I’ve been pleased to see that suede has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years. Italians like Loro Piana have always done it well – often in a classic Italian mix of brown suede and grey cashmere – but others such as Berluti, Dunhill and Gieves & Hawkes have embraced it recently.
At any price point, suede is a sophisticated material for casual jackets. It feels younger than tweed, corduroy or other cloths, and is more subtle than the obvious alternative, leather. (Though, perhaps, worn without white trousers.)
I wrote a feature for the upcoming issue of The Rake on suede, which touched on these style points, as well as historical and technical ones.
Starting with the last – good suede is normally the reverse of the skin, but it can be a split skin as well (where a thicker skin is split and kept the right way up). This tends to be weaker, as it doesn’t have the leather surface on the back. It’s one reason shoemakers might say they use ‘reverse calf’ rather than just suede.
Historically, I found it interesting that the processes necessary for making suede often meant that it was often seen as a luxury material. The fact that it was so susceptible to the elements contributed to the same impression. (Berluti, more than anyone, is innovating in this area, but more on that another time.)
In terms of style, most interviewees drew on the subtlety and sophistication of suede, highlighting the fine nap that absorbs light rather than reflecting it (like leather). But they also pointed out the great way that suede takes colour, making it a good option for spring and summer. (Gieves in particular has some lovely sugary tones.)
My favourite suede jacket is a dark-brown blouson I bought from Kilgour the first time Carlo was at the helm. Simple and unlined, it is the perfect weekend jacket – with jeans, flannels or linen. I also recommend the classic Louis W Ferris model from APC, the J Crew suede bombers, and anything from Loro Piana (some slimmer styles coming in this season, which is great to see).
I am having a suede jacket made by Lorenzo Cifonelli at the moment. We’re hoping to have it ready for Autumn. Interestingly, the French tailors do more in suede than others, because they usually have leather workers in-house. Leather work requires special needles, not to say expertise, and when others use leather (as Gieves did for me) they have to use outworkers.
Keep an eye out for the Rake piece.
I’m delighted to say that our first hard copy of Permanent Style – containing the best of the site from the previous year – will be out at the end of next month.
The magazine-sized publication has been designed by London agency Egelnick & Webb, and gives particular emphasis to the wonderful photos Luke has taken over the past year. So often these shots are reduced in size and resolution on the site; this blows many of them up to full pages, enabling the reader to see all the detail of a denim cloth, a leather patina or a gas furnace.
Permanent Style 2015 is divided into five sections, representing the best of factory visits, style, bespoke projects, reader questions and ready-to-wear brands. Each contains a smattering of photos that never appeared on the website, along with explanatory captions.
It will be available to buy online, from outlets of the various brands, and from a handful of other shops around the world. If any other shops are interested in carrying copies, please email me at the usual address.
It’s going to be a busy year for publishing, with the Thames & Hudson book out later in the year, and our British brands work soon after. It feels particularly nice, however, to be able to offer this more personal, more tactile edition of Permanent Style.
I hope you like it.
Update on outlets and pre-orders next month
American leather-goods brand Ghurka has just launched in London, with a nicely done space at Fortnum & Mason. I’ll post more detail on Ghurka, its make and quality, at a later date when I’ve used the product first-hand. But for the moment it’s worth reporting one or two interesting points from the press lunch earlier in the week.
Ghurka was started in 1975 by an American called Marley Hodgson, when he bid for (but lost on) a set of luggage belonging to a gurkha officer at an auction in England. The brand he created deliberately changed the spelling of the name to avoid confusion with the gurkhas – Nepalese soldiers. This could seem like it is trading on the name of the soldiers rather, except that Ghurka has involved them with the UK launch, and an enthusiastic representative from the Gurkha Welfare Trust was at the lunch.
The set-up at Fortnums includes quite a few archive pieces, which is a good sign, as these have clearly been heavily used and worn – and ridden it out well. There is also a repairs service at the factory in Connecticut, although it is not free (unlike Filson).
The aesthetic is similar to Filson – canvas, leather, brass hardware, very practical – but not quite as rugged (softer, non-bridle leather) and made to a higher standard. There is also a general proclivity for leather-bound edges. Although it’s not my favourite style, our own Bruce Boyer is also a fan.
For anyone visiting London, by the way, Fortnum & Mason is worth a visit. The selection of men’s accessory and perfumes tends to include slightly more unusual brands, but given good space and a full range. There are also plans underway to expand the offering – and it compares well with the mania of Selfridge’s or Harrod’s.
Wearing: my Anderson & Sheppard DB flannel suit; chambray shirt from Luca Avitabile; merino sweater from John Smedley; wool tie from Drake’s; handkerchief from Simonnot-Godard. (The red socks guys now do a great selection of SG squares now by the way.)
Pictured with the lovely Pam Bristow of Ghurka.
I am in Paris tomorrow, and one of the highlights will be catching up with Jean-Claude Colban of shirtmakers Charvet.
A scholar and a gentleman, Jean-Claude is both one of the most knowledgeable people you will ever meet in the industry, and one of the most self-effacing.
At least it seems that way. Jean-Claude speaks so softly, with such modesty of tone, that it’s easy to miss the occasional phrase such as ‘but of course, we make the finest shirts in the world’. They slip in, almost unnoticed, and you find yourself nodding in agreement even if, as with me, you don’t necessarily.
Jean-Claude has been my source of truth for matters relating to shirting cloth for several years now, and as such you will often find him quoted in The Rake, the Financial Times or How to Spend It. He will set us right on denim and chambray (the former, essentially a matter of indigo dye, but culturally a twill weave and certain weight and finish – the latter, merely a contrast in blue and white threads) as well as silks, cottons and cottons that feel like silks.
There are few places in the world I am so fond of, where the aesthetic is not actually, largely, to my taste. The ties are often too bright or have too much sheen; the velvet jackets and dressing gowns equally. There will always be something – travel slippers, or handkerchiefs – which will catch my eye, but really I go for the erudite, the eloquent Mr Colban.
We’ve stuck with this format for almost 18 months now, as response has been so good among HTSI readers. It generally involves a first-person narrative, based off the kind of trips or craftsman interviews I tend to do, and gives a behind-the-scenes view of a new or growing brand.
The past serious for HTSI, a series of practical guides called ‘How to Buy’ can still be seen here on the site. For those that want a basic guide to purchasing a suit, a bag or a fountain pen, it remains a handy resource.