Artisan Chic

For those not inclined to polished looks, preferring the appeal of imperfections rather than divine precision, artisan chic is a classic style reference. Unlike a lot of other rather scruffy clothing, there is a legacy of purpose behind the multitude of pockets in an artisan’s jacket and a story behind the crumpled lapels. The artisan always desired a quiet smartness but the main quality of artisan clothing is a focus on the practicalities for the craft.

I once walked through Positano, looking in the little shoe-making shops, admiring their dedication to their work whilst gazing on rows of half finished shoes in a trancelike state. In one particular establishment, the little cobbler sat on a stool in a three-button linen jacket; underneath was a thick weave waistcoat and a check shirt with a cream tie. I wish I had taken a picture as it would not only have been lovely to display with this article, but it would have shown how much use he was actually getting from his clothing. Wooden handled tools popped out from his breast pocket, little nails were piled inside a small waistcoat pocket. He was an image so lacking in pomp, and yet so stylish in delivery. His personal fashion was likely decades old but so ingenuous. Like the tap-tapping of his honest craft, his clothing was self-explanatory and lacking in pretence and even though I am no skilled craftsman, employing a clothing style dedicated to practicality is something I admire.

The corduroy or linen jacket

The start of every artisan look should be the jacket. It should fit well, but it should avoid folly and fashion; short jackets may be the vogue, but keep the artisan jacket a classic length. Secondly, in terms of colour, browns and greens may be the very ‘usual’ colours for corduroy but the most interesting versions I have seen are in navy and black. These colours are also more appropriate for the coming season as I tend to consider certain browns and greens too autumnal. Linen jackets are more appropriate for warmer times of year and their unstructured shape relaxes all combinations. I like linen jackets in sacking colours and they look excellent with a favourite white shirt.

The useful waistcoat

Another signature garment of the artisan look is a waistcoat with working pockets. Unlike foppish fashion creations, the practical waistcoat is often made from a knitted material, perhaps lambs wool, and the chief characteristics apart from the informal pockets, are the simple lapels and high break. Effectively, it is a sleeveless cardigan with a large number of pockets.

The trousers

One of the things I noticed about the charming chap from Positano was that he, for no particular reason, rolled his trousers up boyishly, displaying his naked ankles. This is a particularly appealing touch and it works with practically any type of trouser, although it’s best to stick with straight and slim leg trousers or reasonably well worn and tired-looking denim.

The shoes

The shoes completing the style should be practical but not bulky; an old looking yet elegantly shaped pair will always trump a brand new pair of ugly blocks. A good colour for the shoes is rich burgundy, like that of a fine old wine and any wear and tear adds character, but the shoes must be well polished and cared for, otherwise the look can descend into tramp chic.

City Boy Style Rocks

It’s happened again. Rogue trading has hit the headlines. Only this time, instead of sultry Singapore, patrician Paris is the financial crime scene and there is something curiously apropos about that. Just when people had started, once more, to write off city boys as boring, avaricious creeps, up pops one of the bad-boy ‘rock stars’ in one of the world’s most stylish capitals having bled his employing investment bank SocGen of a whopping $7 billion. Forget high-stakes poker, forget trashing hotel rooms and mind-bending narcotic experimentation. Taking thousands of millions, squandering them and then elegantly covering the trail is the way to rock and roll and it has put the city boys back in the spotlight.

With a nervy start to the financial year, people were already beginning to turn their lenses on the unassuming bean-counters in the towers of glass and steel but this news has really set the pulses going. No one romanticises or fantasises about the striped-shirt brigade who spend their days with screens and phones; they are the antithesis of romantic figures, merely slaves to King Midas who occasionally flash their inner vulgarity with ostentatious consumption and tasteless over-tipping. Their working lives are chronicled anonymously in the salmon-print of the Financial Times consistently referred to in herd-like terms, avoiding reference to any individuality, and we are led to believe they are merely miserable souls whose Damoclean mistake was to follow the road to riches rather than honest worth.

A lot of this is, of course, drivel. Yes, these chaps are driven by money, but find me one Hollywood egotist willing to accept the minimum wage for their work. They aren’t exactly long-haired poets or suffering artists of great talent, but they take huge risks and not merely to double-line their own pockets. They also work, for better or worse, pretty damn hard to make money and they are necessary in this zero-sum world. Lastly, their salaries, often criticised for being simply too large by point-scoring neo-liberal politicians, are in fact proportionate to their performances and are taxed like every other sum of legitimate money.

One other thing, which is likely to be scoffed at, is an observation of mine that in fact, a lot of city boys have the style nous that other professionals lack. The lawyer is smart, but lacking in chutzpah. The doctor is generally over-casual and unremarkable. The city boy is a Wall Street tiger: he has stripes and he will bally well show them.

However, the hard, mathematical types who hoard pictures of their families on their desk, next to their novelty chess-boards, resent this city boy tag, so I isolate them from my spoons of praise. They are the dry, tee totalling mail-order catalogue side of the city to whom style is about as important as moon exploration to a budgerigar. The true city boy sweeps in wearing pinstripes leaning towards the muted sartorial classicism of Jermyn Street in contrast to the advertising titan in Soho, clothed in Duchamp and Richard James. He wears shirts and ties with ease and pride, and even bothers to seek advice in Thomas Pink from the style consultants for counsel on combinations. At his side swings a magnificent Malacca umbrella from James Smith.

Though dressing down has been the recent form for vast swathes of city folk, the indication is that some of the British are standing firm. A stockbroking friend of mine is a strong believer in the city uniform and refers to the attire of the relaxed New Yorkers, quite abruptly as ‘that casual crap’. Whereas casual financial-scientists from Wall Street see themselves as belonging to the distinctly un-yuppy Pixar generation, the stalwarts of the Square Mile stand proud with the dignified and unapologetic air of George W. Banks. The markets can go where they like; sartorial stoicism is to be saluted.

Icons of Classic Style: Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday of this week was Martin Luther King Day, a holiday filled with both pragmatic and intangible significance. Dr. King is without a doubt one of the most revered figures in modern American history. More than most public figures of the 20th Century, King is so intertwined with the times in which he lived that he has transcended his own personality. He has become a legend, but a very human one.

I chose Dr. King as an icon of classic style because more than anyone else I admire, the way in which he chose to present himself every day quite literally changed the world. When I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., I see a man who possessed incredible inner strength and a drive to make a tangible mark on the world. I see a man who forced others to see who he really was by sheer force of personality. And when I think of how he looked – I see him in a suit.

It was usually a simple but elegant suit; dark, sober and professional. It was a Sunday suit; fitting of course as he was a preacher. But it was also his armor during a time in my country’s history when bigotry was literally the law. Black citizens had little protection or recourse and even the most heinous act of murder was seen in a different legal light. The presumption was usually that the victim deserved it and all white juries usually concurred.

I bring up these rather depressing images because it is important to put King in the right context. As with his contemporary, Bobby Kennedy, King has become a somewhat remote and perfected image. But the dangers faced by Dr. King and those around him were very real and very personal. Every day he had to get up and accept that his work could – and probably would – lead to his death.

In addition to his landmark non-violent protests, King led another type of war. It was the war of perception. Dr. King presented black America in a way that tore down the flimsy veil of prejudice. Step by step his actions reshaped the image of what made someone an American and a human.

King understood the role of media and of perception. He made a point to always be well turned out, eloquent, knowledgeable and gentlemanly. He was daily fighting the ignorant and small-minded stereotypes that unfortunately persist to this day. By presenting a glaring counter argument in the form of an accomplished and elegant African American leader, King opened a new front in the war for equality.

By being perpetually well dressed King’s image, as well as his words, presented an unassailable message of strength, confidence, leadership and intelligence.

He was not the first in civil rights leader to harness the power of dress. Malcolm X, a fellow civil rights activist and leading figure in the Nation of Islam, lead legions of followers impeccably turned out in suits and bow ties.

While clothing does not in and of itself change the world, part of Dr. King’s legacy will always be the image of a polished leader and brilliant orator. King’s choice of clothing extended his reach and defined a leader.

Fall/Winter 2008 Milan and Paris Highlights

As the curtain for the men’s shows in Paris and Milan has fallen once again, there is left in its wake hundreds of outfits that compared against the backdrop of current fashion, will play a large role in the determination of new trends.  This year’s collections were in some cases an about-face on current trends and an elaboration in other instances.  Though only time can tell which fashions will make the transition from runway to everyday, there were clearly some standout pieces in a sea of seemingly endless fabric.


Designers hit the brakes on the ‘slim’ trend and reversed direction in creating a bigger, wider silhouette.  Baggy and flowing pants in the style of 30’s ‘zoot suits’ were present in nearly every show, even at Dior Homme, which would have been an anathema only a few years earlier under the reign of Hedi Slimane.  While these ‘Aladdin’ inspired pants will not likely achieve any popularity outside of the Euro-hipster and Face hunter demographic, it is an important indicator that the fashion world has tired of narrow cuts for the moment and it may also be a sign of the impending return of pleated pants to stylishness.


In more manageable proportions, flowing pants can actually be quite stylish, such as this pair from Emanuel Ungaro, though they are ultimately unlikely to gain wide acceptance. To wear roomier pants and not look like Jim Carry from “The Mask,” it is best to wear a modern, fitted jacket rather than something equally bulbous.  Because of their high fashion status, pants of this style are likely to draw raised-eyebrows in the street.


Interestingly, or party due to baggy pants’ dependence on them, tops did not follow the super-sizing trend, instead many were cropped and revamped in this manner.  Suit jackets were both shorter and more fitted than had been seen in previous years.  This was similarly the case with the classic tuxedo, which was transformed from its traditional form to a more avant-garde appearance.


One trend that I predict will be particularly successful was a certain ‘wild west’ look at Paul Smith, evoked by earthy colors and a distinctly classic cut.  A higher lapel will likely be increasingly desired after a seemingly long period of fashion hibernation.  While plaids were still ruefully popular with many designers, they seemed toned down to a degree, making them more palatable.  Such was the effect of this Rykiel Homme suit (top right), which flawlessly combined an edgy fabric with a rakishly modern cut to create a Rock ’n’ roll look.


Possibly my favorite look of the season was from Raf Simons.  This pairing of a turtleneck and trousers is so sophisticated and chic in its simplicity that it exudes a timelessness that I look for in dressing. The fit of the pants is perfect and they serve well to visually emphasize the difference between fashion and style.  While zoot pants may be fashionable today, they are the kind of dated tem that will have you asking yourself what you were thinking when looking back on it ten years into the future.

Buying Belts And Wallets

Belts

It is a well-worn maxim that a man’s shoes should match his belt. While this sentiment certainly has its merits, it also, as with most absolutes on style, creates a rather severe and foreboding landscape in which a man may dress. A man’s belt and shoes can be in whatever varied hues he chooses, provided they do not clash; like socks, there is no need to follow the overly strict and generally misguided dictum of matching when coordination is a far more useful guide.

Unless you are a cowboy or it is made of brass and spells your name, a belt buckle shouldn’t draw attention to your midsection. I blame J. Lindeberg for this recent phenomenon. (I also blame him for convincing Justin Timberlake he could design clothes). Your t-shirt and jeans do not become an outfit just because you have a belt buckle larger than my hand.

A black leather belt should handle most of your wardrobe’s heavy lifting, pardon the pun. Kenneth Cole has a nice one currently on sale. This one distinguishes itself from the sizable pack with its thin, black metal buckle.

This one from Fossil has done the trick for two years now.

With a brown leather belt I think you can afford to be a bit more risky and creative. I like this Ben Sherman belt with his name punched out like a dot matrix printer.

I don’t have anything to say about fabric belts. There a little like off-white paint – ubiquitous and completely forgettable.

Wallets

When I was eight I had a velcro Ocean Pacific wallet that never had any money it. Still, I carried it everywhere I went and kept it filled with notes about comic books. The main point of this story is that I had this wallet when I was eight. If you still hear a ripping sound when you need to pay for something it’s time to buy a new wallet.

Although not the first name to come to mind when contemplating men’s wallets, Coach has a handsome collection in a variety of textures – including this Signature Embossed edition:

I know men who change their wallets every year, perhaps in response to the fact that after socks and ties, wallets seem to be the most popular gift for men. Apart from being wasteful this denies the wallet the chance to mature, since most leather goods only reveal their character once broken in. At the risk of not having any money to put in it once you buy it, grab one like this Bosca made of ostrich leather and let it age until it is something you’d be proud to give to your grandkids.