Thursday, December 22, 2011

Update: Sleevehead's Guide to Sicilian Tailors

I've updated my e-book to include additional photos for one of the Messina tailors, a few minor typographic corrections and more information on shopping and restaurants. The link above also quotes or references a couple of reviews of the guide by author Bruce Boyer and Hugo Jacomet of Parisian Gentleman.

I also provide further editorial commentary and information on one of the cities in particular, Messina. There, within a three block radius, you'll find a fully stocked fabric shop featuring well-known Italian cloths such as Drapers, Vitale Barberis Canonico, Cacciapoli and others, as well as a trimmings/linings shop and a button shop. Once you add a few tailors located nearby, all you need to do is mix and stir and you're all set for a complete tailoring experience. All within a few minutes walking distance of each other.

This miniature, walkable ecosystem of tailors and suppliers used to be commonplace in small towns and cities across Italy but now is very rare. It's actually difficult to find this configuration anywhere else in the world (in the West especially) with the exception of Savile Row. Mentioning Messina and Savile Row in the same breath is certainly not something I would have imagined before I had written this e-book.

I'm also looking into making available a print version of the guide (likely through a print-on-demand service) in the near future.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Holiday shopping and bespoke at Alfred Dunhill NYC

Building on my recent holiday shopping post, let's continue with the holiday shopping theme but this time for the tycoons and captains of industry among us. I'm no tycoon but democratically ventured into Alfred Dunhill's only store in North America this weekend. Immediately I was drawn to a terrific car coat with a removable beaver fur lining and stand-up collar ($4,750). If the world of beavers is not enough for you, there's a mink version for the 1 percent of the 1 percent among us. I didn't bother checking the price but I can confirm to my readers that mink is indeed softer than beaver.

I also chatted with Frans who heads the MTM/custom department and took me downstairs for a tour of their custom department. Bruno Cosentino is the head tailor and has been with Dunhill since 1986. Jackets start at $3,500 and suits at $5,000, which is very reasonable for the top tier of NYC bespoke (e.g. Nino Corvato, William Fioravanti, Raphael, Nicolosi and Len Logsdail). Bruno hails from Calabria and makes a soft natural shoulder with a light pad. My tailor in Los Angeles is also from Calabria and I certainly saw similarities in the shoulder line.

Although Bruno wasn't working on Saturday, I saw one of his basted jackets in progress and noted the fine handpadding of the lapels. Bruno constructs much of the jacket himself but the buttonholes for example are done by a specialist.  I also saw a superb traditional DB overcoat in progress made in a formidable heavyweight wool (easily in excess of 20 oz).

Interestingly, Frans mentioned his challenge is convincing customers to step up to the more leisurely tempo of bespoke. Instant gratification is the norm among male customers. I certainly think men need to be heavily reeducated on this very point. Gentlemen, have you heard of the saying that the good things in life take time?

I happen to wear both RTW and bespoke as well as some MTM. Yet for most men, even those who can easily afford the next step up, the balance in their wardrobe is grossly skewed in favor of RTW. Next time you visit Dunhill, may I suggest picking up the beaver lined car coat and picking out a hale and hearty tweed jacketing for Bruno to make up? Why not have the best of both worlds - instantaneous, card-swiped "luxury" and handsewn "heritage" requiring just a modicum of effort and taste?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The case for rehabilitation: Saving misfits and rejects

Let's talk about criminal matters for a moment. Perhaps controversially, I happen to believe in rehabilitation for the incarcerated and those who have offended the public good in some form.

I mean of course those pieces of clothing relegated to the darkest corners of the wardrobe - the sartorial misfits guilty of crimes and misdemeanors regarding fit or finish or, alternatively, pieces that have been auctioned, thrifted or abandoned for some reason.

A few resolute individuals have preferred to mete out draconian punishment to such miscreants and outcasts, grimly putting them under the executioner's blade (or scissors in this case). I refer exhibit A to the jury: Manton's medieval drawing and quartering of a suit jacket made by NYC tailor Nicolosi. I've met Manton and he's a nice fellow but these post-quartering pictures of a bespoke jacket are a bit gruesome if you are the sensitive type.

Others, under the aegis of scientific research, have offered up their sartorial orphans, outcasts and donated specimens to established tailors for step-by-step clinical dissection. I refer exhibit B to the jury: Jeffery D's dissection of a jacket by Savile Row tailor Maurice Sedwell.  If you believe in the betterment of mankind through basic research, this is an option worth putting on the operating table, so to speak.

On the other hand, I think there is also a third option, namely, progressive rehabilitation of a garment under the hands of an able tailor. The goal is gradual re-introduction into society and one's wardrobe.

I offer up exhibit C: a Brioni single-breasted, two-piece suit in a lovely chalkstripe flannel. It features a straight Roman shoulder but soft canvas in the chest and light padding on top. Unfortunately as seen below, I purchased this RTW suit at the beginning of my sartorial journey and committed the rookie mistake of buying the suit sight unseen. I ended up with a suit whose proportions are excessively elongated for my build.

The photos are a bit blurry but they convey the seriousness of the sartorial infractions - excessive jacket length, seriously oversized chest, shoulder and back dimensions and of course the trouser length which is the only thing that is easily fixable.

Brace yourself. Much like Manton's pictures, the photos of an oversized Brioni hanging off my frame are not for the squeamish.  

Original Brioni - front view
Original Brioni - back view
As a result, the suit has been sitting in storage (i.e., the isolation ward) for a number of years now. But this year I felt it was time to seriously consider parole conditioned upon successful corrective surgery or alteration.  But which tailor? Most alteration tailors are not capable of re-cutting a suit and many bespoke tailors are not willing to re-cut someone else's work.

But I knew one tailor who might be open to the challenge - Los Angeles tailor Enzo Caruso. So I dropped by one day this summer and casually brought it up. Interestingly, he was up to the task, mainly I think due to the lovely flannel fabric which was languishing away in storage.

Below are the initial fitting photos after the re-cut of the jacket (with the trousers still untouched):
Fitting stage for re-cut Brioni
Fitting stage for re-cut Brioni
And below are photos of the end product (sans trouser belt):

Finished Brioni (sleeves lengthened from fitting stage)
Finished Brioni (shortened and trimmed back and shoulders)
So what did Enzo do? He essentially raised the body of the jacket, taking in from the top (i.e. shoulder) to remove the excess fabric, and raising the armholes. In so doing, the patterns on the cloth shifted and in order to rematch the patterns Enzo re-cut and reset the collar, as well as the sleeves.

For your viewing pleasure, I include intermediate, fitting photos of a different MTM sports jacket from a well-known brand which also needed to be re-cut:

Fitting stage for re-cut MTM jacket
Fitting stage for re-cut MTM jacket
If you are interested in the rehabilitation option, you should reserve it only for the most worthy cases.  Enzo is not going to spend time re-cutting any and all suits, certainly not a $199 suit from Men's Wearhouse.  Nor would it be worthwhile for the customer since the re-cutting charge will easily exceed the cost of a cheap suit.

Finally, from a material standpoint any ill-fitting suits will need to have excess cloth (i.e. be oversized) in order for this to work.  So save this option for the most worthy cases. I'm happy I did.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Holiday gifts for him and her

Let's start with gifts for her. As the saying goes, ladies first.

If your girlfriend or spouse swears by sheepskin boots made by a certain ubiquitous brand, direct her to the better performing option by Australian brand Emu. I had the opportunity to see a live demo of their sheepskin footwear and saw the difference in wet weather performance and water resistance.

Emu also produces womenswear using merino wool and soft leathers. These are sporty, streamlined pieces in mostly earth tones. Think a sportier, more casual Michael Kors channeling an Aussie informality.

For men, the answer is simple. Go with Maxton Men. If you're landing a nice bonus this year, check out Park & Bond. Otherwise, if you made a killing in the market, congratulations and get thee to Mr. Porter.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

GQ style editor Glenn O'Brien

Here's a relaxed O'Brien on Andy Warhol, style tribes, taking risks (i.e. looking different) and his recent advice book for men.

What I like about O'Brien's approach is his distinctive take on style. He's more open to risk-taking, seated perhaps in his experiences with the creative hothouse of the New York music and art scene in the 1970s and 1980s. But he also sets sensible boundaries for what men should or should not wear such as the dubious proposition of sporting baseball caps at non-sporting events. Agree. Like. +1.

O'Brien also describes his new book How To Be A Man as "a philosophy book disguised as a humor book disguised as an advice book". It's a very interesting approach to a potentially cliche-driven genre. A book on style advice disguised as something else. This maneuver and disguise, I think, separates the most interesting books on style from the rest.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Berlin style: Holiday displays on Kurfürstendamm

In addition to visiting the prosperous northern German city of Hamburg, I spent some time in Berlin, specifically along Kurfürstendamm, one of the main retail corridors of this historic city. The other primary retail area is along Friedrichstraße in the Mitte district.

Due the width of the sidewalks on the Ku'damm, shoppers are able to walk through two kinds of displays - the actual storefront windows and self-standing kiosks situated closer to the curb.

With a little bit of help from Roetzel's iGentleman app and some random walking, I came across bespoke tailor Volkmar Arnulf (cool name but I digress) and RTW/MTO shoes including Ludwig Reiter, Budapester, Stephan Pöschk and Oliver Gray.

Volkmar Arnulf overcoat
Volkmar Arnulf cuff links, price list and overcoat sketch
Volkmar Arnulf 2x1 button sports jacket

Volkmar Arnulf accessories
Ludwig Reiter

Ludwig Reiter

Stephan Pöschk details
Stephan Pöschk full brogue
Stephan Pöschk Norwegian front derby
Oliver Gray
Oliver Gray

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Hamburg style: English and Italian threads

I was also in Hamburg for a day and visited a couple of fine men's haberdasheries. The first is Ladage & Oelke, which I first read about in Flusser's Style and the Man. Below are some photos of their holiday displays:

Ladage & Oelke window display
Ladage & Oelke shearling coat
Ladage & Oelke shearling lined boots & shoes
Ladage & Oelke accessories
L&O is worthy of a pilgrimage for its distinctive take on men's clothing. What it does well is take the English city and country style and assimilate them in northern German terms. Think also American trad (or Ivy League style) meets the Baltic Sea.

Ladage & Oelke outerwear
Ladage & Oelke knickerbockers!
Ladage & Oelke sweaters
My 2 favorite things about the store are its terrific tie selection (ground floor) and shoe department (second floor). The former is an American trad (and Ivy League) dream - knit ties in silk, cotton and wool and 3.25" silk ties in conservative print and knit patterns (including animal motifs) made under the English labels Church's and Atkinson's.

Ladage & Oelke country coat with game pockets

Ladage & Oelke
Ladage & Oelke morning coat
Their shoe selection is extensive, as is their inventory (10,000 pairs in stock for men and women). They carry St. Crispin, Edward Green, Crockett & Jones, Alden, Wolverine, Carmina and Lendvay & Schwarcz (an Austrian sounding brand but actually made in Italy).

If you live near Hamburg, Crockett & Jones is holding a trunk show at the store on December 2 (2-7pm) and December 3 (10-6pm). Prices range from EUR420 to 540 plus EUR50 for any made-to-order variations.

Braun is Hamburg's Italian alternative to L&O, also covered in Flusser's book. Unfortunately I visited after their closing time and leave you with just a couple of window display shots.

Braun quilted jacket
Braun - Fay blue topcoat

I also visited Berlin and will post photos shortly.