Friday, 29 October 2010
After long gestation, The Rake magazine has finally launched its coffee-table book, Hand of the Artisan: The Soul of Italian Luxury.
It is a tour through 17 different Italian manufacturers, heavily illustrated with handsome, technical and usually black and white photography by Jason Michael Lang. The text, by Jonathan Lobban, is sparse by comparison but does well at explaining the tradition of each brand and what distinguishes it today.
The differences are fewer than one might think, given that the brands vary from tailor Brioni to jeweller Bulgari, carmaker Lamborghini to furniture-maker Poltrona Frau. All the companies have a commitment to quality and local craft in common, but more interestingly most share the Italian tendency to communalise the workforce, providing accommodation, catering and other amenities such as day care.
Brioni established the model for the factory-sized sartorial workshop, when it moved from Via Barberini in Rome out to the small town of Penne in 1959. The plan for craft on a mass scale led inevitably to corporate support networks, and soon every factory built on that model had subsidised, high-quality canteens where management ate with staff. Everyone from Kiton to Pal Zileri, and in the modern age Brunello Cuccinelli, followed suit.
This is not an investigative work. There is little analysis; most of the text is straightforward history. But there are lovely little stories to be told, such as the little-known Agnona, whose proprietor Francesco Ilorini Mo travelled the world to track down cashmere and vicuna long before it was fashionable to do so.
I find it interesting, too, how the close-up photography brings out similarities between all the different crafts – each is, in the end, about delicacy, artistry and a fine, consistent eye for detail. About the hand of the artisan.
On sale from The Rake site for $149.95.
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Before the game gets down to braces
Esquire, February 1938: "This father and son contest has apparently just begun, to judge from the length of their cigars and has not yet reached that coat-divesting warm-up stage which would reveal the players stripped down to their braces.
You just know they wear the latter, however, as there's no other accounting for the perfect hang of the trousers which, while permitting an easy, natural break above the instep, are yet hiked up so trimly about the, as it were, breech as to assure the wearer against ever being classified as a droopy drawers.
The suit on the left is a sharkskin cut in a single-breasted peak lapel style with the British blade effect of extra fullness at the shoulders. The other is an unfinished worsted four-button double-breasted, worn rolled to the bottom button. Note the unflapped piped pockets on both suits. Also note that both men wear the currently favoured white starched collar with a striped shirt."
Without getting into a long discussion here, I have a bespoke suit with braces and I find them both uncomfortable and unattractive - the latter precisely for the moment decribed here, when one removes one's jacket. Of course, if a man always wore a waistcoat it was not a problem. Elsewhere, I love the sharkskin three-piece and that might suit well a grey commission that is coming up in November. I've never taken to bird's eye and I already have a herringbone. And if I were ever to have a bespoke shirt with contrasting collar, the body would have a faint stripe, as worn here. So much subtler than a plain colour.
Monday, 25 October 2010
This series is a progression in socks, from the most conservative to the most flamboyant colour combinations.
It is important to start slowly and build to greater sophistication. Colour is tricky; so much can go wrong in a shade. Buy one or two pairs in a new colour and try them with different suits and shoes, until you feel you know exactly how they fit into your wardrobe.
As I mentioned in my last post, the first colours I think you should consider after self hose (same colour as the trousers) are deep green and deep red. This applies to both blue and grey suits.
The only exception is charcoal, which is hard to wear well with any coloured sock other than possibly purple. I’ve written before that charcoal is the only colour of trouser I would not wear with brown shoes. It is the same reasoning: brown shoes are a colour where black ones are not.
In the picture deep-red socks are worn with grey flannel trousers and mid-brown shoes. The thing to note is that the colours of all three are deep enough to work together: a paler brown in the split-toe shoe or a very pale flannel would have been less suited. Looking at it now, I may even have preferred a slightly darker brown shoe – you don’t want the red sock to reflect the shoe but harmonise with it, and this Gaziano & Girling has a red aspect to it.
Start with dark green, and dark red.
Grey flannel trousers, Graham Browne; wine-red socks, Falke; brown split-toe shoes, Gaziano & Girling
Friday, 22 October 2010
Something we predicted a year ago
Esquire, March 1935: "In the March issue for 1934, we introduced the black Homburg to this country. We said then that it was an established English tradition, having already enjoyed, at that time, a London run of about a year. It is only within the last couple of months, however, that this hat has been seen in noticeable numbers around New York, but its popularity is now showing almost daily growth.
The suit is another London favourite (as witness all the new pictures of the Duke of Kent) its two distinguishing features being the long lapel roll to the bottom button and the two seven-inch side vents. This one is in dark grey flannel with a white chalk stripe.
The rest of the outfit consists of a blue checked madras soft shirt with white starched cuffs, a starched collar and a black foulard tie with white polka dots, black blucher shoes, a single-breasted blue topcoat and fawn coloured gloves."
Well, I've tried a Homburg and frankly it's too much in a city where so few men where any kind of hat. A trilby or fedora is better suited and I'll stick to my grey and brown Voyagers from Lock's. However, I love the combination of blue (not navy, note) topcoat and fawn gloves. As if I'm not excited enough about winter as it is.
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
There is such pleasure in looking after good clothes well.
One of the reasons shoes are my favourite piece of clothing is they actually get better with age: the upper shapes to your foot; perhaps more importantly, the insole does too; and the leather rewards hours of polishing with a deep and unique patina.
With most other clothes, maintenance merely delays an inevitable decline. Sure the canvas of a good suit moulds to man’s chest, improving the fit, and both cashmere sweaters and quality shirts soften with age. But none of them improve in every direction and never look back – that is the distinct gratification of a shoe.
However, there is still much pleasure to be had in maintaining tailoring and knitwear. It is the particular pleasure of taking the time to repair something that you know others would simply throw away. It is also a way of appreciating expensive clothing that has had a lot of time and effort put into it by others.
I had this pleasure recently with a black cashmere sweater I’ve had for a couple of years. It’s a Ralph Lauren Purple Label cable knit, with that lovely spongy softness that distinguish hand knits. When I bought the sweater I faithfully squirreled away the little sachet it came with containing spare thread, assuming I would never use it.
But during a particularly active game of forts with my daughter (rearranging our sofa cushions in order to hide behind them and repel invaders with scatter cushions) I tore the arm of the sweater on a stray spring. A jagged tear, two inches long.
That evening I got the spare thread out, threaded a needle and turned the sweater inside out, to attempt some kind of repair. It turned out to be remarkably easy. The cashmere thread was so thick and soft that it bound into the existing weave almost invisibly, though that was doubtless helped by the dark colour of the knit and the cable pattern.
There are many videos online that show you how to sew such a tear, so I won’t explain it step-by-step here (eHow is particularly good – though remember this is not darning, as there was no hole). But I will pass on a few points of advice:
- Always sew the garment inside-out
- Make sure you secure the start and end point, otherwise it will unravel
- Secure it by looping in the same place three times. Don’t use a knot, as it can stick out and with a loose weave will just pull through
- Sew slightly more stitches and slightly looser than you would instinctively
- Cashmere, particularly in a thick knit, is easier to repair, not harder
- Make sure you retain any spare thread that comes with the sweater: even a small difference in shade can stand out. If in doubt, use a shade darker not lighter
- Take the time and effort to actually do it. It’s very satisfying, makes you feel less like a useless modern man and makes the sweater more personal
Monday, 18 October 2010
You can see why I draw parallels with suiting. Tom’s ‘bespoke’ is rather like made to measure, where you get something made to fit you along a set number of measurements. ‘Couture’ is more like a bespoke suit – a whole new pattern is cut from scratch.
My current glasses are also like a good ready-to-wear suit, in a way. Tom said they fitted my face pretty well, with the eyes relatively central within the lenses but the width of the frame offsetting how close the eyes are together. The arms are a tiny bit short, though the difference between width at my temples and my ears (10mm) is very standard. The nose setting is not ideal, and indeed I have noticed that if I wear them for more than a few days in a row I get red patches under the pads. That classic round shape is called a panto, apparently.
Saturday, 16 October 2010
Last week's Savile Row Field Day was an unqualified success, with weather that one could never hope to expect in mid-October and all the sheep staying in their pens. The open doors and events at various tailors also went down a storm, with the tours nearly all oversubscribed.
Congratulations to Anda, Poppy and the rest of the organisers on a great event for the Row. Now the quest is on to find another event that is equally effective in drawing the curious public through the tailors' doors.
Pictured are Derek and Sunna, the two tailors that made my Anderson & Sheppard suit. Derek is an old hand, having been at A&S for 25 years, while Sunna is an apprentice. Look out for the latter on A&S's upcoming blog.
Friday, 15 October 2010
Esquire, August 1935: "We mean, of course, the shirt, which is of very light-weight batiste, with a tab collar to match. Oh, you want us to continue the success story from the previous page? How do we get these fashions? We have observers, trained almost from birth, who practically commute to England where they haunt the very best places and ignore all but the very best people, slyly keeping statistics on their cuffs, and when something happens, like a red shirt, they tell us about it, briefly and archly by cable, and then we make it sound convincing.
Then there is laughter everywhere west of Pocatello. Then for a while nothing happens. Then, after the incident has had time to be forgotten, people in, say, Pocatello, buy new fashions and wonder why.
The tie is black foulard with white polka dots. The suit is grey flannel. The hat band is black. The shoes are plain black calf. There is no news at all - except the red shirt."
This is such a wonderful example of the tone Esquire used to reach with its commentaries on current fashions. Few journalists today would have such confidence in colour combinations, unless they had been shoved at them off a catwalk. Not sure I'll be wearing a red shirt, but it reminds me to get a batiste in blue.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Monday, 11 October 2010
A man has come a long way when he shifts to proper socks – calf length and in navy, grey and charcoal to match the day’s suit. Too many remain stuck in the teenage mindset that short, black socks go with everything. They don’t; they go with nothing.
But that man, fresh from his trouser-matching success, will quickly want to experiment with colour. This could easily go far. He should begin by trying his navy suits with dark, forest green and deep, wine red.
These should be the default colours after plain navy has been rejected. Buy a plain pair of each, in tones that are not too strong.
Given the pattern on both the trousers and shoes pictured, for example, patterned socks would be likely to clash. As with combining a jacket, shirt and tie, the key is to keep similarly scaled patterns apart. (The ribbing on the socks is perhaps less pronounced than it appears in the photograph.)
By contrast, the colours work better when they are similar in strength. These socks are a rather muted green, but suit dark brown shoes and chalk-stripe flannel trousers. A bright green could easily have been too brash, and more appropriate for chocolate-brown leather.
Navy suit from Graham Browne, socks from Falke, crocodile shoes from Lodger.
Friday, 8 October 2010
Week-end wardrobe for travelling light
Esquire, July 1936: "For a quick trip involving both town and country or resort appearances, where luggage must be kept down to little better than a briefcase, the answer is a pair of white or grey flannel slacks plus the outfit pictured here. These clothes look normal enough for informal town wear and still go very well against a rural or resort background.
The suit is grey flannel with red stripes, a combination of colour and fabric that has been accorded market popularity in London. It is made in a two-button single breasted peaked lapel model with welt (that is, unflapped) pockets.
With it are worn a fine checked madras shirt with a relatively long pointed slotted collar to match, a foulard tie of maroon with white spots, wine colour lisle hose and brown calf monk-front shoes. The hat is a brown felt pork pie. With the substitution of plain coloured slacks for the suit trousers the outfit is effectively transformed."
This is one of my favourite Esquire illustrations. The red stripe looks subtle enough to work and I adore red socks with tan monks. I'm not sure I agree with wearing a striped jacket with slacks though - a plain or check would always look more natural in an odd jacket, and hence more versatile for travel than this outfit.
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
My pattern has been created at Huntsman ahead of cutting the shooting suit we began discussing a few weeks ago. Featured here are two aspects of it that are unfamiliar to me, and probably to many readers.
The first is the pattern for the plus twos. They will sit on the natural waist and come down over the seat in the same way as a normal pair of trousers. But once they drop below the seat they retain considerably more volume, narrowing only slightly to the knee and then the few inches below.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Another short piece in GQ last week, this time telling the world about next Monday, October 11, when Savile Row will be turfed and covered with sheep.
Perhaps more importantly for those interested in bespoke tailoring, there is a whole roster of events being put on by the Savile Row houses, including talks, tours and live cutting, embroidery and knitting. So if you've always wanted to walk into Huntsman or Poole but weren't sure quite what to say, pop along and get the tour. All details on the Field Day website.
Monday, 4 October 2010
It helps that I haven't seen a brown velvet jacket since.
Dark brown, as a future post will likely say at greater length, is my favourite colour for most things other than suits. Certainly all things leather. And for while I've hankered after an alternative to my Lesley & Roberts black tie.
Timothy Everest has taken on the task of turning my imagination and vague memory into a piece of tailoring. It will feature large, long lapels intended to mask my slim shoulders - straight and sharp with little belly. The length of the lapel will be aided by a 1x1 fastening: just one length of frogging across the waist. There will be one loop of simple frogging (sewn by hand, of course) on each sleeve.
The shoulders will be relatively padded, to accentuate the effect (this is black tie, after all: an Atlas silhouette seems fitting). Pockets will be jetted; there will be no vents. The velvet selected is a cotton/silk mix, which should create a finer pile with greater colour depth.
I promise many pictures.
Friday, 1 October 2010
The penultimate stage of my Cleverley shoes, now – the making of the heels and stitching of the soles.
The process of stitching the sole is very similar to that shown previously in attaching the welt – same type of stiches, just a little more attention on their aesthetic appearance. The sole runs all the way along the length of the shoe, from toe to heel. It’s a little easier to stitch on than it may look, as there is a little excess around the edge that is filed down afterwards, depending on the welt requested by the customer (see my first post).
The bevelling of the waist is created by the shape of the filling (cork and glue), over which the sole is stitched, as well as the filing of the edges. A bevelled waist is generally used on dress or casual shoes – a square waist is stronger and therefore usually used on walking shoes.
And why is it stronger? Because to get that angle on the waist the stitching has to be looser, four or five to the inch as opposed to 10 or 11 elsewhere. In fact, in a supreme moment of geekdom, apparently around the waist it is ‘sewing’ rather than ‘stitching’ because of that drop in the number of stitches. The shape of the waist also makes it more flexible and delicate.
The same spectrum of delicacy affects the style of the shoe’s heel. Smarter or more casual shoes tend to have lighter heels – made of both thinner strips of leather and fewer of them. A walking shoe has more, heavier strips. You can see the difference in the images of Cleverley’s store here.
Most Cleverley dress shoes have a heel that is 1 1/8 inches high. When George Cleverley began making shoes, the industry standard was 1 inch. His subtle addition tipped the shoe forwards slightly and, to his eye, made it more elegant. Again, what the customer actually has is of course up to them.
The heel is also pitched – sloping inwards at the back to follow the natural line of the heel cup above. This is probably a more distinctive sign of a bespoke shoe than the bevelled waist. The heel stack is square when first constructed (gluing and then nailing those layers of leather together) and the maker has to file down the back to get that pitched angle.
Nonetheless, some Cleverley customers demand both a square waist and a square heel. ‘What’s this funny-shaped heel?’ they ask. ‘I want one like that ready-made shoe, nice and simple.’ George Glasgow is very understanding – the heel is replaced, the customer gets what he wants. But what a pity.