Last night, I was watching Jean Gabin going through another man’s wardrobe, he was playing Maigret of course, so the indiscretion was work related, it was done in fine style, with the utmost calm, actually, everything Jean Gabin does is so wonderfully calm, so composed and tranquil, as if his entire being was a neverending stream of contemplation, and while he was inspecting the clothes of one of his suspects, Jean Desailly’s, as of course I was watching Maigret tend un piège from 1958, he uncovered the label of one of the suits, some fine tailoring by – no, not by Prada or Brioni or Zegna, but by Bernheim & Fils – a tailor whose shop was on rue de la Boétie. This scene struck me, but why? The wardrobe belonged to some Parisian interior architect, these were the 1950s, our times’ fashion victims weren’t even born yet, of course this man had his suits tailor made. Suddenly, I felt very poor, poor in style, my suits are all mass produced bullshit, however prestigious the labels, and while I continued watching Maigret meddling in this guy’s life, I felt like putting on my white Charvet shirt, the only thing in my wardrobe that might have a chance to find a fellow counterpart in that fine French murderer’s wardrobe.
I came across this selfie when I was looking for photos of Marie Antoinette’s tomb in Paris, and as I found that I have equally important things to say about this outfit of mine, I shall postpone my article about Marie Antoinette’s last resort. So, instead of learning that Proust lived quite nearby, on the opposite side of the street actually, you learn about what I wore the day I went to see the tomb of France’s notorious queen. I actually never take selfies, but on this day, in the restroom of a bistrot next to Galerie Maeght and Deyrolle in St.Germain, I had to (although, is it a selfie if you leave your head out? Well, I had just visited the tomb of Marie Antoinette and let’s not forget she was beheaded, too), as I was wearing my favourite jacket, I’ve been wearing it day in, day out ever since the day I bought it at Hamburg’s Jil Sander flagship store, it’s from an autumn/winter collection when Raf Simons was still in charge. It’s been in the washing machine dozens of times, its zipper is mostly out of order, and if it works it gets stuck in the tiny pleat that frames the zipper, nice detail, nicely sewn, but not very intelligently placed, its only fault actually, but I wonder if Madame Bertin would have lost her head sooner than Marie Antoinette if she had ever confronted Sa Majesté with such thoughtlessness in tailoring, anyway, then there’s my favourite pair of jeans ever, the only one that I will really miss, from that frightful day on when they dissolve into thin air, Ralph Lauren will be invited to attend its funeral, and one of my many black crew neck cashmere pullovers, a cheap one, no logo, but their quality is actually the same, a white shirt, you only see its cuffs, I think it’s from Charvet, and my beloved Hermès scarf, 140 x 140 cm, silk and cotton, imprimeur fou, Les Clefs and some other iconic design printed on top of it (or the other way round). That’s it. Basic me. Tomorrow, I might wear the very same, so you won’t have any difficulties recognizing me in the streets.
Truth be told, I’m quite susceptible. Once I read in American ELLE Decor about white Charvet shirts belonging to the ten things some American designer can’t live without, I feel the urge to suffer from separation anxiety as well, or at least to own a white Charvet shirt, too. Strangely, I can’t recall that designer’s name. But what’s in a name?
Anyway, the next time I was in Paris, this time with my mother, we were celebrating her birthday, I insisted on heading to Place Vendôme first thing, to enter the sacred halls of Charvet, not paying attention to my mother’s need to have an extended coffee in Saint-Germain, my mother is rather a Rive Gauche person, which I get of course, the Flore and Simone de Beauvoir and the Sorbonne, which she calls “her” Sorbonne, and all that, but hey, there’s no Place Vendôme on the Left Bank, is there?
Charvet’s shirt department is on the second floor, it looks utterly old school, very much like earnest tailoring being done, not at all like Barney’s if you know what I mean, and when I was sent to the fitting room to check if the sleeve’s length was right, I didn’t care to come out for a very long time, some contemplation was to be done first, I immediately put that room on my list of the ten things I can’t live without, this elegance of times long gone by, it looked as if Charles Swann had been in just before me. I was in my natural habitat – and then I screamed “Merde!”. With quite some resonance. Wall shakingly. You see, I had put on my pullover again, and my beautiful quiff was gone, despite all that Elnett hair lacquer. I, of course, being German, think it a very noble swearword to use as it’s French. But for the French it just means “Shit!”. My mother, waiting outside with Mademoiselle Charvet – at least for a quarter of an hour, for just trying on a shirt, you have to remember – and always disapproving of losing one’s temper, was deeply ashamed by my total lack of time frames and composure on top of that. But she was quite impressed by the Frenchwoman’s poker face
Post scriptum: I bought a tie as well. Not because its purple silk was so exquisite but because Sebastian Flyte wore a Charvet tie, too, when he met Charles Ryder. As I’ve said, I’m very susceptible.