Monday, 29 November 2010
To wear enroute from town to country
Esquire, March 1935: "That caption doesn't mean a thing. We just thought we ought to tie up with the illustration somehow and that was the best we could do. We aren't bragging about it, just explaining. You could do much better.
"But suppose we look at the man - he's wearing a double-breasted Harris tweed overcoat in a lovat mixture, with a fleece lining of a light tan colour. The suit is single-breasted grey Glen Urquhart Saxony, the shirt is a green and white striped broadcloth with tab collar, worn with a black and green even stripe rep tie.
"Three touches that redeem this outfit from the risk of being considered commonplace are afforded by the yellow buckskin gloves, the white ash cane and the rough finish of the derby hat. The suit coat may be worn with odd grey flannel slacks and for outdoor wear, say on a week-end in the country, a sleeveless sweater could be worn in place of a waistcoat."
Little analysis from the Esquire commentary there, but it's interesting how the accessories turn an otherwise conservative outfit into something worth mentioning. It's all about the little touches.
Incidentally, I had a question from a reader recently looking to find just such yellow/cream buckskin gloves. Usually unlined, they are a beautiful yet subtle highlight to a winter outfit. I found a vintage pair up in York, but haven't found anywhere that produces them today. If anyone knows anywhere, please let myself (and that reader) know.
Friday, 26 November 2010
Technically, it is called a pochette. Some of the luxury houses, including Zegna and Zilli, still sell them; but generally they have gone out of style. I can understand why. When the average man is afraid of carrying any bag that is remotely elegant, a small box that nestles into the wrist is going to be a hard sell. (It even has a loop of leather to slip your wrist through, though I don’t use it and it slides discreetly away.)
When I first bought the box, five years ago, I was rather uncertain about it. I never thought I would use it. I was wrong. It was a slow burner and had to wait for the rest of my sense of style to catch up, but now I use it almost every day. The size is perfect for wallet, phone, keys, notebook, pen and perhaps gloves. Most of which I would otherwise carry in my jacket, though I know I shouldn’t.
Essentially, it performs the role of a hand bag. And aren't they useful?
This post, however, is meant to be more about how beautifully the box has aged. It is part of the Alfred Dunhill collection, which is all made in the Walthamstow factory in North London (see factory report here). That means the leather is hand-cut and bench-stitched. The hardware is all brass.
This mid-tan shade of leather is wonderful for developing patina. I am guilty of buying too many pairs of shoes in this colour (which don’t go with my mostly dark suits) because I know how well they will age. The Edward Green Oundles (see post here) are a good example.
You can see where the sweat of my hands has stained the leather along the bottom, even leaving a tab-shaped patch of unblemished leather behind the fastening. It can be off-putting, this staining, as it’s not instinctively how you feel leather should wear. But having chatted to a couple of leather-makers about the effect, I was reassured that it is all part of the beauty of age – a briefcase’s leather handle will always become darker over time in a similar way. And while you can reduce the effect by cleaning the leather, you can't remove it completely.
The Alfred Dunhill collection usually comes with a tub of very waxy polish, which should be applied every few months to keep the leather from drying out. It is similar to treatments recommended for all leather luggage and is so waxy because it needs to moisturise such thick, hard skin.
As an aside, if you ever have a pair of new shoes that need softening up, I recommend applying a little of this luggage polish to the problem area. I used it on the vamp of a pair of Edward Green Asquiths that were cutting into my toes and it worked very well. Don’t overuse it though, or it will make the leather too soft and wrinkly – add a little bit at a time and reapply if necessary.
I hope the posts in this series demonstrate how luxury items can reward an initial investment many times over. That is the reward of classic, handmade items that are well chosen and well maintained.
I wasn’t sure this box would become one of those, but I am extremely glad it did and I look forward to another five years of visual, tactile and functional pleasure.
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Following a conversation earlier in the year with Chay Cooper, I commissioned the Alfred Sargent Handgrade shoes above. One of the reasons Handgrade has developed such a word-of-mouth following is the personalisation it offers, both as regards the design of the shoe and the reports on the process. So I reproduce some of the pictures Chay sent me of the shoes being bedlasted below. Personally, I love getting photos like these as well as those of the finished product. They make the waiting a little bit easier and make you feel connected to the shoes before they arrive. The only equivalent I know in suits is Pal Zileri, which has a computerised system linked to every tailor's table in the Vicenza factory - they can tell you what stage the suit is at at any given moment.
Handgrade is entirely made to order, apart from a small stock at Leffot in New York. It offers three lasts: 53 (square), 48 (soft square) and 19 (almond shaped) in E, F and G fittings. There are five broad styles: Blake, Bristol, Browning, Carrol and Keats. However, given the level of personalisation available (everything from broguing to medallions to toe cap shape) these are really just jumping-off points. My pair below are the Blake style in a mid-brown suede on 19 last - my only point of personalisation was the leather counter instead of suede. I'd never seen this done before but I thought it a subtle little design detail, given that the heel is so often hidden by the trouser.
To see the kind of designs other Handgrade customers have requested, check out the Alfred Sargent blog. Don't stop scrolling until you get to the burgundy slip-ons.
The Handgrade construction is good, as you'd expect for shoes costing over £600. A gorgeous fiddle-back waist very redolent of Gaziano & Girling, three rows of brads in the toe, initials in brads done very cleanly (other makers do this but sometimes sloppily) and a delicate transition from sole welt to heel.
The packaging is also lovely, not that that should matter really. Special wide, drawer box, including Saphir polish, shoe horn and cloth; solid wood shoe trees with ring pulls.
Personally I think the Blake design is a little busy for leather shoes, but works well in suede. But then, if you thought the same you could always request the toe cap to be replaced with a simple medallion.
For any questions contact Chay through the blog.
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
I also thought readers would like to hear George Glasgow's recommendations on wearing bespoke shoes for the first time. He suggested to:
- Only wear them for a few hours the first five to six times you wear them, perhaps getting them out in the evening when you are at home and wearing them then. This will allow the calf to open up and adjust nicely to the feet.
- Leave a few days between each of the first few wears. Certainly more than one. You want to make sure the leather is 100% dry before wearing them the next time.
- Always use the shoe trees!
1 - Measuring
In which George Glasgow measures the feet and comments on my instep. The walrus and the carpenter are also quoted.
2 - Design
In which the leathers, model and design are picked, and George explains the importance of balance in an elegant commission.
3 - Last making
In which Teemu Leppanen explains the personal relationship of a lastmaker to the fitter, whilst labouring over a lathe.
4 - Refining the last
In which Teemu's lasting moves from technical measurement to artistic expertise
5 - Clicking
In which John Carnera cuts the pieces of the leather, upper and lining, demonstrating in the process why so much of the calf is wasted
6 - Checking
In which Dominic Casey begins the lasting of the upper, stretching it on, checking the dimensions and leaving it to shape to its last
7 - Lasting
In which Andy lasts the shoe, under a picture of him doing so for Prince Charles, under the tutorship of George Cleverley himself
8 - First fitting
In which George Glasgow slips the soleless shoe on to get an idea of fit, and it is decided that the vamp is a little too roomy
9 - Second fitting
In which Dominic decides the problem has been corrected and the importance of considering how the arches will fit is emphasised
10 - Soles and heels
In which Andy stitches on the sole and builds the heels, plus there's a nice shot of some black crocodile boots
11 - Finishing
In which the shoes are completed, Adam Law staining, inking and polishing them to perfection
Number 12, this post, includes advice on wearing bespoke shoes for the first time. There will no doubt be a number 13 that examines how they have worn (once I'm allowed to do so all day, that is).
Monday, 22 November 2010
What observers think of as style in a man is often as much the way he carries himself. Ease creates grace, grace begets elegance. To be stylish you have to be at ease in your clothes and comfortable with what you are wearing.
This is what people mean when they ask whether someone can ‘carry off’ an item of clothing. It is also why the Italian tradition considers it more stylish to have some part of the outfit slightly wrong, or imperfect: one side of the collar poking out of a sweater, or the rear tie blade sitting in front of the front. Seeming at ease – not preening, not pretending – is at the root of so many of our ideas of style.
Fred Astaire is a great example. As Bruce Boyer puts it: “I’m sure I’m not the first to conclude that the reason Astaire looked so marvellous in tails is that he played against that stuffed-sausage look that predominates when one wears a formal getup. In all of those wonderful films he always looks so much at ease, so comfortable and so casual; more as though he were wearing terribly elegant pyjamas.”
A similar observation can be made about the evolution of men’s style in Hollywood. The 1920s set the foundation with the put-together style of Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert; the 1930s relished its clothing, personified by Clark Gable; but it was the 1940s with the peaking of Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant that men were shown entirely at ease with their dress.
Men dressed to starched, crisp perfection rarely look elegant. Perhaps momentarily stylish, as they drift into the room, but no more than a mannequin would be. They are too often characterless.
This is all very well, but achieving stylish nonchalence can be very hard for a young man discovering clothes, and thus experimenting with new things every week. Who feels instantly comfortable wearing something his peers do not? Like a proper hat, a blazer with gilt buttons or a silk handkerchief? It is hard not to be self-aware, and self adjust. Never self adjust; that's what bathrooms are for.
To those men I say this: Be patient, enjoy what you’re wearing and whatever you do, don’t take yourself too seriously. Nothing is less elegant than that.
Friday, 19 November 2010
Finally, the last stage of my George Cleverley shoes. This is the finishing, which involves waxing the edges, sealing the sole and polishing the upper.
The edges of the sole are stained in a similar colour to the upper – though perhaps a few shades darker. Then wax is added to them and pressed in with a heated iron. The heat and pressure works the wax into the leather, making it more water resistant. As this surface is a cut edge it is naturally more prone to absorbing water, so needs sealing.
The finishing on the sole – a light brown wash applied all over – is standard for Cleverley bespoke. A black shoe would also have a black, painted waist. Two rows of brads (nails) in the toe to protect against wear there – customers can also opt for a countersunk toe plate. No nails in the heel, just the barest decorative embossing around the upper edge of the heel.
The finish overall is clean and simple, almost deliberately old-fashioned. No name is entered on the inside of the shoe, just a date and customer number. (Though the name is inscribed on the shoe trees.)
For polishing, Adam (pictured) prefers Kiwi brand because he feels it gives a better shine in the long run. Polishes with more wax in them, including the Cleverley-branded line, are easier to get a shine more quickly.
With a brown leather like this, Adam would always use the darkest polish available that doesn’t contain any red pigment – that is most likely to alter the colour of the shoes. So it’s a light tan rather than a mid-tan (look at a mid-tan or brown and you can instantly see the red pigment that Adam refers to at the edges of the polish).
Polish is first applied with a brush, to get it into the brogueing, in amongst the gimping on the toe cap and down by the welts. This only needs to be done in the future when completely re-polishing or cleaning a pair of shoes: once these areas are coloured by the polish they will stay coloured unless dirt, abrasion or cleaning removes it.
That layer of polish is brushed off, and the finger polishing begins. Adam uses tap water sparingly but regularly between applications of polish. Over time, you need less and less water as the cloth becomes saturated with it. A mistake people commonly make is to apply too much water and soak the leather – they you just have to leave it to dry until you can start again.
Adam uses a Selvyt cloth, the advantage over a duster or anything else being that it is lint-free. Even when you drag it past a serrated edge like that created by the gimping, no strands will come away and stick to the polished surface.
Several layers of polish are added, over an hour or so, each one filling in more of the pores in the calf skin and so gradually creating a smoother surface. It’s important not to forget to polish the line of broguing, as this is an area that is commonly ignored and can dry out over time.
In terms of future polishing, Adam would again recommend a light tan to retain the colour of the shoe. A neutral polish will do the same, but not cover any scuffs or marks in the leather.
You can also use a darker colour to create a varied patina or antiqued effect (I particularly like black polish on the caps of brown shoes) but Adam cautions that you have to really work in the darker polish and regularly reapply. A single layer or two can easily flake off over time – and the heat created by pressure will drive polish further into the skin.
A final maintenance point Adam made was that one reason you should always rotate your shoes is wet soles wear quicker. This had never occurred to me before but it’s obvious – think how wet card or cardboard disintegrates with friction.
So that’s it. The Cleverleys are finished and ready to be worn. In the shop they felt delightfully tight around the heel and ankle, while loose in the toe box – overall, tighter than a normal pair; you wouldn’t buy ready-mades that felt this snug. But only time will tell how they really fit and wear.
Thursday, 18 November 2010
There’s Lucian Freud, who paid for services in paintings. Only a lucky few hung on to the works – not, unfortunately, Messrs Kent or Lachter. And the Duke of Edinburgh, for whom John Kent holds the royal warrant. On meeting John at a royal occasion the Duke apparently proclaimed with a wink: “What the hell are you doing here?” Plus Burt Lancaster, Douglas Fairbanks, Elizabeth Taylor… the list goes on. These were the stars that walked through the doors back when Kent, Lachter and Terry Haste were at Hawes & Curtis in the 1970s.
This year they have finally been reunited, in new premises on New Burlington Street.
John actually joined Hawes & Curtis in 1963; Stephen and Terry both joined in 1976. Back then Hawes was both a tailor and shirt maker, but the two operations were in different locations, in Dover Street and Burlington Gardens. The owner, Ken Williams, later sold Dover Street and united the two.
Stephen left in 1983, tempted away by a directorship at Tie Rack. That didn’t last long and in 1986 he joined John again, who had subsequently decided to leave Hawes & Curtis after 23 years – Terry, originally his apprentice, took over.
Fortunately John retained the Duke’s royal warrant, despite it being attributed to ‘John Kent of Hawes & Curtis’. He was to give it up again when he fell ill a few years ago, only to regain it double-quick time when he returned to trade this year.
John and Stephen, after a brief stint above the Miranda Club, settled in Stafford Street (where Kashket’s is today). They were there 12 years and apart from some rather frightening issues with damp, got on famously. Terry, meanwhile, joined Tommy Nutter before going to Hackett to launch its bespoke offering.
When their lease was up, John and Stephen took up space in Norton & Sons (Stephen still makes Nortons’ shirts) and Terry joined Huntsman – all around 10 years ago. Finally, after a few toings, froings and near-retirements, the three reunited in Denman & Goddard’s old premises in New Burlington Street in 2010.
The place is just starting to come together. John and Stephen admitted – after taking me through their professional history over lunch, and filling any gaps with gags and anecdotes – that it still needs a few home touches. But they’re settling in, and John’s warrant hangs proudly in the window.
Suits start at £2400 and shirts at £155. Being such self-effacing English gentlemen, they wouldn’t admit what great value that is.
UPDATE: News piece on GQ also published here.
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
As I'm sure many of you already know, Lodger was bought by Tony Lutwyche a couple of weeks ago and the name of the company has been changed to Lutwyche & Lodger. Lodger shoes will carry on as is, but the store will now also stock Tony's ready-to-wear suits and offer a made-to-measure service downstairs.
Tony owns Cheshire Bespoke up in Crewe, the only factory-sized producer of handmade suits remaining in England. It has featured here before, as the maker of Toby Luper's suits under the Hemingway label, which impressed with its construction (including double-handsewn buttonholes, front and back, on the foreparts of the suit).
I'm pleased the Lodger brand will continue – its designs have been a breath of fresh air in the sometimes stodgy world of benchmade shoes. And I wish Tony all the best with his new collection.
Monday, 15 November 2010
Bruce Boyer is one of the great style writers. I am mid-way through reading his 1985 book Elegance, now sadly out of print. Still, there are some second-hand copies available on Amazon in apparently good condition.
It consistently surprises me how much a good writer can add to a subject you believe you already know very well. Of course, Boyer’s advice on buying a suit isn’t really aimed at me, but his insights on points of style are both eloquent and original. “Sartorial distinction requires an understanding and approach to accoutrement, to those furnishings that proclaim the style of the man, just as the basics of dress proclaim his sense of propriety,” he tells us.
Erudition, equally. The potted history of the scarf, from neckcloth to necktie and everything in between, is illuminating. And Boyer later tracks how the top hat went from sportswear to white tie within 40 years, suggesting a similarly slippery slope for the bowler hat, homburg and fedora, in that order. If only men still wore hats, we might have got the chance to recycle those three styles for evening wear.
But this post was not meant to be about Elegance. It was, rather, a suggestion that you spend some time perusing the ‘Details’ section of the Drake’s website. With good books out of print, and Boyer sadly lacking a blog of his own (bizarrely today, he actually gets paid for his writing), this is the best place to find his insights online.
‘Details’ could do with more prominence on the site, in my opinion. It is easy to miss, buried in the top left corner, and one can easily not realise on the product sections how much information there is to be hand by clicking to ‘Read more’.
Take, for example, the text on gloves. First there’s a nice little quote: “‘Very tall, a good figure, and such a good sort…He was extremely smartly dressed with a brown hat to match his suit and gloves, very elaborate with green spots in the lining.” That’s the way famed photographer Cecil Beaton described his first meeting with Gary Cooper.’ Then a product description that is more eloquent than you’d find on any normal shopping site: “For town wear, we recommend the perfect peccary pair, unlined of course, in either maple or chocolate brown. Or our slightly more dandyesque chocolate brown suede with a sumptuous purple cashmere lining. For a less dressy feel, we suggest a cinnamon coloured Carpincho.”
I won’t list too many here, for fear of ruining the fun. But I recommend the lines on braces and cufflinks in particular, as well as ‘Tie Etiquette’ and ‘The English Handmade Tie’. Regular readers will of course be familiar with ‘The Philosophy of Michael Drake’, which was first published on Permanent Style.
These words are nearly all the thoughts of Michael, written by Bruce, and both are a constant inspiration to me. Check it out.
Friday, 12 November 2010
I admire people that put their money where their mouth is. Becoming an entrepreneur, setting up on one’s own, trying to make money selling your taste to the world. It’s ballsy. Writing a blog doesn’t risk anything, other than exposing your ignorance and prejudices.
Which is one reason I admire Will Boehlke’s decision to launch the A Suitable Wardrobe store. Long the author of probably the best blog on men’s style in the world, Will went one step beyond cloth clubs and exclusive offers this year, to start stocking the European brands he loved and making them available to gentlemen of America.
The other reason I admire Will is he may be the first of many online sartorial stores. The costs of running such an operation are dropping all the time, especially as software providers begin to target small businesses.
The blogger or similar aficionado is well placed to start such a business. He knows his audience well. It is a specialist audience, often searching for rarity, superior quality and limited production. It is sometimes willing to pre-order, which substantially cuts commercial risk, and wait for its purchase. What retailer would not want such a patient, knowledgeable clientele?
I don’t share Will’s taste in several respects. I don’t wear caps, bowties or sleeveless cardigans. But there’s still more than enough stock on the ASW store to keep me interested. And I recently took delivery of my first order – it’s not that much harder to source Irish, French and Italian goods in the UK as it is in the US, unless you are prepared to get on a plane. I bought the shawl-collar Aran pullover, a linen handkerchief and some shoecare products. None are available in the UK as far as I am aware.
The Simonnot-Godard linen is lovely – as fine as any I have seen and more generously sized. The hand-loomed Aran fits surprisingly well through the waist (most knitwear is cut too generously for me); the texture was slightly different to my expectations, but those expectations were based on nothing I can justify. And I can’t really rate the Saphir shoe products yet – time will tell if they nourish and protect my footwear better than any other brand. But I’m grateful for the chance to try them.
Good luck Will.
Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Right, it’s definitely overcoat weather now. It’s dropped below 10 degrees in London during the day and a scarf and hat just won’t cut it.
Of course, this is entirely the wrong time of the year to start thinking about a bespoke coat. Seasons should be reversed for most bespoke tailors – most can make a suit in less than six months so you should ordering winter clothes at the beginning of summer, and vice versa. (Unless you are in a different country from your tailor and have to wait for visits, in which case a year seems to be the best you can hope for. At least then the order feels appropriate to the temperature outside.)
However, I am aware that many readers do not buy bespoke suits yet and most probably wouldn’t buy a bespoke overcoat. So that means it’s time to hit the high street and get more immediate gratification.
While navy is the most versatile colour for an overcoat, a mid-grey is just as proper with demonstrating a touch of personality. Get something with a little surface interest, like a herringbone or a heavier weave – Donegal tweeds also work very well.
I didn’t follow my own advice with my first bespoke overcoat – a camel-hair polo coat made last winter – but then I did already have a decent navy coat sitting in the wardrobe.
The coat pictured here, like the camel polo, is being made by Graham Browne. As I’ve said many times before, there’s no better value I know of for bespoke in London – proper cutting and a slightly more economic make for just £850 a suit. They can also turn something around in less than six weeks, so it’s not quite too late to get an overcoat made. January and February are the coldest months anyway.
I almost resisted adding any bells and whistles to this commission. At the last minute I added reverse pleats in the side seams, which will give the coat a little flare in the skirt. It was the first time Russell had added them to an overcoat, but he did a sterling job. You can tell Russell is up for a new idea, just look at the Rommell overcoat pictured here: an exact replica, just in pink.
My herringbone coat is cut two inches shorter than the polo, will be half lined and is in a slightly lighter cloth (Bateman & Ogden coatings, number C59, 600g), so will hopefully serve as an intermediate coat between that and the navy – which, being ready-to-wear, is little better than a topcoat.
Go buy an overcoat. Nothing else makes a man feel more complete.
Monday, 8 November 2010
Apparently, men in France wear appalling socks. I thought the standard in the UK was low, and the US probably worse, but according to Michel Porteneuve and Jean-Christophe Hanier at The Dandy Store, the French take the biscuit.
No pattern, and precious few socks above the calf. The latter fact spurred Michel and Jean-Christophe to set up their own socks business online; the former was their unique selling point.
The Dandy Store’s socks are made by Bresciani in Italy. Bresciani makes for a few online retailers, but is still less known than Falke, Pantherella or Gallo. The French pair considered all these makers and more, eventually narrowing it down to Bresciani and Gallo based on both manufacturers’ “quality as regards length, softness, durability and craftsmanship. We required at least partial hand-construction and an originality in both patterns and fabrics,” they say. In the end Gallo lost out to Bresciani on durability, innovation and because the former was a more common name in France.
While Bresciani makes socks for several of the luxury houses, including Arnys, Corneliani and Brioni, its output is normally quite conservative. Which is where the USP comes in. The Dandy Store purposefully offers unusual patterns and colour combinations (all exclusive) that Michel and Jean-Christophe haven’t seen elsewhere. “Among Bresciani customers we are the black sheep, always trying to get them to do something unusual,” says Michel. “Though I’m pretty sure they could do anything.”
This is pretty obvious from the website: grey and burgundy mix together on one intricate pattern; stripes come in ‘anis’ and ‘bistre’; a ribbed design combines charcoal and chocolate. But while the blends are unusual, the patterns are relatively subtle – no polka dots, no bright blocks of colour, just herringbones, hound’s teeth, ribs and argyles. Overall it makes for socks that don’t shock from a distance, but reward closer inspection.
There is a real lack of good socks in the UK, as well as France. I live and work in London, am in the west end most days, yet I can’t find good over-the-calf socks in subtle vertical stripes. Or any other subtle but sophisticated pattern for that matter. Everyone sells block colours, in every shade, but I don’t want lime green or emergency orange. I want a sock that compliments my suit, tie or handkerchief with subtle variations on their dominant colours. Even a grey or navy with a subtle stripe would be fine.
So I’m glad I found the Dandy Store. Its scarves and ties look nice too, but I can’t vouch for them – unlike the Harlequins in blue and purple, which I’m wearing right now and both look and feel lovely.
Friday, 5 November 2010
Style speaks simply and softly. It is, as the mission statement for this site states, a matter of weaves and lengths. It is a about details and small, personal touches. It is not loud, it is not brash; it is not obvious.
The wearer of a bespoke suit should look good without the man (or woman) on the street knowing exactly why. He does because of miniscule details and attention to fit that the layman cannot readily identify.
I mention this following an interesting exchange on a previous post about whether a Homburg or bowler hat is too unusual on the streets of London, given that 99% of men wear no hat at all. I love wearing my fedora, but feel a Homburg or bowler is a step too far.
To give an example: I would happily meet a lawyer for a business meeting (my day job is in legal journalism) wearing a fedora; it might receive a comment and it would certainly be unusual, but it wouldn’t approach being unprofessional. Many more unusual or traditional trappings, such as a bowler hat, cane, pocket watch etc., would approach and perhaps cross that line. Like so many questions of dress in the past, it is a matter of propriety.
These items might not draw a second look walking down Jermyn Street; but style for me has to have a wider application than that. As I wrote over two years ago now, if a man adopts too many aspects of historical dress he merely becomes a historical figure. He verges on costume.
In that exchange on this blog, Roger asked: “Isn’t the point supposed to be that you will wear what others are too jelly-spined to wear?” Well, no. What you wear should certainly not be determined by what other people think, as Roger comments later on. But at the same time, style is revealed against the background of one’s environment and peers. It does not exist in isolation.
A frock coat is a beautiful thing and, on its own, extremely stylish. But worn today as a part of everyday clothing it stands out too much to be stylish (outside of certain formal events). Style is subtle.
Wednesday, 3 November 2010
It will not surprise you to learn that I had never walked into Zilli before, the store on Bond Street with a startling amount of coloured crocodile in the window. But it turns out there is a serious craft story there, behind the reptiles and chinchilla fur.
It was James Massey that convinced me to give it a go: a good friend and now a man with his own luxury goods PR as part of The Massey Partnership. Zilli is a new client and one keen to spread its appeal beyond the classic Russian and Middle East clients, who it’s fair to say often prefer slightly demonstrative clothing. A French company with a commitment to small-scale, quality production, Zilli is hoping to appeal to mainstream luxury clients more interested in craft than colour.
Part of this new approach is some very fine shirting, made bespoke by a Zilli-owned factory in Bergamo. As you might expect the focus is on the quality of the cottons, Zilli being a house obsessed with materials whether vegetable or animal. And there are all the trappings of luxury shirts – mother of pearl buttons, French side seams, unfused collars and cuffs.
But I was most interested in the factory that makes the shirts. Based in Bergamo, it was established by the Burini Brothers in 1954 and bought by Zilli in 2008. It employs 48 people, just making shirts, just for Zilli. Like the Italian luxury companies most focused on craft, Zilli has systematically established small teams of specialists that are entirely under its control and focus on specific products.
This has all happened in the last few years. The original factory, in Lyon, was set up in 1970 and today has 165 people making belts and other leather goods, as well as some outerwear. In 2007 Zilli bought a small factory in Argenta, Italy where 20 craftsmen make small leather goods and work exotic skins. In 2008 it bought the shirt factory in Bergamo. And in 2009 it acquired a factory in Rioz, France that makes metallic pieces such as zips and belt buckles. It has nine staff.
The acquisitions are part of a plan to remain independent wherever possible, something Zilli has focused on since it was founded 40 years ago. As you might expect, it is also family owned and family run. Alain Schimel is the founder and chairman, his son is managing director, his wife fashion director and the generation below look after duty free, shoes and cufflinks.
Zilli is most famous for launching luxury sportswear at a time when no other brands carried it. I’m not about to start wearing sportswear. But there is more to the pink-stone store than animal skins.