Book Review: The Parisian Gentleman

After receiving this newly published book, a survey of selected French men’s luxury brands by Hugo Jacomet, the blogger and marketer known as Parisian Gentleman himself, I told myself I would not write a review. Jacomet and I had vastly different approaches to writing about clothing, I thought, and reviewing him could draw criticism of a possible conflict of interest with my own writing projects. I favor the critical, the elusive, the ineffable, I told myself, as opposed to Parisian Gentleman’s reassuring paeans to the primacy of items like “the perineal [sic] white shirt” or the all-conquering necktie.

Recent, heartbreaking, events made me reconsider both my attitude and my decision. In the wake of horror, I remembered --- and observed from the immense panoply of voices from all over the world sharing their remembrances and impressions of France, that none of us have a right of ownership to Paris, nor to its artisans, and that a tolerant, ecumenical world accommodates, nay welcomes, different viewpoints and approaches.  We all have our own Paris, in all of its different respects. There is no need for jealousy about memories, or experiences, with artisans, no need for the pretension of being the one true mouthpiece of what has actually happened to the once-burgeoning tailors, shirtmakers and shoemakers of Paris, the very best of whom may have been the best anywhere.

So I turned back to The Parisian Gentleman and all of the bittersweet evocations of its prose and beautiful, beautiful photos. We share a love for Paris, even if it is, for all of us all over the various social media, our own particular and discrete Parises, even if mine was also a tourist’s Paris, the luxury of a resident indulging that cloying catalog life, which my Parisian friends of better breeding and deeper roots could look askance at.

In his own memoirs, Marcello Mastroianni recalls the immense privilege of having been, for much of his life, a luxury tourist, whose stardom meant he was offered indulgences such as the ability to sleep in a historical museum, or in Napoleon’s bed. Those of us able to visit, let alone use, the makers and brands profiled in The Parisian Gentleman are latter-day luxury tourists, given the exclusivity and near-incomprehensible pricing of many of the featured brands.  Nonetheless, this is the first collection in English, to my knowledge, of some of the best custom makers in Paris, and certainly the first with visual accompaniments as gorgeous as those of Andy Julia’s photos. Jacomet’s texts, on tailors like Camps de Luca and Cifonelli and the growing luxury brand Berluti, are glowing, and include some facts not previously available to the English-speaking reader. His chapter on French custom bootmakers is a true pleasure, focusing as it does on the different offers of multinational brands like the aforementioned Berluti and John Lobb Paris, and of smaller artisans like the true original Dimitri Gomez, whom I know personally and have used several times.  

Despite my own impression of our perceived differences, The Parisian Gentleman wonderfully showcases an exotic world of beautiful French custom menswear which might otherwise be completely unknown to many men, both outside France and in it, given France’s longstanding menswear inferiority complex towards the Italians and the British. Possible shortcomings, such as his shirtmaking section’s very limited coverage (and inclusion of at least one very mediocre maker), or certain omissions in the relentlessly positive discussions of certain brands, are almost beside the point. This can serve as a work of discovery for a country nearly undiscovered to the custom menswear enthusiast, the occasional The Rake piece aside.

In these days, accidents of fate and the conspiracies of the irredeemable have acted to remind us that we should look for and recognize acknowledgments of beauty where they are, especially in times when our struggle is against the parochial and divisive, in a world where nearly everything is getting uglier. Let’s remember that the French Republic was founded not just on the ideals of liberty and equality, but that of fraternity. Today we are all Parisian Gentlemen.

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