For more than 30 years, the French designer Eric Bergère is recognized for his talent where he played a key role in creating collections for fashion houses such as Hermès, Lanvin, Ines of the Fressange, before to moved on and created his own brand.
His career has taken him to Japan where he was inspired by the demands of a male audience. Bergere is known for his sophisticated and creative style, his rigorous sense of detail and his modern vision of the clothes.
Today, and for the last three collections, it is at Smalto, the famous French house of Grande Mesure * and luxury ready-to-wear for men that Eric Bergère shares his talent as its new artistic director.
I had the honour of being personally received by Eric Bergère for an intense interview in his majestic private “hotel particular” in the most elegant neighbourhood of Paris. It’s also where the ateliers of Smalto are installed under his expert eye. He spoke with passion and conviction about his career and the new challenge of taking on this mythical men’s fashion brand.
CC – This is your third collection for Smalto, even with all your experience is a new challenge?
EB – Let’s say it’s a big challenge, because even though I have already spent time in another luxury Maisons, it is the first Grand Maison that specialises in menswear. For me, it is a pleasure and an honour to continue the aura of “French chic” and the “Smalto style”, a charismatic style invented for the “perfect men” of a time when styles can be dandy, turbulent but also very classic and tame.
Smalto has a unique know-how of his tailors, who are also an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Bergere is unique and “endeavors to enrich and embellish” for the most demanding of men and to renew the eternal masculine elegance.
CC – Your career began early and quite promising – shortly after graduating from Esmod – Paris. How was this experience of a young man that was hired to draw the collections of the world famous Hermès?
EB –The Hermes director saw my drawings and said that’s what he was looking for. Refinement with a fair amount of boldness. And I think at 19 I had a lot of it! I started my career by designing the women’s ready-to-wear collection for Hermès. The adventure continued for 10 years where I dared a lot but also learned a lot. It was a fantastic experience in terms of creation, savoir-faire and requirement.
At Hermès I always had the freedom to do what I wanted for women’s clothing and accessories. The experience of creating for a brand that has a record based on perpetuity and at the same time being able to propose products with a modern vision, for a clientele registered in the classic and traditional was a challenge that made me learn my metier effectively.
Then it was Lanvin, where I designed the women’s collection for two years until I was invited to take on the Italian women’s label called Erreuno, instead of Giorgio Armani, who had just left. It was a very enriching time and living Milan was certainly inspiring. It was from this experience that in 1995 that I decided to create my own brand”.
CC -You soon opened two stores in Japan at a time when it was the Japanese who were coming to settle in Europe …
EB –The Japanese appreciated my work and my perfectionist approach to work. I started creating a feminine and other masculine line, but it was undoubtedly the masculine one that was very successful.
The Japanese loved my custom-made suits, a rather dandy style from the 70’s. It was a very intense period since I had dedicated myself only to women’s fashion for fifteen years, and to discover that I also liked to create men’s collections. Mainly because I was the consumer myself, I started to design what I really liked to use – it was like revealing a vision of elegance based on my own style.
CC – You have been a consultant to many “large-label” ready-to-wear brands in Europe. How was this experience?
EB – With the success of my clothes in Japan, many brands invited me to consult for their men’s collections such as Aigle, Tod’s, Cyrillus, Gérard Darel, Souleiado, Stefanel (Italie), Sinclair, La Redoute …
Working with these brands that catered for a lager market was quite interesting because it made me close the circle of learning between ultra-luxury and ready mage clothes.
This experience provided me with the idea of building well-structured collections, with indispensable basics. Because the man dresses practically with “basics”. He must have “GOOD” basic – whether they are luxury brands or most popular brands, the “basics” are indispensable.
Today, with Smalto, I can associate all this knowledge – to preserve the luxurious DNA of the brand that is recognized all over the world –
Uniting to this my requirement of perfection, my appreciation for quality matters, my fantasy, and taking this to the most basic pieces.
CC- What will be the “Smalto” man for next season?
EB –I finished the Winter 2017/18 collection, and this week I’m launching the Spring-Summer 2018 collection.
When you work on good foundations, there is always an improvement that can be added. I look for details that have not yet been worked out, such as the eternal pursuit of the perfect piece, but with a little fantasy.
You have the perfect suit, the good, coat or blazer, impeccably well cut pants, where I added a breath of modernity – fine-tuning details, giving more lightness and mobility.
In this collection for example, I decided to work on linings and finishes. With silk lining inspired by 70’s necktie prints in a “Pop” style, bold but extremely elegant.
The idea is also to use light foulards instead of ties that are like a wind blow, and even the belts, are flexible and without double lining, with a classic but extremely flexible structure that emanates freshness.
My principle is to “give lightness” to everything. And even the jeans are made of a sturdy cotton, but with an extremely comfortable featherweight.
My challenge is to be creative, comfortable and desirable! I think that’s the secret of elegance!
Some sketches of the next collection that Eric Bergere reveals to us!
CC– Who is the clientele of Smalto?
EB – Our clientele has expanded compared to previous years, when Smalto was basically a refined, classic brand for clientele like kings, heads of state, celebrities from all over the world.
Today we have extremely young customers, but who have a certain dress education that appreciate the quality, the beauty of fabrics,… They are customers who know that wearing a Smalto suit, regardless of its morphology, is to have the security of finding “The piece” that values them as a perfect “armor”, that provides them with allure in any occasion …
The Maison Smalto for example, since 2013 is responsible for dressing the French football team, defending in (and out) the field of French elegance!
Not forgetting a bit of fantasy, as Francesco Smalto, the founder, was the first “tailor” for men, which is very different from a male tailor … He created new silhouettes, new forms, he conceived new pieces – Which I intend to perpetuate.
* The “great measure”, the summit of haute couture for man
The “great measure” is the designation, by hand, of a piece of clothing (costume, coat, shirt …), with a unique patronage to the exact measurements of the customer. It is a rare historical know-how, a pillar of all the creations and actions carried out by this house.
Francesco Smalto, 50 years of elegance
This French house of great measure but also of luxury ready-to-wear for men was created in 1962, in Paris, by Francesco Smalto. For 50 years, in her Parisian studio of about thirty craftsmen and masters tailors, she perpetuates the tradition of great measure.
In 2012, it was awarded the “Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant” label awarded by the French State. The collections are distributed in 160 points of sale worldwide and via www.smalto.com.
- Paris Stores:
- 44 Rue François 1er · +33 1 47 20 96 04
- 2 Rue de Bassano · +33 1 56 62 66 00
Credit: Photo of Eric Bergère by Antoine Rambourg