The list of Charvet's notable clients is so long, it has its own Wikipedia page. Not that Jean-Claude and Anne-Marie Colban, the brother and sister who now own and run Charvet, would reveal any of the names themselves. The duo, whose family purchased the Paris shirtmaker from its founders in 1964, is much too modest. I was lucky enough to tour the six-story townhouse on the Place Vendôme where the shirts are made. Scroll down for a look inside.
Founded in 1838, Charvet is the oldest shirtmaker in the world.
Christofle Charvet, whose father Jean-Pierre had been "curator of the wardrobe" for Napoleon, created the first
Today it's run by siblings Anne-Marie and Jean-Claude Colban.
"It's a family business," says the soft-spoken Anne-Marie. "Our father bought the company in the 60s, so that's how we are here today. All the shirtmakers in London were created between1885 and 1895 and we are 1838."
Soon after Charvet launched, Paris was the center of the
"Five years after our creation, shirts became this very fashionable thing that you could only buy in Paris," Anne-Marie says. "They were a reason to come to Paris," where dozens of shirtmakers existed in the 1840s. Of all the companies that were making shirts at that time, only Charvet remains.
All custom shirts start with a fitting.
That's when men find out their right arm is a tad longer than the left, for example, or that their watch is thick enough to require a bit of extra room in the cuff. Charvet takes more than 20 measurements.
Charvet's customers over the years have included Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, John F. Kennedy, Catherine Deneuve, and Sofia Coppola.
JFK reportedly ordered his shorts under the pseudonym "John Tierney."
After the fitting comes the fun part: choosing all the elements of the shirt.
A wall of collars displays the various options (there are about 80). None of them are fused, Anne-Marie says, "because we like the fabric to feel alive. If we fused then it becomes like cardboard. It's not pleasant to wear." Also: barrel cuff? French cuff? Or one of much more? Then there's the monogram. Charvet will match the thread color to the darkest colors of the shirt style.
Next, comes a prototype shirt, which clients try on at a subsequent fitting.
From there, adjustments are made before the final shirt is created.
A wall of white shirting fabrics.
More than 5,000 bolts of fabric offer a plethora of choice.
The cotton and linen fabrics are stacked as high as the ceiling.
Another floor has ready-to-wear shirting.
Upstairs is the bespoke suiting department.
Everything is custom-made.
A paper pattern, like the one I'm wearing here, is part of the
All the suits are sewn by hand.
The store's first floor displays ties, cufflinks, and scarves.
Even pajamas are available.
A wall of colorful fabrics.
Charvet's ties are also legendary.
Visit Charvet in person the next time you're in Paris.
The townhouse is at 28, Place Vendôme, and can be reached at +33 1 42 60 30 70.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.