Cherchez le man: the new wave of French menswear

A clutch of independent Paris labels are bringing classic French cool back to menswear. Aleks Cvetkovic reports

Husbands twill jacket, €950
Husbands twill jacket, €950

On a quiet street in Paris’s 2nd arrondissement, Nicolas Gabard is working to execute a quiet revolution. Through his tailoring house Husbands, the former ad-man makes svelte suits that feel markedly different to those cut by Paris’s traditional tailors. “I’m trying to show Parisian men that they can look sexy in suits – like well-dressed men in the ’70s. Old photographs of Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Dutronc and Mick Jagger are the starting point for what we do.”

French actor Henri Serre in 1962
French actor Henri Serre in 1962

Gabard’s suits bring together different cultural influences: he uses hefty British fabrics like Fresco and woollen flannel, before handmaking all his tailoring in an atelier in Naples. Jackets are fully canvassed, as in bespoke tailoring, but softer to wear than you’d expect. It’s a winning formula – Mr Porter picked up the brand’s ready-to-wear last year. “Nicolas typifies French style, but makes something that feels very relevant to international customers,” says Mr Porter global buying director Fiona Firth. “Independent French brands bring a different perspective to the market at a time when customers are starting to shop for a more considered product.”

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Husbands is one of a number of independent brands carving a niche in Paris. They share a common objective: “To prove that French style can be for men who are more interested in craftsmanship than catwalks,” says Gabard. He credits a group of like-minded brands elsewhere in the capital as sharing the same interests. He adds: “I admire Le Vif and Holiday Boileau – they’re onto something. All the brands at Boileau are cool.” 

Holiday Boileau wool jumper, €285
Holiday Boileau wool jumper, €285

Rue Boileau is a 20-minute cab ride southwest of the Husbands store, near Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement. The street and its surrounding area are a world apart from the swell and grandeur of Rue Saint-Honoré or Place Vendôme. Yet it’s a hub for a handful of outfitters that share Husbands’ goal.

Holiday Boileau wool suit, €950
Holiday Boileau wool suit, €950

The first pit-stop on any visit to Boileau should be a small boutique called Beige Habilleur. Founded in 2015, the store has gained international recognition for its breadth of independent brands, from Doek sneakers from Japan to Inis Meáin knits from Ireland. Beige Habilleur’s two founders, Basile Khadiry and Jean-Baptiste Ménétrier, obsess over menswear items, eschewing more well-known brands in favour of small-scale and traditional artisans. “Quality is the first thing we look for in any brand – it has to be made to last,” says Khadiry. “Then we think about a brand’s designs in the context of today. We aren’t interested in some sort of historic or replica costume – all our pieces have to be contemporary.”

Husbands tweed jacket, €950
Husbands tweed jacket, €950

Beige Habilleur’s Spanish Teba jackets demonstrate Khadiry’s point. A Teba jacket is a distinctive hybrid: half‑blazer, half-overshirt, cut with lapels and flap pockets that give it a tailored feel. Khadiry and Ménétrier have developed their own designs with Justo Gimeno, the Teba’s original manufacturer in Madrid, shortening the jacket’s length and using modern fabrics. 

The Holiday Boileau store, Paris
The Holiday Boileau store, Paris

To Khadiry, the success of Beige Habilleur owes as much to his own hard graft as it does to the presence of other independent brands like Husbands. “We’ve evolved into a community that supports each other,” he says. “I think we’re striking the right balance between classic menswear and fashion. After years of streetwear being the dominant look in Paris, our customers are exploring a more mature look, informed by French Ivy League style and tailoring.”

Holiday Boileau cotton-mix jacket, €650
Holiday Boileau cotton-mix jacket, €650

Khadiry and Gabard credit Franck Durand, founder of creative agency Atelier Franck Durand, as the “visionary” behind this new men’s style hub. In 2014, he relaunched Holiday magazine, which has now grown into a “three-dimensional lifestyle brand”: part magazine, part café and part clothing collection. Holiday Boileau, the brand’s clothing collection, has a standalone store off Rue Boileau that opened last year. “Creating the clothing line was an organic process,” says Durand. “I met Gauthier Borsarello – who designs the collection – when he visited the café, and he felt like the natural choice to bring a collection to life.”

Serge Gainsbourg in 1964
Serge Gainsbourg in 1964

Thanks to Borsarello’s meticulous eye, Holiday Boileau has become synonymous with contemporary French Ivy style. His collections are preppy, tailored, and make an altogether different statement to the streetwear brands that have infiltrated the industry over the past few seasons. His best-known design is the Holiday Boileau-branded jersey sweatshirt, but his unstructured corduroy sports jackets, slim white jeans and Oxford button-down shirts all follow the same clean aesthetic. “The goal with Holiday is to define a global French lifestyle,” says Borsarello. “I’m obsessed with French Ivy; the mix of British, American and European influences in menswear that peaked between the 1960s and the ’80s. I like things elegant and perfectly done, without being ostentatious.”

Husbands flannel jacket, €950, and twill trousers, €450
Husbands flannel jacket, €950, and twill trousers, €450

A vintage collector, curator and freelance creative, Borsarello is one of the busiest people in menswear. He also runs a vintage business on Rue Boileau called Le Vif that sells rare and one-off finds, from Savile Row tailoring to midcentury American denim and military-surplus outerwear sourced from overseas. 

An embroidered motif produced by Super Stitch for Beige Habilleur’s Basile Khadir
An embroidered motif produced by Super Stitch for Beige Habilleur’s Basile Khadir

As well as his collections for Holiday Boileau, Borsarello designs for Kidur, a revived French brand that specialises in workwear. It was founded as a clothing factory in 1927, but was woken from dormancy last year. It now retails authentic reproductions of archive pieces online, as recreated by Borsarello, and makes its products in the original factory.

Super Stitch owner Arthur Leclercq
Super Stitch owner Arthur Leclercq

And lastly, there’s Super Stitch. More of a workshop than a store, this denim atelier sits in a basement underneath Holiday Boileau and is home to bespoke jeans maker Arthur Leclercq. Leclercq specialises in customising and repairing vintage jeans from the 1940s through to the ’70s, using one of his 12 period-correct machines. Take a look at Super Stitch’s Instagram feed, filled with patched-up jeans and rare vintage pairs brought back to life, and the precision of his work becomes clear. “I guess I just have an interesting take on denim,” says Leclercq. “I hope people can tell I’m much more interested in making the best jeans I possibly can than I am about making money.” 

Kidur flannel shirt, €130
Kidur flannel shirt, €130

Whether tailoring, French Ivy style, vintage denim or heritage-inspired workwear, it is clear that this new community of independents has unique appeal. “While streetwear certainly isn’t going anywhere, at Mr Porter we’ve seen a shift away from logo-heavy designs towards more refined brands in recent seasons,” says Firth. “Brands like Husbands and Holiday Boileau take a relatively simple outfit and make it stylish through the cut of the garments, the colour palette, the fabrication, as well as their overall aesthetic.” 

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With their clear perspective on menswear, these young Paris brands and stores are content to let their viewpoint do the talking. “I’m not interested in being fashionable,” says Gabard. “I’m interested in good clothes.” 

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