The Seven French Labels You Need To Know

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The Seven French Labels You Need To Know

Words by Mr Stuart Husband

25 May 2016

Add a soupçon of Gallic chic to your wardrobe with our favourite Parisian brands.

While it’s dangerous to trade in national style stereotyping – the English love eccentricity, the Italians radiate proud sensuality, the Americans go for clean-cut basics – it’s safe to say that Frenchmen seem to be effortlessly in fashion and yet beyond it at the same time. After all, this is the country that invented the concept of chic, and its best ambassadors embody all that the word stands for – elegance, tact and a très subtil modishness (see our Suit Alors! feature about the latest crop of ambassadors). Those are all qualities you’ll find in abundance in the Parisian brands in MR PORTER’s portfolio, from the instant classics offered by new kids on the boulevard Ami and Officine Generale to the objets d’art with a twist you’ll find at the esteemed likes of J.M. Weston and Berluti, not to mention Saint Laurent’s supercharged swank. So turn your back on vulgar trends and embrace le style français.

As its name implies, Ami takes an approachable, companionable, stylishly understated approach to menswear staples. You won’t find any lavish peacockery here – though the odd jaunty lemon print adds some tart piquancy to shirts and sweats – or anything too confoundingly outré; just blazers, tapered chinos, fitted white shirts, ribbed sweaters, handsome leather sneakers and MR PORTER-exclusive suede bomber and canvas jacket. Wearability is the watchword, reflecting the ethos of Ami founder and Normandy native Mr Alexandre Mattiussi, who takes elements from his high-fashion training at Dior, Givenchy and Marc Jacobs – precise cuts, refined fabrics, telling details – to create an effortlessly stylish wardrobe for what he calls “regular guys walking their dogs”. Once you’ve embraced Ami, you won’t be unfriending it any time soon.

There’s always been a certain winning insouciance about the clothes at A.P.C., AKA Atelier de Production et de Creation, founded by Mr Jean Touitou in 1987. It shunned ostentation (then rife in Paris fashion), and quickly won adherents among style insiders for its simple, well-tailored everyday staples such as peacoats, bomber jackets, Breton-striped T-shirts and sweaters inspired by workwear and military uniforms. Especially popular were its heavy-duty Japanese indigo denim jeans, the absolute antithesis of the dad jeans favoured by US sitcom stars and presidents. We still love the jeans, of course – that’s why they’re among our MR PORTER Essentials – but we also love the relaxed cut of the checked shirts, the slim fit of the varsity jackets, and the easy slouch of the jersey sweatpants. “If you want to be trendy, in the end you lose,” says Mr Touitou. His modern classics continue to win us over.

Since its founding in 2012, there has been much buzz about Mr Pierre Mahéo’s label for several compelling reasons: it mixes tailoring and workwear with particular skill; it deploys the finest fabrics, such as Japanese selvedge Oxford cloths and Loro Piana cashmere, and it produces everything in Europe, yet keeps prices competitive. Its lovingly crafted pieces – suede jackets, chambray shirts, loopback sweats and MR PORTER-exclusive wool-flannel padded gilets and cotton-jersey T-shirts – add up to a refined, understated collection that will enhance any man’s wardrobe. Mr Mahéo’s stealth-luxe aesthetic has already won itself a bunch of devoted fans, who love instant Officine classics such as the Japanese selvedge button-down shirts and the cotton-twill chinos. “It’s accessible luxury,” says Mr Mahéo, to which we can only add a hearty mais oui.

You won’t look at anything with a Lanvin label for long before the words je, ne, sais and – yes! – quoi come to mind. After all, this is the oldest French couture house still in operation, so you’d expect its wares to have that certain something. In the case of its menswear, overseen by Mr Lucas Ossendrijver for the past decade, that would be combining impeccably cut suits and tailoring traditions with volume and detailing – raw seams, metallic pieces, washed effects, leather inlays – borrowed from sportswear and marked by a passionate rigour in cut, fabric, and finish. Thus, a field jacket comes with zebra-print lapels, a blazer is banded in cotton and scuba-jersey with unfinished edges, and a backpack goes ultra-luxe by being crafted in python. Lanvin’s cult sneakers also come fully and finely arrayed in nubuck and patent leather with metallic flourishes – a whole lot of certain somethings, in fact.

“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art,” said Mr Oscar Wilde. What a pity he never slipped his size nines into a pair of exquisite J.M. Weston brogues or Chelsea boots, because, according to brand director Mr Michel Perry, its wares are designed with him very much in mind: “quite English” (Mr Wilde, being Irish, is more than qualified here), “refined, elegant and dandy”. The brand was founded in 1891, and each pair of elegant loafers or Oxfords goes through almost 200 ancient and modern construction processes in its Limoges factory. No wonder its fans, from the dapper sapeurs of the Democratic Republic of Congo to French presidents old and new (Mr François Mitterrand owned 30 identical pairs of Weston’s Blake loafers in kidskin, while Mr Nicolas Sarkozy opted for the vamp-seamed Claridge) are prepared to undergo the two-month break-in period on a new pair of monkstraps or Derbies. These are shoes that, like Mr Wilde, have nothing to declare but their genius.

After Mr Hedi Slimane took the reins of the quintessential Parisian brand in 2012, it underwent a physical – and spiritual – relocation from the rive gauche to Rodeo Drive when he moved the HQ to Los Angeles. While retaining the label’s Gallic irreverence and sleek craftsmanship, he gave the clothes a SoCal spin. The distressed denim western shirts, leopard-print satin bomber jackets, skinny tuxedos and snake-effect leather boots of the SS16 collection are more after-party-at-Chateau-Marmont than le-smoking-at-Le-Queen. The buzz around Saint Laurent, already deafening, has reached tinnitus levels since Mr Slimane’s abrupt departure and Mr Anthony Vaccarello’s arrival in the hot seat earlier this year, but there’s still time to get your hands on a small bleached-denim-gilet- or fringed-suede-boot-shaped slice of fashion history.

To say that Berluti has a way with shoes is rather like saying that Mr Genghis Khan wasn’t too bad at marauding. The venerable Parisian brand, founded in 1895, combines painstaking workmanship and uniquely alluring patinas to such a heightened degree that its devotees have been known to gather at soirées where they polish their footwear with Venetian linen dipped in Dom Pérignon champagne. Over the past few years, the brand has expanded to include equally exquisitely finished clothes and accessories, available online exclusively at MR PORTER. These are investment pieces, from the nubuck bomber jackets and cashmere hoodies to the cashmere-and-silk-blend blazers and linen polo shirts. The dégradé leather sneakers, burnished high-tops and leather-trimmed espadrilles offer a playful spin on the brand’s rich heritage (upscale cleaning cloths and vintage fizz not supplied).