Thursday, December 27, 2007

The next generation of tailors: Mutually assured succession

Pop quiz: How many tailors or cutters do you know under the age of 40? Not very many I imagine. In New York City, the Big Four - Raphael, Corvato, Nicolosi and Fioravanti - are in their 60s or 70s. The situation is similar in Los Angeles.

I was prompted to ponder this question by the winter issue of Menswear magazine which featured an article on Italian bespoke tailors in Rome, Turin, Palermo and Naples. One of the younger tailors featured in the article - Alessandro Martorana - is apparently thinking of opening an atelier in Los Angeles.

Planning for a market entry/expansion is usually a sign of a healthy and growing business but also fraught with risks. My advice for foreign, independent tailors seeking to establish a foothold in the American market is the following: think merger and acquisition (M&A) not initial public offering (IPO). What do I mean by this? The difference is simple: acquiring existing operations v. building from scratch. The M&A strategy is to partner and then acquire an existing US tailor's operations and customer list.

The key is focusing on US tailors who are close to retirement, which would appear to be the majority. More specifically, the strategy for the foreign independent is to find a US tailor whose cut and silhouette is similar or one that he can master and execute fairly easily.

Let's be clear here. The primary benefit for the foreign tailor is to acquire an existing clientele. This removes a huge barrier to success in new market entry, namely, where do I get my customers? The retiring US tailor also benefits from this arrangement. He can ensure that his legacy customers are not left stranded. Perhaps equally as important, he can also rest assured that his tailoring name and reputation will live on for at least another generation.

Take Martorana's planned foray into LA as an example. There are at least three top-notch tailors in LA: Giacomo Trabalza, Jack Taylor and Novex. Both Trabalza and Taylor are in their 80s and close to retirement. If I were Martorana, I would seriously consider approaching one of the three (most likely Trabalza) to entertain options.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Video tours: Huntsman and Charvet

Huntsman
Quote from Peter Smith, Huntsman's general manager: "We have our own silhouette at Huntsman, which is a very fitted garment. Our silhouette is a one button front. We cut a slightly longer coat with a natural shoulder."




Charvet
An informative walk-through of this iconic Parisian shirtmaker with store manager Jean-Claudes Colban.

Link to video

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The rise and fall of natural shoulders

Certain men look good in nearly every imaginable cut/silhouette and shoulder treatment. These are rare men endowed with naturally fit and lean frames and half-square shoulders. Can the same be said for specific shoulder treatments (i.e. soft v. structured shoulders)? Is one shoulder the best-looking one for all men? Some declare the natural shoulder look to be the summum bonum of shoulder treatments. Every man, these advocates claim, will look good in a jacket with a natural, unpadded shoulder.

I think the reality is far more nuanced than this, as I lay out in this AskAndy thread on Neapolitan suits. Counterpoint: Examine this picture (courtesy of the The Sartorialist blog). Natural shoulders (on jackets) are indeed pleasing to the eye if your shoulders, anatomically speaking, are naturally even, fairly broad and squared off. If you miss one or more of those elements, the look may not be as pleasing as it could be (examine the left shoulder of the man in the picture above). Here's another example at a recent holiday party in NYC and an excellent AskAndy thread comparing natural v. padded shoulders.

In short, a soft, unpadded, natural shoulder is not a universal look that is advantageous to every man. How does one determine one's own suitability for the natural shoulder? Stay tuned as I'm tackling this very problem more systematically in my forthcoming book project.

Friday, December 21, 2007

How to tie a bow tie

I touched on the topic of tying necktie knots in an earlier entry. Thanks to a recent StyleForum thread, I'm linking to a couple of useful visual tutorials to tying bow ties in particular.

The first is a Washington Post slide show which is especially thorough and specific in its explanation.

The second is a short video clip illustrating how to tie bow ties with adjustable neck collars:

VideoJug: How To Tie A Bow Tie

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Giacomo Trabalza in 2008

I spoke with a close colleague of Trabalza today and it appears the lease on his current shop is set to expire sometime next year. Nothing is certain yet but lease renewals can be a dicey proposition for the lessee. I see four possible outcomes:
  • Renewal of lease with minimal increase in rent (suit prices stay the same)
  • Renewal of lease with significant increase in rent (suit prices go up)
  • Move to a new location
  • Retirement
I hope things turn out well but nonetheless I may want to accelerate my first order with this highly experienced tailor before one or more of the above events happen.

Sam Hober ties

This StyleForum thread discusses a bit of the history behind Sam Hober ties (formerly Mulberrywood) and David's approach to design and tiemaking. I was in Thailand back in September and we were supposed to meet for tea at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. Unfortunately, our schedules didn't cooperate. Perhaps next time!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Trouser sidetabs

In my quest for properly fitting trousers, I initially found it difficult to make sense of the seemingly myriad waistband options available for unbelted or beltless trousers. These included: Daks top, D-ring adjusters, button sidetabs, waistband level v. below-the-waistband positioning. What were these and what do they look like?

This LondonLounge thread contains the best photos of sidetabs that I have seen to date. For Daks top trousers in particular, check out this thread.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Affordable bespoke tailors for less than $1,500

In the Los Angeles area, we have a couple of bespoke options with some folks reporting favorable results with both.

1. Ariel Tello (no website, AskAndy thread, StyleForum thread)
2. Johnathan Behr (StyleForum thread, AskAndy thread)
3. Novex (no website, Sleevehead blog entries) - Novex deserves an honorable mention. Suits start at $1,600 for customer supplied fabric.

In New York City, there are at least 5 bespoke or semi-bespoke tailors charging less than $1,500 per suit according to this StyleForum thread:

1. Traguardo
2. Mr. Ned (no website, StyleForum thread)
3. Giliberto Designs
4. Ercole's Creative Fashions (AskAndy thread)
5. Winston Tailors - Chipp

Updated 04/21/09

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A bespoke patrimony

In the current issue of Men's Vogue, John Seabrook writes on the quandary - an embarrassment of riches actually - of assuming a remarkable inheritance - 130 Savile Row suits, 500+ Jermyn Street shirts and 50+ pairs of Edward Green shoes. His father was named one of Esquire's best dressers in the 1960s for good reason. The conundrum is simple. Although the jackets fit Mr. Seabrook, he has no interest in wearing his father's clothes. What to do? Here's the accompanying AskAndy thread on the Men's Vogue article.

I wrote on precisely this quandary in an earlier entry on the passage of bespoke clothing through the generations. Actually, if I had an extra room, I would gladly assume the collection. Had I but closet enough and time!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Two style icons: Fred Astaire & Rita Hayworth

Of course, the more well-known pairing is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers but things were never lovelier, richer or more sublime than Astaire and Hayworth. They were an impossibly superb dance couple. And Astaire's dancing clothes were phenomenal in an unobtrusive way. One is reminded of the dictum that form follows function. On Astaire, everything made of cloth followed and flowed together. And then there is Hayworth who, needless to say, was non pareil wearing pretty much anything.

Enjoy the videos below. Among many things done well, Astaire wears a high wing collar shirt that is well proportioned to his face and frame. He does this in both black and white tie. But perhaps more importantly you can see Astaire and Hayworth enjoying each other's company in an interplay of movement that is both immensely carefree and carefully attuned to each other. A remarkable on-screen couple indeed.

Montage from You Were Never Lovelier and You'll Never Get Rich


Trailer for You Were Never Lovelier


You'll Never Get Rich rehearsal scene


Additional links
- Film synopsis of You'll Never Get Rich
- Film synopsis of You Were Never Lovelier

Updated 01/16/14

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dressing for a night at the opera

AskAndy member Sator wrote up this wonderful thread on dressing for the opera for both men and women. Although very few dress up in black or white tie nowadays, at least you have a picture of the ideal incarnation after reading his description. I also found the photos and drawings of women's evening dresses to be quite stunning.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Quality clothing: The times they are a-changin'?

Anecdotally at least, there has been a number of positive developments in the past year or so in favor of quality menswear. We've seen better distribution of existing products, as well as new lines of products. This is almost certainly driven by greater demand, which in turn has generated additional media coverage and exposure.

Some news and events to ponder:
  • Edward Green's recently launched Top Drawer made-to-order shoes are reported to be backlogged for months
  • High end retailers are now stocking and offering quality shoes. Witness Paul Stuart's new MTO and bespoke program and Bergdorf Goodman's revamped shoe department now offering John Lobb. Within the past month, high-end retailer Gary's in Orange County began to stock Edward Green and Bontoni.
  • In the US, at least three new high-end men's magazines have been launched in the past year: Classic Style, The Men's Book (LA-based) and Men's Vogue.
This interest in good clothing is perhaps not very novel, especially in Asia. In my visit to Southeast Asia recently, I picked up the anniversary issue of a Singaporean men's lifestyle publication called August Man. Although not focused on bespoke tailoring, this and other recently launched magazines are expanding their coverage of quality clothing. All in all, a good sign.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on Gary's
- Styleforum thread on Japanese shoe magazines (Men's Ex and Last)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bespoke experiences on YouTube.com

I was struck (and amused) by the enthusiasm of the first clip, and also by the fact that bespoke in Southeast Asia is available at very low price points. Hence, it's within reach for everyman in that part of the world. This makes the learning curve and experimentation of bespoke much more palatable for beginners. The contrast with the two Poole clips below is instructive. The Savile Row customer is clearly a different animal in many respects but there is a curious continuum (and continuity) between bespoke customers and the tailors themselves even across continents and price points.

The second clip shows the fitting process and what turns out to be a decently fitting suit (though undoubtedly fused given the quoted price).

David Fashions (Hong Kong)


St. Michael's (Bangkok)

Henry Poole on YouTube.com

TotallyLondon's tour of Poole


Classic Style's interview with Simon Cundey, Director, Henry Poole

American trad: West Coast & East Coast

The retailers of "American trad" are usually associated with the East Coast, specifically New England. These are shops like J. Press and the Andover Shop and, in the South, shops like Ben Silver and Eljos.

Member NukeMeSlowly recently visited what is probably the leading West Coast retailer of trad - Cable Car Clothiers in San Francisco. He took extensive photos in this StyleForum thread and AskAndy thread. The closest trad competitor in California probably would be Carroll & Co. in Beverly Hills.

I've found some excellent, unusual items from trad retailer O'Connell's, which is based in Buffalo, NY. Be sure to check their Customer Pictures section, where the store picks out selected items from their sizeable inventory for display. They have some amazing new old stock Invertere storm coats (one vicuna lined, another alpaca-lined), which are unfortunately not in my size. Invertere Coatwrights (est. 1904) is a venerable English make that is apparently no longer in business. Creator of the "buffer coat", the company seems to have closed down and then attempted to relaunch (link to website placeholder and contact info).

Monday, September 03, 2007

The next bespoke frontier: China

This AskAndy thread on Henry Poole's recent expansion into mainland China has ruffled more than a few feathers. I have a different perspective. Assuming the original post is genuinely representative of Henry Poole's activities, I think the objections raised in the thread are rather missing the larger point. There are in fact emerging trends in supply and demand for bespoke clothing that make Poole's activities in China (as well as Kilgour's and Davies & Son's) quite justifiable and even savvy.

Consumer demand and growth. China is one of the fastest growing luxury goods markets in the world. According to this excellent Wharton article, China is already the third largest luxury goods market globally. China's growth will most likely follow the American model of postwar growth - middle-class driven and consumption-oriented. When the economy matures fully in the next two decades, it will probably be the largest market not only for luxury goods but for a wide swath of goods and services. Here are some numbers to think about. Currently, there are 400 million middle class consumers in China. The Chinese middle class alone exceeds the gross population of the US and that number is growing by 20-30 million per annum.

Replicating the supply chain - go for the trifecta. Skilled tailors are in short supply across mature industrial economies, especially Europe and the US. Let's not get into the reasons for this shortfall, except to say job expectations among the young in the workforce have shifted elsewhere. Where in the world are people willing (and eager) to learn a labor intensive skill? Ah yes, that would be China. Of course, there are cost efficiencies to be gained by locating in China. But the smart move for a tailoring firm would be to take advantage of all three factors: the available skilled labor pool, low wages and a potentially massive local market to fund growth and operations.

For example, Davies & Sons is behind this Anglo-Chinese effort to transfer Savile Row production methods to China. Although the pictures of their joint training workshops are interesting, even more intriguing is the fact that bespoke tailoring is part of an artisanal tradition as depicted by this tailoring museum in Ningbo. Given the right mix of trainers and tradition, I think it's quite possible for Savile Row techniques to be transplanted successfully.

In summary, if I were a Poole (or Kilgour, etc) director, I would most certainly have a China strategy, both for supply chain reasons and medium to long-term growth opportunities. To not have one would be very short-sighted.

Update: Interestingly enough, Sartoria Partenope, a Neapolitan RTW brand, is opening up a store in Beijing according to this AskAndy thread. Opportunity is knocking, as they say.

Additional links
- Wharton article on China's recent quality woes and the idea of quality fade
- An AskAndy thread on the apparent oxymoron of Chinese luxury goods

Bel y Cia update: Teba jacket

I normally avoid posting photos of jackets on hangers mainly because they often look rather lifeless or less than flattering. Nonetheless, below is a picture of my MTM Teba jacket from Bel y Cia. It has four buttons and displays an impressive amount of lapel roll (to second button). Keep in mind the Teba's practical and hunting heritage - hence the four buttons. There are also two collar buttons underneath the lapel that can be fastened. The jacket features a patch breast pocket, two patch pockets and one interior chest pocket. The color I chose was an olive-gray, which is swatch #24 (see photos of the two swatch books in my earlier entry on Bel y Cia).

Bel y Cia Teba jacket

Bel y Cia Teba jacket (flickr)

In terms of construction, it is entirely unpadded and unlined except for a small area on each side of the upper chest. The shoulder is constructed like a shirt shoulder rather than a normal jacket shoulder. Buttonholes are handmade and straight seams appear to be machine-sewn. Since the jacket is MTM, I should also note that the armhole is larger than on my bespoke jackets.

Overall, I am very pleased with the jacket and will probably think about ordering a linen version for the summer. This I can order over the phone or email since I have no adjustments to make on the jacket. For anyone traveling to Barcelona to place an order, I recommend getting measured twice and being quite specific about waist suppression and sleeve length. I did both and these contributed to the end product. And don't forget to pick up the two swatch books for future orders.

Note: Spelling correction made from Tiba jacket to Teba jacket. Updated photo 12/8/08

Additional links
- London Lounge thread on the Teba jacket

New fabric: 3-ply glenplaid

I recently acquired a length of medium brown glenplaid with pink overcheck woven by an English mill. The ground is actually a bit darker than the swatch photo. Weight is 320g (11oz) and it's a robust 3-ply weave with a very firm yet feathery hand and dry finish.

Dark brown glencheck

Harold at Novex just recently finished completing a 2 piece suit out of it for me. Here's the finished product:

Novex SB brown glenplaid 02Novex SB brown glenplaid 01

He prefers making a straight Roman-style shoulder and full cut trousers. The shoulder of this particular suit has about half of the usual shoulder padding he uses. The tie is made by Sam Hober and the shirt by Freddy Vandecasteele.

Vienna update: Knize, Netousek, Maftei, Materna, Balint

I came across this recent report on Viennese tailors and shoemakers by LL member smoothjazzone. He provides a nice update to my purely web-based reportage nearly 2 years ago on Knize and Netousek.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Cifonelli

Fellow blogger Will recently visited Cifonelli, the iconic tailor of the Continental shoulder, described in this entry. His visit confirms the presence of significant handwork and handpadding in their jackets.

Photo essay: A visual history of the blazer

Today is photo essay catch-up day. Take a look at this nice photo essay on the blazer by AskAndy member Doctor Damage.

Photo essay: Retail menswear circa 1916-1921

One of the little joys found on clothing forums is the virtual photo essay. Some of the essays can be real gems. This is an AskAndy thread showing the window displays of an early 20th century Buffalo retailer called Weed.

I especially liked the well-proportioned 4x2 and 6x3 double breasted jackets, sportswear (e.g. Norfolk jackets) and outerwear.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Black Fleece: Thom Browne + Brooks Bros

Black Fleece is a new line complementing Brooks Brothers' Golden Fleece line of suits, jackets and accessories. Overseeing the design of Black Fleece is the somewhat controversial Thom Browne. His jackets are noticeably shorter than convention, as are the legs of the trousers. In 2006, Thom Browne won the best menswear design by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

This StyleForum thread illustrates some of his runway designs, some of which will presumably hit the stores this fall. On a more amusing note, I asked a senior salesman at one of the larger Brooks Bros stores about the Thom Browne designs. I don't wish to get him in trouble by reproducing his rather funny response but suffice to say the Black Fleece line is a break from tradition in some respects (though the outerwear shown on the runway are very traditionally English for the most part).

It's too early to tell but I think Black Fleece is a rather smart move - fresh enough to attract new, younger buyers but familiar enough not to alienate current customers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Musical detour: Sir Edward Elgar

2007 happens to be the 150th anniversary of Sir Edward Elgar's birth (1857-1934). If you live in England, you may wish to investigate the Elgar Society. It's too late to join in their birthday bash for the composer but you can check the website for local music festivals in England.

Across the Atlantic, Elgar is unfortunately played less frequently. But the Bard Music Festival in New York remedies this quite nicely this summer. As the New York Times review of the Bard Music Festival says, Elgar is too often the subject of critical dismissal. But his skill in constructing a sense of "lofty pathos" remains unparalleled. Also notice the photograph of him in black tie and high wing collar in the article. I have yet to read a biography of his life but photos suggest an Edwardian gravitas in keeping with his music.

Below is a 1931 short film of Elgar conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1 ("Land of Hope and Glory").

More on shoes: construction methods and brogues

For those sorting out the differences between blake stitching and Goodyear welts, this Stijlforum thread provides a good visual on the different shoe construction methods.

Also, ever wondered what the differences were between quarter, half and full brogues? This AskAndy thread should be able to answer them once and for all.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Shoemaking: Four video essays

Marcel Szabo, a Hungarian shoemaker, has posted four videos showing the early phases of shoemaking.

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


Thanks to Janne Melkersson, a Swedish cordwainer, for posting this in a StyleForum thread.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The white sharkskin suit

I spoke with a tailor recently who recounted the days back in the 1960s when he regularly made white, unlined sharkskin suits. He also wore them himself. Apparently they were quite the thing to wear in Los Angeles at that time. Unfortunately, he said the fabric is no longer available today. If anyone has a picture of a white sharkskin suit, please let me know.

By coincidence, there is a new book called "The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit", which is a memoir of life in Cairo before and after the Second World War (review, book). The title refers to the author's nattily dressed father.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cary Grant - a sharp dressed man



Here's a clever montage of Grant in top form throughout his cinematic career. All cut and synced to ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man". Needless to say, Grant does everything well whether he's wearing a 2 piece suit, 3 piece suit, single breasted, double breasted, dinner jacket / tuxedo, white tie and tails or morning coat.

Thanks to jml90 for posting this in a StyleForum thread.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Camps de Luca

Thanks to LL member Jackson in this thread, here's a short TF1 video clip of the French tailoring house of Camps de Luca featuring head cutter (chef coupeur) Mario Valente and tailors Marc de Luca and Charles de Luca. You will see an example of the cran Necker notch style in the middle of the clip when Charles de Luca pulls out a jacket made for French singer Claude Francois.

Camps jt
Uploaded by H6CT6W02B

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A visit to Barcelona: Bel y Cia and Xanco

Bel y Cia

IMG_0423

Bel y Cia is a men's haberdashery situated on the Paseo de Gracia in central Barcelona. There is also a separate women's store, which is to the left of the picture above. The front half of the men's Bel y Cia store features a generous selection of Edward Green shoes. By my count, there were 32 models on the wall, 16 on the center table - several appeared to be unique designs for Bel y Cia. Derbies and oxfords predominated – suede in various shades of brown were well-represented. I only saw one casual loafer.

IMG_0421

According to Sebastian, the excellent salesman who assisted me, the RTW jackets are made by Italian workshops in Milan and Rome. The jackets in the store do have some shoulder padding and look Roman or Milanese in terms of cut (though the white linen jacket in the window display above appears to have a fairly soft shoulder).

IMG_0430

At the back of the store is the made to measure room with examples of their unique Teba jacket. The jacket is named after the nobleman who inherited the original hunting jacket worn by King Alfonso XIII. An older gentleman on the staff walked into the backroom, pulled out a book on the Spanish royalty and asked if I knew the story. The original had wider lapels which closed together to provide warmth during hunting. Teba wore the original jacket out and brought it to Bel y Cia in 1946 to reproduce it. Apparently, it was a very effective story since I placed an order for a MTM Teba jacket in a dark grey wool-cashmere with a hint of green.

The MTM room contains bolts of in-stock cloth that can be ordered and delivered relatively quickly. They also carry swatch books from Loro Piana.

IMG_0431

Sebastian gave me two swatch books for any future orders of the Teba jacket. I came in for a second visit to make sure my measurements were precise. Incidentally, if you are planning to visit in the summer, Fridays are the busiest day of the week according to Sebastian. This is because their clientele tends to leave the city on the weekend and drop by the store before they leave.

IMG_0453

The left swatches are wool-cashmere, the fabrics on the right are summerweight linen.

Xanco Shirtmakers

IMG_0433

I discovered this MTM and RTW shirtmaker while strolling down La Rambla, the famed pedestrian boulevard running down Barcelona.

IMG_0434

In my limited Spanish borrowed from a half-knowledge of Italian, I asked about "su misura" shirts and the woman who assisted me replied that it was possible. MTM shirts take about two weeks and are made locally in Barcelona, she said. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask about the price, so I have little to report there.

IMG_0435_cropped

But if you are planning to spend a couple of weeks in Spain, it might be worthwhile to try Xanco. Their display shirts look very comfortable and appropriate for warmer climates.

Note: Spelling correction made from Tiba jacket to Teba jacket.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Savile Row - Summer 2007

Fallan & Harvey / Meyer & Mortimer
IMG_0442

Norton & Sons / Henry Poole
IMG_0443

IMG_0444

Davies & Sons - Morning coat
IMG_0445

The cult of the handmade/handsewn

It is quite interesting the extreme sacrifices and rituals made in the name of this cult. Some sacrifices are made to uphold the handsewn creed, others to dissect it.

This StyleForum thread shows the graphic results of cutting open a Kiton MTM jacket and exposing the apparent chasm between sales mythology and the painful facticity of one filleted jacket.

Interested in joining the cult? Here's a bonus tool for interested initiates. Please do read this AskAndy thread on spotting a handsewn collar and canvas.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Two umbrellamakers: James Smith & Sons and Mario Talarico

Last month I was in NYC and London, which afforded me the opportunity to compare the English and Italian approaches to the handmade umbrella.

Let's do Italy first. Mario Talarico umbrellas appear to have very limited retail distribution outside of Italy. As this StyleForum thread on Talarico umbrellas describes, they can certainly be bought in the original workroom/store in Naples. However, I have discovered a US source for these refined umbrellas. By refined I mean the construction of the shaft, the character of the wood and finish, and selection of canopy fabrics (woven silk). As far as I know the only US source is Worth & Worth (aka Bellucci & Palacios) on 57th St in NYC.

According to Nedo Bellucci at Worth & Worth, the umbrellas have a lifetime warranty and feature a double steel frame. Further, he said that Talarico is one of only two or three handmade umbrellamakers left in the world. The other, he said, is in London, which I believe refers to Smith & Sons. When I visited, Worth & Worth had about ten compact or folding umbrellas in various patterned silks ($180) and five or so full-length umbrellas including a whangee ($315). At the moment, these appear to be cheaper in the US than in Italy.

After my NYC trip, I went to London and stayed in Soho. My hotel was within walking distance of Smith & Sons (see this London Lounge thread). The weather cooperated very nicely for an umbrella purchase - it was grey and rainy most of my time there. I visited James Smith on a Sunday and the store happened to be open because Ian, one of the craftsman working down in the basement, had opened the doors for a work break.

The store (link to photos) is organized such that the racks of umbrellas and walking sticks go up in price/quality as you walk along the right half of the store after entering. The third photo in the link above shows the priciest racks of umbrellas. Ian showed me a gorgeous looking, one piece walking stick umbrella in Irish blackthorn that he had made (185 GBP). Blackthorn is a dense wood with very little give. This particular model had a marvelously rich and dark burnish on the knob. The only problem was that it was a bit long (26 inch length) for me, which meant the tip would be a bit short of the recommended four inches. So in the end I went with a hazel root knob version, which is a little bit lighter and less dense wood but the right length for me (see below).

IMG_0456

I think the differences between the two umbrellamakers could be described in antinomies like rustic v. refined or simple (black) v. richer canopy colors. To me, the one-piece English brolly, as executed by Smith & Sons, conveys solidity and simplicity. The Talarico umbrella is an exercise in refinement, adding color and perhaps a touch of sleekness to the frame.

Incidentally, I opted to bring my Smith umbrella with me and chance the vicissitudes of checking in the umbrella. The alternative was shipping the item, which would have added 50 GBP for California destinations. One of the fellows in the store carefully boxed and packed the brolly in a long reinforced box. Upon arrival, I picked up the box undamaged at the baggage carousel (to my natural relief!).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Bellucci & Palacios: A Neapolitan surprise in NYC

From Hats to Suits

On a recent visit to New York City, I went up to 57th St to visit the hatshop of Worth & Worth. My intent was to find a nice straw hat – a natural, unbleached Panama - which I did, thanks to the solicitous help of proprietor Orlando Palacios. Orlando did a fine job selecting and fitting the hat shape and brim to my face. But another surprise awaited me. When I walked into the store, I naturally noticed the racks of hats on the right but I also saw a long table with shirting fabrics and cloth books. I found that a bit odd since I thought Worth & Worth was strictly a hat shop. Nonetheless, Orlando and I started to chat and we got onto the subject of Naples, a city he loves to visit.

This naturally segued into Neapolitan clothing and tailoring and voila – he walked me to the back and introduced his partner Nedo Bellucci. They are introducing their take on soft-shouldered Neapolitan tailoring to the Big Apple. It is a bit ironic that their shop is just two floors away from the quintessential tailor of the square-shouldered power suit - William Fioravanti.

Nedo moved to NYC almost three years ago to start their business. He himself is not a cutter but serves as the fitter and US liaison for Bellucci & Palacios bespoke. He lives and works in NYC for part of the year. It will be interesting to see how this works. I suspect it may not be the best arrangement for the hard-to-fit due to additional communication layer between Nedo and the cutters back home.

But the choices for Neapolitan in the US are limited. Apart from visiting tailor Sabino and occasional visits to NYC by Rubinacci, the only Neapolitan option with a semi-permanent US presence appears to be Bellucci & Palacios. Some would argue that, like the terroir of viticulture, authentic Neapolitan tailoring can only be found in Naples (see this marvelous journey by uppercase in the London Lounge). If so, then the exceptions should be all the more interesting I think.


MTM or Bespoke?

This
AskAndy thread on Neapolitan tailors in NYC suggests that Bellucci & Palacios are MTM. As far as I can tell, the process appears to be bespoke in that each customer has his own pattern. I also saw several skeleton bastes in my two visits and was told that two or three fittings is the norm. On further inquiry, Nedo said customer patterns are stored digitally on a computer and printed out when needed, which saves on paper and storage space. This might also suggest the process is MTM but I certainly hope not! On a different note, he also talked about the lack of young apprentices (maybe one in ten trainees completes the requisite training).

On my first visit,
I was shown a skeleton baste with the sleeves attached and I noted the characteristic waterfall sleevehead and high gorge. Nedo said they are able to do no padding but recommend a very light wad of padding. For suits, they usually add a puff or roping (rollino). He also said that the armhole will be even higher than the Savile Row blazer I was wearing, which I will be interested in seeing. Other recommendations he made (some flashier than others): 3-2 button, flat front trousers, slightly wider cuffs, contrast stitching on buttonholes, first sleeve button in a lighter shade than the other buttons.

The fabric selection for suitings and jacketings includes: Zegna, Vitale Barberis Canonico, Loro Piana, Ariston Napoli 130s/150s/180s. I ordered a two piece suit in Ariston Napoli Preziosi Super 130s glen check (270g). Pricing starts at $2,500 for suits.

They also make Neapolitan style shirts. Nedo showed a model with a slightly abbreviated shoulder line terminating just short of the shoulder. He seemed to suggest this gives better articulation of the arm - sort of like a very scaled down raglan sleeve.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Novex - Details, details, details

I picked up the completed two piece suit today and took a shot of the storefront before I left. Harold clearly takes pride in his work. The lapel has a nice belly and fullness to its shape (My sense is that he'd make a superb looking shawl collared dinner jacket). On the trousers, he adds small stitching details - what I would call 'knotted' pick stitching - on the trouser pocket edge and the flyfront face. A somewhat unusual detail or at least one that I haven't seen on other trousers. He invited me to wear the suit for a few weeks so that it can settle in and come back with any adjustments.

Novex storefront 02


A couple of additional details for those interested in trying Novex. If I order another jacket or suit, I'll request a couple of changes. First, a straight buttonhole on the lapel. He makes a keyhole button as standard but said he would accommodate my request. Second I'll ask for a slightly smaller (or shallower) notch. The notch is cut a little bit deeper into the lapel than my other jackets - a la the cran Necker notch style of the Parisian cutter Francesco Smalto. This London Lounge thread illustrates and discusses the cran Necker notch style. It's a distinctive look but I think it works better for larger framed customers.

July 2007 update: On a recent visit, I learned that Harold spent a year in Rome training with a tailor named Santorelli (back in 1969). So his grounding is in the Roman cut. Good to get confirmation of my initial impression of his cutting style, which I described as Roman/Continental. The other interesting tidbit is that he makes suits for the manager of the Beverly Hills Turnbull & Asser shop. When I visited, I was wearing a Kilgour sports coat and Harold was curious to take a closer look at it. I obliged him and he was favorably impressed with the cut (esp. the shoulders and sleeves) but pointed out the somewhat closed front quarters, which I conceded could be more open. Perhaps not surprisingly, in his opinion, the English make the best cloths, but the Italians are the better tailors.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Novex: The second fitting

I stopped by Novex today for my second fitting. All in all, the fit was extremely good - Harold breezed through the standard 'punch list' for a jacket fitting - collar fit, front and back balance, jacket length, sleeve pitch, button stance and gorge. The admirable characteristics I noted in my earlier entry remain - a touch of waist suppression, relaxed and open front quarters, a clean but full chest and a crisp, subtly concave shoulder line (with roping I should add). Actually, the cut is rather similar to Kilgour, but with less shoulder drape. To mix metaphors, Novex's house style could be described as Roman/Continental shoulder with a dash of Neapolitanism (open front quarters).

The side-tabbed trousers also turned out well, perhaps a touch loose in the stride but very comfortable and slightly tapered. I should note that there was no trouser try-on in the first fitting, so make sure you note any trouser preferences in your first appointment with Harold. In my case, I prefer a longer zipper than the one he made for me.

Harold also made a point of saying that the jacket front will stay together even without being buttoned up. This is an interesting point though I would suspect that should hold true for all properly made jackets.

I look forward to picking up the completed suit next week, which is very good turnaround - just two and a half weeks from order to completion.

Friday, May 25, 2007

LA's tailoring triumvirate complete? Enter Novex

Giacomo Trabalza and Jack Taylor are the two preeminent bespoke tailors in Los Angeles. I have long been wondering if there might be a third in the city of their caliber and reputation. There just might be and the tailor's shop is called Novex. In this AskAndy thread on Novex, Panzeraxe describes running across it while shopping in Beverly Hills. I had never come across the shop myself and was intrigued. A long term goal of mine is to try Trabalza and Taylor before they retire. But I'm at least another suit away from trying those two since I decided to experiment with Novex first.

I visited late last week to check out his shop, which is just to the west of the central shopping area around Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. It's actually just a couple of blocks away from the Turnbull & Asser shop. The head tailor is an older gentleman named Harold. He is not Italian as the AskAndy thread suggests but actually Armenian. The shop is a two story affair, with the workrooms on the second floor and the fitting room and display racks with cloth bolts on the ground floor. Metered parking is in the rear at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd and Roxbury.

In terms of cloth selection, you have three options. He stocks in the store bolts from Tip-Top, a cloth supplier in Brooklyn, NY. In fact, when I was visiting, the UPS delivery person walked in and delivered a package from Tip Top. Two piece suits from stock cloth runs $1,900. If you order from his swatches (I saw Holland & Sherry and couple of books from Italian mills), pricing starts at $2,000. Finally, if you bring your own cloth, two piece suits are $1,600. Not bad for a fully bespoke suit.

So what's Harold's preferred style? He likes to cut a structured, padded shoulder with a clean but shaped chest and waist. I asked about the shoulder specifically and he said he likes to make a structured line. My inquiry about the chest yielded a similar response - he likes to shape the chest a bit. But he also seems quite flexible around other parameters. When I inquired about gorge height, lapel width, button stance and jacket length, he said "Whatever you like". So I decided to place an order and went with an in-stock Super 120s English cloth sourced from Tip Top (selvedge reads "Duncan") in light gray sharkskin. The suit will be two button, the trousers furnished with external side tabs. Harold proceeded to take measurements of my chest, arm length, armhole and legs, noted them down on the invoice and that was pretty much it. A fairly minimalist approach to measurement.

Today I went in for the first fitting and was greeted with a skeleton baste (no sleeves, just the body with inlays). I tried it on and Harold pinned in the shoulders and collar. I checked the front and back length and requested a shorter front, which he pinned to my satisfaction on the first try. I must say he has a good eye. I also requested a higher button stance which I showed and he made a chalk mark across the front where my finger was. The waist is nicely suppressed but not extreme by any measure. I also liked the way he keeps relatively open front quarters, which I noted approvingly by showing what I did not want, namely, the fronts closed up. His reaction was interesting, "It would not be a good jacket if it were closed up like that!"

The second fitting is next week but my preliminary assessment is quite favorable thus far. If you have a specific idea of what you like, Harold may fit the bill in providing the flexibility needed. There might of course be limits to this - I'm not sure if he'd be willing to do a truly soft, unpadded jacket. First things first however and we'll see how this suit turns out.

History of the roped shoulder

This is an interesting AskAndy discussion on the history of the roped shoulder. From what I could gather at the "A Rakish History of Menswear" exhibition in the New York Public Library, roped shoulders were featured in men's jackets and coats from at least the 1830s, probably earlier.

So when should modern odd and suit jackets have roped shoulders? That's a question which I hope to address more systematically in my book project. But suffice to say it works most effectively with slim to average builds with sloping or half-square shoulders.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Apparel Arts: Fall 1934 issue digitized

Apparel Arts is the de facto magazine of record for men's clothing in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. It has achieved somewhat of a cult status for its colored illustrations of lounge suits, formal wear, collegiate styles and leisure wear. Judged in the dint of today's light, these illustrations and advertisements provide a remarkable glimpse of a vanished (or was it vanquished?) world of clothing.

Forget the Google book-scanning project! A philanthropic Fedora Lounge member has already scanned the contents of the Fall 1934 issue in this thread. Quite a feast for the eyes: observe and learn.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Goldarth's article on bespoke shoes, Lobb and Cleverley

For the more visually inclined, this article on bespoke shoes provides an excellent primer on the constituent parts of a traditionally constructed men's dress shoe. The article also introduces two well-known shoemakers, Lobb and Cleverley. Thanks to toniok on StyleForum for posting this.

The same website also has another article providing a nice peek inside Lock & Co, the St. James hatter.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Soft v. structured tailoring: Myth and reality

I think one of the most widely held assumptions of men's clothing aficionados is the belief that softly tailored jackets offer more freedom of movement and comfort than structured jackets. And why not? It seems intuitively obvious. However, as many a philosopher can confess, unexamined beliefs are often the cause of much misunderstanding and misinformation.

I raised the question of myth v. reality in soft and hard tailoring in this AskAndy thread. I did so because my own experience tells me that structure is not restrictive. In fact, I have structured jackets in heavier cloth that offer greater freedom of movement than jackets in lighter cloth with less padding. Hence, the statement that more structure means less freedom of movement does not ring true to me.

Let's dissect the claim often made on behalf of soft tailoring. It is argued that less (or lighter) canvas and padding and handsewing of seams are important to maintaining freedom of movement. I contend that these add little to a jacket's freedom of movement compared to other factors, namely, cut/pattern. The real benefit of handsewing is primarily a psychological one for the wearer. Compared to machine sewing, handsewing might give you an additional millimeter of flex across the seam. But this does not make a material difference in what is called the "primary range of motion" (POM).

In the discussion thread, AskAndy member (and tailor) jsprowls9 wrote these two following insightful gems:
  • "A structured garment and a soft-styled garment should feel equally comfortable when worn. Each will weigh differently upon the body by the nature of their styling and how the components are distributed. But, the myth about understructure impeding Primary Range of Motion (POM) is just that - a myth."
  • "Structured garments, when properly executed, promote greater POM because there is understructure (more than just canvas) which ensure the garment hangs from the body properly and accounts for POM with the greatest degree of accuracy."
Hard v. soft tailoring is one of the basic divisions of men's style. My advice is to understand what each tailoring concept is ultimately capable of in theory and practice before consigning one or the other to the sartorial dustbin.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

For tailors: Managing/shaping demand through blogs

Blogs can provide short-term sales spikes and perhaps even smooth out the seasonality of sales in the bespoke tailoring business and provide a predictable demand curve. Of course, the most well-known and successful example of this is Thomas Mahon and his blog the English Cut. Beyond simply sustaining a business, he actually grew and expanded his tailoring business through his blog back in 2005. He now makes visits to several cities in the US.

I'm thinking out loud but here are some ideas for a tailor thinking of an overseas visit. Search Feedster, Technorati or another blog search engine and get familiar with the most active blogs in your intended city (preferably one with an active blog community). Washington, D.C., I suspect, is one. Invite the blogger to a fitting, ask for an interview, take pictures, provide a couple of nice sound bites. The idea is to get mentioned or featured in a few blog entries to establish your brand. Don't forget to mention that you're thinking of an upcoming visit. Then wait for the appointments to come in. This is active viral marketing through blogs.

Alternatively, do an RSS search to establish a connection with your intended city and the customers who live there. Want to create a customer base in Atlanta? Then post a series of blogs showing that you address an unmet tailoring need and make sure you have an active site feed to Feedster. This is passive viral marketing.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Odd trousers

Fellow sartorial blogger Will has published a useful post on essential odd trousers on his blog, A Suitable Wardrobe. This is tremendously useful advice for anyone seeking to expand his clothing repertoire, especially MTM and bespoke.

The only thing I would add is perhaps a hardwearing fabric like whipcord or venetian for frequent travellers and lightweight cotton needlecord for summer use. Cavalry twill is also a classic hardwearing fabric, which Will mentions in his post.

Incidentally, I've ordered recently a light grey flannel that Will decribes, as well as whipcord and venetian trousers (both John Hardy fabrics).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

J.M. Weston photo essay

A nice photo essay in French on the well-known shoemaker J.M. Weston, with useful commentary by the shoe aficionados of AskAndy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

London in the 1950s: Brollies & bowlers

An enterprising AskAndy member (Doctor Damage) recently posted a photo series of 1950s London city gents. This should provide a nice visual bookend to my two recent posts on brollies and English icons (including the bowler hat).

It is remarkable to note the drastic change in dress in less than 50 years. Even more generally, why did men's dress loosen up so significantly in the 20th century? That denouement will be a side discussion in what will hopefully be a planned book project on men's clothing and style.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

English umbrellas

Today three makers remain of the classic English "brolly":
Brigg (now Swaine Adeney Brigg) appears to have the largest remaining manufacturing operation in the UK with two dedicated umbrella makers, a cover maker, repair personnel among the 30 people in Swaine's Cambridgeshire factory. As mentioned in my previous post, see this interesting interview of Michael Stevens of Swaine Adeney Brigg for further details.

I find the Brigg Prince of Wales Traveller model to be a nice fusion of form and function for the erstwhile visitor to London. But two choices remain. It should be noted that James Smith will cut the umbrella or walking stick to your appropriate size and reach.

A definitive list of English icons

Today I found this interesting site on English icons (http://www.icons.org.uk). The site seems to be the kind of public-private partnership that one wishes would happen more often. Creating win-win scenarios should not be exclusive to the private sector.

There are at least two clothing related entries (see entry on the Bowler Hat) and an interview of Swaine Adeney under The Weather icon including tidbits about their business and clientele (http://www.icons.org.uk/theicons/collection/the-english-weather/features/umbrellas).

Notably missing is an entry on Savile Row. Perhaps someone would care to nominate SR? I think the Savile Row Bespoke Association would be happy to oblige with additional information and interviews.

For further discussion, see the associated AskAndy thread.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Wedding attire: What should the groom wear?

In this recent London Lounge thread, Nicholas Antongiovanni, author of The Suit, has ably furnished what might be the single best all-in-one guide to wedding attire from the bridegroom's prospective. It's also an excellent, well-illustrated primer on the essential distinctions between day and evening semi-formal and formal wear. Didactic interventions like these may help thwart further erosion in observing the old rule of "dressing for the occasion."

More pictures of morning coats can be found in this London Lounge thread.

Monday, January 08, 2007

What to report on Savile Row

The publisher of Classic Style magazine asked on AskAndy which Savile Row tailors should be interviewed for an upcoming issue. My post in the thread is captured below in my full response:

I think the interview will be more interesting if you adopt a specific angle or point of view to the piece you're writing.
  • Do an "ask the tailors/cutters" survey piece, which would reveal insider preferences and reputations. Survey independent tailors and key personnel in SR firms and ask them questions like: Not including yourself or your firm, which three firms (or specific cutters, coatmakers, trouser makers, etc) do you admire the most? Which firm or independent would you personally go to make a dinner suit (or morning coat, white tie, three piece suit, etc)? Tally the responses up and reveal the rankings - could be quite interesting!
  • Interview those who are retired or no longer active on SR but are considered "living legends." They would have the perspective and experience to give useful contrasts and opinions about past and present style and tailoring. This might be a retired managing director like Halberry of A&S or could be someone active like Nutter.
  • Do a detailed exposition on a relatively rare garment ensemble like morning dress or full evening dress (white tie). Determine how many skilled cutters still exist to create a tailcoat and interview them about the process. Expose the tidbits, terminology and history (e.g. Antongiovanni mentions in his book that London tailors refer to formal day trousers as "cashmere stripes", which is an interesting bit of trivia). Compare the construction of tailcoat with a business suit jacket.
  • Take a deep look into one or more SR firms and assess the differences between inhouse v. outworkers on the tailoring process. Interview a cutter, coatmaker, waistcoat maker and other key personnel in the tailoring process. How much of a difference is there really between the inhouse and outworker approaches? Who still has a functioning apprentice program, how does it work and what are the advantages?
  • Do a business-oriented piece of the new marketing and economics of SR. Interview the founders of Savile Row Bespoke, get their thoughts on why they decided to form SRB. Interview firms like Kilgour and Davies to understand how they are outsourcing specific components of the tailoring process overseas.
As I mentioned in my thread post, I think these are worthy topics for further examination in an article or book length treatment.