Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bespoke property rights: who owns the pattern / last?

Recently I posted identical AskAndy and LondonLounge threads concerning the rightful possession of the design or pattern of bespoke garments and apparel.

Below is an excerpt of my post:

Perusing the bespoke section on the Grenson website, I came across the notion that the last is the customer's "personal property". This raises some intriguing questions and possibilities in my mind.

So I ask both rhetorically and practically - who really owns the individual patterns associated with bespoke garments and footwear? If it is indeed the customer, is this common practice across most bespoke artisans? Further, how practicable (and common) is it to ask for a copy of your pattern/last? And I ask all these questions not simply out of sheer idleness.

Here's one practical reason. Say I would like to work with a bespoke tailor in making some suits and jackets for me. Suppose further that said tailor is (a) an independent craftsman not affiliated with a larger tailoring house and (b) approaching very close to retirement. Even if I find his house style eminently suitable for me, there seems to be a risk I take in going with such tailor. Namely, there is very little assurance in getting similar garments in the future once he retires and ceases operations.

How can I mitigate such risks? The one possibility I see is asking for a copy of your pattern/last shortly before the tailor retires. The question then becomes how feasible is it for another tailor to produce garments off of another tailor's pattern.


A number of thoughtful answers were provided including responses from Mr. Tony Gaziano, the principal lastmaker at Edward Green, and Mr. Alex Kabbaz, the New York bespoke shirtmaker. Essentially, there is no single encompassing answer to the question of ownership. As with many things in life, the answer is "it depends". Mr. Gaziano said he would have no problem providing a copy of the last or upper pattern to a client whereas others suggested that the pattern or last is either property of the designer or is understood to be held in a kind of perpetual escrow by the tailor or cordwainer until cessation of operations. At that point, the pattern or last may be sold or given back to the client.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

More Viennese tailors: Malowan and Netousek

In my web journeys, I have come across two other Viennese tailors: Malowan and Netousek.

Malowan
According to a 2003 Welt am Sonntag article, Malowan is described as being located on the Opernring and founded in 1823 by Maria Malowan, a shirtmaker whose detailed work was highly prized by 'higher society'. In 1968 the business was succeeded by Alfred Markowski, who understood himself to be a bulwark against "brand frenzy". Markowski thinks Malowan's classical men's style has been successful recently in finding younger and younger followers. Some even come to Malowan to get a glencheck suit to boost their careers. [Berühmt für seine perfekten Maßanzüge ist auch "Malowan" am Opernring. Gegründet wurde es 1823 von der Hemdennäherin Maria Malowan, deren detailverliebte Arbeit von der feinen Gesellschaft sehr geschätzt wurde. 1968 übernahm Alfred Markowski das Unternehmen, das sich als Bollwerk "wider den Markenwahnsinn" versteht. Mit Erfolg, wie Markowski meint, die klassische Herrenmode seines Hauses finde in letzter Zeit immer mehr jüngere Anhänger. Mancher Aufsteiger hole sich hier einen Glencheck-Anzug, um seine Karriere zu befördern.]

Netousek
Founded in 1935 by Viktor Netousek and succeeded by his son Thomas in 1991. In the decades following its founding, Netousek employed up to 12 workers, many of them apprentices moving up to master tailors. The house style appears to be the comfortably fitting, natural shoulder style adopted by its more famous counterpart Knize (link to Netousek storefront, jackets and window display). They also carry ready-to-wear accessories such as John Smedley sweaters and Sebago shoes. An interesting selection of American traditional and British sensibilities.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Postscript to Knize

A week after I had posted my "definitive" (ahem) introduction to Knize below, I came across this excellent Welt am Sonntag article on former imperial luxury goods purveyors including Knize. Some fascinating tidbits from the article and elsewhere:

Knize trivia
  • Knize is pronounced "Knische" (apparently arising from the pronunciation of the family name Kníže in Czech).
  • Thomas Bernhard, the controversial Austrian novelist, apparently made the house of Knize a recurring mise en scène in his books.
  • Billy Wilder, the Hollywood emigre director, was a devoted, lifelong customer of Knize. On his last visit to the store before his death he didn't want to leave, trying on this and that, all to get a final whiff of the place.
    Billy Wilder & Jack Lemmon, 1959

    Billy Wilder
    I found two photos of Wilder wearing what appears to be the same houndstooth wool sportcoat circa the late 1950s - the soft loose fit and the slight hint of front drape seem to point to Knize.
  • Knize tailored some of the costumes in the 1960 film A Breath of Scandal starring Sophia Loren and Maurice Chevalier.
The aesthetics of Knize
Unlike perhaps any other tailoring house in the other world, Knize brings together a striking architectural design, a renowned bespoke tailoring tradition and a long history of couture accomplishments (e.g. Knize fragrances). Any visitor will sense this immediately upon the entering the store. "The entryway is a bit of a narrow squeeze for walk-in customers but nobly furnished with cherry wood and polished mirrored glass.
Knize entryway Knize entryway
The showroom is on the first floor and is an "atmospheric alpine trek between representative openness and elegant privacy" as described by the architectural critic Friedrich Achleitner. [Das Entree für die Laufkundschaft ist ein schmaler Schlurf, wie die Wiener sagen, wenngleich edel ausgestattet mit Kirschholz und geschliffenem Spiegelglas. Der Schauraum liegt im ersten Stock und ist eine "atmosphärische Gratwanderung zwischen repräsentativer Öffentlichkeit und nobler Privatheit", wie Architekturkritiker Friedrich Achleitner schrieb.]

A customer's testimonial
"When I put on a Knize suit, I grow a second skin," says Georg Waldstein, the 60-year old publisher of the Austrian business magazine Profit. "That goes so far as forgetting what I'm wearing during the day. The trousers sit just so, the jacket doesn't make any unsightly creases. I've been a bespoke customer of Knize for 20 years. Before I wore ready-to-wear but now I simply can't imagine doing that." ["Wenn mich Knize einkleidet, bekomme ich eine zweite Haut", sagt Georg Waldstein, 60, Herausgeber des österreichischen Wirtschaftsmagazins "Gewinn". "Das geht so weit, dass ich tagsüber vergesse, was ich anhabe. Die Hose sitzt, das Jackett schlägt keine hässlichen Falten. Seit 20 Jahren bin ich Maßkunde beim Knize, vorher trug ich Konfektionsware. Das kann ich mir heute nicht mehr vorstellen."]

The "return" of Knize to Prague
I also came across the website of Adam Steiner, a men's haberdashery in Prague. The founders or backers of this store appear to have some connection with the founding of the Prague branch of Knize back in 1935. This is outlined with some nice historical pictures on his website. Unfortunately, that is all I'm able to decipher since my knowledge of Czech is somewhat limited (apart from bits of survival Czech I picked up such as "pivo", "ne vim", "rozumim").

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Viennese tailors: A definitive web introduction to Knize

Despite living in the age of Google with ostensibly ubiquitous access to information, I have been often surprised by the lack of information regarding bespoke tailors - specifically, by the lack of a visual record on the cut and silhouette of the major tailoring houses that survive today in England, Italy, Austria and elsewhere. When searching for a particular tailor on MSN, Yahoo and Google, one will often find a surprising lack of both text and visual information on the look and shape of a tailor's house style.
Knize storefront
This is especially true of the venerable atelier of Knize & Comp in Vienna. Established in 1858 by a Czech family, Knize currently is situated at Graben 13 in the original premises designed by the influential Viennese architect Adolf Loos. As a modern architect and designer, Loos famously equated architectural ornament with crime (not surprisingly he was philosophically opposed to Art Nouveau or Jugendstil). The store design is notable for its black Swedish granite edifice and the use of soft cherry and oak woods in the interior (link to interior and exterior pictures). Loos also designed the Knize stores in Berlin (1924) and Paris (1927).

Knize today carries high quality men and women's ready-to-wear (Konfektionsware) but it is most well-known for its bespoke suits (Maßanzüge). In Style and the Man, Alan Flusser praises the "three-button, side-vented, soft-shouldered house style" of the Knize suit jacket (or Anzug) with its "rounded-off shape".
Knize gray pinstripe 3 button
Flusser notes that Knize is similar to Anderson & Sheppard and Caraceni in its emphasis on a soft shoulder. Notice the very slight waist suppression in the photo of the gray pinstripe three-piece, three-button suit.

As Rudolf Niedersüß, Knize's owner, elaborated in a recent interview in Bank Privat Magazin, the Knize cut (Schnitt) is more comfortable and doesn't conform as closely to the body as perhaps some of the Savile Row silhouettes do ("nicht so knapp sitzen wie bei den Briten" und "vielmehr bequemer"). As a practical matter, this enables the Viennese gentleman to store more things in his jacket pockets.
Knize tan 3 button jacket Knize shop display
Another observer remarks that the Knize shoulder falls more naturally with the top part flaring down a bit (referring to the concavity of the shoulder and sleevehead I believe), the waist sits a little higher and the trouser legs are longer ("Die Schultern fallen natürlicher, das Oberteil ist nach unten hin ein wenig ausgestellt. Beim Maßfrack sitzt die Taille etwas höher, und die Hosenbeine sind extra lang."). Another unusual feature is a double-row waistcoat or vest as opposed to the more conventional single row.

Knize is also known for its men's and women's toiletries, specifically the Knize Ten fragrance released in 1924. If you're planning to visit Vienna or Central Europe, there is a very informative AskAndy post on recommended restaurants and shops (including a Viennese glovemaker and a former Imperial court jeweller). You might also find that this NY Times Style Magazine interactive map of Vienna may whet your appetite to plan a trip to Mitteleuropa. Lastly, Fodor's has a nice destination guide listing fine shops, restaurants and sights.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Practical tip: fixing a loose or pulled thread

Like death and taxes, pulled threads are inevitable and should be dealt with quickly and proficiently. This is especially important on woolens such as flannel. I had a pulled thread on a Brioni suit and was rather ignorant of the best way to proceed. Whatever you do, DO NOT cut the pulled thread loop. That could be the beginning of the end of the suit or garment in question.

Here's the link to the StyleForum thread I created on this issue. There are a few ways to deal with this. Basically, you'll need to thread another needle through the offending loop and "pull" it through to the underside of the fabric. Good luck!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Two sides of a coin: being and choosing a tailor

A rather heated topic on AskAndy and StyleForum has led me to post this entry, which I also posted on the Ask Andy thread. The issue at hand: a tailor and his dissatisfied customer. What are some of the lessons learned on both sides of the sartorial aisle?

If I were a customer, I would draw out a few lessons learned:

(1) Do not order bespoke garments until you are knowledgeable about the fit and features of said garments. When you are ready to order, put your wishlist into writing and review each item with your tailor. Keep a copy for yourself. Here the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Do not "leave everything" in the hands of the tailor unless you have developed an extensive history with him.

(2) Measure and guard your expectations. Less is "more". Avoid the utopian misfortune of expecting perfection each and every step of this human, all too human process. To wit,

(3) Be alert and vigilant during the entire process of fitting. At a minimum, check the garment at different angles while standing in front a three-way mirror. This is what manton, an AskAndy member experienced in bespoke, does at his first fittings. First, he checks the balance from side-to-side and front-to-back, then rotates his shoulders several times and lets the coat settle where it may. He also walks around the room, sits down, stands up, and checks the coat again. Another prudent measure is to inspect the sewing/stitching from inside prior to the attachment of the lining and check whether the fabric patterns match at the seams.

(4) Order only one initial garment. As you wait for your initial order, accumulate knowledge about your tailor, his workshop and his way of doing things. Develop confidence in the strengths of your tailor and be knowledgeable about his weaknesses before placing multiple orders.

Conversely, if I were an independent tailor, I take away these lessons:

(1) Satisfy your existing customers and ensure they remain satisfied. It is much more costly to take on new customers than it is to satisfy existing ones. Furthermore, losing customers is terribly costly both directly and indirectly since dissatisfied customers are more likely to raise a hue and cry than satisfied ones. For them, the pen (or keyboard) is also mightier than the sword.

(2) Be alert and vigilant with the entire process of production. You must set into place a process to ensure consistent workmanship of garments in your supply chain. It is human nature to discern the imbalance and asymmetry of physical things, especially if one is wearing them.

(3) Resist the considerable temptation to take multiple orders with a new customer. You and the new customer will be making your first acquaintance and, more critically, an initial order. With this first order, you must satisfy the whims and desires of the customer so that he may be inclined to order again (see first lesson). How is this achieved? Suffice to say, it is easier to create one impressive garment than it is to create many such garments. Likewise, one is less likely to make mistakes with one garment than with many. Hence, focus your energies on making one good garment initially. Less is more.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Men's apparel in Los Angeles - yesterday & today

Since I live in LA, I've been meaning to post something apparel-related to LA. I came across this interesting post on men's stores of yesteryear in Los Angeles.

Here are my recommendations for visitors and denizens alike. For custom shirts, Anto's Shirtmakers is acknowledged as the best in town. I haven't tried them yet but they're on my wish list. Brooks Bros has a decent shirt program at a lower price point. For outfitting a basic wardrobe, you can't go wrong with Carroll & Co, Brooks Bros and Ralph Lauren - all within a few blocks of each other in Beverly Hills.

In addition, there are some recent and informative postings in the discussion forum world on the state of menswear shops in LA today:
A recent stroll down Rodeo Drive
Finding English shoes in LA
Finding English and Italian shoes in LA

Monday, October 03, 2005

One enlightened Englishwoman, one well-dressed man

As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. And what a rare thing it is to see it done well. The same with taste. It is rare to see a single person possess the sense and sensibility to appreciate the finer things in life. It seems even rarer for two people to tap into the same reservoir of good taste. But it can happen despite the dispiriting lack of taste that seems to constitute the norm (see definition of chav).

This marvelous essay by one Rachel Cooke is an enlightened, modern paean to the principled reality of a well-dressed man. No, she is not praising that tepid imitation known as the "metrosexual" but something considerably more substantial and original. Simply put, it is a man who dresses well because he wishes to appear in a way that reflects favorably upon him, his friends and family.

Well, if I do have one quibble, it is that the fellow in her story wears Prada shoes. Now the Italians certainly make fine benchgrade shoes, especially the lesser known makers prized by shoe aficionados such as Santoni, Lattanzi, StefanoBi, Mantellassi or Gravati.

However, her fellow is presumably an Englishman. As such, he really ought to be donning Edward Green, George Cleverley, John Lobb St. James, John Lobb Paris or any number of fine ready-to-wear English shoes (Crockett & Jones, Grenson, Tricker's). Perhaps that is a development reserved for another chapter in her story.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Protecting your iPod

A couple of months ago I got a 20GB iPod, which, for those of you who have been living in a cave the past couple of years, is the most popular portable digital music player in the market. Apple owns the market with something like 75% market share for a number of reasons. But that's a marketing and technology discussion that should probably be reserved for a separate entry. I have a much more practical piece of advice for iPod owners - get some protection if you care about how your iPod looks. Along with many other users I discovered that the iPod is fairly prone to scratches - especially the stainless back and the LCD screen.

There are different schools of thought here. You could buy a case made of neoprene, nylon or cloth which fully covers the device but you have to make sure whether there are holes cut for the recharging ports or headphones. Full body cases often add bulk as well. The alternative is to use thin plastic films that adhere to the iPod and protect strategic areas such as the LCD screen and metal back. An example is TrendyGeek's PodShield which I ended up using and have been very happy with. Another variation is full body plastic film such as InvisibleShield (link to review).

Apparently the new iPod nano has been getting complaints about its sensitivity to scratches and LCD screen cracking. Whether it's a design/manufacturing flaw or not, it's a good idea to get some kind of protection. I'd recommend the plastic film approach if you're concerned about adding bulk or weight to your iPod.

On a related note, I wouldn't be surprised if there are some musically minded gents who have had jackets made with custom-made interior pockets for their iPods.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Quality dry cleaners in Los Angeles

I try to avoid dry cleaning my tailored clothing as much as possible. I'm not a chemist but I'm a bit wary of the solvents used in traditional dry cleaning. But if you positively absolutely must send something to the cleaners in the Los Angeles area, you might want to check out these recommended cleaners.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

How to tie knots

A practical note today. Here's a guide to tying the three basic knots (four in hand, half windsor and windsor) and another reference. As a teenager, I got the four-in-hand fairly quickly but the bow tie and windsor knots took some time to learn (e.g. inverting the diagrams, standing in front of the mirror).

Finally, for a little variation, this is an interesting double dimpled knot technique.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The ne plus ultra of ties - Marinella

What do some of the best ties in the world look like? Here's a more detailed look at some of these incomparable ties.

Why do Marinella ties merit such esteem? Impeccable woven and printed silks with traditional construction methods. The ties may strike some as conservatively designed. Conservative for some, but for others they represent a classic and timeless style.

So where can one purchase Marinella ties?
Hint: Naples, Italy. Another hint: Also available in the New York City at Bergdorf Goodman.

For more info, visit the Marinella website.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

English shoe sale

I just came across this fantastic 50% off Brooks Bros shoe sale. Brooks Bros shoes are private labeled shoes made by Alden, one of the two best welted dress shoe makers in the US, and two English shoe manufacturers, Alfred Sargent and Crockett & Jones. The shoes pictured to the right are from their Peal line made by Sargent and C&J.

If you've worn their English shoes before and know your size, this is a great deal. I'm tempted myself!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Wikipedia and defining "Savile Row"

This is an open call for participation in the wikipedia definition of Savile Row. A wiki is "is a web application that allows users to add content, as on an Internet forum, but also allows anyone to edit the content."

As it stands, one of the pillars of modern's mens style suffers from a particularly anemic wiki entry. If you are a tailor, customer or supplier to this venerable collection of tailoring houses, do your web duty and refine the entry. After all, "England expects that every man will do his duty."

Monday, July 04, 2005

London visit part 2: Shirts and jackets/suits

As a continuation of my last post, a trip to London should include a visit to Jermyn Street shirtmakers - Hilditch & Key, Harvie & Hudson, Turnbull & Asser being the most well-known. I found this list of London shirtmakers to be fairly comprehensive. Personally, I would also try to make it over to Budd Shirtmakers, which, if I'm not mistaken, is the only remaining London shirtmaker that has all of its workrooms on the premises. Budd is known for its formal shirts, both black and white tie.

For jackets and suits, one really has to pay a visit to Savile Row and get fitted for a handmade, bespoke garment. Although many of the larger houses make visits to the US, I would prefer to get measured up, select fabrics and get a feel for a tailoring house at the premises itself. The key question for any first-time customer is which tailor? The Row is home to several very well-known houses including Anderson & Sheppard (no website still!), Henry Poole, Huntsman & Sons, Kilgour and Gieves & Hawkes.

An alternative is to investigate Savile Row-trained and apprenticed tailors who are now working independently (or smaller tailoring houses such as Dege & Skinner). Tailors such as Thomas Mahon are generally more affordable and may be a better choice for a first experiment in bespoke tailoring.

Unless you have fairly deep pockets (presumably handmade - lol), my advice is to do your research thoroughly. Pay a visit to the establishment or individual tailor and talk to existing customers. There is a host of other considerations for anyone embarking on a first bespoke suit or jacket, probably a topic I will cover in a later entry.

But at a minimum check out the discussion boards. For instance, here is a AskAndy thread on Gieves & Hawkes.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Best restaurants in the world = Excuse to visit London

I recently came across Restaurant Magazine's best restaurants in the world for 2005.

Clearly, this would make the basis of a decent travel itinerary around the world. One surprising thing I noticed is the number of British restaurants that made the list. Perhaps the result of a culinary Renaissance of sorts in Merry Old England.

Either way, it's a good excuse to visit and sample sartorial London. I certainly wouldn't mind a weeklong itinerary constructed entirely around classic English haberdashery. For starters, I'd make sure to visit and pick up:
Hmm, I'll have to think some more about this!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

NPR interview of Thomas Mahon

Last week Chris Lydon of Public Radio International conducted an radio interview of Savile Row tailor Thomas Mahon. An MP3 file of the 52 minute interview was archived on RadioOpenSource.org and can be downloaded by following the link above.

An interesting interview but Lydon could have conducted a better flowing and more engaging conversation with Mr. Mahon. He spent perhaps too much time with call-ins rather than tapping into the background, experiences and stories of his guest. That's a bit ironic since the reason for his interview is Mahon's use of blogging to converse and engage with potential customers. Nonetheless it is a worthwhile interview to get a better sense of Mahon's approach to tailoring.

Color theory: Harmonizing the shirt and tie

One could do a lot worse than learn from tutee's perceptive observation in an AskAndy discussion thread on shirt and tie matching. He argues that if your shirt and tie combination is lighter than the suit then the effect is more formal. On the other hand, if it is darker than the suit, the combination is "sportier".

This may seem counterintuitive but it works. Try to visualize a light or sky blue shirt against a navy blue chalkstripe for example. And then try on the ensemble to see for yourself.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The small world of Los Angeles men's haberdashery

Yesterday I drove to Brooks Brothers in Beverly Hills to pick up some made-to-measure garments that needed adjustments. Naturally I got into a conversation with Victor, the salesman I work with at the store, and we started talking about bench tailors in Los Angeles. I mentioned that I only knew of two bespoke tailors in the LA area and that I had visited one of them - Jack Taylor - a few weeks ago.

It turns out Victor moved out to California from the East Coast to work with Jack. Things didn't work out and Victor went to work elsewhere. That in itself was mildly interesting but even more remarkable is the relationship he has with the only other well-known bespoke tailor in LA - Giacomo Trabalza. Victor mentioned that he knew a tailor working out on La Cienega and I immediately thought of Trabalza. As it turns out, Mr. Trabalza is Victor's uncle.

The world of high end Los Angeles tailors and haberdashers is fairly small and they all know each other - Victor also knows Jack Sepetjian of Anto's Shirtmakers, the well-known shirtmakers profiled in Flusser's Style and the Man. And Trabalza and Taylor certainly know each other.

Monday, June 06, 2005

A knotty issue

For a number of years, I had always avoided thick knots like the Windsor knot. Perhaps it was due to a cautionary sentence by Alan Flusser - the de facto style reference for many men today - in one of his books or perhaps a source I have now forgotten. Whatever the original source, I had always assumed a small, neat knot was the preferred choice - namely, the four-in-hand knot.

That observation, however, is only conditionally true. The choice of which knot to use depends on the style of collar one is wearing and the relative length and width of the tie itself. One should tie a Windsor knot with a tall and/or wide collar style (e.g. English spread). As the photo of Prince Michael illustrates, it is entirely appropriate to use a wider knot for a higher collared shirt. As with many things in menswear, the issue is about balance.

Nonetheless, I still harbor a slight reluctance to tying very thick and wide knots. You need some extra gumption to pull that off (a la Robert Rufino).

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The rise and fall of sartorial standards - why?

Recently, a member of AskAndy asked the $64,000 question - since when and why have modern men been dressing so poorly? The consensus seems to be sometime in the mid-1960s, a period of political, cultural and social rebellion. As to the question of why, however, the collective answer is less certain.

My own thinking suggests an underlying causal relation between institutional changes and changes in one's "appearance". Oddly enough, something as apparently "individual" as appearance and comportment is a highly social or intersubjective activity. Hence, I suspect that institutional changes have had a significant impact on the relaxation of apparel and dress.

At the highest level, I think one can describe the decline in sartorial standards as a decline in formal or "high" culture and the rise of popular culture. The reason for this decline I discuss in my posting in the discussion thread:

... I would suspect that the decline in sartorial "standards" in modern societies has something to do with the precipitous decline of prescribed authority (namely, cultural, political and social institutions) as standard bearers of value in society. In other words, the decline in institutionalized values (enforced for example by class or social group) means greater individual autonomy and discretion, leading to a decline in adhering to standardized forms of dress.

This is essentially an application of Robert Putnam's celebrated hypothesis (at least in academia) on the decline of "social capital" (http://www.bowlingalone.com/). Put simply, the decline of social institutions in America means that we have fewer and fewer reasons to dress up or appropriately. I would suspect that sartorial standards still exist where there are institutions that informally and/or formally enforce them.

As a case study, it would be interesting to track, for example, the increasing informalization of Presidential inaugural dress standards (from morning coat and top hat to business suits).

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Chicago - superlatives of the Windy City

This recent StyleForum thread on Chicago v. NY led to a rather wide-ranging discussion on the self-satisfaction of San Franciscans and New Yorkers, the lack of "style" among Chicagoans and other comparisons. My post on the superlatives of Chicago apparently piqued the ire of others. It is remarkable how individuals are not truly individuals at a basic level - their affiliations and loyalty drive them to a large degree to do and say some rather silly things.

Here's an excerpt from my original post:

...detractors and killjoys dismiss Chicago as the "Second City" but others, including myself, regard it as the quintessential American city for its geographical setting (situated between the Great Lakes and the prairie) and the pivotal role it has played in industry (e.g. retail, meatpacking, transportation), culture (jazz & blues), architecture and ideas (think Chicago School of economics).

Here's a brief list of where Chicago comes out on top in my book, an obviously subjective list for the most part:

(1) Best RTW/MTM suit made in America - Oxxford Clothes, based in the West Loop of Chicago
(2) Best restaurant in America - Charlie Trotter's
(3) Best symphony in America - Chicago Symphony (with strenuous objections from Boston, NY Phil, Philadelphia, Cleveland Orch duly noted)
(4) Most intellectual student body and campus in America - University of Chicago
(5) Best hot dog in America - Chicago style (w/sliced pickle, onions, peppers)


Item number 4 on my list ruffled quite a few feathers. Suffice it to say that in higher education one ought to distinguish between perceived brand and intellectual productivity. As this opinion piece on the most famous university in America amusingly illustrates, substance is often overshadowed by brand.

The same principle applies to clothing - beware of brand, but be aware of substance (e.g. quality). Caveat emptor.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Tips for successful blogging: My 5 P's

As promised in an earlier post on blogging, I've compiled a list of tips and pointers to help get your thought process started. Perhaps you've thought about starting your own blog. If you're interested in making an impact, let me suggest that you need the following ingredients:

Passion
Great things start from interests, ideas, places, professions, books, music, even clothes - anything - that you are genuinely interested in developing, exploring and sharing.

Purpose
For the blogger who wants to make an impact, know why you are blogging. Think of it as a "mission statement" for your blog. The content will follow.

Point of View
Give your conversations a distinct personality and face. Think of the magazines Giant Robot or Wallpaper, the grassroots Democrat Howard Dean or the Mayor-elect of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa - each projects a distinctive voice that plants a memorable impression in the viewer, voter or reader.

Parlay
Parlay - "To increase or otherwise transform into something of much greater value" (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). Fashion something unique, timely or entertaining that gives you extra pull and currency for your audience.

Personal
Remember that every blog has the potential to become a chat, a personal conversation with someone who might be a great contact for you or your business.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Two works of lyrical modernity

This evening I attended a concert at Walt Disney Hall featuring LA Philharmonic players performing the String Quartets Nos. 10-12 by Shostakovich. The program notes describe these pieces as works of "philosophical lyricism". I agree completely. These quartets combine a remarkably vibrant lyricism shot through with a sense of fracture and alienation that is quintessentially modernist in spirit. Quartet No. 10 was written in 1964 - just 40 years ago.

When I sat down in my seat I noticed an older man sitting two seats to my right in the row in front of me. He looked rather familiar and as I overheard bits and pieces of his conversation I suddenly realized that he was Frank Gehry, the architect who designed Walt Disney Hall. I'm not one to eavesdrop on other conversations but I couldn't resist catching the little stories he was telling to the other couple in his party - such as being brought to tears on first hearing the wonderful acoustics in Disney Hall and the rather long struggle to bring the building to fruition.

When we broke into intermission, the woman next to me leaned over to Mr. Gehry and said something - presumably a compliment of some sorts. I leaned over as well and congratulated him creating such a beautiful concert hall. Like the Shostakovich quartets, Disney Hall is marvelously "lyrical" but in an unconventional sense.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The human resources gap in men's tailoring

There are two gaps actually: generational and geographical.

The first gap is generational because the tailoring tradition has remained largely with the older generation as jobs and skills have migrated to "softer" more cognitive skills. Tailors are getting older and their replacements are virtually nowhere to be found.

The second issue - the importing of foreign skilled labor - is a logical byproduct of the generational gap. The US has long relied on importing tailors from Italy, Greece, Turkey and Southeast Asia. However, as these countries continue to develop economically and experience higher living standards, the incentive to live in the US has declined and the supply of foreign workers appears to have dwindled. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, John Daniel, a cut-make-trim factory based in Tennessee, has gone as far as actively recruiting Turkish tailors and assisting in their emigration to the US.

This seems to be the only real solution for higher end, tailored clothing manufacturers in the US. Tailoring is an artisanal process based on tacit knowledge and practitioner-based experience acquired over time. The best tailors today seem to have worked with the best tailors of a previous generation. And so on. Once this "path dependency" is broken, the industry itself may founder.

On a related note, I came across this interesting discussion thread on tailors in Southeast Asia. AskAndy member Matt discovered a Vietnamese tailor Chuong, a 30-something fellow who directly chalks on the fabric - a technique called "rock of eye" requiring great skill and confidence as a tailor.

This interesting find is suggestive. The key to overcoming the human resources tailoring gap in the US and other advanced economies may be found in identifying a fresh source of semi-skilled and motivated apprentices in Asia, Turkey and elsewhere. This shouldn't be confused with outsourcing, rather it is to ensure skilled tailoring is a domestically sustainable artisanal industry.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Why blogs will change your business - and why they may not

There is an odd quixotic character to blogging. On the one hand, it seems to have revolutionized the very idea of publishing - think easy, accessible self-publishing anytime and anywhere. Think about a world in which every competitor, every customer or every partner could publish whatever he or she wants about your business and more importantly reach a general audience at the click of a button.

On the other hand, most blogs seem to be just little more than updated personal home pages, as this Business Week article wryly notes. That article contains a wonderful image of blogs as "heat maps" of millions of different conversations about something. That something could be X's latest greatest product, Y's lunch with a Famous Person (she did what?) or Z's unfriendly customer service.

Blogging is a new form of interactive media that pushes and pulls a highly personalized blend of content through individualized, interactive channels to an audience. To me, this is the key disruptive idea - each conversation becomes its own channel. It's about creating your own inexpensive, multichannel customer experience.

By sharing some aspect of your professional or personal life, combined deftly and honestly with a commercial intent, you can reap free buzz, PR and awareness. At their best, blogs create fresh opportunities for you to get a first (or second) look by potential customers, partners, sponsors, investors, pundits and influencers (and, of course, competitors and enemies).

The great thing about blogging is that it lowers the cost of one-to-one marketing to almost zero, which can be a godsend for certain low-profile, low exposure, hard to understand markets such as bespoke tailoring.

It's important to understand that there is a conversational aspect to blogging, which puts you in direct contact with the "blogosphere" of ardent, opinionated individuals. If you need to remember just one thing about blogs, always remember that your blog is like a conversation or chat with someone. Be honest and you'll avoid the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune.

Before taking the plunge, it's worthwhile to do a little planning. Check tips 5 and 6 in a recent Business Week article "Six tips for corporate bloggers". I'll post my own tips in the near future.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The best measure to live by - the standard of "excellence"

Today I listened to an interview and profile of Rafe Esquith in an NPR broadcast. Mr. Esquith is a Los Angeles public school teacher with remarkable passion and dedication for instilling excellence in his students. His goal is to create a "culture of excellence" and the results are remarkable.

A great story and lesson for life - one could do a lot worse than strive for excellence.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Italian influence and shopping in Florence

A recent and informative StyleForum discussion thread takes a look at the in's and out's menswear shopping in Florence - primarily from the consumer's point of view of course. I've never been to Florence (just to Milan). Florence, Rome and Milan, are considered the premier destinations for men's clothing in Italy. For my next visit I'd like to check out the atelier of Liverano & Liverano, a Florentine tailor who cuts a dashing suit, which to my eye, crosses the classic square-shouldered Roman with Neapolitan features such as the lapel shape.

This interest in Italian stores brings to mind the larger influences of both England and Italy on menswear. In the modern era, menswear has been dominated by the Italians and English. They dominate the textile mills (i.e. Loro Piana, Holland & Sherry), suit/jacket styles, tailoring traditions and retail brands. I hope to post in the future on the Italian and English influence.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The business behind blogging: Bespoke tailor sees sales lift

Here's a merry statistic behind the buzz of blogs and the business they can potentially generate. According to fellow blogger Red Couch, Tom Mahon's English Cut blog has created a 300% increase in new business in 10 weeks since posting his first blog entry at the beginning of 2005. The English Cut, if I'm not mistaken, is the world's first blog by a bespoke tailor.

Now, this sales lift is probably not sustainable over time but it does illustrate the power of technology-assisted marketing to reach and convert new customers for your product or service. Synergies between $3,000 bespoke suits and RSS feeds - who would have thought?

Yet the logic is powerful - blogs are proven to generate what is known as "buzz". Here's how it works. Blogs immediately extend your available network of influencers (e.g. those who generate buzz). These newly added influencers interact and communicate with their own social networks, clients, peers, colleagues and captive audiences. If the buzz is compelling, it's passed onto their friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Bingo - you've just increased your potential customer base by tapping into the buzz generated by blogs.

The concept should sound familiar. When buzz converts a certain percentage of listeners, that is called old-fashioned "word of mouth". Blog-assisted buzz is just word of mouth plus technology.

Followup to web marketing 101

After I had posted my advice on StyleForum, I received a very nice complimentary message from Alexander Kabbaz. I haven't had the privilege of wearing one of his shirts but many consider Mr. Kabbaz to make the finest bespoke shirts in the US. Needless to say, I was flattered.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Web marketing 101 for bespoke tailors

A few weeks ago I posted some advice to Darren Beaman, an independent tailor on Savile Row, on the StyleForum website. Mr. Beaman was seeking advice and help on improving his website.

Here's my advice in full form:

I've done some internet/technology consulting and I find a common myth about websites is that you just slap something together and you'll be fine. I actually think it would be a useful exercise to keep in mind some things when establishing a web presence:

(1) Understand whom you want to target
Not all customers are equal in terms of value to your business and presumably you would prefer to serve certain kinds of customers over others.

To that end, you can ask yourself if you'd rather target specific kinds of customers such as:
  • Novice
  • Upgraders (from RTW or MTM)
  • Experienced (customers switching from other tailors)
  • Overseas (American/Canadian, continental/European, Asian, etc.)
Without being a tailor myself, I can easily imagine that different types of customers require different levels of service and attention.

(2) Develop key marketing messages "tailored" to customer intents on your website (pun intended)
Below are some sample messages by customer segment:
  • Novice = Patience, knowledge and experience to help you develop the right attire for you and your lifestyle
  • Experienced = No compromise on detail or quality
  • American = Best value in bespoke, flexible visiting schedule
  • Asian = Unstinting service and quality, local language version

(3) Develop content and features to support key messages
For example, the novice user might be interested in an tailoring tutorial while more experienced users may want to see your fabric selection. Or, if you want to make more of a splash and shake things up a little, consider doing something different. I believe Thomas Mahon was the first bespoke tailor on Savile Row to offer up his own weblog (or blog). Quite avant-garde.

But perhaps even more avant-garde, the latest tech trend is "podcasting" which is basically audio-on-demand or audio broadcasts that users can download. You could be the first bespoke tailor on the Row to podcast! Perhaps you could record a "day in the life of" a Savile Row tailor as you interact with a customer or visit a textile mill to order fabrics. The latter could be fascinating and quite informative. In addition, since it is all audio recorded, you wouldn't have to worry about the extra work needed to edit text.

(4) Finally, remember to drive traffic to your site
  • Research and consider buying Google keywords relevant to your business and brand (e.g. Savile Row, bespoke, affordable)
  • Have suppliers, partners and associates link to your site - One idea is linking to a textile mill that you're a customer of (e.g. Holland & Sherry customer page). The reasoning is simple. There are probably quite a few eyeballs going to H&S website, which are relevant to you. You can quite likely divert some of that traffic to your own site.
  • Develop a comprehensive list of metatags relevant to your website and insert in your homepage (e.g. Savile Row, bespoke)
  • Build good old fashioned word of mouth, PR and advertorials (apparel articles highlighting your work)

Savile Row and the winds of change

I came across a blog that mentioned an interesting Evening Standard article on the real estate and business model issues of today's Savile Row. There's no direct link to the ES website but the blog has links to the scanned article.

Incidentally, the blogger in question is apparently one of Thomas Mahon's friends/colleagues who convinced him to do the English Cut blog. A brilliant piece of marketing advice I think.

The article highlights the defining issue of Savile Row from a business perspective - namely, the classic business question of "make v. buy". In other words, do you keep as much of the tailoring/cutting/sewing and production in-house or do you disaggregate/outsource to achieve efficiencies that keeps pricing competitive? The older houses are struggling to keep things in-house in an environment of increasing real-estate prices. This is a classic economic squeeze - with sales flat and costs rising, the number of management options suddenly decrease. For most industries, cutting costs is easier than increasing sales. However, in a high-touch, high-involvement customer experience like bespoke tailoring, increasing sales turnover is even more difficult.

It's a real challenge but I certainly hope the traditional method survives and indeed thrives. If "old" Savile Row survives, it will do so in part because of the loyal support of its customers above and beyond the payment for bespoke apparel. Perhaps the appropriate word is less "customer" and more like a partner or a patron. According to the article, Anderson & Sheppard has survived only because of the "support" of wealthy clients (including Prince Charles).

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Bespoke in Beverly Hills: A visit to Jack Taylor's

Prior to my visit to his shop today, I only had a handful of references to Jack Taylor's.

  • Flusser's entry in Style and the Man describes Taylor's cut as "British-inspired, with narrow shoulders, shaped torso, slant pockets, and deep vents".
  • A recent article on Mr. Taylor in the Los Angeles Times Magazine.

It was a wonderfully mild and sunny day today when I dropped by Jack Taylor's. The shop is on Canon Drive just north of Wilshire Blvd and near Spago's. When I walked in the store, Mr. Taylor greeted me from his desk at the back of the long and rectangular retail space. For a man of 87 years, he has remarkable energy and enthusiasm for the business of tailored clothing.

What did we discuss? Why suits of course. He made no secret of his preference for single button, peaked lapel jackets. But he also said that he would naturally accommodate the customer's wishes. At my request, he brought out a suit jacket and trousers in progress. Interestingly enough, regarding the trousers, he mentioned that he recommends horizontally slanted pockets - something about hanging better for the wearer. He also had some fairly critical comments about MTM garments (which came up because I was wearing one!) but I didn't mind at all.

During our conversation, a customer of his walked in to check on some jackets in progress. He was wearing a superb-looking Taylor sports coat - double vented (fairly deep), slightly roped sleevehead and noticeable waist suppression.

When Mr. Taylor left to attend to the customer, I spoke briefly with one of the tailors who is an assistant to the head tailor. He's a Vietnamese gentleman who said he's been there for 15 years. The head tailor is a Hong Kong-trained tailor who's been working for Jack Taylor for 20 years. He does the pattern cutting. There's also another tailor who's been there for 45 years.

All in all, an interesting set of conversations. As for the future, Mr. Taylor mentioned that his lease is up in 3 years. Amazingly, it appears that his plan is to keep on working at least a few more years! I hope he does as I am looking forward to trying him out (and hopefully Giacomo Trabalza too).

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Disney Hall Concert: Kirov Orchestra

This evening I attended a wonderful concert by the brilliant Kirov Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. The program included Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina Prelude, the Sibelius Violin Concerto (featuring Leonidas Kavakos) and Borodin's Symphony No. 2 in B minor. The orchestra displayed spirited, dynamic intonation and pacing and virtuoso playing by the woodwinds and brass (French horn for example in the Borodin). The Orchestra also performed two delightful encores: excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and Rimsky-Korsakov's Snow Maiden, which Gergiev dedicated to the Pope.

Sartorially, I noticed that the soloist Leonidas Kavakos and Valery Gergiev were similarly attired. They both wore an all-black ensemble with a jacket that looked like a simplified frock coat. It's a rather formal and severe look - perhaps too rectangular and orthagonal for most men's body types I would say.

In contrast, I remember that Yuri Temirkanov, the conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, dressed in traditional white tie and tails when he performed last fall in Disney Hall. Disney Hall, by the way, is an absolutely stunning piece of architecture with wonderfully resonant acoustics.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Bespoke tailors in Los Angeles

Using Flusser's Style and the Man and the Robb Report's list of top tailors as my guide, I discovered that there are at least three bespoke tailors of note in the Los Angeles area. They are (or were):
  • Anthony Gasbarri
  • Jack Taylor
  • Giacomo Trabalza
Unfortunately Mr. Gasbarri passed away in 2003. According to a Variety obituary, Gasbarri's clients included Red Skelton and Steve McQueen. He specialized in a unusual jacket design with no center back seam.

The other two - Taylor and Trabalza - are rather advanced in age (octagenarians I believe) and tailoring institutions in their own right. I hope they continue to ply their trade and hope that they have a team in place that can continue their tailoring traditions.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Oxxford trunk show at Carroll & Co

This afternoon I went to an Oxxford trunk show at Carroll & Co in Beverly Hills. I met and chatted with Mike Cohen, the raffish young president of Oxxford Clothes which is based in the west side of Chicago - "city of the big shoulders". In operation since 1916, Oxxford makes what many consider to be the best RTW and MTM men's suitings made in the US (assuming here that quality is defined primarily by the amount of handwork and handstitching).

Mike took a few measurements along the chest and sleeve and recommended the Radcliffe model for my body type (narrower shoulder and lapel). It looks like Oxxford is making an effort to update their classic full silhouette to reach a perhaps younger clientele. Before my abbreviated fitting with Mike, the representative from Holland & Sherry spent a few minutes going through their latest fabric swatch books - including some beautiful lighter worsteds in their Crystal Springs line.

He also took note of my loafers and thought they were made by the English shoemaker Edward Green, a Northampton-based firm that quite a few shoe aficionados consider to make the finest ready-to-wear men's shoes in the world. Actually they were a pair of English Grenson shoes that I got on sale from Bennie's Shoes. Though not an Edward Green, the Grenson Masterpiece is an elegant shoe with a channelled sole.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Made to measure by Martin Greenfield at Brooks Bros

As I described in an earlier posting, many men decide to move from RTW to MTM. I myself recently made that transition to MTM. Last year around Thanksgiving, I ordered my first MTM garment - a sports jacket - through the Brooks Brothers store in Beverly Hills. In addition, in mid-March, I decided I would also order a MTM suit and scheduled an appointment with Martin Greenfield at the Brooks Brothers.

The appointment involved getting measured by Mr. Greenfield, selecting a fabric and specifying certain features of the sports jacket I was about to order. Mr. Greenfield makes biannual trips in November and March to various flagship Brooks Bros stores around the country to greet and measure customers. Greenfield's cut-make-trim factory handles the made-to-measure business for Brooks Bros. Accompanying the Greenfield entourage were representatives of Loro Piana, a well-known Italian mill.

Today I had my first fitting of the sports jacket I had ordered back in November. Due to a mistake by the factory, the jacket was mistakenly cut with straight rather than slant pockets as I had requested (resulting in what is known as a "pig" or spoiled garment). Normally, it would take 8 weeks but it took nearly five months to recut the jacket. Nonetheless, the jacket turned out beautifully – the fabric, feel and fit. The only quibbles I have are the gorge (a tad bit low) and the lack of pattern matching around the sleeves. But these require the adjustments of a full bespoke process.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Brooks Bros made-to-measure program: Martin Greenfield

Brooks Brothers offers three lines of MTM:

Golden Fleece
Made by Martin Greenfield, the Golden Fleece is Brooks Brothers's highest quality MTM suit and starts at $1,250 for Super 100 fabrics (book A), $1,250 for Super 120s (book B), $1,650 for Super 130s (book E) and can go as high as $2,850 (Super 160s Loro Piana fabric).

The brochure I received says the Golden Fleece suits have "full canvas camel hair chest pieces, linen under collars, genuine horn buttons, hand sewn buttonholes, and over 18 hours of workmanship". Turnaround is about 8 weeks.

Makers
The Makers line, from what I gathered, uses a half-canvassed front and hence cheaper and quicker to make (5 week turnaround). Smaller selection of fabrics as well. Not sure what the pricing is but obviously lower than Golden Fleece.

Select
I didn't inquire into the specifics of the Select line but assume that there is even less handtailoring and lower quality construction (and an even lower price point). The brochure says choose from "100 fabrics and specify your size, model and options with a turnaround time of only 4 weeks."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Shopping guide for short & slim men

For men of short and slim stature, it is remarkably difficult to find clothing off-the-rack that fits well. If you're off a standard deviation or two from the typical RTW sizes, then you have essentially two strategies.

First, you can try your chances by finding a designer brand that cuts their suits, jackets, shirts trousers to a slimmer fitting overall. This is a rather hit and miss proposition as I have found over the years. But here are some ready-to-wear brands that currently offer or have offered slimmer clothing:
Alternatively you can find retailers who stock garments designed for the shorter man. They are listed in these two guides I found on the web:
The second strategy is to go custom, namely, made to measure (MTM) or bespoke. My recommendation is to start with MTM and work upwards to full bespoke. One caveat is that custom made clothing requires more attention to detail and knowledge by the customer and is actually "riskier" from a handwork/production standpoint because there are more human hands involved (e.g. potentially more mistakes). However, the benefits are much better fit and better value in the long run. Unless you have special needs requiring bespoke (e.g. very sloped shoulders), I think it's an easier and more manageable learning curve to migrate from MTM to bespoke (as well as easier on the pocketbook).

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on short & slim shopping guide
- Short Shrifted - Blog on clothing for shorter men

Updated Feb 2010

Monday, March 07, 2005

Casualwear: A list of the "best" blue jeans by aficionados

I enjoy wearing denim jeans but I'm not a keen fan as some are. I've only worn Levi's and Calvin Klein, which, as I understand it, barely scratches the surface on denim wear.

So for all you fans of Paper Denim & Cloth, Nudie, Diesel, etc., here's a list of the top 10 blue jeans (and updated list) by some of the more knowledgeable Style Forum members.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Robb Report's list of top 10 US tailors

As a reference for those doing research on American bespoke tailors, I reproduce here the "best" US tailors from the August 2002 issue of the Robb Report:
  • Joe Centofanti, Philadelphia
  • Chris Despos, Chicago
  • William Fioravanti, New York
  • Christian Garcia, Coral Gables, Fla.
  • Anthony Gasbarri, Los Angeles [passed away August 2003]
  • Leonard Logsdail, New York
  • Manuel Martinez, Baton Rouge, La.
  • Tony Maurizio, New York
  • Frank Shattuck, New York
  • Giacomo Trabalza, Los Angeles
I don't have access to the original article but I believe all of these tailors are fully bespoke rather than made-to-measure.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Genres of dressing: RTW v. MTM v. Bespoke

Most men in their sartorial journey start out with off-the-rack clothing known as ready-to-wear (RTW). The lion's share of the $50 billion US menswear industry goes to RTW sales of suits, jackets, trousers, dress and sports shirts, etc.

RTW apparel are characterized by the fixed nature of their construction and features. RTW suits for example are mass, machine produced in factories, typically with "fused" interlinings in the lapel and coat front. Garment sizes are made for the "average" person. The advantage of RTW suits is affordability as very little human tailoring is involved. The downside is that fused suits often feel stiff and may not last as long as fully canvassed ones.

MTM or made-to-measure is one step up in terms of construction (usually canvassed or half-canvassed) and feature selection. The customer typically selects a fabric (often from a selection numbering in the hundreds), is measured by a specialist sales associate or tailor and selects certain features (such as slanted jacket pockets and lapel width). MTM is often used by a retailer to provide "custom" tailoring. The measurements are used to alter a stock pattern (e.g. a 40R) and the garment is actually made by a "cut-make-trim" factory such as Martin Greenfield Clothiers in Brooklyn, New York, Adrian Jules in Rochester, New York or John H. Daniel in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Bespoke tailoring offers the most customized experience and indeed some aficionados believe it is the sine qua non of a gentleman's sartorial existence. The heart of bespoke tailoring lies in fully individualized pattern making and cutting. Even so, sewing and construction of specific parts of a garment may be outsourced to a specialist tailor (e.g. buttonhole sewing). For certain hard-to-fit individuals, bespoke may be the only satisfactory solution. For certain individuals who are highly exacting in their requirements, bespoke may also be the only satisfactory way to dress.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Where to start - "the beginning is always the best"

Dressing well is never simply about wearing nice clothes. It's not simply about the sheen and surface of appearances unless you wish merely to be a modern philistine. Dressing well is about creating your own story and playing it out authentically, almost as an actor inhabits his role. If you accept this transparency between the interior and the exterior, then you may begin to realize that the cultivated exterior of an individual should point the way to an equally cultivated interior, the character behind the clothes.

Consequently, I will not expound exclusively on topics of apparel (i.e. the virtues of "bespoke" tailoring, the history of Savile Row tailors or the virtues of Neapolitan sartorial style). I am neither an expert on these matters nor is that the heart of the matter. What I propose is quite opposite. In order to dress well, one should start not with the material elements of dress but with a careful examination of yourself and the situation you find yourself in.

The well-dressed man, like the skillful author, does not reveal everything about himself (or his characters) at once. Rather he offers meaningful insights into his world to those who are able to reciprocate.

In order to create your own story, you need to understand the key elements of any sartorial narrative. Here they are:

Genres
  • Ready-to-wear (RTW)
  • Made-to-measure (MTM)
  • Bespoke
Story elements
  • Fit
  • Fabric
  • Construction
Plot
  • Casual
  • Daytime business, semi-formal & formal
  • Evening formal
Cast of players
  • Suits and jackets
  • Trousers
  • Shoes
  • Shirt and tie
I have offered here the raw elements of your narrative but it is up to you to provide the necessary spirit and substance of your story.