But he visits London regularly, usually twice a year at least, and from my experience over the past two years I am happy to recommend him as the finest of the visiting makers here. He is the zenith of perhaps three tiers of visiting shirtmakers I have used satisfactorily:
- D’Avino. Every piece of handwork you could ask for, to the highest level. Much of it purely aesthetic, with no practical advantage, but a work of art. Starts at €300.
- Luca Avitabile. My most commonly used maker. Visiting every month or two; introduced here on Permanent Style and now with a big London client base. Only the practical handwork, and not finished to the same level as D’Avino, but still good. Starts at €220.
- Simone Abbarchi. Too early to write about him and recommend him fully, but great value for money for Italian bespoke shirts with no handwork. Based in Florence, comes to London and New York twice a year each. Starts at €120.
With all three, there are two reasons I use them:
- Value for money. Better make than any English shirtmaker (in that there is no handwork, which I find a practical benefit in), and a lot better than the bigger Italian brands with shops in London, eg Kiton.
- Style. Italian bespoke shirtmakers are particularly good at collar shapes (and the collarband shape – just as important). As I’ve found to my cost with several British and other shirtmakers, there is little attention paid to style in this sense and it is particularly wanting on open-necked shirts.
Fiorenzo, as I say, is the best. Here I am being remeasured to check a couple of things, in the Ugolini workshop in Florence.
Shirts, perhaps even more than suits, are an evolution of taste and fit. I say more than suits because you are unlikely to have many variations of shirt style, while you might have lots of different suits/jackets. Two collar shapes normally suffice (eg spread and button-down), with perhaps two different cuff styles. Working with a shirtmaker, then, is about perfecting the body shape, button position, and those few style permutations. Here, with Fiorenzo, we are increasing the height of the collar slightly and raising the third button, to match that of my Avitabile shirts.
I’ve included a few more shots of Fiorenzo’s latest shirt for me here, to illustrate the fine detail and quality, which you don’t always get with Italian makers.
Main photos: Luke Carby
Barbour is not quite the level of craft or quality that we normally feature on Permanent Style. However, rather like US brand Filson that we covered recently, they deserve mention for the beautiful way they age and their commitment to service and repair.
It was the first time I had seen a classic production line like this, and it didn’t exactly enamour me to it. But then if the aim is to produce hundreds of jackets costing £200-£300 each, some efficient mass manufacturing is required. Interestingly, there is no reason a production line should reduce quality (Huntsman used to have one, after all), but it does tend to – often because there is an emphasis on speed.
I feel tempted to say that a lot of love is put into repairing the jackets. Certainly if that’s true, it is driven by the love that the owners have for their Barbours. Most repair requests come with a hand-written note, explaining what is required, how it is used, and encouraging care and attention.
Last week three of us visited the Barbour factory in South Shields, in the name of a new book on British heritage brands.
Given we were researching the stories behind the companies, it was natural to stay next to the lighthouse that was the early inspiration and branding for Barbour. That’s it, the Beacon, behind. More on Barbour, its archive and repairs, in the next couple of weeks.
Wearing my vintage Barbour motorcycle jacket; Dent’s peccary gloves; Anderson & Sheppard lambswool jumper; Begg ‘wispy’ scarf; Johnstons cashmere beanie; bespoke Levi’s jeans. And on the feet, Wolverine ‘1000-mile’ boots.
Photography: Horst Friedrichs
Böle is a Swedish tannery and leather goods brand, with a beautifully made product and unique selling point.
Böle is the last remaining spruce-bark tannery in the world. Leather is often tanned with a variety of barks in combination, particularly oak and chestnut in Europe. Good shoes have oak-bark-tanned soles, of which there is only one left in the UK (J&FJ Barker). In southern Sweden oak is also a common tanning material, but Böle is in the north of the country, in Pitea. There’s it’s all spruce trees.
So how is spruce-tanned leather different? It’s a little warmer and lighter in colour than most veg-tanned leathers, and has fewer tannins. It is also more flexible, although northern Swedish tanneries traditionally use heavy cow hides, which give it a little more stiffness.
“Spruce is more of a clean finish. It creates a very pure, pale colour,” says Jan Sandlund – master tanner and the third generation of the family to run the company, whom I met earlier in the year (pictured above). “Of course, we’re biased given it grows all around us, but we think it is a beautiful leather, and now of course very rare.”
Historically, Böle has used its leather to make a range of things, but launched briefcases in the 1980s. It is best known for its Minister’s briefcase (below), which is sold alongside other Böle products like aprons and cases at Trunk Clothiers in London (as well as Harrod’s and other resellers). It also has its own online store, although it’s rather hard to find on the site – you can see it here.
Böle bags are not hand-sewn – as with most bags except the very top end of the market, they are machine sewn with hand tacks and other details at points with particular stress, for example. They are painstakingly lined with reindeer skin, and have brass hardware. They also include many extra details that others would pass up, such as the wooden bars on the bottom of the Minister cases.
I tend to prefer the simpler designs in any case, such as that office bag and the Portfolio. I also love the aprons – it’s worth a trip to Trunk just to feel that gorgeous expanse of leather. Unfortunately I’m not sure polishing your shoes counts as heavy enough labour to justify a full leather apron.
My one criticism of the designs would also be that the brass is treated to give it an antique look, and to stop it from naturally tarnishing at all. I tend to prefer brass that tarnishes and that I can look after, or let it tarnish and just oil it occasionally – which gives it a different, but again very natural look.
There is a wealth of information on the site under the ‘Böle’ section.