Archives for December 2008

Indochino Makes a Smart Recovery

Some people don’t take criticism well. No matter how well intentioned, or how sensitively put, they see any critical remark as personal. Nothing can be constructive; nothing can be objective.

Kyle Vucko, one of the founders of Indochino, is not one of these people. I’m sure my review of the company’s online suit service, which was certainly critical, did not go down well. At the least, Kyle must have been a little disappointed.

Yet he merely expressed regret at my experience and offered to make every effort to correct it.

Indeed, he took down the ‘Copy Me’ option from the Indochino website immediately. This was one of three options available to a customer looking to get a perfectly fitting suit, and involved measuring a suit you already had that fitted well, so it could be copied. The other two options are to measure yourself and to have a tailor measure you.

The results of the Copy Me process were not good. In my opinion the videos were unclear and the finished suit was a little comical in its fit.

So that option was removed from the site, and Kyle offered to make me another suit that fitted better. The company guarantees a suit that fits perfectly, mine obviously did not, and the fact that the poor fit was in the chest and shoulders made it uneconomic to send the suit back.

So I made my best guess as to the alterations required (this was Kyle’s recommendation, rather than any remeasuring) – one and a quarter inches more on the shoulders, an inch more on the chest and two inches more on the legs.

I got the new suit today, and I have to say the results are not bad. It’s still some way off the bespoke suits I have made in Hong Kong, but it’s a lot better than off-the-peg.

The shoulders are the correct width, though a little tight across the biceps on the top of the sleeve. The chest is broad enough, though a little tight underneath the arms. And it’s a real pleasure to have a trouser waist and sleeve length that are spot on.

I’m not particularly impressed with the material of these suits still, but if you are paying $250 I think this is what you should expect. Those made in Hong Kong are a nicer wool, but then they will start at $350 and have fewer middle men. And it’s unfair to compare either to a $1000 Ralph Lauren suit.

So a smart recovery from Indochino and one that deserves to be written about here, if only for its quality of customer service. I’m unsure whether I would recommend Indochino to a friend, but that is largely because the method by which I arrived at my final suit was not the same one they would use today.

At Last, the Norfolk Blazer

It was great to hear so many readers interested in my Norfolk Blazer project – an attempt to design a cashmere jacket that could equally well go with the smartest of ties and occasions, as with the coldest of outdoor excursions.

The addition of elements of the Norfolk jacket to a classic blazer was not straightforward. My tailor Mr Tam looked perplexed on more than one occasion. And as regular readers will remember, the final product lacked in a few areas, having both square fronts at the bottom of the jacket and a roomier fit more suited to hiking than dining.

The lesson from that experience was to always make one previously commissioned piece your archetype, from which the new commission is instructed to deviate in some ways. That way you guarantee that any specifics not brought up will be presumed to be the same as the archetype.

Mr Tam made the adjustments I requested, however, and sent the finished garment through the post. It arrived yesterday, and I show two pictures here for those that were interested.

I apologise profusely for the quality of the pictures, which had to be taken with a simple pocket-sized camera. My only consolation is that most internet pictures of one’s own clothes seem to have this jacket-in-the-headlights look.

The first shot shows the jacket in a formal setting, with the belt tucked away at the rear (it could also be removed entirely). The second shows it set up for an autumn stroll, belted and with the collar up. As previously mentioned, it also buttons underneath the collar with a working buttonhole and hidden button, providing a single, clean barrier when the other three buttons are also fastened.

The only aspect of the jacket not caught here is the action back, a single bellow in the centre of the back.

To my eye, and so far, it seems to perform the functions desired of it. By balancing patch pockets with 100% cashmere, and a smart navy colour with a belt in that navy, it bridges two worlds and two uses.

One final point on postage. Many of these items delivered from Hong Kong or the Far East are sent using EMS, an international speed post system. EMS uses ParcelForce in the UK, as it has no offices of its own. This is not advertised anywhere, however, and if your jacket is held on with customs charges (as mine was) it is not easy to find out which Post Office will be holding your item. In this case, it was not a Post Office at all, as ParcelForce uses its own depots. That’s where I found it, awaiting customs payments.

Just in case it happens to you too.

The Waistcoat as Jacket

This is an addendum to The Waistcoat Theory, that personal hobbyhorse of mine that attempts to solve the problem of men taking their suit jackets off indoors, and undermining all the aesthetic advantages of a suit as a result. I won’t repeat the details here; a quick search on this site for those words will produce more information on the subject than you could possibly want.

But in brief, the answer is the waistcoat – matching the trousers, worn with a tie and covered by whatever coat is required for the weather outside (topcoat, blazer, nothing at all).

The point was made to me recently, however, that a normal waistcoat could do with some improvements in this mould.

For a start, men can feel a little self-conscious these days wearing an item with a back made of silk. The shiny lustre this displays, together with the silk tie that is normally included across the waist (though this should be purely decorative if the waistcoat fits well) gives a slightly effeminate or ornamental look. Indeed, that is one of the reasons a waistcoat often reminds one of a wedding.

Of course, this silk backing would traditionally never have been seen. Like the lining of the jacket, and of the sleeve, it is purely to allow easy wearing and removal. As the jacket would not be removed, this lining would not be seen.

Secondly, the waistcoat could do with one or two aspects of the jacket to make it feel more formal and suited to be worn on its own as a replacement for the jacket. Primarily, it could do with a collar.

While waistcoats come with many different types of collar (notch, peak, shawl), the notch collar and lapel will look the most natural on a two-piece suit of the type we are discussing. Small peaks on a waistcoat will everywhere look odd, and a shawl collar suggests something too dressy.

Most waistcoats had collars when they were first made, so this is a return to the traditional form. The main reason for their disappearance over the years is money: more material, higher costs.

The replacement of the silk back with self (the same wool as the front) is also traditional. All tailored waistcoats descend from the original postboy vest of nineteenth century England, which was worn for warmth while driving the horses of a coach. As it was worn on its own, largely for warmth, it had wool both front and back.

Obviously having a waistcoat after this fashion requires a tailor or some means of having items made to measure. But then, that should always be the case with waistcoats.

Aristocratic Overcoat

When I was once asked what I believed to be the most aristocratic overcoat, after lengthy discussion on the many types available, I countered the question with a statement; “It depends what sort of aristocrat you’re talking about.” Indeed it does. For the word, ‘aristocratic’ is in my opinion too often employed and is too far reaching in terms of modern definition to have any meaning at all. People are still intrigued by the notion of aristocracy, much as it offends the democratic principles of our modern world, but intrigue does not always develop into interest and knowledge; aristocrats are, prior to introduction, one of the most misunderstood tiers of society.

All are generally assumed to be vastly wealthy, their ancestors having made illegitimate fortunes from ‘slaving the serfs’ or using the transatlantic slave trade for their own ends. Some allegations are true, but generally speaking, aristocrats have long since lost the liquid incomes to live as they once did. A few of the grandest still retain their vast houses and art collections, but they are a dying breed who, year by year, sell off family heirlooms and land for development to pay for upkeep and staff. Their position and influence has long since faded and an average aristocrat of today is more likely to be seen wearing a ten year old Chesterfield, not at all an unremarkable coat, but a world away from the image usually conjured. However, the imagination rules over reality in this case; impersonating the crumbling aristocrat is not the goal in seeking ‘the most aristocratic overcoat’, the goal is from what I gauged, living the dream; never mind the bankrupt baronets of Brooks and Boodles, our aristocratic overcoat belongs on a member of the nob at the height of his wealth and power.

It is a coat that has in the past been favoured by notorious and flamboyant figures, such as Oscar Wilde. It eschews political correctness and minimalism and manages to appear, due to its unique feature, an item of clothing suitable for either sex. The overcoat with the fur collar (some say it is the lapels) is, without question, the one overcoat that exudes aristocratic hauteur. It is no surprise that it has been seen on the offspring of wealthy Russian oligarchs; they, after all, compete with the grand aristocrats of old for gargantuan wealth and frightening ease of expenditure. If you were to place a gentleman wearing such a coat, alongside gentlemen wearing a variety of other overcoats and you were to ask human beings as yet untouched by civilisation to identify the ‘chieftain’, my money is on the selection of the chap in the fur collar. It has a presence that seems to indicate superiority; its grandeur is unmatched.

It’s not always easy pairing this item with everyday wear, however you can give yourself a fighting chance by avoiding too much ‘body’ in your lower clothing; trousers that are too full, and shoes that are ungainly, will make the entire ensemble look heavy and overworked. As you can see in the photographs above, the Burberry example (in the middle) looks far better than the example on the far right (Dolce & Gabbana). The coats are slightly different in length but due to the tailored, svelte character of the Burberry garments, he does not drown in an excess of material. Wearing his trousers higher on his waist, instead of on his hips, also assists in the effect. I am convinced that if the Burberry model were to wear the Dolce & Gabbana coat with the same garments underneath, it would look far better on him.

Merrifield’s: I Found a Cobbler!

A while ago I wrote about the absence of good cobblers in London. Not someone who glues new soles on, cuts keys on the side and might possibly do your dry cleaning, but a cobbler that knows and takes an interest in the craft of repairing shoes. I remarked at the time that there seemed to be a similar problem in New York – few people could name a decent cobbler to me. And since then I have asked in John Lobb and a few other high-end cordwainers here: no one had any bright ideas.

It seems it’s a universal problem – the proliferation of the Timpson-style one stop shop and the disappearance of the real cobbler.

I bring it up again now because I’ve found one. Finally. It’s called Merrifield’s, and is located near East Dulwich station in south London. I’m sure there are others tucked away in nooks of major cities, (I believe last time someone suggested one near Old Street) but this guy is good and actually quite close to me.

Why I was looking in the City, where the principle of capitalistic efficiency has swept away all knowledgeable manufacturers that don’t class as luxury, I don’t know. Look local, where customer relationship and loyalty is still possible, nay profitable.

I was originally searching for a cobbler because I was searching for tongue pads. A mythical piece of padding that glues to the underside of your shoe’s tongue, it is the ideal solution for men with low arches, who find it hard to get shoes that both have enough room for their feet and enough grip across the top to keep their heels in place.

They didn’t sell them in Merrifield’s either, but then that’s not the owner’s fault; he’s not a manufacturer. You just can’t buy them today. So he makes them instead. Two odds of leather, some padding and a little glue; all of a sudden my laces have purchase.

In fact, he replaced the tongue entirely because it was simply too thin to provide any support. This he was disgusted with. I didn’t mention they were Brooks Brothers’ Peal & Co. Or how much they cost.

I particularly recommend this solution for anyone who has bought shoes they thought fit them well, only to discover that after a few months of wear and softening leather, the shoe has expanded beyond them.

I also recommend Merrifield’s. I’m sure the number of readers that live within convenient distance of East Dulwich is small, but it’s worth a stop if you’re one of them.