It says much of Alexander Kraft that one of his earliest memories is the elegance of Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair. “I was 12 and remember sitting in my pyjamas, transfixed by the style of that movie,” remembers the chairman and CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty in France and Monaco. “Sean Connery in Goldfinger is a strong memory as well – the three-piece suit he wears at Goldfinger’s stud farm in Kentucky, for example. I remember that particularly because it was on late at night and I wasn’t meant to be up at that time.”
Connery, for Kraft, exuded animal charm and unaffected style. (Unlike the contemporary Roger Moore films, which for him always seemed rather lightweight and silly.) Given those two lode stars to his early style, it is no surprise that Kraft grew up with a passion for waistcoats. Some single-breasted but more particularly double, as in the less well-known shot of McQueen below.
For many years he had waistcoats made alongside suits by his two regular tailors, Stuart Lamprell in London (ex-Gieves and Timothy Everest) and William Cheng & Sons in Hong Kong. He was, and is, a perfectionist verging on obsessive, and the fittings in Hong Kong particularly could go into seventh and eight iterations. “I would go in every day or second day and have one more fitting, making sure the fit was just right,” says Kraft. “It was similar with Stuart – every time I was in London I would pop in and see how the projects were going.”
But all these waistcoats were made without lapels, as in the original Steve McQueen inspiration. We speak to Kraft now because of some beautiful suits he has made over the past year at Cifonelli, in Paris. And they, unusually, were fashioned with lapelled waistcoats. “In this case the inspiration came from my morning suit, which of course has a waistcoat with lapels. It came from Hackett bespoke. I liked the style and thought it was a pity I only wore the suit two or three times a year. So when I chanced to run into Lorenzo Cifonelli, I gave him the task.”
The chance was Kraft’s VIP club in Paris, established to bring clients of Sotheby’s into contact with some of the city’s best craftsmen. Kraft had been aware of Cifonelli for a while, which led to the inclusion of the tailor in this select group, but had never ventured to have anything made. “That was a year ago, and we are now onto our third three-piece suit,” he says. “So the project has clearly been successful.”
Lorenzo (above, with Kraft), the more outgoing of the two cousins that run Cifonelli, proved to be as much a perfectionist at Kraft himself and the waistcoat went into a sixth and seventh fitting. “I took the suit long before he would let me have the waistcoat,” remembers Kraft. “Every time I would go in and between us we would decide that something tiny could be improved. The shape is perfect now.”
As can be seen from the photographs, Kraft likes wearing a pocket watch with his DB vest, one of two he inherited from his grandfather. Both watches and fob are engraved with the family crest. “They are simple, English watches made for a country gent, nothing fancy. Despite my love for wearing them with waistcoats, I have never been tempted to expand on the collection. Whenever I have the choice between a pocket watch and another wrist watch, the latter always wins out,” says Kraft, admitting to a mild addition to fine watches.
His love of Cifonelli now borders on the same passion, with enthusiasm for Lorenzo’s soft manner and softer construction: “For me, Cifonelli combines a Savile Row silhouette (reminiscent especially of Huntsman with a one-button, nipped waist) with the softness of south Italian tailoring, plus a level of detail that is the male equivalent of haute couture. And of course Lorenzo is one of the most charming, unassuming and understated people in the business, while being a true master of his art..”
Despite this eloquence, Kraft feels compelled to apologise for his English, explaining that he has been up since 6am doing business in French, plus a little German. Work promises to go on until a late hour, before he will drive home from Provence to Monaco, in his coughing old Bentley, faithful dog Bertie keeping him company in the cool night.
Talk about unaffected style.