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