Archives for September 2008

The Old Favourite: That Overcoat

One of the most irksome hypocrisies of female fashion journalism is the approach to wardrobe ‘repeats.’ A recent article on celebrities ‘exposed’ several stylish females, women who had made a name for themselves as trendsetters; possessed with gargantuan wardrobes, these women were often seen in four or five different outfits in one single day. The exposé was simple; they had been spotted wearing something that they had been seen wearing before. Oh the horror, the unbearable embarrassment! That they should reveal such a limit to their wardrobes; wardrobes which had once seemed, to the salivating reader, to be of an infinite capacity. Where exactly is the shame in wearing something you are supposed to love more than once? Why do these muckrakers prettify and puff-up only to tear down rashly and irresponsibly; continuing the taboo of re-using clothing will only serve to promote and sustain this current culture of disposable fashion: a culture which is frankly, unsustainable and reckless.

Perhaps it is because I am a sentimentalist that I am so adverse to the concept of throwaway wardrobes, or that I am infinitely more interested in style than fashion but I happen to adore old favourites. I like reusing items that have been handed down to me, or that I have purchased in vintage stores or on auction websites. I have, according to a friend, the apparent lifestyle of a profligate. However the reality is I am approaching parsimony. I do enjoy buying clothing but I am not one of those who stops using something because it happens to be a little ‘old.’ Clothes should be kept pressed, clean and mended – the condition of clothing is very important – but I dislike, and disagree with, the disposal of clothing for the sake of a little evidence of age.

I ‘dislike’ because throwing perfectly good items away is wasteful and rather sad; if anything, items should be handed to those who can put it to greater use which is why eBay is such a wonderful marketplace. On eBay, the coups are more than financial; knowing that someone else will make better use of something you have ceased to find useful is spiritually rewarding.   I ‘disagree’ because I happen to believe those who immediately turn their nose up at an old item are missing out; old items have character. They have stories and history and a remarkably positive feeling can be derived from appreciation of this.

Rather like antiques, in which I am also interested, there is that glorious imperfection; with an old overcoat it might be that it is a little rough around the edges: a well used cuff, a creased and unpretentious lining, a general lack of product ‘glitz.’ I happen to find that such items, when used in conjunction with items of more modern a vintage, have a fabulous effect.

Prince Charles often wears a wonderful woollen overcoat (pictured), especially when stepping out into the country. The effect of seeing this substantial and faithful item, something which has the character of a World War Two relic, together with his superbly crafted suits, is splendid.

His overcoat may look weary and overused to some but to me it heightens my opinion of his understanding of style. A favourite item such as this reinforces a sense of humanity; our needs of familiarity and comfort. It looks cosy, trusted and reliable: most importantly, it looks loved.

The Allure of Sterling Silver Accessories

Gold may be having its heyday in the markets right now, but silver still holds an unmistakable sway over man. The English are renowned for their penchant of silver collecting and companies like Tiffany have built their reputations on it. Silver, sterling silver in particular – which is nice parts silver to one part copper – has a personality and warmth that is difficult to deny.

The scratches and nicks which over time come to define silver objects tell their own story; the patina softens and takes on a unique personality. This trait makes sterling silver an excellent material for special and cherished items. Unlike gold which can seem ostentatious and showy, silver is approachable and more relaxed, perfect for the treasured accessories in your life.

Because I like to travel light whenever possible, a money clip or pen knife is about all I want in my pants pocket. Such personal objects should never be disposable; they are with us each day and become talismans that grow in value beyond currency. Rather than shove spare cash into your pocket or toss any old pen into your bag, why not consider investing in one or two elegant little treasures that have meaning?

For those loose bills, opt for a sterling money clip; add a monogram and make it an heirloom. Yard-O-Lead makes some wonderful sterling silver pens that will stand out from the conference table crowd – the Viceroy is a favorite model of mine.

Sterling cufflinks are an obvious option. Silver knots or classic monogrammed ovals are always in style. Another wonderful use of sterling is the classic monogrammed engine turned belt buckle. Paired with an alligator strap, there is nothing quite as elegant.  For smokers, or merely those wish to be prepared for a chivalrous flourish, a silver Dunhill lighter is indispensible.

Other individualistic options include the silver tie bar, once an obligatory sartorial tool and now enjoying a resurgence of sorts. And, as long as you don’t let it look like a building superintendent’s, a simple silver key chain makes a functional utensil a little more stylish.

A silver card case can be quite sharp and I’ve seen a few people use vintage cigarette cases to hold their business or calling cards. Match the case to your own personality and tastes – either very elaborate or simple in design.

Silver, I know, is not everyone’s cup of tea. To my mind, there are silver people and there are gold people. Usually, it’s fairly easy to figure out who is who; for example, I am a silver person. Apart from a general love of sterling, when it comes to personal accessories, I naturally lean toward silver and stainless steel.

Most of my watches are stainless steel and my wedding band is platinum. Through frameless, the small amount of metal on my glasses is silver colored. I just prefer silver more than gold – the one exception being my signet ring. Bearing my family’s crest, it is my one regular gold accessory.

It’s not like I’d turn down some gold cufflinks or a vintage gold Seamaster, but as a general rule, I find it too showy and formal for my taste. I have inherited a number of lovely gold items – cufflinks and notably a wonderful pocketknife that once belonged to my great grandfather. They are special to me because of their personal connection, but when I look to my current wish list, sterling silver is still where my heart’s at.

I Want to Browse Your Brand

One wise old editor at my company is sceptical about websites. Whenever he gets into a discussion about redesigning, upgrading or reformulating a magazine’s site, he always asks “do you really want a website?” This is, of course, a rhetorical question; it does not expect a response. It is therefore quickly followed by a similar question: “Why do you want a website?”

If the first question befuddles the colleague he is addressing, the second stops them dead. For the first answer seems obvious; the second has never really occurred to them.

Few magazine editors ask themselves why they want or need a website. And this leads to muddled approach when they put their magazine online. Fashion brands are no different.

Most brands’ websites will tell you where their shops are, how to contact them and give you a flavour of the collections. But often the collections are merely represented through advertising campaigns – which can be obscure to say the least. Kilgour is a good example: beautiful, shadowy images, but little clue as to what the clothes look like. An online shopping element has been added recently, but this is just accessories.

Some brands happily display their wares, attractively photographer, but stop there. Many of the classic shoemakers do this. Edward Green, for example, will take you through a small number of shoe models. But there is little beyond a short biography to give you a sense of what Edward Green is or what it stands for.

You may argue that this suits Edward Green – simple, modest. But even a display of the major lasts, or of the elements of shoe quality, would help (both of which you have been able to get at various times as leaflets in the shop). And luxury brands suffer from the same problem – is dull, pedestrian, communicating nothing of its rich history and philosophy to those shoppers who are not within easy reach of a store.

The fact is, a modern brand’s website needs both these things – stock and philosophy. Just like in a store, I need to be able to see the merchandise easily, attractively, and get a sense of the brand. The designers of luxury goods stores spend a lot of money making sure the décor, the staff, the mannequins and everything else in a shop tells the customer what this brand is, what it stands for.

Because they are just brands. More and more today these companies are simply brands that one associates with a package of images, ideas and aspirations. To make them unique, to make sure people know the difference between Canali and Corneliani, to make sure they know why John Lobb shoes cost so much more than Gucci, to make sure no one thinks Sartoriani is a Savile Row tailor, each one has to differentiate in every way they can. And websites are one of the most important ways to do this – particularly today, when brands want to reach out to consumers scattered across the world.

You need to be able to browse a website, like you do a shop. Gucci is quite good, with videos and runway shows. But Hermes is the best in my opinion. Go to and click on the on-line boutique to brose products, or travel the world of Hermes to browse the brand. It makes Hermes seem unique, playful, luxurious. All brands need a site like this you can browse.

Problem Solved: Sweaters with Ties

Ok, here’s the problem. I like ties. Such is their ability to add an exciting dash of colour to an outfit, I prefer to wear one whenever possible. Yet sweaters have their advantages as well, and the two are hard to wear together.

Let me explain. If you wear a V-neck sweater with a shirt and tie, the back of the shirt’s collar is pulled forward, hugging the neck as its top button is fastened. The collar is at least an inch higher and probably half an inch closer to the neck that when that button is undone.

No V-neck sweater can cope adequately with both situations. Either it is bunched when your collar is undone, or (as is nearly always the case today) the sweater stands away from the collar when it is done up. So when you wear a sweater, shirt and tie, there is likely to be a gap, however slight, however variable, between your shirt collar and sweater at the back.

Some sweaters attempt to deal with this problem by adding a strip of felt to the inside of the back at the neck. Reiss often does this, even taking the effort to add a felt strip in a complementary colour. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really keep the sweater in place – rather like the rubber tabs that some tailors include in the inside of a trouser waistband.

Of course, a waistcoat wouldn’t have this problem, being both stiffer and tailored to fit a fastened collar. But that’s a different bias and a different argument.

If it’s sweaters you want, the key is a sweater with a collar. There are broadly three options (as illustrated by the three Ralph Lauren pictures opposite): the folded, shirt collar; the shawl collar; and the zip collar. I personally prefer the shirt collar, followed by the shawl. But this is largely a personal antipathy towards zipped sweaters born of some shoddy Gap varieties worn in my youth.

These collars solve the shirt/tie problem because they all have a greater rise at the back of the neck, avoiding any chance of a disconnection with the shirt.

I advocate the Ralph Lauren merino wool collared sweaters, which have only just been reintroduced for the fall/winter line this year. I bought one in a dark grey last year and found it so versatile and such good value that I looked for more. Unfortunately, they are not considered spring/summer items and so were put away until this month.

The other, secondary advantage of this look is that you can get away with some bold short/tie combinations, given that they only have a narrow triangle of wool to play in.

I quite liked the combination of a pink gingham shirt under a bright green tie (with red crests). It fizzed around the neck without any danger of overwhelming the outfit, thanks to the sombre grey surrounding it. A Paul Smith shirt decorated with small blue flowers also benefited from this limited exposure. Equally, one noticeable thing about Etro catwalk outfits is that many shirt/tie combinations look great under a sweater, but would look ridiculous worn on their own.

Notes From Las Vegas

I like Las Vegas, not enough to live there but enough to look forward to the five-hour flight from D.C. It’s a remarkable city that draws designers, retailers, craftsmen and brands from around the world. On my most recent business trip to Vegas I was able to carve out a little spare time to explore Sin City’s more acceptable vice: shopping.

While gambling – or gaming in the industry’s parlance – is the mother’s milk of Las Vegas, the city’s retail offerings rival most of the world’s A-list venues. Think of a brand and it more than likely has a presence in Vegas. And not only that, the city’s retail footprints are often large and glitzy. Like everything else in Las Vegas, bigger is better and flash always wins over subtlety.

As a consumer-dedicated destination city, you will see cheek by jowl companies that you did not even know had a store and familiar mass market luxury names – Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Cartier and Rolex to name only a tiny fraction. Some firms use their Vegas presence to create a new version of themselves, capitalizing on the town’s penchant for bigger and glitzier. I found an excellent expression of this philosophy in the Forum Shops at Caesars.

The Tourneau Time Dome is the venerable New York company’s Las Vegas Outlet. It’s Tourneau’s largest store; 35 custom-built brand shops-within-a-shop are spread across two-stories. From Swiss Army to Rolex to Breguet, more than 8,000 timepieces from 100 watchmakers are on display. Unsurprisingly, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the 17,500-square-foot space is the world’s largest watch store. If you are a watch person, you must visit this temple to luxury timekeeping.

And while you might expect to more fashion forward retailers in this other city that never sleeps, in the Forum Shops I encountered one of the nicest Brooks Brothers stores I’ve seen in quite a while. Large, well stocked and with a pleasant and knowledgeable sales staff, I’d go back in a minute.

Since I also have a thing for good pens and leather goods, I checked out the Mont Blanc store. I’ve never been too keen on their watches – I’m often like that with companies that aren’t really in the watch business; they are a pen company that moved into watches. I spent some time chatting with John Castiglione about the company’s plans to produce its own watch movements. With ETA close to ending its sales to non-Swatch Group watchmakers, Mont Blanc is taking the vertical integration approach and bringing everything in-house. Thanks to Mr. Castiglione, I have a better appreciation of Mont Blanc’s dedication to its watches. Maybe I do like the Timewalker after all.

Over at Belagio, Hermes is regular stop for me. It’s not the largest store, but it always has a wonderful selection of the company’s exceptionally crafted goods. The store also overlooks the Casino’s famous fountains. When I go out in Las Vegas, I always make a point of dressing up a bit. The place is choc a block with flip-flop wearing tourists; instead, I try to be the stylish traveler. There’s a big difference. Think “Ocean’s 11” – either version, though the newer one is to me the epitome of casually elegant modern style. As you wander through the swanky shopping arcades, aspire to be someone worth looking at. And in a place like Las Vegas, making the extra effort is extra fun.

If you really want to feel like a real high roller head over to the Wynn and check out Wynn Penske, one of the few factory authorized Ferrari & Maserati dealerships in the country. Once you’ve picked out your new set of wheels, visit the sumptuous Brioni boutique for some new custom duds. Then make a point to stop by Graff Jewelers and pick up a little 25 caret something for the girl in your life.