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PA Crowe bespoke tailor

I have worked around the corner from PA Crowe for over 10 years, yet it was only two months ago that I really became acquainted with them. Why? Partly because I discovered Graham Browne early on – the bespoke tailor only slightly further away that I have been covering for almost all of that decade – and partly because I simply had no excuse to. Eventually Mark Whitfield, the ever-dapper front-of-house you can see pictured below, offered an official invitation following a chance encounter at the BTBA dinner last year. 

PA Crowe is a bespoke tailor. It has been around for just over 100 years, and absorbed a few other names in that time – as with most British bespoke outfits. It is now owned by Mark’s family, and he runs a shop comprising himself, cutter Keith and two tailors. Although alterations and other work can therefore be done on site, most of it is given to outworkers (in common with most of British bespoke).  

PA Crowe bespoke tailor6

That’s Keith below, carefully cutting a nice piece of blue flannel. And above, Mark is fitting me for a pair of brown flannel trousers. I decided to take an old piece of Barberis cloth to them to have made up, in order to more thoroughly review the service. Brown is a much-underrated colour for separate trousers, in my opinion. It goes particularly well with navy jackets and feels more contemporary in that combination than classic colours such as cream and charcoal.  

The trousers were cut to a nice line and Mark understood clearly my preferences for the rise and slimness of the leg. The front of the trousers, however, have proved troublesome. They consistently collapse below the waistband, creating a lot of folds either side of the zipper.

PA Crowe bespoke tailor5

I know from experience that it is difficult to cut slim, flat-fronted trousers to my figure, with the slimness of waist and large seat making it tricky to have enough space in the trousers yet retain a slim line. I am having a charcoal pair made at Chittleborough & Morgan at the moment and this has been the biggest issue. 

However, other tailors have accomplished it, with those from Elia Caliendo and Cifonelli probably being the best. The several pairs I have from Anderson & Sheppard are also good, and I loaned Mark and Keith a pair of those as a shorthand for my preferences in design and shape.

We are having another go at the trousers and will see if we can rectify the issue. 

PA Crowe bespoke tailor3

I can, however, wholly recommend Crowe’s valeting of suits and jackets, which I tried out on two old pieces. There are few tailors around who will take other people’s work, get it cleaned by someone that understands bespoke tailoring, and then press it to perfection when it is returned to them. It can give a whole new lease of life to a suit. 

PA Crowe suits start at £2200. 

PA Crowe bespoke tailor2


Globe-Trotter case 2

One of the most interesting things about visiting Globe-Trotter recently was learning how the company has evolved. Like most British brands, although old, its history is a chequered one – which is all the more reason to celebrate its current stability.

Globe-Trotter was most recently acquired by Jeff Vaughan in 2001. He has been in the industry for a long time: back in 1988 he was the chairman of the British Luggage Association, which at the time had 21 factories among its members. Today there is only one.

Globe-Trotter case bespoke

Jeff used to be a licensee for Globe-Trotter, selling the product around the world – particularly in Japan. When the company was in trouble, he didn’t want to lose his best supplier, and ended up buying the factory. Jeff’s biggest client – the Japanese distributor – later agreed a cross-ownership structure with Globe-Trotter, with both taking stakes in each others’ companies.

That relationship explains part of the brand’s popularity in Japan. It was also sold alongside Japanese-owned Mackintosh for several years, under a Vulcanised brand, given the products’ sharing of that process. That structure has been good for Globe-Trotter, which has grown from 16 workers to over 100. (It’s a big generalisation, but it’s hard not to wish that more British brands were being acquired by Japanese companies, rather than Chinese.)

Globe-Trotter case

Globe-Trotter is opening its first big, flagship store on Albermarle Street in London on 22 May. The most noticeable changes from previous stores will be the leather range (of which more in another post) and the space dedicated to bespoke. Bespoke cases have been popular in Japan for a long time. At the biannual bespoke evenings in Tokyo, an average of 80 cases are ordered. But this will be the first time a store will have a big space permanently dedicated to it.

The process at the factory required to make so much bespoke was interesting. Jeff used time-and-motion studies to look how different aspects of the production operated, and swapped around teams from section to section to see how they compared. The resulting process is more efficient and allows the factory to swap easily between big runs – say twenty 30-inch cases – and small or bespoke orders. At the factory it is easy to see this in operation, with a wide variety of case-tops lined up waiting to be worked on.

Globe-Trotter case 3

“I would call this handmade luggage,” says Jeff. “It’s not hand-sewn and in fact many of the processes aren’t that different to how a case might be made in the Far East. But the difference is the lack of mass production. We have infinite flexibility and apply individual care to each case.”

That may seem like so much spin, but I know what he means. It’s not as easy to point to as a suit’s paper pattern or a shoe’s hand-sewn welt, but the lack of mass production is a significant differentiating factor.

Jeff has also refined several things about Globe-Trotter cases in the past 10 years, such as having wheels made specifically for them (rather than buying a standard design), improving the trolley handle so it is slimmer and subtler, and making the end handle the same as the side one – which is substantially stronger.

The ultimate aim is not to produce anything as slick and functional as a Rimowa, however. For Jeff, it is about refining the quality rather than changing the DNA. I like the line he uses often to describe the difference: “We’re making a Ferrari, not a Lexus.” Ferrari owners may be able to tell many stories about the impracticality of aspects of the cars; but they wouldn’t swap them for a Lexus in a million years.

Globe-Trotter case espoke

 Crocodile watch strap

A watch is your greatest investment piece. You may wear it every day of your life. It can enhance every outfit you ever wear (except black tie and beachwear, perhaps). It is worth saving up for more than anything. But that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive.

The key to buying a good watch is to understand what you get for your money: brand, movement, design, re-sell or precious metal. Select the things you want to pay for, then find a watch that matches.

1. Know the movements

Watches are quartz, manual or automatic. A quartz watch uses a battery, and therefore has a much simpler movement. But that’s not necessarily bad. Cartier watches were always largely quartz movements – because their emphasis was on the watch as a piece of jewellery.

An automatic movement is the one wound by the movement of your wrist. The vast majority of high-end watches are automatic, but that can be annoying: you have to wear it every day, wind it each time you put it on, or keep it wound in a watch-winder.

A manual movement is the old-fashioned option, winding the spring using the crown. Many prefer that for an occasional watch. Despite its simplicity, however, it is sometimes more expensive than an automatic.

Then there are all the other complications: chronographs, calendars, tourbillons etc. They are beautiful pieces of engineering, but usually you pay through the nose for it. Unless you have bottomless pockets, or really value that craftsmanship, stick to a simple chronograph at most.

junghans-max billuniform wares 302


2. Choosing metals and design

Most watches are steel or gold. If you’re going to invest in a dress watch, it should probably be gold – rose or yellow, or, if you’re really fussy about your metals, white gold/platinum. There are some cheaper watches out there that I love the design of – Junghans x Max Bill, for example, or the UniformWares 302 series (both shown above) – but they are largely quartz movements and steel cases*.

Sports watches are another matter. Most look best in steel, though whether they go with more formal outfits is a style question (to be addressed in another post). Certainly, a man could look well-dressed his whole life with a collection that comprised a good dress watch and a good sports watch.

Design is most people’s biggest priority in buying a watch, and rightly so. It’s a good reason to stick with classic designs such as Cartier Tanks, JLC Reversos or Omega Speedmasters. Your watch has to last decades after all – you can’t change your mind in five years, or the investment angle goes out the window.

Yet it’s also important to stick to your own tastes. (I’ve never seen a Patek I liked.) Confidence in those tastes will come with time.

*The Junghans is automatic, however, and UniformWares is planning on upping its watch range later this year on both fronts, so watch out for it.

3. Changing the strap

An obvious way to add variation, but one few people do. A canvas NATO strap is a nice change of pace on a sports watch, or a Milanese mesh (as on the Junghans above).

On a dress watch, try a good supplier of straps and see if they can make both your old and new one interchangeable. I did this last year with Jean Rousseau in London, and my Cartier Chronoflex now has tan-calf and navy-crocodile options (pictured top).

4. Buying second hand

Unless you value that retail hit of walking into a swanky watch store, second-hand watches can be a good option. You’ll generally save 20%-30%, with no damage to quality or longevity (you can get it serviced any time anyway).

This will also give you a good idea of the re-sell value of the watch – perhaps 30% less than what you paid for it. The biggest downside is that the range is often limited to these popular resell items: a look of Omegas, a look of Rolexes, and a smattering of Cartier.

More at a later date on my watch collection, and the propriety of watches with different aspects of dress

Picture: The Rake/Luke Carby

16 April 2014

Kiton suit materials

Regular readers will remember the video I did for Harrod’s last year, to help them promote their quarterly made-to-measure events. At the same event this quarter, I took Kiton up on a longstanding invitation to try their MTM offering.

The product – Lasa – is actually somewhere between bespoke and MTM. A unique paper pattern is created, but there are fewer measurements than with any bespoke tailor. There is a fitting with an unfinished garment, but only one. This is somewhat similar to the RTW suits, where each is cut by hand even if dozens are being made in the same material and size.

Kiton trimmings

One significant difference from the RTW suits is that the chest of the Lasa suits is hand-padded. Kiton, unusually, uses machine-padded chest canvasses for its RTW suits, despite all the handwork going in elsewhere (the buttonholes, pick stitching, lining etc).

Following the conversation around Caruso’s MTM suits on a recent post, it’s interesting to note the range of buttons, linings and cloths on offer at Kiton. Many of the cloths won’t be to everyone’s taste, but they are nearly all unique to the brand. And the lining book puts bespoke trimmings suppliers to shame. No tacky iridescence, no union jacks or skulls-and-crossbones, just scores of finely variegated colour tones. Eleven greens; seven yellows; nine reds. It makes you wonder why other lining books are so poor.

My choice of cloth is shown above: grey hopsack with a little silk in the mix; grey horn button; silver lining. Pictured below, with Francesco Trabaldo-Togna (left, tailoring buyer at Harrod’s) and Gabriele Napoletano (right, Kiton’s master tailor).

Kiton Simon Crompton
Kiton suit linings

Globe-trotter globetrotter luggage frames

A Globe-Trotter suitcase is unique in the world because of the baseboard used to form its body. Made of 14 sheets of paper and glue, it is compressed under pressure into a vulcanised material that is lightweight yet extremely sturdy.

It is a process that was invented in the 1850s and has rarely been copied due to the difficulty and expense of replicating it. Today, there are very few imitators of Globe-Trotter and the company closely guards the source of its production. Although there are few that would want to go through the process of recreating a Globe-Trotter, they could start to do so if they could find an appropriate source.

Globe-trotter globetrotter luggage suitcase

During my visit to the Globe-Trotter factory in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, I watched a suitcase being made from start to finish.

The board is the only item not made in the factory – everything else is woven, printed or shaped on site. Although a suitcase can theoretically be made in a few hours, the leather corners of the case have to be soaked, pressed, left to dry and then pressed again – which takes five days. Unless pre-pressed corners happen to be available for a particular style, the construction time is therefore 5-6 days.

Globe-trotter globetrotter luggage england

Around the factory there is an interesting mix of old and new machinery. Unlike some factories that boast of old machinery but would rather have new – they just can’t afford the investment – Globe-Trotter has only retained pieces that are functionally superior.

There is a Victorian guillotine, for example, that is used to cut the linings of the cases. Its iron weight creates a much sharper, reliable slice than a modern equivalent. The presses for those leather corners (above) are also iron and have WW2 stamps on them (Globe-Trotter made military equipment during WW2 and was therefore allowed to retain machinery that would otherwise have been melted down). And sewing machines dating from the 1920s are used to stitch together the four layers of leather in the suitcase handles.

Globe-trotter globetrotter luggage factory 2

“I’ve tried four times over the years to find a modern machine that could do the same job,” says Jeff Vaughan, MD of Globe-Trotter. “The last time I even spent £25,000 on having one specially commissioned. But they all failed. So now we buy them on the secondary market whenever we can, and keep them all for parts.”

Globe-trotter globetrotter luggage sewing

The actual making of a suitcase is fairly simple, with the board being moulded into shape and then set around a wooden frame. Corners and some exterior sections are riveted together by eye, the lining is carefully cut and glued in, and then a metal strip is wrapped around the exposed edges. The addition of the handles and internal straps completes the job.

Globe-trotter globetrotter luggage

As with many English factories, expertise has been increasingly brought in-house. Handles used to be made by Wellwyn, a local operator, before it went bust, as did the wooden frames. The latter are now made by a Globe-Trotter carpenter, who also made many of the worktables around the factory.

One final, interesting fact. The board retains a small amount of moisture when it is first used, in order to help it mould into shape. That moisture will gradually leave the suitcase (hence all the linings being made from breathable materials). As the moisture leaves, over a decade or so, the suitcase becomes stiffer and stronger. My Globe-Trotter then, despite being six years old, has its best years to come. Nice to know.

Globe-trotter globetrotter luggage factory Globe-trotter globetrotter luggage3
Photos: Luke Carby