Wednesday, March 24, 2010

House of Savoia: Bespoke tailoring on the Lower East Side

Recently I had a chance to visit Michele Savoia in the Lower East Side in New York City. He's a larger than life character who learned the tailoring craft in his Sicilian grandfather's workshop. Savoia has a broad interest in all things related to design and considers himself a designer in all fields, not just a tailor. You can see this when you visit his new store, which opened in November of last year. At the front, you'll see a vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he rebuilt, as well as the layout and interior which he designed and furnished.

Savoia store

The shop is furnished like a men's club with an executive office in the back for clients, a vintage pool table, a stocked bar at the back and dressing rooms on the left. Although the setting and backdrop is completely different, the shop reminded me of Marc Guyot in Paris. Both embody the look and feel of a private men's club from the first half of the 20th century. I should note the clothes are cut and made in a different location.

Savoia store

If you enjoy theatre, you'll see his suits and jackets in a show or two. For one actor, Savoia described having to create jackets with 5 different lapels – clover, flat peaks, etc. You get the sense he has an encyclopedic knowledge of men's clothing. In terms of cut, he can do a natural or more structured shoulder depending on the customer.

Savoia overcoat

Finally, the store has a wonderful library and collection of books and magazines on men's clothing, film and sundry related topics. I mentioned to Savoia's business partner, Pete, that it's a very nice touch. If you judge a tailor strictly by his book collection, Savoia comes out extremely well. I spotted volumes by Bruce Boyer, Flusser, vintage copies of Esquire from the 1940s, Ian Kelly's and Nick Foulkes' biographies of Beau Brummel and Count d'Orsay and much more. All in all, probably the best library of any men's shop or tailor I've seen.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Montreal tailors: La grande mesure et demi grande quebeƧois

When I was in Montreal recently, I visited a couple of tailors in the Plateau area: G. Tonino and Gerard Mayeu.

My first visit was with Tonino and they have been in the same location for 40 years. Signore Tonino has three working tailors in the backroom (plus himself) where the suits are made. He learned the trade from his uncle and is originally from Campobasso, south of Rome.

Judging from what I saw, he cuts essentially a Roman shoulder along the natural shoulder line but can make a softer shoulder and will remove padding according to the customer's frame. We were talking about current jacket styles in Montreal and it seems the vast majority of his customers order single breasted although he noted that a customer recently ordered a double breasted jacket - the first in a long time apparently.

Although most of his customers are from Montreal, he has customers in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada, as well as New York. Most are professionals (lawyers, accountants, etc) and some customers are multigenerational (i.e. fathers and sons). The shop carries mostly Italian mills (Vitale Barberis Canonico, Zegna).

It was a pleasure speaking with Signore Tonino about when he started and how he got involved in the trade. As a consumer, I was interested to hear that when he first started four decades ago custom suits were just $59.

I then dropped by Gerard Mayeu, a short hop away by metro or taxi, for a very quick visit.

Mayeu has also been in the same location since 1946 and now owned by the son of the founder. At the high end, custom suits range from $500 to $700 and are made on the premises on the second floor of the building. I didn't get a chance to closely inspect a suit but I suspect generous use of sewing machines is required (and perfectly reasonable) at this price. They have three tailors plus a dedicated shirtmaker. Quite a bit of Mayeu's trade seems to come from media and entertainment (films and shows).

Visiting either one of these tailors is easy. You can take a taxi from downtown or stay at a hotel near a stop on the Orange Line metro. Both Tonino and Mayeu are very close to metro stops (Beaubien and Mont Royal respectively).

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on Toronto tailors
- Styleforum thread on Montreal tailors

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Japanese repro-authenticity: The push and pull of vintage clothing

As a follow-up to my previous entry on heritage brands, I thought it would be especially relevant to mention the pivotal role of the Japanese in the resurrection of "authentic" vintage styles, makes and brands. The Japanese are masters of finding, exhuming and preserving vintage clothing and the original brands associated with them, often in a much more detailed, appreciative way than their originating host cultures.

Free & Easy is a magazine that is similar to other "product-obsessed" magazines published in Japan such as Antenna. The January 2009 edition is a catalog-like paean to vintage US military apparel and speaks to the centrality of product lore and heritage for the Japanese consumer. History works in strange ways. Remember things were a bit different in the not so distant past - the US and Japan were locked in mortal combat just 65 years ago. Perhaps progress is measured, strangely enough, in the transmission of clothes. Of course, pessimists will note that cultural regress is measurable in sartorial terms as well.

Free & Easy Jan 09 - M-1943 field jacket

Free & Easy Jan 09 - USAF flying jacket B-15

The Japanese are also masters of what I call "reproduced authenticity" (or repro-authenticity). As I wrote earlier, the Japanese often acquire specialized artisanal training overseas and then bring them back home, whether in the form of Western wear workshops or denim production in the Okayama prefecture of Japan. They are arguably the originators of what is now called "heritage chic" or, even further up the value chain, heritage production and craftmanship.

Below are scans from the December 2009 issue, dedicated entirely to American and Canadian work boots such as Red Wing, Wesco, White's and VIberg.

Free & Easy Dec 09 - Red Wing boots

Note the cataloguing of different boot styles - engineer, cowboy, Wellington, desert, chukka, Jodhpur.

Free & Easy Dec 09 - Boot styles

The Japanese are also very proficient in incorporating vintage products into contemporary looks. This is taking inspiration from established styles in the past and mixing the old with the new. An example of this mixing is the hale and hearty tweed Norfolk jacket below, which is paired with very soft, lambskin two-tone leather gloves.

Free & easy Jan 10 norfolk jacket

Free & Easy Jan 10 - FE Warehouse tweed

Additional links
- Pitti Uomo fall/winter 2010 collections featuring Engineered Garments, M and TS(S)
- Blogger Boomerang Table on Free & Easy Magazine
- Free & Easy's retail store in Tokyo called Rugged Museum
- NY Times article on Japanese denim

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Annals in the history of retailing: Filene's Basement

The idea for this blog entry came from the PR folks working with Filene's Basement. I have not shopped at Filene's recently but the folks there reached out to me with an upcoming sales tip and deal which I'm happy to pass this on to those readers who wish to take advantage (see details below). Certainly could be useful for someone buying his first suit. If there is sufficient interest, I will continue to pass on tips/deals for my readers. Feel free to post a comment if you have any thoughts about this.

Filenes March deal

Filene's is noteworthy in the history of retailing by providing an ingenious solution to the problem of excess and unsold inventory. They did so by innovating the back room and front room simultaneously. In other words they took excess stock and used it as the basis for a new front-of-the-shop, retail category and opportunity. Sold in a reverse auction format, the off-price merchandise is marked down automatically in 25% increments progressively over time.

This was an extension of the fixed price format introduced by the first modern department stores in the US and Europe circa 1850s. In the pre-department store era, prices were not fixed or displayed. Hence, the stores took out the constant haggling and negotiation around price, which was par for course in the retail consumer experience of the 19th century.

Additional links
- Video clip of the history of Filene's Basement

* Filene's Suit event (March 14th - 22nd): According to their email to me, "designer suits at $50 - $200 off their original department & specialty store prices. Every men’s suit will be on sale at 50 – 70% off, and we’re inviting a select group of shoppers to attend our Special Preview Week, from March 7th through the 13th, where you can have first dibs on the selection and get your suit custom-fitted!"

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Heritage brands: In search of authenticity

This is not a trick question. What do chickens and men's clothing have in common? The answer is heritage. These days the new trend is raising heritage breeds (chickens) and wearing heritage brands (clothing). In the case of poultry, the past few years has seen the rise of raising chickens, often rare or heritage breeds, at home (see link below). It's a return to the household economics of a century ago.

In the case of clothing, heritage has also become fashionable. Check out the current issue of GQ and you'll find a J. Crew advertisement trumpeting its association with brands such as Levi's jeans, Quoddy boots, Panama hats, Ray-Ban sunglasses and Timex watches. Or you can go directly to J. Crew's area on their website featuring their "in good company" brands.

During the Sartorial Excellence gathering last weekend, I met noted men's clothing journalist and writer Bruce Boyer and one of the topics we talked about was the return of heritage brands. On the one hand, it's heartening to see (mostly) great makers and brands getting a second look. But let's just keep in mind that the search for "authentic" brands is simply a starting point for style.

Additional links
- New Yorker piece on the rising popularity of raising heritage breed chickens at home
- New York Times article on heritage chic
- Blogger New Found Lust on the women's take on heritage chic

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The rise and fall of hats: Stetson Whippet advertisement

In 2009 I wrote about hatwearing and four reasons why men wear hats today. I decided to write about hats because it seemed to me that hatwearing (brimmed hats) among men has picked up in the past five years.

So when did hatwearing supposedly die off before making this recent comeback? Some say after World War I, others after World War II and still others say in the 1960s. Here's a Life Magazine ad from the classic American hatmaker Stetson advertising its Whippet fedora. The date of the issue is March 8, 1948.

Stetson Whippet

It's been an elusive question - what decade marked the end of hatwearing and why? It's a question I will address more comprehensively in my book.