Monsel is one of those timeless shops. Some of us are old enough to remember it never having not existed. Better still, even our grandparents knew it as an institution. Situated in Brussels’ royal riposte to the chic 19th-century arcades of London and Paris, La Galerie de la Reine, just a hop ‘n a skip from the tourist tick-box of Grand Place/Grote Markt, Monsel exudes an old-world charm. Well, “charm” isn’t exactly the right word. But is certainly exudes something.
It’s one of those places where it’s almost impossible to work out whether it’s so cool that it’s decided to re-imagine old-school stylings as retro-hip or whether it’s basically suffering from Alzheimer’s.
A purveyor of everything important that a man-about-town could need as accoutrements for his obviously impeccable wardrobe, Monsel’s backbone is hats and umbrellas. Yes, they do a dandy line in canes, but, really, who needs a cane these days? Okay, so maybe someone whose arthritis procedures weren’t quite covered by health insurance or a debonair devil who couldn’t possibly think of attending the opera – barely 150 meters away from this emporium of delight– without being fully dressed.
There is something (deeply intentional or laconically serendipitous) about the whole air of Monsel that whisks us back into the heyday of the real Tintin/Kuifje; dashing little caps in the finest handwoven fabrics or an umbrella worthy of a weekend country shoot. Or, indeed, unravelling the mystery of a cursed emerald plucked from the oversized breast of a warbling diva…
Monsel’s wares are daring, operatic and basically bloody nice in a world devoid of adventurous boy heroes and dressing as any young man with ambition should.
If Monsel is a “heritage brand”, we would have no way of knowing it: ages after its website creaked into the contemporary era, there is still a section promising tell the world, “about us”. Some of us have heard the tales, but dare not ask them to confirm on the record. They, on the other hand, really don’t care, which is all the more reason, in this age of social media wannabes, that you shouldn’t either.
Some of us rely on early memories or passed-down mythologies: delightful visits with a grandfather who would consider no other place to purchase his motoring caps (yes, really, for a generation they were a thing) or a certain monsieur of the secretive diplomatic variety who couldn’t possibly consider a trip to England without an umbrella that would make even Saville Row take notice.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how or why you acquaint yourself with Monsel. The only important thing is that you do. That way no one with an eye for timeless style can ever question your taste again. And don’t think for one minute that the place is sexist. Any lady adventurer could do far worse than going with some of their natty little accessories. Just try the buckle-feature caps, for example.