Archives for July 2008

Reader Question: Tips on the Go

Nick, London: Do you have any practical tips for dealing with stains on clothing and other practical tips?

Sure. First, some practical tips to deal with problems if you are on the road and not within reach of a good haberdasher.

Situation: Unshined shoes.
What to do: First, try rubbing them lightly with a cloth or towel. Much of what appears to be a dullness in the leather is often accumulated dust. In fact, this should generally be done every morning before putting on your shoes. The old rubbing-the-toes-on-the-back-of-your-trouser-leg trick also works, though it doesn’t deal with much other than the toes.

If you’re desperate, eat a banana. Then use the banana peel to give a temporary shine to your shoes. It’s not ideal, but it won’t damage the leather, being natural. Avoid any “quick shine” products as they normally contain silicone, which is effectively giving your shoes a plastic coating.

Popped a shirt button
What to do: Use a safety pin. What do you mean you don’t carry a safety pin? Well find one and use it to fasten the shirt, making sure that both ends of the pin lie flat against the shirt.

Situation: Spilled wine on yourself
What to do: Using a dry white napkin, soak up as much liquid as possible from the surface before it’s absorbed, then dab on cold water so the stain stays damp and doesn’t set. Never rub. If the stain is on a suit or tie, ask someone to recommend a good dry cleaner and go immediately. If it is on a shirt, put straight in the wash.

Your zipper is stuck
What to do: Check to make sure no fabric is caught; if it is, try pulling the zipper up and then down again. Finally, rub the tip of a graphite pencil along the zipper. Graphite powder is a great dry lubricant.

Situation: Static cling
What to do: Find a wire hanger in a nearby coat closet and rub it along the clingy area; the metal will remove the charge.

And one more non-clothing tip…

Situation: Bad breath in the middle of a party
What to do: Find a glass of water and a lemon. Squeeze as much of the lemon into the water as you can. Either drink it or, if you’re hidden away in a corner somewhere, gargle it.
Next week, some general maintenance tips for your suits…

The Allure of Corthay Shoes

Pierre Corthay is one of the best shoemakers around, but is not well-known outside France. Trained at both John Lobb and Berluti, he has a pedigree from possibly the two most respected shoemakers in the world, for quality and design respectively.

Like Berluti, he has used some innovative marketing and eye-catching designs to gain attention across France. And he has gradually acquired stockists in Japan, Germany and the USA (Leffot and Bergdorf Goodman). If he were owned by the giant LVMH, he’d probably be as big as Berluti already.

I like Corthay shoes because they are sleek without being pointy (cf. Artioli), have a lovely patina without being over the top (cf. Berluti), and are universally renowned to have great construction (again, cf. Berluti).

I wore my pair, probably inadvisably, in torrential rain in London recently. They coped very well, without a stain on them and no signs of damage. In fact, come to think of it, they had had a few spots of rain on a previous occasion and there were no marks that time either.

I hasten to add that on neither occasion did I submit the shoes to this treatment on purpose. But as an assistant in the Gaziano & Girling showroom told me that day, “you wouldn’t want to be wearing a pair of Berlutis on a day like this.”

A look at the website ( illustrates the Corthay taste for the extreme. Neon-orange leathers and turquoise two-tones are always going to stand out from the crowd. But I am informed that 90% of the shoes they sell are still black or brown.

What blacks and browns though. Highlights are the two-holed derbies with elongated tongue, which look great in smart and clean shades, and the suede-and-calf combinations – a modern take on the traditional business model. I opted for a brown version of the black two-tones illustrated (colour shown in the magnified image).

Having trained at Lobb in 1984 and become the senior craftsman at Berluti in 1985, Corthay opened his own store in 1990. Five years later a contract for 150 bespoke pairs from the Sultan of Brunei kick-started the business, which added a ready-to-wear in 2001. A tricky experience with a subcontractor led the company to start doing its own ready-to-wear and opening its own factory in 2003.

Today, Corthay probably competes with Aubercy for the reputation of the best-respected shoemaker in France. I highly recommend a look next time you are in New York (Leffot, Bergdorf Goodman) or, indeed, are strolling down Rue Volney in Paris.

The Dandy is Back

Dandies, according to the most recent publication of L’Uomo Vogue, are back. In fact, the Italian men’s fashion bible is so confident of their return and their reinstatement at the upper end of fashionable society that they devoted nearly an entire 450 page issue to the dandy renaissance; Robert Downey Jr was pictured larking around in cravats, monocles and top hats, Matthias Schweighöfer in dandific and bizarre ensembles and positions at a verging-on-seedy outdoor location and even Zinedine Zidane managed to look genteel and overtly elegant in a velvet evening jacket with an enormous bow tie.

Dandies fell out of favour in the twentieth century. After the excess of the 1890s, the frightful and catastrophic Great War and the gradual rise of the simply-attired proletariat, sympathy and celebration of dandified men had begun to wane. King Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor post abdication, was the ‘last gasp’ of the Establishment dandy-world. A century after the demise of one of the most fashion conscious and great spending monarchs, George IV – a man who relied on the sartorial advice of the dandy of dandies, Beau Brummell – it seemed the world had had enough of a style that seemed at odds with the concerns and ideals of the future. Throughout much of the twentieth century, the dandy was an awkward and often ridiculed figure – a man who dwelled, unhappily or happily, in the underworld of the planet’s great cities.

The tenor of this collection of articles appeared to be a celebration of dandies; a coup of marketing that sold the concept to a wider, fashion-driven audience. Despite this apparent comprehensiveness, one might read all 450 (or make that 150 – advertisements you know…) pages of this bulky volume and not be any clearer about what a dandy actually is.

Some people regard flowery, effete gentlemen who adopt bright and extremely decorative clothing as dandies; others disagree and opt for the fastidious and immaculately attired. And others suggest that a modernity, through an acknowledgment of fashions and a revolutionary creativity, is the true mark of the dandy. None of them, and yet all of them, are correct.

Dandies are fortunately free from the constraints of pigeon-holing; an inelegant and unnecessary practice. Since dandyism relies on creativity and evolution, many would align with the maxim that to define is to limit. In any case, a ‘dandy’ desirous of being referred to as such is rarely anything other than a poseur.

The Green Carnation Dandy

The Green Carnation Dandy is a relic of the late Victorian era; an era of monumental wealth and near-Roman excess. Art is at the centre of this Dandy’s world. As Coward’s brilliant lyric from Bitter Sweet explains; “We believe in Art, Though we’re poles apart From the fools that are thrilled by Greuze. We like Beardsley and Green Chartreuse.” The Green Carnation Dandy is to some rather like a fop sartorially, but for the cultivation of his poetic language and refined speech. Anthony Blanche adopted waterfall pocket squares, extravagant bow ties and striped jackets in the manner of a Macaroni, but his beautiful manners and personal refinements suggested dandyism. Likewise Oscar Wilde, who would often dress in outrageous fashions suggesting an utter rejection of the Beau’s code of a dandy: that a well-dressed man should not be noticed. The magnificent flamboyance of this Dandy is utterly conspicuous; he is very likely to use words merely for pleasant effect.

The Immaculate Dandy

The one Dandy who follows the Beau’s lead rather more closely is the Immaculate. An apt description as he does appear, when fully dressed, utterly untouched and almost waxwork in manifestation. Hercule Poirot and Andrea Sperelli are excellent examples of this type; the very picture of an intimidating personification of symmetry. Exquisitely tied bows and ties, flawlessly starched shirts and shoes ‘shined to reflection.’ Empirically, he would always be considered, at the very least, well-dressed. Modern proponents of this style do tend to remain faithful to classic, and often archaic, items of dress. Art is certainly important to the Immaculate but fashion is usually irrelevant. Decoration is rather more controlled than that of the Green Carnation Dandy and usually more discreet.

The Modern Dandy

The Modern Dandy is very likely to be the personification of a smartly dressed follower of fashion; unlike the Immaculate, the Modern will consider and favour trends. Where the Green Carnation Dandy adopts a velvet jacket, buttonhole and silk cravat, and the Immaculate a starched shirt, bow tie and 1930’s suit, the Modern might opt for skinny denim with initialled slippers, and an unbuttoned Byronic white linen shirt with a smoking jacket. The juxtaposition of different styles, and different periods, is simply not an issue for the Modern. He likes taking risks and enjoys the success of his experimentation. Lapo Elkann, whose undeniable creativity has produced some fabulous and peculiar results, is the paradigm of this type.

Make Berluti Your Fifth Pair. Part 2: Design

This is the continuation of a debate begun in a previous posting. To see that post, click here.

There are two important points to note about these commentators, though. The first concedes that he wears his Berluti shoes relatively rarely, as shoes for a special occasion and generally for evening wear. They are therefore not on a heavy rotation and rarely receive a full day’s use. He admits they are a little delicate, as many fine things are, and should be treated as such.

This suggests to me that while Berluti makes a fine pair of shoes, they should not be the second or third pair you buy. Get the basics first, your essential black oxfords and chocolate derbys – the shoes you will wear to work, the shoes you will wear more than once a week.

Then consider Berluti as something special. For you this may mean they are your fifth pair of high-end shoes. For these commentators I rather suspect they are their ninth or twelfth.

The second point is that the more critical Berluti customer still owns a pair, and without regret. Despite his reservations about the quality of the construction, he is happy he bought a pair and would do so again. This is true of almost all detractors of Berluti that I have seen: they still love the pair they own.

This reinforces the impression of Berluti as an exception, a treat. No matter how many great pairs of solidly-built English shoes you own, a little bit of moon-painted frippery will get you eventually (Berluti famously claims that the patinas on some of its shoes are painted by the light of the moon, enhancing their effect. Rubbish, of course, but it all adds to their frankly very successful PR mythology.)

The second point also shows that there is more than one way to judge a pair of shoes. Edward Green and John Lobb are generally considered to be among the best-constructed shoes available. But some of the designs leave me a little cold. I own a pair of Oundle monk-fronts on the 888 last from Edward Green – a long look with a chiselled toe. But the more conservative lasts, such as 202, just seem stumpy to my eye. The same comment has been made about some Vass shoes – they are wonderfully made but you’d never want to put them on your feet.

At some point, you pay for design. With Berluti, this is a large portion of what you pay for. Some of the designs are just horrible (Rapieces-Reprises) and some are gorgeous (Piercing). But Olga is famed for pushing the envelope on design, with new shapes, engraving, personalised tattoos and chunky rubber soles. Many of her innovations, like the brogueing on wholecuts, have now been copied by several other designers.

In conclusion, buy Berluti as an extravagance and buy it for its design. They’re well-made (I don’t believe the rumours about basic construction being done in China today) but they won’t hold up too well after several trips to the pub, or after a few English winters of cold slushy rain.

I’m more a fan of Pierre Corthay these days. But more of that in the next posting.

Coloured Socks

As I was hurriedly dashing to and fro on a recent afternoon, negotiating my way through armies of tourists on the little side streets of the West End, I spotted a smartly dressed man reclining in his aluminium chair outside a particularly insalubrious looking establishment in Soho. A coffee cup, stained and empty, sat on the table in front of him and he had affected the position of reverie; leaning back into his chair, his legs crossed at the knee and his head thrown back against the top of the chair providing him with a view of a changing sky and the grotty upper floors of unkempt London buildings.

I noticed particularly a colourful item of clothing he happened to be wearing. It was not his thick, golden silk tie or his bright pink linen pocket square. Nor was it his cool navy linen blazer that was draped artfully over his shoulders. It was his pair of emerald green socks that shined with magnificent phosphorescence next to his burnished walnut brogues. This image of green clad ankles was vividly arresting. I would soon encounter other gentleman, of little note sartorially speaking, whose ankles were clad in more predictable blacks and dark greys and since I had seen two of the most resplendent and well-decorated ankles in London, it was all rather dull. I came to the conclusion that coloured socks are not only acceptable, but actually preferable; if the occasion allows it, a colourful flash of lower-leg is dazzling.


It is not unusual to see gentlemen, particularly well-dressed elderly gentleman, wearing burgundy socks. They are commonly found amongst the post-prandial recliners in the libraries of Pall Mall clubs, worn with a conservative charcoal chalkstripe and chocolate Oxfords. However, I have also seen blood red socks worn, rather nattily, with seersucker suits and also with washed denim; the dramatic red draws the eyes to the ankles. It’s chic but also rather daring.

Golden yellow

I happened to be tuning in to the opinions of a former Prime Minister and, whilst he was not by any means remarkable in dress, his socks – of a rich, golden yellow colour normally seen on Van Gogh paintings – were outstanding. Whilst red is eyecatching and a little cavalier, golden yellow seems to convey an aristocratic superiority, particularly when worn with blue or navy suits. A man’s ankles are glorified in such manacles of gilt; putting one in mind of the gleaming sandles of the messenger of the gods, Hermes.

Sky blue and purple

Of the trio of colours suggested, sky blue is certainly the more restrained. However, such a colour still looks magnificent with white buck shoes and a khaki coloured linen suit for more casual, leisure oriented days. It is certainly a spring and summer colour of sock, reflecting the glorious azure of a warm afternoon sky. Winter greys, dark browns and blacks do not flatter these socks; they look a little lost amongst the gloom. However, a winter equivalent might be a glorious lilac or purple, both of which look absolutely regal with a wide pinstripe navy suit.