Cut from the right cloth
Swann Custom Shirts, a Shirtmaker Built For Today
By Aleks Cvetkovic
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Swann & Oscar, a small but perfectly formed shirtmaker nestled around the corner from the Place de la Madeleine, couldn’t be any more Parisian if it tried. “The name is inspired by Proust’s character of the same name – who lives through disappearing world of elegance” explains co-founder, Thibault de Drouas, leaning against the tall glass display cabinet in the centre of his shop.

This cabinet anchors a space that’s clean and contemporary, with bright white walls and swatch books stowed discreetly behind sliding doors. It’s a far cry from the traditional image of a men’s shirtmaker; a vaulted chamber lined in mahogany with a little old man in pince nez shuffling about within. And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, that’s the point.

“When we founded Swann & Oscar, the intention was to bring a modern approach to a traditional craft. We’re a custom shirtmaker, but we’re deliberately not a traditional bespoke house. We’re modern, competitive and convenient.”
— Thibault de Drouas

If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say this forward-thinking approach most likely stems from de Drouas’s former life, and that of his business partner, Vincent Colin. De Drouas began his working life in finance, and Colin was an HR consultant. They jumped from their respective corporate worlds after they met in Paris, and bonded over a love of clothes. The pair founded Swann as an online custom shirt brand in 2009, and their bricks-and-mortar store opened two years later.

“We both have memories of our fathers and grandfathers from childhood. Their clothes always left me with a strong impression. My father would always wear a suit and tie, and I used to really admire him,” says de Drouas. “We weren’t enjoying our jobs, and we both wanted to run our own business, so it made sense to work together. Plus, I’d been using custom shirtmakers abroad, but couldn’t find a modern shirtmaker in Paris – so starting with shirts was a natural decision too.”

A contemporary approach to shirtmaking is Swann’s most obvious strength. Unlike a conventional bespoke shirtmaker, with a pattern-cutter in-house, de Drouas  and Colin measure-up clients in store, work with them to customise the fit and finish of their shirt, and then enter each order into a digital system that passes said order straight to one of two shirtmaking workshops; the first in rural France, and the second in Northern Italy. Each of these workshops has a slightly different speciality, which allows Swann to offer clients elevated made-to-measure shirts with almost any kind of finish they want. It’s a quick and easy system, and it feels fundamentally fresher than a sales assistant with a tape-measure and pad of paper.

“By the time a customer has left the shop, his order is with our suppliers to be cut and sewn, so we’re very efficient,” says de Drouas. “We also offer a pretty extensive customisation programme. I’m not even sure how many collars we offer now – easily more than 30 – and all of them can be cut in different sizes. We can make our collars with almost any kind of construction too; from very firm fused collars to completely unlined or loose-lined designs. We’ll do anything a client wants.”

This flexibility is refreshing, particularly when so shirtmakers like to insist on a firm house style, but to say that Swann & Oscar lacks a signature look would be a misconception. “We try to propose a vision of casual elegance to our clients – we’re not all about suits and classic shirts, we encourage our guys to try casual shirts and separates – clothes that work in a modern context,” says de Drouas. “At the moment, most of our collar and cuff options are inspired by the ‘60s and ‘70s, with generous proportions and a soft roll.”

This shows in the house’s most popular collar style, which is a pointed spread collar that sits close to the neck. “Our most popular collar used to be a cutaway design, but we’re finding guys are moving towards sharper, deeper collars at the moment,” says de Drouas. “Guys are getting comfortable with the idea that they can look elegant without over-dressing.”

This perspective on metropolitan menswear is intriguing. Dressing a guy so he looks sharp but not too sharp is no mean feat, but Swann does just that. Its made-to-measure tailoring service, which was introduced two years ago, reinforces this impression. Clients can choose from either a made-in-Asia service that offers excellent value for money, or a softly tailored jacket in a Northern Italian style, which feels unashamedly chic. The house’s relaxed philosophy is also discernable in Swann’s use of Thomas Mason fabrics. “We love Victoria Denim,” says de Drouas. “We use it in various different qualities for casual and semi-formal shirts, and we find that it lends itself to a very useful, smart-casual shirt. We use a lot of Thomas Mason’s brushed cottons in winter too – they’re very popular with clients.

“I think Paris is getting a little bit smarter,” he says, rounding off our conversation as a client walks through the door. “Men are starting to get less comfortable with the idea of going to a wedding, or for dinner at a very smart restaurant without making an effort, but they don’t want to look too look stuffy. That’s where we come in.”

 

To learn more about Swann & Oscar, or to book an appointment, visit swannetoscar.co.uk

(Photography by Tom Griffiths)

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