Meet The Man Searching For Meaning In A Suit
While it’s unfair to make assumptions about a person based purely on where they live, you might expect a Parisian tailor to take a rather more philosophical approach to their craft than one based in, say, Milan or London. Philosophy permeates every aspect of French life, after all, from the classroom to the dining table. Why should the tailor’s fitting room be off limits? Stereotypical as it may sound, this theory is lent a certain credibility by Husbands, a menswear atelier in the heart of Paris. Here, being fitted for a suit means first confronting one’s own mortality.
Husbands was founded in 2011 by Mr Nicolas Gabard, an ex-lawyer who grew up on a diet of Messrs François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Akira Kurosawa, and who borrowed the name for his company from a cult film by cinéma vérité star Mr John Cassavetes. As Mr Gabard makes clear in our short film, the first encounter between tailor and client is one of the formative moments of a man’s life. “The moment you meet your tailor, everything becomes clear,” he says. “You accept your chronology. You accept that you’re not in a constant cycle of youth and that you will die.” This, according to Mr Gabard, is a necessary step in the journey to self-discovery that ends with your first tailored suit. “At Husbands, we dress men once they know themselves.”
Making a suit, he says, is a dialogue. “We spend a lot of time with our customers discussing their lives, their desires, their job, their kids, their wife… sometimes their mistress. We try to understand their habits and their quirks. Are they charismatic? Are they shy? Sometimes you have to take a man out of his comfort zone, but not too much and only when you feel he needs it. Sometimes we understand things before him, and that’s a real pleasure, because you can see him take confidence and become a new man.”
The completed suit is the result of this dialogue, and, if executed properly, should represent a perfectly calibrated balance between the customer’s personality on the one hand and the tailor’s aesthetic sensibilities on the other. Balance is everything when making a suit, according to Mr Gabard. Not just between the customer’s and the tailor’s points of view, but between the length of the jacket and the rise of the trousers, or the width of the shoulders and the shape of the client’s head. (“We are quite obsessed with shoulders at Husbands,” says Mr Gabard.)
At Husbands, we dress men once they know themselves
From a sartorial perspective, even the brand itself is a balance, occupying a happy halfway home between English understatement and Italian extravagance. This translates to a range of suiting that’s full of personality yet completely wearable, and which nods to the style of bygone eras without feeling at all nostalgic or old-timey. “What excites me is thinking about how to make a flared, high-waisted 1970s-style suit wearable today, or how to make a big-shouldered 1930s suit wearable today,” says Mr Gabard. “You have to understand the DNA of these times and adapt to new bodies. Because people have changed. They don’t have the same way of life as they once did.”
Husbands is a difficult brand to pigeonhole: it occupies a middle point between English and Italian sartorial tradition, classic and contemporary style and the desires of a tailor and his client. It’s only natural to wonder whether the brand’s readiness to compromise in the interests of achieving balance has left it without a clear identity. Mr Gabard has a simple reply to this: Husbands is French. “I would describe a French suit as a kind of oxymoron, a paradox,” says Mr Gabard. “It is the unnoticeable noticeable.” This trademark Frenchness is on full display in the brand’s capsule for MR PORTER, a collection of classic silhouettes emboldened with broad lapels and razor-sharp shoulders.
If Husbands’ insistence on a certain emotional maturity of clientele – not to mention its catalogue of cultural references, the majority of which can be carbon-dated to about 50 years ago – have you convinced that this is a brand intended for an older and more conservative crowd, then think again. Indeed, it’s Mr Gabard’s ambition to appeal to the men who left tailoring behind for the very reason that it had become too old and too conservative. “Over the past three decades, the industry has aged with its customers and those who wish to dress in a contemporary fashion have stopped looking to the suit.” This is a travesty, he says, because it is the best way for a man to express himself. “The classic wardrobe is all about freedom. You can wear a suit in so many different ways. You can be unnoticeable, or you can be noticeable; you can wear a tie or you can open a shirt; so you can wear a suit to a nightclub, to the office, to go to school with your kids. You will be always perfect in all situations.”
Film by Mr Emile Rafael