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.