Archives for December 2009

Sebastian & Jules Cufflinks

I spend most of my working day sitting at a desk, typing. The comfort of shirts and size of armholes are therefore important. But I also need silent cufflinks.

Most of the time I wear French (or double) cuffs on my shirts, so they need to be fastened with something. That used to be variations on bar or chain cufflinks, always metal and usually quite loose. They clinked against the desktop. Even with a jacket on, they would often peek beyond the sleeve and clink.

So I switched to silk knots. Easy, cheap and available in an array of colours, they allowed me to experiment with colour combinations and clashes. Add cufflinks to tie, handkerchief, socks and shirt and the permutations are dizzying. Most importantly, they didn’t clink.

I do own three pairs of metal cufflinks. One, in silver, was given to me by friends on my 21st birthday. A second in mother-of-pearl was an engagement present. And the third pair, from Etro, has an unusually short bar and so does not clink.

But I occasionally get bored of silk knots and occasional metal links, usually worn on special occasions.

sebastian-jules-cufflinksSo I was glad to receive a birthday present this year from my friend Katherine: an unusual pair of homemade cufflinks. Essentially two buttons joined with silk thread, they look like oversize shirt buttons when worn on the cuff; but they’re more decorative than knots and if anything offer even more colour combinations. And of course, they don’t clink.

The company is called Sebastian & Jules and can be found at Katherine makes the cufflinks (and rather nifty iPhone cases from tweeds and worsted suitings) in her spare time. It’s a cottage industry; except that she lives in a flat in East Dulwich.

I have the paint-fleck effect shell ones on page two of the site, the ones joined by hot fuschia silk. They look particularly effective on a white shirt under a navy suit. I also hanker after the pine and tortoiseshell.

I have a growing fascination with buttons (expect a piece soon on using mussel-shell buttons for my fishy suit), so these links are very much on-trend. I also think £15 is pretty reasonable for unique items that were entirely and painstakingly made by hand.

Nice to support a (for me, very) local producer.

The Little Book Of Ties

little-book-of-tiesWhat is meant by the hand of a tie? What was a Macaroni? What are Macclesfield and Madder? From when does paisley date? What are the 5 ways to check the quality of a tie? What weights of silk should be used in tie making? What differentiates handmade ties from machine made?

I love knowing things. To paraphrase Shakespeare, I am a notorious snapper-up of unconsidered trifles. And the topics above are just a few of the things covered in ‘The Little Book of Ties’.

To be blunt, this book is not a page turner or ripping bedtime yarn. However, it’s useful and easy going enough that you don’t have to be Rain Man to work your way through it, or appreciate it.

It’s a solid little technical manual, which tells you all you need to know, with concise but thorough chapters and useful subject headings.  Packed with only the necessary it starts with the history of neckwear and explains the various incarnations along the road to the modern day. It explains patterns, motifs and their social and historical significance. You also get technical details from the construction of a quality tie to the various processes for weaving or printing patterns, as well as suitable materials for the differing seasons.  There are style tips, a few tie knots, and it considers the all important question of, how many ties should a man own?

Of course it’s far from the definitive work on the subject, and there are weightier tomes out there. But at just over 100 pages it isn’t taxing and most topics are dealt with in a few economical paragraphs. Additionally, for such an unprepossessing little tome, there are plenty of beautiful photographs in excellent detail.

In all, an extremely useful little book, and one worth having in your back pocket.

The Little Book of Ties’, by Francois Chaille, Flammarion 2001, Paperback £6.95 (Foyle’s)

Building A Shoe Collection – The Pleasures!

A friend of mine started investing in good shoes around six months ago. I find it reassuring that I get such vicarious pleasure out of it: perhaps I’m not as self-centred as all that.

His first pair was a lovely set of mid-brown, cap-toe Derbys. It was a perfect first purchase – adaptable to casual wear, around the office and business meetings, with jeans, chinos and suits. Apart from charcoal they went well with all his suits, both grey and blue. I had a small role in this decision so it was a relief to see his delight in them.


(As well as his near-obsessive interest in polishing and general maintenance. This was a man more used to wearing trainers that only looked scruffier as you wore them. Little did he realise the pleasures of looking after leather shoes, restoring them and creating a personal patina.)

For his second pair, he was tempted with brogues in pale suede. But in the end opted for Oxfords in a hand-painted oxblood. Darker, sharper and smarter, they will go well with dark denim as well as blue suits, while retaining a little individuality.


Finally, he mentioned to me that his next investment, sometime next year, will likely be black whole-cut Oxfords. He already has one pair of black shoes (though not of the same quality as these others) so black was not his first choice. But he recognises that black is an essential for business in Britain, as well as elsewhere. So they deserve to be the next pair.


This seems to me like a great trio of shoes. Each will probably only be worn once a week, as the office is rather casual, so rotation won’t be a problem. Brushed after each use and stored with shoe trees, they should be the foundation of his smarter wardrobe for years.

I can see them in my mind, sitting proudly in a row. Perhaps that gives me a little too much pleasure. But having introduced him to the world of classic footwear, it’s great to know his non-work wardrobe now has a grown-up option, alongside beloved trainers. And at work he will look far more professional.

Indeed, it reminds me of a question another friend asked a few months ago – what to invest in when you begin working, and want to steadily look more serious, professional and ambitious? My top three would be:

1 – A suit that fits you. Good material tends to wear better rather than look tremendously better. So buy an inexpensive suit and have it altered everywhere so it fits.

2 – Buy decent shoes. This isn’t hard. In the UK just buy Loake, Barker or Cheaney to begin with, look after them well and trade up when you can.

3 – Buy good ties. Cheap ties look cheap. Get good ones, again look after them well and make sure they are tight to your collar.

Those three things will change your look from graduate to junior management. Buy shirts, socks and expensive suits later.

[The shoes shown here are from Lodger, before someone asks. Apologies to readers who are sick about me carrying on about the brand – but it was my friend’s choice not mine!]

Rixon Groove, Wellington New Zealand

I’m currently in New Zealand spending Christmas with Westie and her parents. When abroad, if I can find a decent shirt maker and a good bar then I’m a happy traveller.

I found Rixon Groove while ankling through the Bank Arcade. A three floor shopping area which was once, as the name suggests, an old bank. A beautiful building it now houses clothing boutiques, most of which are independent.


The back story to Rixon Groove is available on their website. Putting them in context they’re a bit like a Kiwi version our own Nino Santoro.

Founded by Simon Fulton who runs the shop, RG is a proper shirt maker supplying Made to Measure, limited edition off the peg and hand made ties.


There are various things about this outfit that appealed. The range goes from traditional business shirt to flamboyant patterned fabrics and colours more suited to social occasions than business. But Simon certainly has a good eye for design, and softer collars definitely give his shirts a more relaxed antipodean air.

Additionally, rather than being shipped of to the Far East, all the shirts are made in Wellington including the off the peg ones. The same standard applies to the ties too.

Because they’re only a small outfit (the one shop) all garments are limited edition, when the cloth runs out, that’s it. The ties are made from fabrics sourced from all over the world, and each carries its own reference number telling you which one of the batch you’ve bought and how many remain –which is a nice touch.

As to price, buying in dollars and paying in pounds provides excellent value. Made to Measure shirts (no minimum order) come in at $194 NZ, about £72 per shirt, and they deliver all over the world. Meanwhile a limited edition handmade tie will set you back just $99NZ, which is just £37. I didn’t have time to get a shirt made but I couldn’t resist picking up one of their ties. A left field choice, even for me, it works wonderfully well with a blue suit and Bengal striped shirt.

Oh, and my bar of choice in Wellington, Hummingbird. They serve a good cocktail and the decor is that of a 1940’s French brothel.

Value For Money In Cashmere

It’s hard to pick apart the value for money in much of menswear. But one that is particularly difficult is cashmere. There are Uniqlo sweaters for £39.99 and Ralph Lauren ones for £395. What could possibly explain the difference?

A recent article in The Economist’s spin-off magazine Intelligent Life went some way to an explanation. Apologies for merely reporting their investigative journalism, but it’s good stuff and I know it is not distributed everywhere in the world.

Cashmere used to be universally expensive because its import into the European Union was limited. I don’t know the facts in the US, but a few years ago there seemed to be a flood of cheap cashmere here in Europe. This was because the import quotas were raised in 2005. Suddenly Scotland and Italy did not dominate the market.

At the same time, many Chinese factories had switched from just producing cashmere to producing cashmere garments. It was this ability to produce a finished product, together with the quotas, that enabled western stores to offer cashmere at such radically reduced prices.

So part of what you pay for is location. Scottish and Italian factories will tell you that with their cashmere comes more attention to detail, more quality control and more ethical production. I don’t know (and Intelligent Life didn’t mention) anything about the truth of these points. The Chinese factories certainly make it greater bulk – up to 400,000 pieces a day in one case. But their standards are also getting better every year.

cashmere-goatThere are definitely differences in quality between cashmeres, though.

Cashmere is the long-haired wool that goats grow as an extra coat in the winter. It falls off in the Spring unless the farmers comb it off. Once it is combed, the cashmere needs to be spun to separate any remaining short body hairs. Some producers don’t bother to do this.

There are also short and long cashmere hairs. The longer the hair, the more robust the product will be that is woven from it. You can spot short hairs (and the shorter body hair) by looking at the surface – the fluffier and fuzzier it is, the more hair ends are standing up. Shorter hairs will also pill more, though this can happen to all products (better cashmere should pill less after its first wash).

Be suspicious of sweaters that feel too soft immediately. Like many things of value, good cashmere will be feel better and softer over time (and with occasional washes). The product will last longer as well.

Finally, cheap products tend to be woven thinly. So the sweater up to the light – better ones will tend to be denser, because more wool has been used and because of the longer hairs.

There are also figures for the length and width of hairs. Good cashmere is around 35-40mm in length, 15 microns in width; top producers compete over each micron. It is also slightly harder, and so more expensive, to create strong colours – cream, brown and grey are far easier than plum, orange or pink. The whiter raw cashmere is, the more expensive it is but the easier to dye. But this is just for the really high-end. The biggest price difference is due to purity, location and weaving.

So what’s the best value for money? Unsurprisingly, small brands that produce great product yet don’t pay for marketing, stores or advertising. The article mentioned Pure Collection as a good example (

Thanks for the journalism, Intelligent Life.