My latest column for How To Spend It magazine is a commissioned piece on Pitti Uomo (obviously). I looked at the style of buyers rather than peacocks, and the low winter sun that makes the whole thing so dramatic.
There will be further pieces in the hard copy of the mag coming up too – on Kaweco fountain pens and the appeal of vintage cigar cases. Look out for them.
Photo by Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man
This has become a Permanent Style feature in the past couple of years. An opportunity to mention the dozens of brands that email asking me to review their product, but never get a full post because they don’t quite make that grade.
As ever, this is only a fraction of the number that contact me every week. I try to pick out only those that have the potential to do something interesting or new.
Son of a Tailor
I feel genuinely sorry for Son of a Tailor. Based in Copenhagen, they have the laudable aim of creating basic T-shirts with a bespoke fit. They initially contacted me a year ago but only offered a synthetic-mix cotton at that stage. When they introduced a 100% cotton ($70) we started the process of making a T-shirt to fit me.
The fit in waist and hips we got right with the first shirt. The sleeves (a bit tight, a bit short) took another iteration. But the thing that defeated us – six T-shirts later – was the collar line. I didn’t like the two they have as standard, and it’s very hard to describe the line of a collar. Measurements move; the band itself is as important as the opening; and pitch needs a whole other system to communicate.
If you see one of their shirts and like the neckline, or ask to try one through the post and do, I would highly recommend them. But it didn’t work out for us.
There are so many companies doing small leather goods it makes my head ache. They’re so easy to design, have no sizing issues, and can be made in small batches. So many people launch crowdfunding ideas for the ‘perfect wallet’.
D’Alembert stood out in my Inbox for the hand-painting, which was nice. Unfortunately the wallet they sent me had its paint flake away quite quickly, leaving a not very natural effect. This can happen on any wallet dyed in this way, but not to that extent. The replacement wallet was better, and if you like this look of wallet they’re worth considering – though expensive at $295 with no hand-sewing.
SAAL are an Austrian skincare company doing some of the great things with ingredients that bigger outfits like Aesop have been doing in recent years.
The formulations are nice, with subtle but masculine fragrances. But the non-aluminium deodorant (€22) they sent me wasn’t really strong enough to control my (strictly average, honest) odour. And things like the packaging were sub-par – although these were test bottles. I’ll update when I try the finished product.
Aether are part of an interesting growth area: luxe sportswear sold on its technical capabilities as much as style. Brands like Arc’teryx have been growing fast off the same trend, and several non-sports brands have been investing in the area as well.
When I was offered the Aether sunglasses to try I was interested in this precise combination – something that looked good but was also technical without necessarily appearing so. For the commute to work, sitting between Meyrowitz horn and Oakley half jackets. (Side note: few things are worse than men wearing Oakleys with tailoring. It makes me physically shudder.)
The Aether Scouts ($600) looked good, were very lightweight (titanium frames) and held on well with some fairly active cycling. But despite the extended frame top and windshields, they actually made the airflow worse for me than regular glasses. So unfortunately not that practical.
The history of fragrance is an interesting one. Walking through it, as I did with Floris perfumer Nicola Pozzani recently, shows how subjective many of associations with smell.
(You can read the full post about my bespoke fragrance consultation at Floris here.)
Although fragrance was originally used in the way we use it today – to make us smell nice – it was also used as a restorative, and as a medical aid. The refreshing smell of citrus or florals was a pick-me-up, to be splashed on at regular intervals during the day, in much the same way as we use soap or moisturiser after washing our hands.
Strong scents were used to wake people when they fainted, and were drunk as treatments for all manner of illnesses. ‘Cologne’ water would be drunk as often as splashed on – in both cases with the aim of enlivening the senses.
This was one reason light smells were so widely used. They were meant to evaporate quickly, to have an immediate effect rather than hang around all day.
When you start thinking about fragrance in these broad terms, it makes complete sense that an old house like Santa Maria Novella in Florence has bottled perfume as just one section amidst soaps, candles, creams, pot pourri, teas, liqueurs and so on. They are all just ways of applying scent to our senses.
Fragrance was first dissolved in alcohol by the monks of Santa Maria Novella in the 17th century. Previously it had been held in oils, which were less pleasant and more expensive.
The vast majority of fragrances were floral – understandable, given they were both pleasant and abundant. They make up one of the four or five fragrance families often referred to in perfume, the others being colognes, woods, orientals, and fougeres.
Each one emerged at a different point in history when a particular fragrance became wildly popular. It led to a vast range of spin-offs and copycats, and was often spurred by a scientific advancement.
Colognes became popular at the turn of the 18th century, when Giovanni Maria Farina managed to create a complex yet consistent combination of essences in his Eau de Cologne – using lemon, orange, neroli (orange blossom) and bergamot (a type of orange).
All fragrances were florals or colognes until the end of the nineteenth century, when Fougere Royale burst onto the scene. This was spurred by the discovery of a technique to isolate molecules out of raw materials, vastly expanding the potential of perfumery.
“It means you can be much more precise with your creations,” says Nicola. “In a fragrance I recently created for Floris, for example, I took a very light fraction from jasmine from among 200 or so molecules. You wouldn’t use most of them, but the isolation gives you much more control.”
Fougere itself isolated coumarin, a molecule found in tonka beans, and its sweet smell made it wildly popular around Europe. It is also the basis for many famous ‘male’ fragrances – Brut, Boss, Cool Water etc.
Interestingly, all fragrances were seen as unisex until the 1960s, when the beauty industry started heavily promoting scents for one sex or the other. Until then, men and women simply wore scents they liked. Which makes me feel better about my love of lavender.
The next trend was woody fragrances, started by the scent Chypre (French for Cyprus) in 1917. It used oak moss at its heart, and was distinguished by the contrast between that and citrusy top notes. Musk and patchouli are often used in chypre scents as well.
The 1920s saw the growth or ‘oriental’ fragrances – the last major family. They were driven by a very western idea of the orient – sensuous and warm, usually around an extract of vanilla. Ouds, which have become very popular in recent years thanks to Tom Ford, are also orientals.
In the past 50 years, perfume has gone through several trends. They often last 10-20 years – the 1980s were all about musk, patchouli and other heavy scents, while the 1990s were dominated by an ingredient called ‘marine’, which was the first successful attempt to make fresh smells without using citrus.
This last ingredient was a real eye-opener to me. As soon as you smell a ‘marine’ fragrance it takes you back to the 1990s, even though you wouldn’t say they had a defining smell. It smells of shower gel, of all Calvin Klein scents, of Acqua di Gio (there were a lot of things with ‘water’ in the title – a cleansing reaction to the heavy 80s).
There are a lot of heavier fragrances around at the moment, like the ouds, tobaccos and ambers (actually from ambergris, nothing to do with the stone), partly driven by big-spending markets like Russia and the Middle East.
“Oud has been used in the Middle East for centuries,” says Nicola (who lived in Saudi Arabia for a while). “It’s very much part of religious and cultural rituals – there are even sections of the Koran prescribing when certain scents should be used.”
The relationship between fragrance and culture is a fascinating one. The contrast, for example, between Japan and China that don’t have much of a fragrance culture, tending to focus on cleanliness, and the sense-heavy, incense-drenched catholic countries of Europe. But perhaps another time.
As mentioned on Monday’s bespoke post, it’s a heady world and one I’d highly recommend getting lost in with Nicola and the Floris team.
All photography from Floris perfumers, Jermyn Street. By Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man
Floris, the storied London perfumers, recently invited me to try their fragrance customisation service. And I have to say it was one of the most pleasurable bespoke experiences I’ve ever had, rivalled only by my first bespoke suit.
I’ve always been interested in scent, continuously sampling and accumulating over the years. And in the past 10 years of Permanent Style I’ve interviewed a fair few people in the industry – personal favourites being Lorenzo Villoresi and Frederic Malle.
As a result, I came to Floris with a very particular aim in mind. As any customer of bespoke can attest, this can be both a blessing and a curse. It meant that I narrowed down the base scent very quickly, but also found it relatively hard to finesse the final product.
The bespoke service at Floris has undergone a bit of a transformation since they hired Nicola Pozzani (below) to lead it in early 2015. (I also profiled Nicola for a Mr Porter feature on London craftsmen recently – here.)
The service is split into two types. The first one, which I tried, is usually called customisation, takes two hours and concludes with the customer walking away with a personal fragrance. It costs £450. The second is much more involved, with at least three consultations and several tests over six months, and costs £4,500.
The two-hour session starts with a whirlwind tour of the major scent families, presented chronologically in order – to also demonstrate how perfume developed of the past 500 years (I’ll do a separate post on that later).
The scents presented during that tour come from the Floris archive. Nicolas has four shelves of them ranged up the wall next to him, filled with around 30 large bottles. Each contains an old Floris scent typical of a particular type – cologne, wood, marine, fougere, floral etc.
Some are finished fragrances (eg Limes); some simple combinations (eg sandalwood and cedarwood – a particular favourite); and some close to essences (bergamot or lavender). With each one, you smell a test strip, give Nicolas your reflections, and decide whether it’s something that could form the base of your perfume.
I found the whole tour fantastically insightful and educational. For example, I learnt that old scents were originally used to splash on the hands after eating or visiting the toilet – hence the weakness of cologne. And that the same combinations were often drunk as pick-me-ups – perfumes and liqueurs are closely connected in that regard.
Given the clarity of my concept for the fragrance, I narrowed down the scents I was interested in pretty quickly. I wanted something masculine and dry – not sickly like the ouds that are so trendy at the moment, but definitively an evening fragrance, nothing too floral or citrusy.
The best areas for this are the woods and orientals. Woods tend to be quite ‘dry’ (there’s a whole issue with vocabulary that deserves another post) while orientals are usually spicy and occasionally sweet.
I picked out four from the whirlwind tour: that cedarwood/sandalwood mix (smells like shoe trees, pencils and mud); an oriental blend (nutmeg, cardamon, pepper); lavender; and a Floris vetiver blend. I was asked to narrow that down to two, and then try two on the skin.
As anyone interested in perfume will know, scents often smell quite different on the skin than on a testing strip. And they smell different on different people – the warmth and oiliness of the skin in particular affecting how the molecules are released. This is another way in which the process is bespoke – you can tweak the formula to suit how a scent reacts with your skin.
It was the oriental blend that won out, so that became the base of my perfume. We then assembled the other scents that had been discarded, plus some new ones (amber, iris), and considered how to mix them together.
At this stage, Nicola takes far more control. He knows that lavender must be added in three times the volume of amber to have the same effect. And he knows how to ‘round’ out a scent with elements that aren’t obviously noticeable (eg bergamot for a touch of freshness).
I smell. I say what I think. Nicola makes a tweak, then we do it again.
- The bottle contains 30 fluid drams.
- We started with 16 for the base (oriental)
- Plus some of the wood mix. amber and lavender, making a total of 24.
- The lavender wasn’t coming though, so we added 2 more of that and 1 each of the other two.
- That made made 28.
- Woods, it was decided, were needed to settle the amber and would work well with the lavender. So that made up the final 2 ounces.
- Then we’re done.
It was a emotional, immersive experience – and fantastic value. For anyone that takes an interest in bespoke, craft and process, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Rather like bespoke tailoring, I’m still not entirely sure what I think about the scent. It’s different, spiky and warm – I’ll go back in next week and show Nicola what it smells like after a few hours on the skin.
But more than anything, it feels intensely personal.
Photos: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man
In my recent post on a handkerchief capsule collection, there were quite a few questions about commuting to work by bike. They can be summarised as:
- What should I keep in the office, and at home?
- How do I rotate them to avoid things being boring?
- Is it OK to leave expensive things at the office?
- If I cycle in a suit, how can I avoid wearing it out?
- How can I transfer clothes to the office on a bike?
I have cycled to work for 12 years, and I should say up front that although there are ways to mitigate these issues, they certainly can’t be solved.
I sometimes fantasise about commuting by train, just so I can have the full selection of clothing to choose from every morning, and more need for coats, hats and scarves. Unfortunately, you can’t have both.
So, at the office I keep:
- Five jackets and suits (total)
- Two extra pairs of trousers (chinos and flannels)
- Five ties
- Four pairs of shoes
- Three sweaters
Every day I cycle to work with a shirt, socks and underwear. The shirt sometimes gets a little crumpled, but I pack it carefully. I don’t use a box, though I have used a Shirt Shuttle in the past (current bag too small for it).
Ideally the shirts would be washed, pressed and kept at the office, but this (a) is expensive, (b) takes up too much room, and (c) usually involves dry cleaning, which would substantially shorten the life of the shirts.
I often bring in small things like ties or hanks too, but you are essentially composing an outfit in your head, based on what’s at the office. This is a bit of a pain and inevitably leads to safer, less interesting combinations.
To keep things fresh, I swap clothes around once a week. There will be usually be one day where I’m going out in the evening and therefore not cycling. On this day, I take in a couple of new items, like a jacket and shoes, and take two home.
The problem with that, of course, is I have to carry things around on a night out. But you can also (with a little more thought) wear those new clothes into the office in the morning, and wear the old ones home, having changed at the end of the day.
That answers questions (2) and (5) above. The answer to (4) is, don’t. Not in a suit anyway. If you really have to cycle in smart clothes, at least do it in a jacket and chinos or jeans. These trousers will wear a lot slower, and if they do wear out, at least you’re not left with a stranded suit jacket.
I often cycle to appointments on a Santander rental bike (what I still call a Boris bike). And I try to follow these recommendations for that. Normally chinos and a jacket; rarely flannel (it wears out very fast); usually a short coat, gloves and a beanie, not a fedora. Again, it’s a shame that clothing is limited by means of transport, but cycling is always nicer than the tube.
Expensive things are usually fine at the office. If you put them away, they will usually be covered by company insurance. Though worth checking.
And finally, what should you actually keep at the office?
- A mid-grey or navy suit (goes with anything, currently Camps de Luca suit)
- A navy waistcoat and trousers, or other separate waistcoat (see the Logical Waistcoat Theory – currently the waistcoat and trousers from my Cifonelli suit)
- A navy cashmere blazer (Solito)
- A casual/tweedy jacket (currently my brown donegal Rubinacci)
- Something else fun/casual! (Currently my Cifonelli suede jacket)
In the reader questions, Rob mentioned twice that he ends up having boring things at the office. I’m afraid that’s inevitable with such a small wardrobe, but I do try to keep this last slot free for something I’m experimenting with or learning to wear.
(Worth a separate post on that some time – the process of getting something new and ‘learning’ how to wear it. Which colours. Which level of formality.)
If anyone has more specific questions, please let me know.