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