Archives for May 2009

Sunglasses: The Individual Choice

A critic of mine, eavesdropping on a conversation I was having with a colleague, smiled wryly across the table as she uttered the utterly unanswerable; ‘Why do you criticise people so much?’ Few awkward silences have matched what followed; it was a terse remark, warranted but strangely alien to the spirit of discussion. After ponderous finger drumming, cheek reddening and forced smiles I offered the deadpan and rather gauche riposte; ‘Because I am dissatisfied.’ I was aiming for self-deprecation and humility, instead the response was taken for arrogance, resulting in a tirade of high-horsed sermonising, my own social debasement and a singularly surprising attack on, what was considered, ‘a bourgeois sense of self-importance.’

As it happens, I dispense neither criticism nor advice out of any conscious feeling of superiority or grandeur. My advice is simply rather honest, and it is difficult to keep criticism out of the largest chunks of my conversation; the danger of thinking is always that your view, or at the very least the simple fact that you possess an alternative argument, is likely to upset others. For example, in criticising openly the actions, attitude or apparel of a group, you alienate yourself from sympathisers or followers of that group, whilst gaining stronger support from those of a similar mind. The trade-off is probably equal, but actually disappointing: I always hope that my advice, sometimes keenly sought, does a varying amount of good rather than any degree of harm.

I have been harvesting information on the subject of sunglasses, of seasonal interest to many, that follows on from the article I composed on the Aviator and Wayfarer models of sunglasses almost two years ago. Whilst I remain adamant that these two models of glasses, so widely available (and widely worn), are simply the finest designs available to purchase, I believe it is important to offer more to readers than a simple escort in the direction of a Ray Ban boutique. For one thing, the immense popularity of these glasses does render them slightly commonplace: the Louis Vuitton Theory of availability and popularity dictates that even price is not a sufficient barrier to ubiquity. Commonplace items can be instantly unappealing, no matter how brilliant they may be; if Apple are to conduct any further research on the appeal of their iPhone, they would undoubtedly discover a number of people unwilling to purchase the product due to the simple fact that they detest using the same product as Tom, Dick and Harry.

Whilst some men possess more than one pair of sunglasses, using the different models on different occasions, many men are only willing to purchase one pair. Unless you happen to be a person who requires sunglasses for sport, do not purchase wrap-around mirrored bug-eyes of the Oakley variety; they are extraordinarily unattractive and, to my eye, offensively, overtly and aggressively ‘sci-fi’ – there is nothing of the elegant or the beautiful about them. They lack both character and charm.

The best glasses to purchase should you only be willing to purchase that one pair should be practical but suitable for all occasions; the Wayfarers, as mentioned previously, are wonderful in this regard but if looking for something a little more recherché, Persol manufacture attractive and versatile frames. For something a little more ‘retro’ – oval frames, ‘horn rimmed’ 1930s style, Ralph Lauren has a good selection and for a slightly-dated-but-still-chic 1970s effect, Tom Ford is the place to go.

A New (Dashing) Tailor Discovered

Good tailors for adjustments to suits, trousers and shirts are not always easy to find. There is a raft of pretty poor establishments dotted around London, staffed by dressmakers or general tailors with no specific experience of men’s tailoring.

For the last few years I have used a small outfit in Mayfair called Atelier Colpani (on Avery Row, parallel to Bond Street), which is where both Etro and Paul Smith send their customers’ alterations. However, while the work has been excellent Colpani has two chief failings: they are not specifically men’s tailors and they are in the West End, while I work in the City.

I was pleased last week, therefore, to find a bespoke tailor nearby that also does alterations: Graham Browne.
Based in Well Court, just off Bow Lane and close to Bank tube station, Graham Browne is a tailor established in 1968. Previously of Little Britain (next to St Paul’s) the firm specialises in bespoke but also does alterations – both are very reasonably priced, with bespoke starting at £790 and my adjustment to the waist of a jacket coming in at £20.

The work was well done and it was nice to see a tailor interested in the work of others: the staff inquired where my jacket had been made. It was the work of Edward Tam, someone regular readers of this blog will be very familiar with. I was pleased to hear that they approved of Edward’s work, and commented that “it is certainly among the best of the work we see out of Asia.”

An inspection of the seams confirmed that it had all been sewn by hand and fully canvassed. The only constructive criticism of Edward was that “perhaps the stitches could be a little closer together for strength.” As I have had the jacket for two years and heavy wear has produced no failed stitches, they seem to be working pretty well (no pun intended).

For those interested in Graham Browne’s bespoke work, all the measuring, cutting and pattern making is done on site. The sewing is done by a team in north London. Graham Browne has also been involved in making tweed cycling suits using the innovative material developed by Guy Hills and Kirsty McDougall of Dashing Tweeds.

The latest example of a suit in this material can be seen on the Graham Browne website, a suit for Gary Fisher – the founder of the cycle company of the same name.

While I was in the store I also saw a thick shirt-jacket in production. Entirely unlined but of a thick tweedy material, it is affectionately referred to by the staff as their lumberjack shirt.

Driving Shoes

If you are a man who is resigned to the idea that you are unlikely to stop buying shoes, referring to a shoe collection in terms of completeness might be misrepresentative; I myself view my shoe pile in terms of progression, an evolution of sorts. It changes and grows as I learn and adapt; it’s not a question of simply adding further choice but adjusting to changing needs.

The warm season can be an awkward time for footwear. Though winter presents the difficulties of precipitation – lining wet shoes with paper, rubbing olive oil into salt marks – summer, though generally shoe-friendly, can be rather beastly for one’s poor feet. Wearing the stiff, dark brown lace ups that felt so warm and secure in November feels rather odd in summer’s warm glow; imprisoning one’s feet in such a manner is psychologically, as well as physically, suffocating. Lighter colours are of course an excellent idea as well as wearing more supple, softer leathers; espadrilles are very good for casual occasions but for the occasions of semi-formality (many of the social invitations I receive stipulate the rather dull code of semi-formal), another choice of shoe is needed; something youthful, practical and kind to swelling summer feet.

The driving shoe is a rather remarkable shoe sensation; remarkable that a shoe directed at such a small proportion of potential customers – persons who buy shoes especially for motoring – has inspired such mass appeal. Though in their current state it would be hard to argue that brands such as Car Shoe, Tod’s and Prada direct their products towards drivers only, the heritage of motoring is an attractive tool of marketing that adds purpose, though dubious, to the peculiarities of such footwear. Tod’s, long marketed as the “shoes with knobs on”, are considered to be at the top of the driving shoe tree – thanks to their extensive and lavish advertising campaigns, celebrity endorsements and ubiquity. Car Shoe, though owned by Prada, is a relative minnow; no Madison Avenue store, no Gwyneth Paltrow campaigns; just a couple of Italian showrooms and an attractive website. However, despite this apparent anonymity, Car Shoe products remain some of the most counterfeited shoe designs in the world.

Driving shoes are also appearing on the high street, with Massimo Dutti offering some of the best in design and value. The profile is rather simple, if a little crude; a moccasin with rubber studs for a sole. Some consider they look rather like slippers, and they are certainly as comfortable. Some are manufactured with leather laces, others without; those who prefer their loafers with tassels may appreciate the decoration of a little chestnut bow.

The best way to wear them is with shorts or with shorter trousers – when I see them paired with sloppy bootcut jeans, full chinos or baggy linen they look very lost. Bizarrely, though they are an easygoing shoe, pairing them with the aforementioned ‘easy going items’ is a mismatch. The ankle, or at least a little of it, should be on display and bigger trousers tend to exaggerate the informality of the design. Straight and slim fits are far more appropriate partners.

A Code of Style: The Gentleman’s Movement

We hear it over and over, from our friends to the magazines to the message boards. Men want to step up their game, cast off the teenage garments that have taken many of them far into their 40s, allow the marketers and the designers to steer them towards the classicist world of traditional gentleman’s raiment, and emerge as the best dressed that they can be.

Year in, year out over the falling years of this early 21st century decade, the messages in the best dressed lists and the interweb lionising of renaissance men from 50 years or more prior all lead to one conclusion – the suit and tie separates the men from the boys and its benefits are so enriching as to leave no faults corrected. Put simply, dapper is king.

But is the movement actually taking flight? The touchstones of the well dressed seem to have remained stable (if not wholly inspiring) over this decade – actors and fictional characters, television presenters and awards ceremonies, the odd singer and whimsical music videos – but it strangely seems that so little seem to have gotten the message, and the old reticence of looking overdressed remains.

In my experience, nowhere else is the idea that elegance in dress is constrictive more exemplified than at the events at which dressing up used to be most mandatory – evenings out at operas, ballet, theatre and fine restaurants. And further disbelief results from it taking place in Britain, because it means the effects of America’s stripped down, jeans-and-t-shirt/shorts-and-flip-flops approach to event dressing has become a more pervasive influence than before. From nowhere else in the world do I hear so many anecdotes of grown men mocking pocket squares to the extent of snatching them out of another’s breast pocket, nor tales of young partygoers being hassled by aggressive attendees for “dressing up” in a shirt and chinos, or even clubbers in New York being asked if they were “Gay or European?” due to the relative “outlandishness” of their attire (again, a simple shirt and trousers combination).

On the other hand, America knows how to celebrate its style heroes as positive influences. The term, “The Gentleman’s Movement”, is most associated with Derek Watkins, better known as Fonzworth Bentley, entertainer and former valet to Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs. His dedication to improving style may be sensationalistic and shallow to some, but to my eyes, he is committed and sincere. He rarely is seen in t-shirts but for promotional appearances, he spent time during club appearances giving “gentleman’s makeovers” to the low-slung jeans set and his reality show, ‘From G’s to Gents’, revealed a man who put on no truly pretentious airs (his televisual persona was straightforward, steely and free of flowery prose), emphasised fair play, respect and correctness, and was always interestingly turned out with a key trait that is paramount for a good dresser in these times – a lack of self consciousness. While his efforts, and those of his friend Andre Benjamin, did not cause a paradigm shift in the attire of their fanbases, those amongst their peer group and their followers who were receptive followed suit, so to speak. Not for nothing have they become darlings, and sometimes pariahs, of the online style sets.

Indeed, a consistently well-dressed man can become an icon of male style, as the increased interest in the wardrobes – and related minutiae – of departed legends such as Fred Astaire, Gianni Agnelli and the Duke of Windsor proves, along with the more than passing approval of present-day men of refinement such as Prince Charles, Gay Talese, Willie Brown and Beppe Modenese. And each of these men would utilise their sense of style in practically every area of their wardrobe. The remit of this site alone is to foster the development and expression of personal style, and I think that this should be just as apparent “off-duty” as “on”.

I’m not so churlish as to think that casual items such as jeans, sweaters and comfortable footwear have no place in a gentleman’s wardrobe. But I feel that some will rather wear less conspicuous items outside of their well-made working wardrobes so that they can avoid the stigma of being “the dressed-up guy” or even a “dandy” (in the context of “fop” as interchangeable with “dandy”) amongst social circles. I have always believed, as does Bentley apparently, that being well turned out is all encompassing, and that even the most casual outfit for a night on the town should have some flair.

My experiences are personal and subjective, but appreciation can be shown for the smallest of efforts such as a flower in the buttonhole, a well cut jacket, a good watch or elegant footwear. The pocket square might be frowned upon or even mocked overenthusiastically by other men at an event, but the response from women may often be far more positive and encouraging. And the use of aristocrats, gentlemen and dandies as cornerstones in many an au-courant fashion designer’s collections proves that the great traditions of menswear are not going away. If their presentations are stories, then the morals all conclude that being a gentleman in all situations and climates is a bedrock of fashion and style. Not always is the person who differs from the crowd, who places an emphasis on dressing best to dance, to drink and to decompress on a friend’s sofa, the object of criticism and disdain. On occasion, his attire will open up conversations and doors, for on the surface he might be the most interesting person in the room.

Being well dressed outside the office doesn’t mean costumes or caricature or foppery, just an expression of how much you enjoy adapting your style to suit your environment. Just because you’ve left work for the day, does not mean your style should too.

This is guest post by Barima Owusu-Nyantekyi, a freelance copywriter, marketer and researcher living in London. He is also an observer of popular culture, popular music and personal style who always dresses for dancing. His musings may be found at Style Time (

Ignore GQ And Cold-Beer Tailors

This month’s GQ features an unfortunate example of how not to have a suit made in Hong Kong.

The column in the Talk section features a description of a flying visit to the (in)famous Sam’s Tailor. Sam is famous for having walls decorated with famous people posing in his shop, including Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Sam is infamous for being more of a tourist destination than a tailor.

Although one of the best known tailors in Kowloon, I have heard almost no positive reports about Sam’s work. A friend of mine went to him when he first moved to Hong Kong, two years ago now. Sam took long one look at my friend, dismissed him with a hand and refused to measure him. That was left to a lackey, and Sam disappeared. The process and the result were a little disappointing, both from a fit and a quality point of view.

A quick search of the style forums reveals similar stories. One member reports: “Sam’s is most definitely a tourist destination more than anything. I am quite impressed that Sam has managed to get pictures with so many famous individuals, but I’d bet money that was their one and only visit to Sam’s. I do speak from experience as I had a tuxedo made at WW Chan at the same time a friend had one made at Sam’s. There really is no comparison. Chan is a true tailor while Sam is only a notch above all the guys plying Western tourists with offers for $200 suits as soon as they step off the Star Ferry in Kowloon.”

The other tailor mentioned here, WW Chan, has a very strong reputation but is considerably more expensive. But for the same price as Sam, ($300-$400) one can get a handmade suit from my own Hong Kong tailor, Edward Tam (contact details upon request).

beer-tailorsThere are, unfortunately, a lot of tailors in Hong Kong playing off the fact that many people go there to have suits made and the majority know nothing about suits – material, construction or fit. But there are two obvious points that should immediately have told GQ that Sam’s was a poor-quality establishment.

Firstly, Sam offered the GQ reporter a cold beer as soon as he entered. A regular tactic of tailors in Asia and one which, residents tell me, the tailors are always surprised to find has a remarkably positive effect on tourists (how cheap we are!).

Secondly, and less jokingly, the GQ reporter had his whole suit made in 24 hours. No fitting, no opportunity for adjustments. Just measurements and then the final suit. No self-respecting tailor would offer this as standard.

They know the client doesn’t know many of the things he should specify. Do you know the width of trousers you want? Do you know how long you want the jacket? If you don’t ask, the first will be too wide and the second too long in Asia. And they know that no tailor makes a perfect suit straight off, without seeing it on the body. It needs to be tweaked and tucked. Perhaps if the client were a repeat customer. But for a first-timer? Never.

So ignore GQ. This isn’t the first time it has recommended Sam the Tailor.