SEE MORE ON LE NOEUD PAPILLON BLOG
As far as shirt fittings go I don't think I have ever been more thoroughly looked over than my recent experience in Paris with the team at Charvet.
A year ago Mintou and Sabrina looked over my first fitting. If I recall correctly there were over thirty measurements taken and it took a considerable amount of time. You might have a read of that initial post here.
A year on I was ready to try on my mock up shirt. This time I had established a relationship with the head of Charvet, Jean-Claude Colban, and I had asked him to lunch so that I might be able to talk to him about things other than business. It was a privilege I won't forget any time soon - what began with me reading out a small passage of text I'd written into Google Translate and then written out by hand, was met with that general mirth of the French who love it when you try your very best to be one of them and is reciprocated with good will towards the tourist. You see, in all my years of going to Paris as a tourist I had learned one thing - do not approach the French with your guns blaring English like the Americans, for you will be met with resistance. Show a deference towards the language and culture and you may very well be met with a congenial Frenchman who speaks English perfectly well.
So there I was talking to Jean-Claude about my Greek lineage and my first Christmas in Athens (we lunched just after Christmas Day) when contrary to my expectations he told me he loved Greece and often travelled there and that he was inspired in many respects by the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor who himself was a hellenophile; and suddenly we were talking about the Peloponnese and his inspirational tour of the Byzantine fortress of Mystras and whether or not some of the things he saw would filter into his own design work. And that's why you take someone like Jean-Claude to lunch, because in my experience, all the greats of menswear are so much more than fashion or even artisan skill. They are often poets, writers, widely read, immersed in hobbies and running passions on the side.
At the end of the lunch I was invited to my fitting for my mock up shirt. The fabrics chosen were still sitting on the bolt and it was my first chance to glimpse my own pattern, one which will now sit in their archives so long as Charvet stands. This time around I was being handled by Antonio and by Jean-Claude himself whose discerning eye was able to catch so many more problem areas on my shirt than I was able to see.
You see, my own bespoke programme only runs ten measurements and once the measurements are made, a pattern is altered only on a hard drive CAD system, never in cardboard. The advantage of this is you can alter the shirt pattern on every shirt order with a few clicks of the mouse and some entering of data. Many tailors do this too. But not Charvet. They have patterns only in cardboard and each one is meticulously altered based on changes agreed on by customer during the mock up shirt fitting.
As I put my shirt on I was for the most part happy. The shoulders fit well, the length seemed mostly fine, the cuff finished where I wanted it. I have never wanted a taught shirt in any part of of my body because I was not intending to become a regular of their shirt service owing to distance and budget. Charvet shirts are not cheap but this is something I completely understand. In a digital world an analogue service as they conduct should be charged accordingly, and more importantly, you are paying them to store and hold such a wonderfully wide range of shirtings that frankly I think is unmatched anywhere else in the world.
With my friend Corinne De Conti holding the camera, I tried to document some of the process but I will admit, I think I did not do such a fitting the correct service by using a phone's camera. In this new world of travel and writing it's getting harder and harder to carry and SLR and a phone makes you to much more of a guerilla operative for content but at a price.
As Antonio continued on through the fitting I listened to Jean-Claude give instruction from the sidelines - the shoulder seem might need to be dropped because it was affecting the chest, the chest had slightly too much fabric on either side and could be brought in, the arm hole could be slightly reduced and there was perhaps a slight amount of bunching across the shoulders in the yolk. But I saw and recognised very little of this. I was Australian and generally speaking we were just happy to have a shirt that fits. At 126 kilograms with a big stomach and hips, these days if roughly a shirt fit I would not casse the couilles of a shirt maker. I had been on the receiving end of customers like this, the ones that are perennially unhappy with their tailor and shirt maker. Here, however, it was Jean-Claude who would not permit me to proceed without fixing the small details.
At the end of the fitting I went and frolicked around the shirting bolts, though much of it was lost on me. As I aged into my middle years I had come to believe that shirts were now comprised of only two colours that really worked for me, white and baby blue. The third, the right shade of baby pink, would be the only other shirt I might occasionally don. When Jean-Claude suggested I get a second shirt whilst we were at it I told him my opinion and so he took me over to a bolt of 70cm shirting in a voile that I instantly recognised as Carlo Riva but which lay on an unmarked bolt (I am quite sure that not one of the bolts in Charvet has the weavers mark on the bolt).
I gave him a wink wink and said I thought I recognised the weight and bolt and of course he was charming enough to acknowledge me but at no stage admitted to the provenance of the cloth.
So, here is my assessment - I have been making bespoke shirts for a decade and I have engaged the services of a dozen different shirt makers over the years - none have been as thorough nor as enjoyable as the one I experienced with the team at Charvet. BUT, to be fair, it is an extra good experience when the head of the company sits in on your fitting and you are allowed to take him to lunch prior. So, in fairness, not everyone may have the very same experience.
For all those of you looking to have your shirts made by the world's first shirt maker, especially for those of you travelling to Paris, make sure you call ahead. And please, try to at least start the conversation in French and you will find everyone much more congenial. Their details are listed here.
As for the other stuff Jean-Claude and I talked about, I will be writing more about that later.
SEE MORE ON LE NOEUD PAPILLON BLOG