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