Simonnot-Godard handkerchiefs

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Monday, May 23rd 2016
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benjamin simonnot and simon crompton

Simonnot-Godard is an interesting company. It dominates what is a (very) niche market of high-end woven cotton and linen handkerchiefs.

That market that has grown substantially in recent years. When Benjamin Simonnot (pictured above) started travelling with his grandfather's suitcase in 1999, selling to the world, the company had 70 accounts. Today it has just over 300.

But you can't help fearing this is rather fashion-driven. A lot more guys wear handkerchiefs now than 17 years ago. How many will in another 17?

hand embroidered handkerchief Simonnot-Godard handkerchiefs

There is some competition in the world of handkerchiefs, but mostly at a lower quality level. The ones stocked by most of the big brands - even if more expensive than Simonnot-Godard - are rarely as fine.

There are a few other good producers around Europe. Spence Bryson in Ireland does heavier linens; Carlo Riva and other shirting producers in Italy; there are two or three in Switzerland; and then many that print onto handkerchiefs.

But Simonnot-Godard's biggest challenge in recent years has been cheaper producers. Many won't differentiate between two white-linen hanks, after all.

And some have followed fashions established by S-G like white hanks with coloured edges - but digitally printed the colours instead.

_E3B2734 copySimonnot-Godard hankie

In response, Benjamin is focusing more on complicated woven designs - usually where lines of satin cotton are woven in different lines along the edges (above).

These satin patterns were one of the things Simonnot-Godard used to be known for, as well as its multi-coloured designs.

I spent a good time looking through all the old books during a recent trip to Benjamin's home in Brussels (although the production is all in France, Benjamin and his family moved the HQ to Brussels years ago, partly for its schooling.)

Simonnot-Godard archive designs Simonnot-Godard arvhice Simonnot-Godard lace

Simonnot-Godard used to do all sorts of linen weaving - table cloths, sheets, napkins. It also did shirtings until recently. 

Perhaps more interestingly, it used to design and weave cloth for the women's couture industry. Many of the archive books (above) are dominated by beautiful watercolour pitches for that work, with Chanel among others.

It is also striking how much colour is in the old handkerchief designs - something Benjamin is focusing on more and more.

It's not always possible to replicate the exact colours, sometimes because the dyes are now illegal and sometimes because the pieces were woven with a single-ply cotton they no longer use. But the results are still pretty lovely.

Benjamin Simonnot

Benjamin is also planning to focus more on limited editions - small runs that won't be repeated. This is likely to be the more colourful designs, rather than the white or blue basics (or still my favourite - the Smoking).

His recent sale of 'fil de bouche' pieces (below) was similar in a way: a collection of archive pieces produced in 1906 with a weaving technique no longer used, as it proved to be very unhealthy for the weavers. The Hanger Project still has some.

It's a similar quality to hanks you see in vintage stores today, which also often have very fine embroidery (although single ply and often a little flimsy by modern standards).

Simonnot-Godard antique handkerchief

It will be interesting to see how Simonnot-Godard evolves over the next few years. Their decision to specialise is pretty much required these days to survive as a European manufacturer. But it does leave you very open to the way that niche market waxes and wanes.

Benjamin Godard

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John

Not to be pedantic, but Spence Bryson are based in Northern Ireland and they are not the only handkerchief company still trading there; have a look at Thomas Ferguson (probably the best table and bed linen weaver in the world) for linen and McCaw Allen for cotton handkerchiefs. While thinking about linen in Northern Ireland, an interesting subject for a post would be William Clark’s as they still make many of the traditional interlining fabrics for Savile Row.

gary

hi great article, a question , years ago in the 80s I bought a fantastic italian linen shirt in the sheerest linen but it seems toaday that this type of linen which was very light has disappeaered , can anyone tell me if it still exists and where to buy it, the linen shirts at the moment are anything but summery , also someone said that the linen I am thinking of is handkerchief linen , is that right?

Eric

It would be great if SG had an e-commerce site. This way the buyer is not beholden to a retailer’s tastes or current inventory.

Christopher

Excellent article. Really something you wouldn’t see on most other sites — as they probably didn’t have ‘access’ as you do, or if so, only because of marketing arrangement and then pepper the article with affiliate links.

That being said Simonnot Godard is fantastic. I feel that their linens are simply stunning, their classic white ones in my opinion simply the best you can buy in the market. Really like the haptic, feel and drape and think they are simply a magnitude “better” than the rest. As a random observation I even like their classic Helvetica-Logo.

Now what they MUST improve on is some parts of the presentation and availability. It simply cannot be that so often their stockists are not stocked. And it’s simply wrong that they don’t invest in nice boxes. Here’s why: Let’s say I buy from Pauw, an upper scale shop in Amsterdam, they have all their suits and shirts and ties presented nicely. Then they have sort of a box, bargain bin style, in which Viola Milano, Drakes, Simonnot Godard, Kiton hanks are stuffed. Mind you, new season, full price. But the presentation makes it look bad. And the selection is random. I have seen this in many shops and it’s really a shame and devalues the brand.

facebook_Jussi Hakkinen.10153564568823316

To Gary:

I recommend checking out Albini’s shirt linens. They’re rather light and sheer. Of course, this makes them a bit more delicate than more common weights, but they’re some of the best summer linens I’ve ran into.

gary

thanks mate , have you got a link to Albini J?

Lane Wesselmann

Simon,
I was drawn to the Simonnot-Godard pocket square you wore with your Richard James coat in the recent feature for The Rake. It’s a fantastic mix of colors but I can’t find anything like it. Would you share with us which square this is?

Nicolas Stromback

Simon, any ideas of where they are stocked in Europe these days? We have a few shops here in Stockholm that keep them, but very limited offering.

James

They offer a range of squares on their own website (“Essentials”, “Heritage” and “Cashmere”). I’ve pasted the link into my name on this comment. Simon, if you prefer this wasn’t done, please just delete the link. Google will find it easily enough.

At the beginning of the pandemic they also offered customers access to their archive stock which had previously been exclusive to retail partners – not sure if this is still available. They were very helpful by email when I last ordered.

Not that I’ve had much of an excuse to wear a pocket square since the beginning of 2020….

Nicolas Stromback

Many thanks!