Sunday, November 02, 2014

A video history of the necktie

I came across this useful history of the necktie by Fashion Institute of Technology professor Chloe Chapin:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Messina tailor's worktable

This summer I visited one of the tailors I reviewed in my e-book on Sicilian tailors - Pippo Arrigo in Messina. Here are a few photos of his workspace and table:

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Old World textiles: Antico Setificio Fiorentino

The Privilege of Luxury - Short movie from Antico Setificio Fiorentino on Vimeo.

This is an informative albeit promotional video of Antico Setificio Fiorentino, Florence's last silk-making factory. It was established in 1786 and bought by the Stefano Ricci group in 2010. The factory specializes in silk and silk-linen damask, brocade and Ermisino taffeta woven on hand looms. Ermisino taffeta is perhaps its most well-known silk.

The video provides a glimpse of the 1,800 mechanical and 1,700 hand looms used in the factory. The equipment includes original 18th century looms - some of which are based on a Leonardo da Vinci design for a warping machine.

Production is 40-80 centimeters per worker per day. This is an astonishingly low rate compared to modern, high speed looms. In contrast, the fastest looms today (air jets and multiphase looms) can achieve weft insertion rates of 5,000 meters per minute. Simply put, this shows why very few products are handmade these days.

It also implies that if you appreciate such artisanship you'll have to be prepared to pay for such handmade luxury. The same applies here since ASF fabrics start at $435 per yard. As you might imagine, the factory's customers, such as Versailles and the Kremlin, tend to have deep pockets.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Scissormaking: Ernest Wright and Sons

The Putter from shaun bloodworth on Vimeo.

I enjoyed coming across this story on the state of the scissor making trade in England and a mini-revival of what appears to be the country's last remaining maker.

I'm learning how to cut and sew a men's shirt later this year and will put in a order for one of the tailoring shears.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Trimmings merchant: Bernstein & Banleys

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jonathan Bernstein of Bernstein & Banleys, one of the few remaining independent trimmings merchants left in the trade. I was interested in meeting for a simple reason. Although I had found a French source for silk facings used in dinner jackets and formalwear, I had not yet found a source for the old-fashioned silk trouser braid used in formal trousers.

I inquired with at least half a dozen trimmings and fabric merchants in NYC but to no avail. I did manage to locate a source for regular silk cord (Botani Trimmings). However, with no sign of the old fashioned trouser braid (see third braid from top in photo below), I feared it was no longer being made.

As it turns out, that fear was altogether premature. Jonathan confirmed that the English mill that used to make this quintessential trimming is no longer in business (and undoubtedly supplied much of Savile Row). But the good news is that after some investigation B&B identified an Italian mill who is able to produce an equivalent braid with similar specifications to the English-made variety.

You might be wondering why I'm putting so much stock in sourcing and understanding the provenance of a trimming a mere 5/8 inch in width? You might also point out that trouser braid is perhaps one percent of the bill of materials for a bespoke dinner jacket and trousers. My reason (or conceit) is fairly simple - modern men's formalwear was originally an English invention.

At least for me, it's heartening to see an active UK manufacture and trade around a dress code that is quintessentially English. Today, of course, quality textile and fabric merchants live in a multi-sourced commercial environment and work with a spectrum of Italian and English suppliers. But from the standpoint of "heritage aesthetics", I like the fact that B&B currently work with a factory in East Anglia for their silk facings. The factory is located in a town whose history with textile manufacture dates back to the Middle Ages.

But set aside the aesthetics of authenticity for a moment. Based on what I saw, I think B&B has the widest and most complete offering of formalwear trimmings in the market. Specifically, I'm speaking about their new silk facings and linings books which offers both traditional options (check out their viscose rayon or ermazine linings) and new trends such as digital print silk linings.

If you're a tailor or designer, I'd encourage you to inquire into B&B (no minimums) and they have a NY-based agent to facilitate orders.

Additional links
- James Grove & Sons buttons - B&B acquired the button inventory of James Grove

Friday, June 20, 2014 - the theory and practice of making things

I'm not terribly fond of the well-worn adage "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach". Indeed I think it is very wrong-headed in assuming the separation of theory from practice and privileging the latter in all instances. Perhaps I'm overlooking something but I've found the individual parts rarely exceed the sum of both.

This seems especially true in a discipline such as tailoring, where theory in concert with practice seems the better approach. Recently I was pleased to learn of the launch of Mastered, which embodies this approach. Mastered is a new online venture offering creative arts education focused on fashion and jewelry taught by highly experienced practitioners.

Moreover, I learned that the esteemed Savile Row tailor Andrew Ramroop will be offering a Mastered online course on making a coat. As far as I'm aware, this will be the first time Savile Row-specific content and training will be offered online.

Savile Row Trailer from Mastered on Vimeo.

Mr. Ramroop is also conducting a free live lesson on June 24th. Unfortunately, I'm not able to attend due to work but I look forward to seeing the archived version.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Is a $300 canvas tote bag a #firstworld luxury?

Well, yes. A $300 canvas tote bag is a #firstworld luxury and the ability to buy one is a nice option to have. On the other hand, it is perhaps the only ethical thing to do assuming you have the means to afford a $300 tote. Let me explain.

I happen to live in NYC which requires a carryall tote bag for everyday use and shopping. Most NYC dwellers, including myself, make do without a personal car which means that we shop more frequently and in smaller amounts. Unlike our suburban counterparts who can drive to a supermarket, Costco, Walmart, etc. and load up their cars or SUVs, we rely on bipedal motion and the homely tote bag to re-stock on essential items.

My old canvas tote was beginning to show its age and thus I was on the hunt for a decently made replacement. After some reflection, I decided this meant I needed to find a functional carryall that was assembled and manufactured in a country with robust health and safety regulations.  These days it is standard practice to manufacture in the lowest cost locations. Low cost often means lax standards regarding worker safety. You may have heard about the Bangladesh garment factory collapse in 2013 which killed more than 1,000 workers.

I realize there is no easy solution here. By buying a bag made in a low-cost overseas factory, you are, at least in the short term, actually helping a worker who is supporting her family and may otherwise be unemployed (or perhaps working under even worse conditions).

However, it strikes me that there are more defensible choices for a #firstworld consumer. If you can afford it, why not support minimum worker standards and purchase products made under those conditions? Or if you wish to genuinely improve the economic livelihood and self-sufficiency of Third World workers, look into co-operative products. Links to both options can be found below.

In the meantime, I was prepared to pay more for a new tote bag but though I didn't realize how much more I would have to pay. I ended up going for a canvas tote by Chapman Bags whose workshop is located in England (Cumbria to be more precise).

I also had some specific functional requirements which the Chapman bag provided that I couldn't find anywhere else. These were:
  • Water resistant interior for easy cleaning
  • Dual-purpose handles that can be carried by hand or slipped over the shoulder
  • Sufficient interior width and volume to store liter sized bottles
The bag I decided to buy was their tan fishing tote bag, which retails for 115 GBP (incl. 20% VAT). The fishing tote also has an optional, removable rubberized liner that is water resistant. Funnily enough, it's also on sale now at 25% off (85 GBP) although I bought mine at full price. Even #firstworld consumers can appreciate a sale.

Below are additional canvas/leather tote bag options I came across. And the last option, of course, is to make your own tote bag as a DIY project.

Monday, February 03, 2014

The decline and fall of hat wearing

The English historian Edward Gibbon attributed the decline and fall of the once ubiquitous Roman Empire to the gradual, enervating loss of martial dedication and civic discipline among its citizenry. In a way, the Romans did not keep up the appearances required of an enduring civilization. Put simply, the slipping of standards led to the sinking of an empire.

One could argue much the same about the rise and fall of another once ubiquitous phenomenon of Western civilization, namely, hat wearing. A number of speculative theories have been posited attempting to explain the decline of hat wearing ranging from the rise of automobiles to the social fissures created in the 1960s by the Vietnam War and the baby boomer generation. The author of Hatless Jackaddresses the popular notion that a young, dynamic and hatless JFK hammered in the final nail in the coffin of hat wearing. These are certainly plausible explanations but they all suffer from a severe lack of data, evidence and supporting material.

This article attempts to fill this evidentiary gap and may be the first application of "culturomics" (i.e. computational analysis of digitized texts) to menswear or fashion generally speaking. N-grams are sequences of text or speech, which, when combined with Google's digitization of millions of books between 1500 and 2008, provide a unique historical record over 500 years of human history across several different languages.

When the Google Ngram Viewer was released in 2010, the first n-gram analyses I generated were for my book, currently in progress, combining a practical guide and intellectual history of men's style (which I will likely split into two separate works).

I think the Ngram Viewer offers some very suggestive insights on the gradual but almost complete collapse of hat wearing. Analysis of n-grams are unlikely to establish causality in the scientific sense but it can help make sense of why something happened and the social and cultural context around the specific practice and concept behind the n-gram. In this case, I'm proposing to analyze the word "hat" as a means to explore, starting with the linguistic record, linkages to the social practice of hat wearing.

Hypothesis #1: Hat wearing can be correlated to specific historical periods.

I interpret the n-gram plot below to indicate three phases - bubble or boom years (1860-1900), a "golden age" (1900-1940) and a "golden decline" of hats (1940-1960). These correlate respectively to the Victorian-Edwardian era, World War I/Roaring Twenties and postwar US and Europe.

The question then becomes a matter of building a plausible theory of the social, cultural and economic drivers in each period which can explain why the word-stock of hats grew, peaked and declined in the three eras identified above.

Hypothesis #2: The decline of hat wearing may be correlated with the decline of the social concept and practice of being a gentleman.

At first blush, there doesn't appear to be any correlation between "hat" and "gentleman" in the n-gram plot below. But it is interesting to note the peaks and valleys in the usage of "gentleman" circa 1800-1820 and 1900-1920, suggesting again underlying linkages to historical events during those time periods. The fact that the word hat persists at a consistent rate over 200 years is also noteworthy, at least compared to the steady and absolute decline of gentleman in the digitized corpus.

Hypothesis #3: Events in popular culture reported by mass media can influence linguistic usage and the actual practice of hat wearing.

Below we see an interesting fluctuation in the frequency of texts mentioning Stetson hats. I surmise the peaks are generated by specific films, tv shows, celebrities or other events covered by media outlets during those time periods.

In order to make progress on this hypothesis, the n-gram analysis above needs to be augmented with actual hat production numbers.

Additional links
- Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture
- Sleevehead on the rise and fall of hats - Stetson Whippet advertisement
- Sleevehead on musicians, rules, weather and God or 4 reasons to wear a hat

Copyright © 2014 by Juhn Maing. All rights reserved. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Accessory round-up

Happy new year, I recently received a few accessories which I thought I would share. They are a very elegant pair of Vass austerity brogue shoes, a bespoke Yellow Hook cashmere tie made in Brooklyn and an Equus leather belt crafted using highly durable English bridle leather and brass hardware.

In addition, I note that this month - January 2014 - marks the ninth (!) anniversary of this blog. It's been an enjoyable journey so far and I look forward to see how the next chapter unfolds.