I went to TK Maxx (TJ Maxx in the US, go figure!) earlier today; I was looking for more cashmere to satisfy my new-found obsession with goat hair. I came across a strange garment: a kind of knitted tabard, i.e. a sleeveless, collarless, rather charmless nothing piece of clothing. It was originally on sale at French Connection for £50. TK Maxx was selling it for £16.99. And even at that price it was too expensive.
I was brought up in the rag trade district in Paris, aka the Marais – pre-art galleries and bijou boutiques. My father was a confectionneur de vêtements imperméables (he made raincoats) and we never bought any garments in shops: we bought everything at wholesale prices. It was great but it also meant that I never had any interest in clothes. They were things that my parents’ friends and acquaintances provided, and choice was limited to what those people could offer.
But those people, who had workshops in the area, also supplied famous labels. I’ve always known that even prestigious prêt-à-porter garments are made in less than prestigious surroundings. In the ‘70s, I lived just outside the Marais, in a quiet back street, next door to the workshops where Louis Vuitton bags and accessories were being made: every night, dustbins full of scraps of that horrible plastic LV-stamped material would be put on the pavement outside. I smile when I see people queuing to be admitted into the Louis Vuitton boutique in Selfridges and see the prices those bags are sold for.
In 1962, my parents opened a shop in Nice and started selling not only raincoats, which my father no longer made, but leather and suede garments, and I learned to recognize quality. I know what good leather should look and feel like. And, more to the point, what it’s worth.
Today, in TK Maxx, faced with that ridiculous piece of knitwear, I wanted to slap retailers who charge outrageous mark-ups so here goes: slap!
PS. I bought a lovely purple sweater (not cashmere), from some American label: it’s beautifully cut and finished. The original price was ludicrous: £146. It was reduced to £12.99 and probably worth around £30. A real bargain.