Archives for February 2010

Gaziano & Girling: The Benefits Of Both Sides

While up in Northampton last week, I stopped in to see Gaziano & Girling’s new workshop. And Dean was kind enough to show me round. There aren’t many shoe makers in England that combine a bespoke and ready-made business in the way that G&G now does, both responding to client’s requests and designing new collections for wholesale and private-label work.

These two sides of the business inform each other in some interesting ways. For example, working with clients on their ideas for bespoke can create inspiration for a ready-made collection. And while some other brands get input from clients through special orders, it is not the same proportion or relationship as that gained by bespoke. You can see some of the slightly more daring G&G bespoke ideas here, from stingray through to laser designs. These are all waiting to go to Japan with Dean for a trunk show.


“Having a ready-made business also teaches you rigour,” comments Dean. “Manufacturing forces you to be disciplined and consistent. If a bespoke shoemaker makes one pair wrong, he can tweak it or redo it. You can’t do that with an order of 100 ready-made.”


Bespoke shoemakers without any manufacturing, on the other hand, have a slightly narrower perspective. For example, they often have to use merchants for sourcing leather. A business with bigger volume can afford to order its own leather in bulk, and deal with the tanneries directly.


“I think it also teaches you how much tolerance men have for the fit of their shoes,” says Dean. “Bespoke tends to focus quite narrowly on how a man’s shoes should fit, according to fixed ideas or a golden formula. But if you watch a man try on sizes, you realise how much personal preference plays a role. You remember there’s a person on the other end.


“Some men prefer very tight, others quite loose; the Japanese will nearly always go for a size longer and narrower than you’d think. There’s a difference between having the size that ‘fits’ and the size that a customer thinks looks good.”


And of course, bespoke shoes inform the quality and design of ready-made, as these pictures and Gaziano & Girling’s burgeoning reputation attest. Characteristic design features include the peaked toe-cap and aggressive waist treatment.

Finally, a quick tip from Dean on polishing: try mixing the water you use with a little surgical spirit, in around a 4:1 ratio. Brings out the shine just lovely.

Good luck to Dean and Tony in their new home.

Different Ways To Give A Tie Spring

tiesA good tie has some form of ‘spring mechanism’ so that, after you have untied it roughly, tugged it out of your collar and hung it up, the mechanism gradually returns it to its natural shape.

This is achieved through the slip stitch, which runs the length of the tie from one tack to the other and requires some slack so that, when it is compressed, it can ‘spring’ back into position. On some ties, you will see this slack as a small loop of thread protruding from the narrow end. Off the top of my head, my Hermès, Drake’s and Bulgari ties certainly have it.

However, this is not the only way to create some slack. The excess thread can also be tucked back inside the tie, sometimes even secured to the slipping of the tie itself or to the back of one of the labels. This can be done at the narrow or wide end of the tie.

So why are several ways of achieving this ‘spring’ still being used? “You might wonder that, as I  did once when I first started in the trade,” says Martin Brighty of Hunter’s.

“I was told by the head slipper (seamstress Lil Groger of Holliday & Brown) that the women tie makers would move from firm to firm, bringing with them different techniques. They were often told to use the style of the firm, but if they could they would retain their own method as it was faster – and they got paid per tie. These days the girls again all move between companies, some work for two tie makers at a time, depending upon who has the work. So construction can vary; Hunter’s has both loop and tucked-back ties.”

There is no particular advantage to any of these methods. But one obvious difference with the loop is that you can see it – the spring mechanism and so the craft is on display. The others are less obvious or can’t be seen at all. So some manufacturers prefer the loop in order to prove the craftsmanship involved in their ties.

There aren’t many reasons for not having a loop, but Martin’s colleague David Walker knows one: “I remember selling ties in Harrod’s back in the day, and these Nina Ricci ones were very expensive, £85 or so. One day a man came in and complained that his tie had fallen apart. ‘It just came away in my hands,’ he complained. Turned out he had cut off the loop, thinking it was a loose thread.”

So that’s one disadvantage of an obvious sign of craft.

[Many thanks to Martin and David for their help with this and other posts]

Wrist Action


There is a pandemic spreading amongst London men. Yet again on the tube the other day I spotted a well dressed, suited and booted, young fellow sporting a load of colourful string and plastic tat around his wrist. This disease seems most contagious among the middle class and privately educated, striking down even the junior sons of House of Windsor.

This wrist tat (WT) is not part of some government scheme to tag parolees, or some ancient symbol of tribal belonging – although in certain cases there is an element of social rehabilitation, by seeking public acknowledgment for the extent of one’s charitable giving.

That said, I can and do understand there is an aesthetic quality brought about by that most useful of sartorial tricks, namely contrast. The combining of the ultra formal and the informal is something all the great dressers have demonstrated at one time or another, whether it be Fred Astaire wearing three piece suiting and button down shirts, or the Duke of Windsor using suede shoes.

I just think if you’re going to introduce a little playful wrist action to your wardrobe there are better ways to do it.


My preference is to go for the military watch and a coloured wrist band. The Forces heritage gives the look anchorage, while adopting coloured bands in obviously synthetic materials provides that devil may care informality. It goes without saying that it works well with casual summer wear, but done with suiting it can work really well.

If authenticity is your thing then England’s Cabot Watch Company (CWC) are the current suppliers of watches to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, and have been for nearly thirty years. But, they’re not easy to come by outside of the UK. However, a favourite retailer of mine, Smart Turnout do a very reasonable Swiss made watch and have by far and away the best selection of straps, which can be bought individually.

While unlikely to permanently replace your Omega or your vintage Rolex, it is nonetheless another option for playing with contrast.

Ties Facts From Peckham Rye


Following on from the last, rather popular post on Peckham Rye and Hunter’s founders David Walker and Martin Brighty, here are some more insights from the interview:

– When you turn a tie in your hand and it seems to change colour slightly, this is because the light is reflecting off the warp. The warp is one direction of the weaving (the other being weft) of the silk. The warp is subtler and sets the foundation for the tie’s tone. While I have written about warp before (in a piece on Vanner’s) I hadn’t cottoned on to this way of revealing it.


– Woven ties will often fray slightly along the front edge over time. If you run a small flame (from a lighter, say) quickly along that edge, it will burn off the stray threads and not damage the tie. The same can be done with loose threads in the main weave. (This technique is used with manmade fibres in other industries, but only where you want them to melt and so fuse together. Silk will not fuse, just burn off.)


– Hunter’s makes a lot of ties for military units. And so many have been amalgamated recently that new designs are coming though all the time. Usually the designers take the dominant colours of each unit and try to find the best combination of them. There’s only a limited number of colour combinations out there though, plus over time the tone of the colours can change – if units have used cheaper tie companies, often the colour over the years comes to look nothing like the original design. That’s one advantage of a history in the industry – at Holliday & Brown they had swatches going back to the 1920s and earlier. So they could check the original swatch.

– The old hand-worked, shuttle looms could weave greater detail than today’s mechanised ones, though obviously nowhere near the speed. “In that old book we had a swatch of the Bugatti Racing Club, which from memory was a royal-blue ground, with a very thin – like one pixel – stripe of black, four pixels of gold, four of red, back to gold, then the black again. You couldn’t achieve that detail today, those looms don’t exist,” says David.

– Back then England made the bulk of the world’s ties, which explains why Holliday & Brown was making for Bugatti. English salesmen spent their lives travelling the globe – Buster Brown of Holliday & Brown used to spend nine months on the road (six of those in the US), all by train and steamship of course.

– When making bespoke ties, a man’s neck size is as important as his height. A short man with a very thick neck may be more in need of a bespoke tie than one of above-average height. And when tall men do have bespoke made, they need to have a wider blade – usually four inches. Otherwise it will just look too skinny.

Behind Closed Doors

I’ve always thought you can tell a lot about someone’s attitude to dress by what goes on behind closed doors. We can all put on a good display in public, but when no one’s looking that’s when we learn the truth.

As the poet John Keats said; “Whenever I find myself vaporish, I rouse myself, wash and put on a clean shirt, brush my hair and clothes, tie my shoestrings neatly, and in fact Adonisize as if I were going out – then all clean and comfortable I sit back down to write”.

No matter what I’m doing and where I am I always strive to make my best appearance; and like Keats feel better for doing so. For example, I’ve always thought the idea of sleeping naked abhorrent; even boxers and T leave me unenthused. Going to bed in a set of Derek Rose, whatever others may think, I’m content in the knowledge that should I expire in the course of the night I won’t be meeting my maker tackle out.

My other bugbear is having to pad around indoors in socks – and I can’t abide receiving guests as such. This is almost certainly a throwback to my childhood – ours was one of those dreaded shoes off households.

I consider it one of the great joys of running my own house that I can keep my footwear on indoors. Of course this isn’t always the most practical thing, or the most comfortable. For this reason, much to the amusement of all my friends, for the last ten years I’ve sported velvet slippers. Revived recently by Ralph Lauren, I personally won’t dream of wearing them outside of the house in some OTT preppy statement – saying that I have taken to wearing during flights. But for me they’re principally a home comfort.

Often referred to as the Albert (after Queen Victoria’s consort) they are not so much a slipper as house shoe, and are considered acceptable footwear for Black Tie.  Indeed for the English they are the predecessor to the loafer, or rather its acceptability.

Enjoying something of a revival, even the likes of Prada have added them to their collection. Personally, I would stick to Tricker’s (who make their own, with leather lining); Shipton & Heneage (for variety and quilted lining), Heraldic Needlepoint (Regimental Stripes) or Broadlands Slippers (exceptional pricing).


And should you feel that such things might appear effeminate, behind closed doors whose business is it but yours.