Saturday, June 30, 2012
Worn by European royalty, demanding gamekeepers and ordinary mortals who need to slog through the wet, the world renowned Le Chameau Chasseur hunting boot is now in stock at the ASW store, giving you just enought time to beat the $50 price increase that goes into effect across North America on July 1.
Waterproof and extremely comfortable down to 23 degrees F (-5 C) the Chasseur is hand-and crafted in France from green natural rubber with a leather lining, an all terrain grip sole and a zip closure. Wear it in the field or around town on the weekend.
Friday, June 29, 2012
Assuming he wears or carries the jacket, his other stuff will fit easily into a duffel bag. There should be a pair of khaki cotton trousers to wear with a polo during the day, and lightweight trousers in charcoal gray to wear with the white shirt for evening. And if that jacket is a cream single breasted it will work for day or night, particularly when it is livened up with a bow tie after six o'clock.
All that is secondary of course. The heart of the matter is a bathing suit, polo shirt and espadrilles. Oh, and sunglasses that enable sidelong glances at the blonde.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
On sunny days the tan suit is somewhat more dressy than an odd jacket, falling into that neither fish nor fowl gray area inhabited by the navy blazer. That is to say, tan is probably too dandyish for a city finance job unless one either heads the office or is basking in the glow that comes from bringing in a whale, but it works very well in just about every other setting so long as one has the self-confidence to wear it. For though perfectly correct on social occasions and for work in the suburbs, tan is less common as well as seasonally good looking and so stands out more than gray or blue suits.
The extra visibility of tan, and cream its close relation, can be emphasized or not. Wearing either shade says that a man cares a bit about his clothes, which can be good or bad depending on those around him. De-emphasizing might mean a white shirt, black knit tie and conservative brown oxfords, while standing out will usually include a pair of spectator shoes and a shirt and tie combination that makes a statement.
In the photos, Andre and Keith Churchwell are happy to make statements in tan solaro and cream silk dupioni suits respectively.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Words by Will Boehlke
Photo by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans
There were cufflinks before there were buttons on the ends of shirt sleeves, and at least one white shirt in every closet should be designed to take them today. That being one's evening shirt of course, for a single plain button looks rather, well, pedestrian at night. The links used on that shirt may be inexpensive rubber cuff knots, which should be replaced at the earliest opportunity with something plain in 14 or 18kt gold. Plain of course, for the wearer needs a first pair that can be worn without being particularly memorable for the same reason that the first suit in a wardrobe should be a dark solid. And gold because it is the gentleman's metal, untarnishable and always correct.
The basics achieved, there is no limit to the number of cufflinks that a man can collect over time, with the caveat that jewelry never wears out and those sterling silver penguin links that looked so enticing once upon a time are with us long after we have stopped wearing them. The most important thing about building a cufflink wardrobe is that new acquisitions should always be of first quality, starting with that initial pair.
That said, there is a stopping point at which one can rest along the way, and that is a medium wardrobe consisting of one dinner set (shirt studs and links) and five pair of links in addition to that basic pair of gold. The six link wardrobe allows for one pair each day of the week with one to spare, and that ought to be plenty of variety. Not to mention a stopping point occurring as it should well before one's cufflink box represents more investment than a small motorcar. I find in fact that I rarely wear more than a couple styles over the course of a week of French cuffed shirts.
Past that point, in my opinion, a man could start looking around for a second dress set to give himself some variety should he find himself dressing for dinner a couple of times in a week. If his first set is onyx backing a colorless stone like RJ's in the photo, his second might be ruby red, which I find works better with black and white than most of the alternatives. His cufflink requirements however are met, and further collecting is for the sheer collecting of it.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Words by Will Boehlke
Photo by Antonio Muro
There are nearly as many types of necktie construction in Italy as there are Italian necktie makers, ranging from Marinella's thick three folds to Rubinacci's unlined sevens with perhaps the least conventional being the unlined and untipped three-fold like the version in the photograph. There usually is a bit of padding inside around the neck, but other than that the lack of lining produces a lightweight necktie that twists and moves with the breeze. With soft edges and hand sewing, they are to me the embodiment of the difference between English and Italian clothing. Neither better nor worse mind you. Just different.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Words by Eric Musgrave
Photos by Hainsworth
Millions of people watching the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II around the world saw the immaculate red uniforms of Her Majesty’s Brigade of Guards. Only a tiny number had any idea that the iconic cloth is produced by Hainsworth, a family-owned textile business in West Yorkshire that was founded in 1783 and continues to thrive thanks to its expertise in producing specialist cloths.
Hainsworth manufactures an extraordinary range of textiles that includes baize cloth for the world’s best pool and snooker tables, felt for the hammers of Steinway pianos, the Hudson Bay Company’s famous “point” blankets, high-tech protective clothing for fire fighters and military personnel, the cloth for classic university scarves, pea coat cloth for the Danish navy and biodegradable woollen coffins. Some 180 people are employed at the company’s Spring Valley Mill in Pudsey on the edge of Leeds.
The company’s board includes managing director Tom Hainsworth and his cousins Adam, the financial director, and Rachel, who is in charge of quality. Astonishingly, the trio are seventh-generation descendants of the splendidly named Abimelech Hainsworth, who started a cloth business in the area in 1783 selling the products of weavers who worked hand looms in their cottages. Also known as Old Bim, he set up his first mill in 1810; the current site was acquired by another Abimelech Hainsworth (aka Young Bim) in 1882.
Part of the secret of the company’s continued success is that it is a fully integrated vertical mill. Any tour of the 200,000 sq ft multi-storey plant starts with the wool store, where bales of raw fibre from Australia are stacked to the ceiling. Virtually every process, including a vast range of specialist finishing techniques, which transforms this smelly, oily wool into marvellous textiles is done on the premises.
Princes William and Harry were both in Hainsworth paradewear cloth at the Royal Wedding last year, as were the page boys, Prince Charles and probably every other man wearing a ceremonial uniform from Great Britain or overseas. Normally, the most widely seen Hainsworth product is the Brigade of Guards’ red uniform cloth. Incredibly, as recently as the early 1990s, colonels of the British regiments could decide on the cloth they wished to see their troops in. In those days Hainsworth produced an incredible 16 shades of red, which makes a mockery of the term “uniform cloth”. Sanity prevailed in the British Ministry of Defence and now there are only two hues for the Guards – scarlet or crimson.
There are also two qualities of this celebrated jacketing. Officers traditionally wear a 100% wool “doeskin” variety that weighs a substantial 380-400 grams (13-14oz). It has a “faced finish”, which means that it has a directional nap that always lays in the same direction, a typical example of Hainsworth’s expertise. The Other Ranks’ tunics are made in a melton that is even heavier at 550 grams (more than 19oz). Wearing that in the heat of even an English summer truly represents making sacrifices for Queen and Country.
Apart from the British Grenadiers and their comrades, the doeskin is worn by ceremonial troops as far apart as Canada (yes, the Mounties wear Hainsworth), Norway, Denmark and Malaysia, where that country’s finest parade about in a shade of bright yellow. The mill is an essential resource for military re-enactment groups, including American Civil war enthusiasts. Hainsworth produced the cloth for a replica of Stonewall Jackson’s uniform that’s displayed in the general’s museum.
Hainsworth’s robust worsted double baratheas and cavalry twills are reliable favourites with British bespoke tailors and the famous doeskin has even found its way on to the designer catwalks with Patrick Grant’s E Tautz line having a bright yellow pea coat in its last winter collection.
To escape the anonymity of parade grounds, pool tables and piano recitals, Hainsworth is slowly building a portfolio of consumer brands for its goods. The most curious is Natural Legacy, which is the name for the heavily felted wool coffins introduced in 2009. The wool, from British flocks, covers a recycled cardboard frame and the entire product, like its occupant, is biodegradable. The inspiration came from ancient practice of wrapping corpses of the wealthy in wool shrouds. Wool is antimicrobial and it helped prevent the smell being too obnoxious when family tombs were opened to add the most recently deceased.
More cheerfully, with the stylish living in mind, this year Hainsworth launched Scarlet & Argent, a lifestyle brand that uses the inherent skills of the mill to produce luxurious blankets and throws. The marketing at present is biased towards the feminine. We await with great interest the arrival of more Hainsworth products for men who appreciate a Made in England label.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Words by Nicholas Storey
In his poem The Task the poet William Cowper gave the world the often paraphrased lines:
‘Variety’s the very spice of life,
That gives it all its flavour.’
We need variety in food and drink fully to relish and savour them as pleasures beyond the practicality of refuelling, and travel gives us reviving changes of scene. Sport, games, recreations and hobbies give us relief, beyond mere idleness, from work, and ringing the changes in our dress can also be refreshing.
Will recently wrote a reflective piece about odd jackets in town.
Three piece City and country suits, with matching coats, breeches, or knickerbockers (later trousers) and vests began as ‘dittos’ in the mid-eighteenth century, as described in magazines such as an issue of Connoisseur in 1756 (“a suit of ditto”), and of Microcosm in 1787 (from which point it assumed the plural form “dittos”).
However, complementing combinations, which were more prevalent then, are still with us in the sports (or odd) jacket worn with different trousers and vest or jumper; they are also there in the blazer and nautical reefer worn with flannels or ducks (of whatever colour); British army tradition puts regimental buttons on a black or navy blue reefer and calls it a a ‘polo jacket’, matching it up with cavalry twill trousers, as we can see in the photograph of Ernest Simpson (whose renown stems chiefly for his short-lived marriage to Wallis). His buttons are of his old regiment, The Coldstream Guards, and the buttons are even arranged as they would be on the uniform coat.
The short, black morning coat (also called a ‘stroller’ or ‘Stresemann’, after the German politician Gustav Stresemann), worn with a matching or contrasting vest and either Cashmere-striped or hound’s-tooth trousers (even plain gray or buff come to that), remained a City outfit in politics, business and the professions well into the 1960s and lingers still with Masonic lodges and some managers in the hotel and catering industry, as well as with a few Mandarins in the civil service and English and Scottish lawyers.
The continuing drive towards ever less formal and ornate men’s modern dress, originally started by the rustication of men’s general civilian dress, in the wake of the American and French Revolutions (to eradicate ostentation amongst the richer classes in England and so avoid fomenting revolutionary feeling against them), under the influence of men such as Beau Brummell and Scrope Berdmore Davies, has meant that even the semi-formal City outfit described above has been nearly wholly displaced by dittos; the suit. This is something of a pity because the possibilities that the semi-formal rig offered for mixing and matching were considerable; carrying also the consequential benefit that, as single items in complimentary combinations wore out, they could be replaced without worries over cloth and pattern-matching between coats, vests and trousers.
There is already a post on this site of a black double-breasted stroller worn with a pair of checked trousers and it has such a modern touch about it that some men today could feel quite comfortable wearing it in place of a City suit.
Back to black.
Give it a go, and see how you can ring the changes!
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Friday, June 22, 2012
Words by Will Boehlke
Photo by Keith Churchwell
Summer is the season for color, and, at least in my own case, that color is often overly coordinated. As we have discussed in the past, excessive coordination in an ensemble looks as though the wearer has tried too hard and though the effort is commendable the result is not. At the highest levels a man's clothing must be imperfect, no matter how hard he has to work to achieve that imperfection.
That said, summer is the season for color, particularly pastels of all hues, and the best way to wear them, as illustrated by André Churchwell in the photograph, is to wear several of them at once. Things do not have to match.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Words and photo by Will Boehlke
It is probably a sign that he has too many shoes, but the earnest collector eventually turns to exotic skins in one form or another (exotic being another word for skins offered at price premiums over ordinary shoe leather that range from the merely to the horribly expensive). One reaches this point along either of two unrelated avenues, the more common being wealth beyond most dreams of avarice and the less a relentless pursuit of clothing perfection whether within one's means or not (usually not - as a friend replied when I suggested that he needed a maildrop to keep his wife from complaining about his spending, a maildrop would be admitting that his wife was correct and that he had a problem).
Having travelled down either of those avenues there are also two principal reasons to choose exotically skinned shoes. The public one is the distinctive look that can be achieved in no other way. The recognizable pattern of alligator and the variegated color of pigskin make for a shoe considerably different from every day calfskin but with less obvious "look at me" shouting than the bright green and purple dyes used by some cordwainers as a change from black and brown. But, as in so much of life, the story told for public consumption differs from reality. And in the case of exotic skinned shoes, the private reality is the psychological benefit the owner gains from the subconscious feeling that he is a man apart from other men, a wearer of footwear so rare that the man on the street hardly knows it exists let alone where to obtain it.
Of the two available options, the distinctive look is of course the rationale for Cleverley's shoes of Russian calf. The leather was hand stamped during its 18th century tanning with a varied cross-hatching (no-one has ever bothered to make a machine to do the stamping with the required irregularities) that needs to stand on its own, with minimal brogueing or other distractions. A captoe like the shoe in the photograph, for example, or RJ's banded slipons, add interest to a pair of flannel trousers (and, summer or no, today's temperatures call for flannel).
That one is wearing shoes so rare that alligator is common by comparison has nothing to do with it.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Say what you will about many of Lapo Elkann's clothing choices, and I certainly have, but the white shirt, linen pocket square and navy blue satin necktie are all classics after 6 PM. Further, the suit's windowpane checked flannel is usually notch lapelled for day wear; his peak lapelled version is a bit of sprezzatura right out of Gianni Agnell's book. If only his necktie were pulled up into his collar...
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Summer is slip-on shoe season. Lighter weight shoes complement lighter weight clothing in warm weather, and these long toed W. S. Foster Norwegians look particularly good under a suit in my opinion, while Bresciani cotton hose with a contrasting stripe relate to the day's navy grenadine necktie.
Worn with a black and white houndstooth suit, pale gray shirt, crayon blue barathea Albert Thurston braces and a white linen pocket square.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Photos by Kerry Taylor Auctions
In his 1960 memoir A Family Album the Duke of Windsor, somewhat implausibly, claimed that he had never been obsessed with his wardrobe. “Let it not be assumed that clothes have ever been a fetish of mine. Rather, I have become, by force of circumstances and upbringing, clothes-conscious. My position as Prince of Wales dictated that I should always be well and suitably dressed for every conceivable occasion,” he wrote.
Although it was made in 1950 or 1951, some 14 or 15 years after he ceased to be Prince of Wales, this checked evening suit undermines the Duke’s argument. Who else but a menswear fetishist would select the MacDonald Lord of the Isles tartan for a three-piece suit – and then have it made with a double-breasted jacket? Only a clothes-conscious obsessive would request covered buttons and a flamboyant Edwardian-style cuff, which has a curved turn-back of a fulsome two and a half inches to accommodate the four cuff buttons.
This suit was a popular one with the former Prince Edward, who held the title of Lord of the Isles as the eldest son of the British monarch (George V in his case). The Duke sometimes substituted the checked backless waistcoat with a similar item in green corduroy, which is hardly a common cloth choice for an evening ensemble.
The suit jacket was made by Scholte of London, while the trousers, with zipped fly, were tailored by Harris of New York. The matching waistcoat was made by Hawes and Curtis, as were the two pique waistcoats. Scholte made the green corduroy version. Who else but a menswear obsessive would involve three tailors on different sides of the Atlantic for an outfit?
In the 1998 auction of the Duke’s wardrobe at Sotheby’s in New York, this four-piece ensemble, plus a couple of white pique highland-style dress waistcoats, sold to an anonymous buyer for $4,887 (the equivalent today would be $6,884 or £4,438). It is under the hammer again on June 26 in the latest auction organised in London by vintage fashion specialist Kerry Taylor, who coincidentally handled the 1998 sale when she worked at Sotheby’s.
The estimate this time for the suit, which has a 38in chest and a 29in waist, is £8,000-£12,000 (about $12,400-$18,600), which suggests that the allure of the Duke, who died in 1972 shortly before his 78th birthday, is only getting stronger.
Frustratingly, there seems to be no record of the mill that provided the MacDonald Lord of the Isles tartan. In the 1998 auction an aluminium box of about 75 swatches of the Duke’s suits, including evening suits and Highland dress, and 14 overcoat cloths, was unsold. Its whereabouts today are unknown to me. The cloth is widely available today from firms like D C Dalgleish of Selkirk (“The world's last specialist mill weaving only authentic traditional quality tartans”) and Strathmore Woollen Company in Forfar (“One of Scotland’s most renowned suppliers of authentic tartan fabric and manufacturers of superior quality traditional Highland wear”).
The title of Lord of the Isles is now held by Prince Charles. I am not expecting him to be seen in a suit like his great-uncle David’s anytime soon.
Posted by Will at 6:48 AM
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Words and photos by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans
French stylist and dandy-about-town Marc Guyot once told me of a mutual acquaintance who returned to his shop, sleepless and troubled. The fellow asked to exchange a pair of shoe bags, the cloth drawstring-topped things that come included with better shoes, such as Marc’s. One of the bags was half an inch shorter than the other, and he hadn’t been able to sleep since discovering that. Although I never lost sleep over them myself, I can sympathize with our common friend as a fellow seeker of the uncompromising – what the French call an inconditionnel. Like him, I devoted time pursuing an ideal, but my pursuit preoccupied my waking rather than sleeping hours.
Spare a thought for the humble shoe bag. Its form usually follows function, which is to provide a bit of protection from dust and to keep your shoes from getting scuffed around when you feel blindly for a pair of shoes to drag out of the closet in the morning, or when you travel. Usually made of felt, its construction’s pretty simple: made flat, one end opens up and you put the shoe in. Sometimes there are drawstrings to close it with. That’s the practical use of shoe bags, for the purchaser anyway. For shoemakers, the purpose is principally marketing or brand reinforcement. Including bags tells the purchaser he has bought a pair of shoes worth preserving or at least that the pair purchased is in the same league as other brands that supply bags with their shoes. Stamped, stitched or embroidered with the retailer’s name, bags also serve the purpose of badging the shoes they cover, allowing the owner to tell even with the bags on the make of the shoes. So far, so boring.
A few stores and shoe brands use shoe bags as a particular flourish to set their shoes apart. Alan Flusser, whom Guyot rivals for clothing knowledge and gossip, once sang the praises of the old Brooks Brothers for providing shoe bags made of Brooks Brothers shirting fabric, which was a cute although not particularly durable touch. (Brooks Brothers wouldn’t do something as creative today.) Massaro supplies ridiculously decadent satin-lined shoe bags with its men’s ready-to-wear. Some bespoke makers go farther still – Cleverley provides neat ultrasuede jobs with a snap button closure, while Anthony Delos has a fellow Compagnon du Devoir make up shoe bags in soft material with Delos’s name embroidered on them. Gaziano & Girling provides thick fleecy shoe bags with braided trim that close with a flap (as did the shoe bags supplied with Edward Green’s short-lived bespoke operation, naturally, since Tony Gaziano ran it).
Still, all of these seem like merely ways to sleeve shoes up prior to jamming them into a closet or back into a shoebox. Only one type of shoe bag stood out for me, and there were only two places to get it.
The most famous bespoke shoemakers in the world, John Lobb of Saint James’s, London, sell shoe bags. (This is, of course, the original Lobb, not the one selling overdesigned ready-to-wear shoes on Bergdorf’s website.) They don’t include them with the purchase of their bespoke shoes, but are famous enough and set enough in their ways to nickel-and-dime (shilling-and-pence?) customers for the sundries like bespoke shoe trees, bags and polish which most bespoke makers generously throw in. Made out of some sort of fleecy material, with thick silver or gold braid trim, they zip along the top to close. Wedge shaped, with a definite top and a bottom, they do with flair what does not need to be done at all. The ultra-fruity tassel at the top undermines arguments as to these bags’ decidedly superior functionality: even though they do a better job keeping your shoes upright than the pocket-type design of other shoe bags, these are ornate, overthought, luxuriously unnecessary enough to seem to be vestigial remnants of a different time. In other words, unreal, which is also the price Lobb London wants for them – and of course it would seem infra dig to purchase Lobb bespoke shoe bags without owning their bespoke shoes.
Fortunately, it appears that Alan Flusser was just as taken with Lobb London’s shoe bags as I am. Indeed, if it weren’t for Alan Flusser’s books, I would never have known about Lobb London’s bags in the first place. When Flusser ran the last incarnation of his New York custom shop, he sold made-to-order Edward Green shoes with bags specially made for his shop with the same details as the Lobb London shoe bags. I never had the opportunity to patronize Flusser’s New York shop before it ceased operations (I understand he’s now relaunched). After his old boutique closed, I made some enquiries and found that there were a few extra pairs of the Flusser-Lobb shoe bags that weren’t wedded to any shoes, and ended up with these for my own Edward Greens. No name or logo necessary or desired.
In the end, an amusing exercise in the pursuit of something so vaguely ridiculous, so ornately, fussily unnecessary and overdone that it recalls the fellows in my first post on the topic of our obsessive curiosities. One’s visitors may comment that they look like ominous little sleeping bags, but whether for anthropomorphized shoes or the other monsters of the unquiet sleep of reason is still an open question.
Posted by Will at 7:00 AM
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Arriving at the ASW store recently have been several shoe-related items, among them a new leather shoe shine mat. Crafted by France's La Cordonnerie Anglaise, the mat keeps polish from damaging your work surface, and does it far more elegantly than old newspaper. Offered in black, brown, and tan. In Shoe Care.
Next up are my new flat silk shoelaces that turn black patent leather or ordinary calf oxfords into extraordinary evening shoes. These are usually only available from bespoke shoemakers and I believe the ASW store is the only online source on the planet. Look for them in the Shoes section of the site.
Shine mats and laces are joined by a new stock of my authentic espadrilles and will be followed in the next few days by new shipments of Sloop slip-ons, including the bi-color version for 2012, chukka boots and Le Chameau's leather lined Chasseur, the hunting boot worn by European royalty, demanding gamekeepers and ordinary mortals who need to slog through the wet. It is autumn in the Southern hemisphere after all.
Friday, June 15, 2012
Most men shave all or parts of their faces, and the more enjoyable way to shave is the process of wet shaving. In addition to the usual assortment of balms, pre-shaves, milks and aftershaves, proper wet shaving of course requires lather, which is nothing more than the aeration/hydration of a shaving cream or hard soap (and here we ignore gels and other inventions which attempt to do the same thing, usually to the detriment of the experience). Lather warms, lubricates and protects the face during the shave, allowing the razor to glide across the skin's surface without skipping or catching. It also enhances the shaving experience with a pleasant aroma.
Shaving soaps preceded shaving creams. They last much longer than an equivalent amount of cream, making them considerably more economical, but are also a bit more difficult and definitely more time consuming to use as a lather must be built from them using a shaving brush and water. That said, a soap lather tends to be slightly slicker than one made from cream, helping the razor in its progress and in some opinions providing a slightly closer shave.
Shaving creams are essentially soaps that have been emulsified with the addition of water (the reality is more complicated but hardly worthy of description). In other words, a cream is a lather already built, so to speak, and that convenience is what the user is paying a not inconsiderable additional amount for. Creams are especially useful for newcomers to wet shaving who may initially struggle to build a proper lather with a soap, and produce a consistently, ahem, creamy lather if one that may not be quite as slick (a property that is of course completely unnoticeable to a cream-only user).
By the way, no discussion of lather-making products would be complete without the mention of soap sticks, which are soaps designed for application directly to the face. Soap sticks are considerably more convenient for travel than either soap pucks or creams, and the principal price one pays is that they are applied at room temperature instead of being pre-warmed, which removes a great deal of the pleasure from the wet shaving process. And it should be a pleasure, for men have spent hundreds of years learning how to accomplish an unnatural task as enjoyably as possible.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Admittedly, I do not believe that odd jackets have much of a place in the city in the first place. I know I am out on a limb by myself in making this statement but the extra formality of suits, including casual suits, looks better to my eye in an urban setting, and when I do want an odd jacket it is usually something blue to wear to cocktails. So there is method to my odd jacket madness. And now that I think about it I recognize that had I not told you, dear reader, you most likely would never have noticed. I feel better already.
I suppose I should take a page out of Yves Saint Laurent's metaphorical book in the photograph. Blue and gray does not look at all dull in that context.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Winston Churchill was my boyhood hero, on the grounds that as an adult I would live a life of accomplishment while being free to disdain exercise, smoke cigars and lead an extravagant existence that was well beyond my means. Worthwhile goals indeed and I have been fortunate to achieve the latter three if not the first. Churchill Style: The Art Of Being Winston Churchill by Barry Singer (Abrams Image, ISBN: 0-8109-9643-X) offers the reader a look at how a master did it.
Unlike the volumes upon volumes that have been written about Churchill's public history, Churchill Style focuses on his personal life, including, as Michael Korda writes in the forward, his "preferred shirts, cigars, brandy, champagne, shoes and all the other things that meant so much to him." It is illustrated with sixty photographs, many of them rarely seen, and includes my personal favorite on the cover: Churchill sitting out doors at home, cigar in hand and wearing one of his siren suits. He lacks only a snifter of cognac.
Churchill was a polymath: voracious reader and expert Shakespearean, Impressionist-style landscape painter, Nobel prize-for-literature-winning author, decorated soldier, and, according to a letter written by his long suffering wife Clementine, wearer of underwear that was “very finely woven silk (pale pink) … from the Army and Navy stores and (which) cost the eyes out of his head.” His shoes were bespoke and his clothing tailored by, as legend and a copy of an unpaid bill from E. Tautz that includes charges as much as six years old would have it, whichever of his Savile Row firms he did not owe money. This was a man for whom only the best would suffice, who laid bricks at home dressed in a homburg hat and a vested suit. The story of his style is well worth while.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
If gray is the color of winter then blue must surely be the color of summer. And not navy blue either, but the softer tones of sunlit seas and clear skies. French blue, Irish blue and still lighter tones appear in odd jackets and suitings of linen, cotton and even Solaro. Yes, Solaro, that red-backed weave that was once thought to wear cooler because it reflected the sun. And though my own experience calls that latter characteristic into question, there is no doubt that its undertones of color add to the seasonality of the cloth.
Limited as it is to bespoke tailored clothing, Solaro is rarely seen and when it is it tends to be in the shades of tan that are the only colors offered by Smith Woolens, its originator and one of the last remaining businesses on the planet without a web presence of any kind. I was reminded of the blue stuff by a Napolisumisura customer who wrote looking for some to have made into a summer suit, and the only blue I am aware of is offered by Scabal, the Belgian cloth merchant (never having seen a swatch I am not certain that the cloth in the photo is backed with red, indeed it could be backed with navy blue for all I know but Scabal does call it Solaro). It is precious stuff apparently as Scabal's tailor pricing is about $300 a meter which is about twice as much as Smith wants for the original. But I digress.
Solaro or not, the lighter blues of summer may be a little too visible for some. I on the other hand will be wearing my French blue Finmeresco double breasted today, with an ecru shirt and a navy knit necktie with tan horizontal stripes. For it is summer and the sun is shining.
Posted by Will at 7:16 AM
Monday, June 11, 2012
Some men add a small personal statement to their clothing. Frank Sinatra favoured an orange pocket square with his dinner jacket, as well as those highly individualistic hats (by Mr Lock) which, surely, no one else wore; Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Jack Buchanan often sported a dark red carnation, and there is already a post here on Noël Coward’s brown dinner jacket.
The question arises, possibly more and more: where does individualism in men’s dress end and eccentricity begin?
When I lived in London I knew a senior British civil servant who sometimes wore a black bowler (derby) hat to work. Other times he carried a cane (of the swagger-stick kind, which he proudly told me had belonged to the historian and politician H A L Fisher). Neither is common: bowler hats are quite rare away from the hunting field, and carrying canes in town is normally done only when they are needed as walking aids. However, he never wore the bowler and carried the cane at the same time; probably because he felt that each item, on its own, lent a touch of individualism to his appearance; a charming remnant of another age, but that the two together would have given him the air of an individualist who had strayed into the realm of eccentricity, by way of sartorial anachronism. I think that he was probably right; especially in relation to accessories whose day has passed or is passing in general wear.
It is not that I am against a little game eccentricity. I am full of admiration for men like those in the photographs: the 7th Marquess of Bath and Hamish Bowles, the editor of Vogue, who both dress with bold eccentricity. Possibly, their secret is that they dress as they do just to please themselves, rather than for the effect that they have on others.
However, if the aim of most sensible men is to be remarkable for their tasteful restraint then following the late Neil Munro ‘Bunny’ Roger and combining an Edwardian-cut suit; a high, starched collar; a high-crowned, bowler hat; a cane (or umbrella); a watch-chain, a tie pin, a buttonhole flower, and a pair of gloves will take them, in the modern age, too far away from subtle individualism, and prompt John Bull, Uncle Sam, and all the others, to turn and stare at them in the street. Beau Bummell was right.
Of course, the older we become (and the less influenced by the opinions and criticisms of others), the easier it is to let more than just one personal note shine through but most men will feel uncomfortable and, therefore, appear uncomfortable, being dressed up like a dog’s dinner. Limit yourself to one statement at a time.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
The name of Charles Macintosh (1766-1843) is forever associated with traditional British rainwear thanks to his patenting of a process for waterproofing fabrics with naphtha-treated rubber way back in 1823. Less well known in the arcane history of waterproof garments is the role of Thomas Hancock (1786-1865), who is credited with founding the rubber industry itself in Great Britain. In 1820 he invented a machine called a “masticator”, the revolving teeth of which ripped up scraps of rubber that were then pressed into solid blocks or rolled into sheets. In the mid-1820s, Hancock joined forces with Macintosh to develop the exciting new product. In 1843 Hancock took out the British patent for the vulcanisation process, which involved heating rubber with sulphur, thereby reducing the chance of the rubber becoming gummy or brittle depending on the temperature (his action blocked Charles Goodyear from extending to the UK his American patent for a similar process).
Hancock’s profile is about to be raised as he has lent his name and his inspiration to a new company founded by Daniel Dunko, a man well known in this sector as he worked at the Mackintosh rainwear company for 28 years, having started as an apprentice coat maker and ending up as chief executive. Based, like Mackintosh, in Cumbernauld, just outside Glasgow, Hancock, as the new company is named, is combining the finest standards of hand-making vulcanised rubber rainwear with a contemporary styling that has been provided by ideas from London bespoke tailor Timothy Everest. The capsule collection for autumn-winter 2012 will comprise only a few styles, which are known as “articles”, as Thomas Hancock referred to all his many rubber products as such. The HVA device on the printed linings stands for “Hand-Vulcanised Articles”.
For the debut, the thin vulcanised rubber sheet will be bonded to a Super 120’s wool flannel (with 3% cashmere) from the Yorkshire mill of John Foster, which was itself founded in 1819. The key item will be a single-breasted town coat, available in charcoal or navy, that will be hand-made with rubber-bonded taped seams to render it 100% waterproof. The rubber solution used in the process is applied by that most precise of instruments, the human finger. It takes three years’ training to perfect the spreading or “smearing” on all the seams and hem lines.
Simple tools do essential jobs in the process. The tape that covers the interior seams is pressed down by a rolling hardened steel cylinder, the same width as the tape, which is attached to a wooden handle. A rubber wheel attached to a wooden handle is used by the coat-maker to remove any excess glue that may have spread outside of the tape.
Confirmed London retailers for Hancock are Cordings on Piccadilly and Timothy Everest in Bruton Place. In Tokyo, Vulcanize, Aoyama and United Arrows’ Harajuku branch will also have the initial offering. American buyers will see the line at Pitti Uomo in Florence this month.
Posted by Will at 8:02 AM
Saturday, June 9, 2012
Need neckties? This week the ASW store has begun its summer sale with 40% reductions on dozens of (mostly) spring/summer neckties. Yes, it is not yet July, however we are starting early because, frankly, I sell very few fully priced ties while the sales are going on and thought I might as well see what happens if I beat the gun.
So if you have been thinking about oxfords, mogadors, shantungs, linen and the like, visit Going, Going Gone while there is still a great selection. You will even have a few months to wear them before Labor Day.
Friday, June 8, 2012
Among my favorite cufflinks is an old design called The Road To Ruin that reminds the wearer of the simple pleasures of life, those which taken to excess can lead a man to ruin. Originating in a less complex time before the popularization of certain chemicals and the demonization of tobacco, the images show traditional male pastimes: champagne, dancing girls (either chorus or ballet dancers qualify), horse racing and cards. Pursued with too much vigor any of these can bring on personal disaster, though they are particularly effective in combination.
In the photo, 18 kt gold and enamel cufflinks by Deakin & Francis.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
There are fine summer hats of course, including Panamas of all types and even straw boaters. But those blow off in a breeze and it is caps we consider today, specifically those that may be worn for sport without incurring the ridicule of those around us. And wear them we must, for summer brings with it the potential for sunburned scalps and only one of those episodes is usually required to make a cap wearer out of a man.
Any survey of summer caps should begin with the linen flat cap that is probably the most elegant of the season's casual headwear. The flat cap is equally at home exploring Roman ruins around Avignon and striding up the 18th fairway and every man should have several, in my opinion.
For active sport, the canvas safari hat is a personal favorite for hiking as well as riding in a jeep pretending to stalk the white rhinoceros (I do not consider the pith helmet and neither should you), and the long billed as-worn-by-Ernest-Hemingway fisherman's cap that is sort of a baseball cap on steroids would be another had I not sworn off fishing. There are also several styles to avoid at all costs.
An American television comedy series called Gilligan's Island fifty years ago was responsible for the near-death of the day cravat after it was worn by the scorned-by-audiences character Thurston Howell III. I give that show equal credit for de-popularizing yachting caps like the hat on the shorts-wearing gentleman in the illustration. Yachting caps may still be donned by recreational sailors, but only on a boat of a certain length and only if they own it. The rest of us should stay away lest we hear snickering behind our backs.
Ignoring the baseball cap as one well should, particularly the versions with those plastic size adjustors as well as the ones advertising service companies of all types, two other summer hats to be shunned are the Breton cap and the Greek fisherman's hat. Neither of those should be worn by men who are not, respectively, Breton or Greek fishermen or who do not earn their livings posing as such for English-speaking tourists.
Taking all this into account, a respectable summer cap wardrobe might reasonably include linen flat caps in several colors, a cotton safari or even two if they are worn daily, and a fisherman's cap so long as its owner can define the term creel without resorting to a dictionary.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Bespoke is a funny thing. It is thought to mean that the customer can have whatever he specifies, when the reality is that he can have whatever his supplier feels like making or knows how to make. Take jacket linings, for example. There are fully lined coats of course, and half lined coats where the lining extends only half way down the back to promote air flow through the cloth. And then there are quarter lined jackets where besides the sleeves and shoulders there is just enough lining material to support the pockets, and self (buggy) lined versions that do away with even more of the lining material if not all of it. The latter two promote better air circulation and wear cooler than the first, but not all tailors will make them.
Not all tailors will make quarter or buggy lined jackets because to do so takes more time, moves them out of their comfort zone, or both. Less lining takes more time because one of lining's roles is to cover the seams, which take considerably more effort to make neatly. It is second nature for the Italians, with their warmer climate, but quite a bit harder to get from other tailors. And I have tried.
All that is to simply lay the groundwork for this discussion of linings, since not every style will be available everywhere. Nor will every lining material. The standard is Bemberg, a smooth inexpensive rayon, though silk is also used (for considerably more money). Silk is available in a wider variety of interesting patterns, especially if silk scarves are sewn together to make a lining, but neither silk nor Bemberg is particularly cool. Better for the heat is Ermazine, a lighter weight viscose with more ventilation, though I have had more than one tailor tell me they could not find it despite the fact that it is readily available from London's Richard James Weldon, probably the best known supplier of tailoring trimmings in the world.
Then there are the men who hold that the coolest coats are those with no lining whatsoever, though even those may have the stuff in the sleeves to make it easier to put one's arms in and out (the time required to don a completely unlined fresco jacket after airport security can cause a man to miss his flight). The challenge is that if the jacket is to have pockets it needs something to support them. When there is no lining, a double layer of the jacket's wool (or cashmere, or linen or whatever) is used as in the photograph. And two layers of wool generally speaking represent more of a barrier to air circulation than one layer of wool and a layer of Ermazine.
Self lining works fine for the interior of a coat that is lightweight but not intended to be particularly cool. It is also a reasonable choice for a heavier fresco. But for the heat, give me an Ermazine quarter lining. If I can get it at all.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Most books about clothing make me want to put a bullet in my head. It is thus my unique torment to have become something of a collector of them, panning for tiny specks of gold amid nuggets of false erudition and repeated truisms. For every diligently perceptive James Laver or Teutonically earnest Bernhard Roetzel quacks a multitude of hacks regurgitating brands’ marketing, unfounded and unquestioned half-truths, or dated and dimestore Freudianism that would have gotten laughed out of a book on any other topic. Still, we do not love with our minds, and when we find… I find… resonance on even the smallest scale for the history, the hidden truth, some new perspective or connection, it is possible to live again however briefly the romance of whatever brought me to this point, eternally tensed between a love of the story of clothing and the obscenity of truth, Marcel Duchamp by way of Bryan Ferry and The Bride Stripped Bare.
Books about luxury clothing are generally lifestyle porn, part and parcel of what people buy to congratulate themselves for affording or coveting. They situate the purchaser along some unbroken line of heritage, care and tradition, carefully pictured and described in terms that are simultaneously muddled and specialized enough to hide any corners the book’s subject is now cutting. Essentially, they are expanded versions of the puffery in magazine articles, usually written by people who have little familiarity with clothing construction or the technical side of the business and little experience owning and wearing the clothes they write about. I suppose as well that many men’s clothing magazine writers would prefer to be writing about something more serious, Chinese economics or international relations or something where they get to namedrop Xudjakov. Not, of course, that the Internet is much better. Changing times have meant that many makers, shops and tailors who previously avoided publicity will now talk to just about anyone (who can then spread that information online). Unfortunately, many of the people they talk to will believe just about anyone.
Against this wasteland of critical thought The Inventors of Tradition by Beca Lipscombe & Lucy McKenzie (Walther König, Köln/Koenig Books) is a welcome, informative, original and somewhat sobering recent addition to my bookcase. This collection of interviews, essays and analysis was assembled by two Scottish design firms, Atelier and Panel, with the collaboration of the Scottish Screen Archive, and is based on the exhibition of the same name they organized in Glasgow, fairly described by television Scotsman Craig Ferguson as Scotland’s answer to Detroit. The exhibition and the book address Scotland’s textile industry: its cashmere companies, its hand knitters, its rubberized raincoat company Mackintosh, and others, describing a past of evolution and attrition and an uneasy future. The book features photographs of new designs created for the exhibition by some of these last remaining Scottish makers, among the producers of the John Laing cashmere sweaters on this site and the cashmere scarf weavers Alex Begg, as well as Caerlee Mills, the oldest continuously functioning woolens mill in Scotland, which previously supplied the greats such as Hermès, Sulka and Charvet in the glory days of Scottish cashmere. The Inventors of Tradition makes clear that for these makers, relevance requires struggling against contemporary values of cheapness and against the imposed stasis of outsiders’ vision of “Scottishness” – as well as the appropriation of other traditional brand names and histories by investors who have moved production, along with everything else but nominal inspiration, out of Scotland.
Unlike other high-concept endeavors, The Inventors of Tradition drills deep to provide unsentimental, frank interviews with the contemporary knitters, artists and mill owners who had taken part in the old days of Scottish industry, when that tradition was being invented (a more recent invention than most think). Blessedly, they discuss their work and production without entering into the hushed and worshipful tones of the usual clothing coffee-table books – sanctification being one form of distancing and distortion between the process of production and the layperson’s contemplation and emotional experience of contemplating an image of that process.
Through these accounts, The Inventors of Tradition can share with readers its subjects’ “uniquely personal vision,” and literally sketch out across them the web of connections between the different companies it features can spread, ripples across common themes and common linchpins, crossroads at shared yarn suppliers or temporary corporate parents, work placements, and more. And in reviewing that web the well-informed can notice where those ripples end, some at defunct names or companies that are just shells of what they once were.
An essay exploring Scottish style attempts to pry it away from the twee and move towards a contemporary that quotes from or appropriates what is left of the old makers. Reminding us of the recent manufacture of Scottish tradition through the historical fantasies of Sir Walter Scott, among others, it also recounts more recent myths such as that now advanced by the brand Pringle, which closed its last Scottish mills after being sold off by its old owner and is now selling itself as a Scottish heritage brand.
In contrast to this modern heritage brand mythomania, The Inventors of Tradition also includes information on Bonnie Cashin, who designed for the legendary Scottish knitwear house Ballantyne in the 1950s and 1960s and whose designs were worn by Elizabeth Shepherd in her abortive turn as Emma Peel on The Avengers (Shepherd is now best known for getting her eyes pecked out by a crow in The Omen II).
An essay by Nicholas Oddy discusses Scottish industrial decline and the rise of the creative, a necessary stage in postindustrialism. In this context, the pictures of clothes created for the exhibition itself represent a sort of synthesis of these themes of local inspiration without parochialism and local production: towards an idea of Scottishness, cognizant of what came before and what remains.
A section of critiques of films about the Scottish textile industry from the Scottish Screen Archive is entertaining, reminding us how dated and stilted certain styles of narrative and paternalistic self-congratulation now seem. The remarked contrast in tone from the period to the present echoes in the juxtaposition of Scottish cashmere companies’ materials throughout the book: pictures of past samples, catalogs and press kit images featuring 1970s blow-dried toffs in appalling sailboat-themed lambswool intarsia sweaters; the cover of a 1970s catalog from Ballantyne featuring a strange Digital Age logo that must have seemed as cutting edge and amazingly sophisticated as a digital watch or pocket calculator at the time; advertisements for twin-sets at Harrods showing 1980s reversions to superannuated form.
While The Inventors of Tradition was published to accompany an exposition on Scottish design and production, it appears that the Scots still have that particularly British issue of shying away from the publicity they court: Will and I discovered that another showcase of some of the same producers featured in The Inventors of Tradition recently took place in New York without anyone in the States learning about it: Scotland Redesigned apparently took place the week of April 9, and is now back at The Lighthouse in Glasgow. For now, we suggest exploring what is accessible, both literarily and sartorially, from Scotland.
Monday, June 4, 2012
Mid-blue and tan/brown are the colors of summer in the country to my mind. The Northern California landscape is sere under the sun, the sea bright blue and somehow clothing colors that relate to the place and the season tend to work the best.
In the photograph, a tan voile shirt complements a blue linen suit, block striped silk knit necktie and a linen pocket square. The day's shoes were tan oxfords.
Sunday, June 3, 2012
David Saxby’s London shop is a uniquely British treasure trove of sporting tweeds and formal wear that aren’t available anywhere else on a ready-to-wear basis. A rainbow of high-waisted slim-cut corduroy trousers in heavyweight Brisbane Moss cloth? Check. RTW Norfolk jackets and plus fours cut from Lovat Mill tweed and lined in black watch tartan silk? Check. Jackets in substantial linen in soft pastel colours? Check. It’s almost overwhelming, and fills me with a childish rush of excitement every time I visit.
Two decades ago Mr Saxby started to sell second hand clothes from Old Hat, his vintage shop in Fulham, West London. “You could go to charity shops and car boot sales and buy Harris tweed jackets and they’d fly out at a good profit,” he explains. But things have changed, “You don’t find those kind of jackets in charity shops anymore, and young men don’t want them. Apart from nice old barathea dinner jackets and morning coats (which he still sells) my kind of vintage has had its day.”
Of course, having sold vintage bespoke clothes for two decades he’s almost uniquely well placed to pass judgement on Savile Row. Who made or makes the best clothes? “Henry Poole, Gieves & Hawkes, Edward Sexton. There are a few old tailors who I really admired: Lesley Roberts, Meyer & Mortimer, Hogg & Son and JB Johnson. I’ve never seen anything bad from them. Robert Valentine was a really good tailor, also Davies & Son and Connock & Lockie. There are still people making good clothes.”
Now his focus is on his David Saxby shop, with its unique selection of new clothes that will soon be offered on the internet; he pre-empts the obvious question. “I’ve been asked before ‘Who buys these orange cords?’ All my customers do, from 17 to 70. This is Fulham and Chelsea and we’re catering to local people - quite a few Dukes shop here. But go as far as Wandsworth [the neigbouring borough] and you might as well go over the edge of the world – there are no red trousers there.”
Mr Saxby says, “About a third of my customers are army officers: Cavalry officers, Guards officers, and Sandhurst (Britain’s officer training college) guys. These guys are a delight, they stand up straight, look smart and wear their clothes well. They understand tailoring, don’t ask for silly things and tend to get it right - there are lots of Guards Officers striding about in lemon cords or wearing red trousers with blue blazers.”
But does this explain the obvious country influence? “I coined the phrase Fulham farmers – they like tweeds for (horse) racing and for the weekend.” And what they buy from Mr Saxby is made in his workshop near the town of Ipswich in England’s East Anglia and sold at modest prices – waistcoats are $270 (£175), cords $225 (£145), made to measure jackets $700 (£450) and made to measure suits $1,050 (£675). The prices matter to him. “Part of quality is being made at a reasonable cost. Clothes should last forever; if you buy a tweed jacket you should still have it in 30 years, and that makes it very cheap. I wouldn’t like to price them so high I couldn’t sell them to everybody who comes in. I want a lot of people to be well dressed.”
Photography by Chloë Lederman
Posted by Will at 6:26 AM
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Limited quantities of several new silk items arrived at the ASW store this week, including a red ascot and an expanded selection of silk belts that will dress up a blazer during the day (dandies might pair them with my suede house shoes), and red satin bow ties that will do the same with a navy suit during the evening. And they will be joined next week by very hard to find flat black silk shoe laces that will dress up your oxfords for black tie occasions.
One thing I like about my silk belts is the positive reaction they elicit from the fairer sex. Paired with an otherwise conventional jacket and trousers, they add flair without taking things too far. Add a pair of tan or light gray socks for a Fred Astaire look without the self consciousness of tieing a necktie around your waist.
Friday, June 1, 2012
In 1869 Alex Begg established a business making traditional hand-woven shawls in the Scottish town of Paisley, the place that gave its name to the now-ubiquitous textile pattern. In 1904, Begg relocated his business 35 miles down the road to the coastal town of Ayr, whence it has established a worldwide reputation for luxurious scarves, stoles, shawls and soft furnishings.
If you were seeking an ideal place to site a scarf manufacturer, Ayr would be high on your list. The wind comes in cold and damp from the Firth of Clyde and the reliably heavy rainfall makes the many nearby golf courses, such as Turnberry and Royal Troon, startlingly green.
The unprepossessing Begg factory is in a residential area of the town, which is a lonely outpost of textile manufacturing, a few hours’ drive from the cashmere knitting specialists in the Scottish Borders. Yet Begg in Ayr is now a regular stopping-off point for designers from many of the most prestigious luxury brands from the UK, Europe, America and the Far East. The company uses techniques barely changed in 150 years to produce the most sumptuous cashmere accessories for men and women for a stellar line-up of leading names.
Lambswool, angora and cashmere-silk blends are also specialities for Begg, which offers a massive collection of plain colours as well as sophisticated woven jacquards and prints. Its expertise in weaving and finishing, using the soft and pure local water, makes it one of Scotland’s best-regarded manufacturers. Almost 30% of the production time involves painstaking handwork, including brushing the nap of some scarves by hand with natural teasels, the spiky plant heads that resemble thistles. In fact, the teasels Begg uses are grown to its specifications in Italy.
Despite its obvious concentration on cosy products for the autumn and winter months, for summer Begg Scotland, as the company now styles itself, produces a fabulous super-lightweight cashmere scarf known as the “wispy”, which is woven from a yarn exclusive to Begg. Ideal for travel and using on a plane, the 27.5 x 79 inch (70 x 200 cm) scarf folds into the smallest bag or pocket. The wispy is also great for cool evenings or to defend yourself from the terrors of air conditioning. To locate a retailer, contact the company.
Posted by Will at 7:21 AM