Archives for September 2009

Reader Question: Working In A Bank

gordon-gecko-bankSim, Oxford: I was wondering if you could assist me with your experience regarding sartorial issues, the yays or nays, within banking. I have heard from fellow interns that French-cuff shirts and heavy pinstriped suits should never be worn as they depict status, status an intern does not yet have, and are thus considered a faux-pas by people higher up the chain. Any truth in this and if so, any particular things to avoid?

I think the general guidelines on discretion guided by propriety, and to an extent the dignity of business, should be enough here Sim. It’s just that bankers get a bit more snippy and competitive about it.

If you’re going for a job interview, everyone knows you should be well dressed and smart without standing out. The same thing applies to your first job – or in this case your first internship. Dress as smartly or smarter than your superiors and wear nothing that draws attention.

So I would advise you to wear navy and grey suits, shirts that are white, blue or a blue stripes, and ties that are solid colours or simple stripes/geometric patterns. Wear expensive suits if you have them, equally nice shirts and ties. But keep them sober, and finish it off with a nice pair of black Oxfords.

Avoid: braces, handkerchiefs, waistcoats, double-breasted jackets, trouser cuffs, bright socks, contrast collar or cuffs, ‘humorous’ ties, ‘humorous’ cufflinks, ‘fashion’ suits, and strong colours and strong stripes everywhere. They will all draw attention to your clothes rather than yourself, which is certainly not the aim of an internship.

The reason that some of these items of clothing become status symbols among bankers is that they are often flash and always competitive. Wearing a big, bold pinstripe suit is a way to demonstrate that you can get away with wearing it. Because you have attained such a level of success that it cannot be dented by wearing tasteless clothes.

While it is true that some of these items of clothing are more traditional and hark back to earlier days of banking, it is unlikely that this is the reason they are being worn. There will be exceptions, but these are often men over 50 who actually remember when most colleagues wore braces and white collars.

I would have thought French cuffs would have been alright, though, if all other advice is followed. It can be your little indulgence.

A Rakish Evening At Rubinacci


Last night saw the launch of issue five of The Rake magazine at the London branch of Rubinacci on Mount Street. Copies of the issue, with Luca Rubinacci sitting nonchalantly on the cover, were liberally distributed and a blow-up image of Luca adorned a poster in the corner. In the circumstances he was rather modest, as indeed were father Mariano Rubinacci and his twin sister, all anxious to extend their most generous hospitality to the great, good and (most importantly) stylish of London that attended.

After a brief introduction from The Rake’s Editor-in-Chief, Christian Barker, Nick Foulkes gave the keynote address. Nick wrote the cover story for this issue of The Rake, profiling Mariano and Luca, and he was full of bon mots to describe Rubinacci’s tailoring elegance, as well as anecdotes describing occasions where a knowledge of Rubinacci has come in most useful. As each name dropped with a (self-confessed) clang, Nick described his conversations with Luca di Montezemolo and the British Royal Family, both of which were saved by a reference to Rubinacci and his soft, elegant lines. It’s the international language of style, don’t you know.

The guest list was a testament to how far The Rake has come in just under a year (particularly given the sheet rain coming down outside). Most of those present knew and liked the magazine, agreeing it was a breath of fresh air in a magazine market dominated by lad’s mags and fashion quarterlies. Those that didn’t know it were instantly impressed when they picked it up – testament to the photography of Munster (also present) as much as anything else, in my opinion.

The sheer exuberance of colour and texture in the Rubinacci store makes it a perfect backdrop to social occasions, and many of those present remarked what a great idea it was to have such launches in locations like this. Indeed that drew the most comments of the evening – after those referring to the massive block of Parmesan cheese.

As a regular contributor to The Rake, I am of course biased. But it is still true that no magazine or website gives me such a sartorial thrill as reading this magazine. Hopefully my contributions go some way to giving that pleasure to others.

The Rake is still only available outside Asia by subscription, but plans are afoot to change that. In the meantime, Lodger on Clifford Street is selling a limited number of copies of issue 5 at the moment – priced at £10.

How China Changed The Silk Industry

The British silk-weaving industry has changed immensely over the past 50 years. Some can still claim to be among the biggest and best in the world, but many smaller weavers and artisans have gone out of business.

The biggest reason for this, of course, is China. But it’s interesting talking to someone in the industry, such as Andrew Henry, sales director at Vanners in Suffolk, about exactly how that industrial behemoth has changed the dynamic. Henry was kind enough to talk me through his experiences during a site visit last week.


The companies that suffered most from China were those in the mid-market – neither mass nor niche producers.

When China first began its industrial growth, weavers in Europe found they could source much cheaper product from China and offer it very efficiently to existing clients. But that often meant that clients had a choice between cheaper Chinese product and relatively expensive European alternatives – most took the cheaper option. The weavers then found it harder to sell the premium product, and slipped down quickly down into the mass market.

Selling anything in volume is a numbers game, and one where it is hard to remain consistently competitive. As more weavers entered this part of the market, and China began exporting its own (quickly improving) cloth, margins shrank and many of Europe’s best-known weavers went out of business.

Italian mills often suffered more because their industry is less consolidated, with many aspects like dyeing outsourced. (Italy is still probably the biggest weaver of high-end silk, with the UK second and France a bit further off in third.)

“When I used to go to Como 20 years ago to see weavers, it was almost impossible to get a hotel reservation,” says Henry. “Now relatively speaking it is a ghost town. So many have gone.”

China’s reaction was opportunistic. Some of the managers at Europe’s defunct mills were hired by Chinese operations, to help them improve quality and production processes. As a result, Chinese silk weaving has come on immensely in the last 20 years.

“To be frank, the standard of some of the stuff out of China is OK these days,” says Henry. “They’ve come on a long way.”

The problem that Chinese mills face today is that they often don’t have the experience or market knowledge to produce silks that will appeal to the high-end European, Japanese or American audience. They can’t design a range for a client, or know what will sell in a particular market and why.

“I suppose that’s one way in which outfits like Vanners are unique and will continue to be so,” says Henry.

(By the way, you will see boxes labelled ‘China’ around the Vanners weaving shed. But that’s because the silk itself comes from China and always has. Few other climates in the world can support its production – Brazil is probably the second biggest producer.)

Style City Of Choice


London and New York are under the fashion spotlight at the moment. New York is (at the time of writing) over halfway through their ‘Fashion Week’ now rebranded, rather strangely and confusingly, as ‘Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week’ and London’s begins on the 18th with a special menswear day on the 23rd. Whoop-de-do you might say. For what interest could there be in such a vacuous, female-focused, brand driven love-in for the man of style? Indeed, as I wrote of my experience at London Fashion Week a couple of years ago, though the event itself is, admirably enough, an opportunity for the most minor of clothing designers, and even design and textile students, to exhibit their work to an international and highly powered audience of press and buyers, it was depressingly dominated by kitsch, faddish female flim-flam; the sort of stuff that is easy to sell to an unknowing and unsuspecting fashionista but to an eye more interested in material value and longevity, utterly worthless.

In a way, it’s a chance for London to ‘have their fashion fifteen minutes’, and with British (Christopher Bailey) and ‘technically’ British (John Galliano) talent amongst the elite of world fashion an opportunity to show that when it comes to fashion, the Brits can muck in with the Italians and the French awfully well. In the same way, New York’s week at the tents in Bryant Park – with the ubiquitous Sartorialist Scott Schuman snapping outside – has equal talent to show off and proves that creativity at the very peak of clothing design is not only of a European variety. To the gentleman of style, all this ‘good for you’ back slapping of young, ambitious designers may be all very well, but as these are female and buyer driven events, you might wonder ‘Why the special focus?’

The point is that the show has ulterior branding motives. As well as showcasing talent, they’re also events which market the nations, and particularly the cities, in which they are held. Huge companies fight over sponsorship and event partnerships – desperate for the glittering arm of ‘fashion’ to drape over their drab, corporate shoulders – and hotels, restaurants, shops and bars hold special fashion ‘events.’  All this gleeful ‘25 years of British fashion’ and anxious promotion of British talent got me to thinking about, arguably, fashion’s mightiest citadels – Milan and Paris. Two cities which in fashion terms need no introduction. Everyone knows they are the heart and lungs of world fashion and yet, to some, their reputation is often their cover.

Paris and Milan have the stock of high fashion names and make all fashion conscious, and fashion fearful girls weak at the knees when they imagine the boulevards of emporia; the slick, monochrome style of the Parisians and the bright, showmanship of the Milanese. However, as useful as they are to the fashionable fairer sex, it is often more satisfying finding something you need in London or New York. NYLon’s moments are small moments in international high fashion but many more people, more interested in style and quality, value them highly.

Which, dear reader, is the style city of choice for you? Is it the New York of Ralph Lauren, Thom Browne and Brooks Brothers or perhaps the Paris of Charvet, Chanel and Hermes? Or maybe you are attracted to the Milanese names of Armani, Prada and Brioni or even the London style of Burberry, Aquascutum and Richard James?

John Lobb: When You Polish Suede

Store managers see some funny things. For every customer that has saved up for six months to afford his first pair of luxury shoes, there is one that orders three more pairs of the black oxfords he already owns. The first will take half an hour of advice and reassurance. The second wants to be in and out in 10 minutes.

It is fair to say that the second group is also more likely to know less about their shoes, particularly as regards maintenance. Andreas Kuschel, store manager of John Lobb (Paris) on London’s Jermyn Street, has seen quite a few odd requests along these lines. But the best was probably the gentleman that brought in a pair of suede Lobbs that he had tried to polish. He looked bemused. Why wouldn’t you try and polish suede?

Kuschel deals with oily stains that customers get on their shoes all the time – salad dressing, ink, even oil itself. But this was something different. “I took them down to the repairs department and told them to try everything they could,” he says. “There was nothing to lose really, so they could really experiment.”

Eventually, the boffins found a solution. An oil-based eraser, much like the lighter one used to rub away scuffs or stains on Nubuck, was found to do the job. “I was amazed, they were pretty much as good as new,” says Kuschel.

Another discovery I made during a recent conversation with Andreas was that Lobb will insert tongue pads into your shoes for a charge of £30. As regular readers will be aware, I have a particular problem with shoes becoming too big over time as the leather stretches, as my low instep means that after a year or so the shoes completely lace-up and lose grip. Given that Lobb uses “one the best upper-repairers in the country” to unstitch the tongue, insert a pad and sew it back up again – so the addition is almost invisible – I think £30 is pretty good. It’s a much better solution than an insole.

In other Lobb-related developments, the company has just launched its new overshoes or galoshes, referred to as the Balmoral (traditionally a shoe that has that same long, horizontal stitch down the side of the shoe). Although many shops sell overshoes, and similar ones to these were previously available from Swims (which made the Lobb designs), this model is designed to particularly fit the Lobb lasts and comes in an attractive Lobb yellow.