Anatomica, Paris: The clothes and the history

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Anatomica is one of my favourite shops in Paris.

It’s unique, with a range of menswear that’s often exclusive to them - whether under their brand or others’ - and always centred around quality.

In fact it has such a reputation - often driven by Pierre Fournier’s history in menswear - that first-time visitors can initially be disappointed. There doesn’t seem to be that much to see: simply a large rack of Alden shoes, some knitwear and a few knives. 

But for anyone that loves classic menswear and craft, there is an immense amount here to burrow into. 

The obvious example is the range of Alden shoes, which are largely made on an unusual last you find almost nowhere else: the modified last. 

This has an almost orthopaedic shape, with a slim waist and bulging joints, and is made more unusual by Pierre and Charles’s insistence on fitting people in larger sizes than they would normally wear. 

I’ll go into more detail on that in a separate article, because there’s so much to explore. But it’s worth mentioning here because it's representative of Anatomica’s approach to clothing: classic menswear where comfort and function (being ‘anatomical’) are always insisted upon. 

It’s equally typical of Anatomica that they stock Alden in three widths - B, C and D - where most shoe shops only stock one. The entire basement is full of them. 

Outside the shop, there are two signs extending into Rue du Bourg Tibourg. One is the cut-out silhouette of an Alden lace-up. The other is a Birkenstock. 

Anatomica sold Birkenstocks long before they became popular (again) and they do so uniquely (again), offering the sandals in both a narrow and mostly regular fitting. Nearly all of those other Birkenstock stores and stockists just have the narrow.

The other major line of footwear on sale, vulcanised canvas shoes under the in-house brand name Wakouwa, is similar. These are now made in Taiwan - after years of being made in Japan - because it’s the only place that will make them to Anatomica’s specifications, which includes a similarly slim waist to the modified last. 

Those shoes also illustrate how much bigger Anatomica’s reputation is than the store might suggest: half of the shoes are in bright dyed colours, from a collaboration with Issey Miyake.

When it comes to style, what Pierre and Charles were wearing the day Alex and I visited (pictured top) shows the elegant yet practical aesthetic quite well.

It’s similar in some ways to a brand like Margaret Howell. But Anatomica is more refined, more rooted in tailoring. It’s much more a look I can get on board with. 

Pierre (above) established his reputation in the 70s and 80s with the shops Globe and Hemisphere. Globe in particular was a pioneer among multi-brand stores, and brought everyone from Rocky Mountain Featherbed to Levi’s to Paris. 

His policy since establishing Anatomica (in 1994) has been to buy brands that still deliver traditional quality (such as Jamieson’s, John Smedley and alpaca-specialist Lemmermayer) but when they don’t, to make clothes under the Anatomica label, mostly in France. 

So there are reversible raglan coats, for example, which follow a style Pierre used to get from Burberry, but which they haven’t made for years. Important for him is the canvas, which isn’t fused to the front but loose between the two sides. You can open the bottom of the coat and see it inside, attached only to the front edge. 

And there are shetland sweaters in a knit that is denser and finer than most I’ve seen, with a seamless construction and narrow saddle shoulder. 

Many of the Anatomica clothes are more unusual than these, though, and a little less contemporary in design. They include high-waisted heavyweight corduroy trousers with a fishtail back, and short jackets with band collars, as well as more classic workwear blazers. 

Most of these pieces can be seen on the Japanese Anatomica website, and that’s what I’ve linked to above. The French version is currently not running, although it’s fair to say ecommerce is not a priority for anyone.

The reason there is a Japanese site is that in 2008 Pierre started working with Kinji Teramoto, and there are now five Anatomica stores in Japan. 

The partnership led to an expansion of the Anatomica ethos to include more American styles (Teramoto’s passion) and more Japanese manufacturing. The jeans and canvas shoes are the most obvious results in Paris. 

I visited the first Japanese Anatomica store in Tokyo (below) back in 2019, and covered it here. It’s a little confusing as a customer, because the offering can be quite different. There is less Alden, more Anatomica product, and less of the European workwear. 

But that does also make the store more of a destination, which of course is a big part of the attraction of Paris. 

My favourite pieces in the Paris store are often the little accessories. 

There is a small range of knives, for example, which are all handmade and well-priced. My first berets, in a neat make and Basque style, were also bought here (seen in this shoot).

And they carry a range of Japanese cloths called Tenugui, which were traditionally used for washing, but can be used for everything from pouches to bandanas. They often buy large pieces of the fabric and then cut them to length themselves. 

The bandanas start quite raw, but soften up with a couple of washes, as well as fading nicely. You can see my brown one worn here

On this most recent trip, my discovery was the Lemmermayer cardigans, and I ended up buying a black, one-ply model (below). 

Rather like mohair, the alpaca is very warm, even as a fine knit, and I like the fact that the one-ply is rather unusual, being ever so slightly see-through. 

To be honest, Anatomica might be one of my favourite shops in the world. 

I think it’s because I feel quite keenly the lack of other, similar stores today. Ones that have a specific aesthetic, single level of quality, and which you can’t find in every major city - even often online. 

Somehow that focus and inaccessibility seems to go hand-in-hand with experienced staff, and products that are around season after season. And if that means you don’t get a salesman’s grin and greeting as you enter, or only get to see the products once every couple of years, that's a price I’m quite happy to pay. 

Many thanks to Charles and Pierre for their time, coffee and detailed sketches of foot shapes. 

www.anatomica.fr (currently closed) and @anatomica_paris_flagship_store are the online homes, with most actual information on anatomica.jp. Pierre himself is @Pierre.Anatomica 

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt

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Zy

Simon, I was actually wondering whether you had plans to cover another Paris shop: De Bonne Facture? Their project seems right on target for the blog.

Daniel

Hi Simon. Your cardigan is very elegant and that black with that texture appears almost anthracite. The larger size fitting piece you trail sounds intriguing. Can’t wait.

Gabriele

Simon, my impression is that the current casual trends have generated sort a resurgence for Parisian shops and brands, to a bigger extent compared to other cities. Other than Anatomica, one example that comes to mind is Husbands. What’s your take on this?

MBB355

Cardigan looks great. As I recall from our discussion in the Colhays article comments, you weren’t so into the “conventional” (non-shawl, with sleeves) cardigan. Glad to see you’ve come around! Black is a great color choice. It undermines any “schoolboy” associations that the cardigan might have.

MBB355

For sure. A burgundy cardigan is too schoolboy. And a black leather biker jacket might be too badass. But a black cardigan marries the two attitudes together in a charming and unexpected way.

Bamboccio

I visited the shop more than 15 years ago and they insisted that I should wear 8 and not as I was at the time 7.5 and I never looked back.

Wade

Simon, your new black alpaca cardigan sweater is gorgeous. I owned two in 1966. Gladly and sadly wore them out. Back then one was required to monagram them. Very hard to find in the 70’s and by the time the 80’s rolled in they disappeared. Makes me want to fly to Paris,

Stephen S

Hi Simon,
Thanks for a very interesting introduction to a slightly out of the the ordinary ( in a good way) store. I’d love to visit sometime.
Regards

Ben

What is the rationale behind “Pierre and Charles’s insistence on fitting people in larger sizes than they would normally wear” for the Aldens? I get that their preference might be a slouchier (louche?) fit in the clothes, but surely the fit of the shoe is more to do with the actual size rather than preference or aesthetic?

Stephen

On that point I went to a podiatrist about some for foot problems I was having and she advised that many people could benefit from going up approximately at least a half shoe size (ie they are wearing a half size too small). I have taken her advise, initially with trainers then shoes which took a little while before feeling comfortable and in my opinion she is correct.
I’ll be interested to read the article.

Peter Hall

I think it’s that natural tendency for not wanting your shoes to slip off. You end up squeezing everything up front.
I wear plenty of loafers and and often think they are a little tight.

Sam

Interested to see what there is to say around this, Simon. For me, at least, it’s extremely apparent very quickly if a shoe is too small or too big. It’s either obviously painful to walk in, or it slips off of its own volition. I’m unclear what room for interpretation or opinion there is beyond that, when compared to how slim fitting a jacket is for example.

Pyc

Hi Simon, have you visited Hollington in Paris ? It’s another out-of-the-ordinary store that offers its own designs, although it’s more focused on a romantic workwear look.

Parker

Nice article, a very fitting description.
How much are a pair of Aldens from them these days?

Tim

In 2017 it was:
Shoes Box calf are 830EUR
Shoes Cordovan: 1040EUR
Boots Cordovan: 1080EUR

Parker

Thank you Tim, this gives me an idea. Seems Like they are more or less on par with other Alden sellers who have a healthy upcharge.

JB

The Alden shoes sound very interesting, looking forward to the follow up piece.
Also, I could’ve sworn Pierre was Bill Nighy at first.

BB

Hi Simon,
I visited the Anatomica shop on a recent visit to Paris on the strength of your review. But was underwhelmed with the sparse stock on display. Perhaps it had been a mistake to browse the Anatomica Japan site for ideas of what to buy as the Paris shop doesn’t do a lot of what the former does.
The shop assistants were apologetic and even encouraged me to write to the owner to set up an ecommerce website for the Paris shop. His refrain, to paraphrase, was ‘we are always selling for the Japan website’.
However, I did leave with two of their Basque berets you recommended and was really pleased with the quality. I did the bulk of my shopping elsewhere managing to buy some brands unavailable in London.

BB

You have absolutely nothing to apologise for Simon!
Still owe you a pint by the way. If I make it to the Spring pop-up I’ll treat you.You actually rescued my shopping in Paris … I am clueless when it comes to knowing where to go so your city guide and review on Anatomica was a lifesaver on the short trip. Long may you continue to share your wisdom with us as it encourages us to be more adventurous. Next city … Milan!

Parker

Would you mind sharing the stores you were successful at?

BB

Thanks for asking Parker. I was actually after two brands called Yuketen and Chamula for their artisanal leather goods; bridle belts, sandals, loafers, tote bags, bracelets, etc. Clutch Cafe in London carries the label but I couldn’t find the items I wanted. But a shop called Royalcheese (Yes, such a misnomer!) with two branches in the Marais district stocked a wide range from the label.
Simon also recommended Jinji on the Left Bank but I just had so much to do and never made it to the shop. I’d still revisit Anatomica now that I know what the stock looks like.

Tim

An Article covering Ed Meier in munich would be nice too, regarding the orthopaedic shape of rtw shoes. There they use C&J.

Chris

Hi, the third pic down looks like a pair of Alden cordovan monks but I can’t find any details in the article. Do you have any info on these as I would love to buy a pair