An invitation to Brussels from my friend the vampire Hugo ‘Parisian Gentleman’ Jacomet to attend a dinner in honour of Aston Martin and John Lobb Ltd collaborating on the design of the definitive car shoe. Hugo is the pre-eminent online writer about male sartorial elegance in France. He was kind enough to organise the Paris launch of Savile Row at Old England and has played another blinder by organising a reception for the new book The Perfect Gentleman at Ralph Lauren’s Left Bank flagship store in November.
I always enjoy Hugo’s company. He is one of the few men in this world who has glamour. Anyway, we rocked-up in Brussels on the Eurostar on Monday with an appointment to see Pierre Degand – Brussels’ No 1 independent men’s tailor and shirt maker – on the Rue Sophie. The London to Brussels Eurostar 1st class carriage was littered with British representatives to the European Parliament.
The MEP men wore suits cut with a knife and fork and none of the ladies wore make up. Curiouser and curiouser, they behaved like prefects on the Hogwarts Express reporting to Dolores Umbrage and contemplating a term time of bossing the rest of us around with arrogance and high spirited malevolence. I don’t much like the European Parliament Rowley, do you? I made a mental note to be terribly careful about dinner table conversation touching on Britain’s relationship with our Continental cousins though I suspect they view us like haemophiliacs faced with Dracula at midnight.
Monsieur Jacomet and I made our rendez-vous at Sam’s Cafe near the station. I felt like greeting him with ‘the microfilm is in a locked box in the gulag’ but settled for an embrace. We sped off to Rue Louise and our appointment at the Maison Degand. Pierre Degand is a maverick. In the early 80s, his mother spotted a derelict Belle Epoque mansion on Rue Louise and Pierre resolved to buy it at auction. He had zero money but his mentor encouraged him to bid first and find the money later.
This Monsieur Degand did and he now has one of the most handsome tailor/shirt makers in Brussels if not the world. Though he is Europe’s biggest seller of Brioni and Kiton, to call the Maison Degand a tailor is the understatement of the century. The townhouse would do the Empress Eugenie proud and is curated – that’s the word – with an edit of international men’s collections of exquisite taste with a perfumer, a hatter, a gentlemen’s games room, a humidor, a glass balconied conservatory and a separate shoe shop in the townhouse beyond the courtyard behind the Maison.
Degand also has a bespoke tailoring atelier in the attic floors. His secret weapon is wife Mimi with whom I fell instantly in love. She is a formidable lady born in the Belgian Congo: a territory colonised by King Leopold II in the late 19th century. I was quite simply enchanted by 19th century inlaid necessaires that Pierre had restored as watch/cufflink/escritoire travelling chests. The dress jewellery floor in the basement had the most remarkable collection of bar cuff links made with emerald, malachite, rose quartz, turquoise and lapis.
The Aston Martin/John Lobb launch was hosted by Brussels’ only Michelin two star restaurant in the forests beyond Rue Louise called Chalet de la Foret. We had cocktails on the lawn flanked by a couple of vintage Astons and lashings of Champagne served by rather cute Muscles from Brussels. We had a table for twenty in the restaurant and let me tell you the conversation was utterly thrilling.
You know I’m such an old monarchist and am always interested in the status of royal households in Europe. Belgium is rather an unique case. When the old king Baudouin died in 1993, the monarchy was reluctantly accepted by the next in line his brother King Albert II who is now in his eighties. King Albert is understandably keen to pass the baton – unlike our own dear queen – but his son Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant, seems not to wish to assume the mantle of state. The Duchess of Brabant, Princess Mathilde, however would very much like to be Queen of the Belgians.
Prince Philippe has a very popular sister Princess Astrid who le tout Belgium would like to succeed. But he also has four children who his Princess is keen should succeed. So it appears we have something of a royal impasse. Add to this a far right candidate for government and one wouldn’t be surprised if Belgium was split like a kipper and reverts to French and Flemish nation states.
Apropos royal scandals, I did enjoy Private Eye’s cover this week of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with the headline ‘Show us your writs, darling’. This refers to the recent publication of topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge taken by a pernicious paparazzi with a very long lens while the royal couple were relaxing on a private visit to Lord Lindley’s French villa.
The Duke and Duchess quite rightly sued the French magazine Closer who published the pictures. They won an injunction but the floodgates have by now already been opened in print and online. Closer is owned by Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s daughter. For the Dionysus of our age to sully our royal family’s reputation smacks of sour grapes. The Italians voted their royal house of Savoy out after World War II. The French beheaded theirs. Poor losers!