francesco Smalto in the 1970’s. At the time it was considered as the world’s lightest jacket.

Between the branded wool companies which offer bunches, which cloth company do you find offers the most consistent and best wool both in terms of cutting and finished product?

Each company is different and it really depends on what you see. For me I like Holland & Sherry, Loro Piana and Dormeuil
Holland & Sherry for their series bunch Cashique: Super 150’s cashmere and silk. A very beautiful fabric for summer suits. 
The series Lightest by Loro Piana is gorgeous. It is a mixture of wool and silk in 5 Oz. This is an incredibly light fabric, it would be the choice for me if I was making something for the Australian climate. The Vicuña of Loro Piana is one of the most beautiful in the world. Vicuña wool is normally used for coats but Loro Piana has managed to create a series of Vicuña fabrics for suits.
But above all I have a preference for Dormeuil. The Dormeuil cashmere is very beautiful. Whether the cashmere for coats, the Infinity (Super 230’s Cashmere) The Ambassador (Super 180’s), the Tropical Amadeus, The Guanashina (pashmina, guanaco, cashmere and merino Super 200’s) – the thing I love about Dormeuil is the exceptional range of fabrics.

What is the next project you intend to undertake for yourself and what kind of wool will you use?

A very good question! My mind is always full of ideas. At the moment I am thinking I would like to start with a super 180’s. A classic blue suit to wear to work. But I have to finish the suit I have already started. 

Do you prefer blends of wool fibres such as merino / cashmere or silk / merino over non-blended wool varieties?

Yes, I prefer the blends. The blends allow you to merge the specific aspects of each fabric. For example the pashmina / silk allows a beautiful summer suit coupling the lightness and softness of the wool with the sheen of silk.
Cotton and linen or wool and linen allow you to have the freshness of linen along with the smoothness and the durability of wool.

If you were to recommend one café in Paris where people would admire and enjoy a well dressed man, what café should we be seen at?

The places where you can see and admire well dressed men, especially at night are the cafes and bars of the great Parisian luxury hotels. The bar of the Plaza Athénée, the courtyard of the hotel Georges V or The Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Carlton in the Place Vendome for example are the ideal places where you can drink excellent French wines and Cognac. Especially the Ritz, this is where the most stylish men go.

Below: See Victor Hugo da Costa at work. 

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