Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Decoding styles inside out: "The man oft proclaims his apparel"

Nerd Boyfriend is a clever, visually interesting blog - a kind of historical Sartorialist for the clothing worn by the creative set - well-known artists, writers, musicians, actors, directors and academics of the past.

But it departs from the Sartorialist, which focuses exclusively on the visual interest of the contemporary clothes worn by people on the street. Scott Schuman, creator of the Sartorialist, is all about the clothes being worn today, now, in Milan, London, Paris, New York, etc. Nerd Boyfriend inverts the logic by starting with the person, preferably with a background of some interest, rather than his clothes.

In other words, let's take some accomplished people and see what their clothes look like. What's interesting is that the men shown are not exactly mainstream style icons but are nonetheless interesting, accomplished men in their own right. The idea is to take historical figures of interest and ask the question - So how did they dress or "proclaim" themselves (with apologies for rewording Shakespeare's well-known line)? And then link the photo to similar garments or accessories available today, if the fancy strikes you to wear something similar.

Depending on your style, you will likely find more than a few well-dressed examples in NB's photostream. The styles shown are an eclectic mash-up of Ivy League, collegiate, workwear, English dandyism and often, seemingly, no particular influences at all apart from the individuals themselves.

Additional links
- Dazed Digital piece on the Sartorialist

Thursday, December 24, 2009

In defense of ready to wear: Dressing for the moment v. the long duree

A defense of ready to wear clothes may seem like an odd thing to write about, especially since I cover mostly bespoke tailoring. But perhaps one of the unfortunate temptations of going custom is thinking that it is the end of line and sniffing at anything not bespoke pedigreed. Flying to exotic and/or expensive locales to frequent little known (or well-known) bespoke craftsmen has been known to incite mild self-satisfaction as well as hubristic tendencies of Sophoclean proportions. The opposite is also true. There are men who see little to no value in bespoke clothing compared to RTW. But that is a different conceit I think.

In reality, both bespoke and ready to wear are essential for a healthy menswear industry. The one can serve as a check and balance on the excesses of the other. Conversely, each can serve to inspire and short circuit the limitations of the other. Things can get very interesting in the cross-fertilization of ready to wear and bespoke (both artisanally speaking for tailors and practitioners in the apparel trade and for customers).

With bespoke, men commission garments for the "long duree" or the long term. Given the cost of custom clothes, this makes quite a bit of sense from an economic perspective. With ready to wear, men are more open to experimentation, incorporation of styles from previous eras and adaptation to the times they live in.



Take Engineered Garments, a New York based men's label headed by a Japanese designer Daiki Suzuki. Browse through their fall / winter 2009 collection and you will see an unmistakeably current and timely take on modern urbanwear and streetwear. It's so current and timely that I can't help but feel that the label should be credited in the new Sherlock Holmes film opening Christmas Day and directed by Guy Ritchie.

I haven't seen the film in its entirety yet but am willing to make the following wager. If you take away the Edwardian period artifacts and formality from the clothes worn in the film, I think you effectively end up with the EG aesthetic - two parts ruffian, one part aesthete - which happens to be Ritchie's take on Holmes. The association is there because EG offers historicized ready to wear - a melting pot montage of past workwear looks, countrywear and military uniforms. Or more specifically, according to EG's website, Suzuki was inspired by "American sportswear, outdoor clothing, and military uniforms".

In short, ready to wear brands with a distinct set of aesthetics like EG encourage us to experiment. While not all of clothing (or life for that matter) is about experimentation, sometimes our most interesting clothes are successful byproducts of the laboratory known as ready to wear.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on forumites sporting Engineered Garments
- Styleforum thread on the Engineered Garments
Fall / Winter 2009 collection
- New York Times article on the hipster revival of the Edwardian aesthetic
- New York Times film review of Sherlock Holmes

Anderson & Sheppard: "Shouldering" up on sales

Michael Alden, moderator of the London Lounge, has launched a new blog Dress with Style, and recently posted a video interview with John Hitchcock of Anderson & Sheppard. The noteworthy quote for me during the interview occurred at the beginning, when Hitchcock says "We're up 25 percent up on orders this year, which is fantastic. If you went back a few years, you would have thought bespoke was dying. Instead of that, it's come back in a big way "

That's a common theme I've heard at a few tailors and specialty retail shops that are weathering the Great Recession very nicely - even as luxury department stores and high end retailers are hurting. Part of their success may be due to a "flight to quality" but I think there's a more interesting set of forces at work, which I'll write about it soon (I hope).

Men's style: A visit with John Hitchcock from Michael Alden on Vimeo.

At any rate, for those who still are not familiar with the A&S look, Hitchcock goes on to explain the shoulder and chest construction of the A&S cut using a work-in-progress jacket.

If you tend to think visually, this is the best, quick explanation of the A&S cut you'll probably find (and from their head cutter and managing director to boot).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Marc Guyot: Progressive historicism from head to toe

Every metropolis accommodates a certain range of aesthetic senses, which in turn are reflected by its inhabitants. I was reminded of this when I was in Paris recently. Here the word and concept of "dandy" is not pejorative or considered suspect as it tends to be in the US. Instead, my sense is that the term is still accorded a measure of respect, seriousness and credibility, certainly at an intellectual level. Outside of Paris, the "dandy" lacks a certain concreteness and immediacy and may even appear to be extinct as a living practice. This is true even of New York City I think. A small example of this occurred while I was browsing a bookstore after my visits with Cifonelli and Marc Guyot. I happened to spot a slim volume on essays dedicated to the dandy, which probably would never have gotten published in the states.

Marc Guyot store

However, rest assured, the sartorial practices of modern dandyism are alive and well in Paris. After visiting Cifonelli, fellow blogger Hugo and I went to visit Marc and his store manager Jean-Philippe at their store and atelier, which is next to the Paris outpost of Crockett & Jones, the English shoemaker.

Marc Guyot deadstock Scottish tweeds

Marc is a very distinctive and larger than life character - shoemaker, designer, haberdasher, sartorial entrepreneur and preservationist. He bought the Apparel Arts trademark brand (yes, that Apparel Arts of 1930s and 40s magazine fame) and is designing and producing a range of soft shouldered clothing under his Apparel Arts label. He also searches for and purchases old deadstock tweeds in Scotland - vintage tweeds from the 1950s, 60s and 70s - which you can make up in made-to-measure or bespoke garments. A brilliant idea given the closure of mills and retirement of weavers over the years.

Carlos Santos shoes

Marc Guyot shoes

As Jean-Philippe explained to me, Marc also designs shoes for a number of brands including Carlos Santos, a Portuguese shoemaker. The examples in the shop featured semi-bevelled waists, an unusual feature in RTW shoes. Also unusual is the ability of customers to mix their own custom finish and color - a one-off color unique to their shoe. As far as I know, this is the one of the few places I know of which encourages and offers this service for customers.

Marc Guyot shirts & custom finishes

The shop also does custom Italian-made shirts with French side seams, gussets and crow's feet stitching of buttons. I also saw a couple of great overcoats (see photo below). Standing in the shop, I met a few of Marc's customers and friends and agree with Hugo that the shop has the feel of an informal club.

Marc Guyot window display

Very interesting shop and many thanks to Hugo for arranging my visit.

Additional links
- Marc's vintage sportswear line, Marcel Cerdan Heritage
- Styleforum thread on Loding shoes
- AskAndy thread on Portugeuse shoes

Cifonelli "classic"

In case some of you were wondering whether Cifonelli does classic well, I present exhibit A to the prosecution:

Cifonelli 6x2 DB overcoat

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cifonelli revisited: Experimentation with exactitude

In February 2008, I visited Paris and did a little tour of Cifonelli and Camps de Luca. I happened to be in Paris again last weekend and had the very good fortune of meeting a fellow blogger, Hugo of Parisian Gentleman, probably the most well-known men's clothing blog in France. Hugo very kindly invited me to join him for a few appointments during his busy Saturday schedule, which included Cifonelli and Marc Guyot, whom I'll write about later. I had a marvelous time and would like to thank him again for his time and hospitality, as well as Lorenzo Cifonelli who tended to our visit. Both are true Parisian gentlemen!

Massimo & Lorenzo Cifonelli

First, a quick update from my initial description of Cifonelli last year. I was under the impression that Cifonelli did not travel but I discovered that Lorenzo in fact visits NYC several times a year. In addition, this past year Lorenzo and Massimo have been designing a series of sports jackets rooted in traditional tailoring and construction, but are styled to be intentionally hybrid, intentionally inventive...and intentionally fresh. These designs may challenge our more traditionally minded readers who favor only the classic looks and templates of men's clothing. But I think it's healthy to stretch our imagination and boundaries every once in awhile.

The designs certainly do look different and the 10 or so odd jackets represent perfectly the hybrid philosophy of Cifonelli. Their core is a fusion of classic templates with a focused experimentation in the details: type and weight of stitching, pocket shapes, back/shoulder details. A fusion of correctness with experimentation on top of a sound base of uncompromising tailoring.

Here are a few jacket examples:

Travel jacket (note the wonderfully shaped patch pockets on the chest and side)
Cifonelli travel 01

Travel jacket interior
Cifonelli travel 02

Safari jacket (note the flared cuffs)
Cifonelli safari 01

Safari jacket interior
Cifonelli safari 02

Key west linen jacket (note the unusual pocket button fasteners)
Cifonelli key west 01

Denim jacket (material is Japanese raw denim if I remember correctly)
Cifonelli denim

"Dandy" model
Cifonelli dandy 01

"Dandy" model closeup (note the buttonhole detail)
Cifonelli dandy 02

The attention to detail as I noted in my previous visit last year comes out very clearly. This is especially evident in the clean, precise finishing of the self-lined jackets, which expose the interior construction to anyone who cares to look. I point out a couple of examples of this unusual exactitude for the benefit of those fixated on the minute details of construction.

First, the Cifonelli workshop produces a very fine and neat fell stitching on the inside shoulder lining seam of their jackets (see examples of pick v. fell stitching in this Styleforum thread). They also do very neat “Milanese” style buttonholes (see the lapel buttonhole on the "dandy" model closeup). Both are among the cleanest and most precise I've seen anywhere. Finally, you can see the distinct chest (poitrine) construction, small and swelled, in the picture of Lorenzo and Hugo sitting at the table below.

Hugo & Lorenzo Cifonelli

The attraction of Parisian tailoring houses like Cifonelli and Camps is simple. Both provide a story and familial history of tailoring that is connected concretely to the garment created for you. So the history and the story comes alive when you wear your suit. That's the definition of authenticity in a brand - living up to the promise that is marketed to the customer. But it is also refreshing to see that Cifonelli does not rest solely on its history and tradition but strives for inventiveness and novelty when the opportunity arises.

Additional links
- Parisian Gentleman post on Cifonelli

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A user's guide to men's clothing forums: AskAndy, Styleforum, London Lounge, Fedora Lounge

For the uninitiated, let me briefly introduce the world of online men's clothing forums. In 2009, these forums are perhaps not as exciting, novel or addictive as they were back in 2003 or 2004 when I first came across them. But very often these online forums are the "gateway drug" to sartorial enlightenment for many of us. More than a few duckbill-shoe wearers and designer fashion fanboys among us have stumbled upon one or more of these forums and emerged more informed and knowledgeable about the rudiments of clothing manufacture and construction. Some have even refined their sense of judgment or sense of style by reading and participating in these forums.

With the benefit of hindsight and some distance, I have taken it upon myself to compare the forums along a few criteria. A brief comment on my rating categories. "Groupthink" might be viewed strictly as negative. However, groupthink is also a measure of likemindedness, which may or may not be a negative quality. If thought-provoking, it serves to educate. If persuasive, it can confirm or support uncertain conjectures on your part. If the groupthink is silly, then sit back and enjoy the show!

AskAndy

- Laugh/entertainment value: Low
- Level of groupthink: Medium (high for trad subforum)
- Level of forum-specific jargon: Low
- Newbie friendliness: Medium-high (low snark)
- Prominence/influence of "power" members: Medium
- A sampling of my favorite threads: The Neapolitan shoulder explained, soft v. hard tailoring in Savile Row explained by a now infamous tailor, London city gents in the 1950s

Styleforum

- Laugh/entertainment value: High due to insider jokes and/or copious sarcasm
- Level of groupthink: High
- Level of forum-specific jargon: Very high. Recent coinages include the "iGent". In fact, I suspect the amount of insider sidebar discussions on threads among SF veterans can be rather distracting or induce head scratching for the newcomer.
- Newbie friendliness: Low (high snark)
- Prominence/influence of "power" members: High
- A sampling of my favorite threads: "A tale of two shoes" or a photo essay on resoling and refinishing a pair of shoes, London Cut exhibition photos

London Lounge

- Laugh/entertainment value: Low
- Level of groupthink: High
- Level of forum-specific jargon: Low
- Newbie friendliness: Medium
- Prominence/influence of "power" members: High
- A sampling of my favorite threads: The scoop on Frederick Scholte, the "which silhouette?" thread by uppercase featuring several Italian tailors

Fedora Lounge

- Laugh/entertainment value: Low
- Level of groupthink: Extremely high
- Level of forum-specific jargon: Low
- Newbie friendliness: High (low to microscopic levels of snark)
- Prominence/influence of "power" members: High
- A sampling of my favorite threads: Recommended vintage fedora brands, recommended custom hatmakers

So how do you rate the different forums?

For a break from the occasionally overheated self-indulgences of the men's clothing forums, get an invite and check out Fashion Spot where guys and gals but mostly gals talk about their favorite models and designers.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fred Astaire: A sartorial icon for whom?

This almost needs no introduction - almost. Astaire's Puttin' on the Ritz song and dance routine in Blue Skies (1946) looks deceptively easy and effortless but it took five weeks of painstaking preparation and rehearsal according to the dancer in his autobiography. Astaire was known for his total dedication to dancing and his dance partners throughout the years often struggled to keep up. That was not a problem of course in this solo routine.

At first glance, it may appear that Astaire is wearing an evening tailcoat (i.e. white tie) but he's actually wearing formal daywear, i.e. a black morning coat, ascot, wing collar shirt and formal striped trousers.


Much of the commentary about Astaire, particularly his clothes and style, falls under one of two types. One school of commentary says he is one of a kind, sui generis. In other words, he is inimitable but a sartorial standout worthy of admiration and historical study. The other viewpoint says he is a sartorial icon for Everyman. Any fellow wishing to dress well should imitate and study very carefully what Astaire wore, dressed and looked like. The former regards him as purely an historical artifact, the latter as a timeless icon of style transplantable to any era. Both are wrong.

I plan to elaborate further on the precise appeal (and relevance) of Astaire in my book. Here are a few Youtube user comments on the video:

  • "this is so different from Taco's version in the 80's" (Ha, indeed!)
  • "he is the man"
  • "enorme. puissant. geant. genial."

What is the basis for Astaire's enormous appeal, some 60 years after he tapped out his routine for the film? From a style perspective, I would argue this his appeal is not so much the clothing itself (which is exemplary of course) but the way he approached and thought about his clothes - their function and purpose - and his relentless pursuit of what I would call "clothing-unto-dancing."

In other words, his genius lay in the fusion of what he wore with his formidable talents in song and dance. Hence, the key to understanding his style is unlocking the why rather than the what. In fact, Astaire fits into one of several archetypes of style that I have come across in my research thus far.

From a practical standpoint, what is interesting is that Astaire is neither sui generis nor a ubiquitous sartorial model suitable for Everyman. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to providing a more complete explanation of what I mean by this.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Summer remainders: London & Bath

This post is severely overdue but better late than never, right? Includes photos of London (Savile Row, Kensington) and Bath (Fashion Museum).

Kensington: Hornets, Michael German Antiques

Hornets store

Michael German Antiques

Savile Row

Davies & Son

Norton & Son / Henry Poole

Anderson & Sheppard window

Bath: Fashion Museum

Fashion Museum Bath

The following are shots of some of the Fashion Museum permanent collection:

Chanel & Topshop
Chanel Topshop

Mary Quant / Ossie Clark / Missoni
Mary Quant Ossie Clark Missoni

1970s menswear: Cerruti, Missoni, Yves Saint Laurent, Blades by Tommy Nutter
Cerruti Missoni Yves Saint Laurent Blades

Thom Browne crosses the Atlantic
Thom Browne Jigsaw

Summer sale - socks!

Summer sale Jermyn St

When I was in London the last week of June, the men's shops on Jermyn St had numerous sales. For socks, New & Lingwood and Hilditch & Key seemed to have the most selection and variety. Turnbull & Asser had an excellent selection of handkerchiefs, pocket squares and small leather goods accessories on sale. The socks I bought are certainly colorful, esp. the red and orange ones. I'm still thinking about the right occasion to wear them beyond Halloween or a Princeton home game.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dressing up in Dresden

Another summer sartorial retrospective - this time in Dresden. Yes, that's right, in former East Germany the desire to dress well is alive and well 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and some 65 years after the deadly firebombing of the city during World War II. Time heals as the saying goes. Dresden has prospered and done quite well in the new Germany.

In the Hotel Taschenbergpalais (highly recommended by the way and situated right in the historic city center near the River Elbe), I found this window display by a high end men's and women's retailer, Prüssing & Köll.

Prüssing & Köll

Prüssing & Köll

Prüssing & Köll

Prüssing & Köll

Hmm, those shoes below have a familiar look about them. Could they be English?

Prüssing & Köll

They are indeed of English manufacture. Judging from the printed delivery time and pricing, they are probably made by Edward Green for the store.

Prüssing & Köll MTO shoes

One more thing. If you like German mechanical watches (Glashütte etc.), there are a number of shops in Dresden that offer reasonably priced automatics, new and used.

Monday, November 09, 2009

More Madrid: Carmina, Sesena, Hernanz, Yustas

Some housekeeping is in order. The following are more photos from my summer trip earlier this year to Madrid:

Carmina shoes (Salamanca store)
Carmina Salamanca store

Casa Sesena capes
Casa Sesena

Casa Hernanz espadrilles
Casa Hernanz

This window features men's espadrilles. The second row from the bottom features traditional handmade versions (hecho a mano).
Casa Hernanz window display

Casa Yustas hats
Casa Yustas

Additional links
- New York Times article on Casa Hernanz

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Bespoke shoes: A growth engine?

In this recessionary environment, it's been fairly common to hear of consumers trading down to more inexpensive alternatives. But what about consumers trading up for quality at a price level an order of magnitude higher? It seems a bit unlikely but this seems to be what is happening in the women's footwear market.

More and more women are buying bespoke shoes according to this article by the Independent, a UK newspaper.

Interestingly enough, the anecdotal evidence seems to support this. During Foster & Son's visit last week, this is exactly what I heard from Mr. Edgecliffe-Johnson. Women have been visiting Foster in noticeably higher numbers this year and placing orders. Judging from their core business - men's bespoke shoes - men are also exhibiting the same behavior. Their workshop has been humming with activity these past several months and I suspect the same is true for the other handful of English bespoke shoemakers.

Additional articles
- New York Times article on the recent spike in shoe purchases

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Foster & Son update: Norwegian derby

Earlier this week, I received a pair of Foster shoes - a three eyelet Norwegian stitched apron derby with a lovely dark chestnut finish carrying just a touch of russet brown (less reddish than the photos suggest). They turned out spectacularly well in terms of fit and finish.

Foster Norwegian derby 02

Foster Norwegian derby 01

Conventional wisdom says the Italians have superior finishing compared to the English shoemakers. If this is any example, I think the English can more than hold their own in this department.

Foster Norwegian derby 04

Foster Norwegian derby 05

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Hawaiian (or aloha) shirt

When we think of Hawaii, we tend to think of sunshine, beaches, Waikiki, tropicality in some form.

30th floor view of Waikiki Beach

Waikiki

I certainly don't deny any of this but there's another side of Hawaii related to clothing that is distinctive - instantly recognizable at a glance. So what is Hawaii's contribution to the sartorial world, or at least fashion in the conventional sense?

The Hawaiian or aloha shirt of course. The shoe retailer Leather Soul is a close runner-up! The best examples of this shirt style seem to have been made in the first half of the 20th century. At least that's the consensus among aficionados.

Bailey's Aloha Shirts storefront

If vintage is your thing, visit Bailey's Aloha Shirts just north of the Waikiki district in Honolulu. They carry a large assortment of vintage shirts from Reyn Spooner, Tori Richards, Kahala Shirts and many others. The market for these shirts is nothing to sneeze at. Bailey's most expensive example is a $4,500 vintage shirt with a very unusual design, probably a one-off.

Bailey's Aloha Shirts

If you're interesting in reading up further, check out Dale Hope's book, The Aloha Shirt: Spirit Of The Islands.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Brooks Brothers Mad Men limited edition suits

I received an email yesterday indicating that Brooks Bros has put up a special section on their website for their limited edition Mad Men suits. As might be predicted, reaction in the online world has been mixed as this Styleforum thread shows, with the comments perhaps tracking more on the critical side.

If you like the styling and, above all, are a close fit to a standard men's size (in particular the Brooks 1818 Collection suits), I'd have to disagree with the more critical forumites and say go for it. I'm not especially keen on the "Mad Men Edition" lettering on the inside label. But it looks like a solidly constructed suit and I see nothing criminal about the lapel size. For those who did not notice, the lapels are a touch narrower than the rules-based dictum that the lapel should be about half the shoulder width.

Speaking of details, I did like the fact that the lapel just kisses the corner of the chest pocket rather than fully covering both corners. It is fairly uncommon to find this on jackets these days (or perhaps I'm not looking hard enough).

I also found interesting the Brooks Bros archival photos of the 1960s which show Peal shoes from that era selling for as low as $28 and standard tie width at around 2 inches.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Brooks Brothers and Mad Men style

What does the marriage of the American men's clothing retailer Brooks Brothers and the Emmy Award winning series Mad Men yield? For skeptical readers, probably not much. However, it is not a stretch to find here a measure of fitting synergy.

Men's clothing, esp. traditional business formal wear, is sustained by little more than habit and expectation. It has very little of the desire for constant change and built-in transience that makes womenswear such a seasonally driven business. As men, we are left largely to our own devices to figure out what we should wear for work, evenings and the weekends. Without durable incentives to sustain certain dressing habits and norms, some would say it's been quite a race to the bottom. If men excel in dressing well today, it is in the area of casualwear rather than traditional tailored clothing.

What's refreshing about Mad Men is its injection of a striking, visual sociology of formal menswear into the hearts and minds of today's twenty, thirty or forty-somethings, men too young to have lived through the icon-laden 1960s. Mad Men opens up a world of tailoring iconography and vocabulary that is initially unfamiliar but immensely appealing to today's male audience. Without getting too Freudian, I do think the show is a bit like a surrogate father who teaches his son the fundamentals of dressing. Or, as this clip from Saturday Night Live shows, we too can be just like Don Draper.



Brooks Brothers' role in all of this is simple. They supplied the men's suits to the show's characters - in particular, the medium gray (static gray) sharkskin suits that are the alpha and the omega of 1960s men's style. These suits have a trim shoulder line, somewhat narrow lapels and convey equally well the directness (or duplicity) of its wearer. According to this article, Brooks Brothers' version for the consumer will be made in the Southwick factory.

Going back to the show's appeal, I forgot to mention of course that it doesn't hurt to have great screenwriters, set decorators and multitalented actresses like Christina Hendricks and January Jones in the mix.

Additional links
- LA Times article on Mad Men and vintage clothing
- LA Times article on Brooks Brothers' tiemaking factory in Long Island City, Queens, NYC
- NPR story on Mad Men set decorator Amy Wells
- "What Would Don Draper Do?" blog

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Allen-Edmonds factory trip: An underappreciated American shoemaker

During my summer travels, I missed this excellent AskAndy thread on one member's visit to the AE factory in Wisconsin to see his pair of Mora double monk straps being produced. He also met with AE CEO Paul Grangaard during his visit.

If you are new to the world of quality men's shoes and have been perusing the men's clothing discussion forums, your shoe development arc will probably have taken you from Kenneth Cole to the rarified world of higher end RTW, MTO and perhaps even true bespoke from the UK and the Continent. I wouldn't want to deny you any aspect of that journey. It's hard not to experiment with and appreciate the quality traditional shoemakers that still turn out finely made traditional shoes. The choices are truly bountiful and the photos ever growing (see this monster Styleforum thread on member shoe purchases).

But rarely do you hear shoe aficionados put Allen-Edmonds in the same category as say an Edward Green, John Lobb or Gaziano & Girling. To be sure, there are differences in the shape of the last, the finishing, the choice of leather, etc., which account for that gap in reputation on the internet forums. Naturally, you'll want to make your own determinations on what works best for you but I find I wear my AE shoes as regularly as any of my other high end shoes. In terms of overall wearability and versatility, AE (and Alden, the other traditional American shoemaker) rank very high for me. Unlike the overseas makers, you can readily recraft AEs and Aldens as I describe in an earlier thread. And of course they are much more easily available to try on and purchase in the US.

So if you're looking to "step up" from Kenneth Cole my suggestion is to test drive the American shoemakers as well as the UK and European makers.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Edward Sexton: The tailor of Knightsbridge

During the summer, I visited the shop of Edward Sexton at 26 Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge. Sexton is perhaps the most well-known London tailor not physically on the Savile Row. But he has of course deep roots through his association with Nutter's of Savile Row. Times have changed but the cutter behind it all remains.

I walked up one floor, entered a side door and met Mr. Sexton. He was in the middle of cutting a suit and hence handed me off to his colleague Davide Taub, who recently joined the shop from the Row. We had a brief but interesting chat. Davide averred that Sexton is a perfectionist at a different level perhaps from the rest of the Row. He is known to tear a jacket apart in the pursuit of perfection, driving his tailors crazy. Everything is done inhouse and they only have two outworkers who work exclusively for Sexton. Both are former inhouse employees.

Edward Sexton window 2

These days Sexton's customers include bankers and lawyers who are professionals but possess a "touch of naughtiness" as Davide described. What about the look? A Sexton jacket tends to have strong shoulders with a full sleeve. As James Sherwood writes in The London Cut, his suits have a bit of emphasis in the shoulder and chest, featuring a "high-cut armhole and rope shoulder". Interestingly enough, Davide showed me a plain weave navy blue single-breasted jacket (two button if I remember correctly) with very soft shoulders and soft chest canvas. This was cut for a longtime customer and not Sexton's usual way to construct a jacket but certainly shows a high level of tailoring versatility.

In another departure from other tailors, Sexton cuts ably for women - a fact not lost on fashion designer Stella McCartney, who studied with him. Cutting women's clothing is different than men's as the cloths often stretch and one cannot rely on the seams as is done in men's clothing. Sexton has certainly seen fashions change and styles come and go since the 1960s but what has remained constant for him is his dedication to the craft of cutting and shaping a jacket. Ars longa, vita brevis.

Additional links
- Finch's Quarterly Review profile of Sexton
- Independent interview of Edward Sexton and Petra Ecclestone, daughter of a well-known customer, Bernie Ecclestone
- Styleforum thread on Tommy Nutter

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Lodger: Built to last

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies is the title of a business book on what makes an enduring business. Nathan Brown, managing director at The Lodger, is aiming to do precisely that in the men's footwear business. It goes without saying that he's been very focused on building a company that "lasts" (pun fully intended).

During my September visit to London, I dropped by the store tucked away on Clifford Street in Mayfair and chatted with Nathan, who has a degree from London Business School and worked at a well-known footwear company in the Pacific Northwest. He is hoping to carve out a new market segment between ready to wear and full bespoke. Much of his success will hinge on a 3D laser scanning device, installed downstairs in the store, which provides a precise set of measurements of the geometry of the foot.

While I was in the store, I happened to strike up a conversation with an Austrian customer, Thomas, who proceeded to have his feet scanned on the device. Nathan has found that doing both a traditional fitting and using their scanning device produces the best results. This makes quite a bit of sense. Even in the 21st century it's actually quite difficult to fully automate "a good fit", a process which is statically physical (described by measurements) but also dynamically perceived by the customer.

Below are a few photos of my visit, taken with Thomas's camera:

Nathan Brown & Thomas

Wholecut

Oxford chocolate

Brogue milkshake