Sunday, January 24, 2010

Two island nations and their shoes: John Lobb (UK) & Otsuka (Japan)

Here's a YouTube clip of an interview with John Lobb, the great-grandson of the founder of bespoke London shoemaker John Lobb. In addition to giving a quick history of his great-grandfather, he mentions that his two sons are also still involved in the craftmanship of the family business (and extols the virtues of elephant leather among other things). The business continues in part because the shoemaker continues to find people naturally interested in the craft of shoemaking - making and shaping shoes by hand.

On the other side of the world, the Japanese have also taken to the craft of shoemaking. You might remember my previous entry on artisanal excellence in Japan. Take a look at this LondonLounge thread on Otsuka's RTW, MTM and bespoke offering. For enthusiasts of the vintage look, the MTM button boots look like a winner.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Amsterdam: The Russian bespoke connection

If you're in Amsterdam this month, don't miss the exhibition "At the Russian Court: Palace and Protocol in the 19th Century" at the Hermitage Amsterdam museum (ends January 31). This inaugural exhibition of the museum recreates the sumptuous materiality of courtly life in 19th century tsarist Russia. For the sartorially inclined, there's an extensive display of courtly and military uniforms and women's dresses and gowns, some of which are astonishing in their construction and handwork.

Hermitage Amsterdam

For male attire, here are some highlights of the exhibition:
  • Knight of the Order of the Garter ceremonial attire: Consisting of a blue velvet cape made for Tsar Alexander I by the ceremonial dress tailor Ede & Ravenscroft circa 1800-1810 (specifically by William Webb and A. Ede). On their website, E & R describes the Order of the Garter ceremonial robe as a "deep blue silk velvet lined with white silk taffeta, a hand embroidered gold badge on the left breast displays the cross of St. George, encircled by the motto: 'Honi soit qui mal y pense'". Amazingly, the design appears to have remain unchanged for more than two centuries.
  • Red frockcoat (c. 1800-1810): This is a somewhat frayed 5x5 double breasted coat but whose buttonholes show pure handmade goodness. This is for those readers who live for handwork!
Additionally, I saw kaftans, uniforms for officers and generals, ceremonial uniforms for senators, chamberlains, stewards, etc. On the main floor were court and ceremonial uniforms featuring 6 button double breasted coats and 8 button (!) single breasted coats paired with narrow trousers (or tailcoats with breeches). To the modern eye, the number of buttons may seem a bit much. However, what is considered "classic" men's style in any period is frequently not transferrable. So what is classic in one age is almost never imagined to be classic in another. An interesting topic but for fodder for another post.

If you were in London last year, you may recall seeing a similar exhibition "Magnificence of the Tsars" at the Victoria & Albert Museum. That exhibition focused more specifically on courtly dress but both feature exceptional examples of handwork, embroidery, braiding and lacework that may never be reproduced again.

Additional links
- Photos of the Magnificence of the Tsars exhibition
- Christine Ruane, The Empire's New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700-1917
- Textile Museum in Tilburg

Additional videos
- Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II (1896)

- Magnificence of the Tsars video walkthrough

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Amsterdam: In search of bespoke ...

I was in Amsterdam this month and was thinking of visiting a couple of tailors in my free time. In particular, I wanted to visit New Tailor and De Oost Bespoke and learn a little about Dutch bespoke tailors. But that didn't work out as planned and instead, interestingly enough, I ended up looking at mostly Neapolitan and Russian clothing (more on the latter shortly!).

New Tailor storefront

New Tailor was closed when I walked by (it's a short block from the Van Gogh Museum) and so I continued to wander a bit onto Pieter Cornelisz Hoofstraat - Amsterdam's Madison Ave or New Bond St - and came across a menswear store called Oger (pronounced with a soft 'g'), a leading men's clothing retailer in Amsterdam.

Oger storefront

I ended up chatting with a fellow named William and it turned out to be a pleasant conversation. Oger carries Attolini, Borrelli "Luxury Vintage", Boglioli and the Zegna soft line (among other brands). I saw a 4-ply cashmere sportsjacket from Attolini and quite a few Borrellis and Bogliolis with the manica camicia (shirt shoulder) construction. For those who wish to pursue this distinctive look off the rack, the store probably carries one of the most extensive Neapolitan RTW offerings I've seen.

There's a reason for that. I asked William what kind of jacket style is popular in Amsterdam and he said it was the soft shoulder type, which I thought was interesting. (Neapolitan aficionados are no doubt nodding with satisfaction on their march to global domination!).

Borrelli Luxury Vintage jacket

Oger also has an inhouse tailor who apparently has trained at the workshops of the well-known Neapolitan RTW houses - Attolini and Borrelli. It wasn't clear to me whether this was true bespoke but it is worth investigating further.

According to William, the store caters to the modern dandy (see my recent thoughts on the modern dandy after my trip to Paris). The salesmen on the floor were certainly dressed a few notches higher than what I saw on the city streets outside - a mix of three-piece suits and two-piece suits. Perhaps the modern dandy lives on in Amsterdam as well.

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised by this finding. For much of the 17th century, Amsterdam was the peak metropolis of Europe (and probably the world) in terms of accumulated wealth, commercial activity and financial innovation. A wealthy burgher naturally equipped himself with the finest clothes available, vestiges of which remain some 300 years later.

If you happen to be in Amsterdam anytime soon, drop by the store and have a chat with William about Neapolitan tailoring. And if Neapolitan is not your cup of tea, fear not fans of structured shoulders, there's currently a 50 percent off sale on Tom Ford!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The state of the union in men's clothes . . . in 1935

Greetings from January 1935 - some 75 years ago. Here are some highlights from the digital version of the January 1935 issue of Vanity Fair. They show how much dressing has changed over the years and a bit that has remained the same.

Vanity Fair Jan 1935 knitted jersey (right)

Vanity Fair Jan 1935 knitted jersey back

1) Highlights from a clothing review of London under King George V's reign (pp. 52-53)
- "Steady growth in the popularity of the black Homburg and wearing a dark red carnation worn during the day"
- The invention of the "Cripcote" single piece leather vest
- Anderson & Sheppard's pleated jersey knit jacket (see photos above)
- Tailor West and Son, on the corner of Bruton and Bond, which introduced plus fours to London, as well as a new belted sports jacket similar to a Norfolk jacket

2) Advertisement for Brooks Bros "Peal" suitcases, a label BB still sells (p. 58)

3) Advertisement for Talon trousers (p. 65)

4) Shopping for men column (pp. 67-68)
- M. Tardy, a French hatter in NYC
- Wylie and Peterson bootmakers (Russia calf boots selling for just $41)
- Tripler, the legendary New York men's retailer
- Knize Ten cologne (still in production)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Retail (& RTW) thyself: Epaulet, Nau

Thanks to this write-up by Sartorially Inclined and a mention by Components of Enthusiasm, I stumbled upon online and Brooklyn-based retailer Epaulet.

Epaulet combines modern urban style with traditional elements - denim paired with Alden shoes for example - at reasonable price points backed up by a philosophy of working with local suppliers to produce small runs of products. If I were just out of college looking to build a decent sports and casualwear wardrobe on a budget, this store would be on my short list. You'll find enough basics and interesting trimmings to get started: tie bars, shoes, hats, belts, denim, jackets, slim fit shirts and khakis. Being in shape also is key since the store tends to carry slim fitting garments.

Epaulet shop

When I visited the store in late December, co-owner Mike walked me through their retail lines. Most of their online customers are in fact in their 20s working in design, publishing and media (though the local customers who shop the physical store are more of a mix). Their shirts, ties and trousers are all made in New York City using local shirtmaking or trousermaking workshops. Their ties are a slim 2.5" wide and the shirt sizes go from XXS on up (again a boon for slim fitting guys). The bestselling item is their moleskin pants.

Given the price point of around $300, the Epaulet jackets are not fully canvassed but they do use something called "weft fusing" (sourced by a fellow who works at Rocco Ciccarelli). This is an advance over traditional fusing since the chest feels as if it semi-floating. Looking ahead to 2010, Mike mentioned that they are working on a new line of belts.

Interestingly enough, I think the customer experience is similar to the one I wrote about when I visited the bespoke atelier of Cifonelli in Paris. They are two very different animals (one is a RTW retailer and the other a bespoke tailor) but the experiential result is the same - you know why you are wearing a Cifonelli sportscoat or an Epaulet garment. Both present a very clear and distinct philosophy of dressing that appeals to a certain type of customer. And the clarity of this message means the customer and the retailer (or tailor) will click. Add a dash of enthusiasm and repeat visits and orders follow.

Epaulet also carries outerwear made by Nau. Mike pulled out a Nau Blazing down jacket and remarked it's the best constructed jacket he's come across. I'd have to agree it's an extremely well-made jacket in a slim cut using eco-friendly, high performance technical fabrics. One area where bespoke tailoring lags is technical fabrics. I think RTW houses do a better job in designing and producing garments in these materials.

Additional links
- Styleforum Epaulet affiliate thread
- Coolhunting piece on Here/Nau pop up store

Cifonelli: New York City visit

My fellow blogger Hugo of Parisian Gentleman has informed me that Cifonelli will be in New York City next week. Lorenzo Cifonelli will be taking visitors at the Plaza Athenée Hotel (Madison and 64th) on Monday and Tuesday. Anyone who is interested to meet him is welcome to stop by.

For more info on this French tailoring house, please take a look on my earlier entries by clicking on the Cifonelli label below. In addition, Permanent Style posted last week an English translation of Hugo's excellent and extensive article on this tailor.

Friday, January 01, 2010

2010: The substance of style

Greetings and happy new year to everyone. Here's a deceptively innocuous quote by the French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire to start off 2010 - "Style is character." This equation of person and appearance is related to my previous post on decoding styles. In other words, style often starts from within, not without. It's a powerful idea because, among other things, it furnishes an escape hatch to what is often the self-contained world of fashion coverage, journalism and blogging - writing that often struggles to provide insights and depth beyond "I like this, I like that or this is fantastic, and so is that".

The idea of "character" is an essential element of style that I'm developing in my proposed book. I should add that my treatment of character is probably not what Baudelaire, author of Les fleurs du mal, had in mind. But perhaps more importantly, there are additional, indispensable elements to style that have yet to be put together in a systematic way and captured in a coherent intellectual framework. Hence my book and my new year's resolution to push it closer to reality in 2010.