The Ill-fitting Suit


In the brouhaha leading up to the choice of France’s next president, no one has thought to interview the tailor who makes the constitutional suit. He isn’t easy to find, in fact, and when I did track him down in a little boutique in the Faubourg St Honoré, he was at first reticent. When you make bespoke suits for the great and mighty of this world, it’s advisable to cultivate discretion.

With a little cajoling, however, he opened up. ‘I started at the age of 14, alongside my father. Too young, of course. But it was 1958 – a change of constitution, a new Republic. All the old models were thrown out, we were starting again from scratch, so he thought I’d better see how it was done.’

With the 5th Republic now approaching its 60th birthday, he knows the tricks of the trade better than anyone. ‘The President should feel comfortable in it – that’s what we aim for. Which de Gaulle did, of course, since it was made according to his specifications. Fitted him like a glove. My, he was a stickler for exactitude! Everything had to be just so. He went over every article, every button, till it met with his approval. And when he put it on and drew himself up to his full height, I remember being so proud. I thought no other suit could ever come near it.’

But on that, opinions differ. ‘Away with the Presidential Monarchy!’ thundered Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a slogan which, amongst others, earned him a respectable 19.6% of the vote in the first round of the election. ‘Bring in the 6th Republic!’

The old tailor begs to disagree. ‘Yes, it’s a monarchy. But it’s stable. Do you want to go back to the 4th Republic? Or the 3rd?’ I reminded him that the 3rd lasted 70 years, to which he retorted, ‘Ah, but how many governments in that time? 104! The 4th Republic – 25 governments in just 12 years. As for the 1st and 2nd, the suits came apart at the seams before they’d barely been worn. Still, we can hardly blame them. The quality of the cloth was poor and the tailors had no experience.’

I put it to him that a bespoke suit made for de Gaulle might not be the best attire for his successors. He conceded I had a point. ‘De Gaulle was very tall but we’ve had a few shorties since. It’s a devil of a job adjusting it. To my surprise, Mitterrand took to it well, though – they were very different shapes. Didn’t like the man himself – devious and cynical, he was – but he knew how to wear the suit. Unlike Chirac, who used it for his pyjamas. As for Sarkozy, he was so eager to wear it, he gave me no time to work on it. Grabbed it out of my hands and ran off with it! Fat lot of good it did him – he tried to adjust it himself but made a terrible mess. It’s why he was always twitching – the suit was pinching him in all the wrong places. Hollande wasn’t much better. He refused to admit it was too big for him and kept tripping over the cuffs.’

And this time around? Is he ready to tailor the suit to fit a woman? ‘Heaven forbid!’ he cries, before catching himself. ‘I mean, a woman, yes, but that woman? I’d die of shame.’ He rubs his chin thoughtfully. ‘Not that I have great expectations of her opponent, mind. It might fit him nicely, but that’s just the problem – I’m afraid he’ll spend all day admiring himself in the mirror.’

And finally, a word from one of the vanquished:


I hope the references here aren’t too obscure for those who may not have been following closely, but as Phoebe says, it’s:

Lou Messugo