Archives for December 2009

A Few of My Favourite Things, Part 2: Taylor of Old Bond Street


This week I popped into Taylor of Old Bond Street for a few Christmas presents.

Most men hate shaving, either because of the time consuming monotonous tedium of the act itself, or the inevitable soreness and discomfort afterwards. But, investing in the proper kit can turn it into a pleasurable little morning ritual.

A family business originally founded in 1854, Taylor of Old Bond Street (now located at 74 Jermyn Street) are specialists in the art of shaving and male grooming. Their Chairman –the great grandson of the founder- to this day formulates many of the company’s hair and skin products. The staff are the friendliest, most knowledgeable people you could wished to be served by, so don’t be intimidated by its old world air or location. In the back of the shop is a full barber’s, offering shaves with a cut throat razor. If you have time, I strongly recommend such an experience. You’ll not only come out with the best shave of your life, but feeling wonderful serene.

Now, my father is notoriously hard to buy presents for. Simply put, he has enough money to buy whatever he wants, and usually does. Last year, however, I decided to take a punt and introduce him to Taylor of Old Bond Street, and their beautiful array or shaving and grooming products. We bought him a Silver-tip Badger Brush, shaving soap and imitation Ivory handled razor. Ever since, he has not stopped raving about what a real pleasure shaving has become – back of the net!

The key to the ritual, and eliminating most of the irritation, is the Badger Hair brush. The brush not only softens the hairs and lifts them, but it also holds water and thereby creates a rich moist lather which helps prevent razor burn. Be aware that there are essentially 4 types of badger hair brush; Pure Badger, Best Badger, Super Badger (nothing to do with caped crusading) and Silver-tip Badger, and each grade is better than the last. The names relate to where upon the badger the fur is taken from, its denseness per brush as well as its softness and water holding properties.

Pure Badger most commonly refers to hair from the under belly.

– Best Badger is hair taken from the body of the beast and these are more pliable. The handle will have a denser concentration of hair than one made of pure badger.

– Super Badger comes from the back of the badger and is softer still than Pure or Best. Because the hair is finer the handle will be more densely packed. You may find the tips of the hairs dyed white, this is to differentiate it from Best and Pure.

– Silver-tip is made from hair on the underside of the badger’s chin or neck. These hairs are noticeably softer than other grades and tips of the hairs will be off white in colour –this is natural colouring and not a feature of dying.

Happy Shaving.

Loro Piana Dresses Italians At The Weekend

Recent acquisitions at Loro Piana have led me into a deeper investigation of the brand. Expect a full-length piece on its history, production and craft sometime next year.

In the meantime, the good people at LP sent me over the look book of images for Spring/Summer 2010. I’ve often picked this up in the store in previous seasons, as they have a good eye for colour combinations and layering. It is a little, professional glimpse into the ‘How Italians Dress at the Weekend’ aesthetic that so much of the Anglo-Saxon world aspires to.

(Indeed, one of my favourite-ever fashion shoots was one with just that title in the Spring/Summer 2009 edition of US Esquire’s Big Black Book – those that got the issue, you know what I mean.)


The first picture I have highlighted here is very simple. Pale grey/green, unlined linen/cashmere jacket,  grey silk/cashmere cardigan with hounds-tooth detail, cream silk shirt and white cotton trousers. Plus brown suede belt and shoes, and white linen handkerchief. Very light and summery, only to be worn on a bright day.

But I love the use of different greys – particularly the touch of green in the jacket – and the way the simplicity of tone makes the whole outfit crisp. The cardigan suggests a waistcoat (and as such looks far better with the jacket than without) and the brown suede provides perfectly neutral shadow, sucking light in.

Wearing both white shirt and trousers is dangerous – if worn on their own they can wash you out or make you look like a hospital orderly. Here the cardigan, belt and jacket break them up enough.


The second image I have chosen succeeds in the same way. The peach of the jacket, cream of the cardigan and khaki of the trousers are all from the same colour wheel – each with more or less saturation, more or less brightness. So the simple, summery shades work together well. And as before the shirt and handkerchief are bright accents, while the belt and shoes are deep shadow.

There is little difference in the materials, save that the jacket is linen and silk, and the shirt is now linen.


My final choice demonstrates the power of adding one bright tone to the outfit. The burnt orange cardigan is connected to the creams that surround it, while being far brighter and stronger. Take away the cardigan in your mind’s eye and the outfit is bleached and lifeless. It needs that colour to bring it to life (as well as to separate the shirt and trousers, as before).

The tricky thing about wearing bright colours like this, of course, is that if you are ever too hot to wear the jacket the orange is too strong on its own, cheap even. So when layering, make sure the layers are thin.

A Few of My Favourite Things, Part 1

A couple of things that crossed my radar recently and with Christmas around the corner you may even find them helpful.

Jaeger Patch Pocket Suit


Continuing my patch pocket odyssey, or obsession, depending on your point of view, I found exactly the suit I was looking for courtesy of Jaeger. I found this suit by accident, diving into the shop to get out of a torrential downpour. Trousers and jacket are sold separately, which means you can stock up on extra trousers – always handy with off the peg. This Pure wool flannel suit is made of Italian cloth, with horn buttons and a centre vent. It could well become a core item in my wardrobe. Worn as one suit or stripped down –using the jacket with jeans and the trousers with odd jackets to allow a variety of looks. Courting a younger market the company has improved its look considerably over recent years. They’ve taken classics and given them a younger edge and sharpened up their lines.

Quba Sailcloth Jackets


A little while ago I spent a weekend in Lymington, a beautiful little town on the English coast. Owing to its closeness to Cowes on the Isle of Wight, it’s a haven for boaters, windsurfers, sailors and yachtsmen. And there I discovered Quba. Started in 1996 by two university friends who had some old sail cloth they wanted to turn into jackets, the company, and their range, developed from this simple idea. Having grown up sailing on the Norfolk Broads, I’ve always had a great affinity for sailing clothing. Much underused in the domestic wardrobe, it lends itself to the high street and high seas equally well, providing a distinctive and sportier edge. The two great advantages are that it looks great  – how many badly dressed people have you ever seen on a Yacht? And secondly, it has to withstand the elements, making it tough, practical and well made. I’m not advocating you wear a life jacket in town, but I love Quba’s X10 Drop-Back in white. Each piece of the jacket is put together individually and designed to withstand the roughest oceans and bleakest mountains. The range extends beyond merely jackets, and I think it’s a company to keep an eye on.

Christmas Presents For Gentlemen


I once accompanied a friend on a shopping trip, at his request, to ease the frustration he experienced when deliberating over clothing choices. Invariably, he informed me, there had always been some partially interested female who would accompany him, their spirits strengthened by the promise of brunch at Le Caprice, to advise on his questions; “Is this too tight?”; “Am I allowed to wear this?”; “Will this look stupid on me?”; “Does this make me look gay?” On this occasion, there was no such female; the friend was in the middle of a brief ‘dry patch.’ We two alone, wandered through the emporia of central London together. I learned a great deal about him on that trip. I also learned a great deal about the psychology of self-determinism.

Men want just as much, just as often as women – they might roll their eyes at handbag lust, tut-tut at shoe envy and shake their head in disapproval at the creaking racks in a girlfriend’s wardrobe but they have their little ‘adored treasures’ too. The problem is, many men are unwilling to purchase said treasures with their own money. Whereas women adopt a truly enlightened approach towards treasure-shopping (‘Buy now, repent later’), men crumble when attempting to summon the courage to secure these items. There is something about handing over one’s own money that causes one to ask ‘Why am I DOING this?’ At the till, the eyes scan the item with a nervous flicker; fearful thoughts rocket through the mind as the conscience hammers away. For some items, such an experience is simply endurance. For the ‘treasures’, the items a gentleman would dearly love to have but simply could not buy, the experience is horrific. I myself have experienced a peculiar hand shaking, palm-sweating, head-pulsing sensation when indulging. Exceedingly unpleasant.

To avoid this awful physiological reaction to self-indulgence, men who are reluctant to exact self-determinism may wish to pass on weaker, subliminal hints to those dear to them in order that it may be a merry Christmas for all.


One of the ‘treasured’ items on the shopping trip with my friend, the cravat is a common object of lust for men. Most deny such lust stating disingenuously that cravats are ‘old farty’, ‘crusty’ or ‘poofy.’ In actual fact, cravats are an accessory of distinction that men crave the confidence to wear. My good friend cooed and ahhed, caressing the silk fondly in a way that was rather disturbing only to respond to the suggestion that he purchased the item; “I just couldn’t buy a cravat. Ever”

Opera pumps

Variously named ‘evening pumps’, ‘opera pumps, or simply ‘pumps’, these shoes are one of the most controversial wardrobe items in a gentleman’s wardrobe. Countless panicky threads are begun on style forums asking, democratically, for permission and approval; “Should I buy them?”; “My girlfriend said they’re really feminine…”; “£300 is a lot for evening shoes”; “I like them, but…” The men who know their own mind will purchase these shoes in a blink. However, most men cannot justify the expenditure. Their fear is that they will be laughed at, in a comical style, on the very first occasion they wear them; women and men, their very sides splitting, on seeing such dainty shoes. It is these thoughts that cause men to place the plastic back into the wallet, shake their head at the puzzled store assistant and exit onto the street, breathing a sigh of relief. Were it to be another who purchased said shoes for the gentleman? Well, now that’s a different matter.

Silk dressing gown

There are many men who consider a dressing gown (not a towelling gown) to be an item of antiquated extravagance. In an age when most men are happy to answer the front door to strangers whilst wearing only their boxer shorts, a gown that was first designed to cover a gentleman’s ‘state of undress’ – (a shirt, waistcoat and trousers) – on the occasion of receiving visitors into his abode, is rather superfluous. Thinking over their rather busy and unfortunately inelegant day, men sneer into the windows of Harvie & Hudson, scanning the silken gowns draped over the mannequins thinking “Nice? Yeah. But when will I wear it?” If you happen to be bought one? Nearly every day. And you’d be the better for it.

Whilst browsing the website of Swaine Adeney & Brigg, a snooping colleague leaned over my shoulder and uttered a gasp of horror; “£300 for an umbrella?!” Coolly ignoring their hot-headed naivety I flicked to the silver handled version. “Yours” I said, taking a bite of BLT “for £825.” No one seems interested in investing in a decent umbrella these days. Aside from a neighbour, whose chestnut handled Brigg I had recently admired, a smart umbrella is something that many people like to dream of but few people wish to buy. “I’ll just lose it” they say “That’s £300 lost.” This coming, of course, from people who purchase iPhones, Blackberries, Mont Blancs and countless other items of ‘loseable’ profligacy. Every man wants one, few men have the courage to buy one.

In Search Of A Raincoat

For the last few years I’ve had the gravest difficulty acquiring a raincoat. It’s possibly the one classic gap in my armoury.

In choosing a proper raincoat you have three basic options. Firstly you can go down the Slip-on road. This type is either Raglan or set-in sleeve, straight cut and sits below the knee. Secondly, you have the short Slip-on which is mid calf or just above the knee in length. Finally, you have the Trench Coat; double breasted, belted, wrist straps, gun flap, epaulets and ideally knee length.

The problem is that none of these options works well for me. The short Slip-on works best on men of slight build. I’m 6 ft 1inch tall, with a 42inch chest and 38inchs around the waist, such a coat merely appears boxy –something akin to Dawn French wearing a lampshade.

As to the long, whenever I’ve been tempted to try one, far from the longer silhouette improving things I’ve found there is just too much cloth. I feel swamped and decidedly self conscious.

This brings me to the Trench Coat. I certainly appreciate the aesthetics more than those of the Slip-on; double breasted, the large flipped collar, midriff and wrist belting. But the epaulets and gun flap are a step too far. The full Bogard can, in my view, prematurely age younger men. And there are few things more ridiculous to behold than young men dressing like old men.

But this week I’ve found what I was looking for. I’ve settled on this offering from English company Boden. The aesthetic is basically classic trench, providing shape but minus the overly fussy epaulets and gun flap. Some shape to the coat also allows me to get away with the shorter more convenient mid-thy length.


The company behind the coat is one I have a lot of time for. Their dependability and clear cut purpose of supplying subtly tweaked but sound wardrobe essentials makes Boden a useful source in my view. Rather unfairly the company’s popularity amongst the aspirant middles classes has led to a little sneering from some in the sartorial intelligentsia. Regardless of that, they’ve solved my raincoat dilemma  –no easy task.