Charvet bow ties

The cost of variety is rarely appreciated by consumers. Among all the things that make up the price of a piece of clothing – materials, labour, rent, tax, marketing, R&D – the waste implicit in a broad range is hardly ever considered.

This was brought home to me particularly strongly last week, when I was in Paris talking to Jean-Claude Colban of Charvet. It offers six different shades of grey, knitted-silk tie. Six! Some were familiar, others unique. But implicit in the cost of all of them was the variety available – you pay for the ones you turn down, effectively, as well as the ones you buy. It’s hard to think of anywhere that offers such a range, particularly in a bricks-and-mortar shop where you can see the shades first hand.

Gallo is another good example, but on design rather than colour. Every season the Italian sock company produces 200 new designs, which it offers to its various stockists around the world. Not all of those will be manufactured, but there is a development cost in each one, and the ones that are made will necessitate hundreds of small runs, as each is made in the requisite sizes. Gallo socks cost around €38 each; Mazarin starts at €20. Part of that extra cost is design time, wasted prototypes and lost economies of scale.

Of course, you may decide that’s not what you want to pay for. But without shops such as Charvet we wouldn’t have the luxury of choice, or quite the ability to express ourselves.

Photo: Luke Carby