I was reading an old multi-volume forum thread about shirts the other day and was reminded that I have seen few better examples of the way information distorts as it travels than this year's online commotion about Simonnot-Godard's chambray. Since I was one of the underlying causes, I thought to relate the tale, particularly the parts occuring since I wrote book one a few years ago.
That story began shortly before I opened the ASW store when I read a forum discussion about the limited availability of what at least one man considered his favorite shirting, that being the S-G chambray, offered by Burgos in Madrid, Anna Matuozzo in Naples and others of the world's best shirt makers. Men who were not in a position to have multiple fittings in Europe were bemoaning their inability to purchase the cloth and, since I was going to carry S-G's handkerchiefs anyway, I asked Benjamin Simonnot about it. Benjamin, whose English is roughly as good as my French (which means we usually think we understand each other and are usually wrong) showed me several swatches that I understood to be chambray and I ordered a couple of bolts.
The cloth arrived, I offered it for sale, and some months later when I met with Benjamin over another order I was informed that it was a voile, rather than a chambray. A very nice voile, but not the chambray of legend. Benjamin mumbled something to the effect that the voile was the replacement for the chambray but after some further back and forth I was sent several bolts of the shirting in the photo, clearly labelled chambray and with a civilized version of the look and feel of that cloth. Now I had two offerings, both very nice, and the gentleman who piqued my interest online ordered half a dozen chambray shirt lengths. All was well with the world for about a week until he received it. Lo and behold, he wrote that it was also not the chambray he was familiar with.
By now I was beginning to wish I had never heard of S-G's shirtings but after yet more conversation with Benjamin he reported that they had made a different chambray some time before and so I ordered some of that third type as well. And when it finally arrived more than a year after the start of this debacle my customer in Philadelphia confirmed that it was indeed the holy grail. That should happily have been the end of the matter but as it happened I saw the customs invoice go by and unfortunately for my state of mind the cloth was described as 80% cotton and 20% polyester.
Polyester has some good qualities, notably resistance to wrinkling, but as regular readers know I am not in favor of petroleum based clothing. The shirting itself seemed fine, being exactly like the cloth Mariano Rubinacci wears most days, so as the buck stops here guy I made an executive decision to sell what I had and then not offer it any longer. When it sold out I was left offering a 100% cotton voile and a 100% cotton chambray, and, ignoring S-G's habit of backordering cloth orders for up to two years at a time, all was well. But only for a while.
The storm occurred this past March when another (there are so many of us) blogger contacted me about buying ten shirt lengths of (not the voile but) chambray in light blue. I did not have light blue in either the original or the new and the customer went elsewhere. After he received his cloth he wrote and told me he got the "new" chambray and I wrote back telling him that was a good thing as the original was part poly. Well this was the match applied to the gasoline as it turned out that what he considered the new was actually the original (are we confused yet?). He began writing that he had discovered that there was poly in the new version of the cloth (which was unfortunately not correct on several levels). Scandal ensued. A third blogger who was also an online reseller of the stuff compounded the confusion by writing that all S-G chambray had poly (that post has now disappeared), and began selling off his chambray inventory.
About a month after this transpired I had an email from a customer who had purchased the all cotton chambray six months prior asking to return it as he said it had been mis-represented as all cotton because he had read online that all S-G chambray had polyester in it. Nothing I wrote would persuade him otherwise. The damage was done.
Despite our internet self-importance of course, Burgos and Matuozzo still sell the original chambray and Mariano Rubinacci continues to wear it, polyester and all. I on the other hand plan to force myself to re-read my Dickens.