Archives for December 2009

Back To Bicester

It probably wasn’t hard to feel the excitement behind the words of my last post on Bicester Village. One friend’s favourite-ever quote from this blog says it all: “I am at heart a cheap man.” (From a post last year on buying luxury – specifically, very versatile Hermes ties.) The prices and luxury menswear on offer got my heart pounding, as they did many of you given the comments I have had.

Ever since I have been trying to think of an excuse to go back, and last week I found one. The good people at Chic Outlet Shopping, of which Bicester is part, invited me to a Blogger’s Day – essentially an excuse for them to tell us bloggers about the Village, what makes it so unique, and give us a discount card to get some Christmas presents. Not a bad deal.

Of the 20 or so bloggers there, four were men – and the others seemed to be tacked onto other groups rather than being individual bloggers. The female bloggers were American and Chinese, as well as British, and varied from solo writers to managers of transatlantic teams. All a little humbling: I do hope menswear catches up soon.

I learnt a little about why Bicester is so good for up-market menswear shopping. Although Ralph Lauren has many outlets around the country (and makes more money from them than its normal stores, according to one blogger), Bicester is the only RL outlet to get Purple Label. There was a beautiful double-breasted, shawl-collar tux from Purple Label, in the Custom Fit, which is a lot narrower and seems to fit me very well. Reduced from £2200 to £440.

But I resisted – I have one set of black tie already and little need for another, given that I wear it four times a year. Plus I swore to myself to only buy bespoke jackets from now on.

Loro Piana only has two outlets in the world, one in Bicester and one in Italy. So valued is the outlet here that celebrities have been known to land by helicopter in the nearby field and make a beeline straight for the store. And the staff manages a very detailed customer register that allows you to request updates when particular items come in, and even order in advance.


So how did I fare? Pretty well. An Alfred Dunhill doctor’s bag from the traditional English range (all 100% handmade, in London) a ‘Roadster’ cashmere sweater from Loro Piana and a ‘Horsey’ coat from the same store – the model made for the Italian horseriding team at the Barcelona Olympics and featuring LP’s famous Storm System.


One more trip before Christmas would be excessive, right?

Patch Pockets

I’ve had a bit of an obsession recently, namely patch pocket suits. I should qualify that by saying I’m ostensibly talking about side pockets and not the breast pocket.

You won’t find a great deal said about it in style tomes. Indeed, before putting fingers to keyboard I scoured my bookshelf for some helpful insight or quote.  The best that Hardy Amies can muster up is to say; “Patch pockets look very well on blazers and sports jackets. They look less severe than flaps and the stitching around the pockets is decorative”.

The consensus is that they’re a sportier more casual option better suited to summer blazers. But if anything I think this too dismissive. I’ve always regarded patch pockets as rather louche, a bit like leaving your bow untied and top button undone after a black tie dinner. This is of course the quality that appeals the most. And so I’m resolved to make it a permanent feature of my suiting wardrobe.

We chaps are often content to play things safe, fearful of “getting it wrong”. We stick to what we know, and what we know is what we most commonly see on others – flaps. But to my mind patch pockets when combined with heavier winter cloths like flannel set up a striking contrast of formality and easiness, particularly if you add those other less formal elements of knit ties and loafers.


There is one other element to consider. How you wear something is almost as important as what you wear. Carry Grant’s on screen persona of nonchalance and supreme confidence concealed the fact that he was often quite stiff, which was a symptom of nervousness. To compensate he developed the habit of putting his hands in his pockets and, according to Richard Tarregrossa, developed his wardrobe around this requirement.


We all suffer with nerves from time to time – I, for example, don’t like entering a room full of strangers. Once upon a time I’d smoke to make myself appear and feel more relaxed. Not easily done now. The ease of access to a patch pocket naturally inclines one to put ones hands in ones pockets. This at least allows one to look at ease, avoiding crossed arms which can look defensive. You may think I’m reaching, but there is a lot to be said for the humble patch pocket.

Watch Stereotypes

The Patek Philippe


The Patek man is one who has always been prepared to wait. He patiently saved for his Knightsbridge flat when paying next to nothing in rent for a shoebox in Hounslow. He made do with altered M&S suits for years until he had amassed sufficient funds for a couple of decent three-pieces from Henry Poole. And when some of his old school friends were out lunching in Michelin starred eateries that they could ill afford, flicking back their double-cuffs to dazzle Polish waitresses with their newly bought Rolexes, the Patek man sat by his desk eating his home made sandwiches, happily scrolling through the Excel spreadsheet of his ‘Patek fund’ which he had been steadily adding to, each month for the past five years. Other men had settled for less; they couldn’t wait for Knightsbridge and ended up in Battersea, they couldn’t wait for Savile Row and now bought at Aquascutum. The Patek man, proud of his self-restraint, wears his timepiece with care. However, he is still absent at the lunches, the dinners and the parties – he is saving up for a modified XK140.

The Breitling Chronograph


The Breitling man isn’t a brute, but he’d like to be. He has an expensive gym membership that includes a weekly session with an experienced boxing trainer. He shows off his cuts and bruises whenever he gets the chance. He craves a cool masculinity in his style; slick, made-to-measure grey or blue two piece suits (waistcoats, in his opinion, are far too fussy), white and blue shirts and dark grey ties. He yielded to a white linen pocket square fold a year ago. His chin is stubbled and his skin, though secretly moisturised by Zirh, is swarthy and always tastefully tanned. His Breitling SuperOcean Heritage timepiece is a masculine hunk of metal with a cold steel strap and a severe black face – contrasting with his tanned, moderately hairy wrists. When asked why he hadn’t selected the Omega Seamaster 007, which many considered to be the most appropriate watch for such a Bond fanatic, he laughed derisively and responded rather more seriously that Bond would “…never have worn a watch with his agent number flying around on the second-hand.”

The Vintage Rolex


The Vintage Rolex man spends as much time in his genteel Pall Mall club as possible; it’s the only place he knows that hasn’t dramatically changed since the 1930s. Though being a mere 42 years of age he never actually knew ‘the age of glamour’, still he has a strong affinity with the era that extends to his music choice (Al Bowlly), suits (vintage Savile Row), shoes (always co-respondents) and even his watch, a vintage Art Deco Rolex. Unlike some others, the Vintage Rolex man actually uses his timepiece. When it hits seven, he makes his way to the bar from the reading room and orders a dry martini – a drink he forced himself to like when he first saw ‘It Happened One Night.’ It is not the only watch he owns (his wealthy family once bought him a Vacheron Constantin and he inherited a rather vulgar Rado from a doting uncle) but it is the only one he wears. Consequently, he has to wait and browse the jewellery emporiums whilst the helpful vintage Rolex specialists in the Burlington Arcade service his treasured timepiece.

The Girard-Perregaux ‘Jackpot’ Tourbillon


The GP Tourbillon man is barely 25 and yet he was born to the kind of Astorian wealth that makes mere multimillionaires twice his age wince in envy as he draws up alongside them in his father’s priceless 1961 Ferrari 250 tapping his hand on the wheel, revealing a ‘complication’, worth nearly half a million pounds, that is part Swiss ‘haute-horologie’, part Las Vegas swank. He rolls up the cuffs on a suit that was ‘personally’ designed by Karl Lagerfeld and pushes the pedals with a one-off pair of Yamamoto trainers that he bought at auction for £8,000. This is how the young, entitled and foreign born billionaire likes to do things – individualism with a twist of pop culture cheek. He shuns his father’s recommendations on a career with his metals company, opting instead to back his poker playing friends in worldwide tournaments. He chooses not to occupy his allotted bedroom suite at the family residence in Kensington Palace Gardens but instead, much to his father’s bemusement, shacks up at a huge funky penthouse in Shoreditch where he entertains his few London-based Princeton friends with high stakes poker tournaments (he himself, despite his passion, is a dangerously poor player) and rare wine tastings (with bottles looted from his father’s cellar.)

An Exercise In Wardrobe Building


I commissioned my third bespoke suit from Graham Browne today, and I had thought about the choice pretty constantly for three weeks. There was one particular bad night in Hong Kong, plagued by jet lag, where I turned over the options for jetted versus flapped pockets for seven solid hours. I like to hope it was the insomnia that made me obsessive.

Essentially, it was a question of wardrobe building. Which suit should I commission next, given my existing bespoke, from Hong Kong and London, and ready-to-wear suits.

The existing wardrobe of suits is:

Graham Browne (British bespoke):

Single-breasted (SB) navy chalk stripe

Double-breasted (DB) blue herringbone

Henry Herbert (British bespoke, coming):

Mid-grey SB plain worsted

Edward Tam (Hong Kong bespoke):

Pale grey SB with bold Prince-of-Wales check

Mid-grey DB flannel

Dark grey SB worsted, with faint purple check


Blue SB pinstripe

Mid-grey SB Prince-of-Wales

Grey/green SB plain worsted

(Plus a few others either too old or cheap to mention…)

So what to commission from Graham Browne next? I want to build up a relatively conservative, business wardrobe. So the next commission would likely be navy or grey. My previous two suits from Browne were both blue, so logically grey next? But then all three Hong Kong suits are shades of grey…

Plus both the British bespoke suits have been heavier wools (12-ounce worsted and 13-ounce flannel). I haven’t really got a normal, worsted bespoke suit yet – one that would stand out at a conference only for its cut.

I’d also absolutely love a Prince-of-Wales; but I have two already. It would be nice to have a navy suit where the jacket would work as a blazer; but that would probably mean a heavier cloth. A bespoke tweed jacket would be different and practical; but I should probably get a suit while I have the money (a jacket would be cheaper).

It was all rather introverted and narcissistic. And not helped by the various cloths on display, such as a lovely thick, grey herringbone that was just sitting there, left over.

In the end I went for an SB two-piece in mid-blue, one button and with a slight cutaway to the jacket front. The cloth is 9.5 ounce, with a very small herringbone. A basic business suit, really. My only concession to experiment is the trousers – high waisted, to be worn with braces. I’m excited about this, my first ‘braced’ suit. The trousers will be about one and a half inches higher than mine at the moment, which isn’t that much; but there will be a fish-tail back.

Oh, and I couldn’t decide between a peaked and notched lapel. So I went for a fish mouth instead – where the lapel is slightly pointed upwards, but not as much as a peak lapel, and not extended either. It creates a smaller, more pointed notch. And is a compromise between the two traditional options.

Expect pictures of this fishy suit being cut soon.

School Days Inspiration: Black Suede Shoes


By its nature inspiration comes from curious sources.  My school uniform was a strictly enforced affair, leaving little room for manoeuvre when it came to individuality. Standard issue kit was: navy blue blazer, blue shirt, royal and navy blue stripe school tie, grey trousers and black leather shoes.

However, there were three acts of subversion one could perpetrate, and get away with – just.

The first was to tie your tie in reverse. This meant creating an exceptionally skinny tie by using the thin blade to make the knot and form the length. Well, skinny ties are in vogue now, so no inspiration here.

The second act of subversion was to place a penny in your tie knot. This wasn’t really rebellion against the system, more an act of self defence. It was considered great sport in my day to find some unsuspecting wretch, and in one lightening manoeuvre grab the end of his tie and with all your might yank down on it, while yelling in an exaggerated and convoluted manner, “peeeenuuuut”. The net result was to create a tie knot of extraordinary tightness. The unsuspecting victim could only extricate himself from his tie by cutting it off. The insertion of a penny into the knot would thwart the efforts of the peanutter. Consequently it was considered most unsporting. I’m not sure how peanutting would go down amongst my fellow researchers or Members of Parliament.

The third act of subversion, and the one that sparked my imagination was wearing black suede shoes. I’ve often worn brown suede with suits, inspired by one of my heroes, the late Terry-Thomas. But until recently I’d never backed black.

Not the most practical material for winter, regardless I love the look. Firstly, black suede makes your feet look smaller. Secondly, rather like midnight blue Dinner Jackets can look blacker than black ones, the same illusion happens with black suede shoes. Finally, the matt effect also adds a richness which combined with worsted cloth sets up a nice contrast. It also works well with grey flannel, this time providing a continuation of texture.