When we meet, he is wearing a pinstriped navy suit and a contrast collar. A violet pocket square and powder blue tie conspire to work their charm. The sartorial flourishes aren’t an afterthought (later, he will say dismissively that men around the world get dressed in less than 5 minutes these days).
Frédéric Dormeuil is the sixth generation of a family of purveyors of fine fabrics for men’s clothing. It makes for a rare case that his family name has cachet both in London’s Savile Row and the couture houses of Paris.
The House of Dormeuil goes back to 1842, when Frédéric’s ancestor, Jules Dormeuil, started importing English cloth to France. Today, almost 170 years later, with more than 3,000 varieties of cloth and enough scope for personal variations, Dormeuil, which has fabric and fashion divisions, gets around—and how.
Frédéric isn’t one to stitch and tell though. As the company’s commercial director, he won’t share names of the A-listers who’ve patronized the brand. As suppliers, client confidentiality is paramount.
On where Dormeuil is available across the world, he offers this: “My uncle likes to say that where there’s Coca-Cola, there’s a length of Dormeuil fabric on someone.”
The brand’s entry to India has been late by the Cola timeline. The luxury fabric makers entered the Indian market with a showroom and retail office in New Delhi only in December. But it was a sharply cut move: with the world’s most expensive suit.
As part of the launch, Dormeuil unveiled the fabric used to create the Rs 51 lakh suit. Registered in the Guinness Book of World Records, the suit is made from the group’s trademarked Vanquish II fabric, which is a blend of three kinds of rare wool: pashmina from north India, quivik from Alaska and vicuna from the Andes. At £3,000 (around Rs 2.16 lakh) per metre, a suit length of the fabric would cost around £10,500.
Though Frédéric’s is mostly an executive role in the company, he explains the construction of Dormeuil’s prized fabric with much passion.
The quivik, a massive mammal, isn’t sheared. Farmers in Alaska wait for it to moult naturally or they go about collecting the strands caught on trees and bushes. “The farmers need a year’s worth to have anything substantial,” says Frédéric, “And from what they collect they can only use 10-15%”. The vicuna, a rare South American relative of the ilama, can be sheared just once every three years.
Stars and stripes: Frédéric Dormeuil; and a vintage showcard used in Dormeuil boutiques, circa 1960s. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
“When you have an expensive brand you need to give it value. One has to explain to people what they’re paying for...,” he says. In this case, it’s for dealing with farmers who live at 13,000ft and trail the quivik patiently.
Frédéric, who spoke at Mint’s luxury summit in Mumbai last month, believes India makes for an attractive market because its new lot of entrepreneurs has nowhere to look for stylish suiting or jacketing. To cater to this segment, the company’s dedicated Indian branch, Dormeuil India Pvt. Ltd, will be developing distribution networks with a strong push for India to receive Dormeuil’s Ready-to-Wear collection. The plan is for fabrics to be sold to over 80 retailers, and to open stand-alone shops in the next two years.
Frédéric, who has led the brand’s India expansion, has worked in India before in a completely different capacity: in the construction business with JCB India Ltd in Faridabad. Though the two sectors are poles apart, he learnt valuable lessons from this stint. In India, the biggest challenge is to get deliveries right. “The turnaround time for a tailor here is two-three weeks as opposed to Europe, where it is six-eight weeks,” he says, “So no matter which is the better fabric, the industry will go with the one that has a more reliable delivery ethic.”
But most important of all, Frédéric believes that the suit is making a comeback. Deeply entrenched in the world of navy and grey as he is, he might not be the most objective observer. But he confesses that it is as much a wish as an observation. “In the 1920s, men used to spend a lot of time getting dandy...seeing if the watch went with the cufflinks; if the cufflinks went with the shirt...”
Frédéric is very visibly that man from the 1920s; a man of particulars. Among other things, he strongly believes that stripes are more fashionable than plains.
He makes a good mascot. When I turn his visiting card to jot his number, I see his leitmotif of choice: thin brown pinstripes.