Saturday, December 25, 2010

A little holiday cheer

Best holiday wishes to everyone! Enjoy the gifts you've given and received and, most of all, the company you keep.

In the meantime, if you know (or are) a gadget geek, you might enjoy the sly, dry British humor of this BBC One skit on the BlackBerry.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Style as evolution v. static equilibrium

Despite the efforts of provocative designers such as Thom Browne and Kris van Assche, the contemporary Western male is largely conservative regarding color, pattern and cut. We are perhaps the logical culmination of the Great Austerity in men's clothing that began with Beau Brummell's simplification of gentlemanly dress in the early 1800s. Of course there have been periodic wavelets of experimentation around proportion or color - Oxford bags in the 1920s, zoot suits in the 1940s. But the long arc of men's dress in the modern era has been riveted around the principle of sobriety.

At least it seems that way to me. When I began regularly visiting New York City a few years ago, I couldn't help but notice the prevalence of black in the clothing of both men and women. Apart from summertime wear, the logic of dark, monochrome clothing seems firmly entrenched here and in other major American and European cities.

Based on this current trajectory, the sartorial endgame for men is a tightly bound view of clothing and style. Many of us refuse to wear a garment that stands out in some way - the double-breasted suit (too formal, unusual) or even peak lapels on single-breasted jackets. Many of us seem comfortable - perhaps too comfortable - with a wardrobe consisting almost entirely of single breasted jackets with notch lapels in two or three buttons. We tend to shun experimentation, remain allergic to changing our wardrobe and fixate instead on finetuning rules and formulae on a narrow set of issues - proportion, shoulder line and fit.

Against this backdrop, it's difficult to imagine how a man today would ever contemplate wearing this large-scale tartan lounge suit (circa 1875):

LACMA tartan lounge suit (1875-80)

Or this silk/velvet coat and breeches (circa 1780-85):

LACMA silk & velvet coat & breeches (1780-85)

But wear these men did, apparently with pleasure and ease, and absent our modern anxieties. These photos were taken from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) exhibit called "Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915". It's an excellent overview of two centuries of European men's and women's dress. While you're there, you might as well visit the new wing featuring works by Serra, Warhol and Eggleston.

Not that I'm advocating wholesale adoption of such historical artifacts. But I suspect most of us could benefit from a dose of experimentation, taking a peek every now and then over the sartorial horizon we've constructed for ourselves. Perhaps the rules we follow are just a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Leather Soul, Beverly Hills: Alden and Cleverley trunk shows

A couple of years ago I wrote about my visit to high end men's shoe store Leather Soul in Hawaii. The owner has since expanded to Beverly Hills in Los Angeles and I stopped by the new expansion store earlier this month during the Alden and Cleverly trunk shows.

Leather Soul BH - Lobb & Cleverley

Nate Humble of Alden was on the main floor covering Alden and George Glasgow, Jr. was upstairs taking care of Cleverley customers.

Cleverley offers three lines: RTW ($500), Anthony Cleverley ($1600) and bespoke ($3450). Each step up the line reflects greater range of options, higher level of craftmanship and personalization in fit and shoe features.

Leather Soul BH - Cleverley

Leather Soul BH - Cleverley Russian reindeer

The Anthony Cleverley line was named after a nephew in the Cleverley family and based on his shoe designs for clients such as Winston Churchill and Douglas Fairbanks. If you visit, be sure to peruse the black and white spiral bound book containing photos of those original designs. At the bespoke level, the customer can choose from calfskin to exotic skins such as alligator or even frogskin. Cleverley also has an Asia trip planned next year to Japan, Korea and China (their first visit to the latter two countries).

I also spoke with Nate Humble of Alden and we chatted a bit about the unrelenting demand for Alden shoes worldwide. The Leather Soul store has an impressive lineup of Alden shoes (see below).

Leather Soul BH - Alden 02

Leather Soul BH - Alden 01

The Alden factory is still backlogged and shell cordovan in lighter finishes (like whiskey) continues to remain in short supply. In fact, when we spoke, they had just delivered a 2008 order to a Japanese customer. So patience is certainly a virtue when placing special make orders with this unique American shoemaker.

Below is the store's lineup of Edward Green shoes, which were temporarily relocated to the stairs.

Leather Soul BH - Edward Green

Friday, December 10, 2010

Profile of a modern hatmaker: Stephen Temkin

I recently had a great chat with newly minted hatmaker Stephen Temkin who launched his initial collection of hats under the Leon Drexler brand. Stephen is based in Toronto and launched his RTW and bespoke hat business earlier this year. If you're serious about hats, be sure to check his guide to measuring your head to get the correct hat size. It's probably the best one page description I've read anywhere of measuring your hat size.

Below is an excerpt from our interview:

What triggered you to start making your own hats?

People used to say that you go mad after making hats. Now I say you have to be mad to make hats. I started wearing hats 10-15 years ago purely from a functional reason - to protect my head. About 4 years I was looking for a birthday present for my wife. I saw a vintage fedora made by James Lock and was looking to refurbish it and put on a different ribbon. I took it to a milliner friend but she was too busy. Then I went to a place called the Hatter - one of the last places to clean your hat in Toronto and they weren't able to do the ribboning. So I did the ribboning myself and my wife suggested that I be a hat designer. I got online and started looking and coming across guys like Art Fawcett making hats. I deliberated over several weeks, talked to other guys and got referrals. Over two years I put it all together.

It was frustrating since there is no manual. There is one book you can buy - a plastic bound reprint of a 1919 book called Scientific Hat Finishing and Renovating. Pretty much the only book written by a hatter. There are illustrations of tools down to the brand of the stuff I actually bought. I'm the only person in Toronto doing this - possibly in eastern Canada. Biltmore of course is the commercial hatter an hour east of Toronto and there are a couple of guys in Alberta who do cowboy hats.

What was the most challenging aspect of going into this business?

It was the learning curve. I used to be in winemaking and every winemaker has his own theory of making wine. Hatmakers are similar and each has his own theory. One guy says to pounce a hat for 5 hours, another guy says 5 minutes. It's trial and error.

Would you recommend a person to get into hatmaking?

You can still do it. Some equipment might be difficult to get but a lot of things can be made for you. I went searching for hat blocks and two sets I bought in Germany. What's hard to find is whole sets with similar styles in various sizes. There are a couple of block makers around and you can get new blocks made. At this point I may have blocks made for me. There is a guy named Mark DeCou in the US - a woodmaker who specializes in hatmaking tools such as brim cutters. Antique curling shackles can be hard to find.

I use a very heavy old electric tailor's iron which weighs 17 lbs. I found mine at Canada Steam Iron. They had just two lying around and I picked up one of them. Nowadays everyone uses pressurized steam. Another thing is the old sewing machines for sewing sweatbands into hats, doing bindings around the edge of brims.

Let's talk about ribbons. Is there a story behind how you acquired your old-stock French hatband?

Any hatmaker will tell you ribbons are an issue. They pretty much vanished in the late 50s into 60s. Ribbon manufacture went with it. There is a specific kind of grosgrain for men's hat, which is a blend of cotton and rayon that imitates the look of silk. I found a guy in Germany who sold hat bodies to milliners and old stock hatband. He purchased his ribbon from a German hatter who closed a decade ago and wanted to sell his whole inventory.

So I bought it all. It's great stuff and you can really use the colors designed for men's hats, which are neither overly bright or garish - subtle blues, greens and ivory-tawny colors. The other great thing about this ribbon is the level of sheen, which is subtle. Modern ribbon is too shiny.

The old stock hatband come in a little over 60 colors. In addition, I use a modern ribbon - a very fine pure silk (almost taffeta) made by Mokuba of Japan. For a black hat with black ribbon I suggest using this stuff because it is blacker. Black ribbon tends to look grey against black felt.

Where do you get your felt?

We're all buying pure beaver felt from the same source - Winchester Company in Tennessee. They're the only one in North America you can buy this stuff from. Even from Europe the choices are limited and they only come in 2 colors, brown or black.

Let's talk about designing hats for women. How are they different than the male customer?

Because I don't do millinery, it's the same felt and basic shape. Where it changes for women is relative proportion. A woman would be open to a wider brim and you can think about trimmings in a slightly more flamboyant way. For me that would be a brightly colored silk ribbon or a slightly more conspicuous bow or an addition of a peacock feather.

Why did hatwearing decline?

I think the main reason was automobiles. It wasn't until 60s that the automobile was something that everyone had. The development of suburbs also promoted the auto. People stopped spending time outside.Toronto has one of the biggest underground mall networks around. You could live in downtown Toronto in a condo and literally never go outside.

What sort of people wear hats these days?

Most of my customers are middle-aged men who wear hats, like hats and have trouble finding good quality hats. Some guys it's their first hat.

What makes a hat charming is a certain amount of irregularity. Men used to bash their own hats, breaking it in. Only a good hat can stand up to the breaking in.

Who and what are your style and design inspirations?

Style begins with functionality. I'm really not into gratuitous fashion - I can't even stand cargo pants. My approach to fashion is rooted in functionality and quality. I would say there is a certain amount of visual discretion. I approach hatmaking as an element of contemporary fashion. I don't look at hats as nostalgic or ironic or celebrity imitation. I think about hats as a functional and good looking part of my wardrobe in a contemporary sense.

I talk about the style of my hats. Part of my idea is to help men to think about the language of hats. They should be thinking about hats in the same way they think about shoes or suits. Men's style is a bunch of discrete decisions - 2 or 3 buttons, this or that collar. A lot of the look of the men's fashion is the sum of small decisions. Hats are really a game of millimeters - small changes will really change the attitude of the hat.

A lot of men are shy about hats and think they don't look good in them. Hats are close to your identity. So the thing to do is wear a hat that implies you and not something else. How discreet it looks is up to you.

If hats are ever going to come back, then they have to be viewed as a kind of an authentic contemporary fashion rather than indicate something else, a bygone era. Rather they should indicate something I enjoy wearing. Once you start wearing hats it gets addictive.

For women it's different - more ornamentation. Men don't like the idea of wearing something as ornament.

What are your plans for 2011?

I recently got a sewing machine to do bindings on brims for next fall, and some new blocks. I just made a new prototype hat for me. Some hatmakers make everything. I love the idea of being more niche.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

English tailoring: Jasper Littman

Here's a short video documentary of English tailor Jasper Littman at work with a new client on a semi-bespoke or made-to-measure suit. I'm not a customer of Littman but I enjoyed watching the video for some of the commentary and footage of tailors and workshops.

Journalist Mads Qvortup and Littman chat about the proprieties of buttoning a one-button suit, flip through a Richard James Weldon linings book (I'm sure I'm not the only who recognized that book), discuss the gentlemanly preference to bypass belted loops on trousers in favor of side adjusters, and make note of the shaped waist of a classic Savile Row suit.

The suit that is produced seems decently well-fitting for 750 GBP. The shoulders and waist come out well if you like structured suits. I suspect perhaps the collar might be a touch loose though it's difficult to tell with certainty in the video.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

More shopping apps: Rightcliq

The marketing folks at Visa contacted me recently about their online shopping tool Rightcliq. I haven't had a chance to test drive the tool (which currently supports Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer) but it looks interesting. The tool allows a user to clip and aggregate different products from different online sources and manage them in a single repository.

Amazon has a similar tool called the Wish List browser add-on that sits in the toolbar of your browser and allows you to add any product from any website to your Amazon wish list. Consolidation equals convenience. Also Alan Flusser's BeSpeak iPhone app has a wardrobe management function to manage different combinations of men's clothing.

Rightcliq builds on these ideas by creating a more general and flexible version of the wish list called "wishspaces". The tool also adds a crowdsourcing aspect by allowing you to share your wishspace with friends via email or Facebook for their input into your buying decision.

[Original video no longer available]

I see two early adopter segments for this tool:
  • Avid online consumers, esp. women who browse through dozens of blogs, e-commerce websites and fashion websites to collect and build ideas for new looks, accessories and pieces
  • Professional style consultants who manage outfits, looks and wardrobes for their clients (or anyone who needs to manage the wardrobe of friends, relatives, children, etc).

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pop-up store for the dapper gent: Fine and Dandy Shop

Matt Fox of Fine and Dandy Shop kindly invited me to attend their pop-up store event at The Blind Barber on the Lower East Side in NYC on December 4th and 5th. Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend the event.

The pop-up store will feature men's accessories (ties, bow ties, pocket squares, tie bars, collar bars, cufflinks, money clips, and more).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Winter accessories: Scores of scarves

Autumn has been fairly mild in New York City but it's about that time of year (read black Friday) to stock up on winter accessories. Below are three scarf options depending on your preferred modus operandi: made to order, traditional / vintage or updated classic.

Made to order / custom

A custom scarf is perhaps strictly for those who have everything else squared away in their wardrobe. A very civilized option that will never feel out of place around your neck. Made-to-order by Holland & Sherry, these come in a "ripple finish" cashmere, two sizes (12 x 54 or 14 x 72 inches) and 36 different colors from parchment to pistachio. Also available in shawl or throw sizes.

H&S cashmere scarves 01

H&S cashmere scarves 02

Check out the swatches (see above) and order from your favorite bespoke tailor who works with H&S cloths. Special thanks to tailor Enzo Caruso for educating me on this custom winter accessory (and he lives in un-wintery Los Angeles!).

Traditional / vintage

Traditional scarves tend to feature established patterns and motifs (from collegiate stripes to Mughal patterns - see the Drakes vintage-inspired wool/silk scarf below).


For those serious about the vintage look, there's always the option of rummaging vintage stores or ebay for Sulka scarves.

Updated classic

These scarves are recognizably traditional but updated with slightly irregular pattern scales, different pattern designs or unusual colorways. In keeping with this category, I came across Free/man's recent blog entry on Begg's new lambswool / angora scarves for Unionmade.

[Photo no longer available]

A couple of standouts above. Top row, far right would go superbly with a camelhair polo coat and the bottom row, far right pairs nicely with the beige Martin Margiela safari jacket I wrote about earlier.

Another standout is Drakes tartan scarf, in a vibrant palette of red, khaki and sky blue with a gold and antique white overcheck:


For maximum color impact (aka the Ivy League go-to-hell look), check out O'Connell's selection of Begg lambswool / angora scarves. These are a couple of the more sedate ones:

[Photos no longer available]

Last but not least, for my female and/or DIY readers, below is a skillfully knitted infinity scarf made by blogger Knitted Bliss:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A profile in (life)style: Luciano Barbera

An interesting life spans diverse boundaries and embraces the sense of having done things - veni, vedi, vici. This is perhaps what the most interesting man in the world would look like in the flesh.

Whether at home, on the slopes, behind the wheel, taking a leisurely swing on the greens or briskly trotting one of his many thoroughbreds, Luciano Barbera is a contender for best dressed man in the world. Need we say more?

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on above video (Not surprisingly, Styleforumites do indeed have more to say!)
- Luciano Barbera's blog

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2010 Cravats Award nomination: Best classic style blog

Daniel Eckler at contacted me recently and let me know that Sleevehead has been nominated for a 2010 Cravats Award in the category of "best classic style blog". We're in distinguished company along with A Suitable Wardrobe and the English Cut.

If you enjoy reading my blog, feel free to vote for Sleevehead as well as the other fine blogs and websites up for nomination. Voting ends on December 24th.

Thanks again to my readers for your continued interest!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hooman Majd: Being interesting v. being correct

Mr. Majd is an Iranian-American writer and journalist and has also worked in the music industry. GQ's Glenn O'Brien thinks he is the best-dressed man in the world.

Below you can see Majd sporting a 20 year old Hermes sports jacket with patches added later by the author himself.

[Photo unavailable]

In the embedded video below, notice the interesting button-down contrast collar, which usually comes in point or spread versions. The buttondown contrast collar is different to be sure and visually catching. Overall, I like the rendering of the blue elements against the grey - the teal striped tie, Oxford blue striped shirt, the momentary pop provided by the white collar and then muted all around by the grey suit and parka.

The internet style cognoscenti will undoubtedly nitpick at the billowing trousers, the choice of a fur-linked parka with a suit and perhaps the low button stance of his jacket.

However, faced with a choice of being interesting v. absolutely correct, I think I would prefer to err on the side of being interesting.

And, really, billowing trousers are not the end of the world. In fact, the world's most interesting man (Mr. Majd's older brother perhaps) agrees that a man's trousers should not be too tight (at 6:15 in the Youtube clip). Treat those coins in your pocket with respect and give 'em room to jingle, my friends!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Calibrating your personal style: Who is your trusted advisor?

In terms of developing a sense of style, most of us do not have it all figured out so a second opinion from a trusted source is at times helpful. But then the question becomes who is that trusted source?

Online discussion forums like Styleforum and Ask Andy have their place. The "what are you wearing today" threads on these forums offer a quick and dirty way to get feedback from a fairly large number of individuals. This is a way to shape your style via anonymous crowdsourcing (or groupthink depending on your viewpoint).

But other options come to mind - friends, colleagues, even significant others (though that could be hit or miss). There is another alternative, the style consultant. Perhaps not the first choice for many men I imagine. However, keeping an open mind and being sartorially curious, I contacted New York City based Natalie Decleve and signed up for an initial consult and wardrobe review. Natalie is a stylist and image consultant with a background in women's fashion (Diane von Furstenberg, Kiki de Montparnasse) and PR. Having worked and/or lived in California, New York City and Europe, she has a feel for the lifestyles, clothing and attitudes of those different environments.

During our initial phone consult, I asked her what she thought the most common style mistake men made. Her response was perfectly sensible and free of the usual platitudes about style expressing a form of innate elegance or a timeless sense of taste. In her estimation, fit is the critical issue since unfortunately many men do not wear clothes that fit well. I agree entirely.

In my case, I was interested in a fresh opinion on how my wardrobe cohered as a whole, how I mixed and matched individual pieces and whether I was overlooking specific combinations or looks. Natalie has a good feel for what works for you and will readily point out the gems in your wardrobe. She also suggested several great color and/or clothing combinations that I had not thought of. For instance, pairing my favorite sports coat with denim instead of traditional wool trousers (which had not occurred to me oddly enough), or wearing certain shirts/colors with specific jackets.

Conversely, she has an eye for what looks contemporary, and can point out the pieces in your wardrobe that may be perceived differently than you had imagined or intended. If you have a tendency to follow the same routine and would like to mix things up, she will be an effective antidote against looking predictable. Moreover, Natalie is refreshingly direct and straightforward in her guidance and suggestions. So if you are in need of a style intervention or just looking for a fresh perspective, consider having a chat and an initial consult with her. And if you don't have a trusted style advisor or muse, perhaps it's time to cultivate one.

Additional links
- Valetmag / DonQ's survey of the female perspective on men's style
- Menswear/WWD essay on what women notice

Friday, November 12, 2010

Look of the week: An urbanized safari jacket

Below is a beige Martin Margiela goatskin suede jacket, which caught my eye on Essentially, Margiela has taken the cotton safari jacket, an iconic, perhaps even kitschy piece, and urbanized it by changing out the fabric and streamlining a few of the details. The result is a more flexible item of clothing since it seems a little out of place to wear an authentically detailed safari jacket in a large city, even if you are a NYC hipster lounging on a stoop in Williamsburg or the Lower East Side.

[Photo no longer available]

But assuming Margiela's de-stylized and citified version of the safari jacket works for you and your surroundings, the next question is - what do you wear with it? Below are a couple of suggested variations, depending on the use case: downtown (East End) v. uptown (West End).

The jacket would go well with textured or denser cottons (i.e. finewale corduroy, moleskin or denim) or subtly patterned wool or flannel trousers in grey, brown or melange colors (like steel loden). These fabrics have a texture, weight and/or nap that naturally complements suede. Then wear a pair of sporty monk straps or loafers in a dark finish/color to complete the look.

Downtown or 'East End' variation

In the downtown variation, we're talking about weekend brunch at a quiet spot in NYC's West Village (or maybe London's Shoreditch or East End area), in the spring or autumn, when the weather is a bit cooler.

Uptown or 'West End' variation

The uptown scenario is a bit dressier in certain elements as the context might be daytime workwear (hence the wool trousers). I'm thinking more of the 'creative' professions like visual arts, design or media. For footwear, monk straps or perhaps a pair of calfskin leather slip-ons in black or dark oak.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

More double-breasted jackets

A few double-breasted examples from the Japanese RTW brand Ring Jacket. The Armoury, a new store in Hong Kong, has a nice profile of Ring in English.

This 4x2 DB I like:

Below is a single breasted jacket. I suppose the case can be made that SBs can take boldly shaped peaks. Even so, I'm not so keen on the exaggerated sweep, angle and height of the peak lapel:

Having said that, I know there are fellows who can make this look work.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on Armoury opening (including visits by Ring Jacket and Drakes of London)
- Styleforum thread on DB jackets

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Menswear stores in New York City: current picks and destinations of yesteryear

This 2004 StyleForum thread takes a nostalgic walk down memory lane and recounts the top New York City menswear shops of yesteryear, which have long since closed for business. The line-up included American trad / Ivy League stalwarts (Chipp, Tripler), tailors (Dunhill Tailors), shirts and accessories (Sulka), and Manhattan outposts of Continental European haberdashers (Knize).

So what would today's list of great men's RTW stores in NYC look like? Blogger Por Homme has compiled a nice list of NYC shops. If you tend to shop at the usual department store suspects and men's retailers like Paul Stuart, J. Press and Brooks Bros, the list may not fully register or resonate.

However, if you are in a different demographic or skew toward a more contemporary look, I think it's worthwhile to take a few weekends and explore the shops listed by Por Homme. These stores offer clothing ranging from very affordable (Uniqlo) to premium RTW pricing (Rag & Bone). I've visited Alden, APC, Billy Reid, Brooklyn Industries, J. Crew Men's Shop, Odin, Rag & Bone and Uniqlo.

I would also add the following to the list of men's stores worth visiting: Black Fleece (West Village), Gant Rugger (West Village), Epaulet (Brooklyn), Freemans Sporting Club in the Lower East Side, Memes in Noho and the newly opened NYC branch of Nepenthes, a Japanese brand collective including Engineered Garments. On a related note, this fall/winter season Brooks Bros introduced a new slimmer fitting University line of dress and sports shirts, jackets and knitwear.

Compared to traditional sizing, many of these stores/brands offer a slimmer cut and fit in suits, jackets, trousers, denim, outerwear. So if you're not quite ready to step up to full bespoke or MTM clothing, these stores can get you closer to wearing better fitting clothes and assembling a great-looking wardrobe at a relatively affordable cost compared to full bespoke.

Additional links
- Esquire article on Nepenthes

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Enzo Caruso: An experiment in informality

This past summer I visited Santa Monica bespoke tailor Enzo Caruso and laid out my idea for my next commission – a relaxed double-breasted (DB) suit inspired by the drape cut. I have certainly appreciated the DB in a Platonic way (i.e. the idea and form of the DB). However, I have never really taken a liking to many DB suits I've seen. A few of the DB's distinctive details, such as the shape of the collar and lapels, sometimes appear a bit too aggressively angular, peaked or exaggerated for my taste. This I find even on historical style icons such as the Duke of Windsor and certainly more contemporary examples.

I was interested in a relaxed, "quieter" version of the DB - something that could be worn at a purely social occasion with nary a comment. As a rough start, I printed out a few still frames of Dick Powell's DB in The Gold Diggers of 1933. The idea, as Enzo put it, is a DB that comes across as “easy” (i.e. full of ease both literally and figuratively) or dégagé.

He said that in southern Italy, where he grew up, that it was not unusual to see a drape cut with an extended shoulder and front chest drape. The last time he saw one of these in Italy was back in the 1960s. Enzo added that the shoulders on my DB will not be as extended as Powell's nor the chest drape as pronounced. However, there would be additional fullness in the front chest and in the back. After some deliberation, we chose a Drapers San Felice mid-grey flannel (11oz) for the fabric.

Caruso grey flannel DB 02

After two fittings this past summer, the suit was recently shipped to me. I am pleased to say that I'm delighted by the end result. In particular, I find the collar and lapel shape very relaxed, conveying the ease I was seeking, especially in the subtly rounded corners and edges of the lapel and collar. The minimally padded shoulder is slightly extended, more so than my other jackets from Enzo.

Caruso grey flannel DB 01

There is a slight, but noticeable fold in the back, next to each armhole. At rest, the front chest features more of a swell rather than a distinct fold. But if I shrug or put a hand in my pocket the chest gathers up in a fold. This is neither the drape cut of Savile Row tailor Anderson & Sheppard (in its contemporary or historical incarnation), nor the drape of its Neapolitan brethren seen on Styleforum. This is more of a hybrid cut, resulting from a few historical antecedents, a tailor's lifetime of experience and a willingness to experiment by said tailor and his customer.

Additional links
- London Lounge thread on Enzo Caruso

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Barcelona revisited: Bel y Cia & Santa Eulalia

I was in Barcelona recently and visited a couple of shops that offer RTW and MTM/bespoke: Bel y Cia and Santa Eulalia.

Bel y Cia

At Bel, I met with Sebastian, the salesman I met three years ago during my last visit, for another order of their classic Teba jacket. As I described in earlier entries, the Teba jacket is a made-to-measure order. Over the last three years this has become one of my favorite go-to jackets for weekend or casual occasions.

Bel y Cia 01 Oct 2010

They do have an updated set of fabrics for the Teba jacket: classic knitted jersey (a material which has a nice, easy give and stretch), more traditional worsted fabrics (cashmere and wool) and summer fabrics. The summer book contains just a couple of linens in brown and tan, tropical weight wools and wool/silk/linen blends (43% / 37% / 23% respectively). For some reason, linen is not as popular as the other summer fabrics.

Bel y Cia 02 Oct 2010

My new order will be in one of the summer fabrics and will look a little bit differently than the traditional Teba. Recently, in the past winter season, Bel added a new option of rounded fronts (or quarters) like a regular sportscoat or suit jacket. The rounded front Teba will come with a normal chest dart whereas the classic Teba has squared fronts and no dart.

As before, I'm happy to report the excellent service and attention to detail by Sebastian. The current price for a Teba jacket is 745 euros (18% VAT included). For export of course, VAT is taken out and shipping added.

One more note on footwear. Bel still carry an extensive collection of Edward Green shoes. They also recently started to sell casual slip-ons with Bologna sole construction in suede (blue, camel, black) at 350 euros. The store worked with a small workshop near Rome and developed four shoe prototypes before selecting their final design. If you like casual slip-ons like driver-style moccasins, you may want to check these out.

Santa Eulalia

After my visit to Bel, I walked a few blocks north up Passeig de Gracia to Santa (or Saint) Eulalia. The store is outfitted in cool, blond woods and whose rectilinear edges and shapes provide a small antidote to a city steeped in the curves of Catalan modernism. Santa Eulalia sells both men's and women's RTW as well as bespoke clothing. In men's RTW, they carry a nice selection of soft tailored suits and jackets by Boglioli, Cantarelli and Etro and Zegna KEI. Ironically, the jackets of these brands were all softer than Kiton's offering.

Saint Eulalia bespoke dept 01

I also had an extended chat with Angel in the men's bespoke department. Like Liverano in Florence, Santa Eulalia makes all manner of bespoke garments including suits, shirts, ties and even boxer shorts. As of October 2010, suits start at 2,600 euros, shirts at 400 euros, ties at 100 euros and boxers at 80 euros. At the high end, a vicuna overcoat will cost 14-16,000 euros. Suiting and jacketing fabrics are sourced by the likes of Dormeuil, Scabal, Holland & Sherry and Harrisons.

Angel made the point that 3 fittings is the norm, even for repeat orders. In terms of construction, everything is handsewn except long straight seams. Annual suit production is about 800 suits per year and all garments are made on premise or through outworkers who work at home.

What do Santa Eulalia suits and jackets look like? Above is a photo of one of their bespoke morning coats. They do a natural shoulder, slight roping of the shoulders and cut a close fitting jacket and trousers. I'd also recommend going to their website, click on the bespoke section to see samples of their suits and view the bespoke video clip, featuring their head tailor Marc Munill and short interviews of their clients wearing the shop's creations. One of the clients offers up a quote on the ritual of bespoke - "The suit is like a child. You grow fond of it over time." The clip gives a glimpse of the workrooms in the basement of the store as well as the bespoke client area of the shop.

The website also has an informative text section on wedding dress options for men covering the differences between English and Catalan customs in this area.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ambrosi in Asia: Neapolitan trousers travel East

A public service announcement for my Asian readers. The friends of Neapolitan trousermaker Ambrosi have let slip that he will be visiting Asia this month. In particular, Seoul, Korea from October 18 to 20 and Singapore on October 22.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Kilgour update: Luxe Savile Row and rethinking cottons

As you may have heard, the classic Savile Row tailoring house Kilgour was recently acquired by new owners and new management often brings changes. One of them is a deliberate effort to go even more upscale in their bespoke and RTW offering. This has meant a couple of things. One is that Kilgour's off-the-rack or RTW clothing is priced at a premium - a RTW suit starts at 2,500 GBP which is already in bespoke pricing territory.

The other is that Kilgour's popular entry-level bespoke offering has been discontinued. This is a pity since it apparently did quite well in the American market given the superb value for money it represented. A few years ago an entry-level two-piece suit in a top-notch English fabric could be had for 1,600 GBP. If you ordered entry-level suits before their discontinuation as I have, consider yourself lucky since entry level pricing is not coming back anytime soon. There are now 4 price points based on the type of fabric with prices starting at about 6,000 USD.

I scheduled an appointment this week in New York City with the visiting cutters of Kilgour and chatted with Will, who was a cutter under the previous owners as well. I was there for some simple waist adjustments on some trousers.

While I was there, Will showed me some brilliant new cotton suitings and jacketings by an Italian mill called Michele Solbiati, which specializes in linen production (claiming to be the first to produce linen crepe) and cottons, mostly for large luxury houses until very recently. This is the first time I've run into this mill. The Solbiati 200g cottons are distinctive because they are finished so that they look and feel more like a wool fabric. In particular, the Solbiati cotton has a more heathered look than traditional cotton (e.g. I saw a cotton sample that looked like a Donegal tweed). My impression is that they also seem to hold up a touch better against wrinkling than typical cotton suitings.

At the highest end of the pricing spectrum were the two books of Lumbs Golden Bale by Lesser. If you can afford it, I think every fellow should have at least one suit in this special worsted fabric.

For those who are interested, you can schedule a time to chat with Will and his colleague Paul who are in NYC through October 12, then in Chicago (13-14) and Los Angeles (15-16). Their USA mobile number 646 785 0592.

Additional links
- Sleevehead entries on Kilgour

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mitteleuropa style: The new Budapester

Below is Hungarian shoemaker Koronya's reinterpretation of the sturdy Central European shoe style known as the Budapester.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on the new Budapester

Monday, October 04, 2010

One size does not fit all: Even and odd size ranges in RTW

The New York Times recently featured an article on the original Filene's Basement store built in 1909, which showed a photograph taken of two men's suit racks. The date is uncertain but my best guess is that it dates back at least as early as the 1940s or 1950s.

Today it appears most mainstream American men's stores carry a jacket size range of 38 to 48 in even numbers (European equivalent is 48 to 58). A handful of specialty stores cater to smaller and larger sizes. What I found interesting is the photo shows jacket sizes starting at 33 and going sequentially to 34, 35 and 36 (and presumably increasing through the larger sizes as well). In other words, RTW jackets were offered in more precise sizing some fifty or sixty years ago.

I think I've only seen an odd-sized jacket in mainstream retail stores a handful of times. So it appears that a full range of even and odd sizes in RTW went out decades ago. If it exists today, I would guess the only retailers and makers who might go for this level of precision are the Japanese.

Additional links
- New York Times article on Filene's Basement
- Men's clothing size converter between US, UK, Europe and Japan

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review: The Hanger Project clothes hangers

I recently received several clothes hangers from Kirby Allison of The Hanger Project and have had the opportunity to test drive them. My testing regimen was simple. I set my bespoke suits, jackets and trousers on their new hangers and observed how they fared.

With jackets, the most obvious difference is that the collar and back neck of each hugs the hanger more closely than before. I also was pleased to see quality construction (solid maple, wide shoulder flare) and multiple sizing options. Based on my observations over the past few weeks, my experience has been very positive and I would recommend the hangers, esp. for those who wear bespoke, MTM or high end RTW.

In particular, I think the sizing options are critical. It's remarkable how few tailors, large or small, supply different sized wooden hangers for their bespoke creations. This creates at least three potential problems which I have experienced:
  • If the hanger is too wide, the blades push out underneath the sleevehead.
  • If the hanger is too narrow, the shoulders sag over the ends of the hanger.
  • If the hanger is too straight (i.e. insufficient shoulder flare), the back of the jacket will ripple while "resting" on the hanger.

Fortunately, The Hanger Project supplies 4 sizes for suit jackets (15.5", 17.0”, 18.5”, and 20.0”) and 3 for sports jackets (17.0”, 18.5”, and 20.0”). Compared to standard wooden hangers, they are certainly pricier. But considering your suits spend most of their lives hanging in your closet, it's well worth the investment to pair them with hangers that most closely mimic your actual shoulders.

The Hanger Project also offers shirt, trousers and sweater hangers, as well as options for women. The other detail I liked is that each hanger is meticulously wrapped and packaged for shipping.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ozwald Boateng: Who shapes your style?

The team at Ozwald Boateng kindly invited me to attend their September 22nd show in London. Due to other commitments, I am unfortunately unable to attend and report back to my readers.

Ozwald Boateng 2010 show

However, there is an iTunes audio interview (15 min) of Mr. Boateng as he strolls along Savile Row. I don't own any of his suits but he's certainly an articulate spokesperson for his firm and brand. I found this quote striking and provocative - "Once you have something well cut you can change proportions. So let's say you have a 38 inch waist, if you have a really well cut suit, you can knock two inches off your waist".

It's interesting because it highlights two profoundly different views of the suit or jacket. Should the jacket take the leading role in shaping how you look? Or should your natural form (chest, shoulder, etc) do more of the job in informing your look? In other words, should you change what you have or use what you have?

You will undoubtedly find individuals who believe adamantly in one or the other. I, for one, believe we're all better off in having both options available, experimenting and making an informed decision (or decisions), and adapting over time.

Boateng is getting at the construction of "style" and proposing the tailor play an active role in shaping it. I would add that the ability to project style depends on a few ingredients: one part material reality (i.e. I have a size 38 waist), one part self-perception and one part perception by others.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The blue and the gray: The suit as universal currency

Take a second or two and look at the suits. Where do you think this photo was taken? Perhaps you're thinking downtown Los Angeles in the Fashion District or maybe the Garment District in NYC.

User design expert Jan Chipchase took this photo of a makeshift suit display in a local marketplace in the city of Kashi (Kaxgar). Kashi is located in the western province of Xinjiang, China. As a practitioner of user design and user experience, Chipchase is interested in the context of things and the conspicuousness of small, local differences. Hence he points out the use of bags which not only protect the suits but provide advertising.

But from our perspective what's interesting is the utter universality of the modern, Western two-piece suit, particularly in solid blue and gray. There's nothing more recognizably standard than a three or three button business suit in those two colors, whether you are in far western China or in midtown Manhattan.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Oxxford Clothes: The "quiet American" suit

Oxxford Clothes is a Chicago-based RTW, MTM and "modified" bespoke manufacturer of men's clothing. It is arguably the last remaining large-scale manufacturer of hand-tailored menswear based in the US (I look forward to being corrected on this point!).

Below is a recently released video of their history and production philosophy.

Oxxford is well known for their stable of traditional, natural shoulder suit models that have not changed for years - the Onwentsia "sack" suit (see photo below), the Gibbon and the Radcliffe. These traditional models feature the highest level of handwork and start at $4000 retail. Recently, the company has ventured into slimmer updated silhouettes such as their 1220 Collection, which starts at $2500 and features less handwork.

Below is a Crain's Chicago video feature on the state of suitmaking between local brands Oxxford and Hart Schaffner Marx, now known as Hartmarx (which owns Hickey Freeman):

[Video no longer available]

The video cites some interesting developments - an attempt to reinvigorate the Hickey Freeman brand by hiring Joseph Abboud - as well as the business results of these two Chicago-area brands. Oxxford sales have increased 10% in recent months and total sales should reach $20 million this year (compared to $50M in the 1950s when Oxxford suit production presumably reached its peak). Total suit sales in the US hovers around $2.4 billion.

Additional links -
Styleforum thread on Oxxford video - Oxxford Fall 2010 catalog

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Designing a sartorial vacation: "Wool is our hope"

Inhabit, for a moment, the mind of a sartorial enthusiast or nerd and imagine you had a week or two where you could visit anyone, any place and any step in the supply chain of men's apparel. What would you do and where would you go?

Clearly, this would require several vacation trips given the different locations around the world we could choose from. But for starters, I would spend a week or two exploring the world of cloth and textiles: an itinerary dedicated to the fundamentals in textiles (fibers and yarn), shearing, weaving, dyeing and finishing in Huddersfield and Yorkshire, England.

Day 1-2: Introduction to wool and textile production

- Attend a lecture on “Wool, Past, Present and Future” presented by Elizabeth Peacock, Master of The Worshipful Company of Woolmen. Originating as a medieval craft guild dating back at least to the 1180s, TWCW used to regulate wool practices and standards but is now principally operating as a charity. The company's motto is, appropriately, Lana spes nostra, or "Wool is our hope."

- Tour W.T. Johnson, specialist textile finishers based in Huddersfield. An essential part of this tour is understanding the microclimate and soft Pennine water of West Yorkshire and their role in the finishing (washing and scouring) of wool. Remarkably, so important is the role of the Huddersfield water that the company secured its own private deep-ground water source.

Huddersfield - Rivers Colne, Holme & Fenay Beck

- Attend the Royal Bath and West Show at Shepton Mallet (in Somerset) to view the annual sheep shearing competition, as well as spinning and weaving demonstrations

Day 3: History of English textiles

- Attend a private viewing of the Sunny Bank Mills Textile Archive, reputedly one of the most complete textile archives in Yorkshire going back 150 years.

- Visit the Bradford Textile Archive to view old pattern books and cards

- Visit a private-led tour of the former sites of Salt's Mill or Dalton's Mill, both of which were once the largest textile mills in the area

Day 4-5: A tour of Yorkshire Textiles member companies

- Attend 3-4 textile mills in Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Textiles consists of about a dozen mills including: Alfred Brown, Arthur Harrison, Bower Roebuck, Edwin Woodhouse, Hainsworth (oldest of the bunch), John Cavendish, John Foster, Joseph H Clissold, Abraham Moon, Savile Clifford and Taylor & Lodge. They are the go-to mills for the likes of Aquascutum, Burberry, Gucci and Prada, as well as bespoke tailors around the world.

I would suggest a visit to Alfred Brown, which produces very traditional British fabrics of the "fuller and more rounded" variety. Note they do not play the Super 150s, 160s, etc game. Their "Luxury" cloth is Super 100 and 110s.

- Attend a special joint textile symposium organized by the Bradford Textile Society and the Huddersfield Textile Society

Day 6: Looking ahead at the future of textiles

- Tour the Huddersfield Textile Centre of Excellence, a research and training facility, to understand the workforce and skills requirements of a 21st century textile industry. In 1960, Yorkshire mills employed roughly 140,000 workers. Now that number is down to just 2,000.

Of course, this is just the tip of iceberg. A London vacation is certainly in order - how about attending as a honorary guest of the Master Tailors' Benevolent Association (MTBA) annual Festival Dinner and the Merchant Taylor's Golden Shears contest? And why not a tour of Biella, Italy for its superb silk production?

Additional links
- Yorkshire Post article on Alfred Brown
- Yorkshire Post article on textile industry

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Real men knit...and tie Windsor knots

So do real men eat quiche, knit and ask for directions? Good question. Cary Grant struggled with the mechanics of knitting in the 1943 film Mr. Lucky. He comes out of it, err, frayed but largely intact.

Mr Lucky - Cary Grant knitting

Mr Lucky - Cary Grant knitting

Grant also receives a lesson in tying a Windsor knot by his romantic protagonist in the film. She prefers the fuller Windsor knot, he prefers the four in hand. A serious matter of course.

Oddly enough, more than a few long-haul truck drivers have apparently taken up quilting and sewing according to a March 2010 Wall Street Journal article.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Trimming the sails: How to alter an oversized shirt

If you have a RTW dress or sports shirt that you like but is large across the chest and waist, here's a Threadbanger (what a name!) DIY video on altering a shirt by taking in the sides:

Remember pinch and pin, pinch and pin and sew. Obviously, I wouldn't recommend this for your $600 Anna Matuozzo shirt. But as the video suggests, if you are serious about making shirts, there is a very good book called Shirtmaking by David Page Coffin, which my own shirtmaker Freddy Vandescasteele recommends.

The video also features Bodymetrics, a body measurement company. Bodymetrics is focused on using its bodyscan for fitting jeans (apparently 25-30% of all garments are returned due to wrong size).

A cheaper alternative to Bodymetrics is creating a bodyform using three tools - a duct tape, a t-shirt and a friend. Seems much more commonplace in constructing women's clothes. It would be interesting to know of any men's tailors or shirtmakers who take this approach.

Additional links
- Threadbanger thread on trimming shirts

Thursday, August 19, 2010

British style heritage menswear: Nigel Cabourn, Grenson & Gloverall

Por Homme came up with a nice find - the July issue of Journal de Nimes which is dedicated to British handcrafts. The issue features articles on Nigel Cabourn, a factory visit to Grenson and Gloverall's relationship to the duffle coat. You can view the issue or download a pdf version of it.

[Video no longer available]

Nigel Cabourn is well-known in Japan but less so in the US. His label focuses on vintage and military-inspired outerwear and has amassed an impressive collection of 4,000 vintage (mostly British military and expedition) pieces. Cabourn's workshop and sample pieces can be viewed here.

Additional links
- Heritage Research
- Styleforum thread on Nigel Cabourn

Updated Dec 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

Roman tailoring: Ripense

My fellow blogger Hugo of Parisian Gentleman forwarded me a recent article submitted by one of his readers featuring the Roman tailor Ripense. They offer bespoke suits, shirts and (unusually) shoes under one roof. Although based in Rome, the tailors in the workshop are apparently Neapolitan.

I like the double-breasted blazer they made for Paul:

The name of the tailor rings a bell and given the location I probably walked by it in my last visit to Rome.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Designing fabrics: A mill to consumer direct model?

Cloth mills rarely, if ever, work directly with individual consumers. They typically work with distributors or large customers. Less frequently, individual tailors may commission special designs and weaves just for their shop. The cloth is probably produced in a length of 20-30 meters and will likely go to several of the tailor's customers for their suits or jackets.

Taking the logic of customization even further, one can imagine a true one-for-one cloth commission from mill to consumer. We are getting closer to that reality - mill to tailor to consumer.

Cooper & Cooper is a bespoke tailor based in Huddersfield, the home of fine English textiles, and are now offering a single cut-length bespoke cloth commission individualized to the customer. They call this their Bespoke Cloth Designer.

I suspect it is just a matter of time before cloth mills find it worthwhile to go direct.

Friday, August 06, 2010

William Halstead: Traditional English mohairs

When I was in Los Angeles recently, I also spent some time with a knowledgeable contact in the cloth trade and learned about a couple of fantastic new books by William Halstead, a weaver and mill based in Bradford, Yorkshire. Operating since 1875, they are perhaps most well-known for their classic English mohairs.

Mohairs are sheared from the Angora goat and have a higher luster than typically found in other worsted fabrics (see the wool-mohair jacket below). The younger the goat, the finer the diameter of the individual hairs (kid mohair). When woven into cloth, mohair provides a nice firmness and memory (or recovery) for retaining shape. Mohair blends make fine cloths for dinner jackets and what I would call "evening suits" (or evening jackets) for events which are not quite black tie and where a business suit may be acceptable but a bit predictable.

[Photo no longer available]

I looked through a couple of new Halstead books of English mohairs and Super 120s worsteds. The former contains wool mohair blends but also contains one cloth of 100% mohair. It's an unusual fabric to be sure, as I don't recall ever seeing a 100% mohair before.

Along with the summer formal shirt idea described below, the English mohairs book would be at the top of my short list for a summerweight dinner jacket cloth. The second Halstead book has lighter weight worsteds in classic solids and terrific patterns, ideal for leisure or business summer suits. These have a softer finish than the Lesser tropicalweight worsteds for instance.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Freddy Vandecasteele: The cool, unsung virtues of voile

I spent a few days in Los Angeles recently, which was well-timed given the recent heat wave on the East Coast and much of the eastern US. My intent was to visit my shirtmaker Freddy Vandecasteele and order a few more cool, lightweight summer casual shirts. In particular, my purpose was to look at his stock of voile shirtings (not to be confused with toile or tulle!).

In Freddy's view, voile is the coolest, lightest cotton shirting around. It used to be a very popular fabric and Freddy made quite a few voile shirts in years past. At first, I thought the shirting seemed a bit delicate for men's shirts. But as a test run I ordered a couple of voile short sleeve shirts last year. Freddy probably has about 15-20 different voiles from solids to stripes in stock in his workshop.

Having put the voiles to good use this steamy summer in NYC, I would have to agree with Freddy about their coolness factor. In terms of durability, I haven't had any issues. The only disadvantage to voile is that, depending on the color and pattern, the cloth can be somewhat translucent.

Looking ahead, I'm thinking voile will be my choice for a summer evening formal shirt for black tie.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mad Men style: Brooks Bros, Finchley or J. Press?

Season four of the award-winning AMC series Mad Men picks up again tonight. As part of the ramp-up to the season premiere, the New York Times has assembled a 1964 menswear report and asked Ed McCabe, a former advertising exec, to answer reader questions about being an ad man in the heyday. Enjoy the episode and the photos.

Notably, one reader inquired, "Did you dress in Brooks Brothers suits, wear Hamilton wristwatches, write with Parker 51’s?" McCabe's responded that the 1950s were very traditional and buttoned down and back then "I was trying to one-up the Brooks Brothers look by buying my suits from Finchley or J Press."

Additional links
- New York Times review of season four

Hamilton Shirts 1883: Spring/summer 2011 line

American heritage is continuing to steamroll into the hearts and minds of American men after a long hiatus. The folks at Hamilton Shirts, founded in 1883, kindly sent me an invite to the launch of the S/S 2011 line last week in NYC but I was unable to attend.

[Photo no longer available]

The photo above of a lightweight summer madras shirt caught my eye because I used to have a vintage Brooks Bros shirt in almost exactly the same pattern and color palette.

Additional links
- More photos of the S/S 1883 line

Take Ivy: An American style bible reissued

As I noted in my piece on Japanese repro-authenticity, the Japanese are experts in spotting a good thing and refining it again and again.

And they've done it again. Take Ivy, the 1965 photo essay of Ivy League style, is being republished again after years of being out of print. But this time the book is riding on a tidal wave of mainstream interest in American heritage and style.

The new reissued edition will cost just $24.95. I'm glad I held off on purchasing an original edition on eBay!

Additional links
- New York Times Take Ivy slide show
- New York Times article on the Ivy League look

Saturday, July 24, 2010

MRketNY 2010: The business of menswear

MRketNY is a US menswear tradeshow featuring leading makers and suppliers of men's clothing selling to independent stores and larger accounts. From my perspective it was a very well-organized show and bustling with appointments and foot traffic the day I visited.  I enjoyed visiting many of the booths and chatting with owners, sales reps and other staff.  It's certainly a must-attend for higher end retailers and clothing manufacturers. Many thanks to Maggie and her colleagues for organizing access to the show.

The show can be grouped in several primary categories: American makers (including "heritage brands" and American trad), Italian suppliers, UK makers and men's accessories. Below is a snapshot of some of my conversations.

American trad / heritage: Rufus, Alden, Allen-Edmonds

At the show I thought some of the busiest booths were found in the American trad and heritage brands such as Vineyard Vines and Bill's Khakis.

Rufus is an American brand whose shirts are supplied by the New England Shirt Company (aka the Fall River Shirt Company and before that the Shelburne Shirt Company). The shirt factory is located in Fall River, MA. In a sense, Rufus was offering heritage before the current swell of heritage brands. Their target audience is an "updated traditionalist" who is interested in versatile sports shirts that can transition into dress shirts. Sizings run from S-XXXL.

At the Alden booth, I had a friendly chat with one of the regional sales reps. Alden has held up extremely well despite the economic downturn in the past couple of years.  In particular, customers are still snapping up their Indiana Jones boots. In aggregate, demand is exceeding supply - witness the six month backlog at the Alden factory.  Incidentally, during my visit, I spotted the owner of Leffot examining his special make-up models for his store. On the table were six or seven bluchers and oxfords in a natural finish.

Allen-Edmonds had a large booth centrally situated on the floor, befitting their prominence in American men's shoes. They were displaying their Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 lineups. The Spring 2011 collection features 19 new models including the combination linen (or mesh) and leather Strawfut, the Winnetka loafer and the Montecito classic penny loafer. Interesting factoid: Their recrafting business is on track to process 60,000 pairs of shoes this year.

UK : Drakes of London

The Brits have long played a standard bearer role in menswear and men's style. Think Savile Row, the Duke of Windsor, mods, Carnaby Street, etc.  So it is not surprising at all that the Brits were well represented at MRketNY: Corgi (socks), Dents (gloves), Drakes (ties), Edward Green (shoes), Hilditch & Key (shirts) and leaders in the high-end knitwear market (Johnstons of Elgin).

UKFT MRketNY ad July 2010

Drakes of London, the English tiemaker, was in attendance and I enjoyed having an excellent chat with the owner Michael Drake. Shedding modesty for a second, I'm happy to report that he is a regular reader of Sleevehead. Mr. Drake works with the leading retailers and tailors around the world, some of whom I have written about in my blog.

Don't miss his excellent, miniature essay on the details of style at Permanent Style. He provides informed "advice" hewing closely to the original Latin sense of the word, that is, providing a certain way of looking at something. With style, it does matter who is doing the looking and in this case Michael Drake knows of what he speaks. What I like best is that he allows some permeability around his rules, making room for a modicum of personal eccentricity in style.

The other reason why you ought to read the essay is his ability to draw from the dual history of menswear. Women's fashion has largely had a singular historical path grounded in Parisian haute couture. In contrast, men's clothing branched off in the early 20th century when Savile Row tailoring traditions and the British high society look were "ripped and smoothed" (to borrow a tailoring phrase from Richard Anderson's autobiography) by Italian consumers and tailors up and down the peninsula.  Perhaps more ripped than smoothed actually (esp. in the south). The best dressers today are well aware of this dual history and generally proceed to pitch their tent in one of these two traditions. Even rarer, there are a handful who comfortably traverse between the traditions of Savile Row and the inventiveness and experimentation of the Italians in equal measure. Drake is one of the few who are uniquely steeped in the stylistic forces at play in Italy and the UK.

Italy: Giudice, Perofil

Along with the Brits, the Italians came as an organized group under the auspices of the Italian Trade Commission. Impressively, an entire aisle of the tradeshow floor was taken up by RTW and MTM Italian manufacturers and suppliers, including Borsalino (hats), Allegri (outerwear), Valstar (outerwear), Lorenzini (shirts), Luciano Moresco (shirts), Maremma and Marcoliani (socks).

I was walking by the Marcello Tarantino booth when I saw two lovely Neapolitan style jackets with manica camicia (shirt style) shoulders, as well as more traditional set-in shoulder models. Tarantino is the brand name for the suits and jackets on display and Giuduce is the trade name for the manufacturing operations in Sicily where the suits are made. I chatted with Giovanni, the gentleman who apparently runs the factory in Sicily, and learned the factory employs 200 workers and tailors. They can also work with retailers to offer MTM and RTW. Interestingly enough, they have very active accounts in Japan and South Korea.

However, I was very surprised to hear that Tarantino / Giuduce do not have retail representation in New York City. None! In my opinion, there is an excellent, greenfield retail opportunity for affordable, RTW Neapolitan style jackets and suits in NYC. If I were in retail, I would probably explore this opportunity myself. After having virtually zero presence in the American market, bespoke tailors from Naples have begun to travel to the US in the past couple of years to meet growing demand for this distinctive and soft silhouette. But no one seems to have cracked the RTW market. Granted, there are some who think Neapolitan RTW is not an easy sell, perhaps due to higher construction and fitting requirements.  However, I think the creation of block patterns for RTW is eminently feasible. We need only to look at the success of Japanese RTW labels that offer trim cuts and shirt shoulder construction (e.g. Engineered Garments). Indeed, I saw other booths featuring shirt-style shoulder jackets that were certainly designed for the RTW market (such as Daniel Hechter).

For gents seeking fitted crewneck or V-neck t-shirts, you may want to ask your local retailer to stock Perofil, an Italian maker of undergarments since 1910. I prefer to wear t-shirts under my dress and sports shirts to absorb any perspiration. The dilemma then becomes trying to fit a loosely cut RTW t-shirt under a fitted, bespoke dress shirt. Oftentimes I find the armhole and chest of the t-shirt is larger than that of the dress shirt. However, Perofil's display shirts looked quite trim with higher armholes than I've seen in the US market and a potential solution for the slim, athletic or lean gent. They appear to use quality materials (long staple cotton that is combed, twisted and mercerized) and modern RTW production processes.

Accessories: Baade II, Dorfman-Pacific, Blick, Jack Georges

Baade II is an American men's jewelry and accessories maker. I chatted with Traci, one of the owners, simply because I noticed three shorter-length tie bars in the display case as I walked by. They were shorter than the standard 2.5 or 3+ inch length of most tie bars. As I learned, magazine editors often call her requesting shorter tie bars for use in photo shoots because they are difficult to find. I agree. Until recently, you could only find shorter length tie bars (i.e. 2 inches or less) in vintage shops. But now they've become the natural companion to slim ties. Baade II uses single specialized workers in Providence, RI for specific tasks in the jewelry and metalworking process such as finishing. Providence used to be the center for such work in the US. They also work with the leading enamelers in Birmingham, England, for cloisonne enamel work. Traci started the business by making double-paneled cuff links but today there is not much interest in them (except for the occasional account like NYC retailer Barney's).

At Dorfman-Pacific, I spoke with John Callanan about the booming business of hats these days, right in in the middle of a slow men's retail market. In his view, the hat resurgence seemed to start a couple of years ago.  I caught a whiff of this fedora frenzy in my travels and wrote about the 4 reasons to wear a hat last year.  For trendspotters, John thinks stingy brim is on the wane (i.e. less than one inch brim) with fuller brims (circa two inch) taking their stead. Among the Williamsburg and Lower East Side hipster set, straw boater hats are catching on. John received his first request for a boater two years ago from a Gen Y Williamsburg hipster. A couple of other interesting factoids. The majority of fedora wearers today seem to be women. Anyone walking around the streets of Manhattan in the past few months would agree. In addition, John mentioned that four new hat shops in NYC have opened up in Nolita just in the past few months.

I also spent a few minutes at Blick, which sells slim and narrow ties from widths of 7 cm (2.75 inches) and a standard length of 146 cm (58 inches).  The blade linings are purposefully irreverent and colorful. The ties are manufactured in Vietnam and the materials sourced from Liberty of London and Italian mills. They are selling well in Europe and looking to expand into the US market. With brands like Band of Outsiders filling in a niche for younger customers buying slimmer ties to match trimmer jackets with narrower lapels, I suspect (and hope) slimmer ties are here to stay. I think the look works very well for certain men.

Blick slim ties_flickr

For readers interested in leather accessories, I dropped by New Jersey-based leather accessories maker Jack Georges and chatted with the owner about exotic leathers and pricing of accessories like alligator briefcases (about $7,000). The price is high due in large part to the additional challenges of procuring larger skins. A 7 year old alligator produces skins barely a foot wide - not large enough for a briefcase. A briefcase needs the hide of a larger and older (15 year old) alligator with all the requisite costs of raising a farmed alligator for that length of time. But very few suppliers are willing to do that.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Portraits of and by an artist: Otto Dix and artistic license

The Neue Galerie, a museum in New York specializing in modern German and Austrian fine arts, is currently showing an exhibition on the 20th century German artist Otto Dix. Dix is associated with the Secessionist as well as the Neue Sachlichkeit (or New Objectivity) movement.

When one thinks of art one thinks of artistic license, the freedom to embellish, simplify or remove what is seen or perceived. But in the case of Dix his portraits of individuals capture closely the clothing they actually wore.

For example, below the 1923 painting entitled "To Beauty" features a self-portrait of Otto Dix himself. Notice the close positioning of the jacket buttons on this two button peak lapel suit with slanted pockets. The closeness of the buttons on the jacket front is a bit unusual. But if you go to the exhibition, you will see a black and white photo of Otto Dix at the exhibition entryway wearing a similar jacket with compressed button spacing but in notch lapels and flapped pockets.

Below is another example of a sitter (c. 1922) wearing a jacket with closely spaced buttons. Perhaps it was a sartorial regionalism in Germany at the time or a carryover from formal frock coats.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

American & feeling patriotic? Wear a pair

A Continuous Lean's "American List" has a list of American-made clothing and footwear brands that still manufacture in the US. ACL's list includes Alden, Allen Edmonds, Arrow Moccasin, Quoddy, Red Wing, Wesco, White's Boots, Wesco and Wolverine. It's a very good list but not exhaustive. Here's another list of shoes made in the USA.

If country of make is important to you, perhaps an Allegiance Footwear work boot might fit the bill.

This may not be traditionally welted construction but it does look comfortable and durable.

Or a US military grade chukka boot by Capps?