What to do when an iconic “thing” arrives on your doorstep? A something held in awe and wonder, so special and revered it exists almost entirely in the imagination. Is this is a curse or the ultimate fulfilment? Can we cope with that level of fulfilment outside a church or bedroom?
Some years ago I was at lunch somewhere sunny, and eating al fresco with my old friend N; the women with whom we were eating were engaged, in one of those half whispered women’s conversations, on the subject of Bernard-Henri Levi. They were in lust with him, like many other women of a certain age; it was apparent it was not his brain which was their first interest. I wondered if it was his trade mark pristine, dazzling, white shirt, with too many undone buttons for an intellectual. But not for long. All too soon the women discussed the shirt. Is this how French intellectuals dress? It appears one does. Could such a shirt enhance my eligibility and distant magnetism, perhaps? But the shirt is always beautiful, pure and almost holy. The shirt from Charvet, available from only one place, the Charvet shop in Paris.
N told me that some years earlier he had wanted one of those shirts, and set off on pilgrimage to Paris, but had lacked the requisite courage to enter the Charvet shop in Place Vendome. The smart assistants strutted with an air which demanded only the custom of the Duc d’Orleans and his elite ilk. Nigel and I decided a trip to Place Vendome should be arranged. But life intervened.
Then last week I reached a milestone birthday. I partied with friends for two days, with a smattering of work thrown in. On the third I arrived in my office to find a large white bag on my desk, delivered late the previous afternoon, after my premature departure. It was the most perfect, almost angelic, carrier bag I have ever seen. Inside was an even more pristine sparkling white bag of thick paper vellum, almost as big and standing stiff and upright with two thick black ribbons providing the handle. I lifted it out with the respect it obviously required. It was from Mr Porter.com. What could it contain? A box of thick creamy card, also proudly claiming the same origin.
Imagine my surprise when I eased the heavy box open and a hiss of airlessness escaped to reveal mounds of snowy soft tissue carefully caressing that shirt. The mythical shirt. The shirt that is an icon: the Charvet shirt. I stared at the label for a full ten minutes, stroking the material. Admiring the provenance of the aristocratic 28 Place Vendome, and the perfect, understated double cuff. N has marked my passage of time and saved me the trip to Paris. What a generous gift. But how to wear it, and where to, and with whom? Can it be worn, or would it scorch like the tunic of Hercules? Should it be worn; soiling it with sweat and risking food spillage? What laundry could ever return it to its packed , crisp, soft, brilliant beauty. The mythic is made real; it lies still in its box like a first edition never to be opened and read.
It will be worn, it will not yellow and fade. We didn’t have the pleasure of the trip to Paris, but Mr Porter brought it to me. Who said internet shopping was disappointing?