Archives for February 2009

Bright Wool for Cold, Sunny Days

Today is everyone’s favourite type of day: bright and sunny with a chill in the air. Sweater weather but lovely sitting in the sun. Yes, hot days in the UK are longed for and looked forward to more than any other. But cold sunny days are everyone’s favourite.

A day like this suits bright wool. Wool for warmth, bright to echo the sun.

Italians have a habit of wearing pale-grey flannel trousers in weather like this – cuffed and narrow, warm yet light. While cream trousers can work wonderfully too (see The Rules and How to Break Them No 3 – No white after Labor Day) the warmth of flannel reminds one of the cosiness of late winter as you are sitting in that chilly sun.

Even better on a day like this is some truly bright wool, like the green jacket in the picture from Ralph Lauren Fall 2008. Ok, it’s a little behind the times for fashion, but this is what was in the sales last month – exactly a year behind what’s on the catwalks. (I can’t get over how much more convenient that is than being six months behind.)

I recently acquired this jacket in the tail end of the sales. (Another quick aside on a consistent theme on this blog: the quality of RL service. Despite this jacket being the only one that was marked down 75% – everything else on the rails was 50% – the Bond Street store honoured the displayed discount, even honouring it on different sizes that were only marked as 50%.)

The key to wearing a bright piece like this is softening with muted colours elsewhere. Grey is the prime candidate, in trousers or in a sweater for example. Jeans also work well because they are a low-key, roughened material.

Ralph Lauren’s displayed combination is rather more showy, but this is driven by the impact of the catwalk. (For the same reason, no Ralph Lauren tailor would cut a jacket for man that tightly – so that the waist button is straining to stay closed, even when a man is just walking with his arms at his sides.)

To wear the jacket more formally, I would eschew the yellow socks and kipper tie. But I would retain some contrast – The Italian Background would be too plain for such a bright colour. It needs contrast in a conservative colour to support it, perhaps a white shirt with a dark-blue tie. Or the contrast collar this model is wearing.

Perhaps that should be The Italian Background’s younger relation – Luca Rubinacci to the older, more conservative Mariano. For use with high contrast suits and jackets.

Spring Footwear

We all look forward to spring’s arrival. We impatiently drum our fingers as we will the quickening passing of time in late winter; the December wishes for snowfall seem capricious and heartless now as the buds struggle through. The sun is warmer, the days begin to lengthen and a satisfaction touches us all: “This is it. This is the start now” said a friend on a recent, clement afternoon, his face upturned, bathing in the sunshine; his eyes were closed, visions before him, no doubt, of the summer to come; anticipation of the change in season. In the spirit of this impatience I turn my attention (in late February no less) to the ideal shoes for spring.

Putting a ‘spring into one’s step’ is not particularly challenging; the perfect partners to the fresh beauty of spring; the gorgeous floral aromas, sunny afternoons and warm evenings, are available all year round but it is at spring time that they have their greatest effect. For the shoes selected are not of the meek, slink into the background, ‘hope-they-don’t-notice-me’ kind; these shoes are bold, statement shoes. Bright and wonderful, they’ll add a playful touch to a spring wardrobe.

Creamy white shoes

One of my favourite shoes for springtime, creamy white shoes are simply perfect with the lighter colours of the season. They are very rarely worn, which to me makes them all the more appealing. They are simply the most discerning shoe to wear with ‘mostly white’ ensembles – although light tan brogues also look rather swell – because they do not end abruptly the gentle tone of an ensemble; they add to the mysterious paleness and, in doing so, add majesty in pursuit of harmony. They also look excellent with mid-blue suits – add a panama on a bright spring day – khaki and buff colours.

Spectator/co-respondent shoes

The Sartorialist once wrote that spectator shoes are ‘borderline costume’, but I think to label them as such illustrates how reigned in and terrified gentlemen have become of adapting vintage styles; if something looks stylish, adds character and matches an ensemble, why not wear it? Some interesting styles are available from manufacturers at different ends of the spectrum. Dune have some wonderful co-respondents called ‘Allen’ for £85; Edward Green sell the magnificent Malverns in a number of complementary tones for £540.

Light tan brogues

Far more ‘regular’ than the aforementioned suggestions, light tan brogues are nevertheless a rare sight on the streets. If brown is worn, it is usually darker; chocolate and even burgundy browns are far more common. This is perhaps due to the fact that light shoes are not only sartorially less of a ‘safe bet’ but also that lighter tan is a little ‘out there’ and a little less adaptable; but in spring time, there is nothing better. The golden, peanut butter tones look wonderful next to deep blues, charcoals and caramels – perfect choices for a spring suit wardrobe.

Behind the Scenes: A Suit That Fits

It is always rewarding to get a look behind the scenes of a company. Nothing beats it for an insight into the philosophy, working practices and dedication to detail present in the production process.

I was fortunate enough to peek behind the scenes at A Suit That Fits this week. Having seen my recent review of their customer service and initial measuring session in the Liverpool Street branch, they invited me to come to the headquarters in Bermondsey, where the tailoring and adjustments of suits is also taken care of.

Co-founder David Hathiramani showed me round, as the staff finished off their weekly breakfast meeting. The racks of swatches were there, ready to be given to customers and replenish supplies at the various offices – Liverpool Street, Canary Wharf and of course the roaming tailor that serves the rest of the UK. Suits were waiting to be picked up, and mannequins featured a few special orders.

One of these, a cashmere jacket in a tweedy yellow, caught my eye. It was made for a customer that specifically wanted something made using a bolt of luxurious cloth he had bought. This prompted the question – can anyone do that? Yes, replied David, they can use any material a customer supplies, though obviously most prefer to use the stock offerings A Suit That Fits has on order.

This led to a discussion of the breadth of the company’s offering. After all, the choice of materials ranges from £160 to £320. A ready-to-wear suit would get you material of a similar quality – though obviously it wouldn’t be personal or fit you. How about if I want to spend £500 or £600 on a suit? The kind of material I would get at Zegna, Canali or Ralph Lauren, but made-to-measure for me?

There are plans to offer more luxurious materials at some point in the future, says David. There are also plans to offer fittings with a basted suit if the customer requires – this may help a man of an extreme figure, whether large, thin or muscular. These are only suggestions at this stage, but it’s great to see the company is looking at where it can expand. In the meantime, bringing along a length of your own high-grade cloth might be the best option.

My review of the finished suit on my colleague, its fit and quality, will come in around three weeks when his order arrives. Watch this space.

The Sad, Trapped Co-respondent Shoe

The co-respondent is such a beautiful shoe. Made with a mix of leather and white buckskin or canvas, it is a summer shoe that leaps out from an outfit.

It makes a definite, rakish statement – and even has a rakish story behind its name. The shoe was so-called because it was the kind of thing that a co-respondent to a divorce petition would have worn, in the days when it would have been accompanied by a stained Mac and a battered brown hat.

It is a disreputable shoe, a characterful shoe. It is also known as a spectator, that name referring to its use in sporting activities – indeed, Lobb claims to have designed the first spectator as a cricket shoe in 1868. The most usual styles are a full brogue (wingtip) or a half brogue, in black or brown leather against the white buckskin. (The white should really not be leather, though these days it often is.)

Unfortunately, I believe it is destined to remain a bauble, an eccentricity, a foible. This is because it is trapped between the formal and the informal.

Back in the days when every discerning gentleman had a pair of co-respondent shoes in his wardrobe, they were a casual piece of footwear. They would be worn with cream trousers and an open-necked shirt. Even with flannels on the sports field.

Today, trainers are worn on the sports field and the dominant casual trouser is the jean.

And in my opinion, they look wrong with jeans. The clean, white buckskin and contrast of the colours is too smart for jeans. As a quirk, they are fine – just like trainers in luminous colours, you give up any hope of harmonisation in favour of making a statement. But suede shoes work far better with jeans; the roughness of the materials brings them together.

Plus, if you opt for smarter (and so darker) jeans, they will be an even worse partner for the co-respondent. It was designed as a choice for pale-coloured trousers, after all.

An older gentleman can wear the co-respondent with his grey flannels and ascot, and look splendid. But then he probably doesn’t own any jeans. For the younger man, the co-respondent has no obvious or harmonious place in his wardrobe – it is too smart for casual wear, yet cannot be worn with a dark or lightweight suit. It wil only end up being worn with chinos and blazer, and even then could look like a costume.

This is the sad story of the trapped co-respondent.

Hollywood Gold

When I overheard a conversation between two persons, neither of my acquaintance, the response given by one to the other’s question rang, rather violently, in my ears; with the Academy Awards coming up, the constant comparisons between our ‘economic climate’ and the Great Depression and our never ending fascination with celebrity, it couldn’t be more appropriate; “Hollywood” the lady had replied “is not what it once was.” This remark, now such a cliché, is a favourite of those who criticise Hollywood’s perpetual self-reference; who point out that Hollywood lacks creativity and ingenuity and compensates, rather inadequately, by overspending and overproducing. There has always seemed to be a little Narcissian weakness in Tinseltown, but considering the monumental success of its output, this is hardly surprising. From the era of Chaplin and Doug Fairbanks to the present day, success has been the toast of the evening; art is a goal, but success has been the narcotic of choice for everyone from Louis B Mayer to Lana Turner.

As gigantic and influential as Hollywood now is, there is still a sense of loss amongst veterans, an indulgent nostalgia for ‘the way things used to be.’ This pining has led those of influence to christen new Hollywood as old; George Clooney is ‘the new Cary Grant’, Scarlett Johansson the ‘Marilyn Monroe of the Noughties.’ “You see” said an elderly member at my good friend’s club “there’s nothing appealing about Hollywood anymore. It’s all about recycling; the movies, the stars, the parties…” Whilst too cynical a view for my taste, I conceded some truth. Hollywood is always in love with itself; the ponderous ceremony of the awards, the glitz and razzmatazz are, apart from the music industry, never seen anywhere else. It is a tad self-congratulatory but then, why should it be anything else? I for one am all for the warm nostalgia that is sprinkled over the industry at this time of the year; recalling ghosts and years past of style, glamour and legend.

Look at Clark Gable arriving at an Academy Awards ceremony in the 1950s with Grace Kelly, squinting into the glare of the camera flashes, a neat pocket square poking out of his overcoat; or Marlon Brando, looking like a textbook 50s model in shawl collar and ‘cocktail’ bow tie; or Douglas Fairbanks Sr, recalling an even earlier Golden Period, in a light, three-piece suit with white shoes, remarkably appropriate for the warm climate of California. Hollywood needs this depth of style as a reminder; far from forgetting the pattern of elegance and attraction that built the legend of Hollywood, it needs to always be conscious that fame itself is a by product of what the fantasy of the studios was capable of doing; delivering dreams to it’s devotees.

Cecil B. DeMille, by his jodhpurs and boots, gave birth to that stereotypical and romantic depiction of a film director. The seemingly bizarre combination of an equestrian/military lower half with a rather more conventional torso is nevertheless a successful marriage that, like many of Mr DeMille’s films, captured the imagination of faithful Hollywood. These little bijoux, stories and captures from the Golden Era, merely affirm, many contend, that Hollywood, stylistically and artistically has lost its way and, like an impoverished aristocrat, calls on former glories and splendour to add glitter to its name. I rather think this point of view is growing in tediousness; Hollywood ‘gold’ may be gone, but bravo to those who ensure it is not forgotten – in Hollywood, they all need a little ‘direction.’