When you look at the orderly stacked high-end garments in AAllard in Megève you might be surprised to find a line of corduroy trousers with their hemline in fringes. But this is no accident - it’s made-to-measure with a vision. What might seem a strange approach in the manicured age of globalization actually originates back to grandfather Armand Allard. This farmer boy was the inventor of the world famous tight fitting fuseau (stirrup ski pants) that revolutionized skiing clothing and added a pinch of glamour to the slopes. Some of his product innovations, still in place today, have become community assets that benefit the entire population of this luxury ski destination.
Best of the Alps speaks to Antoine Allard about entrepreneurial roots and takes an afternoon stroll with father and son around this quaint town to find out what exactly gives them their strong sense of place.
Above the entrance of AAllard, a dog and a wolf guard the letters on the voluminous wood carved emblem. You can’t help but wonder about how these mystic characters fit into the concept of the store known for its exclusive range of luxurious clothes created in ranges from cashmere to lambs wool. None of them appears on any of the labels inside the garments. Perhaps they represent the meaning of some local legend?
Shopping at AAllard’s is a sign of status: Their brand is sold nowhere else in the world and especially not over the Internet. The family business is run by the 3rd generation of Allards. “Keeping the business in the family is very important to us,” says Antoine Allard. “There was never an investor involved.” And they intend to keep it that way. A glance at Mr. Allard and you’d only notice the best fabric and exceptionally well tailored cuts from his light blue corduroy pants through to the details on his shirt and a navy blue jacket. The ever present yet quietly understated Allard emblem signals an item of quality that is held together with remarkably well appointed details.
AAllard and the secret of the fuseau
The AAllard family history is firmly rooted in this wonderful place in the Savoyan part of the Alps. Grandfather Armand, a farmer’s son born just a few kilometres outside of town swapped the pitchfork for the sewing needle and opened a small workshop offering bespoke tailoring in Megève in the 1920s. This predated Baroness Noémie de Rothschild’s launch of this place as France’s first luxury winter resort. Up until 1924 it was a simple farming community and most of the life was based around the church with its baroque steeple just above Place de l’Eglise, where the main shop is now.
When approached by ski champion Emile Allais to make more functional pants that would withstand both snow and wind, Armand Alland came up with the fuseau practically over night. His pants with the famous elastic at the bottom to keep them in the boots proved so successful that soon after the whole French ski team had adopted it. Although the first material was Loden wool, the typical stretch style developed in the 1950s. Its trend caught on at the slopes as well as off-piste with fashionable women in Paris. The secret of the fuseau: sitting tight to the leg but not too tight, a well-guarded secret by the Allards.
Grandfather Allard was also an insightful businessman who understood that innovation is necessary for longevity in business. In his day-to-day garments he included ‘gimmicks’ hidden on the inside: For example an extra bit of fabric sewn to the inside of the trousers so they can be enlarged when needed, or the fact that each zip is polished by hand to run smoothly. “And, here is another little detail,” Mr. Allard shows us a velvet lining at the waistband on the inside which helps to keep the shirt tucked inside. In essence the Allard brand creates garments that anticipate your moves and do a little bit of thinking for you.
Browsing the product line you’ll find a small selection of staple clothing from trousers to shirts, jackets and jumpers. Mass production is not the aim here. “We don’t want everyone to look the same,” Mr. Allard states.
If you touch the soft leather jacket with the hand stitched wristband, AAllard’s core values of producing garments in an eco-friendly manner becomes obvious. “If you don’t treat the animal well you will not get good leather. So for us preserving the environment is not an argument. It is a conclusion,” states Mr. Allard. The same goes for the overall quality of each piece. “If a collection is not ready, there is no pressure to release it straight away. What matters is perfection.” A guiding principle which secures the Allard family its endurance and is true luxury indeed for a businessman whose model is based on customers who buy only once or twice a year. So Mr. Allard has got good reason when he says not without a certain air of pride: “That’s why you don’t buy AAllard, we sell you AAllard.”
The wolf and the dog
Mr. Allard’s father Jean-Paul enters the store, an elegant man dressed in burgundy coloured corduroy trousers with a friendly demeanor – it must be in their genes. They invite us for a quick stroll through town to their second store selling accessories from scarves to hats. The air is crisp on this sunny winter morning. On the way we stop a couple of times as the Allards are chatting with locals or customers. A few skiers are on the way to the télécabine. “I only ski on about 15 days of the year but these are the best days you can imagine,” says Mr. Allard junior. “We develop slowly as a community but in a direction which is luxury in the sense of good and positive things. The worst is to change all the time, and we are very protective about this.” It all makes sense when Mr. Allard senior concludes: “After all, AAllard would not be AAllard without Megève and vice versa.”
Back at the main store he points to the big wooden sign above the entrance with the great emblem of the dogs and the wolves. These are two favourite animals of the elder Allard. Immediately one connects the dots and realises where the Allard family’s strong sense of belonging come from: Wolves live in packs, and that breeds confidence and responsibility. Then Allard junior grabs a silver metal suitcase from inside: They just produced a limited edition leather jacket for the 60th anniversary of the Megève altiport, and he is now on his way to give the first one to Jacques Brun, the famous pilot who runs the airport. But that is another story.