The sartorial equivalent of the creation of the Ten Commandants, the laws of God written by His own finger, occurred in 1838, when Jean-Christophe Charvet, commonly known as Christofle, coined the term shirtmaker — or chemisier — and the universe of classic style recognised that its Holy Land was located at Charvet’s eponymous atelier on Rue de Richelieu in Paris. Though Charvet moved in 1877 to the address with which it is now most associated, Place Vendôme, it ensured that its vast spiritual heart remained intact. The name Charvet had by that time become renowned throughout the courts of Europe. Christofle’s father, Jean-Pierre, had been the curator of Napoleon’s wardrobes, and his uncle Étienne was the steward of the Château de Malmaison, the residence of Empress Joséphine, Napoleon I’s first wife.
Upon awarding Charvet a gold medal at the 1889 Paris world’s fair, the jury declared its shirts to be “the property and glory of Paris”. The luminaries who bespoke their shirts and ties at Charvet was a never-ending list of sartorial demi-gods. They included King Edward VII, for whom Charvet created a ‘stand-up, turn-down’ collar that was the genetic predecessor to modern men’s shirt collars; Alfonso XII of Spain; the poet Charles Baudelaire, who swore of the shirts’ metaphysical effects; the dandy of painting, Édouard Manet; the writer Jean Cocteau, who was given to calling Charvet “magic”; and Marcel Proust, who in his seminal novel, Remembrance of Things Past, has his protagonist willing away the time waiting for a lunch engagement at Swann’s house by “tightening from time to time the knot of his magnificent Charvet tie”.
With the weight of all this history, it can be daunting and not a little bit intimidating for a sartorial neophyte, as I once was, to dare put a foot over the threshold of Charvet’s fabled door. Yet the thing you notice, once you’ve taken in the joyously riotous eternal springtime of colour and pattern exuberantly exuded by the ties, pocket-squares, scarves and other glorious accoutrements that blossom from every wall and table, and which represent the most edifying examples of creativity in modern elegance, is that you feel immediately welcome. This is directly attributable to the warmth, affability, humility, charm and prevailing kindness of Charvet’s proprietors of today, Anne-Marie and Jean-Claude Colban. Their names often evoke unsolicited declarations of affection from their devotees. Whenever I am in the company of the new millennium’s foremost dandy, the fabled journalist Nick Foulkes, and the subject of Charvet arises, he will libidinously declare, “I love the Colbans. They are the best!”