Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bespoke survey: Who will be your next tailor?

First, a very special thanks to everyone who responded to the bespoke survey I created earlier this year. If you haven't filled it out yet, here's the link to the survey and the related post.

In the survey, I asked the following question: Which tailors are you most interested in commissioning a garment from but haven't yet tried? This attempts to get at the tailors that bespoke buyers are most interested in trying next - a bespoke wish list. To some extent it also measures tailors with the greatest "brand" awareness among bespoke customers (as opposed to RTW customers). This distinction is important because it presumably shows the preferences of buyers who are fairly knowledgeable about bespoke clothing.

I would like to share some interim results now that the pool of respondents for this question is decently sized (n=109). So what are the results? They are quite interesting because they show what looks like a power law distribution. In other words, the responses follow a long tail distribution with a just a couple of heavyweight contenders at the top and many other players trailing the lead pack.

Here are the interim results as of 12/30/08:

Ranking / Tailor (% of Respondents)
(n=109)
1 Anderson & Sheppard (31%)
2 Rubinacci (25%)
3 Thomas Mahon (9%)
4 Henry Poole (8%)
5 Huntsman (7%)
6 Caraceni (6%)
6 Raphael (6%)
7 Dege & Skinner (5%)
7 Any Savile Row tailor (5%)
8 Chris Despos (4%)
8 Gennaro Solito (4%)
8 Steed (4%)
8 Leonard Logsdail (4%)

A couple of methodological notes. First, the ranking above captures roughly the top two-thirds of all tailors mentioned. There are quite a few with just one or two mentions. Also, the percentage indicates the percentage of respondents who mentioned the tailor in their response. Since each respondent can list more than one tailor, the percentages do not add up to 100%.

So why are just two tailors - A&S and Rubinacci - sitting pretty at the top of the wish list for bespoke customers? Good question and I suspect it's a potent mixture of two things - the power of tailoring tradition and history fueled by the easy information exchange of today's internet-enabled consumer. A&S tops the cognoscenti's list because of its storied past, achieving almost mythic status for its original cutting style (Scholte) and uniqueness among Savile Row firms. Men like distinction. And modern men have been like moths to the flame when it comes to ease and comfort - both perceived and actual.

Let's look at Rubinacci. Imagine if I had distributed this survey five or ten years ago. I would guess the list would be mostly Savile Row with Caraceni perhaps still making an appearance but certainly not the Neapolitan tailors. The success of Rubinacci in this list can probably be traced back literally to one or two members on Styleforum and LondonLounge. Three or four years ago very few men - even experienced bespoke customers - knew what a Rubinacci cut/jacket looked like.

Mahon is number three largely because of his groundbreaking tailor's blog - the first of its kind - and the intense, internet-based marketing efforts early on by his supporters. Of course, it helps to have the A&S training and pedigree as well.

It's also interesting to note that the top three tailors are all of the soft tailoring paradigm - soft natural shoulders, relatively little or no padding, free and easy chest canvas, penchant/familiarity with creating front drape over the chest.

What is somewhat disappointing is the relative paucity of American-based tailors on this list. Of course, I didn't ask the respondents for their current tailor (who very well might be American) but one might want to consider local options before booking that flight to Naples, Rome, Sicily or Heathrow. Of course, if you have the means to rely on tailors both at home and abroad, consider yourself lucky!

Related links
- LondonLounge thread on survey results

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 post of the year: Seeing the forest from the trees

It appears the 2008 discussion thread of the year enjoyed a brief revival since my post last month. This generated additional discussion that, in turn, has led me to award the 2008 post of the year to Styleforum member DocHolliday. He writes:
I find the quality comparisons of high-end RTW interesting in that they focus on details that, for me, make little difference in terms of the actual wearing of a coat.
This is truly a gem of a post worth pinning up. It's pitch perfect because it remembers to focus on the fundamental task at hand, namely, the enjoyable, useful wearing of clothes in your everyday life. This insistence on the sum of the parts rather than the parts in isolation is a key message in my proposed book. It's probably the one question that really matters in the end - not the pick stitching, handpadded lapels or level of handwork. Yet these are the minutiae that often form the lifeblood of the clothing forums.

Honorable mention goes to a passage in Mike Albo's recent New York Times article on clothier Paul Stuart. Albo describes with comic accuracy the kind of men and women that until recently were the style fixtures of our time:
It has been just three months since the end of the Age of Excess, but I can already picture how that era’s fashion will be remembered. An image easily springs to mind: some D.J. jerk with neck tattoos and lines shaved in his eyebrows wearing $600 distressed jeans and a gold brocaded Ed Hardy hoodie, getting out of a white Hummer clutching a bottle of Cristal. Next to him is his girlfriend holding a Chihuahua and gargantuan Frappuccino, wearing bug-eyed sunglasses and expensive pink warm-ups with the word “tart” on the backside.
I have nothing against Ed Hardy, tattoos or Chihuahuas but this was too good not to laugh at.

And quote of the year goes to this LL post by member Camlots: "Tradition means to care for the fire, not to adore the ashes." Very pithy. It sounds like a line out of a Thomas Mann novel - and that's a very good thing in my opinion.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Creative black tie: How to do it?

Creativity in dressing requires a basic familiarity with tradition against which to improvise. In contemporary evening dress, men today generally lack that core knowledge but feel free nonetheless to pursue creative variations of black tie. "Pursue" is the operative word as it seems the achievement of true creativity in black tie events for men is a bit of an oxymoron.

Creative black tie is inherently paradoxical for men because it upends what traditional black tie was all about - a set of rules of dressing after 6pm. But perhaps taking their cues from women, men are experimenting with black tie these days in a big way. Lots of long black four-in-hand ties with a black silk or wool suit. It seems this is the contemporary interpretation of a dinner jacket or tuxedo. Or a black tuxedo with a plain white shirt without a bowtie or other neckwear. Or even more casual, a daytime sportscoat with an uncollared shirt (i.e. a t-shirt).

At the recent Marie Claire 2008 Prix awards, we see all of the above - a mix of personal styles ranging from "creative" to traditional black tie for men. Below are my votes in the following categories:
In black tie ("creative" or traditional), men should seek to bend the rules at the margins, namely, the accessories. The statement to make is understatement. To my mind, creative black tie would be a set of vintage Cartier ruby shirt studs and cufflinks. Or it would be a carefully chosen boutonniere like a white carnation of precisely the right size. Or a black and white houndstooth silk pocket square folded in a puff. It might even be a dress shirt with a distinctive bib front material or different shirt color (perhaps ivory/cream, periwinkle blue or royal blue instead of white). The royal blue is inspired by Styleforum member LabelKing's blue shirt worn with a dinner jacket.

I think there is a real difference between the rote application of rules and traditions and the highly selective bending or extension of such rules. The former is called dressing well while the latter takes a standard of dress into the territory of personal style.

Related links
- Black Tie Guide
- Styleforum thread on black tie

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sidenote: Shopping in Vietnam

I thought I should add a brief entry on shopping in Vietnam for those interested in women's clothing, accessories, home furnishings and handicrafts. Both Saigon and Hanoi pack in a large number of such retail stores in the central district.

In Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), the place to go is Dong Khoi Rd, esp. for women's clothing. La Mystere has very nice home furnishings, pillow covers, wall hangings and accessories made by ethnic groups such as the Hmong and Lao. Other retail streets worth checking out: Le Thanh Ton, Nguyen Hue, Le Loi.

HCMC storesHCMC stores


In Hanoi, the main shopping venues are along Na Tho, Na Chung and Hang Gai streets. For instance, Sapa on Hang Gai features accessories and clothing from the Sapa region. The Sofitel Metropole has a nice gift shop called La Boutique (right next to the L'Epicerie bakery in the hotel and off of the interior courtyard).

Hanoi storesHanoi stores

In both cities (esp. Hanoi), art galleries are a surprisingly common sight, especially those who enjoy popular, contemporary painting through a Vietnamese lens. Other types of stores I encountered frequently: embroidery, silk, handicrafts and lacquerware.

For my trip, I bought the Footprint Vietnam guidebook (published in 2007), which was helpful but already outdated in some areas. If you're just visiting the major cities for shopping, restaurants and nightlife, buy the compact and inexpensive Luxe city guide for Hanoi and HCMC. Stores and restaurants turn over fairly frequently and the Luxe city guides are updated more often than guidebooks.

Southeast Asian tailors: A visit to Hong Kong, Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City

Asian tailors can be a good option and value - assuming you are local to them (or they visit your city regularly) and you are comfortable with a high level of directed involvement and oversight in the bespoke process.

Hong Kong

In my recent trip to Asia, my first stop was Hong Kong. I visited two tailors, A-Man Hing Cheong and Tux & Collars. A-Man had a nice selection of British fabrics (John Hardy among others). I chatted with a fellow named Norman and, partially ignoring my own advice above, I ended up ordering a tweed jacket made up in a 16oz gunclub from the John Hardy Alsport book - in the broader interests of sartorial research of course.

I also attempted to visit Tux and Collars, whose head cutter purportedly trained in Naples. When I visited the address in the Pacific House across from Harvey Nichols, the store was shuttered and had either moved or closed. According to the lobby security guard, they had moved out a couple of months before my visit. But unfortunately he did not have a forwarding address or other contact details.

Vietnam

Vietnam is quickly moving forward in becoming a global textile and apparel player. In 2008, Vietnam's garment and textile industry is expected to hit $9.5B in exports and employ some 2 million people according to Vietnam News (10/01/08). The Vietnam Garment and Textile Association expects to be in the top 5 globally by 2015-20. The US is the top importer of Vietnamese garments and textiles, followed by the European Union, Japan and Russia.

Dung Tailor

In Vietnam, I visited a couple of tailors: Dung (pronounced yung) Tailor in Ho Chi Minh City and Duc Tailor in Hanoi. Dung has been in business since 1985 and appears to be a genuine bench tailor. Shirts range from 25 to 45 USD and take two weeks. Suits go from 160 to 500 USD and take roughly 3 weeks. Incidentally, the concierge at the Park Hyatt Saigon recommended a couple of tailors, Cao Minh and Dung.

Duc Tailor

Up north in Hanoi, I visited Duc Tailor just north of Hoan Kiem lake. When I walked in, I saw a fitter making marks on a customer's basted jacket (no sleeves, just the body) and a cutter nearby marking and cutting cloth without a pattern (a technique known as "rock of eye"). He traced out the pattern with chalk directly on the cloth and then cut the cloth. The suits appear to be canvassed based on the basted jacket I saw.

Duc Tailor fitting and cutting

There were four shelves of in-stock suitings arranged by price): $500, $400, $300 and $200. The selvedges appear to be of Italian origin. One selvedge read Garavino which I am not familiar with but I also saw a Dormeuil Amadeus book. Suits take 2-3 days. Pants have a price range depending on cloth: $50, $70, $100 and $120. Shirts start at $25.

Given the tropical climate and limited time, I decided to order a casual shirt short-sleeved shirt, which would be ready at 6pm the same day. I ordered a band collar linen shirt and initially sketched a picture of the band collar. But then I spotted a copy of the spring 2008 issue of Menswear magazine on one of the shelves and found a picture of the collar style I was looking for.

As the cutter took my measurements, he recognized I was wearing a custom shirt (made by Freddy Vandecasteele) and asked if he should just copy the measurements which he did (chest, abdomen, waist and shirt length). I requested small adjustments to the sleeve length, overall length of the shirt body and band collar height.

The area just south of Duc tailor is a busy retail area for RTW sandals and shoes as well as luggage and backpacks (Cau Go and Lo Su/Hang Dou streets).

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on Vietnamese tailors
- Styleforum thread on Hoi An tailors (Vietnam)
- Styleforum thread on tailors in Hong Kong and Vietnam
- Lonely Planet thread on Bangkok tailors
- Styleforum thread on Singapore tailors - Iris Tailor (Lucky Plaza)
- Styleforum thread on Malaysian tailors
- Styleforum threads on Hong Kong tailors and a comparison between A-Man Hing Cheong and WW Chan
- Styleforum thread on Japanese tailors
- Styleforum thread on Korean tailors (Seoul)

Updated 11/24/09

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Classical music and classic men's clothing

Below is a recent Charlie Rose interview of James Levine, conductor of the luminous Boston Symphony, Daniel Barenboim, former music director of the mighty Chicago Symphony and centenarian American composer Elliott Carter.

At 100 years old, I give Carter leeway in his dress but I do note his charming use of suspenders. Note the jacket on Daniel Barenboim - an example of a soft shoulder with no or very minimal padding (and unusual, Teba-like lapels - no notch as far as I could see).



Contemporary classical music is in a very similar situation to "classical" men's clothing. It doesn't resonate with today's audience or to use Barenboim's phrase it lacks immediacy.

In my Tom Ford entry, I give short shrift to "timeless" style in men's clothing. This is because its strict application tends to lack "immediacy" - trueness to you and your context. I believe men should be absolutely aware of classical men's clothing but they should not be slavishly bound to the canon in all things, all times and all places. For better or worse, we have the freedom to make choices.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Naples: Rubinacci, Attolini, Solito

This is the final, belated installment of the Italy trip I took back in February. My sartorial itinerary in Naples took me along: Via Morelli, Via della Cavallerizza, Via dei Mille, Via Filangieri, Via Chiaia, Via Toledo, Galleria Umberto.

Neapolitan window display

Rubinacci

Rubinacci seems the most commercially savvy of the sartoria I saw in Naples. It certainly appears to have the largest operations judging by their relative store size and by having a dedicated Japanese speaker on their payroll (at least when I visited). When I walked in the store, I was greeted by a woman sitting at the desk on the right of the entrance. I greeted her in English and she called for Gianni to come over. Perhaps there was a language barrier but Gianni really didn't seem too enthused to interact, which was a pity.

Rubinacci (Naples)

As any active Styleforum member knows, Rubinacci is the 2007-2008 darling of that forum. My two cents: choose a tailor for concrete, tangible reasons. Don't let someone's bespoke garments (including mine) seduce you into neglecting the due diligence you owe to your sense of style. The tailor should fit your style, your schemata, your (out)look, not the other way around.

Rubinacci (Naples)

Of course, for some men, choosing a tailor is a lot like falling in love. They see a picture on the internet of a jacket made by X worn by a complete stranger and it is all butterflies. They fall in love and proclaim X - and only X - is the tailor for me! My search is over, my quest is fulfilled, I am sartorially complete. Not quite. In my opinion, choosing a tailor is just the beginning. But enough pontificating from me.

Cesare Attolini

I was greeted by three gentlemen: Giuseppe, the grandson of Cesare Attolini, his uncle Claudio and Tito, a salesman. This is a small store and when I walked in there was another customer, his wife and son in tow. The customer, a Russian fellow, was trying on a few windowpane sports jackets. The fit was splendid around the shoulders and waist.

Cesare Attolini

The Russian chap is indicative of the new wealth class. I see a desire among these new captains of industry eager to acquire “style” in a manner similar to acquiring a new factory or entering a new market. If it's of value, how do I implement or acquire it? He asked Giuseppe and Claudio, “Why do you show only two buttons [on your sleeve]?” In other words, he was wondering why they left one of the working sleeve buttons undone. He also asked persistently of them, “Which one [jacket] is better?” He was deciding between two windowpane sportsjackets – both of which fit superbly. The three Neapolitans in the store punted on the question, which was surprising since he looked excellent in both.

This little conversation reminds me of Charles de Lucas' comment on the education of his current clients. The best houses can offer good advice at the right time and in the right manner. Nevertheless, I did find the Attolini staff friendly, welcoming and open to answering my questions. For the Attolini MTM program, two fittings is a minimum. The Attolini factory is ten minutes outside of Naples.

Gennaro Solito

Solito was the friendliest and most welcoming of the Neapolitan sartoria I visited. Like my visit to Cisternino in Florence, we had a delightful conversation, albeit in an amusing pidgin of English and Italian - single word sentences and hand gestures go a long way. He was working on a customer's order when I rang. Next time I'll need to schedule an appointment with his daughter (Laura) who speaks English.

Gennaro Solito

Solito has customers from NY, San Francisco and Philadelphia. He's also featured on a recent cover of Monsieur magazine (along with Marinella and the tiemaker Capelli I believe).

Wrap-Up

At the end of the day, I had an excellent hot chocolate and sfogliatelle at Gran Caffe Gambrinus. As I was sitting at the cafe, I noticed very few men – actually none at all – wearing Neapolitan style jackets. Even in Italy, style is mostly an export good it seems.

Caffe Gambrinus

On the way back to the hotel, I wandered into Salvatore Argenio, a shop on Via Filangieri, and discovered a source of made-to-measure knitwear, which is rather difficult to find. Argenio takes measures on sleeve length, body length and chest. He says he visits NY twice a year (February and September). Price: 700 euros for a MTM cashmere sweater.

IMG_0224

Of the three Italian cities - Rome, Florence and Naples - I visited, I thought the Florentines were the friendliest, Rome the best for strolling and Florence offered the most interesting shops. Naples is unique, off the beaten path but potentially quite rewarding. The most striking women were in Paris, followed very closely (somewhat surprisingly) by London. Among the men, the best dressed men were in Rome and Florence (saw quite a few fedoras there).

Additional Links
- Styleforum thread on Solito and trousermaker Ambrosi

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Becoming a tailor/cutter today: How do I become an apprentice?

In the past couple of years, I've received more than a few messages, comments or emails from folks interested in becoming a bench tailor, i.e. someone who can cut and sew garments. More specifically, they're interested in becoming an apprentice to a working tailor. I don't have much original advice except to approach the best tailors in your city about your enthusiasm, experience and perhaps most of all your dedication in putting in the time and effort to become a tailor.

Obviously it will pay to do your homework too. I recently came across this AskAndy thread that does a great job of assembling recommendations and references from working tailors and cutters. The thread also touches on an interesting distinction in patternmaking between industry or factory production v. bench tailors.

Let me also post another useful thread on the soft tailoring exponents of the English tailoring firm of Anderson & Sheppard. Too often it seems we have tailors who work only in the structured shoulder / stiff chest paradigm or the soft, drapey shoulder / soft chest paradigm. I personally think that a bench tailor who can inhabit both worlds and understand when to apply which paradigm will stand apart from most tailors working today and quite possibly take the next big step in bespoke tailoring. Innovations often come from hybrid milieus in which someone who knows a specific tradition or practice extremely well is then able to pivot and take a different slant on received wisdom.

Related posts
- The next generation of tailors: Mutually assured succession

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2008 thread of the year: Tom Ford, pagoda shoulders, bespoke tragedies and more

After a few years of mostly reading and posting occasionally to the various men's clothing forums, I began to feel my interest flagging a bit. This is natural as the number of times we can meritoriously debate a "RTW v. bespoke" thread is limited. But this Styleforum thread, in the waning days of a sobering year of credit and financial ills, wins my vote for discussion thread of the year on a men's clothing forum. Good for high quality laughs and also offering some food for thought and a useful foil to my writing needs.

Styleforum member AvariceBespoke begins the proceedings with a simple question: Anyone ever use Tom Ford's MTM program? Not too many it appears but that doesn't stop the commentariat from knocking the Ford MTM program for being a re-badged Zegna product, among other things.

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." In this post, Doc Holliday provides a flash of phenomenological rigor in this sprawling thread of 23+ pages. This is a rigor that I plan to address in more detail in my book. Is an objective discussion about clothing choices and preferences simply impossible? It seems so. Prescriptions about what others should wear are almost invariably colored by what one wears personally. It is remarkable to note this unconscious expression of vanity, this natural self-prioritizing about other people's choices. But there is a way out I believe.

So what exactly are tailors good for? As Rubinacci devotee iammatt makes clear in this post, he expressly thinks there is really one type of successful bespoke tailoring relationship. "From what I have seen, even in bespoke, monologues are usually more successful than dialogues. The advantage to bespoke, as I see it, is fit and fabric, and not the ability to direct." Not coincidentally, to my point above about personal choices being writ large, a monologue is precisely the type of relationship he has with his tailor.

I believe reality is accommodating enough to offer richer and more varied types of tailoring relationships. As VitaminC describes in his post on "bespoke tragedies", he argues that bespoke tailoring boils down to proportion and technique. Most tailors are really about nailing the latter. I think he maybe onto something here. If true, it means the customer better bring something to the table rather than completely outsourcing his sense of style and judgment.

Tom Ford's style - does it have substance? It certainly does for a man who likes his calories. What I love about this post by Chicago tailor Chris Despos is that he deep sixes the ahistorical, point-in-time dismissal of Monsieur Ford. The near universal rejection of the concave, pagoda shoulder (spalla insellata) in the thread is too easy, too quick. I'm a sartorial pluralist at heart and believe in the goodness of choices. Who knows - a spalla insellata might be the right look for someone. Of course, choice works best for those who are able to exercise discernment and self-restraint.

At the end of the day, it's far better to have the option of a Tom Ford, a Thom Browne or a bench tailor. Why? Because style is more about deftly exercising one's choices today and tomorrow than creating a supposedly timeless look.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Open source tailoring

I came across a fellow blogger AstoriaUnderground, who put in a nice mention about visiting Sleevehead. In one of her recent entries, she also mentioned Burdastyle, which is a site dedicated toward "open source sewing" and patterns for women's clothing.

This is an intriguing and brilliant idea I think. It's a mashup of the open source concept that originated in software development with the world of patternmaking and pattern cutting. The idea is to assemble a forum and community of designers and patternmakers of women's clothing to create new designs and inspire new ones. One of the side benefits would be a common language of patterns.

How might this concept benefit men's tailoring specifically? Bespoke production is highly skill dependent and labor intensive. As we know, the supply of skilled cutters, coatmakers and tailors of men's clothing is very constrained, at least in the US. And the costs of bespoke production remain extraordinarily high. If there is a way to a create a standardized language of pattern cutting, this could potentially make it easier to educate and train cutters and tailors and lay the groundwork for affordable, high quality garment production.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vietnamese shoemaking: Tran Quoc Lan

At the height of the financial crisis a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) observing from afar the US-led meltdown in financial liquidity, solvency and accountability with a certain measure of disbelief. Nonetheless, I was in the region on vacation and had a specific place to visit in my itinerary - a shoemaker to be precise. I had read about AskAndy member m@t's experiences with a Vietnamese bespoke shoemaker named Tran Quoc Lan and thought to follow his footsteps so to speak.

Tran Quoc Lan store

Tran Quoc Lan store

The first step was getting my feet measured. The lady who measured my foot took two measurements around my right foot and drew an outline of both feet in her notebook. The older gentleman with glasses promised a very quick three day turnaround, perhaps because I requested a derby style that had been made for another customer. The older gentleman spoke English and the lady who measured my feet also spoke a bit of English. I showed her a photo of the design on my iPod touch and she pulled out a JM Weston shoe catalogue to find its pictorial equivalent. As I looked through their leather selection, the following colors struck my eye: 43 dark brown (the one I ordered), 74 chestnut, 78 maple, 35 maple (slightly darker than 78), 17 acorn, 101 deep brown and 108 olive/dark brown.

Tran Quoc Lan 2 eyelet derby 01

I ordered on a Saturday and picked up the shoes the following Monday afternoon and was pleasantly surprised by the results. I was most curious about how the overall shape would turn out. It reminded me a bit of the Edward Green soft square 888 last (see below right). For a shoe (and last) that was made in literally days, it was a remarkably well-fitting shoe. Given the time constraint, I suspect my last was probably a modified version of a preformed last (using the addition method). Nonetheless, the fit is superior to any RTW shoe I've tried out of the box. And the price? 65 USD.

Tran Quoc Lan 2 eyelet derby 02Tran Quoc Lan / Edward Green 888


The leathers are not nearly the level of quality you'll find at British, French, Italian, Austrian and other European shoemakers and the lastmaking may not be quite as refined. But if current results are any indication of future potential, don't be too surprised to find within the next 10 years a decently constructed pair of shoes with the label "Edward Tran" or "John Tran" in a store near you.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on TQL's MTM Chelsea boots
- Styleforum thread on Hong Kong shoemaker Zee's Leatherware
- NY Times article on Kow How and Mayer Shoes in Hong Kong

Updated 05/09/09

Monday, October 13, 2008

Foster & Son fall schedule

I spent a very pleasant morning today chatting with Sarah Adlam and Emma Lakin. This is their first visit to Los Angeles. I also was there for my fitting, which Emma conducted. Below is their visiting schedule. If you've have any interest in fine bespoke shoes, do visit them while they're here in LA or the other cities below. They're absolutely delightful to talk to. Sarah's US mobile number is 978-967-5313.

New RTW samples (based on the Edward Green 88 last and a new last designed by Terry Moore)
Foster & Son LA visit

Closeup of RTW samples
Foster & Son LA visit

Foster leather accessories
Foster & Son LA visit

Bespoke samples 1
Foster & Son LA visit

Bespoke samples 2
Foster & Son LA visit

Bespoke samples 3
Foster & Son LA visit

Los Angeles
Monday 13th October 9.00am - 6.00pm
Tuesday 14th October 9.00am - 2.00pm

InterContinental Los Angeles Century City Hotel
2151 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles CA 90067
Tel: 310 284 6500

San Francisco
Wednesday 15th October 9.00am - 6.00pm
Thursday 16th October 9.00am - 12.00pm

The Fairmont Hotel
950 Mason Street, San Francisco CA 94108
Tel: 415 772 5000

Chicago
Friday 17th October 9.00am -6.00pm
Saturday 18th October 9.00am - 6.00pm

InterContinental Chicago
505 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago IL 60611
Tel: 312 944 4100

New York
Monday 20th – Tuesday 21st October 9.00am - 6.00pm
Wednesday 22nd October 9.00am - 12.00pm

InterContinental The Barclay
111 East 48th Street, New York NY 10017 1297
Tel: 212 755 5900

Washington
Thursday 23rd October 9.00am - 6.00pm
Friday 24th October 9.00am - 2.00pm

University Club of Washington (non-members welcome)
1135, 16th St. (NW), Washington DC 20038
Tel: 202 862 8800

Monday, September 01, 2008

Enzo Caruso: A bespoke tailor in Santa Monica

Earlier this year based on a couple of references in an AskAndy thread, I decided to drop by Enzo Caruso on Ocean Park Blvd in Santa Monica. For some reason, I had thought he was an alterations tailor but it turns out Caruso is a bespoke/custom tailor. He has a nice selection of Italian and British fabrics including: John Cooper, Taylor & Stewart, W. Bill, Harrisons, Holland & Sherry, Charles Clayton, Thomas Fisher, Gladson, Scabal, Dormeuil, Zegna, Loro Piana.

Enzo clearly loves fabrics and spent a good half hour or so showing me interesting fabrics: his latest H&S books (Eutopia) which UPS delivered while I was there, a lavender Zegna Cashco 91% cotton/9% cashmere blend that he's going to make up into a pair of trousers for a customer. I'm not sure I'd wear the Zegna Cashco myself but it was a beautiful fabric. He also showed me Zegna's 15 Milmil fabrics and a special H&S cashmere book specifically for scarves and throws.

M. Caruso advertisement c 1920sEnzo Caruso jacket label


Some background is in order. In 1895, the first of his relatives immigrated to US. His great-grand uncle opened a tailor's shop in Santa Monica in the 1920s. He showed me an advertisement for that shop that was reprinted in Fred Basten's book, Santa Monica Bay: Paradise By the Sea (see above). Enzo also worked at Moss Bros in London for a couple of years in the early 1970s. As a child he toiled away at his grandfather's tailoring business in Calabria. At that time, his small town of 20,000 had about 20 tailors - a remarkable number today but not unusual then.

Enzo has been at his current location opposite the Santa Monica Business Park for about 15 years. He's a fifth generation Calabrian tailor. Calabria is located in the deep south of Italy – occupying the apron, so to speak, of the boot shaped Italian peninsula. This makes me wonder if there is a specific Calabrian style of tailoring garments. He said he is the last one in his extended family (including his son) who has any interest in tailoring. He himself looks fairly young to me – in his 50s.

Enzo gives his advice freely – much of which is spot on – regarding fabrics, color and coordination. For instance, he recommended subtle, subdued patterns for me – to fill up my fairly lean frame a bit – emphasizing more of the horizontal than the vertical. He also felt, and I agree, that I would do well in three piece suits.

All the garments are cut, sewn and finished on the premises. As for his cutting style, Enzo is adaptive to the customer's build but his preferred cut seems to have a basis in the natural shoulder. He will vary the amount of shoulder padding depending on the customer's shoulder and preference. In my case (square shoulders), he said he would do minimal padding. For first-time customers, three fittings is the norm. Below is a picture from my third fitting of my first order with Enzo.

Caruso 3rd fitting (July 2008)

For those who require a thorough fitting process, I think Enzo would fit the bill superbly. He also knows his tailoring chops. During one of my early fittings, I wore one of my Neapolitan suits and he examined it with much admiration. For him it was a beautiful example of a deconstructed jacket. He picked up on that theme of a soft, natural shoulder and carried it over to the initial jacket he made for me. The armhole is handsewn and attached with an open seam, which is folded up into both shoulder and sleeve. The time he spent to make the shoulder speaks volumes about Enzo's love of his craft. He's interested in new challenges and spends a couple of days on alterations, the rest on bespoke commissions. Those interested in using Enzo should be comfortable with exercising patience. Although he used to have an assistant, he's now a one-man operation so commissions will take time.

I also learned that he makes a separate muslin/trial suit in certain cases (i.e. with large orders or an especially difficult fit). For example, during my latest visit, he was making a trial topcoat for a customer who placed an order for 4 topcoats. The making of a trial garment is a rare and time consuming service. I was under the impression that there was only one tailor in the US who still makes a trial suit according to one knowledgeable authority. Hmm, make that two tailors who do trial suits in the US.

Two piece suits start around $2,400. I was also quoted $3,500 for a three piece suit in one of the more expensive suitings (the name of which escapes me). Delivery of a first suit order takes at least 8 weeks. His hours are M-F 9:30-6pm and Sat 9:30-1pm. For new customers, he has an interesting payment policy: 1/3 initial deposit, 1/3 at first fitting and 1/3 on final delivery.

All in all, Enzo is the genuine article – a tailor's tailor. As I walked out of his store after my first visit, he ushered me out with some reassuring words, “The best things in life take time to grow. I think the same way with customers.”

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on LA bespoke tailors

Los Angeles bespoke tailors: An updated list


View Larger Map

After a couple of years scouting this city for its tailoring gems, I'm ready to provide a more complete list of LA custom or bespoke tailors. There seem to be three categories of bench tailors in the city of angels:
  • Armenians (Novex, Gary Gagossian and Anto Shirtmakers). Harold is the tailor behind Novex. Gary is the eponymous tailor behind Gary Gagossian. Jack and Ken Sepetjian are the two sons of Anto Sepetjian who now cut and make the shirts at Anto Shirtmakers. Interestingly enough, the common thread among them is that they are all of the Armenian community, which has set up a little tailoring enclave in Beverly Hills.
  • Italians (Giacomo Trabalza, Enzo Caruso, Frank Caruso). I've written up on Trabalza before and despite my recent fear that he had retired he is still in business according to one of his colleagues in the trade. I've visited Enzo Caruso and a write-up is forthcoming. Frank Caruso is apparently Enzo's uncle. I'll need to check out his shop one of these days.
  • Others/clothiers (Jack Taylor). Jack Taylor was the one of the first tailors I visited in Los Angeles. Perhaps I should also add Duncan Quinn and Waraire Boswell to the map, as they appear to be trying to follow Taylor's steps as designers/clothiers to the (new) Hollywood set.

Note this mashup of LA tailors doesn't include a couple of affordable ones outside of Los Angeles County - Johnathan Behr and Ariel Tello - described in an earlier post.

Additional links
- AskAndy thread on Richard Lim / High Society

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The American clothier: Martin Greenfield, Adrian Jules, Jack Taylor

The clothier is an interesting animal, commonly encountered in mid-sized and large American cities. He serves a useful purpose I think. The clothier occupies that middle position between a trained tailor and a pure salesman on the retail floor. Given enough experience and a good eye, he is well positioned to dispense advice and serve as the face for a true bespoke and/or a made-to-measure (MTM) tailoring business. Chances are he will be a member of the Custom Tailors & Designers Association of America.

Martin Greenfield in Williamsburg, Brooklyn


Martin the Tailor from Ed David on Vimeo

This is a recent documentary on the remarkable story and background of Martin Greenfield and GGG Clothiers.

John Vanderbrook of Adrian Jules in Rochester, NY



At 3:33 in the video clip, Vanderbrook discusses the pattern cutting method at Adrian Jules. Notice the hybrid use of a human to draft the pattern, a CAD system to store, modify and print out customer patterns and a human to cut the cloth on the pattern. If I am not mistaken, this is the same hybrid approach Nedo Bellucci Napoli uses.

Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills

The documentary Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills premiered a couple of years ago at the Santa Barbara Film Festival but I have yet to find a clip of it online. In lieu of that, here is a YouTube clip of the opinionated Mr. Taylor. Incidentally, similar to Greenfield, Taylor also got started in the clothing business by working at GGG Clothiers.

Update: It appears the filmmakers of Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills have a new website with three video clips and stills from the documentary.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on a MTM fitting at Martin Greenfield
- Custom Tailors & Designers Association of America

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Savile Row and the business of bespoke tailoring

On the Kilgour website a few years ago, I read an article which described some of the details of an earlier buyout of Kilgour. If I remember correctly, I believe it cited the acquisition price as 1.8 million pounds. What I find remarkable is how relatively inexpensive that is - only about $3.5 million for one of the best known Savile Row firms.

I suspect that a little financial analysis will tell you the acquisition price of bespoke tailoring firms is a very low (if any) multiple of revenues. This is not surprising since firm valuation is a function of revenues, profitability and future growth. And with bespoke tailors there are only a few ways to grow: (1) Lower price and increase volume (usually by adding RTW or MTM product line or using cheaper labor overseas for suit construction) (2) Maintain price and increase penetration of current markets or (3) Create or introduce a new set of customers. Options 2 and 3 are made possible by growth in new markets (e.g. Russian, Central Asian or Mideast petro-millionaires) or growth in the home market.

What's interesting about option 1 is the staunch criticism of Savile Row firms offering RTW. If done well, I'm quite supportive of such efforts to diversify. As I wrote in a recent London Lounge thread, here is why.

Imagine that you are a managing director of a Savile Row tailoring establishment. You see several options to ensure the future viability of your firm. One option is the dogged pursuit of a purist strategy - produce bespoke and only bespoke to the true connoisseurs of taste. If you produce a quality garment, the customer will come to you. However, as pointed out, the bespoke-buying elite is a "much smaller market" consisting of an "ever-decreasing circle of clients."

The purist solution, I'm afraid, is a rather passive, unimaginative and unattractive option because it simply preserves the business for the existing set of customers. It suffers from a fundamental flaw: consigning the business to the status quo (or even worse, to the past). There is no future envisioned to grow the business. Instead the firm is asked to cater to an aging clientele purchasing fewer and fewer garments over time. A principled strategy perhaps but one that ensures SR's gradual extinction.

The other option is to educate, cultivate and appeal to an entirely new set of customers (while preserving the existing clientele of course). The thinking is this: If the existing market is declining, find or create a new one (also known as blue ocean strategy). The upshot is that offering RTW does precisely this. It introduces a new pool of customers to the brand, brings them into the shop and perhaps more importantly gives the firm the opportunity to educate them and perhaps convert them over time to MTM or bespoke.

The tut-tutting of Kilgour or Gieves & Hawkes for diversifying into RTW misses a blindingly obvious business dilemma facing SR firms. If the existing customer base is declining (and has been for decades), how will you find new customers to replace the old? By conducting business as usual? I think not.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The decline of ties and neckwear

Citing a recent Gallup Poll, the Wall Street Journal reported that just 6 percent of men wear neckties to work everyday, a decline from 10 percent in 2002.  Responding to this steadily declining demand, American suppliers and manufacturers of neckwear announced the disbanding of the 60-year old Men's Dress Furnishings Association this summer. I find this of course unfortunate but at the same time ripe for some interesting analysis.

In fact, I see parallels between the decline of hatwearing and the decline and fall of the necktie. This is a subject I will treat in more depth in my book but suffice to say that I don't think we are seeing the death or complete extinction of ties.  In fact, ties will probably fare quite a bit better than brimmed hats since the end of World War II. The good news is that there will probably always be a segment of the population that will wear hats and ties regularly and/or stylishly (hopefully both regularly and stylishly).

This is borne out by the most recent results of my bespoke clothing survey, which indicates that less than 1 percent of bespoke customers never or very rarely wear a tie. Not too surprising for this group of men.  In fact, more than a third of them (about 36 percent) wear a suit or jacket and tie everyday. Another 28 percent wear a suit or jacket/tie a few times a week. So it appears that a majority of bespoke customers wear ties regularly. The difference going forward is the motivation: less compunction, more voluntary choice. Vive la cravate!

Additional links
- Wall Street Journal article (06/04/08)
- ABC News article (06/08/08)
- ABC News article (06/09/08)
- London Lounge thread on the "death of the tie"

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Apparel Arts/GQ magazine covers (1957 to 2000s)

The role of print media, especially prior to television, was highly influential in setting and calibrating standards and tastes in men's clothing.  Much the way that some newspapers used to be considered newspapers of record, certain magazines played that role for men's clothing.  Apparel Arts used to be such a magazine of record and standard bearer for men's dress.

Here is a link to an archive of Apparel Arts and GQ covers from the 1950s to present day, some 528 of them. It offers a fascinating lens to to the past and present. Of course, many would argue that the high water mark is found in the Apparel Arts of the 1930s, during which the printed reality most closely comported with the social and sartorial reality on the ground.

Update: For all of you vintage apparel magazine fans, I've found a Fedora Lounge thread with scans of the first Esquire issue - Autumn 1933.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Florence: Liverano, Cisternino and Madova

I've written previously on my recent London, Paris and Vienna trips and now it's time for Italy beginning with Florence.  I had originally planned to visit four tailors in Firenze but only two were open: Liverano & Liverano and Cisternino. 


View Larger Map

Liverano & Liverano

Liverano & Liverano was first up since it was closest to the train station in Florence. I was greeted by the office manager, a Japanese fellow named Takahiro Osaki. He spoke a bit of English and took off his brown, two button Shetland wool jacket to show me the details, styling and cut. It is essentially a Neapolitan cut less the shoulder extension and front drape (Apparently, this is a cut that would fall under the Blasi school of Neapolitan tailoring). The shoulder has no padding, the front quarters are highly open (perhaps the most cutaway I've seen anywhere) and designed to show the trouser pleats.  The chest features a single chest dart. The jacket was cut on the shorter side and essentially everything is handsewn except the center back seam. 

Liverano & Liverano

I noticed there was no waterfall sleevehead on his jacket though the tailor does feature it on their shirts. Reflecting perhaps a Florentine restraint, Takahiro noted that the manica con grinze “looks too casual on a jacket.” So in the world of Liverano, the jacket sleeve is left smooth but the shirt takes the shirring. Indeed Takahiro was wearing such a shirt under his Shetland jacket.

This distinction is quite nice and refined I think. Liverano & Liverano observes a nuanced hierarchy of formality – construction method does not take precedence over an English-like sense of appropriateness. Instead of slapping a waterfall on every jacket and shirt sleevecap, this Florentine tailor orders and regulates the cut and construction in a sensible house style. This is similar to the Viennese tailor Knize which omits the crumpled sleevehead from their formal jackets. Although I generally agree with this aesthetic, I probably would still take the waterfall sleeve on a casual sports jacket or two!

Liverano & Liverano

Quite unusually, Liverano offers the full run of bespoke: ties, shirts, sports coats and suits. They prefer English cloths and seem especially to favor tweeds. I think it is safe to say they give Rubinacci a run for the money in providing an end-to-end bespoke offering.  Liverano might be more complete actually. 

They do not travel except to Japan (three times per year) in partnership with the retailer United Arrows. As expected, Takahiro pointed out that maestro Liverano does make adjustments to accommodate physical irregularities such as a slight rise or bump on the shoulder.  In Takahiro's case, the cloth along the shoulder seam from the neck to the shoulder bump is pressed and ironed to firm the cloth around the bump.

He made some interesting comments on other tailors, which he admires but thinks they fall short in some areas: Caraceni is “too old and traditional” (Takahiro showed some breezy, striped cotton jacketings that he said Caraceni would never carry) and Savile Row, which he likes but feels is too “old”. So what is Liverano & Liverano's style? “Contemporary classic,” says Takahiro.  This is an interesting challenge issued to the older tailoring establishments. Founded in 1948, the Liverano & Liverano aesthetic seems to say "I raise your emphasis on tradition and double down on being relevant to modern taste and style."

Piero & Franco Cisternino

Next up was Cisternino, tucked away in an alley off of Via della Vigna Nuova and situated - I noted with some apprehension - between Via dell' Inferno and Via del Purgatorio.  Perhaps this portended some sartorial abyss?  But fear not, what I encountered was closer to a tailoring Paradiso for the suitably inspired pilgrim. What immediately caught my eye was the display model in the shop window. The display jacket was showing the characteristic Neapolitan shoulder and sleevehead.

Piero & Franco Cisternino

Cisternino consists of two brothers, Piero and Franco.When I walked in, I was greeted by Franco, the non-English speaking half. Piero, the English speaking one, stepped out of the workroom to chat with me and we had a delightful conversation. It turns out he is originally from Naples and hence they make two types of sleeve attachment: Florentine and Neapolitan. For the Florentine style, the Cisternino brothers put in a little padding to keep the sleevecap from collapsing. We both had a good laugh when I joked that I could have a jacket made with one sleeve shirred in the Neapolitan style, the other Florentine. With bespoke, many things are possible.  But not all.  Piero doesn't like structured shoulders – “too military” he said with a good-natured smile.  

Each suit takes 40 hours to make and, if I understood correctly, the first fitting can take just 4-5 days. Piero showed me a couple of jacketing books from Scabal. All in all, he was exceptionally friendly and accommodating to my unannounced visit. 

The other two tailors I wanted to visit were closed for the weekend – Gianni Seminara and Armando di Preta. So I am left with just solitary photos of their doorways. 

Gianni SeminaraArmando di Preta


Thankfully Florence has a plenitude of wonderful stores and eating establishments to while away the time. Very few things exceed a leisurely stroll with a coppo of gelato in hand. During my visit, I also bought a couple of pairs of peccary gloves at Madova just off the Ponte Vecchio and fingerless driving gloves from Pusateri.  

Madova ivory peccary gloves 01

Madova ivory peccary gloves 03

Additional links (updated)
- Styleforum thread on Liverano
- Fellow blogger A visit to's report on Liverano (with lots more pictures)
- Styleforum thread on Florence hotels and RTW shops
- Florence tailors and clothing stores list
- Blogger Irenebrination's tribute to Florentine tailoring
- Styleforum thread on Liverano customer's fitting
- New photo essay book on Liverano & Liverano

Updated Jan 2011

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Windowpanes and double-breasted suits

Check out this well-edited business casual look by DocHolliday on Styleforum. He wears a bold windowpane sports jacket but "mutes" the boldness with a small-patterned tie and solid white shirt.  Definitely one of the best "what are you wearing" photos I've seen recently on Styleforum or anywhere else. 

Are you curious about double-breasted suits but have held back from some reason?  Perhaps you have unpleasant memories of loosely fitting double-breasted suits from the 1980s with extended shoulders.  This Styleforum thread offers a nice corrective to those dated examples.  

Additional links
- Google images of the Duke of Windsor in Life magazine from the 1940s and 1950s wearing double-breasted suits

Monday, April 21, 2008

Well-Dressed Strangers: Handsome Meets Beautiful

Ever spot a well-dressed person walking down the street and wonder a bit about him or her?  I recently stumbled across this YouTube clip of Beautiful Stranger, a fashion-oriented street interview series in New York:



This triggered the following flight of fancy. Perhaps an enterprising, media-savvy reader of Sleevehead could do the same but dedicated to men's clothing?  Ha, maybe call it Handsome Stranger? There'd be one for each metropolis: NYC, LA, London, Paris, Vienna, and more. Sort of a short-form video version of the Sartorialist

I'd ask largely the same questions (except for the gender-specific ones about skincare and hair stylist of course):
  • What is your name?
  • Where do you live?
  • Occupation?
  • What are you wearing?
But perhaps one difference is that I would hire Zoe Havler, the Beautiful Stranger above, as the inaugural interviewer for Handsome Stranger.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Blogs: Nedo Bellucci and Slow Wear

I'd like to welcome a couple of recent entrants to the blogosphere. Nedo has launched his own blog recently. As he describes in the blog, he is introducing a novel and intriguing line of shirts with a level of custom somewhere between ready-to-wear and bespoke.

The difference is the introduction of a semi-finished shirt body (similar to a basted try-on suit jacket). I haven't seen the new line yet but it should be quite interesting to learn more about it in my next visit.

Slow Wear is a German blog which I recently discovered linked to my blog. I appreciate the link!

Digging deeply into pockets: A thought experiment

In a recent Styleforum thread, I was struck by this statement regarding the chest pocket on jackets: “A human chest is curved, a suit has curvature in the chest, so anything applied to the chest [e.g. a chest pocket] needs to be curved as well.” The idea is intriguing due to its literalist, quasi-Lamarckian overtones. If the human body is curved in certain places, then our clothing should effectively mimic that curvature. It seems intuitively sound and well-stated but is it?

Let's test this claim against a larger sample of shirt, jacket and pants pockets and see if there is a necessary relationship with the matching part of the body.

Shirt pockets --> Chest (usually curved)
In reality, we see a panoply of pocket shapes – straight, angled, curved/multi-angled/multi-curved (Western shirts). But according to the literalist argument, the chest pocket should follow the actual chest and hence be curved. So are all of these possible pocket styles (except the curved one) misshapen, evolutionary dead ends? No, the answer is that they all look perfectly fine depending on the shirt style.

Side pockets on jackets --> Side abdomen (usually curved)
Quite a variety of pocket styles here – straight, angled (hacking) or curved (crescent). However, on most jackets, side pockets are straight. Again, no compelling reason why side pockets must be crescent shaped to conform to the contour of the abdomen.

Rear trouser pockets --> Posterior (usually curved, but can be flat :-)
Less pocket variety here esp. for dress trousers – mostly straight pockets but very few if any curved ones. This is the acid test because the presumed relation between body and pocket shape is weakest here. I doubt many men would like a pair of smiling pockets decorating their posterior. But if straight back pockets look lifeless or nearly extinct to you, feel free to punctuate and mix things up! There is goodness in experimentation and evolution.

However, the claim about curved pockets confuses a basic distinction in clothing: fit v. styling. Fit is fairly objective, styling much less so. Rigidly insisting on a universal rule for pocket shapes leads to some odd, humorous and doctrinaire outcomes. I prefer to keep things flexible: Pockets depend more on the particularities of the intended style of clothing in question than on the underlying anatomy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Structured v. unstructured shoulders: Worlds apart?

Let's talk about one of the most common tailoring polarities discussed on the discussion fora. And it rests on the shoulder, so to speak. It is often asserted that structured shoulders (e.g. the classic Savile Row cut) look and feel substantially different than unstructured or soft shoulders (Anderson & Sheppard or the Neapolitans). That would seem to make sense but we humans have a curious way of believing what we want to believe.

For the new entrant to bespoke, these polarities sometimes create a false choice. Consequently, many are led to think that the question of the shoulder is an either/or question. As I wrote in an earlier entry, if you have relatively normal, squared and even shoulders, you'll look good in both structured and unstructured cuts.

I'll use myself as a case in point.

Exhibit 1 is Kilgour, often characterized as "highly structured".

Kilgour bespoke Lesser 13oz small

Exhibit 2 is a Neapolitan style jacket by Nedo Bellucci. It has no shoulder padding, just a very thin piece of wadding.

Bellucci petrol blue VBC 9oz small

So which jacket shoulder feels better? The truth is that I love the look and feel of both. In my mind, the wrong answer is the absolute, unequivocal one - especially one that reaches for the obvious. For instance, "Well, the best is a light unstructured shoulder of course!" Either way, we're talking about a few ounces of cloth and fabric on your shoulder. If you're unable to shoulder the burden of a "heavier", structured jacket, perhaps you shouldn't be wearing a jacket at all?

I'm being a bit provocative of course. But there are good reasons and there are better reasons to distinguish between structured and unstructured shoulders. And the better reasons are perhaps not the obvious ones.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on structured v. unstructured shoulders

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Freddy Vandecasteele: A custom Western-style shirt

Experimentation. I think it's a good antidote to the excessive seriousness that occasionally undermines the bespoke journey. To that end, I recently picked up a Western-style shirt from Freddy Vandecasteele. It's similar to the one Freddy is wearing but lacks the two-tone treatment, features a modified scalloping of the front yoke, has different pockets and is made up of a slightly darker pink end-on-end cotton.

Freddy Vandecasteele & Western shirt

I worked with Freddy to modify the front scalloping and the pocket design. The edging of the yokes are attached using an overlapping seam.

Vandecasteele Western shirt mod 02

Vandecasteele Western shirt mod 03

I think the shirt goes well with denim (I wear it with a pair of darker rinse Seven For All Mankind jeans) and probably appealing to the younger guy - or perhaps I'm just flattering myself! Anyway, I won't experiment so far as to leave this or my other shirts untucked but Freddy will shorten the shirt length if that is your style.

I'm still on the hook for the finishing entries of my recent trip to Europe: Florence, Rome and Naples. I hope to write these up in the next few weeks.

Additional links
- Rockmount Ranch Wear - The place to visit if you're serious about western shirts and western wear.
- Styleforum thread on Western suits - Mind you these are Western suits, not shirts. I haven't crossed that Rubicon yet.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Vienna: Knize, Niedersuesz and Netousek

After Paris and London, my next destination was Vienna. Judging from the discussion threads posted in English language forums, you might think Italy (specifically, Naples) has a near monopoly on the soft shoulder. Think again. The soft or "runde" shoulder is alive and well in Mitteleuropa or Central and Eastern Europe. Call it the Viennese soft shoulder tradition.

Bernhard Niedersuesz/CM Frank

My first stop was Bernhard Niedersuesz. Bernhard was quite accommodating with his time given that he was expecting a client very shortly. My first, burning curiosity was to compare his cutting style with Knize. Knize of course is the store his father runs and where he used to work before striking out on his own. The answer is quite simple. The elder Niedersuesz at Knize cuts a softer jacket, which I saw later that day when I dropped by.

Niedersuesz / CM Frank

Niedersuesz the younger still cuts a natural shoulder (i.e. following the natural contour of the shoulder) but with less of a sudden drop or collapse as the shoulder seam approaches the sleevehead. Bernhard illustrated the Knize shoulder by pulling down the sleevehead of his display jackets a few millimeters. He prefers a slightly more structured look with the usual exceptions made for irregular shoulders. For example, when I put on a basted try-on jacket, he detected the slight bump on my shoulder line (thanks to a slightly raised clavicle). In his cut, he would remove any padding directly over the bump and add a touch of padding just before and after.

Niedersuesz / CM Frank

Bernhard offers two MTM lines: one of which is made by Brioni according to his specs. His new store opened in spring 2007, handsomely furnished and located conveniently near the Stephansdom. I mentioned I lived in Los Angeles, which led of course to a discussion of Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of his eventual goals is to make a suit for the Governor.

Netousek

My next stop was Netousek, a short walk past the Staatsoper. On the way I stopped by Malowan on Opernring, which had a couple of windows of nice English-looking outerwear (including Chrysalis walking coats). Curious, I stepped inside but they don't offer bespoke just RTW (though the salesperson nailed my European size correctly at a glance).

Netousek

Netousek occupies a fairly compact retail ground space on Gumpendorfer Strasse. I was greeted by the father, who speaks German only, and later the son, who speaks English. The store was started by the younger Netousek's grandfather and has been in the same location since then. When I asked the father to describe their cut, he said immediately “klassisch und Englisch” (classic and English) and “nicht modern oder Italienisch” (not modern or Italian). By the latter I think he really meant the Roman or Continental cut. By the former, he really meant the A&S cut – a soft round shoulder (“runde” in German) which actually is not the typical English-looking Savile Row cut. Regardless of the semantics, they do adjust to customer needs and mentioned having US customers. Netousek offers two types of custom: MTM (machine made in a factory) and handmade on premises.

They looked very busy. I saw a row of around a dozen or so basted try-on jackets lined up behind the counter. I also saw a selection of cloths including H&S. Interestingly enough, I asked what was the preferred shoulder in Vienna. According to the son, Viennese men tend to prefer the soft shoulder look.

On the way back, I walked by a custom shoemaker by the name of Otto Bartkiewicz at Dorotheergasse 15.

Otto Bartkiewicz

In the window display was a sturdy-looking pebble grain Norwegian apron derby.

Knize

My next stop, of course, was Knize – a wonderfully atmospheric and familiar store. Familiar especially if you have some knowledge of fin-de-siecle Viennese art, literature and politics. In some ways, it seems quite fitting that Knize inhabits the southern reaches of the German-speaking region of Europe. Perhaps being in the south has an effect on tailoring because Knize offers a distinct, Central European take on the soft round shoulder, much as Naples does in Italy.

Knize

In the store, I saw two examples of the Knize shoulder, one of which I could touch and feel (the model on the ground floor). This was a plaid cashmere jacket. The sleevehead was crinkled a la the Neapolitan spalla camiceria. The lapel buttonhole was beautifully and neatly done by hand. The chest piece felt very soft and the front quarters fairly open (a touch less than what I have seen from Naples). Prices start at nearly 5,000 euros. Unfortunately, I was not able to take photos in the store but their website offers a glimpse of the interior.

Knize

Upstairs I saw a table of Goodyear welted shoes and two marvelous examples of formalwear: a dinner jacket (with a beautifully handrolled linen pocket square) and evening tails. The sleeveheads on both were smooth, a very appropriate adjustment in my opinion. I also tried the Knize Ten Golden Anniversary cologne – a potent, woody and musk-laden scent which I quite liked though it is certainly not for everyone.

Just one street away from Knize is Rudolf Scheer, the royal warranted shoemakers.

Rudolf Scheer

Rudolf Scheer

Balint
Then it was onto Balint, the bespoke shoemaker on Singerstrasse and I had the good fortune of chatting with Bela Balint, who was quite friendly and helpful. They offer two types of custom: full bespoke (last based on foot shape) and MTM (pre-formed last that is adjusted). For full bespoke, the first order is 1,500 euros and 1,000 thereafter. Full bespoke takes 4-5 months. The initial measurement also requires at least 90 minutes. In Bela's view, a good fit is dependent on the snugness of the foot to the shoe between the heel and balls of the feet. The toebox is a different question, a tradeoff between design and comfort.

Balint

The Balint workshop employs 12 workers and is located in Transylvania. Bela works in the Vienna shop during the wintertime until July and then switches to the Zurich shop. Upon request, he is happy to email photos of Balint shoes and styles (from a selection of some 4,000+ photos if I recall correctly).

Updated July 2009

Additional links
- Sleevehead posts on Knize
- Styleforum thread on Knize (photos)
- NY Times Magazine article on Bernhard Niedersuesz
- Styleforum thread on Scheer
- Websites: Knize, Netousek, Niedersuesz, Scheer, Balint

Monday, March 31, 2008

Updated: Survey for bespoke customers

Update: Thanks to all those who have filled out the survey! The response has been great and I will leave the survey active on Surveymonkey. If you encounter any issues with the survey, please post a comment or send an email to sleevehead [at] gmail.com. Regarding publication, I am hoping to publish the results in my forthcoming book if I get a fairly decent sample size. Otherwise, I'll publish the summary results on my blog and hopefully a forum or two.

If you're a customer of bespoke clothing, I invite you to take a ten minute survey that I've created. I'm conducting some primary research into men's bespoke buying habits and preferences. Every additional response will increase the robustness of the data collected.

Thanks and feel free to copy and send the link to a friend who's into bespoke!

Click here to take survey

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=jHDLBYht7E7dXFh_2fnqoM_2bA_3d_3d

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Paris part 2: Camps de Luca

My final stop in Paris was Camps de Luca on Place de la Madeleine. When I walked up to the second floor and stepped into the atelier, I asked for someone who could speak English and out came Charles de Luca who is the young cutter, tailor and heir to the de Luca name. Charles is quite passionate about his work and legacy and that is reflected in the time and effort he very graciously lent me in showing the tailoring and workrooms.

Camps de Luca

One of the first things he said was, “Let me talk about the chest.” He took me to the workroom in the back and pulled out a sample chestpiece. In the de Luca chest, the layers are pressed and shaped to create a very distinct ripple or drape in the chest. He pushed the chest piece together between his index finger and thumb to indicate the swell. This, he said, is the “power point” for the Camps de Luca cut, creating a shaped chest. I found the chest treatment (and his explanation) absolutely fascinating. If you like Kilgour, for example, you might find its Continental cousin right here at Place de la Madeleine.

Camps de Luca

Regarding the chest, Charles noted the Italians (especially the Neapolitans I would note) like to keep the chest “free” and easy. He also noted that he will take away padding depending on the shoulder of the client. The norm at Camps de Luca is usually 2-3 fittings.

Other salient elements in the de Luca cut and style: roped sleevehead, the Camps revers and details such as the ingenious little raindrop pocket (in the left lower front). He also showed another fine detail: the finishing of the side vents in which the matching fabric on the inside is folded and pressed over to match the outside flap.

Charles very kindly allowed me to walk through the workrooms and take photos of the various workstations. As you can see, they maintain specialized workers for buttonholes, lining attachment, etc.

Buttonholes
Camps de Luca

Lapel/collar
Camps de Luca

Quite astutely, Charles describes bespoke as an education unto itself for clients today, to which I agreed wholeheartedly. Today's customer is different from the customers of yesteryear. But the future looks bright as increasing coverage in French men's magazines such as Edgar and Monsieur seems to suggest. They also have a new website up and running. As we wrapped up, Charles kindly offered to send me over to his bespoke shoemaker, Pierre Corthay. He phoned the store and said Pierre himself would be there to receive me. Now that is indeed hospitality! Many thanks to Charles for spending part of his afternoon with me.

A concluding note to Paris. As a group, Parisian bespoke offers an intriguing hybrid of Savile Row and the Italians (Rome in particular). My Parisian visit might be subtitled “Notes on the chest”. Indeed, it has strengthened my view that the chest and shoulder must be considered in unison. On the discussion forums, nearly everyone focuses on the shoulder, neglecting its necessary counterpart, the chest.

Additional links
- London Lounge thread on Parisian style and Camps de Luca suits from the 1950s
- Sleevehead post with TF1 video clip of Camps de Luca