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