Bespoke socks, at Mes Chaussettes Rouges

Friday, May 22nd 2020
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Do most people need bespoke socks? No.

Most people are fine with simple small, medium and large sizing. And when you get into proper sock sizes (10, 10.5, 11) everyone is catered for. 

Do they need specific colours, or materials? Well possibly, but there are hundreds of combinations out there, even in the rarefied world of over-the-calf dress socks. 

The most obvious driver is personalisation - and it is here that a new bespoke service from Mes Chaussettes Rouges (MCR) has found much of its custom so far, with both clubs and individuals liking the idea of having their name knitted into their hosiery.

I’m not going to make an argument for bespoke socks though. 

Rather, in this article I’m just going to applaud MCR for the sheer audacity of buying their own huge sock-knitting machine, sound-proofing a building to accommodate it, and then spending months learning how to use it. Jacques even spent a month living in Italy, to learn first hand.

All for what seems a pretty thin selling proposition. 

MCR is a sock shop in Paris, originally online but now with a healthy physical base in Paris too. 

They offer one of the largest ranges of premium men’s socks, mostly over-the-calf (the only length for elegant dress) and mostly from the producers Mazarin, Bresciani and Gammarelli. 

I’ve known them since they started, 10 years ago, and in that time they have relentlessly pursued niche areas, from super-durable socks to compression socks, riding socks to luxury tennis socks. 

Nonetheless, I was surprised when I learnt they’d bought their own sock knitter. 

I’ve been to sock factories, and the equipment is not small. It takes a surprisingly large machine, partly because the knitting has to be circular, and because various types and colours of threads need to be suspended in a circle above it, ready to be fed in. 

It also has to be very precise. Up to 2km of yarn goes into each sock, and if just one millimetre is wrong, the piece has to be thrown away. Even the best factories usually have a 10-15% wastage rate. 

(Actually, the better the factory the higher the wastage, as cheap socks with thick polyester-mix yarns are much easier to control.) 

Around 240 needles sit in the middle of that machine, and move up and down depending on whether they are needed in a particular circle of stitching. 

As the sock moves from the calf section into the heel, for instance, half of the needles stop knitting, while the rest carry on round in a circle. (You can see them moving between heights above.) They then join in again when the foot begins. 

Each needle has a tiny hook on the end, which catches the yarn, and a little gate that flips up to keep the yarn in place. Below that gate is open and down, so you can see it. It’s virtually invisible otherwise.

Jacques talked me through the process (Jacques Tiberghien - MCR founder alongside Vincent Metzger), using the control panel to show how he could vary the number of stitches in each part of the sock, as well as their tension. 

The tension was interesting. Jacques knitted three different types, from pretty regular to something that was almost as transparent as tights (below).

Apparently the different sock brands do vary slightly in the tension they use, and customers tend to one or the other on that basis. So something else that’s possible with bespoke socks is that they can pick precisely the tension they want. 

You can see how this could appeal to someone with a tendency towards the obsessive. 

They can vary the tension in different parts of the sock, add different widths of ribbing, in different elastics. 

They can pick the length of the foot and of the calf separately - both to the width of a single stitch. They can vary the shape to follow the contours of their calf. And they can pick colours and designs. Plus have their name on the bottom. 

It’s not for me, but then I've never had issues with fit. Jacques estimates that 5-10% of his customers would noticeably benefit from varying lengths, or widths in the calf. Some have very big calves, which can make socks uncomfortable; others have very thin ones, and the socks fall down. 

One customer just makes one change, which is to have a much looser fit on the foot than the calf.

As with some other types of bespoke, it perhaps has most appeal to physical outliers. 

Personally, I’m most impressed that Jacques (above) and Vincent have gone through so much to set this up.

I think it shows how deep they're involved in the industry, rather than just being an efficient online retailer. (Which could be selling anything.)

It was not easy or cheap. They had to move all their stock out of the building next door, and both reinforce the floor and soundproof the ceiling.  

And while only a minority will actually order bespoke, seeing socks being made is something a lot of customers will appreciate. It gives them a greater connection to, and understanding of, the product. 

Mes Chaussettes Rouges bespoke socks cost €40 a pair in cotton, €70 for silk and €100 for cashmere.

There is a minimum order of 8 pairs (in the same structure and pattern) in a maximum of two colours. Then an extra four pairs for every colour added to the order. 

They can be ordered remotely, over the phone or email, though it's a lot nicer in person. 

 Photography: Alex Natt

The Mes Chaussettes Rouges shop opened again last week, in Paris. Here's hoping it's the first of a long, lovely wave of reopenings around Europe.

 

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Nikolai

Huge respect to the guys at MCR, I made an order about a year ago and received my socks in a perfumed sachet with a hand written note, I mean that’s pretty amazing service and would highly recommend shopping at MCR! I also think that socks may be one of the underestimated elements of a man’s wardrobe, but then again it’s not that easy to find decent socks in the UK, whereas France will have Dore Dore and Falke in any decent department store. I really do think London could do with a store a bit like the Armoury that would stock good quality produce from around the world (that being said I do realise that we are probably the envy of most it terms of accessibility of quality menswear).

Anonymous

I’m fairly certain I’ve seen Falke in most department stores in London.

Kenny

Yes – Nikolai’s is comment is utter nonsense. Falke is stocked by Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Selfridge’s, John Lewis (incl Peter Jones) and Fenwick’s (incl Bentall’s) for starters. Personally, I much prefer Pantherella’s socks which are also widely available in many London stores.

Nikolai

To clarify, what I meant was that any Printemps in France will stock a selection of quality socks, whereas the stores you mention are mostly in London and I said the UK (ok apart from John Lewis, which has more regional presence but then again their selection is pretty meagre), which means that the population puts more emphasis on this item of clothing, as it should.

Also, Kenny, if you’re going to call someone’s comment ‘utter nonsense’ at least make the effort not to make grammatical errors ‘Nikolai’s is’ just makes you look a little silly.

Chris W

I agree with you Nikolai. Department stores in the UK might have a couple of decent quality sock brands, but the choice of colour, ribbing, material, length, etc. is pathetic. That is unless you have any use for black cotton calf length dress socks, which i do not.

Kenny

Nikolai, there are Fenwick’s and Bentall’s stores outside London. In addition, there are many menswear stores in cities and large towns throughout the UK where you can buy Falke, Pantherella, Corgi and other quality brands of socks.

My earlier comment was therefore spot on. Your patronising last sentence (I was typing in a hurry as my phone rang) was a classic attempt to deflect from your obvious ignorance of menswear stores in Britain. You come across as an angry and conceited young man who needs to grow up.

Ian A

I’m afraid I find Falke absolute rubbish but then I’ve only used their invisible socks which always slide off my foot inside the loafer. I always use Levi invisible socks as I find even Uniqlo lacking.

Glad Simon didn’t build a massive case for bespoke socks though. It would be nice to access more colours though.

Nick

Just. Brilliant.

Simon, as you say the market will be small – but congratulations to the MCR team for identifying an opportunity & giving it a go. I’m tempted, I must say!

(And, surely, you placed at least one order? For PS review purposes, of course!!)

Daniel

Hi. Absolutely agree with Nikolai. I received a pair of socks from MSC a few days ago. Drawstring bag, beautiful handwritten note and a card telling their story. An exceptional service which will be key for retail in the months ahead.

Daniel

Daniel

Apologies. MCR..

Philipp

Ordering socks from MSR for years now – great product and sevice. Especially I love the Pasotti umbrella from them which was a gift by my wife.

Burt

Socks usually wear through at the same points where friction takes place (toes, heels). Although these parts are reinforced, I’m just wondering if nothing more can be done? E.g. production of a special commuter sock :- ) I’d be interested to hear MCR on this. It’s not a big thing to mend holes in socks, but still, when your commuting involves a lot of walking…

Charles

I’m a customer since 2012 I think, and it’s true that their “super-durable” socks are… “super-durable”. Stunning product. Almost threatening their business. I was buying a good quantity of socks every year, but haven’t this year because my super durable a just doing fine after something like 20 month of intensive wear.

Paul Boileau

Interesting article, thanks. Looking at the equipment, I can guess it’s incredibly finickity with all those fine needles. Have your name on your socks sounds gloriously naff to me. If they can make socks that automatically pair out of the washing machine they’re onto a winner. I am disappointed that there won’t be bespoke PS socks with AC-DC logos 🙁

Fernando

Hi Simon, Viccel does something similar perhaps at a lower level or mtm instead of bespoke. They sometimes refer in their newsletter to the capability they have of accommodating personal requests and odd sizes. I have used this once to order just one pair in a fabric they had but in a design they didn’t offered (plain instead of ribbed) at no extra charge. I know, pretty weird that the service was free and with no minimum order but the company seems to be small and flexible.
I’m not sure how far can the modifications go but at least you can do that and choose between 3 weights of fabric so great value in my opinion.

DE

Nice post Simon. I’ve been buying from MSR for a while now (both online and at their store) and I can’t praise them highly enough. Vincent is a lovely guy and always greets me like a friend when I visit Paris. Their range is exhaustive, quality faultless, packing accurate, delivery efficient and return policy generous. Hopefully I will soon be able to visit Paris again to see and try out the new sock machine!

Ian J. Chu

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about Pantherella socks online but they seem to be holding up fine. Can anyone attest to the super durable socks that MCR sells? I would be interested to try some out and support this fantastic store!!

DE

Hi Ian, I’ve tried the super-durable in both cotton and wool. My own view is that they lose a bit of the silky softness of the standard wool and cotton socks and also wear a little warmer on hot days. This may be down to the polymide they use. However, they are extremely durable and keep their size and shape very well – a workaday sock that stays looking good!

Per Håvik

I can simply echo the praises from DE. I purchased a couple of super durable socks in wool from MCR a couple of years ago. The socks are still in service and have also kept shape and tightness a little better than 100% woollen socks. They are showing small signs of tearing on the toes and heels, but much less compared to all other socks in my closet (except Falke which I found the hardest wearing of them all).

Ian J. Chu

Thank you for your insight. Per Havik, do you have any model recommendations for the falke socks?

Sam

Simon (and other readers),

I’m curious – I’ve tried quite a few socks from Bresciani, Gamarelli and Mazarin in the past, probably about 5 pairs from each brand. They consistently seem to rip / tear along the elastic ribbing after far fewer wears than I’d expect – appreciate it’s obviously the point that sees the most strain, but it makes it hard to justify spending on them.

It’s a particular issue with knee-high socks it seems, as they need more hoiking up during the day to stop them slipping down the leg.

Is this just me? Am I doing something fundamentally wrong?

As others have said, I’ve nothing bad to say about purchasing from MCR themselves – absolute pleasure, and I love the breadth of their range given it’s ultimately a fairly niche thing to buy!

Anonymous

Hi Sam, this is a very interesting point you make. I have often wondered why when proper sock sizes make accurate fit very achievable, there doesn’t seem to be any allowance for calf fit on knee high socks? The answer to your problem may be that you have a slightly larger calf than Simon and so therefore might the elastic on the top of the socks be under greater tension and more likely to fail?

hugh

Sam,

I’ve had similar issues where the ribbing meets the back of my heel/ achilles. The super durable from MCR have been a game changer for me though. Yes, they sacrifice some silky fineness, but I’ve not had any break-down of the ribbing

Chris Tinkler

I must admit I’ve not ad any issues about the socks ripping / tearing along the elastic ribbing. Mine tend to go around the big toe or on the heel, earlier than – say – M&S cotton socks but about in line with other cotton lisle socks I’ve tried. I’ve also only had a limited number of issues with knee-high socks slipping down the leg (same with socks from |Viccel). The super-durable socks are the better option for longevity, but I still buy a few of the really fine ones for occasional use, with the understanding that they feel great but aren’t long for this world.

Anonymous

Not directly on point, but:

1. Do you have a preferred sock brand/manufacturer? If so, why?
2. What do you think about linen socks? Is there a real difference with fine cotton ones?

Thank you.

Anonymous

Thanks very much. Would you mind elaborating on the difference you said you’ve noticed?

Wolf

I agree with Nikolai’s comment, above. I’ve ordered from MCR on three occasions and the service has been wonderful.

But I also agree with Sam’s comment, above, that I’ve worn through these socks at a much faster rate than I’ve expected. Since I walk to and from work I probably fall into the “commuter” demographic that Burt mentioned in his comment, above.

I recently ordered some of the “super-durable” socks and am interested to see how long they last. I’ve ordered socks from Dapper Classics—which are made in North Carolina, USA—and they have lasted me much longer than some of the finer socks I’ve ordered from MCR. Then again, the socks from DC are less comfortable and do not look as smart.

Luciano

I have been a long time customer of MCR and I couldn’t praise them more. They are kind, precise, have a very large choice (brands, colours, materials) and very honest prices.
Said that, I am quite obsessed with socks (have more than hundred) and from long experience I could give my opinion.
Pantherella was great up to 10 years ago. They have consistently reduced the colour range (one could find purple, several nuances of red or grey etc.); they have given up on size precision, besides the tailored series (I personally think that any sock marked Small, Medium, Large should be forbidden) and the quality of their merino wool looks to me poorer than before.
Bresciani in my opinion has top quality in many respects, even if their wool socks look to me not the best of the market. I am not particularly excited by the linen ones, I have not tested yet the cotton-linen mix.
Mazarin proved weak on colour durability: after many washes the colour fades. The wool ones tend to shrink too much compared with the others.
I will not consider Falke (don’t like them at all) and Gallo (expensive without any reason).
A brand little known is Palatino (made in Rome): the quality is excellent, especially in merino wool and sizing is precise with half figures (10, 10.5, 11…). They do poor marketing unfortunately. In Paris one could find them at Crockett & Jones shops years ago, don’t know in London.
Drake’s sells very good socks (I tried the wool ones), I don’t know who makes them.
Summing up in my personal ranking today Bresciani is probably the best in terms of quality and range. However they tend not to do precise sizing using the infamous S,M,L .
A final word on maintenance: quality socks should be washed by hand and never ironed
(I know , life is tough…)

E L

Pretty sure Drake’s at least used to be made by Palatino. Could be wrong, though. You used to be able to tell these things by looking at their product codes/numbers.

Gonzague

Gallo is my favorite, but durability proved very short, at odds with the prices. Similar looking socks made by Doré Doré after Gallo bought them are twice cheaper and last twice longer (admittedly they are lower and finitions not as good).

Chris Tinkler

Interesting idea and it shows their commitment, but they have such a wide variety of lovely socks already that this service is going to be for a very small niche (but probably a “well-heeled” (teehee) one).
As well as the high quality packaging and hand-written notes, they have a cute marketing slant of “promoting” you through the ranks of adjectives as you order more and more. I’m now “the eminent Chris Tinkler”, much to my wife’s amusement

Dachshund

I really love the MCR guys. Have been ordering for years albeit I only put an order in a couple of times a year. The packaging is beautiful and the handwritten note gives the sense that they really care. Tabs seem to be kept on how often you order do you progress from being agreeable to formidable or something – love that eccentricity. I had an order mixed up once – I think simply two packages must have been confused – and they couldn’t have been more helpful. The durable socks are noticeably thicker as some have noted, but that’s to be expected. I find they have a pleasing snugness and are warm in winter – unlikely to wear them in summer. Chapeau!

Jai Kharbanda

Simon, I know your opinion on calf-high socks being the only kind for those who take hosiery seriously but I find them so uncomfortable as they begin to itch. Indeed, I own several in a variety of fabrics, always with the same limitation for me. Perhaps it’s because I have quite large, hairy calves (a lot of barefoot running) so I wonder if bespoke could perhaps solve this by making them a touch looser.

Jason

Simon,
Fabulous article.
I hear that MCR are offering matching face masks with their socks.
Have you tried one and did you have a chance to look at the range from Begg & Co.
Jason

Malcolm

Hi simon
I wonder if you can say something about buying from for example, NMWA, Brycelands and the Armoury . Always been curious as to whether you only buy from them when visiting or from distance. From your comment it seems as if you do order online? Is there a standard mark up in import duty etc.? Tempted by a number of possible purchases (e.g., Armoury polo, chino), mainly from your recommendations, but fearful of cost (never mind returns). Advice on ordering would be appreciated

Anonymous

Simon do you know any bespoke shoemakers who visit Los Angeles for trunk show?

Chris Tivanian

Simon,

Did MCR take over William Abraham socks? I’ve placed several orders from Abrahams over the past 4 years. However my last order, well over a year ago, arrived packaged very similar to MCR, perfume scented and all. Additionally Abraham socks hasn’t updated their Instagram since 2017 and their inventory of styles remains largely unchanged. Though pricey, they are some of my favorite socks.

Peter

Simon, great article. I also agree MCR has excellent service and their products are top notch. I have been ordering from them the last 5 years and I have never been disappointed. I tend to find that Bresciani is the best fit for me and they hold up the best versus other brands (i.e. Falke & Mazarin). I also stick to the mid-calf options since I am on the shorter side and they work just as well the knee high socks. Although mid-calf are frowned upon, I find they hold up well without me having to pull them up and and you never see skin, which is why people tend to go towards the knee- high socks. I‘m curious how the MCR custom socks hold up against the rest, but it’s tough to justify buying 8 pairs of the same sock. Keep up the great work, Simon!

Warren

MCR has a wide selection of quality socks in myriad of colours and patterns. My favourite are the cotton lisle over the knee socks by Gammarelli, the Mazarin cotton socks I also found slightly fade and the toe link stitching slightly imperfect. Bresciani produce lovely wool socks that are definitely worth a punt.

Anonymous

Simon if you could only have 10 colors of socks which would you have? Duplicates welcome.

All solids or some two-tone?

Anonymous

?

JB

I must say I’m surprised the cost of bespoke socks aren’t higher. Given I have huge calves and never found a OTC pair that works, I’d be willing to try this, but I’m surprised there’s no wool offering, or did you just choose the 3 most common (cotton, silk and cashmere) in the article?

Anonymous

He anyone tried MCR’s no show socks?

Carter

I’ve tried two pairs of their no shows – one in cotton and another in a linen blend. While the linen socks feel a bit delicate for regular wear, both pairs worked well for me this past summer. They didn’t slip off the heel or the sides of my feet, and the front of the sock was cut low enough that it did not show when wearing loafers (an issue I’ve run into with other no show socks previously)

Carter

Big fan of MCR – extremely comfortable and durable socks, with lovely customer service.

I’m not sure if any others have run into this issue, and it is not exclusive to MCR, but when I wear OTC socks my trousers tend to get caught on them while standing up / sitting down. As a result, I have to bend over and pull my trousers back down towards my shoes each time I stand up, which I find removes any sense of nonchalance or elegance from the outfit.

My trousers are fitted, but by no means too tight. I’m trying to avoid mid-calf socks as they always fall down. Any chance that someone has run into this before or found a solution?

Martin

With a mid-weight fabric (~8.5 oz), I have found that my trouser width at the calf needs be at least ~2 inches in excess of half of my actual calf circumference. Shorter than that and the trouser leg begins to cling like velcro onto my socks. Unfortunately, with the exception of denim and some heavy wools, I have had to accept that a slim fit is out of question if I want my trousers to drape properly.

Danny

I have this problem as well, regardless of most trouser widths. I’ve found certain trouser cloths work better with cotton socks (linen seems to be better for instance), though that’s likely a blend of fabric weight, friction etc.

If there are any trousers that give you particular trouble. the silk OTC socks from Tabio (available from The Armoury) are perfect. I never have any problems while wearing them.

They have a cotton foot and silk tube, so they’re fairly sturdy, slight sheen when new but I’ve found they become a beautiful matt texture after 1-2 washes that makes them look appropriate (ie. not for black tie) for daily wear. Only available in a few solid colours, but I kind of like my socks to be simple so that’s fine with me. They’re what I put on if I want to guarantee my trousers won’t grab and ride up. Being silk they also just feel great on the skin.

Worth a try if you’re like me and have ‘sticky outy’ calves or similar 🙂

Carter Henry

Thanks for the recommendation, Danny. I’ll have to try those out!

James

If I got the opportunity to visit, I would certainly inquire about bespoke socks to see if one specific thing was possible: to combine the thickness of an athletic sock from the ankle down, while retaining the finesse of a good dress sock over the calf. Having bony feet, I’ve never understood when people talk about thin socks being the ultimate comfort; I want some decent cushioning between my feet and my shoes, no matter how well the shoes fit. However I also both run hot and want a sock that looks stylish when it is visible, so I simultaneously desire something thin and lightweight from the ankle up . I have not encountered a sock that can provide both, and I wonder if it is only because it is not in demand, or if it is not possible to produce well in the first place.