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In Paris, when you approach Place Vendôme, Charvet is discreetly branded on the front of the store. From the outside, on the ground floor, you see the bright colors of ties, scarves, bow ties and shirts. From the inside, you enter the temple of the shirt. Charvet was the first shirtmaker in Paris.
Since 1838, Charvet has been making made-to-measure shirts with one key word: quality. Quality product. Quality service. A rigor initiated by its founder, Christophe Charvet. The manufacturer was the son of Napoleon I's wardrobe curator who was also the nephew of the woman in charge of making his shirts. His most prestigious client ? The British King Edward VII. The Sovereign introduced him to the best fabrics manufacturers back then.
Following in time, many personalities have venerated Charvet – composer Claude Debussy, writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, actor Gary Cooper, and President John F. Kennedy were among the first loyal customers. And over the years, Charvet has made shirts and accessories for Oscar Wilde, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. French President Charles De Gaulle was one of its most fervent defenders. The French leader encouraged Denis Colban to buy the company in 1965. Finally, his heirs Anne-Marie Colban and his brother Jean-Claude continue the tradition of this exceptional shirt temple with simplicity and passion.
From all the houses that have ever existed, we managed to last. The demand of our customers allowed us to make particular and unique things. Our luck was that our customers are constantly renewing themselves which has led us to renew ourselves with them. On the other hand, there is an expertise we do not compromise with.
Of course, you can wear excellent quality ready-to-wear garments. But the magic happens on the second floor in the “tailor made orders” room, where you can personalize shirts and create excellence. From ceiling to floor there are hundreds of coupons and fabric rolls. Poplins, end-on-end, oxfords, veils, plain colored or printed, polka dot, striped… Twice a year, Sophie and Jean-Claude Colban develop between 400 and 600 new patterns. How many references? Between 5000 and 7000 exclusive references. The archives were used exclusively for Vault’s re-editioned men accessories collection at Gucci’s experimental online space.
We are like collectors. We are looking for the missing piece in our collection. For example, we have blue fabric dyed piece by piece. Piece-dyeing process was seen as the easiest way to dye even though we could see all the tiny imperfections. Piece-dyeing is when you use an off white or white cloth and you immerse it in the dye. It is different from yarn dye where different colors of yarn are woven together.
Obviously, Charvet has to make more fabrics and shirts at the same time. At least 100 manual operations are needed to make a shirt, 30 of them only for the collar. And, of course, each customer is unique. If you don’t know what to choose, do not worry, follow one of the guides; Lorenzo and Catherine are the model makers of Charvet.
In the fitting room, in front of a large three-sided mirror with a measuring tape, the model makers take your measurements then write them down on a registration form. Finally, you pick your fabric – silk, jacquard, poplin, or batiste.
Guided by their advice, you choose the shape of the pocket, the sleeve’s throat which carries the buttons, visible or hidden and - the most important - your collar shape from the dozens of samples pinned to a velvet fabric and framed on the wall up to the interlining (the fleece trim gives the collar its flexibility or rigidity).
We tried to create a library of different collars. It is not even a limit of what we can create. For each customer coming in, we create a collar according to their morphology and habits. As it isn’t always easy to project yourself, it is our way to show to the customer everything we can adjust in a collar. Whether it's the length of the points, the angle between them, rounded points, if it’s a straight or curved collar shape … you can have flexible and rigid collars.
There, usually, you have finished imagining your ideal shirt. On his large table surrounded by coupons, the pattern maker traces on paper the 20 elements of your shirt. Angle of the shoulder, micro deviations from the natural asymmetry of the body, length of the arms. Everything is drawn to the millimeter. The signature of Charvet is the execution. This pattern is sent with the length of your fabric to the atelier of Saint-Gaultier (Indre), where sixty employees make Charvet creations.
You will have to come back a few weeks later to try on the "canvas", the prototype of your shirt in a white poplin fabric. Any corrections will be made straight on it with pins. In 4 or 5 weeks time, your tailored shirt will be ready. Will you be tempted to order a second one?