This one is different because it’s kid. An obsessive tale of my own Rosebud, not a child’s sled or (IRL spoiler alert) Marion Davies’, uh, sacred ladybutton, but cashmere-lined sized hand-stitched gloves in the finest, most meltingly soft kid leather.
There are certain things Hermès was justifiably renowned for. I used to work with a French count. He didn’t use his title, but he liked to wear purple socks from papal tailor Gammarelli and red socks which he once admitted to buying from Hermès. I can’t imagine what value Hermès adds to sockmaking, but in gloves, as in other leathergoods, it had – has – few equals, both in quality of materials and quality of workmanship.
It was twenty years ago and my first visit to the Hermès flagship that led me to what, before loss, was a Platonic ideal not of gloves but of luxury itself: simply black leather gloves from an endless selection, perfectly sized to fit my hand, silkily soft and lined in dense cashmere. With the coyness that accompanies the fait accompli of an inner decision to purchase I asked, but will they last? “Of course,” came the answer, “c’est du chevreau.” They’re kid. I did not know then how rare it was to have each of these different elements realized to perfection… until years later an evening in New York swallowed them up and they went, presumably, to that limbo where even our most materialistic dreams and illusions retire. Or the glove compartment of some cabbie.
As with other possessions I’ve fetishized about in this space, my gloves represented more than just the physical sum of their parts – and in fact were the first item to lead me down the seductive path of my search for the meaning of beautiful things. My search to replace them (with, finally, the gloves pictured above from Lavabre-Cadet via Aubercy) brought home the following ideas, relevant to nice gloves and perhaps more broadly to nice clothing as well.
The myth of fungibility. There’s a popular idea on the internet, and likely in real life, that whatever some specialist maker or brand charges a lot of money for can be made far more cheaply by someone else. This presumes that the same materials are available to just about anyone, and that the same level of workmanship can be found in easily discoverable cheaper makers. In point of fact, though, that’s not always the case. Most makers don’t use kid, instead using lambskin or nappa calf, which are soft but not as luxuriously soft as good kid. This was the case with Causse, Dent’s, and a host of others. I had resolved to find sized gloves hand-stitched in kid leather of the same quality as those I had lost, lined in cashmere. As such, the gloves I sought differed from those created by the excellent Merola of Rome, which makes the elegant gloves in the ASW store as well as a faaabulous silk-lined pair in mauve nappa leather that I bought from Marc Guyot in Paris. The genial Alberto Merola regretfully informed me that his company preferred not to work in kid. However, as I also learned, nor is all kidskin equal. Sermoneta of Rome sold me kidskin gloves whose leather was almost as mediocre as their stitching. Madova of Florence was much better and excellent value, but not quite as fine as my lost French original. And I learned that the French don’t all carry good kidskin when I saw the crumply kid numbers from Maison Fabre and forgettable machine-stitched versions at Gants Muriel, one of two historic glove shops in Paris (the other being Hélion, which didn’t carry kid gloves for men). Unlike suiting fabrics, which have a number of top suppliers happy to furnish any good tailor with their wares, the quality of leather I sought was not readily available.
Size matters, but bespoke doesn’t. I tried a few of the custom glovers offering to make gloves to one’s specifications and measurements (often accompanied by a hand tracing) and found that – as can be the case in other bespoke clothing there’s far more that can go wrong in fitting than with a properly sized stock garment. Chester Jefferies in England were wonderfully flexible, reasonable and easy to deal with but made me two pairs of capeskin gloves from the same measurements that varied wildly in fit. (They made an excellent pair to order in my stock size in carpincho and Persian lamb that will be the subject of another piece.) The worst experience of my quest, however, came at the ersatz French custom shirtmakers Liste Rouge, which has been trying to expand into other custom clothing and took a series of measurements for an obnoxious price after promising they could make me gloves in kid and delivered a pair in passably soft leather with one extremely long thumb. They remade the pair but it never quite felt right. Instead, unless you have extremely strangely proportioned hands, it’s best to get gloves that are made to your size, rather than your specific measurements. To get this size, which should be in wholes and halves like a shoe size (without the width), measure around the widest part of your hand (more or less the area of the knuckles below the fingers) in inches. That’s your glove size. Subtract half an inch for a very snug fit. In this case, a stock size has the advantage of being proportioned for a hand with that measurement, rather than requiring a pattern to be mocked up based on a lot of precise measurements with lots that can go wrong. This is sometimes a good reason to get ready-to-wear shoes rather than bespoke, by the way.
You can’t go home again. In moments of weakness I braved the crowds on Madison Avenue and Faubourg St-Honoré only to discover that Hermès no longer sold kidskin gloves. On one visit they told me that they “weren’t doing kid this season.” I didn’t realize that glove leather changed from fashion season to season, or that Hermès viewed gloves as a fashion accessory. True to its heritage, Hermès maintains its own glovemaking facility in Saint-Junien, one of the French towns historically famous for glovemaking (the others are Millau and Niort, towns also historically associated with perfumemaking, no accident). While Hermès’ glovers do sell a limited amount of production directly to the public, they informed me that they, too, were unable to make me a pair in kid. Most of the other French glovemakers associated with that area, who include Agnelle, Georges Morand and Maison Fabre, are embattled by far cheaper products from other countries, from Italy to Vietnam and China. It’s rumored some have moved production elsewhere while maintaining a historic French name. Which is why I was surprised after years of searching to discover Mary Beyer’s glovemaking firm Lavabre Cadet, still proudly made in France and offering a rainbow of colors in the finest French kidskin as well as in a variety of other fanciful leathers, including alligator. At the time, Lavabre-Cadet sold made to order through a few places in Paris, including the French shoe shop Aubercy, which also sells custom leathergoods. I used Aubercy as, unlike many French Internet Gentlemen, I got along with the formidable Madame Aubercy and could use the excuse to visit the nostalgic chocolatiers Debauve et Gallais (by appointment to the Bourbons) across the street. Now Lavabre-Cadet has its own shop in the Palais-Royal. While the gloves were custom-ordered and could, I suppose, have been made to measure, they took a tracing of my hand and made them to the corresponding stock size, which was fine with me. The result was marvelous, the gloves as unbelievably, luxuriantly soft as those I had lost, the handstitching neat and close. A paradise regained? Perhaps, in whisky, black and twice over in buff. Were I to quibble, I suppose the cashmere lining, while excellent, is not quite as dense as I remember it being on my lost Hermès. But then again, if we could revisit the idealized lost, we would no longer have paradises to visit. And you certainly cannot buy your way back, which is one reason I didn’t immediately go to Hermès after losing my first pair. Then again, this brings me to the last, not least, realization.
You can never rule out loss. For something about which it’s possible to feel so deeply, gloves are so easily lost, making the ending of the song I misquote in my title so apt:
Hand in glove I stake my claim, I’ll fight to the last breath… For the good life is out there somewhere, so stay on my arm you little charmer. But I know my love too well… and I’ll probably never see you again.