As Christmas clichés go, they are up there with reindeer-pattern sweaters but the humble pair of gentleman’s socks should not be considered a no-idea-what-else-to-give fallback present. Think of it, rather, as the way to indulge a man’s sole.
Brands and textile mills are pushing the boundaries of what constitutes luxury in the men’s sock market and the results are walking off the shop floor. Since Selfridges launched its Bodywear space this year, the London store has seen double-digit growth in sales of socks priced more than £50 a pair. Its most expensive are by Corgi, in cable-knit cashmere and five colourways, cost £118.
This pales in comparison with the €520 price tag for a pair of vicuña wool socks by Mazarin. These you can find at Mes Chaussettes Rouges, a Paris boutique that specialises in the “insider labels” of the men’s hosiery world and is the only place outside Rome that sells socks by Gammarelli, the ecclesiastical and papal outfitters. “Edouard Balladur [the former French prime minister] used to wear Gammarelli socks with his suits from Savile Row,” says Vincent Metzger, owner of Mes Chaussettes Rouges. “The red ones are the most famous, while the purple are amazing.” The socks also come in black and, if ordered online, arrive in a herringbone-patterned sock bag.
For more eye-catching accents, however, there are vibrant, painterly Harlequin socks at Duchamp (£17), and florals and paisleys at De Pio (£16.50), which has been making socks from its base in Brescia, Italy, since 1950.
Paul Smith puts his “signature stripe” on classic and longer-length socks while Comme des Garçons offers vertical stripes with a block-black sole (£30). Yohji Yamamoto has layered Adidas’s famous three stripes over an Argyle pattern for Y-3 (£20), and Gieves & Hawkes is offering a range in houndstooth and herringbone patterns that, it says, “work well with dressier suits”.
Still, potentially the most luxurious aspect of a sock is in its fabrication. Johnstons of Elgin, Scotland, which makes cashmere accessories for Chanel and Hermès, produces 150,000 pairs of cashmere socks a year. “They are all hand-linked to ensure a perfect fit at the toe,” says managing director James Sugden. “My sock drawer is equal in size to my shirt and jumper drawers. Cashmere socks lift you up on the most difficult of days.”
Pantherella is another big hitter in the luxury sock market. As well as collaborating with Vivienne Westwood on a new collection (part of the “Vivienne Westwood Loves” range), it has become the first brand to work in ultra-soft Escorial wool, with its socks selling at £16.95 a pair. “It is a super-fibre,” says Justin Hall, Pantherella’s chief executive. “It performs better than cashmere and has a loftiness that increases the amount of trapped air next to the skin. Both the increased air and the moisture-absorbing properties make the socks extremely comfortable and practical to wear.”
Meanwhile, Item M6 has created socks in black, as well as in two-tone blocks of colour (shown left, top and bottom), that are as fitted as a made-to-measure suit and sell from £21.50 a pair. The sensation of wearing them is curious: the soles are lightly padded, the heel fits just so and the “medi compression” design makes it feel as if your foot and ankle are being massaged. They are to hosiery as the brief is to the boxer short. Everybody should have at least one pair.