A little preview of our next collaboration here: a beautiful tan tote bag, made in the Globe-Trotter factory in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire.
The veg-tanned bag is made, unusually, from a single piece of leather wrapped around the bottom. Most consumers wouldn’t notice is there was a seam running along the underside of the bag. But I know you guys will appreciate it.
Four things contribute most to the formality of an outfit: shine, darkness, contrast and desaturation.
We see all four of them in formal outfits such as black tie. Dark black or midnight blue is contrasted against stark white. There is virtually no colour – perhaps just a dash in the handkerchief or boutonniere – and there is shine in the grosgrain silk, the shine of the shoes.
Navy is the more common starting point for formality in a lounge suit. When considering what to wear for our Tailoring Symposium last month, therefore, navy was the first thing on my mind.
It was a hot night in Florence, and a double-breasted jacket would be more formal than single. So my navy hopsack double-breasted jacket, from Elia Caliendo, fitted the bill.
Next, the trousers. Grey would have been the formal default (plain, lack of colour, enough contrast with jacket and shoes). But I was keen to try my silk/linen brown trousers from Panta Clothing. They are very light and the silk gives them a slight sheen, which suggests a touch of formality. I’d consider how to get enough contrast with the shoes (see recent post on Caraceni) later.
For shirt, tie and handkerchief, the default formal option would always be a white shirt, plain dark tie, and white hank. This achieves the desired elements of darkness, contrast and desaturation. This is why wearing a white shirt in the evening is, for some men, a useful rule of thumb; it usually makes any outfit more formal.
But the top half would have been dull if it was just plain navy and white. It might also have looked detached from the trousers. So I substituted the shirt for a pale grey. That retained the lack of colour, sacrificed a little of the contrast, and injected a touch of personality.
In looking at the top half, above, note how much more formal the bright-white handkerchief and silk navy tie make it. A silk with more texture (eg grenadine), or with less shine (eg wool or linen) would have been much less formal. Equally a handkerchief that provided less unbroken contrast.
The shoes are brown-suede Belgian loafers from Rubinacci. I know some people dislike the sockless look, but I like it and my God it’s cool. They also created just enough contrast between shoes and trousers, due to the textures of suede vs silk/linen, and the black bow and piping on the shoes.
Also good here would have been the suede and velvet slippers Gaziano & Girling are producing at the moment (from £380). They have soles and heels that are a touch thicker than normal cemented shoes, making them much more practical than other slippers (including, I admit, these Rubi ones).
Tie from Drake’s, shirt from Luca Avitabile. For those in New York, Luca and Luigi Solito will be there in September – the 16th to the 18th, at HMS International Fabrics (730 5th Ave, suite 502). Contact email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s probably worth saying this once more. These images are merely indicative. They are intended to give a general impression of the shirt (a lovely grey from Simone Abbarchi). They are not intended to be the basis of an assessment of the fit.
There. Got that off my chest. So, how did my first commission from Florentine shirtmaker Simone Abbarchi turn out? Not bad, overall. Probably a worse fit on the body than most other makers I have tried, but only just and the collar is spot on.
I’ve said before that the collar is the most important part of the shirt, and it’s true. It’s particularly important for men that wear jackets a lot, but even for those that don’t, the body of a shirt is never going to flatter you like a tailored jacket. If you aim for that, you’ll have the shirt cut too tight, and you’ll start popping the buttons when you sit down.
Look to the collar first. The fit through the waist can also be nice. The sleeve length should be bang on. And it’s nice when the slope of the shoulders is correct, so that the chest of the shirt is relatively clean.
If you have sloping shoulders like me, and are therefore used to ready-made shirts bunching around the sides of the chest, correct shoulders are a lovely thing. And to be fair, this is one thing Simone got right. (The best I’ve ever had was Mariano at Sastreria Langa in Madrid, but the collar was horrible.)
The places where Simone’s fit let it down are across the shoulders, and through the waist. The former are too tight, particularly after washing, and the waist is a chunk too big. The shoulder isn’t uncomfortable, and the waist isn’t bad, but neither are as good as you should expect from bespoke (or made-to-measure for that matter).
Simone does both – bespoke and MTM – but with no handwork at all in the making. This makes him quite cheap, starting at €150 for bespoke and €120 for MTM. And despite that lack of handwork, the finishing was good – indeed, the initials I have just above the hem at the front were probably finer than any other maker.
I had some adjustments made to the pattern in Florence, and should have a new shirt in a couple of weeks. If I had paid £200 for the shirt, I might have been a little disappointed with the fit. But at £100 it’s OK, only because it’s worth working a little more to get a good pattern that can be used for subsequent £100 orders. That will be good value.
(A reader asked on the last post how high the collar was, by the way. The best way to assess this is to measure the height of the collar stand at the back – Xcm here. Of course, the width will likely vary from back to front, but this is the best starting point. And remember, the collar should always be in proportion to the length of your neck. Mine is relatively long.)
I’m a big fan of vintage leather goods. There’s nothing like a real, century-old patina on alligator or bridle leather; plus silver or brass hardware that you can let tarnish or keep polished and shiny.
Over the years I have bought a Louis Vuitton Alzer briefcase, a crocodile suitcase, and an innovative fold-up portfolio. My favourite, however, is probably my first purchase – this alligator cigar case.
It is my favourite for two main reasons: because it was the first, and because it gets used more than any of the others. The Alzer is pretty heavy (blame the brass and all those nails) and the suitcase can really only travel by car. This cigar case, on the other hand, perfectly fits an iPhone 4 or iPhone 5. For the past five years, I have had one then the other.
The iPhone 5 is of course thinner than the iPhone 4, but the silver collar is flexible enough to be bent a touch inwards or outwards to hold whatever it contains. And as the other half slips inside, it can accommodate a wide variety of heights.
Given how much I use my phone, the thing is taken apart and put together again repeatedly. But when all I have to carry is that phone and perhaps a credit card, it becomes effectively the smallest (and perhaps most beautiful) day bag in the world.
The case itself is made of alligator with (unusually) red stitching around the outside. It would have been used for cheroots and smaller cigars, popular around the turn of the last century.
The stamp and hallmarks allow us to get a pretty good of idea of when it was made and by whom. The ‘LB’ is probably the retail stamp of the maker; on the right-hand side there is also a diamond with three ‘Bs’ in it, which would have been his hallmark. If they had been the customer’s initials, they would likely have been engraved rather than stamped.
Looking up the LB, including the serif style and the position of the period, it appears to have been made by Louis Bloomfield, a maker who was linked to cigar importers Hunters & Frankau (they had the exclusive right to import Cuban cigars for a period).
The other hallmarks are an anchor (assayed in Birmingham), a lion (sterling silver) and, between them, a letter indicating the date. Unfortunately this letter has been worn away, but the shape of the anchor and lion narrows down the period to 1890-1899. (The designs of the hallmarks were changed every time the letters had to begin at the beginning of the alphabet again, and the square shape of the border narrows down the letters.)
This case is from Bentleys, the fantastic London shop run by Tim Bent. They have recently moved, from Walton Street (which is becoming, like so much of London, just another parade of women’s designed brands) to Lower Sloane Street. When I was in this week they were still putting the finishing touches to the new store, but it should be open soon.
Of course, being in London Bentleys is expensive (a case like this would be £400). But I’ve always preferred to shop there with Tim, Julian and the team because the selection is so good. I’ve done my time hiking around regional antiques stores and there’s normally at least one thing I like, but it’s not quite right (usually damaged).
With that relationship comes great service. It was only this week that I thought to bring in this case and have Tim look up the hallmarks. And I know if anything ever went wrong with my suitcase or anything else, he’d always give free advice, and recommend a great repairs service.
There was a nice piece on me in Italian magazine Fashion last week. These interviews are usually fairly repetitive, but I did have a chance in this one to mention my love of Charlie Mingus, and how proud I am that my grandfather reads everything I ever write. Nice personal touches.
(It’s in Italian, by the way. Google Translate tells me there’s nothing inaccurate, but Italian readers, do tell me if that’s wrong!)