Saturday, March 31, 2012
Summer is coming. Swimming, sailing and other unimaginable delights will arrive in the Northern Hemisphere by the end of May if not before. And to take full advantage of summer a man needs appropriate shoes.
Coming for summer this year is a limited edition bicolor Sloop in medium brown calf with a stone colored goatskin vamp. In anticipation, I am offering 2011 pricing to men placing pre-orders for May delivery (paradoxically, as the economy struggles Italian prices continue to rise). And of course buyers will be guaranteed a pair as there will only be a few of these.
The Sloop is the perfect summer shoe, relaxed, with laces that tie and untie. Wear them with shorts or chinos or with an odd jacket or a summer suit. As I once wrote, they look just as at home scuffed up in Mahattan Beach as they do freshly polished in the Hamptons.
Sloop is available in U.S half sizes from 7 to 13 (European sizes 39 1/2 to 47). The maker classifies them as D width, but they tend to be narrow (if the fit of the first size is not right, we will send another pair and pay the return shipping on the originals).
$550 per pair with a 20% deposit. Offer ends April 6, 2012.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Thursday, March 29, 2012
The Norwegian shoe style has evolved over the years. Originally a moccasin sewn by Norwegian fishermen, the name no longer applies to either a moc or something made by Norwegians but has instead become a somewhat generic identifier for a slip-on shoe with a band over the vamp that has a cutout into which a penny could be placed, if pennies were worth anything any longer (the cutout originated as a way to carry the price of a telephone call, however the American penny is currently worth far less than a call or for that matter less than any other coin on the face of the earth and costs 2.4 cents each to make, resulting in an annual cost to the U. S. taxpayer of $60,000,000 should you be interested).
Somewhere along the line, some shoemakers began making Norwegians with a split toe but we can safely ignore that digression as split toe slip-ons are in a distinct minority. And when shoes were sewn by hand, the apron on the Norwegian was distinctive but since its introduction in 1936 the Bass Weejun and its ilk have had machine-sewn aprons. That leaves most of us with only the cutout.
All this is background for the pair of slip-ons by W. S. Foster & Son Ltd. in the photograph which that firm, unsurprisingly by this point I am sure, calls Norwegians. In Foster's case, the shoe has the expected cut-out, a hand-sewn apron and a lovely long and lean toe box that could never exist in a ready to wear shoe. Should you order a pair they will arrive after a wait of not quite one year, which in this case means just in time for better weather (rain and snow being the principal arguments against wearing slip-on shoes out of doors).
Snaffle bitted Gucci wearers may disagree but that cut-out makes these a little too informal to wear with most suits in my opinion. They should however be perfect under linen, cotton and even tweed with flannel once in a while.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Jade is the generic name for the stones that were the imperial gem of dynastic China and have been used for jewelry and objets d'art for at least six thousand years. Despite, or perhaps because of all that history, a 19th century Frenchman discovered that two different minerals were both being called jade. The flashier green version comes from something unsurprisingly known as jadeite. The other variety, a somewhat less rare stone called nephrite, can be a creamy white as well as shades of tan and green. Considering the green stuff slightly vulgar, yellowed white “mutton fat” nephrite was the choice of Chinese noblemen and the best nuggets are still valued at more than double the price of gold today.
Gemstones like jade as well as other natural materials set in gold make the best cuff closures for day wear to my mind. Real gems, diamonds, rubies and the like, have since the time of Beau Brummell been considered fine complements to evening clothes but too flashy to wear before six o'clock. Silver by itself tarnishes and unadorned gold is, with a couple of exceptions such Tiffany's knots, relatively unstimulating. Both precious metals are better with the addition of enamel but jade, sea shells, coral, garnets, agate and the like can be far more interesting without calling too much attention to themselves. And since links are with time pieces the only jewelry most discreet men will wear save for a wedding ring, we might as well take advantage of the opportunity.
Male jewelry has of course been suffering from the same cultural shifts that have promoted informal clothing at the expense of suits and there are but a few jewelers making great cuff links these days. One of them, Seaman Schepps/Trianon, has been written about here in the past but often the best way to purchase interesting links is to find older pieces at auction. Many of the things offered are priced at or above retail but the careful shopper can save as much as 80% from time to time.
In the photo are early twentieth century double sided links in nephrite and gold by Larter Elcox, predecessors to the current Larter & Sons of New Jersey.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
It would not surprise to hear you ask to be spared from yet more praise for tan, light blue and gray but spring is in the air and tan or stone jackets like Mr. Grant's come into their own in the sunshine. As do light gray (the light blue suit is thankfully rare but a jacket in that color can work as a blazer).
The rest of my own tan came out of storage last week, though as of yet only the Solaro has been pressed into service. The weather this time of year calls for heavier weight worsteds as often as it does mid-weights, but ten to twelve ounce (300-360 gram) things are about to come into their season. And of those it is the tan suit that gives the most pleasure, for it is a color that is not terribly useful in winter but brings a new look to spring.
There are a few other suitings that are best for spring and warm fall. As I have written before, they were summer cloth decades ago, but today are too hot to wear in summer while remaining too cool for winter. Their place is between those two extremes. Perhaps chief among them is wool gabardine, sometimes seen in navy, olive or stone but most often in tan. Solid color gabardines, and there are only solids from which to choose, were once widely worn in summer for both suits and odd jackets. And though there are lighter weights available these days, they still wear warm and have virtually disappeared from summer view.
Two other moderate temperature suitings come to mind. The aforementioned tan Solaro, classicly a twelve ounce cloth, is one of those. Silk dupioni is another. Dupioni's tight weave means its ten ounces also wear too warm for real heat, but are just fine for temperatures in the seventies (20-25 C).
What gabardine, Solaro and dupioni have in common of course is that they all look best in tan. And that is the other reason they are perfect for spring. Pair a tan suit with a black or gray necktie, a light blue shirt and a pair of lighter weight shoes and a man is ready for the new season. Are you ready?
Monday, March 26, 2012
In relation to men’s clothing, the color olive tends to evoke images of corduroy jackets, checks on cream brushed cotton shirts, field coats, and moleskin trousers. Autumnal articles all, but olive is not just a seasonal hue. Consider, for example, olive gabardine, which does just as well under the bright sun of June as amid the wet asphalt grays of late September. Olive knit neckties also look good in both the cool and warm months, as becomes clear when under a light navy linen blazer or dark brown tweed. Of course, this isn’t news to men in the northeastern U.S. who have been wearing olive poplin suits in summer for at least the last sixty years, and always in a shade so unchanged from the autumnal articles, a shade so perfectly olive, it could pass for old fatigues. And it is this ability to work across the seasons without much lightening or darkening of shade that makes olive a very useful color, particularly for accessories.
You see, most of the colors men choose to accent their dress tend to have hues limited to season. Violet, burgundy, gold, and forest all look best adjacent to the dead-leaf dun of tweed. Likewise, lavender, brick, canary, and kelly green seem affected when not adorning the creams and beach-bright tans of the warmer months. Even the ubiquitous browns, blues, and grays are best when lighter or darker with the seasons. But with olive there is little need to vary shade so significantly. Sure, one can opt for a drab olive challis necktie in fall or a yellowed-olive handkerchief in spring, but the middle shade of olive, the one usually associated with Spanish manzanillas, is just balanced enough to be employed throughout the year.
While a closet full of year-round this-and-thats is quite limiting, there are advantages to selecting a few to complement more seasonal items. The most notable of these occurs toward the end of the season, when a man who dresses accordingly finds himself in the sartorial doldrums, bored with so many fresco trousers or cashmere neckties. When used as an accessory, olive can look to the next season without leaping into it. A silk foulard handkerchief with an olive ground is usually sufficient. Just place one in a charcoal flannel suit in February or in a tan linen jacket in August to see the effects.
Another way to use olive is to help break the monotony of common sportswear color combinations. Blue with gray or tan, brown with gray, and dark gray with mid-gray can each be altered by substituting olive for the more neutral color. In most cases, wearing olive flannel or gabardine odd trousers instead of the same in gray or tan is just enough to eliminate the feeling of wearing a uniform, but one can just as easily wear an olive odd jacket in place of one in blue, brown, or dark gray in order to vary the look further.
One other particular case where olive proves useful is with mid-gray odd jackets. It is common to pair these with British tan, lighter mid-gray, or charcoal gray trousers, but the first is perhaps too collegiate, the second contingent upon just the right shades of each, and the last is difficult for most men to wear, as are most light-on-top dark-on-bottom combinations. Wearing olive here is much the same as wearing brown trousers but with more vibrancy, marginally akin to pairing gray with bottle green. Nonetheless, this use of olive is rather limited, and best when done infrequently, merely to daytrip from the all-protein diet of the usual sportswear colors.
One last reason to wear olive is that it looks quite chic next to black (see Bond, James, in the photo), and though black neckties are the normal complement, an olive suit (whether gab, poplin, or linen) brings out the best in black leather shoes. This might be particularly useful for those who relate black shoes to grey suits (raises hand) and would like to get more use out of them.
Though olive has yet more uses, none seem as important as the variety of palette it allows a man without venturing too far. That is, olive might well keep one from buying that pair of pink cords that tempts every autumn, and this is beneficial to most because variety needn’t be as bold as that; it just needs to be bold enough for you.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Emma Willis is much the most glamorous bespoke shirt maker in London, and probably the second best known after Turnbull & Asser, her near neighbour on Jermyn Street. Central to her success is the fact that she shares not one address with Turnbull & Asser, but two. Because Emma Willis has her own shirt-making facility in the city of Gloucester (where Turnbull also has its factory) in which all her shirts, as well as ties, pyjamas, dressing gowns, swimming shorts and socks, are made. She is a passionate advocate for the made in England label.
An Emma Willis shirt is British in style, while being cut slimmer than is traditional - something that endears her to younger customers. When asked what defines an English shirt she says, “We put our stitching in ¼ inch from the seams, a raised placket is typical and with the stitching closer together so it runs under the buttons, which are flat mother of pearl. We do single-stitch side seams, which take twice as long because you have to sew them, then fold them over and sew them again. And we have hand-sewn gussets.” The quality of pattern matching on the shirts’ split yoke is also notable.
Surprisingly, given the current state of London shirt-making, the gussets do not represent the only handwork available on her shirts. “I have two customers who have hand-sewn shirts, and two hand sewers who can set the sleeve in and put the collar on by hand. It adds about £100 ($160) to the price of a shirt,” Willis explains. Demand seems buoyant for her custom service; she says that her bespoke orders (which includes made-to-measure shirts sold through her website) account for 50% of her sales. And she currently benefits from the enthusiasm of her clients for smart casual dressing. People buy shirts for the weekend, rather than going into T-shirts.” Which isn’t just good news for her, but for anyone interested in male elegance.
-Photography by Chloë Lederman
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Friday, March 23, 2012
If a navy blue suit and a navy satin necktie are the lounge suit's version of formality for the evening, and I for one think they are, then the dark gray suit and black satin necktie are the equivalent for day wear.
Formal day wear of course combines a black jacket with patterned gray trousers but few men own that any longer. Still, serious occasions do arise from time to time and require something to wear. Here is where the justly-maligned-for-evening black satin four in hand finds its place with a gray suit, black shoes, a white pocket handkerchief and a white shirt. Continue to wear your matte grenadine to funerals but wear black satin to sit for your portrait.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Of all the menswear advertisements in the media these days I like the Polo Purple Label ads best, for their use of color and pattern if not for the extreme cut of the clothes themselves. The pocket square in the first photo is a spectacular choice.
The stylist(s) who did the campaign were well grounded in the past. In the photo, a brown dinner jacket a la Noël Coward.
The once common scarf worn in lieu of a necktie on less formal occasions, though I could do without the shirt collar.
And my personal favorite, a leather jacket and cardigan combination that recalls a portrait of the late Prince Serge Obolensky.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Cotton is a popular cloth for summer's tailored clothing. When we think of it, we think of cotton twills, gabardines or perhaps seersucker, but there is a route less travelled. Lightweight pinwale cotton corduroy, like the jacket and trousers worn by the late Duke of Windsor at Biarritz in 1951, is very wearable and actually drapes better than its heavier relations (the heavier cords make great trousers but less than completely satisfactory jackets as the wider wales make the stuff too stiff). Like other summer jackets, lightweight corduroy should have patch pockets and a minimal lining (the paddock cut is optional).
According to Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashion, when pinwales first became popular in the 1920's navy, brown and blue gray were the most popular summer colors and Brisbane Moss makes a 7 wales per inch 190 gram (6 1/2 ounce) corduroy in those colors still (that weight will probably crease as soon as you look at it and the 300 gram is likely to be much more practical, if also considerably warmer wearing). No lobster bisque though.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
It is fairly common to see country touches in city clothing, from tweed suits to worsteds with hacking pockets. It is much rarer to see relatively formal clothing mixed into a casual ensemble, though that can be equally effective. In the photograph, a paisley silk scarf adds interest to a casual gilet on the weekend. The scarf repeats the yellow, green and black of the sweater and waistcoat, and adds touches of red as well as some sheen to a matte background.
Some city clothing does better next to casual clothes than others, such as a velvet jacket worn with gray flannels in the evening, suede house shoes with jeans or a chesterfield overcoat over cords and a crewneck sweater during the day. The keys are quality and context. The dressy item has to look like it was worn because the wearer liked the look and was willing to break the rules, not as though he wore it because he had nothing else. It should be obviously of good quality and add an unexpected touch to an ensemble rather than be the ensemble, if you know what I mean. Black brogues and a pin striped city suit worn to spectate at a Saturday polo match are just going to look odd.
Try stirring something dressy into your casual clothes.
Monday, March 19, 2012
When I sent my last piece to Will I included a postscript saying I’d try to make future posts less tl:dr, “tl:dr” being one of the many rejoinders people on the internet use to tell each other that the writer's capacity for words exceeds the reader’s capacity for attention. Another, of course, is the terse “cool story bro” in response to someone’s meaningless tangent. Here is another of my tangents about something meaningless that might promise a cool story. Bro.
I’m partial to the ancient Charvet silver knot cufflinks lying on top of the pile in the photo. If I’m wearing a French-cuffed shirt, they’re usually the first pair I grab. I find them even more versatile than the silk knot cufflinks on which they’re based. Knot cufflinks in silver don’t require color coordination, very helpful before those first several coffees. And the knot design is simple enough that you could wear them without a coat or tie without looking conspicuous, the way you might wearing semiprecious cufflinks of a different design.
Silk knots, of course, are one of the many minor miracles of dressing well. They’re cheap, easy to wear and kind of fun. You can get them in the ASW store and indeed in any shop with pretensions to sell to men who care about clothes, so in Brooks Brothers but not in Men’s Wearhouse. Silk knot links can be dressed down or up, and can go with any shirt or tie pattern or color combination, provided you have them in a complementary color. They’re informal but insouciant, the only cufflink style I’d recommend wearing without coat and tie – and following the early noughties trend for dressy shirts in business casual workplaces, enough of us do wear French cuff shirts around without coat and tie. They can also pass muster worn with a suit as well. While we generally refer to them as silk knots, they’re actually usually rubber or nylon, which are more elastic and more durable than real silk ribbon, which only Charvet still seems to use.
In fact, Charvet allegedly invented the silk knot link, which is another reason I’m partial to these. Of course, I can’t recall where I read that they invented knotted cufflinks and it oughtn’t to matter, except on that suggestible mental plane endemic to dreamers and collectors. Whether or not Charvet invented knot cufflinks, their silk knots are like no one else’s today because they use real silk. It’s smoother and noticeably more delicate. Their shop offers silk knots in every color of the rainbow and several shades beyond, including sparkly metallic silks and Technicolor snow. However, like a high-maintenance partner, Charvet silk knots are gorgeous but prone to unraveling or even, rather traumatically, their heads popping off if they get too old and brittle.
Decapitation isn’t a risk with knot cufflinks made out of metal. You can get metal knot cufflinks from a variety of sources at any range of prices, from simple steel to, I’m sure, solid gold. Just don’t cop out and get single-sided ones with a toggle in the back. Even at the best of times, those T-bar things are tacky and don’t do a good job keeping your links from slipping out of your shirt. Go the extra mile and get links that resemble the double-sided knots they’re based on.
Carrying that mimesis even further, looking closely we see these cufflinks actually feature ribbing on the knots, just like real silk knots have. I haven’t seen this on other metal knot links. It’s another detail amusing to me. I also like how worn these are. They may at one point have been vermeil (gold plate over silver). If so, that coating has worn over time, but they still give off the odd gilded glint now and then. I even like the small gouges in the stems that occurred at some point before I got them. At this point, some reader might ask whether there’s a concern with matching metals among cufflinks, watch, belt buckle, hip plate, briefcase snap and whatever other implements over which he dithers before sallying forth. I must lack the necessary brain cells to over think that hard. Life’s too short.
While these silver knot links are vintage, Charvet still sells them at its home in Place Vendôme or through Couturelab.com. However, I try to wear something old every day, mixing it with the new. Even if I forget to, I’ll still end up reaching for these.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
The basted jacket in the photo is made of cloth from John G. Hardy's Ascot book, an 8 1/2 ounce (250 gram) blend of 52% Super 120's merino wool and 48% silk in dark navy blue with a gray overcheck, a smooth finish and a luxurious hand. When finished in a couple of months it will be a 3 roll 2 with patch pockets and black buttons.
Though silk blends may wear too hot for men in truly warm climates, 8 1/2 ounces is summer cloth for San Francisco. The jacket will be worn on the same sort of occasions that one might wear a blue blazer, with fresco trousers the same shade as the check and perhaps a raspberry herringbone silk and linen necktie.
Aside from dupioni in solid colors, silk jacketings are becoming increasingly difficult to find and Ascot is primarily an all merino bunch these days. There are only a few of the silk designs remaining and, in common with so much other great cloth, there are apparently no plans to replace it once it is gone. This is some of the last of it.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Sending a gift from the ASW store? Add a personalized note on high quality stationary with no annoying store logo - tell us what to say on your behalf and we will do the rest.
And, by the way, this week the store says hello to natural bristle toothbrushes with tortoise or horn handles (in Hair and Body), cotton herringbone-patterned socks in handsome colors including pearl gray and light blue as well as luxurious black Como silk bow ties for evening in satin or grosgrain. Any of them will make a fine gift. Just add a note.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Six months after getting a planter's hat from Leon Drexler, who by the way tells me that he has since sold several more of them, I came across the photo that was responsible for the project. That is of course Sir Winston Churchill in 1948, smoking as he paints.
I was unable to come up with the image for Stephen Tomkin when we were discussing the hat but he did just fine without it.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
The coming of warmer weather means that cotton socks come into their own. I choose herringbone or pick and pick patterned hose for myself most of the time on sunny days. They provide a slight change in color and pattern that is just enough to make the ankles more interesting without drawing and holding the eye of the observer.
This subtlety of course might be considered at odds with an occasional choice of bolder colors. But that is the fun of it after all. A man should not wear a solid necktie every day, nor should he get too attached to red socks.
In the photo, gray pick and pick hose paired with Cleverley slip-on shoes and a mid-weight suit in gray worsted. Shall we go for a walk?
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
The name Noël is rare these days, which shows consideration by parents who would otherwise condemn their children to a life of typing alt-137 or whatever other accommodation to the computer keyboard is required to get two dots to appear above the e. The dots are the symbol for a diaeresis, a symbol which means that each of two consecutive vowels is pronounced, so that No-el is not mispronounced as Nool. And this is all relevant as The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has an exhibition "Star Quality: The World of Noël Coward" at Lincoln Center Plaza through August 18.
Mr. Coward of course was the very stylish man about whom Lord Mountbatten said on the occasion of his 70th birthday, "There are probably greater painters than Noël, greater novelists than Noël, greater librettists, greater composers of music, greater singers, greater dancers, greater comedians, greater tragedians, greater stage producers, greater film directors, greater cabaret artists, greater TV stars. If there are, they are fourteen different people." And Mountbatten was not exaggerating all that much.
Like contemporary entertainers, Coward sought publicity and was very conscious of his public image. Unlike many of those same contemporary public figures he understood the rules in order to take advantage of them. Coward for example achieved a minor additional notoriety for appearing on stage wearing a dressing gown in a play in 1924 (this when some men still wore shirts to swim in public) and later repeated himself in other roles and public appearances. But the question I have had at the back of my mind for years was in regards to his dinner jacket.
As background, the dinner jacket first appeared in the latter half of the 19th century, and early on was a derivative of the smoking jacket, worn at home. And at that time, dinner nee smoking jackets were as likely to be burgundy, bottle green, dark blue or some other color as they were black (indeed, midnight blue dinner jackets may have been more popular than black until the introduction of ready to wear clothing before the Second World War).
That said, I had heard it said that the clothes Coward was wearing in that famous black and white photo at the top of this essay were neither black nor midnight blue but brown, a state of affairs that rattled my limited understanding of evening clothes to its foundation. Of course, in those days I did not know to take into account the entertainer's insatiable desire for publicity (by now I am sure that photos of the publicity seekers at the recent Academy Awards are burned into too many of our brains). But I never saw Coward in person before his death in 1973 and was unable to verify whether the rumor was true. Well, it was. His brown evening clothes are on display in New York, and they are worth the visit.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
It has seemed like a long time coming but we are approaching the Vernal Equinox in a week and with it the formal end to winter. That means tan suits of gabardine, fresco, silk and other cloths will be coming out of closets across the Northern hemisphere soon, and that is excellent news for those of us who are looking forward to alternatives to gray flannel.
Just as charcoal blends best with gray winter days, so tan is suited for the sun. Indeed, tan's popularity is another heritage of British army practice, this one from colonial times when officers serving in sunny climes would have their cream colored uniforms dyed with coffee so as to make themselves less obvious targets. Today, a cream suit may still make one a too obvious target away from the Amalfi coast but tan is accepted almost everywhere.
Tan is easy to wear with standard white, light blue, ivory or gray shirts, blue neckties and brown shoes. Or, try the combination in the photograph: a brown knit tie with pink spots, peach chambray shirt, brown and white linen square and a Solaro suit (yes, there is red in the weave but it still counts as tan).
Monday, March 12, 2012
We are separated by vast gulfs of years, wealth and taste, Will and I (he has them), but we stand united in our admiration for Alexis, Baron de Redé, the most successful kept man in history.
Like many true stories, de Redé’s is too fanciful for fiction. Born into a recently ennobled banking family of Jewish ancestry, he was educated at Le Rosey, the archetypal Swiss boarding school. His father’s suicide in 1939 exposed the newly orphaned de Redé to unexpected realities, including the ruin his father had hidden from the family for some years… and, of course, the imminence of war about to sweep through Europe. Taking matters into his own hands, at the age of 17 de Redé left for New York with only a Brigg umbrella and his father’s dinner jacket to his name. There, he literally dined out on his looks through the generosity of various Platonic admirers of both sexes, and, at one such dinner, struck both the eye and the fancy of a diner a few tables over. The smitten South American was Arturo Lopez-Willshaw, heir to an enormous fortune based on guano (otherwise known as bird droppings, used in fertilizer, explosives and other applications). Lopez had married his own cousin in order to please his family, but couldn’t live without de Redé. In exchange for Alexis’ “loving friendship,” but not his love, Lopez conferred a million dollars – in 1940s dollars – on him and set him up as a stockbroker. To everyone’s surprise, de Redé proved a banking prodigy, multiplying Lopez’s fortunes after the war even as the guano dried up (so to speak) and ultimately, in addition to other business interests, becoming president of the Rolling Stones’ management company. He also masterfully oriented the incontinent collector Lopez’s taste in art and decoration, forging easy friendships with Elsie de Wolfe, Mona von Bismarck, and other midcentury luminaries of uncompromising luxury who helped inform his esthetic.
Until now, de Redé’s signature accomplishment was the purchase and loving restoration of the Hôtel Lambert, a 17th-century townhouse on the Ile St Louis, home to some of Paris’ oldest families although better known to Americans as home to the ice cream shop Berthillon. He dwelt there in atavistic period splendor, indulging his taste for the theatrical with ornate costume balls attended by what was once known as café society – the proto-jet set with a mouthful of names which made the world its playground. Indeed, attired for one such ball he gazes out from the jacket of his privately published, decadently self-indulgent memoirs, hauntingly beautiful with languorous, mischievous eyes beneath a fur cap.
“All I want is the best of everything, and there’s very little of that left,” he once said, and there Will and I, and he, converge. Our ephebe days behind us, we draw inspiration not from de Redé’s rarefied lifestyle or exotic beauty but his professed dedication for the creations of bespoke shoemaker Anthony Cleverley, whom he lauds throughout his memoirs. Explaining his frequent orders with the simple and sensible, “Shoes are a great joy for me,” de Redé notes that there was even a model named for him, a moccasin in pigskin. In fact, as Will discovered, there’s currently uncertainty over which moccasin is the eponymous de Redé, since the Baron had many pairs of both a sleek banded loafer and a tasseled loafer in pigskin and in other materials. Anthony Cleverley himself is long gone, but his look book eventually ended up in the hands of the firm named for his better-known relative George Cleverley, a fellow disciple of the great maker Tuczek of Clifford Street. (Some say Anthony Cleverley was an even better shoemaker than George, which is the sort of unverifiable nostalgic claptrap that Internet Gentlemen seize upon. Only a few today have experience with both to compare their fit, finishing and style and none of them are posting on the men's message boards.)
George Cleverley, like de Redé, had a talent for survival and survival in style. George Cleverley died some years ago at the age of 92, with turns as shoemaker and Polonius-like senior advisor to subsequent generations at Tuczek, Henry Maxwell, New & Lingwood and, twice, on his own account. His last sally forth came in 1991, when, with George Glasgow and John Carnera, he left New & Lingwood for a shop in the Royal Arcade off Bond Street in London in order to keep making bespoke shoes to the highest standard. Their clientele followed and the firm has prospered, due to their technical expertise in making perfect-fitting shoes and the relaxed elegance of their designs and styles. An added draw for many has been Cleverley’s first refusal rights on the infamous Russian reindeer calf, fished out of a 200-year old shipwreck and tanned in a complex process lost to time involving birch oil and other substances pungent with evocation. When George Cleverley began offering designs from the Anthony Cleverley look book some years ago, I saw an opportunity to combine iconic elements from the two Cleverleys.
These, then, are slip-ons originally designed to the Baron de Redé’s order by Anthony Cleverley, made up in Russian reindeer instead of pigskin by the firm of George Cleverley. The Russian reindeer’s coffered (cross-hatched) pattern and texture give it surface interest similar to the original pigskin, while George Cleverley’s current team have interpreted the Anthony Cleverley model to fit the idiosyncrasies of my own feet. That the result is as sleek and elegant as it is does credit to both Cleverleys. These thus are moccasins, but I find them long-vamped and shapely enough to wear with a patterned suit, casual enough to wear with jeans. Like the Baron himself, they know how to be different things for different people.
So, at the risk of reading too much into this, we can see convergence on multiple levels: the heritage and skills of the two Cleverleys, the one’s creation in the other’s leather, and Will and I intersecting on some meta-bespoke plane. And Dominic Casey, the swashbuckling bespoke shoemaker at Cleverleys who made my pair, informed me that he had recently made a pair of bespoke shoes for the new owner of de Redé’s beloved Hôtel Lambert, piqued to discover the coincidence of tiny things.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Will asked me to describe how the Englishman transplanted to Brasil dresses and, as background, if you discount the whole nine yards of road in front of our house we live on the beach in a Sleepy Hollow, fifty miles to the north east of Rio de Janiero, in the Region of The Lakes.
The house is just within the Tropic of Capricorn, which means that I spend most of the year either naked in bed or in ´no-name´ shirts, shorts and simple, strapped sandals (a prime example of the saying “The cobbler´s bairn are aye the worst shod” - but let this remain our secret). To the extent that there is any local social expectation as to dress, it is just such an outfit, and there is great freedom to be found in this.
That said, I confess that when, a little while ago, we ventured into the Cidade Maravilhosa (The Marvelous City is the nickname for Rio) with a neighbour, I still felt conditioned by my thirty years of brisk London living to dress as I would to visit any of the world´s great cities; that is to say, I went as shown in the photograph.
I am wearing a mid-weight worsted navy and grey pinstripe suit; a separate vest in grey wool; a poplin shirt, woven silk tie, a pair of navy calf and off-white nubuck, toe- cap Oxford co-respondent (spectator) shoes and a Panama hat. I bought the hat around 1984, when Herbert Johnson still had an independent existence in a high, light and airy shop in Bond Street, which still resonated with its fame as a hatter to the haut ton, following patronage by Bertie, Prince of Wales and his set, various crowned heads of Europe, and blue bloods from the USA and elsewhere. I don´t think that (unless I lost it), I should ever replace this hat: being a firm believer that old clothes, like old friends; old books; old wine, and well-loved places bring us special comforts that only time and familiarity can reliably bring us.
The suit is mid-weight because there is air conditioning in vehicles and buildings in Rio; most of the things that are said about flimsy cloth are true, and light-weight suits do not make old friends.
I would not wear co-respondent shoes if I were doing business in Rio and, on this particular visit I was not.
The buttonhole is a frangipani flower from a tree in our garden and the pearl pin I had made a long time ago.
Rio has a reputation for being a ‘dangerous’ place and the standard advice to tourists is to ‘dress down’. However (apart from the fact that we are no longer tourists), another way of approaching this is to say that muggers tend to target pasty-faced, camera-strapped, lost-looking tourists (known to Rio muggers as filet mignon!) wearing sneakers and bum-bags; rather than sun-burnt, striding men in city suits.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Another small addition to the Hair and Body section of the ASW store arrived this week, that being D. R. Harris of London's Arlington bar soap and deodorant. They complement the range of Arlington cologne and shaving products already in stock.
Arlington of course is one of the classic English fragrances, a refreshing scent of citrus mixed with hints of fern that I offer in a complete men's range encompassing shaving and skin care. The range lets a man layer his scent with multiple products so that it lasts longer, something that is particularly useful with citrus fragrances of all kinds. The cologne in particular is well priced compared to my Eau de Toilettes, starting at $23 for a 30 ml bottle.
Joining the Arlington is an expansion of the store's stock of Zimmerli knitwear, including the very comfortable Pureness micromodal line and a black Royal Classic tee that is just the thing for men who pay homage to the early Marlon Brando.
And finally, for those who have been waiting, we have received a restock of Saphir shoe care products of all types.
Friday, March 9, 2012
As spring approaches, it seems only right to remind ourselves of the pleasures of warmer weather. And though the track (horses, not cars) may no longer be part of our every day lives, it once played a larger role in a man's wardrobe. After all, much the same proportion of men who drive cars today owned horses once upon a time, and horse racing then was as popular as NASCAR now. That required clothing.
Horse races were the home of the racetrack suit, that louder and more colorful relation of the grays and navy blues that define professional garb. Baseball, another spectator event of springtime, is an urban sport and photographs of the 1930's show stadiums full of city suits. Horse racing on the other hand is of the country, and though city suits were perfectly acceptable at urban racecourses, tweed or tweed-like pattern was also commonplace.
All this is but an excuse to focus upon Mr. Cary Grant's racetrack dress in the photograph. Grant is so well known for his satin ties and monochromatic ensembles that few of us would have expected to see him wearing something so obviously plaid, particularly paired with light socks and tasselled slip-on shoes. But the solid shirt and necktie blend the elements together and though the angle of the photograph means the socks and tassels draw our eyes to his feet, that would not ordinarily be the case. It is a well done dandy's look that would be just as appropriate in the city today (once it warms up), for occasions like Saturday lunch and gallery hopping. Or the horse races for that matter.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Show a little cuff, stuff a handkerchief in your breast pocket, tie your own bow tie, cover your waist. There really is nothing to black tie.
In my opinion, where stylists, those men and women who dress celebrities for their public appearances, go wrong these days is in their search for something different to justify their existence. It is a search that is totally unnecessary. For, at every event, the men who stand out are the handful that dress the way Mr. Grant dressed in Notorious. And he did it for himself.
It is difficult of course for men who need the stuff but rarely to justify the investment in a dinner jacket and proper shoes. To them I say, do not do things half way. Either spend what is necessary or eschew evening dress altogether. There is no shame in a navy suit, black oxfords, white shirt and a satin four in hand; indeed when done well that combination looks better than the clothing seen on most men at the typical black tie optional event in North America. But placing one foot on either side of the line demarking black tie and the lounge suit is a recipe for failure. Besides, doing it right is easy.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Sleepwear has gone through several iterations these past hundred years. A century ago, the standard was the pullover muslin nightshirt, which kept the wearer warm in an era without central heating - or rather it did so long as his tossing and turning did not pull it above his ears during sleep. That latter problem and better heating helped convert the majority of men to the coat and trouser pajama in the 1920s. The pajama's suitability for a lounge-around suit a la Hugh Hefner helped keep it the sleepwear standard for decades.
Relatively recently, changing retail economics has encouraged a shift from pajamas to shorts and tee shirts. Where pajamas required a store to stock a considerable inventory, shorts and a tee sold as separates mean that a few sizes fit most men and dramatically reduce the store's investment in inventory. Further, the simple construction and reduced cloth requirements mean considerably lower prices. The combination has relegated the pajama to a specialty item.
All of this presupposes that a man wears some form of sleepwear in the first place, of course. The young often dispense with it altogether, at least until they have children running around and grandparents visiting. But though we may be warm enough in our dwellings these days to dispense with clothing, nudity leaves most people feeling just a little vulnerable. Even a towel makes us considerably more confident in the face of unexpected visitors (Mr. Bond's handgun is probably a step too far).
For myself, I still prefer pajamas. I can waken, take my coffee and sit down to read without dressing, and without catching cold in the frigid temperatures my wife insists upon at home. I still get them in linen from Joe Hemrajani
Off the movie set, towels simply do not fit well enough.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Lightweight blazer, chambray shirt, chinos and a pair of Sloops. That is the proper version of the California tuxedo, worn in the photo by Luca Cordero di Montezemolo. An ensemble for casual days in the spring sunshine, it is perhaps appropriate at the track (autos, not horses) as well as certain wineries and smaller towns where there are no neckties within a minimum of twenty miles. The blazer should be single breasted, and patch pocketed, and the shirt ideally a white or blue buttondown with the collar left flapping.
The informal version of the California tuxedo substitutes Japanese denim trousers for the chinos and may be worn with a polo instead of a conventional shirt but only with caution as the polo may be a step too far. That is because, though relaxed, the proper California tuxedo demonstrates that the wearer is not an ordinary man. For though his clothing may appear approachable at first glance, the blazer and chinos should be hand sewn in a small Neapolitan atelier, and the shoes from an obscure source. The shirt may be off the rack from Brooks Brothers or the like as a statement that the wearer is a man of the people but then there will be all that extra cloth ruining the look. Better to have it carefully tailored to appear ready to wear.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Following my interview with Deborah Meaden, I travelled west to the home of Fox Brothers in Wellington, Somerset to visit Douglas Cordeaux, Meaden's business partner and managing director of the renowned cloth weaver.
The takeover itself was serendipitous. Cordeaux initially approached the previous owners in an attempt to licence the name for a ready to wear collection. One thing led to another and he and Meaden found themselves the owners of the company.
Current operations are in an industrial unit just up the hill from the original mill which lies in a state of decay however plans are afoot to reoccupy part of the original buildings in the near future. Between the old and new locations lies the Counting House, a beautiful building that Fox still occupy, using it as a showroom. It houses the immaculately kept archive from the distant past as well as 'The Merchant Fox' collection, their collaborative project that works with and celebrates local artisans by creating limited edition pieces.
As discussed previously with Meaden, Fox once upon a time employed up to 5000 people, now the work force is just 24. As high volume weaving has moved to the lower wage parts of the world, the company has adapted to become a smaller provider of exquisitely made cloth. Under Cordeaux's stewardship it appears to be succeeding; the recent addition of two new £250k looms shows the owners' commitment to investing in the business and greatly increases productivity.
Former Anderson & Shepherd tailor Brian Smith is resident at the factory; he visits London and the US and can be contacted through the Fox Brothers website. Cordeaux tells me that a Japanese gentleman recently flew in so he could personally hand pick the cloth for his wedding suit. Preserving its reputation earned in the past two hundred years is what will enable the company to thrive for the next hundred.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Some of the finest names in the St James’s district in London look to the small firm of Simpson London for fine luggage, cases and leathergoods. Church & Co, Foster & Son, George Cleverley, John Lobb, William & Son and even Ralph Lauren have their own-label products made in Simpson’s workshop in the East End. On the third floor of a modern inner-city “business centre”, some venerable crafts are being cherished and maintained.
The professorial Robert Simpson is the enthusiastic man in charge of this high-grade venture. He entered the industry in the mid-1980s after marrying into the Kroll family, whose leathergoods roots are traced back to 1856 when a German émigré called Franz Krolle set up a London workshop. A merger with a stationer called Tanner in the 1920s created Tanner Krolle, which was recognised for decades as one the pre-eminent English case and luggage manufacturers. Asprey, Fortnum & Mason, and New & Lingwood were among its clients. Even Brooks Brothers’ attaché cases came from Tanner Kroll.
In the early 1990s Tanner Krolle was acquired by Chanel and, subsequently, it has been passed through several owners. Looking back, Robert Simpson slightly wearily observes that professional managers do not know how to handle a craft business. When the new owners decided not to make for any other firms, he exited Tanner Krolle in 1997 and, with a few key TK craftsmen in tow, he established a company under his own name. “A business like this needs the quirkiness of an individual to make it work. There has to be someone with the instinct to know what looks right and what doesn’t,” he says.
There are eight people in the workshop and Simpson ruefully admits that four are over 60 years old and two more are over 65, the official UK retirement age. “But we are not letting them retire,” he insists. Two new recruits aged 21 and 26 give hope that the skills that create items from steamer trunks to wallets will be passed on to a new generation.
Perhaps the signature Simpson London piece is the attaché case, an item that was developed in the mid-1800s to serve the new commuting class who travelled on the railways. Measuring 18x13.5x4 inches, it has a steel frame and comprises English bridle leather mounted on fibreboard to help keep the weight down. The inside is lined in leather or suede. The 1.5mm bridle leather is tanned by J & E Sedgwick of Walsall, in the West Midlands of England, an area famous for saddlery and light engineering. The brass locks are from the same district. At upwards of $3,000 (£2,000), the retail price is about the same as a bespoke suit.
Another eye-catcher is what I would call a Victorian doctor’s bag, but Robert Simpson calls, even more romantically, a hunting kit bag, in a leather quality known as London bag hide. Again with a metal frame, it has robust straps of bridle leather, brass fittings and a cotton drill lining. It retails for around $5,500 (£3,500).
With a younger customer in mind, a new departure for Simpson London is a document case in a contemporary colour scheme of chocolate brown leather spiced with bright orange trim that retails for about $1,850 (£1,175). It attracted considerable interest at the Pitti Immagine Uomo menswear trade fair in Florence in January.
Simpson London’s trademark is hand-stitching, with five or six stitches sewn to the inch, depending on which part of the case is being worked. The shortage of related craftsmen means that much work that was once done elsewhere, including the woodworking of the frames, is now necessarily done in the workshop. Bamboo canes, which have to be heated over a Bunsen burner to soften them for bending, are used in some pieces of luggage.
As well as making selling under its own name and making for other brands, Simpson London does lots of bespoke commission work. Its small and dedicated team is also kept busy restoring and repairing much-loved pieces of considerable age. As he shows me a 20-year-old attaché case with a patina like walnut that has been sent in for some routine maintenance, Robert Simpson observes: “The trouble is, these things don’t wear out. At least the owner of this had the good grace to buy a new one from us as well.”
Saturday, March 3, 2012
This week the ASW store welcomes Penhaligon's Blenheim Bouquet, the renowned English fragrance that is especially pleasant to wear on sunny spring days. An invigorating blend of lemon, lime, and lavender followed by pine, musk and black pepper, Blenheim Bouquet has been worn by gentlemen since 1902.
In addition to the Eau de Toilette (EdT) in Fragrances, I am stocking the well reviewed Blenheim Bouquet shaving soap, aftershave, face soap, bath oil, bath and shower gel and deodorant in the Shaving and Hair and Body sections of the store. The set of products is designed for layering, which creates a longer lasting scent while remaining appropriately discreet. Start in the shower with a soap or bath gel, shave using the shaving cream or soap, and then apply aftershave balm followed by the EdT. Stay fresh all day with a spray into your handkerchief and carry the travel atomizer to take yourself into the evening.
Men who have not yet tried Blenheim Bouquet can sample a 4ml spray of the EdT.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
The man on the right in the photo, Peter Harvey of Davies & Son, recently observed his 65th birthday. To celebrate, he will begin his semi-annual trip to the United States this month, visiting Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, New York, Washington and Boston (for dates and contact information, visit the company's web site).
While there is currently an infatuation with Neapolitan tailoring among the clothing geeks that I know, Peter's jackets tend towards the cleaner look that is more typical of the Row. He has made close to a dozen pieces for me over the years, including overcoats, suits, the odd waistcoat and two jackets with crescent pockets (only partly tongue in cheek I joke that he is the one English tailor I know who will make what I ask him to make rather than what he feels like making). Well worth a visit.
Happy birthday Peter.