Exclusive tour of some of the best shops in Paris
Written & Photographed by Richard Nahem
French luxury labels rule the roost in the fashion world, with such brands as Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Christian Dior, and Chanel opening shops around the globe and spending millions on worldwide media exposure and ad campaigns. Oddly, however, the luxury goods they have become so well known for are now diluted in terms of being exclusive or having top quality. Often, this season's $2,000 "it" bag can be made of pure plastic and can easily be out of fashion next year. Luckily, Paris offers an alternative kind of luxury where you can get true, timeless quality in a quiet, sophisticated way while being waited on hand and foot. In storefronts and ateliers across the city, made-to-measure and custom-designed suits, shirts, shoes, bags, eyeglasses, jewelry, and other wearable goods can be had at the same prices or less than mass-market luxury.
Bespoke or custom shops have been a staple of Parisian society for centuries dating back to the 1800s, serving royalty, aristocrats, and upper crust gentlemen. Charvet, located on Place Vendome, was the first shirt maker to open in Paris in 1838, and the father of the founder, Joseph-Christophe Charvet, was the wardrobe master of Napoleon Bonaparte.
If you are a savvy shopper and want to get a jumpstart on these shops and ateliers before you arrive, buy the book Paris: Made by Hand by fashion stylist Pia Jane Bijkerk, or checkout the website Paris by Appointment Only (www.parisbao.com), which contains exclusive by-appointment- only addresses. In the meantime, here are four of our favorites we have custom picked just for you.
FINE AND DANDY
Made-to-measure suit shops usually conjure up thoughts of stuffy tailors with a serious tone and dark, austere interiors. Les Dandys, near the Madeleine, has lightened the approach considerably with a relaxed and soothing shop where you can have suits, jackets, pants, and shirts custom made or as they say in French, sur le mesure. The owners, Sylvain and Antoine, are two laid back guys in their early 30s and a good reflection of their clientele: smart, easygoing, and stylish. They go to great lengths (pardon the pun) to make sure you get exactly what you want, and they will even come to your hotel, office, or home if you can't get to them. French and international businessmen mostly between the ages of 28 and 40 come to Les Dandys to have a pleasurable experience in selecting their obligatory suits for their workplace. Fabric choices are abundant with dozens of fabric books with hundreds of swatches of cashmere, mohair, wool, cotton, silk, twill, and linen by companies such as Loro, Holland & Sherry, Piana, and Zegna. All styles of tailoring are readily available including French, Italian, and British. Suits, jackets, and pants are all made in Portugal and delivered three weeks after the first measurements are taken. A classic French cut suit of four-season lightweight wool twill and a casual one-button blazer for jeans in wool and mohair are their bestsellers. We know that accessories make the man, and cashmere ties by Flouzon and print cotton handkerchiefs chicly complement their suits. Prices start at €690 for suits and go up to €1500 with finer fabrics, and jackets begin at around €290. Shirts start at €150 for a basic model and go up to €400 for those that have custom details like buttons, cuffs, and collars. Delivery time is four weeks. Sylvain says, "A well fitting jacket can best show off a man's physique while hiding all his physical shortcomings, whether he is wanting to look taller, shorter, more broad-shouldered, thinner, or more built." That's fine and dandy with us. Les Dandys, 23 rue Pasquier. Tel: +33-1-4007-0552. Open Tuesday to Saturday 11 A.M.-7 P.M. www.lesdandys.com
Tucked away in an unassuming passageway behind the Palais Royal lies a legendary eyeglass maker. Maison Bonnet is a fourth-generation family business known for its custom-designed eyeglasses made of tortoise shell. It was started in the 1930s by Alfred Bonnet, who was a craftsman in the small French town Morez, known as the capital of eyewear design. His grandson Christian took over the business in 1980, bringing it into modern times without giving in to fashion trends while maintaining its integrity to quality and proving it by winning one of the most prestigious awards in France, the Maitre d'Art (Art Master) from the French Ministry of Culture. Today, his sons, Franck and Steven, have pushed the traditional boundaries a bit and have moved the house into the 21st century, adding other materials and bringing more of a fashion sense to the designs. Walking into the shop, your eyes must adjust to the dark atmosphere resembling a movie theater, where the glasses are lit on individual "screens." Wooden drawers below the showcases are filled with dozens more glasses, making it that much more difficult to choose the perfect one. On the left side are two comfortable chairs and a round table where you are fitted for your glasses. Visits are by appointment only, and three visits are required to fulfill your order, with the first being the longest. The first visit is the most crucial, and Maison Bonnet is careful to guide you through the process in selecting the color, shape, and material that's right for you in addition to a very intricate system to measure your facial features exactly. The wait time for tortoise frames is three months and for all others five weeks to two months. Besides tortoise shell, frames can be made in acetate and horn. Meticulously crafted, each pair takes six to 30 hours to make, depending on the materials selected. Your glasses are precision-made in a small workshop right across from the boutique. Prices start at €750. A cavalcade of celebrities, movie stars, political figures, and even presidents have donned Maison Bonnet's specs over the years including Yves Saint Laurent, Jackie and Aristotle Onassis, Jacques Chirac, Maya Lin, I. M. Pei, Le Corbusier, and Francois Mitterrand. Will you be next on that prestigious list? Maison Bonnet, Passage des deux pavillons, 5 rue des Petits Champs. Open Tuesday to Saturday 11 A.M.-7 P.M., by appointment only. Tel: +33-1-4296-4635. www.maisonbonnet.com