Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Breanish Tweed - A baker's dozen of Shetlands

Among tweed aficionados, Breanish Tweed is high on the list of favored weavers. Woven in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, Breanish woolens are unique in several ways. They are handwoven on a single width Hattersley loom from natural yarns that are also warped by hand.  Until recently, much of Breanish production went primarily to designer houses and Savile Row tailors who make up custom tweeds for their customers.

However, last year Breanish Tweed in cooperation with distributor Jodek embarked on their first set of stock-supported cloth for wide distribution. This means they now offer cut lengths to any tailor who wishes to order Breanish Tweed for his customers. This season Breanish and Jodek offer a dozen 10.5oz Shetland tweeds in single widths in blues, reds, greens and browns (both solids and patterns). Below is a close up of Shetland ST7's weave (note: the actual color is considerably darker).  

Breanish ST07 alt 01

For my next project, my local tailor will be making up a jacket length of Breanish ST7, which is a richly subdued melange of maroon, loganberry and brown herringbone with a dark green and blue overcheck. This is not a color palette for everyone but I like its ability to be paired with trousers in shades of grey as well as brown. If you're interested in the cloths, ask your tailor to contact Jodek (link below).

Additional links
- Cloth distributor Jodek 

Monday, February 16, 2009

Recession-savvy footwear: Recrafting/resoling shoes

If you need a pair of workhorse dress or dress casual shoes in this tough economy, read on.

Recrafting option

For recrafting, all you need is a nearby Goodwill, Salvation Army or thrift shop and a little luck. If you have a favorite thrift shop, you've probably seen an occasional pair of Allen-Edmonds or Alden shoes. In the past, you might have passed on them, especially if they were a bit beaten up or scuffed. But think again if you're on a budget these days.

A brand new pair of AE shoes can retail for $325 (and more for Alden dress shoes). But you can buy those used AE shoes for $10 and send them to the AE Recrafting program for $95. Alden has a similar program through its retailers (as do many of the English shoemakers based in Northampton like Crockett & Jones and Edward Green but these will be pricier than the US makers).

AE Thayer monk

You'll get back a pair of shoes that will be re-welted, re-soled, re-heeled and refinished. Depending on the original condition, you could get back a nearly new looking pair of shoes for about $200 less than retail. Here's an AE pair (bought new about a year ago) after it was recrafted by AE.

AE Thayer monk

You might recognize this as the AE Thayer monk strap which uses the 8 last. The beauty of the AE recrafting program is that you can specify a different outsole from what it originally came with. In this case, I requested the Titan rubber outsole which is similar to the hard-wearing British Dainite sole.

One final note: Many members of the various men's clothing forums dismiss AE and Alden, finding them to lack the "elegance" and "style" of English or Italian makes. This is a bit sweeping. To my eye anyway, the AE 8 last, as shown above, is a perfectly fine and elegant last.

Resoling

The other option of course is to breath new life in your worn out pair of Goodyear welted shoes by resoling them. You do have a pair of welted shoes I hope? You can go to the original maker as mentioned above (which is preferred since they work off the original last). Or you can ask an experienced cobbler to resole your shoes. A skilled cobbler can do an amazing job in restoring a pair of shoes as this Styleforum thread illustrates. If you don't know of a good cobbler locally, check the links below.

Not sure what kind of replacement outsole or heels you need? The UnionWorks website has a pretty exhaustive list of resoling options.

Additional links
- AskAndy thread on Allen Edmonds recrafting
- AskAndy thread on resoling Brooks Bros Peal shoes
- Cobblestone resoling service (St. Louis)
- B. Nelson resoling service (New York) and an accompanying Styleforum thread
- Official Dainite website (aka Harboro Rubber) and Styleforum thread
- Shoe Service Institute of America - Need a cobbler but don't live in NY or St. Louis? Use the locator function on the SSIA website to find one in your city or state.
- Time Magazine article on thriving cobblers in the current economy - Interesting article that was published after I posted this entry

Updated 11/24/09

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Children of a "Lesser" god: A chance encounter with Henry Lesser

Pardon the pun on the movie title but I could not resist. If you are customer of Savile Row, the chances are very good that you are in effect a sartorial child of Lesser. In other words, you have already ordered (or will at one point) a suit made up in Lesser cloth. Even luckier still, you may have had the good fortune of having a suit made up in Lesser's Golden Bale cloth.

During one of my visits last week to Chittleborough & Morgan, Mr. Lesser happened to drop in by sheer coincidence and he was a very charming fellow to talk to. Lesser was wearing incidentally a very well-made and handsome looking overcoat. He was in town making his rounds to the various tailoring houses that day and also to attend the Merchant Taylors' annual festival dinner that evening. I didn't ask but I believe he was updating his books at each tailor. Below is a photo of Messrs. Morgan (left) and Lesser (right).

Joseph Morgan & Henry Lesser

During our wide-ranging chat, Joseph Morgan and I began talking about heavyweight cloths at which point Morgan pulled out a Lesser heavyweight (18 oz I believe) cloth book as an example, noting how marvelously they made up. Lesser nodded approvingly, saying in sotto voce that it feels a bit "like leather." Unfortunately, the cloth is no longer in production. They are only three bunches from the book left in stock - a medium gray and two blues I believe.

The surety and fluidity with which Lesser speaks about his fabrics captures I think a reassuring consistency between his fabric's quality and his business philosophy. This is a merchant that inspects every piece supplied by their mills for defects like a pulled string, making a note of its position and length, and sending it back to the mill. Lesser may very well be the only cloth merchant in the business that conducts such an exhaustive quality assurance check. In the world of manufacturing, this is effectively a zero defects process (Six Sigma anyone?). It was a pleasure speaking with both Morgan and Lesser, giving me a fascinating peek into the small highly networked world of the Row and its ecosystem of suppliers and intermediaries.

It was a pity I wasn't able to attend the Merchant Taylors' annual festival dinner. Perhaps next year!

Updated 04/26/09

Chittleborough & Morgan: The Row liveth

In these challenging economic times, one might imagine a grim mood gripping Savile Row. Indeed, last week as I stood on a stoop looking down into the basement of Hardy Amies I spied a pile of discarded moving boxes sitting below a sample sale sign in the window. The couturier had been in the press last fall regarding potential receivership. It's a sharp reminder that no business - even those with a storied past - is immune in this economy. But many of the SR shops I visited on this trip seemed busy - some even busier than my last trip a year ago.

All the shops I visited were quite amiable but Chittleborough & Morgan was the most amiable and informative at a personal level. This is because I spoke with the proprietors themselves, Messrs. Roy Chittleborough and Joseph Morgan.

Chittleborough & Morgan

In his book The London Cut: Savile Row Bespoke Tailoring, James Sherwood describes the atmosphere at C&M as "brisk and efficient". He's certainly right at one level but I also detected an unusual readiness and willingness to chat and share. You get a sense of that openness when you notice the selection of Gaziano & Girling sample shoes on the wall. Started by Tony Gaziano (formerly of Edward Green), G&G offer MTO and bespoke footwear and share space with C&M at the latter's invitation.

I visited on two separate days, first speaking with Mr. Chittleborough and then Mr. Morgan. Roy worked at Kilgour back in the 1960s and then at Nutters before opening his own shop with partner Joseph Morgan. They've been in business since 1980 and make the full run of garments from dresswear to overcoats (with the exception of military clothing). C&M carry a number of mills and merchants - Lesser, Dormeuil, Scabal, Dugdale and other English cloths. Morgan visits NYC twice a year and is scheduled to visit in April.

The following day I spoke with Joseph Morgan and he shared a number of notable details on what goes into a C&M suit and the look they strive for. They favor a straight shoulder rather than natural, the straightness of which creates a platform to shape the waist underneath. They also cut a slightly longer jacket. Of course, this is only a starting point as Morgan made the point that bespoke means by default a level of customization in the end product.

Joe graciously walked through the handpadding of lapels (and several examples in progress) and the construction of the three-layer chestpiece. He also pulled out a roll of the standard pocket lining used for their trousers, the quality of which is truly exceptional as I have not seen it elsewhere. We walked over to a nearly finished jacket and he opened it up to show the construction of the interior pocket, which features an ingenious extra fold above the pocket opening to catch and secure oversize objects protruding from the pocket. He also lifted the sleeve for closer inspection of their very distinctive, ridged (raised) buttonholes and the special technique they train their tailoresses to create the subtle ridging. Finally he opened up a customer's trouser bundle to explain the unusual steaming and shaping of their trousers prior to their assembly. If you live for perfectionism in the details then you will be remiss in not visiting C&M to see the handwork and detailing yourself.

Joseph Morgan

Morgan himself was wearing a three button dark blue suit that on first glance appeared like a very well executed city suit with a classic Row shoulder. However as the eye moves down the suit, you begin to see vertical detailing in the form of open lap seams (or small ridges) on the center back seam and sleeve seams of his jacket and the side seams of the trousers. It's a city suit that has been individualized and subtly dandified.

Morgan's exactitude and precision reminded me of the Parisian tailor Cifonelli (which should be a compliment to both gentlemen). In fact, both Massimo Cifonelli and Joseph Morgan are excellent ambassadors for their businesses. And they both wore suits that spoke highly of their craftmanship. But do not confuse C&M's exactitude and perfectionism with staidness. They channel their precision with a sense of style and detailing that is fresh but understated.

My latest visit to the Row solidifies the following belief: If you know what you want, the chances are very good that you can find it on the Row.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on C&M

Updated Feb 2010