One of the most enduring hallmarks of African-American life is style: that flair of swag attached to black existence from the zoot suit jazz era to the modern hip-hop age. Recent books like Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style speak to the almost retro recent panache of black men in particular. And where there are black men serving up style, dapper suitsmiths appear to outfit them. Enter Garçon Couture, the debonair menswear line founded in 2015 by Jean Francillon and Ilbert J. Sanchez. As former roommates at SUNY Cobleskill in the mid-aughties, the duo built on their mutual love for fashion to tailor bespoke suits for the new millennial man. With showrooms in Miami and mid-Manhattan, Garçon Couture “helps men communicate to the world about their individuality, style and success through accessories, fit and styling.” Through surgical masks and social distancing, EBONY still caught up with the founders in Harlem to be fitted for a tuxedo and talk black men’s fashion in the new Roaring ’20s.
EBONY: Is dandyism on the rise for African-Americans? If so, what do you think accounts for that?
Ilbert J. Sanchez: Dandyism is most certainly on the rise for African-Americans. In the ’90s, we had great movies that influenced the culture, such as Boomerang and Harlem Nights. The influence of Dapper Dan and FUBU, and their attention to detail, helped things move forward. As the era of digital streaming evolved, along came with it social media, and the changes across the media field even in the movie and TV show industries. We can definitely see how inspirations from HBO shows like Ballers and Insecure shine a spotlight on the wardrobe stylists and black actors who bring our lives to the screen. Companies such as the Harlem Fashion Row have given designers platforms to show their skills at higher levels. We have more rising designers growing their platforms on Instagram and Twitter, expanding the versatility of dandyism.
EBONY: Five years ago, suits were very fitted—the European fit—but suits have gone baggier since at least 2017. Why?
Jean Francillon: The European fit is still in play when it comes to fine menswear. As we cater to over 300 clients a year, we have so many types of styles that we tap into, honoring our mission to customize and design a fit of excellence. For the majority of our clients, tapered pants and a slim-fitting jacket is the more favored look. From our celebrity clients to our Garçon Grooms, we have more requests for the European fit.
Our personal preference, and Garçon Couture’s signature look, is more of a fitted look. This consists of a perfect fit, excluding pleats and cuffs on the bottom of the pants. In our designs, to replace belt loops on the pants, we use side tabs to give a more chic look to the overall suits. Wide peak lapels and double-breasted suits are Ilbert’s personal favorite.
EBONY: Streetwear maverick Virgil Abloh runs Louis Vuitton these days as artistic director. Did streetwear trump dandyism at some point, or do you think there’s just room for both?
Ilbert J. Sanchez: We believe there is definitely room for both. It works well even when the two mediums are mixed. We truly value excellence in our clothes, and we make sure our customers feel their best so they can do their best when wearing our pieces. We recently launched the Garçon Couture Jogger Collection, which is streetwear mixed with dandyism.
EBONY: What’s your next step for Garçon Couture and/or the ultimate goal?
Jean Francillon: Our vision is for Garçon Couture is to be the number one wedding designer globally. As we continue to pivot our designs to represent the changing world, we are also excited to provide masks to match our client’s pieces as they return to the outside world. We are doing our part of making the world beautiful even in the midst of our changing normal.
EBONY: What led each of you into pursuing fashion as a career?
Ilbert J. Sanchez: I pride myself in being able to set an example for my Garifuna culture. We are the people of African descent whose ancestry can be traced to Africans mixed with Carib Indians and Arawak Indians on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent. I hold great value to the opportunity and platform I have to inspire my community, all the while immersing traditional threads into the fabrics of the suits we create.
I’ve had a passion for art since my teenage years, and I fell deeper in love with fashion as a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Although I studied graphic design, I always found myself in the fashion department. After graduating, I started a streetwear brand of T-shirts, sweaters and hats. That was my fashion interest at the time, and although it has gained some popularity, over time I visualized the evolution of my designs into a more sophisticated look. I made the decision to transition into fine menswear, with a mission of first styling, followed by designing dapper looks for men in the New York City area. Once I realized the impact this had on myself and the people I worked with, I partnered up with Jean, my college roommate, to work on something that would be timeless. Garçon Couture is a menswear line that is fashionable today and will hold its value 50 years down the line. We are claiming longevity.
Jean Francillon: My passion for menswear takes root in the appreciation I have for fabrics that compliment distinct features. With humble beginnings as a wardrobe consultant, it was then when I truly fell in love with styling men in suits and tuxedos. I dedicated that time to really homing in on my skills. I learned the differences between fabrics, how suits and classic menswear styles should fit, as well as how to measure and tailor.
With over five years of working in menswear in New York shadowing some of the best in the business, I took the opportunity to grow my skills and enter a management position in Miami. That meant relocating and starting a new life in Florida. As my people skills were sharpened, I saw more and more how menswear was not as diverse when it came to its offerings. As a petitely built man, I noticed that menswear did not have options that included my personal build.
Once finding a manufacturer that fit my needs by making the designs I created for myself, I noticed a domino effect in my work. I began drawing more attention from my clients at the time, inquiring about the suits I was wearing. My designs! That was a sign for me to dabble into taking on clients and creating pieces for them with my manufacturer. Soon, I realized there was an opportunity in what was beginning to happen. I found not only a way to create unique pieces and designs that traditional menswear neglected, but I found where I could turn my passion into a business—my lifelong dream.