Dress like Frank tonight. You may have a better time. Your date certainly will.
And Happy New Year!
London tailor Edward Sexton gets little play on the blogs and fora that constitute the majority of the English-language discourse on the subject of bespoke tailoring. This may be because he spends little time worrying about PR. And the reason he’s able to ignore the world of PR, I’d suggest, is down to the fact that he’s one of the UK’s very best tailors.
As both a customer and a journalist I’ve been inside most of London’s tailors’ shops, and I’ve had suits from quite a few of them. None have exhibited the attention to detail, or put in the time and care, that Sexton did when he made me a suit (pictured above). From his insistence that his coat-maker attend my fittings, rather than rely on chalk marks to see what small nips and tucks were necessary, to the fact that he likes to service his suits after they’ve been worn a few times to make sure they’re absolutely right, he provides a different level of service from most tailors.
The cut, as you might guess given his pivotal role in developing Tommy Nutter’s famous aesthetic, is uncompromising, but it’s certainly not the zoot-suit caricature that his lesser rivals accuse him off. As a result his structured jackets (“We give you the shoulders that God forgot to give you,” he told me) are a far cry from the Neapolitan garments that conventional wisdom currently deems to be the ne plus ultra of tailoring styles. However, it’s also true that many women prefer the look of a man in a structured coat.
Sexton is further distinguished by his great taste. He is among the best-dressed tailors in London, and it may be no coincidence that the other one who comes to mind is Joe Morgan, who also used to work with Tommy Nutter. I still remember a rus-in-urbe outfit of Sexton’s that consisted of a pair of cords, brown loafers, a roll-neck and a double-breasted tweed jacket. Sexton appears to be conspicuously dressed up, even on the rare occasions when he’s seen in a shirt and V-neck sweater. He is superbly dressed as a result, and has good style advice to dispense.
Perhaps the fact that one of Britain’s best tailors doesn’t go-in for light-weight construction and a Neapolitan cut is simply too dissonant a piece of information for igents to absorb; they’re more comfortable arguing about the hairsbreadth that separates Marinella and Drake’s ties, or Rubinacci and Solito suits, than they are considering genuinely different approaches to style. And the fact that Sexton’s own impressive dress sense owes nothing to the principles of sprezzatura only compounds his outsider status. However, men willing to allow the fact that there’s more to style than simply going on a voyage of sartorial discovery that slowly, but inevitably, arrives at the city of Naples should pay him the attention he deserves.
Most city ensembles should be kept to no more than two patterns above the waist, in my opinion (that encompasses shirt, necktie, pocket square and jacket). Adding a third pattern is often too eye-catching, and can be difficult to do successfully in the first place. The patterns must be of different scales, should be of different types (no dotted squares with dotted neckties for example), and the colors complementary but not matching.
Outside of the center of a large city, life is generally less formal and the third (indeed, occasionally even a fourth) pattern finds easier acceptance. In the photo, the same striped silk jacquard necktie and medallion print wool and silk pocket square that were worn with a gray odd jacket in an earlier post are paired with a brown glen check suit and a light blue twill shirt for a day in the suburbs.
I need a pair of corduroys or two as some of mine are showing too much wear, and that reminded me of a unique wool weave: Loro Piana's Zelander, to the best of my knowledge the only tailored clothing quality Merino wool corduroy. But I am afraid of the stuff.
Loro Piana makes some of the world's finest cashmere without question. The trouble in the past was their wool. You see, a decade or more ago they were weaving it using a technique that reduced the strength by 25%, and I had a new suit split in the middle of a leg. Unstressed, and not at a seam either. That is the sort of thing that stays with a man, and, much as I would like a couple pair of wool corduroy trousers I need to first convince myself that they will hold up for more than a few hours.
I will report back after W. W. Chan's winter visit.
In addition to our exhaustively described common appreciation for cashmere rollnecks, alpaca tweed and the later oeuvre of Faith No More, Will and I share an interest in the books of style writer Nick Foulkes. He was thus elated to learn that I had devoured Foulkes’ gorgeous, gigantic Bals this past weekend and couldn’t wait for me to share my impressions with him (In RJ's dreams. Ed.).
Foulkes has made himself a niche as a writer about expensive and glittering things and people, both in producing vanity histories for Mikimoto pearls, Turnbull & Asser, the Carlyle Hotel, Dunhill and other luxury brands, and in his very entertaining, engagingly written forays into history and biography, including one of Count d’Orsay. While his latest creation appears to have been sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels in connection with that jeweler’s launch of a collection inspired by famous 20th-century soirées, there was nary a whiff of commercial taint in his Bals: Legendary Costume Balls of the Twentieth Century.
Rather, Bals contains nearly 300 oversized pages of text and lavish illustrations, including some by Alexander Serebriakoff, the artist who made something of a specialty of painting these events, discussing and evoking a series of famous 20th-century parties whose unifying theme was to transport and displace, to deny, roll back or refine reality. As such, many of the balls profiled were intentionally backward-looking, seeking to recall a lost ancient manner of entertainment in which not only was no expense spared in décor and costume, but décor and costume themselves reflected thought, creativity, elegance, at their best a certain genius. And they were at their best in the parties thrown by A Suitable Wardrobe favorite Baron Alexis de Rédé, who would no doubt be amused to have amassed such a posse of earnest Internet followers after his death.
However, de Rédé’s 1969 Bal Oriental was as much of an unexpectedly successful throwback as its host, and the rest of the series of balls discussed here (the 1903 Romanov Ball, Paul Poiret’s Thousand and Second Night, Etienne de Beaumont’s costume balls, the Beistegui Ball at the Palazzo Labia (I so enjoy typing that name), the Cuevas Ball, Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, Rupert and Josephine Loewenstein’s White Ball in London and Guy and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild’s Proust Ball) appears to indicate a trend over time towards vulgarity and, as with Truman Capote’s Black & White Ball, towards the adoption of exclusion as a theme rather than a byproduct of these entertainments.
Foulkes provides an observant introduction setting the historical background for the 20th-century balls he profiles, mentioning famous balls of the 17th and 19th centuries which set the tone for their more recent examples. It is worth noting that even those earlier balls, such as Louis XIV’s Plaisirs de l’Ile Enchantée at Versailles, themselves were reactions inspired by prior festivities whose luxury and elaborateness they sought to outdo. No doubt my readers are reaching for their copies of the Vicomte de Bragelonne in recall of the famous fête thrown in honor of Louis XIV by Superintendent of Finances Nicolas Fouquet at his new chateau Vaux-le Vicomte, whose extravagance and beauty so captivated and enraged the Sun King that he had Fouquet jailed for embezzlement and used the same architect, decorator and landscape designer to transform Versailles from a hunting lodge into the magnificent palace where Plaisirs de l’Ile Enchantée was set.
Bals ends with Guy and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild’s Proust Ball in 1971, not even three-quarters of the way through the 20th century. Guy and Marie-Hélène were members of the midcentury café society who had been fixtures at the earlier balls of the 20th century. Their Proust Ball heralded, as Foulkes indicates, the disappearance of this way of life. With the exception of de Rédé’s ball, the other 1960s balls featured focused less on setting and costume than on an invented exclusivity (in the case of Capote’s Black & White Ball) or a sort of Swinging London knees-up (in the case of the Loewensteins’ White Ball in London, where the Rolling Stones played and Princess Margaret showed up). That’s not to say that either was less fun than the more classic balls in this book. Foulkes is an intelligent enough writer to recognize that even in their own time, these events were criticized as extravagant and showy. Moreover, with few exceptions it appears that many guests could not live up to the cultural and costume expectations of their hosts, improvising ersatz masks or arriving with anachronistic costumes.
But Bals is not intended to be a book of deep social commentary. At its best, it provides escapist glimpses into events orchestrated for enchantment, that married luxury with a particular vision and taste, amid evocations of a pre-Brummell epoch of male peacockery. Such days are gone now; although as Hélène David-Weill notes in her foreword, over the past centuries, the fashions and lifestyles that permit such balls sometimes return. No doubt the rise of a new superwealthy class, secure in its finances but not in its claim to culture, could lead to a revival. Until then, as a great man once sang, “Some balls are held for charity and some for fancy dress, but when they’re held for pleasure they’re the balls that I like best.”
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Men who work bent over are responsible for keeping the bow tie alive.
Where a four in hand would be getting in the way, a bow cruises unconcernedly above it all.
One of the advantages of an odd waistcoat is the visual change of pace it provides. The gray suit with a gray vest is one look. The same jacket and trousers paired with a complementary waistcoat is another and is an addition that works well with all those ready to wear single breasted jackets that come without waistcoats in the first place.
The best odd waistcoats to my mind are linen for warm days, tattersall for not terribly formal occasions and cashmere when you want to look your best (waistcoats use only half a yard of the stuff, making it a relatively economical way to add cashmere to a wardrobe). Buff and cream versions in those fabrics are the most useful, complementing as they do both gray and navy blue jackets.
I had an elephant gray Dupioni silk suit on order with Thomas Mahon until a while ago when I was told that they could not find the cloth. I was surprised because Scabal carried it for years but, lo and behold, when I went to check its availability it had disappeared from their catalog.
As I have written in the past, Dupioni is of interest because it is a midweight 10 ounce/300 gram suiting with a great deal of texture from the slubs and other irregularities that occur when two silkworms do their stuff in near proximity (if you will stop looking at Ms. Bacall in the photo for a moment you will see them in Mr. Peck's suit). That feature makes the stuff highly desireable in my texture first and pattern second world, but of course that is of little use when one cannot find it.
Shortly after I heard from Mr. Mahon, I asked Dino Romano of Napolisumisura if he had seen any Dupioni and was informed that they had never made a suit from it. That was unexpected since I had been told that Scabal actually obtained their silk from an Italian mill and it just stood to reason that everyone in Italy would know where that was. And then recently the infamous Mr. Voxsartoria asked if I knew a source since his tailor could not find any.
So there is the challenge dear reader. Do you know where suiting quality Dupioni is woven? The first two men that can respond with contact information will receive one of my unlined Neapolitan neckties, and if that is not an incentive it is only because you have not tried one.
The source is Drapers, the Italian cloth merchant represented in the United States by Jodek International, which has navy and tan but not gray in the current book. Thank you to TT of Chevy Chase, MD.
I sent a small roll-on suitcase back to its maker this past August to have a wheel replaced, which repair was I thought going to involve pulling a cotter pin, replacing a $10 wheel and putting the cotter pin in again. Three months later I got back a new suitcase, which is some sort of statement about our times. Apparently, during the two years that I had had the bag the maker had redesigned the wheel housing and no longer had the ability to replace a wheel on the former design. And though you might think it difficult to complain about receiving a new bag, my old one was leather and had the most wonderful patina on it, courtesy of my friends at A Shine & Co who had worked on it more than once over those years.
You cannot check leather bags of course, at least not unless it is your intent to give full employment to the bag cleaning industry. Leather emerges from the bowels of an airport so dirty that it must be intentional, and checked bags need to be canvas or some other material that does not show the filth. I have three of those large canvas things, which is one more than I need for my usual travel since a single bag accommodates everything I need for a week. And that is why I was surprised to stumble over today's photograph, which purports to be Alan Flusser's packing for a trip in 1983. I have not had occasion to call Alan and ask how long he was planning to be away, but I count eight pairs of shoes. With shoe trees. And a pair of slippers. Enough shoes to warrant a dedicated shoe case and strain the backs of baggage handlers everywhere. Even four pair of treed shoes in a suitcase tends to put the thing's weight up to a hundred pounds, and if you will recall the airline counter personnel you saw on your most recent trip they would find that weight impossible to shift without assistance.
Household moves aside, the only kind of trip I was initially able to imagine that might require eight pairs of shoes is something like a six week cruise, where one's luggage is going to remain in place once six or eight strong porters have set it down in the cabin. But that does not appear to be the case in this instance, as there is only one suitcase in the photo and but a week's supply of clean shirts. Which gives me pause. Have I been overlooking something fundamental? Perhaps I should be carrying more than the three pair of shoes that usually accompany me. It could be done if I was to leave my briefcase behind and replace it with that leather roll-on to make more room for shoes. Two brown, two black and a pair of trainers would seem to suffice, but am I thinking big enough?
Someone asked the difference between sport and dress shirts the other day, to which I replied, "Sport shirts have two pockets." Now obviously sport shirts often have more pattern and the cloth is usually not as fine as that used for a dress shirt, but to my mind the principal difference between the two is that a sports shirt has some additional storage as it is often worn without a jacket. A man does need a place for his sunglasses and readers after all, and two pockets give a more balanced look than one.
Now some sport shirts have but one pocket and I think of that as yet another attempt by the makers to save a penny by reducing the cloth required for a shirt and re-using the dress shirt pattern they already have (rather like those two button dinner jackets with flapped pockets and notched lapels). The man who thinks about his clothes will have two pockets for sport and may otherwise have them the same as his button cuff dress shirts since the collar will flap appropriately without stays. That sameness means they can do double duty under an odd jacket as the occasion and temperature warrants.
Sport shirts may be less refined than a dress shirt but that is perfectly all right for many occasions. Linen, oxford cloth and chambray, for example, work well in either guise.
In the photo, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, Chairman of Ferarri, wears a sport shirt at the Italian Grand Prix.
I call them the “aia” wines: Sassicaia, Solaia, and Ornellaia. Others refer to them as Super Tuscans, vini da tavola, or indicazione geografica tipica- shortened in that uniquely American way of speaking to IGT.
Each wine has its style, grape selection, and place in the wine world’s constellation. And they are owned by different branches of the Antinori family tree.
For decades, Marchese Lodovico Antinori observed that his cousin’s Sassicaia winery, in Tuscany’s then unknown Bolgheri area, won acclaim and a following among Europe’s royalty and wine cognoscenti. Perhaps with some degree of family competitiveness, he purchased land adjacent to Sassicaia in 1981 and founded Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia.
At the outset, Ornellaia employed a Bordeaux-styled blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. A decade ago, it added a small amount of petit verdot to the assemblage. Ornellaia was consistently very good, and its 1998 rendition was selected Wine of the Year by the Wine Spectator magazine.
In November 1999, Robert Mondavi purchased a minority share of Ornellaia, and two years later partnered with Tuscany’s Marchesi de Frescobaldi to take over the entire wine estate. Ownership changed again when Mondavi’s financial problems caused its sale to the international giant beverage company, Constellation Brands; it also permitted Frescobaldi to exercise its option to buy all of Mondavi’s Ornellaia shares, making it the sole owner of the estate since 2005.
While the ownership chairs were revolving, the winemaking remained in professional hands. Tim Mondavi consulted with Thomas Duroux, who was Ornellaia’s winemaker from 2001 until he moved to Chateau Palmer in 2004. Since then, German-born and Bordeaux wine educated-and-trained Alex Heinz has been the winemaker. And the controversial international wine consultant Michel Rolland has remained part of the team.
I have been tasting and collecting Ornellaia (and its single-vineyard 100 percent merlot bottling, named Masseto - but that wine is its own story) from the late 1990s. Here are some observations.
At the beginning of this Millennium, Ornellaia was nearly two-thirds cabernet sauvignon, just shy of one-third merlot and completed with a dash of cabernet franc. The aging in French oak barrels was moderate by New World standards, yielding a wine with aromas and flavors ranging from black olives and black cherries to secondary sensations of tobacco. Mild tannins and acidity supported the rich fruit and oak flavors giving the wine balance. Ornellaia was centered between New World richness and Bordeaux elegance.
The 2001 Ornellaia is superb and still vibrantly young. It’s about $200 in the auction market; and about $250 retail. I don’t advocate buying a decade old wine from a store unless you know the retailer has pristine storage conditions. Wine bottles sitting on a shelf or rack are exposed to countless hours of light, motion, and room temperature, all conditions damaging to wine.
After the excellent start in 2001, Ornellaia produced a better wine than others in Italy’s dismal rain-soaked 2002 vintage. This was followed by Europe’s scorching summer of 2003, that made every wine atypical and Ornellaia was no exception. Buying either of these vintages now is not encouraged.
As we entered the middle of the decade, Ornellaia added petit verdot to its blend and maintained its excellent balance, even in the difficult 2005 vintage.
The 2004 is mouth-filling. Its rich black fruit flavors and integrated tannins give 04 Ornellaia a luxurious texture and great length. It will also have great life: in a proper cellar, 20 to 25 years. Retail and auction price for the 2004 Ornellaia is $175-200. Which ever market you use, make sure the wine has been in temperature-controlled storage.
Weather was not generous to winemakers from Tuscany and northward in 2005. Many wines are lacking body and fruit while possessing substantial tannins and acidity (this is particularly true in Piedmont). The 2005 Ornellaia escaped that fate. It takes a challenging vintage, where attention to detail in the vineyard and winemaking is demanded, to show why a winery like Ornellaia is consistently world-class. Both retail and auction markets price the 2005 at $150.
In 2006, Ornellaia’s blend had 56 percent cabernet sauvignon, the first time it was below 60 percent, and it has remained beneath that level. The only change I’ve perceived is that when tasting the wine upon its release, it exhibits a little more vanilla aroma and flavor from the French barrel aging and it feels a little plusher on the palate.
The 2006 and 2007 are superb wines. Each offers bountiful fruit flavors, supporting tannins, long savory finish. They are immensely appealing in their youth-like a fashion model wearing form fitting clothes. But both will be much more majestic later in life. To get the best from the 2006 and 2007 Ornellaia, you’ll need to cellar the former for a decade and the latter for a dozen years. Both retail for about $175.
In a little over a quarter-century, Ornellaia has placed itself among the very best Italian wines. As with the other two “aia” wines, collectors seek it for its quality and aging potential. Ornellaia comes to us from the Old World, but bearing New World sheen. It’s modern without being excessive.
Southern Italy is the home of the unlined printed necktie. Soft and light, unlined neckties twist and turn with the breeze in a way that embodies the casualness of Italian style. They are particularly nice with today’s lighter suits and jackets, whether mid-weight worsteds or summer linens. And the ASW store has them just in time for the holidays.
My unlined and untipped neckties are made entirely by hand by the small firm of Antonio Muro outside of Naples. They are not widely available but those are Muro’s neckties that you see when you walk into the better Neapolitan tailors. No shortcuts are taken and there is not a sewing machine in sight. Each tie is individually marked onto the best Como silk, cut out with a scissors, hand rolled and sewn with needle and thread.
Try one and see the difference.
By the way, last minute shoppers in the continental United States can order my neckties or any other ASW store items as late as December 20 and have them delivered by December 24 without an additional charge. Enter the code 'fedex' at checkout for free second day air delivery on orders in excess of $100.
I was reminded of the late Duke of Windsor once again the other day. You see, at one point some years ago the online menswear fora were enamored of a trousermaker whose standard make included buttoning flys. Naturally, I acquired several pair, which I regularly regret every time I wear them (I leave the circumstances to your imaginations) .
It was the Duke of course who as one of his many clothing innovations popularized the zipper fly, a productivity enhancement that by now has saved billions of man-hours (I did not try to calculate it precisely but think about all those trouser wearing men saving a couple of minutes each day for the past fifty years). Like any apprenticeship business, tailoring tends to be a slow moving institution and without the Duke there is an excellent chance we might all still be fumbling with our trousers.
Unfortunately, the presence of buttonholes makes replacing the buttons with zippers one of those tasks (another is removing belt loops from trousers). It can be done but not well, and so I will be remembering the Duke for years to come.
Because he was right.
Ready to wear shoes have a certain inevitable sameness about them. So many cap toed oxfords and so many Norwegian slipons and no-one can blame the makers as the tried and true are the models that sell. It is the bespoke makers who craft interesting shoes that are not only noticeably better made than even the best ready to wear, but the most original (or idiosyncratic, depending on the shoe and your point of view). Visiting the great London makers has elements of visiting a shoe museum.
Foster & Son's Emiko Matsuda, for example, made the spectator style oxford in the photograph recently, based on a 1930's design from the Foster archive. Where most spectators have buckskin aprons so the white extends around the top of the shoe, Emiko's aprons are brown calf. Only the upper portion of the sides and a small vertical strip next to the tongue contrast. The result is a somewhat quieter shoe, if that word can ever be used to descibe spectators, and there are a dozen or more of equal interest in the store (provided they are not on tour having taken their samples with them).
The three makers with a bit of history to them are each located within a couple of blocks of the other. Start with John Lobb on St. James Street, walk up to Fosters on Jermyn Street and then over to Cleverley in the Royal Arcade. But don't tell them I sent you.
It should come as no surprise that the herringbone pattern is by far the most common tweed. Easy for the weaver and easy for the wearer, herringbone provides a bit of pattern but not so much that a jacket is too memorable. That makes it ideal for the first odd jacket in a winter wardrobe, one that may be worn with some frequency.
There are herringbone worsteds of course, but the thing I like about it in tweed is the woolen loft that gives the good stuff some extra depth. And the good stuff is available in several weights, from the original Harris that is only useful outdoors in winter to a more practical 14 ounce/420 gram weight for heated rooms (any lighter and it is likely that the stuff you have is not a tweed).
In the photo, an unmemorable (is that a word?) gray herringbone jacket made from W. Bill's Shetland is worn with one of the first of my new unlined Neapolitan neckties.
If I could have only one color shoe, I think it would be a dark chocolate brown like the late Alexis, Baron de Rédé's tassels in the photograph. As you know, the Baron, whose life epitomized the saying “All I want is the best of everything, and there’s very little of that left,” had several hundred pair of shoes made by Anthony Cleverley, estranged contemporary of George.
Some of what remains of the Baron's footwear collection is housed at London's George Cleverley today. For all his complexity, the Baron was a simple man when it came to his shoes. A hundred or more identical pair of evening shoes. Dozens of black imitation brogues (the shoe to covet if you are ever in need of another pair of black oxfords). And as many pigskin tassels.
The workings of a mind that would maintain an inventory of a hundred pair of identical bespoke evening shoes is incomprehensible to me but I do admire such single-mindedness. It reminds me of the fellow who owned dozens of identical navy blue suits, and the Parisian gentleman whose necktie wardrobe is comprised entirely of solid navy blue neckties. And there is a take-away lesson here. The contrarian approach to the pursuit of variety in one's wardrobe is to own multiples of a few effective combinations so that they can be worn often but still rotated properly. Clothing as uniform.
In other words, choose one and repeat.
Today we turn to the villains of two different films starring Joel McCrea, whom I keep confusing with Joel McHale of Community: Herbert Marshall as Stephen Fisher in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film Foreign Correspondent, and Leslie Banks as Count Zaroff in 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game. To my mind, the suits these two different characters wear illustrate the difference between the 1930s English drape cut as interpreted and exaggerated by Hollywood and the more restrained and fluid London drape.
Coincidentally and tragically, both actors were seriously wounded in World War I: Marshall lost a leg, while Banks was partially disfigured. As with other roles Banks took, his scarring lent itself to his performance as the mad Russian big game hunter Zaroff, who appears at the top of his castle stairs in a tailcoat as imposing and intimidating as his demeanor.
Broad-shouldered to the point of being almost droopy and exceptionally full at the chest, the Count appeared to be using a 1930s American tailor despite dwelling on a jungle island in the middle of nowhere. The 1920s short story on which The Most Dangerous Game is based alludes to Zaroff using, and his guest recognizing the handiwork of, “a London tailor who ordinarily cut and sewed for none below the rank of duke.” The film presents a Hollywood conception of that, grandly overblown like the Chinese and Egyptian Theatres on Hollywood Boulevard. Stylized, extravagant and so far from authenticity as to be uniquely Golden Age tinsel.
In contrast, Marshall’s suits in Foreign Correspondent perfectly befit the suave leader of an English pacifist organization who turns out to be working for the enemy (whose nationality is not mentioned, in order to avoid trouble with an as-yet neutral U.S. State Department). In particular, he sports a gently draped dark double-breasted pinstripe with that trapezoidal “keystone” button placement which one reads about but almost never sees done correctly. Buttoned on the bottom button, Marshall’s suit fits just about every feature of the London Lounge cut described in Apparel Arts’ seminal Winter 1935-36 article on the difference between the English cut as interpreted by American tailors and the more restrained, less bulbous London cut actually favored by the tailors of Savile Row. All of this, of course, reflected an American perspective on what was more English, but the same, of course, was likely true for these two movies, each of which was made in Hollywood, featuring Hollywood versions of various types: the exotic and wealthy foreign villain, the unctuous English double-crosser, and so on..
While filmed in the US, Marshall’s suits don’t display the same sort of exaggerated drape as Banks’ – whether because wardrobe designers felt Marshall’s character would have a more restrained British look or because Marshall simply used different tailors. Nor do they display more dramatic shaping and padding of later 1940s double-breasted suits, which means that, in the best traditions of the 1930s cuts venerated by this blog, you could wear this suit today and not look out of place - at least among men who know what a suit that fits looks like. I note that Marshall’s trousers appear to be quite full-cut, which was in keeping with the London Lounge cut but not very current. I note that in searching for stills of Marshall from the film I found that the best pictures were screen captures taken by a poster on the Fedora Lounge in order to inquire about the suit styles in the movie. I thank him for them and hope this brief writeup could be helpful.
Thinking about it, I suppose we run into a confusion of terms around what drape is. The very vocal partisans of drapey suits on the internet (who do battle with 1902 Sears-catalog-clutching opponents) sometimes lead the inexperienced to think that drape is a synonym for quality suitmaking or cutting. Nothing of the sort. However, the more one attempts to describe drape, the more one risks confusion. Drape is a certain fullness and ease of cut. At its best, it looks softly, comfortably elegant, with fullness in the chest in case the wearer lacked it and some gentle shaping at the waist that means it looks as comfortable as it feels. However, from experience, a well-fitting suit of any cut, whether sharp and shaped or softly draped, should be as comfortable as pajamas. And drape is neither inherently good nor bad, but a property that can be used well or badly. The current fashion in high-end ready-to-wear, and the house style at many tailors, is for sharply cut suits with very little drape. That’s fine, provided the suit still fits the wearer. 1950s Teddy Boys, for some reason, also sometimes referred to their jackets as drapes, I forget why, even though they had nothing to do with drape as we now know it. But it’s possible to see in the Hollywood drape suits worn by Banks the roots of what led to even greater exaggeration into the zoot suit. In fact, there are clothing histories that credit Frederick Scholte, the cranky Savile Row tailor generally acknowledged as creating the drape cut, as the inventor of the zoot suit. The cantankerous Dutchman would have been confounded. But the fullness and broadness of the Hollywood drape cut, itself a revision of the original English cut, likely did lend itself to expansion and appropriation by other audiences of the silver screen, as different contexts transformed proportions.
Other reasons to watch: Unlike most of the films I choose to discuss, which are (by design) awful, both of these are excellent. Go and see them. Foreign Correspondent is a tight, Europe-on-the-boil intrigue of the type Eric Ambler was so good at. It may not be one of Hitchcock’s very best but it’s snappy and full of plot twists and Hitchcock’s little touches. And The Most Dangerous Game is splendid fun, tense and entertaining with enough old movie tropes to be charmingly quaint as well. The movie adds King Kong’s Fay Wray as the damsel in distress as Richard Connell’s original story was a bit of a sausagefest. And while most of the material is tame by today’s standards, it has at least one moment of genuine shock that will surprise even today.
A word of warning, however: it didn’t work when you told your significant other that Death Race 2000, Hard Target and The Running Man were just like The Hunger Games, only better, and it won’t work with this movie either. But it’s true.
If the first odd jacket in any wardrobe is a navy blazer, then the second should surely be something gray. You can make an argument for brown, but brown is less than ideal in the city. Gray on the other hand works for city, suburb and resort wear as well as, in a pinch, after six o'clock.
Have your gray in a three button single breasted, with the lapels rolling to the second button. Patch pockets trump flapped in warmer weather versions, though either is fine the rest of the year.
Gray jackets are the place for neckties with a black ground or, like Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief, with a dark scarf. Pair them with cream, light gray or charcoal trousers.
As Frank and Sammy demonstrate in the original (1960) version of Oceans 11, there ain't nothin' like it.
When you invest in beautifully crafted footwear and other leather goods, it is satisfying to maintain them to the same standard.
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Cotton is the source for the vast majority of dress shirtings, but in colder weather a blend of cotton and wool is more practical out of doors and in my opinion has a texture that looks better than pure cotton with tweed.
The first wool and cotton mix was woven by Viyella in England in 1839, and blends are now produced by other makers such as England's Acorn Fabrics. Originally 55% merino wool and 45% cotton in a twill weave, the proportion of wool has over the years declined to 20% to shave cost but it still serves its purpose. Choose from country checks or solids.
Just add wool.
I am no longer much of a gadget aficionado but my Apple iPhone (rest in peace Mr. Jobs) is the one bit of electronics that I would miss if I had to give it up. Indeed, the only thing I can fault it for is that it is just too shiny and plastic for my taste (not to mention the unfortunate tendency of the glass touchpad to crack when dropped). A case is clearly in order.
Unfortunately the supplier I commissioned a case from sent me a photo he did not own. Such is life on the internet. We will not be doing business together.
I am unsure whether the pairing of rollneck sweaters and tailored clothing in the 1960s should be credited to Steve McQueen, who wore it in the movie Bullitt, Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, the celebrity photographer who was for a while married to England's Princess Margaret, or more likely some combination of them and others. However it came about, the rollneck, or turtleneck as it is sometimes called in the hinterlands, remains the best way wear tailored clothing without a necktie.
Now I fully expect that statement will cause me to be deluged with protests favoring the sloppy open shirt collar, the faux mock turtleneck and Tiger Woods' famous buttoned polo shirt (the only one of the three for which a case can be made but one that is best limited to odd jackets). Let us concede however that the necktie's contributions of neatness, vertical line and contrast are not duplicated by any of the alternatives, and what we most need is something authentic, clean looking, and quickly donned. Those criteria leave only the one choice.
Have your rollnecks in navy, gray and cream unless, like a certain Réginald-Jérôme de Mans, you need every color in the rainbow.
The American saying that a man should wear no white after Labor Day has somehow come to be applied to all clothing, which makes no sense, instead of shoes (the original target), where it does. For one thing, it contradicts the more basic rule that one's clothing should reflect one's surroundings, which is how we came to wear grays in the city and brown or green in the country in the first place.
The white to which I am referring of course is cream, that classic yellowed white that looks nothing like snow. Cream trousers have been worn by well dressed men for at least 80 years (they are shown with some frequency in Apparel Arts and Esquire illustrations from the 1930s). Patterned wool jackets make the best pairings, since cream trousers and a navy blue blazer are just a tad too nautical unless one is watching the America's Cup. Try mid-weight wool jackets with gabardine trousers and tweed jackets with flannel so the finish of the trousers relates to the coat. But wear cream year-round.
In the photo, cream flannel trousers with a gray glen check jacket, gray cashmere necktie, paisley silk pocket square and Russian calf cap toes.
What happens to all those style magazines whose brief apparitions sometimes seem so perfectly to reflect a period’s zeitgeist, before inevitably flaring out into the immeasurable void? A few of us sometimes capture a few of them, firefly-like, in an attempt to preserve some bits of meaning. In the end, everything – both what we have saved and what we only misremember – is subject to the appropriation and reinterpretation of future audiences for their own ulterior purposes.
The new book The Gentry Man: A Guide for the Civilized Male reminded me of this inescapable impermanence. This enormously entertaining 255-page volume anthologizes the best of the 1950s magazine Gentry, reprinting pieces on George Washington’s tips for living, John Scarne (whose book on cards found its way across the Atlantic to the fictional library of the literary James Bond around the same time) on gambling, sharp sports writing, witty drinks and recipes for 1950s roués, and cars and clothing for an intended audience of unexpectedly refined midcentury American men.
The Gentry Man’s sections on drinks and sophisticated and swinging manly men’s recipes remind me of Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, a similarly fun reprint from 1949 that was reissued some years ago featuring conspiratorial advice on entertaining and parlor games for the urbane, unreconstructed host. But The Gentry Man’s sections on style are something to see. The inspiration is creative: suggesting a suit made out of wool jersey, and, as if in direct retort to Will, “We saw them in Nassau… patent leather evening pumps with bright red bows.” Creative enough to be interesting and interesting enough to be provocative. A two-page special on new colors abounds with East Asian imagery that reminds me of, say, the Formosa Café in Hollywood: before these were nostalgic and charmingly kitsch they were exotic and new, in their time. Indeed, much of The Gentry Man reminds me of some of the romantically preserved corners of Los Angeles and Pasadena where midcentury American eyes interpreted the Asian and the European in a spirit of optimism and unself-conscious confidence that could not endure. Other gems include an analysis of the most faithful theatrical version of Beau Brummell, as well as copious wardrobe recommendations featuring well-edited selections from grand old names like Lefcourt, Chipp and Saks Fifth Avenue back when that used to mean something. Some of the clothes, such as the hand-knit skiing sweaters with designs, remind one of those featured in the 1930s glory days of Apparel Arts, while others, including the lengthily explained “new double-breasted suit,” emphasize the changes since that period in cut, class and fabric design. A recipe, then, for food for thought.
A section on Gentry’s favorite cars is chrome-and-fins kitsch, while The Gentry Man’s guides to other pursuits (ranging from how to watch a football fame to how to appreciate contemporary art) are amusingly authoritative and flip. According to the book, introduced by former The New York Times Magazine men’s style editor Hal Rubinstein, the magazine Gentry lasted only 22 issues, from 1951 to 1957, and was perhaps too exclusive to live. Its founder also ran clothing industry publications, so the case of Gentry is similar to that of Esquire and its former sister publication Apparel Arts: in the years following World War II, Esquire evolved from a gentleman’s fashion and general interest magazine to, by the 1960s, a hip New Journalism hangout, while Apparel Arts went from showcasing clothing trends to retailers and tailors to, eventually, being spun off into what was then a slightly dodgy niche men’s fashion magazine called Gentlemen’s Quarterly.
Which brings us to the second book by GQ’s own Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist: Closer, which is sort of his Highlander II: The Quickening: what did his first installment leave out that required a second? At least Highlander II brought back Sean Connery. Perhaps the third Sartorialist book will bring us Mario Van Peebles as an evil Sartorialist. The Sartorialist: The Quickening brings us more pictures of people featured on his blog, now (according to the overleaf) with photos of street style from a wider range of cities. A quick look at the index of photos reveals that in addition to the hundreds of photos of his usual subjects in the professions of fashion, media and bulimia in New York City, Italy, London and Paris are a smattering of photos (slightly over 10%) taken elsewhere, such as those of a hotel maid in Rio or kimono-ed girls in Tokyo. Despite this Henry Stanley-like intrepidness, the effect remains broadly coherent with the Sartorialist’s past work: skinny girls are still riding bikes, but now they are showing a lot of leg or wearing see-through dresses; people are now wearing lace-up dress shoes without socks; and the knowledgeable reader will find not ecumenism but the consistency of motifs that indicates contemporary trends.
I’ve been quite unkind to the Sartorialist in these pages, but then again he’s made himself into a bit of cultural tête à claques too. I understand that the Sartorialist is doing a book tour for this book, which raises some logistical concerns to me. Will he read from his book? It has even less text than Bruce Boyer’s last work. Will he instead project some of his photos and read the captions and comments from his blog? What is beyond question, however, is that he (and his fans) have made his photos the record of the fashions of the last five years, for better or for worse. These will be the resources our descendants, whether Eloi or Morlock, will turn to for examples of what we wore, regardless of whether we actually did or not. For, as with other periods, what gets remembered will be the most typed and the most mannered, and in any case the Sartorialist has the support of one of the major media companies and the audience both to help propagate a style and to propagate its memory. So the printed pages of The Sartorialist: Closer make concrete one man’s creation of collective memory, a future reference once memory of what is actually elegant has been lost to time.
It wasn’t what I expected. Immediately upon entering, there was this huge presentation case full of antique wristwatches, tie bars, and double-sided cufflinks. These were the accoutrement of the eighties Wall Street renaissance, and I loved them. But something at the back of the store was calling my name, loudly. I had to find out what it was.
The shoes were displayed on the back wall, but only one model stood out—shouted, actually--the fabled Peals Alan Flusser always wrote so reverently about.
The London custom shoe firm of Peal & Co. was founded in Durham, England, in 1565. It moved to Derby in 1765, then found its way to London in 1791. The firm closed its doors in 1965—get this: not because of falling demand, but for lack of skilled craftsmen (I believe family succession was also a problem). Had they continued, Peal would have been the oldest shoemaking firm in London, if not the world (Foster & Son, founded in 1840, is now London’s oldest firm; Lobb was founded in 1856). Their customers included Fred Astaire, Adolphe Menjou, the Duke of Windsor, his brother George VI, and legendary Esquire men’s fashion editor George Frazier (btw, does it not madden you when established firms boast customer lists of famous people who CAN’T dress? Not exactly what you’d call a ‘ringing endorsement,’ eh what?).
In 1953, Peal sold Brooks Brothers the right to produce & sell ready-to-wear shoes under the Peal name; when the firm closed in 1965 Brooks bought the remaining rights, along with the famous Peal lasts. Since that time, Brook’s Peals have been made by several shoemakers of note: Alfred Sargent, Alden, Edward Green, Crockett & Jones, etc. When I purchased my shoes in 1991, I had neither the knowledge nor sophistication to inquire as to their pedigree; all I cared about at the time was that I’d gotten my hands on a pair of drop-dead gorgeous kicks. In the years since I became curious, and was told by no less than an actual Edward Green cobbler that my shoes did indeed come out of their workshop.
The Peals at Brooks today are made by Crockett & Jones. It is a decent enough shoe; alas, it simply isn’t what it once was—a shoe that could easily pass for bespoke. Mind you, this is no bad reflection on Crockett & Jones; the fact that the shoe has a $585 price tag tells me that Brooks gave C & J certain price constraints to work with. To help you appreciate what kind of corners need to be cut, consider that Brooks Peals in 1991 were 500 bucks a pair (I was in the store just after the recession of 1990 hit; sales of the shoe were so low that at the time Brooks contemplated discontinuing Peals altogether. Thus, I was able to get my pair for the “closeout” price of $385).
To get the quality of ready-to-wear shoe I got, you now have to pay three times what I paid. And believe it or not it’ll be worth it, because in fifteen or twenty years you’ll be telling a story like I’m telling now. I know it’s difficult for some to imagine paying more than a thousand dollars for a single pair of r-t-w shoes, but let me assure you of one thing: the imaginations of the people at places like Cleverly, Lobb, Gatto, Edward Green, etc., have no such limitations. If the price of apples goes up, so will the price of good shoes. So don’t stand still. Consider that when I got off the train back in New Haven on that Saturday 21 years ago, I said to myself, “Did I really just spend $385 on one pair of shoes?” An amount that today might or might not pay the taxes on a pair of bespoke. My Peals weren’t a bargain to me then; at the time I thought I was royalty for wearing $225 Ferragamos. The idea that I’d outspent my Ferragamos by $150—for a pair of shoes that were on SALE—blew my mind at the time. I begged my shopping mates not to tell anyone back home what I’d spent. Seriously, I didn’t want to be committed.
Gives you a little bit of perspective, doesn’t it? At the moment of transaction, you will ALWAYS feel like you’re overpaying. You have to get over that moment—and wait. Like the purchase of stock, the dividends come later. The first year I owned the shoes, the ‘rental’ was the full purchase price--$385. Then it began to drop, to its present yearly rental of a mere eighteen bucks. And still falling. The catch, of course, is buying a pair of shoes that will last that long, and managing not to pass out when you first pay for them.
Incidentally, the above photo was taken just a few days ago. Yes, that really is a pair of twenty-one year old ready-made shoes (Twice a year they get an undercoating of navy shoe cream, over which I regularly use Saphir black wax-- creating my own ‘midnight blue’ effect, or at least trying to. I probably don’t clean them as often as I should, which is my way of saying I don’t remember the last time I cleaned them. In my own defense, I know plenty of guys who just pile layer after layer of wax on their shoes decade after decade, with nothing more than a light dusting after wearing, and their shoes look fantastic. One fellow, who acquired his skills in the military, calls it “shining the shine.” FYI, a problem you will have with shoes that last this long is dealing with that marvelous ‘foot spread’ that hits most of us around our fortieth birthday. There were times I thought I’d have to give my shoes away for tightness. Having shoes stretched by a local cobbler is a solution, but also a nuisance: it is a temporary measure, and I cringe when turning over my shoes to someone who might, to use the vernacular, ‘hump them up.’ As an alternative, an expert cobbler can resole the shoe, widening the uppers a bit as he does so. This tends to be very expensive. The perfect solution? Find a pair of trees just slightly wider than the shoes. My Peals now fit perfectly, every time).
Here I was going to say, “Imagine what kind of longevity you get when you buy bespoke.” But diligent fashion writer that I am, I will point out that while my shoes are turning 21, another pair, made for Prince Charles by you-know-who, is turning 41. And just as I’m still wearing my Peals, the prince is still wearing his Lobbs.
This, gentlemen, is another side of the ongoing argument about quality.
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