For those of us who were following the hectic schedule of events during Paris men’s fashion week for Spring/Summer 2013, the Smalto presentation was not exactly remembered with the most pleasing thoughts. After a horde of guests walked from the previous show in nearby Palais de Tokyo to the venue chosen by Smalto (the luxurious salons of the Shangri-La Hotel on the Avenue d’Iéna, on the sixteenth arrondissement), the destination was the narrow top of a marble stairwell where we all ended up packed against a rope that marked the narrow entrance to the space. The chaos that ensued (with photographers with large equipment pushing to get through, and journalists and buyers complaining about the delay inflicted on the busy schedule) allied to the unseasonable heat of that June afternoon didn’t help improve the perception of the presentation, even if guests were rewarded with copious amounts of drink when inside the lavish rooms. As a consequence, many people preferred to grab a shady corner of the hotel with views of the Eiffel tower, or leave as soon as they managed to get a glimpse of the collection.
Founded 60 years ago by Francesco Smalto in the rue La Boétie in Paris, the Maison Smalto has been under the creative direction of Youn Chong Bak since 2007. The daughter of Korean parents, Chong Bak grew up in Switzerland before moving to Paris to study fashion at Esmod. After graduating at the age of 22, she joined Smalto and worked as an assistant to the then creative director Franck Boclet. Since she took over Boclet’s post five years ago, many have identified (perhaps not without some sexist undertones) a few subtle changes to Smalto’s menswear accessories and garments, with the introduction of softer shapes and lighter colours to conjure classical images of allure and elegance.
For Spring/Summer 2013, the brand resorted to high-culture references to describe the influences of the collection, which included the architecture of Le Corbusier (with structure, balance and functionality as guiding principles) and Mark Rothko’s paintings (for the colour palette that comprised beige monochromes and different blues, such as ultramarine, cobalt and lapis lazuli). The fact that Smalto chose to display the collection in a presentation format (instead of the traditional runway show), with the models seated on sofas or standing throughout the rooms, was a positive move as it allowed for a closer inspection of the pieces. This confirmed that the materials (fabrics and skins) used are of high-quality and that tailoring techniques seemed proficiently mastered. However, the collection disappointed inasmuch as it failed to reveal the slightest inkling of innovation in contemporary menswear. In fact, one could go as far as stating that the garments and accessories on display could have easily been presented anywhere in the world in the last four or five years.
I believe that Maison Smalto, like so many long established menswear tailoring houses in Paris, London and Milan, can still occupy a place and address the tastes and needs of male consumers. However, a shift in the creative direction of the brand and a detachment from its heritage may be beneficial if it is to remain successful and appealing to increasingly more demanding global consumers in the currently very competitive menswear market.