Monday, 30 January 2017

Aux Charpentiers - traditional clothing of Argentina


Mexico the country may be in the news because of a wall; but we are heading to Mexico the street in Monserrat Buenos Aires.

At the junction with Santiago del Estero, at Mexico 1302 is a totally traditional store. We have seen it several times in passing, examined the window displays and become intrigued. Whilst other shops around it have been modernising and re-modernising,  over the past 139 years Aux Charpentiers has remained relatively unchanged, and thus unique. 

A sign on the door says that the shop is open, and we try the handle only to remember that many shopkeepers keep their street door locked; so we ring the bell. Carmen's husband Enrique, neatly dressed and grey haired opens up, and welcomes us into the cool dark store. 

To both left and right are long glass counters revealing small displays and perfectly ordered piles of clothes. Further to our right dark oak sectioned shelves reach for the ceiling, each dressed with stock in order of size. The shelves continue around to the right in an L shape, with a brocade hung changing area to the rear. The tiled floor is polished. There is a sense of peace and timelessness. And the old fashioned scent of an historic clothes store, taking us back to childhood memories of yesteryear. 
Aux Charpentiers was founded in 1888 and run for over 60 years by Carmen's father, Juan Robligio. On Juan's death his son Roberto and daughter Carmen took over to carry on the grand family tradition. 

Here is everything traditional in Argentine clothing. Wonderful pantalones - Bombachas de gaucho, camisas, zapatas and boinas. To one side are the jackets, below the counter are braces and belts. At the side of a glass-fronted tongue and groved cabinet are photos of family and wedding groups, one from France, another from the countryside here in Argentina. 

 In the shop window I spied a pair of traditional Argentine trousers, high waisted,  gathered in two sets of three pleats at the front, and a further two sets at the hip - then tapering to buttoned cuffs at the ankle. Enrique quickly measures and lifts down my size. Here are fawn/cream, charcoal, blue and olive green. As befits a traditional pantalone, there are no zips - just recessed fly buttons. The pockets are deep and buttoned to the back. The ankle cuffs carry three buttons which, unless riding, are generally left unfastened. 

I carry a 'winter weight' pair to the changing area and swish the heavy maroon curtain across its length, running smoothly on a curved brass rail. They have to fit. I try them. They do. And for the first time I realise why Stephanie loves shopping. It is with delight that I exit to seek Stephanie's approval, which she gives.

In just minutes we have slipped back decades into history and tradition. The whole experience is like tasting an unexpected vintage Malbec - the bouquet, the initial taste on the tongue, the surprise, the delight, and the swallow as I reach for my wallet modestly to pay.

Aux Charpentiers have not seen the last of us. We shall return, and return again no doubt. Carmen's store has captured our hearts and imagination. I am now a gaucho. This is why we came to Buenos Aires.


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