Thursday, 30 June 2011
Wednesday, 29 June 2011
I'm always interested in innovations in fabric, and one of the excuses for featuring my favourite cycling brand - Rapha - is that they are constantly pushing boundaries here, whether on wool, leather (both of which I've written about here before) or cotton.
The latest innovation is a pair of jeans designed for cycling that combine the best aspects of tight-weave cotton (denim) and synthetic materials. Like the combinations of merino wool and nylon in the jerseys, this combination in the jeans means they retain something of the comfort and character of denim, but with the durability, stain resistance and quick drying of synthetics.
The cloth is actually a mix of nylon, cotton and elastane blend yarns. This makes it resistant to abrasion and prevents it wearing through at particular points, especially on the seat. The stretch, meanwhile, allows ease of movement.
The cut is also interesting. In order to be more comfortable on the bike, they are cut with a high-backed waist and lower shape at the front. And they accommodate pedalling by having offset inseams. Belt loops are also positioned away from fold points.
Elsewhere in nice design points, the front pockets are cut deep to keep things from falling out and the zip fly uses satin tape to reinforce it. They also come with a patch of denim for repairs, though I confess I didn't realise this when I got mine - I threw it away thinking it was a fancy tag!
They ride remarkably well. I've cycled in jeans before and comfort in the seams as well as wearing on the seat are significant problems. I can't say I've ever needed them to be quick drying, but I suppose that's a bonus. These, the merino base layer in cream and a nice Oxford-weave shirt are perfect for cycling around town.
Unfortunately stock is low again, after the second batch last month sold very quickly. But a new one will be along in August.
While we're talking of innovation in cloth, check out this post on Tim Everest's blog featuring the winners of the Central St Martins weave competition. Students design different cloths to a given theme, with a target celebrity customer in mind. The winners get their designs woven into full-length cloth, which is made into garments by Tim and his team. Great to see this kind of thing is going on, and supported by Holland & Sherry and Fox Brothers, as well as Tim himself.
Monday, 27 June 2011
RakeMagazine, not The Rake Magazine (Minnesota), by the way.
Readers have made the point that my bespoke commissions often seem to be rather outlandish pieces: the Huntsman shooting suit, for example, or the Timothy Everest velvet jacket. Why, at least one has asked, do you not have simple business suits made? The answer is I have but I tend not to write about them, because the others throw up more interesting points – both of construction and taste.
As a point of balance, I show here a navy pinstripe suit I had made at Timothy Everest a while ago. It is a single-breasted, two-button model with a right ticket pocket that overlaps the hip pocket (one of Tim’s signatures). Other than the ticket pocket, it is free from any stylistic flourishes. The gorge is deliberately high and the shape quite sharp at the waist, but the shape elsewhere is quite classic. Fifteen inch hems on the legs; strap-and-buckle adjustors on the trousers; deep purple lining.
The cloth is a nine-ounce merino wool from Loro Piana. Although not the best weight for longevity, it has a lovely handle and has proved wearable on even the hottest days in the City.
This not being one of those days, it is worn with a cashmere/cotton mix shirt from Turnbull & Asser, heavyweight silk tie from Drake’s and linen handkerchief from Simonnot-Godard. While there’s nothing wrong with using the Italian Background combination of navy on blue for the tie and shirt, even with a navy suit, a little variation in the textures, such as the wool-mix tie, adds a touch of interest.
More on the Italian Background here.
Friday, 24 June 2011
Rummaging through the image archive this week, I stumbled across these pictures from my trip to the Dent’s gloves factory earlier in the year. They are from the Dent’s archive, and show five pairs of gloves – two for women and three for men.
The first two shots are details of pairs made for female royalty. Aside from the lovely handwork in the detailing, it was interesting to see the similarity between these and the pair that Dent’s made Elizabeth II for her coronation – the same fringed edging, the same embroidery work.
That is also true of the second two pairs, this time made for male royalty. Although almost a century apart, they are strikingly similar in design, and the rounded edges to the gauntlet section of the glove seem to be a consistent aspect of male gloves.
Dent’s have since moved to new premises, where I hear this fantastic archive has been given more space to be shown to the public.
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
First fitting for the Rubinacci cashmere jacket, with Mariano. A fair few adjustments at this, basted stage. Dropping right shoulder slightly, shortening left sleeve (though the sleeves were a better length than any other tailor has got them first time) and squaring the neck slightly.
I was interested to see how snug the fit was at the waist - what I wanted, in retrospect, but still relatively surprising. Obviously nothing to see at this stage in terms of the work or new elements like the unlined sleeves, but it's progressing well.
The next stages, the forward fitting and making of the chest and shoulder, will hopefully be in Naples and so may be delayed a few weeks.
Monday, 20 June 2011
Thank you to everyone who has shown their interest in my cufflink project, asking questions about the geometry, stones and functionality, and to the 26 people that have been so enthusiastic as to buy a pair (or pairs) for themselves. As mentioned previously, I stand to make no money from my designs, but it is nice to know others out there have similar taste and similar views on the paucity of the links currently on offer elsewhere.
Examples of some responses: “I've received the cuff links and they are gorgeous! Thank you very much.” (Miami, US) “Thank you for the cufflinks. They are beautiful and I will wear them with pride with my black-tie outfit. All the best to you from Berlin.”
So far the pearls have proved the most popular choice, which I’m not surprised at, accounting for just over half the orders. Amber and quartz come second and third, with the faceted quartz now sold out.
There has also been some interesting experimentation with the orders, many men opting to have a pearl on one side of the link and a stone on the other. Personally, I like both sides to be identical, but I won’t quarrel with anyone that wants to experiment by mixing up the combinations.
Wearing them more myself, I’m pleased that the links are fulfilling all the functional needs I designed them for. The stem is short enough to keep the cuff tightly closed and the size of the stones means they are big enough to be noticed but small enough to slip out at the end of the day.
It was predictable that the price of the links rules them out as a casual, personal purchase for most men, but I didn’t appreciate how suitable they would be as wedding gifts, either from the bride to the groom or from the groom to his best man. Apparently weddings account for the vast majority of the market for high-end, certainly bespoke, jewellery.
This post is in no way timed to coincide with the organisation of summer weddings. Honest.
Comment and feedback is always appreciated, so keep it coming – either to myself or Diana. For those unfamiliar with the cufflink project and interested in the back story, see the original post here. Despite the welcome encouragement from readers, there are no plans to launch a range of men’s accessories under the Permanent Style brand. The only possibility is a spin-off for dress studs – more details here shortly.
Friday, 17 June 2011
You spend a lot of time talking about suits and bespoke shoes, but what do you wear at the weekend? I have trouble picturing what you put on to pop out to the newsagent.
Here are a few of my favourite things. Two types of chinos: those from Albam, which come in fantastic colours and are well made but too rough to wear with a jacket, so are usually paired with boots and knitwear; and those from Incotex, which are smarter despite their softening treatment and can be worn with unlined, unstructured jackets. (Favourites there: Barena, Montedoro, Loro Piana, hopefully Rubinacci.)
Continuing with trousers, I wear jeans (Albam, again – this post should have been a clue) but hate their predominance in menswear and so wear grey flannels, tan cords and brown moleskins more often.
Digression: One reason I hate the predominance of jeans is that it has removed the ability of British men to wear any other form of casual trouser, such as those mentioned above. I was in Sweden last week and more men were wearing slim, sharp chinos than jeans – often paired with a jacket and pocket handkerchief. It’s hard to get men started on smarter dressing when they only know one type of trouser.
I wear mostly shirts at the weekend, but occasionally have a T-shirt underneath a polo-collar sweater and particularly like long-sleeved polo shirts (see post here).
Knitwear, however, is the key to the weekend. Wearing good knitwear always makes you feel dressed up when you don’t feel like wearing a jacket. From the almost too-light cotton sweaters at Avon Celli, to the four-ply cashmere shawl-collar numbers at Drake’s (above), there’s a sweater for every occasion and temperature. All those mentioned also have collars, making them more suitable to knitted or woollen neckties. I also highly recommend Loro Piana’s Roadster model (though size down, they are boxy) and the Trunk own-brand cashmere sweaters, which are anything but boxy.
Foot wear is similar to the working week (these are flexibilities of brown calf) but with more suede, more boots and a much-loved pair of Tod’s gomminos. These driving shoes deserve particular mention, for they have been what I put on when I get home in the evening every day for almost three years, and they’re still going strong. Two or three applications of cream in that time have stopped then drying out.
So what do I wear to pop to the newsagents? On a good day probably Albam dusty pink chinos, a blue Oxford button-down from T&A, a grey shawl-collar sweater and brown suede lace-ups. And my three-year old, in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt.
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Following on from the previous two posts in the Rubinacci series, on cloth and style, this week runs through the measuring and opinions on tailoring as a whole.
The biggest difference between Rubinacci and other, English tailors that have featured in series on Permanent Style is that neither Mariano nor Luca are cutters. Or more importantly, the cutter will never be involved with the fitting of my jacket.
Now this is one of the big disadvantages of travelling tailors, who have to communicate all details of the fitting to the tailoring houses they use – whether in Crewe or the Czech Republic. And I have had several bad experiences with travelling tailors (as well as some good ones).
But those bad experiences have usually been down to the inexperience of the travelling tailor, who often lacks knowledge of figuration or even the cutting process itself. Luca and Mariano certainly don’t fall into that category, and the tradition of being what we would call ‘front of house’ is one that extends to Mariano’s father, Gennaro, who founded the firm.
“We have always been the middle men between the customer and the tailor. It means we can combine knowledge of tailoring with advice on style and the customer’s wardrobe. We are also more flexible – cutters tend to only want to cut the style that they know,” says Luca. “My grandfather was famous for giving this kind of advice. Indeed he started out by going with friends to visit tailors, in order to help them with their choices.”
Luca also told the story of when he first went to work in England, at the age of 18 at Kilgour French & Stanbury. Apparently when he entered the shop wearing his first Rubinacci suit he was bursting with pride, only to be deflated with friendly barbs from all the Kilgour staff, pointing and laughing at the shoulders, the chest, the pockets.
That evening he tearfully called his father, asking why he had made him such an awful suit. “Good,” Mariano said. “Very good. It is only your first day and you have learnt something about tailoring. You have learnt that there are two styles –their style and our style – and you have learnt what you like and don’t like.”
Next day Luca returned with renewed pride, aware of the benefits of Neapolitan tailoring and the fact that Kilgour couldn’t make it if they tried. Two of those Kilgour cutters, Ritchie Charlton and Campbell Carey, are now at Hayward and friends of Luca’s.
“I hate it when people talk on the forums about what is right and what is completely wrong,” says Luca. “Everyone has a different idea of what’s classic and what’s stylish.”
Luca also believes it is silly today to classify a tailor as either Neapolitan or English. “To be successful worldwide you have to do everything. We can do an English shoulder and I’ve seen a spalla camicia done by Huntsman. It may have been a challenge to be the best Neapolitan tailor when there were 300 of them, but not any more. Now it is a challenge to be the best in the world.”
Next post: The first fitting
Thursday, 9 June 2011
A dressing gown is not the most obvious thing to have made. There are some perfectly lovely ready-to-wear gowns from people like Turnbull & Asser (ask about specials there), Drake’s and Charvet. And fit is hardly the biggest concern – a gown is meant to be loose.
Indeed, Stephen Lachter hates making pyjamas for similar reasons. You can’t improve the fit substantially over ready to wear and, because almost twice as much cloth is needed as for a shirt, the price will approach £400.
But I still had Stephen make me a dressing gown. In part, this is because the range of gowns is often not that great – I guess not that many people buy them any more – and I wanted something unique. In part, it was because he took me in with his swatches.
Wools, cottons, silks, in different weaves and finishes. I was originally going for a brushed cotton that felt softer than cashmere, but Stephen convinced me that only men that live in castles need anything that thick. Presumably he would know. Instead I opted for a wool challis, as pictured. Beautifully soft, with a small geometric pattern and piped in purple.
As you’d expect, the make isn’t exactly bespoke. Stephen starts with a range of standard sizes and adjusts them for length, sleeve and waist. But when I got the gown, there was still a noticeable difference in fit. I suppose because dressing gowns are expected to be loose, manufacturers make them very loose. A few adjustments make a big difference.
Most of the gowns Stephen makes are out of shirting materials, and customers can pick any one they want. The specials are a small collection, but certainly worth a look. Prices start at £350. I’d certainly recommend them over bespoke pyjamas.
Wednesday, 8 June 2011
I was interested in the Rubinacci vintage cloth for my jacket (see previous post here) but wanted something a little more substantial than the French linen. This is England after all. In particular, I thought something with a pattern akin to a Donegal check, with its flecks of white and subtle colour, would be nice, but in a lighter weight than the Irish and Scottish tweeds.
Digging through the vintage bolts on display in Rubinacci’s London store, Luca and I found a couple of cashmere options, one cream and one brown. The brown in particular was an interesting mix of colours, being actually made entirely of black, cream and white threads. And it would be more versatile than the cream, so that was what we opted for.
“As it is your first jacket, I would like to make you something that you will wear forever – something very versatile and classic,” said Luca. “I like to experiment on the second or third jacket, when I know the customer’s taste a little better.”
The style is to be single breasted, with three buttons. As the Rubinacci chest is so soft, the three buttons easily roll to two, as can be seen even on Luca or Mariano’s most formal suits. It will have patch, curved hip pockets and the standard Barchetta (little boat) curved breast pocket. Rubinacci normally puts three cuff buttons on its sports jackets, but I prefer four.
It will be half lined in silk. Rubinacci always uses silk, though most British tailors say it wears out too quickly and doesn’t breathe. It is certainly more expensive than Bemberg. Luca admits both the criticisms of silk, though he says the heat issue is a slight one and Rubinacci just replaces linings once they get too worn (though they do charge for this).
I had thought to get the jacket lined in one of Rubinacci’s wonderful silk scarves (an example pictured above) but decided that was a little too flash for me. It also adds £400 to the cost of the jacket (which starts at £3100, though mine being cashmere will cost £3500). That cost for the scarf might not be seen as extortionate given the lining requires two scarves and they retail for £220 each.
“I think you have to be a certain character to want the scarf lining,” comments Luca. “And it’s a question of balance – I have one customer that has 20 blue suits from us, but all have different scarves inside. It’s an opportunity to express your inward character rather than your outward appearance.”
Another option Luca is particularly fond of is using tie silk for the lining. This has to be specially made, because most ties are around 75cm long – too short for a jacket lining (my jacket length is 79cm). So Luca has a dozen or so swatches that customers can choose from and the silk is made up separately by the weavers.
That adds £200 to the cost of the jacket, however, and none of them particularly caught my eye. (Some options shown above.) So I went for a plain silk, in deep green.
Last, Luca insisted on leaving the sleeves unlined. This is a first for me – all my jackets, even unlined ones, have lined sleeves in order to help your arm slip into them. But Luca justified it by saying the jacket will feel like a sweater, and a sweater doesn’t have lining in the sleeves. It takes a second longer to get your arm in, but once it’s in there’s no problem. We will wait and see.
Next post – the measuring with Mariano, and opinions on being middle men, not cutters
Monday, 6 June 2011
I’ve been an admirer of the dedication to craft at Thomas Lyte for some time. The leather and silver makers have a workshop down in south-west London that I visited over a year ago now. I liked the little details in the construction process, like turned edges wherever possible and hand-inked ones elsewhere, which demonstrated how high a priority craft was to the brand.
But frankly, some of the original designs weren’t to my taste. They were certainly quirky, and individual (the subtle curve of a Spitfire’s tail fin runs through many of the designs), but the colour palette was often too extreme – contrasting yellow and black, for instance.
Clearly some people liked it, as in the interim Thomas Lyte opened its first store, in the Burlington Arcade. A beautiful space with a bespoke lounge upstairs that oversees the shoppers below, it showcases the company’s now wider range of both silver and leather product.
Which is where the reason for this post comes in. That range now includes some more classic pieces that I would certainly recommend. Like the Albemarle business briefcase, for example, in slate grey Breuninger leather. No contrast colour here, just a subtle variation on black and those design quirks, like the curve of the leather straps across the front, the silver button fastening and the plum-coloured silk lining.
If you’re looking for something for the wife, I also recommend the Eliza Wheat Tote and the jewellery boxes. Definitely worth a visit.
Friday, 3 June 2011
The tips on looking good in a pair of shoes are simpler, in a way, than those for suits. They come down to two things: spend as much money as you can afford, because you are buying value and longevity; and look after them well, because you will be rewarded in style and longevity.
1. Don’t wear them everyday
Leather soaks up water from your feet. It dries and recovers naturally but needs time to do so. If you wear shoes for two days running the leather doesn’t have time to dry and wears down much faster as a result. Think about how wet cardboard frays.
2. Use shoe trees
The second-most important rule. Using shoe trees means that when the shoes dry they return to their natural shape, and don’t fold and buckle. In the long run, not using them will make the upper crack, which is one thing no one can repair. In the short run the shoes will look better and smarter.
3. Brush, cream, polish
Brushing down your shoes at the end of every day removes minor scuffs. They look better for longer and have to be polished less often. Cream should be used every month or so, depending on wear, and will keep the leather supple – aiding comfort and preventing the cracking mentioned earlier. Polish protects the leather and gives it shine; over time, it will lead to a beautiful, personal patina (less so on black shoes).
You don’t have to follow a dedicated regimen. But doing some part of this is well worth the effort.
4. Buy dark brown
Most men need black shoes for business – at least part of the time they spend doing business. For much of the rest of the time, they can wear dark brown. It is more versatile, going from a mid-grey suit to grey flannels to indigo jeans. It builds up a nice patina (try black polish occasionally). And it looks just as smart, if not as formal.
But always bear in mind that shoes should generally be darker than the trousers they are worn with. Tan shoes look cheap with dark suits – the contrast is too great. Dark brown looks best with navy and mid-grey (particularly flannel).
5. Spend money
I would estimate that men spend about a quarter of the amount they spend on suits, on shoes. It should be more like half.
Men that buy high-end shoes delight in dividing the number of days they wear their shoes by the cost, and compare it to a cheaper pair. This isn’t just a way to justify buying more expensive shoes. When shoes last 20 years or more, the calculation inevitably comes out in favour of better shoes. And that’s without taking into account how they look.
I got some criticism for saying in my last post that Edward Green shoes are better quality than Barker. Strangely, no one actually disputed that point. Barker shoes are made very well and are definitely worth the money spent on them. But even the Handgrade line that costs £400 or so is not as good as EG in my personal experience, and the majority are not Handgrade.
Too many men in this country wear terrible, glued shoes (sole not sewn on) with no toe puff (creating a soft, turned-up toe) in corrected grain leather. I applaud them buying Barker instead of that. But if they are buying a £3000 bespoke suit, they should be spending more on their shoes. With most English-made shoes, you get what you pay for. Spending more means better leather and more benchmade stages.
A friend of mine told me recently that his policy is to "buy a cheap pair of black shoes every six months and just throw the old pair away". If by writing this blog I can stop just one person doing that, I'll be happy.
[Pictured: bespoke Gaziano & Girling balmorals in espresso calf and crocodile]
Wednesday, 1 June 2011
The next series to feature on Permanent Style will look at the making of a cashmere jacket at Neapolitan tailor Rubinacci, based on interviews and fittings with Mariano and Luca in London and a visit to the Naples workrooms to see it being made.
For those interested in these series, you can see previous ones on Henry Poole (DB glen check suit), Huntsman (tweed shooting suit), GJ Cleverley (bespoke Oxofrd shoes) Turnbull & Asser (bespoke shirt) and Graham Browne (navy DB suit and polo coat) at those links. I should also mention that you can get a behind-the-scenes look at suits at Anderson & Sheppard on excellent site The Notebook.
This first post in the Rubinacci series will look at the cloth available. Rubinacci has an enviable reputation for vintage cloth, built on a collection begun by founder Gennaro Rubinacci and continued no less enthusiastically by his son Mariano. The house now boasts over 60,000 metres of vintage cloth (defined as pre-1980s), mostly in storage in Naples but with a good amount on view in London to be browsed by customers.
For those visiting the London store for the first time, most of the bolts of cloth on the wall at the back are vintage. There is one big marker that suggests something is vintage: before the 1980s most weavers didn’t bother putting selvedge on their cloth (that’s the ribbon down the edge that bears the maker’s name). Most mills specialised in particular types and weights of cloth, so there was no need to label them.
“After the eighties everyone started making everything – Italians making tweed, English making lightweight worsted – so they began putting selvedge on to identify their cloth,” says Mariano. (For more on Mariano’s opinions on tailoring, see previous interview here.)
Back in those days you also couldn’t order two or three metres of cloth – it had to be by the bolt. While some tailors sold off these bolts, Rubinacci tended to hold onto them. “This is why we are considered to be the best for material, because we were a collector first, a seller second,” says Luca. “It would have been suicidal for another tailor to hold onto so much cloth. But we’ve been fortunate in the past few years that vintage has very much come back into style.”
Today Luca and Mariano supplement the collection by listening out for tailors that are going out of business and buying up all their cloth. They visited one in the south of France recently and came back with over 200 bolts. “You can’t be picky when it comes to buying it up,” says Luca. “You’ll get a better price if you take the whole lot, and of that 200 there will be at least 20 or 30 that are absolutely magical.”
As examples, Luca pulls out two linens, one cream and one a brown glen check (shown above). They are very lightweight and in an open weave. “You don’t get much linen like this anymore, certainly not cheaply,” he says. Apparently this kind of open-weave linen tends to come from the south of France and Italy; Irish linen is harder and more closely woven because it is still expected to be able to deal with a cold breeze. Italian and Scottish cashmere are similarly distinctive, with the former tending to be much smoother.
More on the vintage cloth that I selected in next week’s post