Now I stand in the Place Vendôme about to revisit Charvet, ten years after I first walked into their store at number 28. It is a different feeling now. Then I had not one drop of knowledge on shirting, shirt making, silk weaving, silk printing, nor how to make a bow tie or tie. Now, I enter knowing that I have customers all over the world and with a quiet confidence of someone who can keep up with most menswear enthusiasts when talking about clothes and style.
And it has been a long journey. For those of you who care to revisit the first posts on this blog you will see just how basic it was to begin with. The writing, the content, my knowledge.
Now as I open up the doors to Charvet I am reminded once again just what a rarefied institution this place is. It is the centre of the universe for many shirt enthusiasts, it is a place that has a lineage that dates back to Napoleon Bonaparte's wardrobe curator. It has cultivated relationships with those of wealth and privilege and those that wished to be like them. Through it's doors have walked kings and queens, heads of state, writers, artists, poets, musicians, film stars, the rich and the famous. A pastiche of so many that influential people that it has in fact it's own Wikipedia entry. And now I am about to add one more pattern to their racks, that of an aspiring menswear writer from Australia.
Sabrina does not remember me but I remind her that she served me ten years ago. She is a brunette, well presented, elegant, somewhat conservative and very well mannered. She guides me around the store and we rummage through the new, the old, the staples and so on. I pick out a bow tie for myself and as usual I feel compelled to buy a particular variety of their polka dot pocket squares which I believe are the best in the world.
As we converse I suggest that I would be interested in seeing their bespoke shirt floor and I inform her that I intend to interview Monsieur Jean-Claude Colban the next day. She agrees to take me to the 2nd floor and there, for the first time I'll admit, I am finally in the room that most people like to talk about - the walls and stacks of shirting fabrics. It is said that on their famed Mur Des Blancs (wall of whites) there are over 400 variations of white with over 104 varying shades of it. And in solid blues there are over 200 to choose from from the palest baby blue to the richest and darkest navy. Many believe it is the largest collection of high-quality shirting assembled anywhere in the world and certainly I am not aware of anyone who offers a collection even remotely similar.
As I rummage through the wall of whites I made a decision that today is the day that I will add my pattern to their library in the hope that I too might become one of those memorable quotes one day that reflects the love and admiration that so many writers have bestowed upon this hallowed sartorial ground. It was Jean Cocteau who once remarked that Charvet is 'where the rainbow finds ideas' , and in that vein I decided that whatever I was to make had to be playful and fun. Choosing a white self polka dot fabric I set about with Sabrina choosing an Italian-esque spread collar and turned back cuff with a fly front.
I was escorted into the change room where 28 measurements were taken and a 45.5 trial shirt placed on me to ensure that they roughly had a snapshot of my torso before they began bringing in and letting out elements through the measurements. I was thoroughly impressed not only with the manner by which both Sabrina and Mintou handled themselves but by how calm and relaxed the process was. I am one to passionately hate the retail experience of trying on clothes but for some reason I felt like we had all the time in the world and at no point did they work up a sweat and accordingly, and quite bizarrely, neither did I.
Sabrina explained that if I was to have the proper Charvet experience I would need to return within a few months to try on the sample shirt that they will cut before they complete my body template, which I agreed to. I explained that it was unlikely that I could be back before June but she said Charvet had no desire to rush me, so long as I paid the deposit I could come back in two or three years time and they would not mind. That sat well with me and served to remind me that this business develops long term relationships with their customers.
It was once said of Charvet in 1863 that they were the first producer of fine shirts, superiority in taste and elegance in cuffs, bibs and fit. And, in 1889 a jury at the Paris World Fair declared that 'fine shirts remain the property and glory of Paris' .
These days there is stiff competition. When I follow other shirt makers on Instagram I can see that there are truly some remarkable shirt makers out there, especially some of the artisan makers in Italy. But for all the fine details and fanfare that some of these makers offer, none of them remain an institution like Charvet, a place where you could literally spend a day choosing first your shirting and then your collars and cuffs and details. Add to this, Charvet remains one of the few places that remain where a collar is made of 6 unfused layers of cotton shirting rather than being constructed with high-grade fusing. This traditional method of making gives a long lasting and robust collar with a very elegant and natural feel about it.
I've got a good year most probably before I can give you my final summary of what it's like to own a bespoke Charvet shirt but most certainly I have gotten the ball rolling on a bucket list item and I encourage any of you going through Paris, go, without delay or hesitation, to 28 Place Vendôme and get swept up in everything that is and was Charvet and what it might become tomorrow.
|Charvet, referenced in my book by Somerset Maugham as I flew to Europ|
|Some things never disappoint, like re-entering the Place Vendome|
|The Mecca of fine menswear and still an inspiration to me ten years on.|
|Hard not to fall in love in these streets.|
|The Australian who has come to get his shirt pattern inducted into the hall of fame....|
|A lovely self polka dot fabric on Charvet's Mur Des Blancs|
|Sabrina and Mintou taking 28 measures to cover all aspects of my torso|
|Home and wearing silk in all sorts of ways .... because it's Paris and you can....|