A Hard Hitting Endorsement

I spotted this in the Daily Mail last week. It seems Bermondsey born, WBA Heavyweight World Champion, and all round good egg, David ‘The Hayemaker’ Haye is a fan of Nino’s shirts. I think you’d be hard pushed to find a more heavyweight endorsement than that.

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I mention it because I’ve been singing the praises of Nino Santoro on BespokeMe for years. In fact I think Nino was one of the first interviews I did.  He is what I class as a designer/enthusiast and while many people promise original few really deliver. Well, Nino does.

Shirts are to him what canvas and paint are to great artists, and wearing one of his shirts is the ultimate in self expression and self confidence. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a better made off the peg shirt in many ways. Whether you go for the bold colours and intricate patterns or the more subtle solids each is special because of the painstaking attention to detail. A maximum of 18 in any one design is ever made.

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Each shirt is made from 2 fold Egyptian cotton, single needle stitching and manufactured in Italy. Everything from the padding in the collars and cuffs to the buttons is specially imported, and each shirt has hand stitched button wholes. This care in part stems from a family which is steeped in tailoring. His father, Franco, is a well know and highly respected London bespoke tailor, and Nino’s uncle was in charge of Brioni. I should say that Nino also offers a bespoke shirt service.

I suspect some people would be a bit overwhelmed by some of the designs. But the key is simply dressing them down, and, I think, pairing them with ultra classic or conformist pieces. One of his shirts that I own is a combination of mixed yellow butchers stripes with blue inlays around the collar and cuffs. This works wonderfully with a classic double breasted blazer.  That said I’m a big fan of the plain shirts, in particular the white and the pale blue pique pattern. In my opinion the ultimate work shirt.

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Returning to the article, if you read it in full it’s clear that Haye, like Ali before him to name but one, is something of a clothes and style addict. Indeed, he lists George Dyer as his tailor, which given we share the same taste in shirt maker might be worth a look.

Let’s Hear It For Baron Of Piccadilly

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If I am ever seen in bookshops, I am often seen flicking through intriguing nostalgia-picturebooks with titles like ‘Old London’ or, less prosaically, ‘Fallen Grandeur.’ I have an extraordinary appetite for discovering the forgotten and long-since demolished; I experience a bizarre thrill, and often a seething rage, when I look over drawings and turn-of-the-century photographs of magnificent stone edifices, some fifteen or twenty years in construction, that were bulldozed for throwaway reasons such as ‘impractical for modern use’ or ‘ of an unremarkable style.’ I am especially angered when these buildings are replaced with monstrosities that have no aesthetic merit, zero public affection and no link or sympathy with the structures surrounding them.

One of my saddest recent reads was of the old artisan, boutique establishments that began life in the proud imperial age; milliners, countless cobblers, tie-makers and sock makers. Anything that a well-heeled gentleman might require; expertly manufactured and sold by dedicated, passionate tradesmen who knew their craft well. I was sad to read of their demise, their shop closures and takeovers – even though I had never known their trade in my own lifetime. Imagine my ire when I read of the upcoming ‘redevelopment’ (read: demolition) of the eastern corner of Piccadilly and Jermyn Street – an entire block of, yes hotchpotch, but nonetheless charming and idiosyncratic establishments. Most significant among these are the lovely Bates hat shop, virtually unchanged since the 1920s – a remarkable milliner that count David Bowie and Eric Clapton among their customers and, on the Piccadilly side, another time-warp establishment – the suit-and-overcoat shop ‘Baron of Piccadilly.’

Walking into Baron is a disarming experience that could certainly be eased by viewing several episodes of ‘Are You Being Served?’ Firstly, the chap at the desk enquires, politely but with clear intent, as to what you are interested in. Once this has been established, he hails to his relevant colleague (not by their Christian names, but as ‘Mister’) to assist. On the occasion of my entry I wanted to look at the suits.

I was escorted upstairs, which on a Saturday afternoon was sadly completely empty, and was amazed to see a vast treasure trove of classic single and double-breasted woollen suits. More significantly, they had a great number of styles in my size. “You’ve come just at the right time, sir” the suit assistant whispered to me “we’re closing down soon!” It was uttered in an amused hush but you could hear in his voice a slight cracking that indicated an internal mourning; he must have repeated this to every customer who ascended those stairs, but it was clear the words weren’t getting any easier to say.

Many shops are claimed to be ‘old school’ or ‘time-warps’ – anything with an Edwardian interior, mosaic entrance or etched glass windows is considered to be ‘stepping back in time’, but Baron, despite being wedged in a relatively modern 1960s renovation, is the real thing. The kindly service, the formality of payment and the arrangement of the clothing is of a style and a function no longer seen. By the end of 2009, this remarkable establishment will be no more. When I spoke to the manager of the suits about the future, whether Baron intended to pick up another lease nearby he shook his head confidently. “No, this is it for us. We’ll never find another location like this again.” Words to that effect, unfortunately, were also spoken by a representative of Bates.

Baron has, as you would expect, an outstanding closing down sale in progress. Suits, overcoats and accessories, made to a standard no longer seen in that price range, that will surely in time become collectors items. These coming weeks pose a great opportunity to purchase a piece of retailing history – at a bargain price.

How To Wear A Trilby

It’s not easy wearing a hat. You stand out more in a crowd than a man wearing polka-dot knickerbockers or a cape. The hat radically changes a man’s silhouette, probably more than any other item of clothing.

People look at you if you wear a hat. Anyone that is passionate about classic men’s style is probably used to the stares of others. But a (proper) hat draws stares from everyone, everywhere. I bought my first proper hat – a brown-felt trilby from Lock & Co – a couple of weeks ago and am just getting used to these sensations, this attention.

The comments on that previous post included: “I have been a daily hat wearer for years. While I do get the occasional odd glance while wearing a hat, I mainly get compliments” and also “wearing a hat makes you look like a dope, especially if the hat is a very fine one.” I can completely understand why men are passionate about hats in both directions.

I think the reason is that everyone knows hats are incredibly practical, but they don’t feel comfortable wearing one. And I can’t help feeling that perhaps they resent that. Or they resent that their head gets cold and they feel silly in a beanie. And flat caps look odd, or over trendy.

A hat keeps you warm. It’s an overused fact, but a fact nonetheless, that most of your body heat escapes through your head. When you get older, losing your hair, many years from now (as the Beatles put it) you need something to cover your head in cold weather. It’s necessary.

And a hat keeps you dry. Remember those close ups of Humphrey Bogart, standing in the rain on a street corner, watching the house opposite? The rain was pelting down on his hat and trench coat. But he wasn’t getting wet. It’s an oddly liberating experience when you first where a proper hat in the rain, and everyone around you is either clashing umbrellas or scampering for cover.

If you just don’t like hats, fine. But trust me, if you have even the sneakiest suspicion that you might like one, try it a few times and you won’t want to turn back. Sure, you’ll feel self-conscious, but that’s the case with wearing anything new. I used to feel self-conscious wearing a pocket handkerchief. Now I get odd looks if I’m not wearing one.

Some hat enthusiasts will disagree with me, but I think a hat is also an unusual enough accessory to need balance elsewhere. I won’t wear my hat with a double-breasted suit, tie and briefcase. Because to me that is straying almost into costume – or a lack of individuality. I think my hat looks best with casual trousers, a blazer and open-necked shirt. Perhaps a raincoat on top. In the same way I wouldn’t wear a tie, pocket handkerchief, tie clip and boutonniere to work, no matter how good it might look. It’s a question of balance and personal taste.

Finally, for those that requested it, there are shots here of my hat with its box, and a photo of how it looks rolled up for travel.

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Yard-O-Led

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The selection of a fine pen is a personal thing. It’s all about balance, feel, taste and your writing style.  But having waxed lyrical about the subject it would be shameful not to let you know my choice. So perhaps I could have entitled this article practising what I preach.

There are numerous makers around with varying degrees of pedigree, and you might find it useful to do a little research. My father, from whom I’ve acquired my love of pens, favours the Parker Duofolds –the favoured pen of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This love in part stems from my grandfather, whose Duofold dad inherited and still uses. Indeed, it’s hard to think of my father without thinking about his scribbling a hand written letter using my grandfather’s pen.

The default setting for most people I encounter seems to be the Montblanc. A nice enough pen, but to me it has become a bit of a fashion statement these days.

Of course you would be well served if you decided to go for English pen maker Conway Stewart. A company with a distinguished history – and favoured by Winston Churchill – the declining use of fountain pens in the 70’s forced the company into bankruptcy. Resurrected in the 1990’s it is the favoured gift of Her Majesty’s Government to foreign dignitaries and heads of state. Consequently it has been held by some distinguished hands and is the pen of choice for the aspirant statesman.

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My own choice, and something of an outsider, is Yard-O-Led. An English company based in Birmingham, the company actually started life as two businesses. One, the Sampson Mordan Company, was founded in 1822 and invented the first propelling pencil known as the Mordan Everpoint, which were typically styled in gold and silver. The company was destroyed during WWII. In 1934 a man named Brenner took out a patent for a propelling pencil designed to hold 12 three inch leads – hence the name Yard-O-Led. His business was also destroyed during the Blitz.

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But in 1941 Brenner and a long term associate and employee of Sampson Mordan teamed up to resurrect Yard-O-Lead. The partnership proved a success. Using as inspiration the designs of Sampson Mordan the writing implements were styled in the 19th and early 20th century fashion. This styling continues.

What I love about these pens is that you’re getting more than just a bit of resin with a nice nib. Each pen is hand made from sterling silver, and reflects the company’s heritage in fine jewellery. Heavy, distinctive and by virtue of being hand turned no two pens are the same. And should you think “all that glitters is not gold”, I can assure you they write beautifully.

Final Boots From Cliff Roberts

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I have written previously about the boots being made for me by Cliff Roberts, an old hand of Northampton shoemaking who started making his own shoes from his conservatory recently. Well, I finally took delivery of them this past weekend.

Cliff was kind enough to bring them down to London personally, partly to compensate for an inability to source a tool for securing the speed hooks, which had delayed the process by a couple of weeks.

I was immediately impressed by the quality of the leather, which was very soft and supple. In particular, the leather lining and suede in the upper half of the boot was especially malleable. The finishing was also impressive, with Cliff taking the time to put my initials, as well as a pattern of arrows, in the heel with tacks.

Cliff’s lasts are slightly wider than average for the various fittings, so my size of 8½ E and 8 F came up a little bigger than I expected. As Cliff points out, boots do need a little more room in order to get the foot in easily – and the high fastening ensures that there’s no chance of any slippage. It’s marginal, but I should perhaps have gone with a D and E.

This is one of the obvious drawbacks of having shoes made remotely: you can’t try on a range of sizes and pick accordingly. Then again, I have frequently bought the wrong size in ready-to-wear shoes in the past even after trying them on.

From a construction point of view, the beveling of the waist on the boots and the greater support for the instep both make a big difference: touches that remind you of bespoke shoes rather than ready-to-wear.

Talking of bespoke, Cliff is considering launching a bespoke business next year, with lasts being made by Springline and being used to make ‘sprung’ or ‘braced’ trial shoes that can then be tried on by the client, and used to adjust the last. Cliff has tried to make shoes direct from a last that has been created by scanning a client’s feet, but the fit is never quite right. As I wrote previously in two posts on finding cheap bespoke, others’ experience shows that bespoke shoes are more a question of trial and error. So Cliff’s service should work well – and after the initial outlay to have a last made (around £230) the price of the shoes would be the same.

Some pictures of the hand-bunking, inking and toe tacks below. I’m off to put the boots on again; they really are very nice.cliff-bunking-inking