Column: The importance of elegant accessories

Grand men's fashion brands differentiate between valuable and merely expensive

Grand men’s fashion brands differentiate between valuable and merely expensive

I was standing on a metro platform when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but I had time to kill so I answered anyway.

“Bonjour Monsieur, it’s J.M. Weston here.”

It took me a moment to remember that J.M. Weston was not an acquaintance, but a footwear brand. In fact, I’d sprung €400 on a pair of its shoes only a few days earlier.

But why were they calling me now?

“Monsieur, we just wanted to know how you are getting on with your shoes. Do they fit you well? Are you comfortable in them?”

Astonished, I spluttered that indeed I was. “Very well,” said the voice. “Do not hesitate to drop in if you need a polish.”

Luxury prices, deluxe after sales service. That was not the last time I bought shoes from Monsieur Weston. I don’t spend a great deal on clothes, but I’m willing to pay for great shoes.

It’s also an image thing. There’s a theory that if you want to know how much a guy is worth, you should look at his watch and his shoes. Today this works even if he’s wearing sneakers.

Footwear is important to the fashion industry. It’s a well known fact that even the snobbiest fashion houses make all their profits from accessories. Guys may not accessorize as creatively as their female counterparts, but you can sell them shoes, watches, fragrance, posh writing instruments and certain items of jewelry.

To judge from my Parisian wife, some female luxury consumers think of accessories as part of the fashion message they wish to send out that season. I suspect guys tend to view accessories as some of the building blocks of their identity, along with the car they drive and the newspaper they read. The problem for luxury retailers is that men buy not for fashion, but for longevity.

This struck me not so long ago when I looked at a catalogue from the Paris auction house Artcurial, on the Champs-Elysées. For a few years now it has run a series of sales called “Une histoire d’homme” (A Man’s Story). Curated by Cyril Pigot, director of vintage and collections at the auction house, it is designed to “depict the masculine arts of living and elegance.”

The result looks like an array of objects owned by a cool uncle – the kind of guy you’d want to be your life mentor, somewhere between James Bond and the world’s most interesting man.

The most recent sale, in March, included a vintage Bell & Ross wristwatch, a Goyard briefcase, a 1980s Spiderman pinball machine, a handful of Mont Blanc pens, a Jean Barthet portrait of Brigitte Bardot, a Dunhill lighter, several Louis Vuitton steamer trunks and a 1962 Mercedes 190 SL. Oh, and cufflinks.

Men who collect such trinkets think of themselves not as fashion victims, but as men of the world, with the good taste required to separate the valuable from the merely expensive. The brands they prize depend on heritage and peer approval. Frédéric Brun, who has written biographies of Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra, imagines a conversation between two of these sophisticates. It ends: “Go to Aubercy and tell them I sent you…”

The suggestion is elitist, knowing and, above all, aloof from the vagaries of fashion. Aubercy has been around since 1935. It makes shoes, obviously.

Mark Tungate is based in Paris. His “Branded Deluxe” column from the capital of fashion and luxury appears regularly in Marketing.

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