Reading a history of the Arts & Crafts movement recently, I was reminded how much it has in common with our current passion for all things crafted.
The English movement was born out of a desire to return dignity to the work of craftsmen. It reacted against the anonymous mechanisation of the industrial age – although machines were used in production, it was stated that they should not dictate the craft.
We would approve of the movement’s focus on quality, of the time taken with work, and of the resurrection of old crafts. Although it led to a plethora of styles, from the whimsical to the downright plain, they all had this focus on craft and natural materials in common.
Arts & Crafts was also very nostalgic, as to a extent is our love of classic menswear. It was tied up with ideas of quiet beauty, of simplicity and honesty. Of chivalry or – as we might put it – elegance and gentlemanliness.
There was a joy in the beauty of everyday things. Not the high arts of painting and sculpture, but homewares and the decorative arts. It’s not too much of a stretch to see a connection to the beauty of a bespoke shoe, or a handmade suit, which are subtle and modest beauties compared to the grandness of other fashions.
Indeed, the philosophy of Arts & Crafts sounds like everything I want today’s sartorial fashion to become. Not flamboyant, not showy, not shallow and fleeting, but rooted in fundamental values of craft and integrity.
I will stop short of hoping it can change the world, which is what CR Ashbee, William Morris and others thought Arts & Crafts could do. But I do believe, with them, that there is power and pleasure in being surrounded by things that are fit for purpose, honest to their materials, and simple in form. To that extent we have a lot in common.
Simone Abbarchi is a Florence-based shirtmaker that has made for my friend Tommaso Capozzoli for a long time. He has always said that they have a very good relationship between price and quality, and he’s right.
Simone’s made-to-measure shirts start at €120. That’s pretty much the price of the mid-market ready-made shirts readers talk about, from Pink, Hilditch & Key or others. (There is also a less-offered bespoke option which starts at €150.)
Simone’s are of course all made to specific measurements, so the fit is a lot better, and they have the Italian collar construction that so many readers will like: lightly fused lining, which curls around the collar of a jacket when the neck is undone, and yet sits stiff enough with a tie when the neck is fastened.
(As with other Italians, this stiffness usually requires the use of collar bones; although if you go without collar bones you can also have the ‘sprezzatura’ look of a collar that curls at the corner, perhaps cheekily outside of the jacket lapel.)
Simone’s shirts are so reasonable, in part, because they have no handwork. The buttons are sewn on by hand, but that’s it. As I’ve discussed before, I prefer a hand-attached collar and sleeve, but you pay more for that – around €220 in the case of Luca Avitabile.
The made-to-measure offering involves no paper pattern, and you should expect small aspects of the fit to be not as good (as for all MTM, it’s about 2D changes rather than 3D). But this is far less important on shirts than tailoring.
Bespoke, as with other makers, does involve a pattern and also has a fitting on a partially made shirt. MTM shirts are usually finished and sent straight to the customer.
For anyone that hasn’t looked into this area before, it’s worth reading my breakdown of D’Avino shirts, which presents these three names as three tiers of construction.
Another good thing about Simone (or Gianluca Cocchetti, who works with him and is pictured here) is that he already visits both London and New York. He has a good few clients in both locations, and so comes over twice a year to each – February and September for London, and March and October for New York.
He doesn’t have a minimum for an order, and will usually do two fittings for a first shirt, but can just do one. If you’re unlikely to travel to Florence, perhaps best to just do one, and accept there might be tiny things you’ll change next time.
I commissioned a grey brushed-cotton shirt from Simone earlier in the year in Florence, have had the fitting in London, and will write about the final shirt in a couple of weeks. (The cloth selection is also very good, particularly in Florence.)
For anyone just getting into bespoke and MTM shirts, or indeed looking for a much better alternative to the British/American high street, hopefully Simone will be a great choice.
OK, let’s break this down. There are four major choices of colour here:
- Trousers: green
- Jacket: tan
- Tie: brown
- Shirt: blue
I put them deliberately in that order because that is the order in which they were chosen. Readers are familiar with my love of green as a way to break the tyranny of navy and grey, and I wanted to wear these new Paul Stuart green-linen trousers.
Next choice: colour of jacket. This could be grey but the contrast would be tricky. Navy would be fine, as it always is, but more formal and less obviously summery. So we try my tan linen/wool jacket from Elia Caliendo, which works nicely with the green.
Both are strong colours, however, and from now on the other aspects of the outfit are made in their support.
So what colour of tie? Again, navy would always work; perhaps my favourite garza-grossa grenadine. Grey might also do; I have a lightweight grey cashmere that might be good. But we could probably do with some pattern, and nice to stick with the theme of casual colours.
With green and tan used elsewhere, we are left with browns. So a Mattabisch seven-fold, unlined tie from The Armoury in a rather russet brown. And while a white shirt could have worked, blue is a softer background (in this case, it is also made from a denim-look linen, which gives the whole a more casual, modern feel.)
The chalky texture of the tie means there is virtually no contrast between shine and matte in the outfit, and just one elsewhere would be jarring. So we pick a linen handkerchief, whose cream colour further reduces the contrast, and brown suede shoes (Stefano Bemer; Goodyear-welted on my bespoke last).
Six choices in the end, with each more dependent on its predecessors than the last.
If I have one way of dressing, it is normally this: picking one thing I want to wear and working backwards. I’m not going to argue that it’s the most effective method, but it does mean I’m excited about one thing every day. And that I wear a lot of brown shoes.
Photo taken at the Four Seasons Hotel, Florence; writing notes for the Tailoring Symposium later that evening.
A selection of pictures from our wonderful party last week at the Four Seasons in Florence, celebrating the six greats of tailoring and their pieces made for the event.
Sorry I couldn’t include all of them, but shout if you see yourself! (Above, the lovely trio of Tom Stubbs, Audie Charles and Anda Rowland.)
* Update: Going by the ‘likes’ on Instagram, the outfits currently rank as:
- Anderson & Sheppard
- Edward Sexton
- Richard Anderson (Do you agree? Join in!) *
These are the six pieces that our six greats of bespoke tailoring made for the Symposium last week in Florence.
As expected, each has a very distinctive style, most clearly seen in the shoulders but also in small things like the opening of the jacket below the button (the foreparts). As always, I’m interested to hear any opinions on your favourite submissions or styles.
The Anderson & Sheppard suit in navy flannel (above and top) has the house’s distinctive belly to the lapel, although as a keen-eyed reader noted, also less drape than commonly.
The trousers have the side fastener on the seam rather than waistband, as I’ve previously noted I prefer, and the mother-of-pearl button that A&S always uses on its rear trouser pockets.
Cifonelli‘s royal-blue DB is very different. By buttoning at the last row and cutting the cloth to open more across the chest, Lorenzo creates room for the shirt and tie akin to most single-breasteds.
The effect is accentuated by having the jacket slightly shorter; this is usually only employed on jackets not suits.
Edward Sexton‘s cream-flannel jacket has the biggest shoulders of the lot, with a slight curve up towards the sleevehead. For a more casual summer jacket like this he also prefers a 4×2 configuration for the buttons (four showing; two buttoned) and jetted pockets.
Striped knitwear from Anderson & Sheppard.
Antonio Panico’s chalk-stripe DB is immediately identifiable by its soft shoulder and ‘shirt’ sleeve. Unlike most English tailors he also runs his front dart all the way to the bottom of the jacket, in this case hiding it cunningly along the line of a stripe.
All shoes suggested for the outfits are from Stefano Bemer.
Richard Anderson‘s suit jacket has perhaps the squarest shoulders of the bunch, with considerable padding and a structured chest. He also cuts a high notch to the lapel and uses a characteristic one-button stance, with relatively open foreparts.
The Liverano tuxedo has the most open foreparts of the lot, however, with a definite sweep away from the waist button that is mirrored in the broad peaked lapels.
The jacket is also cut with a generous chest and is matched with a U-shaped waistcoat.