Smalto is the cult menswear brand with a strong legacy of traditional bespoke tailoring. Francesco Smalto, the father of the brand originally hailed from Calabria. Prone to wanderlust in his youth, he first trained and worked in Milan, later travelling to New York where he became enamoured of the cut of American suits that prioritised comfort and practicality, exactly the right spirit for the post-war casualness. In 1962, Francesco Smalto established his own tailoring company on the Rue La Boétie, selling only bespoke suits. Smalto as it is known today was born.
Despite working within the very specific canon of men’s tailoring, Francesco Smalto was never conservative. The bespoke tailoring firm introduced a number of timely twists and special projects ranging from the innovations of the suspender shirt and the white tuxedo to jackets without lapels in fabrics in the signature florals of the 1960’s. Smalto even designed black and white vinyl waders to be worn by astronauts on the moon. Needless to say, the hippest tailor in Paris was also frequently called upon to dress dashing film stars for movies. Both French heartthrob Jean-Paul Belmondo and Sean Connery could be spotted on screen in the early 1970’s in suits made by Smalto.
The end of the 1960’s also saw Smalto shift on its traditional creed of only making bespoke suits. In 1967, Smalto was one of the first traditional tailoring firms to move into the luxury ready-to-wear market, opening its first boutique in the centre of Paris in 1970.
One of the first companies to update the idea of the traditional tailor – a phenomenon that has been very much in evidence in the last couple of decades- Smalto’s legacy was continued during the 1990’s by Franck Boclet, Francesco Smalto’s successor as creative director. Under Boclet, the high profile projects –such as dressing the French football team- continued. So did the company’s profile and development abroad, particularly in the new markets of the middle and far east where Smalto now has a number of stores, each built around the concept of remaining connected with its history in tailoring.
More recently, there have been a few changes. Taking over the helm from Franck Boclet, it was the turn of the new creative director of Smalto, Youn Chong Bak, to reveal her first collections as the new head of the house. Fresh, certainly, but nonetheless connected in a very real way to the traditions of Smalto: Youn Chong Bak, the Swiss designer of Korean extraction, joined Smalto as an assistant to Franck Boclet after completing her studies at Paris’ Esmod school. Whilst still an intern at the company, Youn Chong Bak became certain that her real interest lay in menswear and traditional tailoring approaches.
All of this is very much evident in the current collection where soft greys, practical charcoals and earthy neutrals dominate with occasional injections of muted colour in the form of burgundy, burnt orange or the mild pattern of an understated check. There are no outlandish shapes or extreme gestures: Smalto’s character lies in the traditional language of the tailor. The silhouettes are very much a balance between more closely fitting garments and the comfortable cut of practicality. But, a younger, fresh feel is introduced through the use of fabrics that bring a trendy sheen to suits or through the more relaxed fit of traditional knits made seasonally fashionable through details such as fur.