It is rare these days that I cover someone for the first time who is genuinely a step above their peers. Yet such is the case with Lavabre Cadet.
I had known of the French glove maker for several years, but never met and talked to them in person. And it was only when I did that I appreciated everything that goes into making their product.
Lavabre Cadet was founded in Millau, France in 1946 by Francis Lavabre and his wife (the ‘cadet’ is a French nickname used for the youngest in the family). Lavabre used to run another atelier, and he and his wife made a good team – she was a pattern maker and designer, he a maker and manager.
From the start, Lavabre Cadet focused on bespoke and haute couture. This is unusual among glove makers, most of which have always made big runs and often had army or other large-scale contracts.
Lavabre made for Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent (man and brand) and is still popular with designers today given its local, small-scale production. It has also always prided itself on the design or couture aspect of the work: “If we can’t make it, no one can” is a phrase often used.*
So, what sets Lavabre Cadet apart? It’s partly materials and partly workmanship – with the latter a lot easier to illustrate.
Any glove that is handsewn has the stitching clearly on display. The more stitches there are, the finer the work is. I compared the turned-back bottom edge of my Merola and Thomas Riemer gloves to those of Lavabre (above) and found the French maker had around 40% more.
Like most high-end glove makers, Lavabre doesn’t use any glue in the lining of its gloves. So the silk or cashmere lining is made as a completely separate glove, and stitched in on the tops of the fingers and under the turned bottom edge. If you pull at such a lining, you can see whether the stitches move (showing they are holding the lining) or not (showing it is glued).
As with most things we discuss here on Permanent Style, from suits to hats, using less glue and more stitching allows the piece to be more easily repaired.
Other craftsmanship points are:
- Each glove is made of a two-piece paper pattern, rather than three. The front and back are joined along one edge (below the little finger), meaning there is one less seam. An extra piece is required in both cases for the thumb.
- The cut edges around the fingers (when stitched on the outside, rather than the inside) are noticeably finer. You can see that on the grey pair shown here, and for me it’s a great mid-point between inside stitching (which can look effeminate) and normal outside stitching (which can look a little rugged).
- A lot of time is spent in the workshop stretching the leather before cutting it. This means that fingers, for example, actually shrink a bit during wear, settling at the point where your fingers end. And, on the flip side, they don’t stretch out of shape over time.
- Not exactly craftsmanship, but Lavabre Cadet do quarter sizes. Which is useful, as it turns out I’m an 8 1/4.
The second area of quality is materials. This is less of a discrete comparison, more an continuous one.
So Gaziano & Girling uses better upper leathers than Cheaney, who in turn uses better ones than Barker. But you can’t put a figure on it, you can’t (initially) point to the difference. To an extent, it’s a hidden benefit that only reveals itself over years of wear and polish.
With gloves, the quality of materials also varies year-by-year (deerskin is harder to come by at the moment), is subject to long-term trends (supply is being squeezed as luxury brands buy up tanneries) and can vary with silly things like colour. My cork-coloured peccary from Merola is not as soft as my brown-coloured peccary, for example.
But even with all these caveats, Lavabre Cadet is at the top of the tree. I have never felt peccary as soft as malleable as the grey models shown here. The same with the suede calfskin. And the house has always been known for its kidskin, which is very rare (though still offered by A Suitable Wardrobe – I have the brown suede).
As with shoes, this quality of materials and craftsmanship shows itself over time.
Friends such as Jean-Baptiste Rosseeuw, who now works for Lavabre, and Guillaume Clerc of Maison Bourgeat, both showed me their well-worn gloves the last time I saw them in Paris – and frankly I almost ran away with them they were so lovely.
I am ordering my own bespoke pair (measuring shown above) to try and prevent similar kleptomania.
Lavabre Cadet has had several ups and downs in recent years. It was owned by Marie Beyer for a while, with the brand changed to her name and the product pushed towards womenswear. In 2012 it was bought by the current owners, leather company Camille Fournet, which should provide a good home.
They are effectively just starting in a new direction, with bespoke and MTO available on request (you can email Jean-Baptiste at firstname.lastname@example.org) and starting to talk to potential retailers for RTW.
Fortunately the workshop has remained unchanged throughout these decades of change. I dearly hope that whatever happens to Lavabre Cadet in the future, these artisans continue making their superlative gloves.
Prices: Made-to-order from €225, with lambskin €300 and peccary €800. Bespoke from €530 (often requires a fitting). RTW not currently offered.
*There’s an interesting side point here about the difference between ‘bespoke’ and ‘haute couture’.
Bespoke is about making something specific to the individual, to their fit, lifestyle and specifications. Haute couture, on the other hand, is primarily about design – about starting with a blank sheet of paper and letting the imagination run free.
This is how Lavabre Cadet and others that make at this level differentiate between the terms. But of course with most menswear there is no difference, simply because men don’t want to create something fantastically original. They want subtle, sophisticated style, and ‘bespoke’ is enough to capture that and the occasional dalliance into bright cloths or unusual lapels.
As an illustration, Lavabre’s bespoke service allows you to pick anything about your glove – the fit, the length, the material, the stitching, the lining, the construction, anything. But when an Middle Eastern prince comes and says he wants a lavish falconry glove, the haute couture service can allow him to run wild: