Wednesday, 28 April 2010
Monday, 26 April 2010
Any man that has spent time experimenting with colour – whether on ties, jacket linings or pocket handkerchiefs – will know that the dark, rich tones offer greater possibilities of marrying sophistication and experimentation. Yellow is a nice pop now and again, but the key is mastering purple, maroon, bottle green and burnt orange.
I’ve always felt this particularly true for socks, whether as the dominant colour or a detail. Green with a brown trouser, say, purple with charcoal and maroon with navy.
But over time I have come to realise the domineering possibilities of one colour in particular: purple.
Michael Drake’s opinion on the subject in his recent post, therefore, were opportune. He put into words something I had been thinking for a while. And then, seeing him again last week, I was reminded of the power of purple once more. Michael was wearing olive cotton trousers and (if I remember correctly) brown suede ankle boots. In between the two were purple hose.
Either orange or green would have worked there for a coloured sock; both are obvious autumnal choices. But purple was that much richer while being unusual and personal. Again, sophisticated seems to be the right word.
The key to purple’s strength is its versatility. Most men would happily place it between a navy trouser and black shoe. Equally, (perhaps if suggested to them) many would put the same socks and shoes with a charcoal suit. But what other colour could jump from that to accompanying brown and green? Only green comes close, really.
Purple’s richness of colour make it a strong statement, but its darkness of tone makes it subtle.
The only way you can go wrong really is to wear it with too pale a colour. Avoid a mid-grey suit with tan shoes, for example.
Friday, 23 April 2010
One of the great attractions of buying classic, handmade items is how they age; true investment pieces that last not just more than one season, but more than one generation. However, few articles are written about aging. Understandably, most are written about the instantly thrilling, box-fresh purchase.
Hopefully this piece will be the first of many about how great things age. It is about my Globe-Trotter luggage.
When I first wrote about buying the luggage two years ago, one reader commented: “Simon, those are beautiful suitcases. But... do you really use them for air travel today? Don’t they get ruined?” I didn’t really know it at the time, but the point is that no, they do not.
There are many advantages to Globe-Trotter luggage. It is very light yet extremely strong (in a famous stunt a cabin case was shown to be able to support the weight of an elephant). It is handmade using the same Victorian machinery as it was 113 years ago. It is easily repaired, very eco-friendly and great value for luxury luggage.
But the best thing about it is how it looks, in particular as it is used. You can get a polycarbonate suitcase that will be tough and lightweight. But it will never look as good as when it was new: it is designed to look shiny and as soon as it scuffs it is degraded. It is unlikely to be something you are proud of; you certainly wouldn’t pass it down to the next generation.
Another reader on that initial post commented “the best thing about Globe-Trotter is, unlike the wretched Samsonites, it doesn’t matter if it starts to looked ‘used.’ Quite the opposite in fact”. Another said “being using one for years. It ages amazingly, with more scratches and baggage stickers gracing its surface, I’m loving it more everyday”.
And here is the evidence, in the photos of my luggage two years later.
In that time it has been checked in about 30 times. It has been to
The only slight disappointment was that, after its fourth outing, the housing of one of the wheels broke away. Apparently this is a relatively rare problem. When cases do get taken in for repair, which happens every five years on average if used heavily, the most common culprits are the locks and the handles. Wheels come third.
It took me a long time to get around to taking the suitcase in for repair – I only managed it last week. And while the repair isn’t inexpensive (this one will be £80), Globe-Trotter does it at cost. It’s done by one man up at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire that does all the company’s carpentry and fixing.
My initial disappointment has been tempered by the experience of using my case since (I taped up the wheel for a while) and by the attentive aftercare service. As long as nothing breaks again any time soon, I’ll be happy.
All similar experiences, photos or war stories are gratefully received. There's always archive pictures – but those people all had chauffeurs and valets. Much more revealing to see how a suitcase has coped with the thuggish baggage handlers of
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
February 1936. "This on-the-spot sketch of Riviera resort fashions, quite aside from its obvious decorative ping, has its uses as a check-up on prevailing plage fashions, because our southern resort fashions follow those of the Riviera almost as closely and as constantly as lunch follows breakfast.
The figure in the left foreground is typical of the resort dress of fashionably informed Englishmen and Frenchmen. From pork pie hat to crocodile shoes, with grey and white flannel between. Note that the double-breasted jacket has only four buttons instead of the usual six, also that it carries welt pockets and side vents. The muffler is blue silk foulard with white spots, usually worn over a light-weight polo shirt.
The background figure shows the Cannes-engineered white linen beach shirtwith navy blue pirate's stripes, which opens all the way down the front, worn with blue linen beach slacks and canvas espadrilles."
I'll be wearing my double-breasted grey flannel jacket with cream trousers having seen this picture. Much less stark than navy.
Monday, 19 April 2010
One solution, certainly to the second problem, is the trousers being produced by Ed Morel in
At over $200, they are not cheap by high street standards. But the workmanship is superb and they’re a lot cheaper than Kiton. The handstitching or tacking around the waistband, pockets and fly is impressive, and everything from the thread used for the sewing (Gutterman) to the buttons (French horn) is quality. Each pair comes with spare buttons and taping to go around the (obviously unfinished) bottoms.
I’m a particular fan of the closing at the front, which features two buttons on the inside and a long tab that slips underneath the first belt loop.
There will be both slim and classic fits, though the initial first samples (details here) are all in the slim fit. While not aggressively narrow, I did find that I needed the 34 inch rather than 32 (I am actually a 33, so either way an alteration is required) so that the space in the seat and thigh were sufficient. Then again, my tailor Russell is always telling me I have a particularly prominent posterior, so you might not have the same problem.
The colours available are slightly unusual while still classic, the brown I got (pictured) a slightly lighter tone than one would assume and equally the air force blue that I will likely get next. Lovely texture on the cashmere option as well.
Some readers of Style Forum, where Ed launched this product, have commented that they would prefer side straps to belt loops. I’m torn but I marginally prefer belt loops with odd trousers – the ability to accessorise the belt just outweighs the obvious practicality of the straps on fit over time. On suits, I always have side straps.
Eventually Ed will have product with side straps, though, as well as the classic cut and some other products like seven-fold ties. They will all appear on the website, which is under construction. In the meantime anyone interested can contact Ed on email@example.com or through Style Forum.
Another, earlier review here.
Friday, 16 April 2010
"The throwaway banter of the captions is incomparable, a form of compressed mini-literature, equal parts sharp copywriting and beguiling dialogue. The writer speaks in a confidential and detailed manner. The scenes are inevitably genteel. The voice is always baritone."
I'm aware that other writers, such as Etutee on the London Lounge, have produced greater detail - reproducing the original Esquire and Apparel Arts. But hopefully these extracts from Men in Style will provide a useful resource.
By Lipstick Unreddened, Rouge Undefiled
March 1936 They've long since taken our cigarettes, and, in salient features though sissified form, our pipes and even our pants, but the cigar counter is the last unfallen fort in the invaded land of man. All of which, though sad and true, seems to have a minimum to do with the clothes in question which are, on the left a double-breasted Shetland coat in a black and brown herringbone, cut over lines that give it something of the country air. There is an outside ticket pocket and a breast pocket flap, and the buttons are of leather. The coat comes an inch below the knee and has a slight flare. With it are worn a brown hard finished worsted suit, black blucher shoes, tan shirt with starched collar, a bold checked Spitalfields tie, buckskin gloves and bowler. The other coat is a fly front covert, worn wth a grey Saxony suit, foulard muffle, capeskin gloves, black town shoes and a green Homburg hat.
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
There’s nothing like a factory you can get to on the Tube. So much less train time involved.
The Alfred Dunhill leather factory and pipe workshop are up in Walthamstow; though it could be in Northampton for all the difference it makes to the atmosphere of leather, antiquated machinery and craftsmanship. A factory like this is the same anywhere.
Of course, having it in the UK has many advantages, flexibility being one of them. One recent bespoke commission was from a US customer that wanted both a coat and hip wallet reduced in size to fit only US notes. He also requested that they both be lined in crocodile rather than the usual leather and the skins to be in a particular waxed, matte finish. Much easier to organise when your factory’s on the Victoria line.
The experience of the craftsmen is another obvious advantage. The leather factory used to belong to Tanner Krolle, years ago, and several of the staff moved to Dunhill at the time. One of the bespoke and prototype makers, Rick Read, is one example and he’s been doing the same job since 1977.
Rick and his colleague in bespoke, Tomasz Nosarzewski, talked me through a few of their new products, including a travel wallet that has the Bourdon House address handwritten on the front to look like a letter. It was inspired by an old model and new versions will feature original stamps from the period.
The design will also be used in a range of notebooks that were surprisingly beautiful for such simple items. The paper is a pale grey with white instead of black lines.
Bags, of course, are the main focus, and Tomasz showed me an original doctor’s bag that inspired part of the new Explorer line. The mechanism is being updated on new models to be made in brass and so reduce the weight of the bag – it never fails to surprise me how heavy the old models were.
This factory makes the Alfred Dunhill line, which is reserved for the highest-quality construction and materials. Bags are made in batches of three or five at a time and given to one craftsman that sees them through to the finish. Each bag features the signature of that worker on the leather label inside.
Only the hand sewing may be done by someone else. Hand sewing is particularly necessary on handles, as they have to be more robust and are often curves that would be tricky for a machine to work.
If anything, though, there is more handwork involved in the pipe making. I never thought I’d find the making of pipes interesting, but there you go.
Because each piece of wood required for the bowl of a pipe is unique, it has to be worked down and hollowed out by a hand-worked machine. Rather like benchmade shoes. They tried to automate one process few years ago, drilling the hole down the centre of the mouthpiece, but found that a machine couldn’t tell when a drill bit was wearing out so it wasted one or two each time the bit had to be replaced. A human hand can sense that.
Equally, because the mouthpiece has to be flush with the bowl and each bowl is unique, the former has to be filed down by hand. It’s a lovely craft that is only pursued now by two or three places in the world, one being Walthamstow.
Thank you to Sue and Steve for kindly showing me around
Monday, 12 April 2010
At the end of last year I had my first bespoke shirt made in this country, by Turnbull & Asser. You can see the various stages of the process, including a factory visit, in one of the new categories created on the right-hand side of this site.
The trial shirt I first received from T&A was rather bigger than I expected, in both the collar and body. While this was corrected for the final shirt, I couldn’t help feeling that the adjustments were rather large – down from four inches of room in the waist, for example, to one.
The up-shot was that my final shirt, though wonderful in many respects (from the construction of the collar to the fit at the shoulder point) was a little too tight. It looks and feels perfect when I’m standing up, but is too tight when I sit down unless completely upright. Which I am for much of the day, at my computer; but not when I start to slouch as the clock ticks past .
I can’t help feeling that if the initial, trial shirt were not so large we would have been able to find a better fit when we made the (necessarily smaller) adjustments for the final pattern.
And ever since I started wearing that final shirt I have wondered what I would have changed on a follow-up. Of the three measurements – chest, waist and hips – would I add an inch to all of them, or just an inch to the waist (which feels tightest), half an inch to the chest and nothing to the hips?
As per usual, I thought about this an irrational amount. I would understand if someone called it obsessive. But then, it is like having bespoke suits made: you rarely feel you’ve nailed it until the third or fourth suit. Though obviously a shirt is less complicated in terms of balance and drape.
Finally, last week, I went into T&A to order a new shirt. I was convinced to go for the first of my options – one more inch on all three measurements. This will retain the shape of the shirt, down through the waist and into the tail. Just adding to the waist would reduce that effect.
I shall wait to be convinced. The change is very minor, just a half inch on either side effectively; but I do like my current shirt a lot and I love wearing it. I just can’t slouch on the sofa without undoing at least one button.
Expect a report back in four weeks.
Friday, 9 April 2010
Well, I went in to see the lovely people at Duttons earlier this week and they weren't very surprised. They have the largest selection of buttons in Great Britain apparently (despite the shoebox-sized shop) and source them from around the world, including vintage and modern glass, mother of pearl and Italian enamel. Their buttons have appeared in costumes used for films such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Evita and Captain Corelli's Mandolin. They also stock haberdashery, ribbons, lace, needlework kits and soft furnishing trimmings.
What impressed me about their selection was the availability of sets in the two sizes required for suit jackets - for the front and the cuffs. Apparently this number has been dwindling recently, because most people buy for ladieswear and not for men's, so buying in just one of the two sizes and leaving the other one behind. However, a current rationalisation should increase the number of such sets.
Duttons does ship internationally. There is no selection to view online, but they are very willing to dicuss over the phone what colours and sizes of buttons are required, and then send samples of possible matches to any address.
Even better, if you request an order form then you can trace the size of the button required, attach swatches of material that the buttons will go with, and add any other comments that you think will help the staff with their selection. The charge for the sameples is £2.99 to cover postage, packing and insurance.
Requests should be sent to Michelle Horton at: Duttons for Buttons, Oxford Street, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, HG1 1QE. Contact telephone number: +44 (0)1423 502092. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Other than the store I know in York (32 Coppergate) there is also this branch in Harrogate and one in Ilkley (3 Church Street).
Thank you very much for the suggestions I had from readers for button shops in London - The Button Queen, MacCulloch & Wallis, John Lewis and Liberty's. Although some of them had some great buttons, and I ended up getting some wooden ones for a grey flannel suit from MacCulloch & Wallis, none of them had close to the selection of Duttons and particularly lacked the pairs required for suits.
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
Style, comfort, and quality – rather than just fashion – have always been the hallmarks of a gentleman's wardrobe. A beautifully tailored suit, a perfect shirt, and handmade shoes send a message of natural assurance. But it doesn’t matter who your tailor is or how beautifully your suit has been cut (or what it cost), you will not be well dressed without paying attention to some rather simple details.
The small consideration, the subtle element, the fine points really do matter.
It's not a question of having the world's largest wardrobe, and certainly not an elaborate one. It's a matter of the right clothes, clothes that illustrate the inspiration and taste of the man wearing them. The aim is a relaxed elegance, a nonchalant nod towards a simple refinement.
First there's what I call the V area, that's the jacket collar and lapel, the shirt collar and the tie. This V, which both supports and causes us to visually focus on the face, is arguably the most important aspect of the whole wardrobe, and getting it wrong will be even more obvious than you might fear.
Start with the shirt. Keep it simple; blue is always a good colour, as is white, in solids, small stripes or checks. Avoid extremes; theatrical collar shapes are really dumb, as is edge stitching or fancy-coloured buttonholes. Go for softness and simplicity; allow the make to show through.
Avoid jacquard weaves, anything that looks shiny, and select twill weaves only if it’s a cotton flannel. Opt for two-ply, crisp cottons. If the fabric is too fine chest hair will show through and this is, let's be delicate, not a good look. Best stick to 2x100s or 2x120s cotton broadcloth. Good buttons are mother-of-pearl, of course.
Next the tie. The tie is important not only because it's so much the focus of attention, but because it's more symbolic than utilitarian. The best ties are hand made, never stitched by machine. You have a suit made in the round, and so the tie should be three-dimensional as well.
Avoid extremes: no wider than nine centimetres and no narrower than seven. Eight will look right on any occasion.
The pattern should not be overly designed, with too many colours, or too shiny; although solid satin in navy, grey or purple is fine for the evening, for a more formal look. The time-honoured tradition of lighter coloured ties in the morning, a little darker in the afternoon and darker still in the evening is hard to beat.
Seventy percent of the ties we produce at Drake’s of London are shades of blue. It’s always a good starting point.
There are only two knots worth considering, the four in hand and the half Windsor, the second also being a good standby if the tie is too long or a slightly fuller knot is required.
Best not to use the loop or ‘keeper’ at the back of the tie, to remain nonchalant. It’s ok to see part of the tail. Avoid a look that’s too stiff and rigid – think the Duke of Windsor or Snr. Gianni Agnelli rather than your local bank manager, whose ties will often look ironed flat.
Wearing a tie that is either too long or too short is another give away. In an ideal world the tie should reach the top of the trouser waistband with both the front and tail finishing at the same length. If this can't be achieved, better to have the tail slightly longer than the front. Often the rise of the trousers can cause the tie to be the wrong length.
The chicest suit, the softest handmade shirt is a sartorial dream; but with an inappropriate tie the dream becomes a nightmare.
Similarly simple things are making sure your cufflinks do not resemble Byzantine coffin lids and the metals match up. If you are wearing a stainless steel watchstrap, your cufflinks shouldn't be gold. For me the simple choice is a knot link made from both white and yellow gold.
A few other small, but telling details. Never puff up a white linen hank, always wear it folded. Choose the leather trim on your braces to match your shoe colour. It’s difficult but possible to find braces with silk braided ends, which are preferable to fasteners. A slight and personal disregard for coordination can be charming, but carried too far one drifts from harmony into jarring chaos.
Socks are another give away. Never wear short socks with a suit. Navy socks always work with brown shoes but black socks do not with brown. Personally I am inclined to wear purple socks with almost anything, and like to think of it merely as a signature eccentricity.
Avoid extremes in shoes: those that are too flamboyant, too pointy (or too square for that matter) or over designed. It's too easy for shoes to call attention to themselves and spoil the overall effect.
The idea is to not look as if you have just arrived on the boat from Naples. The best-dressed Neapolitans aim for an understated English style.
As Coco Channel once said, women should dress to either look chic or sexy. Men should look stylish.
Michael Drake founded Drake's in 1977. Today it is the largest independent maker of handmade ties in England. The picture of Michael was taken in 1973 by Lord Litchfield
Monday, 5 April 2010
So first Teemu lines up the last with the joints on either side of the pencil outline. Then he notes how much has to be taken off the heel to make it the right length. Sketching a few vertical lines on the heel to mark where the filing must be done, he puts the last in a vice and files it down in a few aggressive strokes. (This gets a lot easier with experience, he says. When you first start you take smaller, shorter strokes and check more often as you are less sure of taking the right amount each time.) The heel here has been filed down by around 2½ to three sizes.
Next the heel is slimmed on either side, working from the back forwards to get it in line with then pencil outline. Then the joints are filed, reducing them to the width of my foot and making sure they curve back at the same angle as well. In general the inside joint (at the base of your big toe) is the most important and must be cut very close. The outside joint can have a little more room.
Next the waist is adjusted. By holding a pencil at the same angle as it was when the foot was measured, and drawing onto the paper underneath, Teemu can see how much the arch needs to be taken up. With mine, there wasn’t that much work required; “a nice healthy arch” as Teemu called it.
The instep (top of your foot, above the waist) on the other hand, needed quite a bit of filing. For this next stage of lasting – working on the top of the foot rather than the sides – Teemu needs to measure around the joints and instep of the last and compare it to George’s measurements. That also requires more of a rounded motion, taking roughly even parts off all of the instep. While this is less exact than the work on the sides, it is less important given the flexibility of the top of the shoe.
Finally, the toe. Reducing the size of the heel had made the length very close, but a few millimetres still needed to be taken off before the toe could be shaped. Because there is more room and style to the toe box, this is the point at which the exactitude of pencil outline gives way to artistry of design. I was going with the Anthony Cleverley style, slightly slimmer and longer than the ‘suspiciously square’ George Cleverley. So the toe was slimmed down, cut into above the toe and finally squared off.
In theory, one last means one style of toe. But the last can be adapted – most obviously, by shortening the longer Anthony to get a shorter, squarer look. But equally leather can be added to the end to elongate the last as well.
While anyone can opt for either style from Cleverley, some feet are obviously more suited to one or the other. Very wide feet will have trouble fitting well with an Anthony Cleverley. If they do go for that style, they could end up with a very long toe that doesn’t fit the foot as well and creases further forward on the shoe. So it’s worth getting George or someone else’s advice on the shape.
With a finer file, Teemu then smoothes off the last and adds the finishing touches. In particular, because the heel has been shortened substantially, the bottom is quite straight under the foot and finishes at the heel at a sharp angle. That has to be smoothed and rounded off; the waist too, for it is much harder for the shoemaker to create a bevelled waist if the last has not been rounded down. “I used to be a maker so I know what it’s like when the lastmaker doesn’t bother to do these little things,” says Teemu.
It’s also helpful to have worked with one measurer for a long period of time. “I’ve been working to George’s measurements for quite a while so I’m used to how he does things,” continues Teemu. “Everyone is slightly different and George always measures a little bigger than others.” [Pictured below, a finished left foot compared to the right only halfway through.]
While a normal last will take Teemu three or four hours, a difficult foot can take up to three days.
Next: clicking and closing
Photography: Andy Barnham
Friday, 2 April 2010
Teemu Leppanen was to make my last, upstairs on the first floor of Cleverley’s premises on the Royal Arcade in London. It’s physical work – filing down a millimetre at a time of the wooden last using a foot-long file. Especially at the initial stages where there is a lot of excess to take off.
Teemu prefers a “sculptural” style when making his lasts, which means that he prefers to start with a relatively large last and work it down using the file. Some others prefer to start with a smaller last – this is quicker but does more often require the addition of leather patches to the last in the absence of available shape in the wood.
Teemu’s aversion to that “fitting” approach is more personal than corporate; each lastmaker has his own style and there is no Cleverley-wide policy. And even with a sculptural style leather pieces will have be added with some feet, the more unusual shapes. And over time men often need pieces added to their last as well, as their feet change (generally your arches fall and your feet get wider, a little as they do with the impact of landing on them).
The starting point for lasting is not a solid block wood, but rather a standard size of last that is naturally rounded and full around the foot. This is created by machine – it used to be done by the lastmaker with a large last knife, but there’s no advantage to that so it fell out of use years ago.
The standard last that will be whittled down is around 3-4 sizes bigger than the client’s foot. This ensures that at no point on the foot will it fall within the outline created at the measuring stage.
The most important points for the last are the joints – where your big and little toe connect to your foot. Not only is this the widest point on your foot, it is also one of the boniest. So a poor fit here can lead to the most discomfort. The edges of the upper are obviously less soft and flexible than the middle, so even though the top of your toes might be bonier, they are unlikely to cause as much discomfort. The shoe also flexes at the joints, adding greater stress.
To come: Part 4, the lasting itself
Photography: Andy Barnham