Can you start by telling us a bit about the history of shirtmaking?
First shirts were made at home then shirts were almost like underwear and manufactured in a very simple way so the craftsmanship was mainly in the embroidery not in the patterning. The key invention was the yoke, considered in the 1850’s as a mystery because it allowed the shirt not to move. There was a change in the fit and a change in fashion with a craze for bibs and cravats.
Almost all the patterns are ours exclusively. Around the 1960’s we went into doing ready-to-wear shirts but we did them like our bespoke shirts. So the shirts are made by the same people in the same manner.
There is a perception in the market of a Charvet pattern. This usually means that it’s multi-colored and that the stripings are not very large and we often use asymmetry so it’s a statement. We favor poplin because of the warp and weft. Poplin was a fabric born in the Middle Ages for Popes [the warp are the yarns which are running in the direction of the fabric and the weft are the perpendicular yarns]. Because poplin has twice more yarns in the warp than the weft there is a relationship between construction and color effect.
What makes Charvet different in its customer approach?
Other companies impose on the customer the idea of a designer. You come to that company to buy the look by a specific designer. Our point of view, being bespoke suppliers, is to service our forward thinking customers who are designers themselves. On the fabric side each season we dye new shades, we are thinking more of a collector who has a lot of our shirts and thinking about what he wants.
Why so expensive?
As far as the fabrics are concerned we are doing very short runs of very exclusive products but what is more important is the care about what goes into the fabric. We are one of the few companies that carefully pick the cotton. We believe that trust is very important. Until 20 years ago trust was a very easy game to play. We care a lot about the quality of the make and finish, we test piece by piece in a laboratory and no one else does that. Once we receive the fabrics we carefully check the quality before cutting.
The beauty of the make means that there is not a defect that attracts your attention, so what is beautiful about it is what you don’t see. No gluing on the collar or cuff sets us apart also which by itself is a much more complex job. Pattern matching and centering is also important. Stitching is a matter of having very close single needle lock stitches, it’s unusual to hear sewing machines in our workshop which people are always surprised by.
Other things that contribute to the quality are shanking the buttons which allows for the button to rise and is known in bespoke suit making. The signature vents allow the shirt to fall better into the trousers. We don’t want the buttons to be obnoxiously thick, we insist on them being immaculate and mother of pearl.
Who is the Charvet customer today?
There is no single customer, part of it is more classical and part of it is fashion forward. What’s interesting is that you now have young people who are just discovering the world of high quality craftsmanship who may or may not belong to a certain social group. For example, those coming from the computer industry and who are interested in handcrafted products with warmth and spirit to them. In Japan we are associated with subtlety and honesty, where as in other countries we are associated with lavish luxury.
What makes your ties so special?
The great speciality of our company is Jacquard (named after the gentleman who created the mechanical loom in 1801). We play a lot on using different constructions but if you want to summarize what makes Charvet ties so beautiful it’s the way they play with the light. By designing our patterns in such a way that maximizes the difference between warp/weft we maximize the way it plays with light. This is what makes our ties very special. Showing a lot of warp creates the need for a perfect quality of silk.
What’s your favorite era from the Charvet archive?
The period immediately after the Second World War. A lot of the bravery, fantasy and creativity that is generally associated with Art Deco actually was done in a larger way in late 40s and early 50s. It’s no wonder that Christian Dior came along at that time. There were all these people who were pre Second World War in terms of know how and an opening of options and a lot of things were scarce so they had to develop new ways of doing things. When you look at pre 20s it looks simple and almost coarse but it is so complex. Craftsmanship was much cheaper then, so they would weave at whatever speed they wanted. It’s becoming harder today.