Sunday, January 25, 2009

Men's shoes: Do we need a Christian Louboutin?

In this blog post, Lauren Goldstein Crowe, a luxury goods consultant, decries the moribund state of men's shoes. She may be right that it's moribund but then she laments "Where, oh where, is the Christian Louboutin of men’s footwear?" Louboutin is of course the well-known "high-end" women's shoe designer. Apparently he and Manolo Blahnik sell the most expensive and desirable women's shoes on the market.

As I describe in a comment following the article, men have plenty of choices in quality men’s shoes. In the US and UK, we have a number of quality RTW makes: Edward Green. John Lobb, Crockett & Jones, Trickers, Alden and a host of others from Italy and Central Europe (Vass, St. Crispins).

For bespoke, look again to England (Cleverley, Foster & Son, Gaziano & Girling, John Lobb St James), Italy (Ugolini, Gatto, Bestetti), France (Corthay, Berluti) or Central Europe (Vass, Maftei, Balint, Scheer).

The problem is not in the lack of quality makers for both RTW and bespoke. Quality men's shoes have been around for decades - long before Christian Louboutin ever became popular in women's shoes. The real problem is that men do not understand or appreciate quality shoemaking while the cost of labor has inexorably risen. The result is that fewer men are able to both appreciate and afford shoes made by the makers mentioned above. But that loss is I hope offset by the increasing self-education of men in this area - witness this and countless other blogs and discussion forums on men's clothing.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Choosing a tailor: Singularity or plurality?

Happy new year and best wishes for 2009. This is my fourth year of developing this blog and it has evolved from its modest origins thanks to other bloggers, a truly international audience of readers and the always entertaining and informative world of online men's clothing forums.

Given yesterday's post, I thought it might be useful to contrast two recent threads that speak to the theme of choosing tailors.

This London Lounge thread on Adolphe Menjou's tailors lists the 13 tailors that Menjou mentioned using in his autobiography, It Took Nine Tailors. Adolphe Menjou of course is the impeccably dressed actor of old Hollywood. Another LL thread seeks advice on a placing an initial bespoke order with English tailor Anderson & Sheppard.

These two threads make for a fascinating comparison because they contrast sharply two schools of thought. One school favors finding just one tailor - the One Tailor to Rule Them All - and sticking with him. This is reflected by a side discussion in the A&S thread by advocates of both approaches weighing in. The other school (i.e. Menjou) is driven by a curiosity and passion for tailored clothes, which tends toward experimentation of tailors.

So which is right? Singularity or plurality? For now suffice to say that both approaches can be made to work - depending on who you are and your ability to know what you want. According to my 2008 survey, 59% of bespoke customers use one tailor while 41% use two or more. I'll expand more on this in my book with a fully fleshed out taxonomy of approaches to choosing a tailor.

The A&S thread is full of superb advice by A&S customers (esp. by LL member uppercase) on how to navigate the initial order process with this well-known Savile Row tailor. I speak out of personal interest as well since I intend to place a first order with A&S sometime this year. I can say that this was in the works before - way before - I saw the results of the bespoke wishlist question in my survey. Ha, perhaps that survey may have nudged me a little.

At any rate, I'll be sure to remember the following advice from uppercase, "Walk into A&S knowing, in broad terms, what you want" and "Agree, up front, on the number of fittings that you will receive." Probably good advice to apply to any new tailor.