Put Your Stunner Shades On

stunner-shades

Sunglasses have got to be one of the quintessential masculine accessories. This may sound like a bold statement, but it’s one that I think is justified. Also, unlike many other articles, even “fashionable” sunglasses tend to be more classic. While women’s sunglasses walk more on the wild side, men’s frames even at their trendiest are usually classically inspired.

For my money, there are really only a handful of shapes and sizes a man needs to consider when picking out a pair of bins. Shapes that have stood the test of time, but still look relevant and have a slightly modern edge are usually my pick, and I’ll admit I do have a bias towards rounded frames. For the most part I find that rectangular frames often get too close to the sport-shades category, although there are some really amazing pairs out there.

For everyday, get-up-and-go glasses I can’t imagine a better shape than a variation on the basic aviator. Whether you prefer a classic metal frame, a larger plastic frame, or as I do, a combination of the two, you simply can’t go wrong. Because of the rounded tops and tapered bottoms, as long as you buy them the right size, they flatter most face shapes. Maybe if you have an especially heart-shaped face you should steer clear, but even then I would think you could find some that work. The biggest mistake most people make though is getting the scale all wrong – you should neither look like you are wearing doll glasses, nor have the bottoms touching your upper lip. The Tom Ford model above is my personal favorite, since the combination of metal and plastic keeps them light, modern looking, and a dash more sporty than the rest of what I typically wear.

Now if you’re not into the aviator thing, my next favorite everyday glasses are either the Ray-Ban Clubmaster or Wayfarer. Co-opted by hipsters, I’m seeing both of them everywhere these days. Although this is making them a bit ubiquitous, it’s really hard to go wrong with something this time-tested. I particularly like the way the Clubmaster’s top-heavy frames make a bold statement, but with a more jazz-age than rock n’ roll sensibility when compared to the Wayfarer.

If you are looking for something more rectangular (and haven’t stopped reading yet), Persol makes some really great examples – my first proper sunglasses were a rectangular pair of Persols that I still wear from time to time. But for me, the coolest thing Persol does, and has been doing for a very long time, is their 714 foldable sunglasses. Made famous by Steve McQueen (as many things were) wearing a special blue-lensed pair, the 714 has rounded lenses and foldable arms and bridge. You can get out of your car after a long drive in the country-side or down the coast (when I think they look best), and fold them up right into your shirt pocket.

Since it’s summer, I can’t not mention my favorite summer shades. If you’re lucky enough to be heading for the beach, nothing to my eye is cooler than a perfectly round frame that looks one part 60s French movie star, one part Bond villain. Put on a pair of Ralph Lauren’s aptly named “Round Sunglasses,” get yourself some henchman, soak up the sun, and conquer the world. Not bad plans for a weekend holiday if you ask me.

The Right Short Sleeved Shirt

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My recent article on the Sartorial Love/Hate of rolled up jacket sleeves caused some decent debate about the practice. It also inspired some thought on rolled up shirt sleeves to which I pinned my colours of allegiance, at the expense of short sleeved shirts. A friend of mine noted this and asked, rather touchingly, what I had against the poor old short sleeve. I assured him it is neither the sleeve, nor even the shirt that I object to but the way it is conceived and the style in which it is worn.

For example, I have no equivalent objection to t-shirts or polo shirts; in the right context they are not only acceptable but also attractive. The display of bicep, elbow and forearm does not repulse me. In a sporting or casual context, the casual shirt does not cause offence. It is when the short sleeve appears in the office that it does cause offence; a weak, thin cotton thing with a pocket stuffed with pens, large airy arms and a stiff but rather characterless collar. Usually worn with unpressed Farah trousers by a portly IT technician who couldn’t care less about the brown sauce stains on his crotch or the dandruff in his hair: however positively you might think of the short sleeve shirt, it has these connotations.

The trouble with this design is that it hasn’t been thought through. It is simply a long sleeved shirt with chopped sleeves. As such, even a slim fitting version creates a bizarre effect; the torso is tight and yet the sleeves flap around like Texan flags. As such, the ‘business’ short sleeved shirt is not to be encouraged. But what of other contexts for the style? What of casual wear, summer parties, dinners on the terrace, cocktails in the Caribbean?

My research turned to that odd chrome-edged style decade, the 1950s. Marooned between the starched collars and wool of the 30s and 40s and the psychedelic colours and nylon of the 60s and 70s, the middle decade has sometimes been thought of as little more than a stop gap between the old order and the new. Personally, I have always thought of the 1950s as one of the most glamourous of decades, despite the Korean conflict and the continued economic hangover from the Second World War.

It had Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Marcello Mastroianni, Ella Fitzgerald and Jackson Pollock. It was Hitchcock movies, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe and the renaissance of Sinatra’s career. It had more tasteful and lasting lustre than the last two decades of the century combined and it was an era in which America’s loudly trumpeted values, art and culture found applaud and approval overseas.

It was also the decade of the American bowling alley, a rather less glamourous but equally important factor in the make-up of the era. And along with the boom of bowling came the unavoidable popularity of the bowling shirt; a brightly coloured short-sleeved shirt that offered sufficient room for the manoeuvres of the sport. The proportions of the shirt were not only practical, but attractive; retailers cottoned on to the trend and soon the bowling-inspired shirt was everywhere. The collar was flat, to the body of the shirt, unlike modern short sleeved shirts which attempt to replicate the structure of a shirt designed to be worn with neckwear. It was intentionally, rather than accidentally, casual.

The only issue with this shirt is that it tends not to suit the trouser styles of today. Partnered with some pleated golfing shorts or smart slacks (worn on the waist rather than the hips) it is both relaxed and chic; with sloppy denim and cargo shorts, it looks completely wrong. This is perhaps why modern variations on the bowling shirt, the craze of the 1950s, tend to be worn by those of older years. At all costs, avoid the putrid Rockabilly versions.

Vintage Goodwood

vintage-goodwood

There are three things that separate man from the beasts in my view: the gift of speech, opposable thumbs and dressing for dinner.

Sadly there are fewer and fewer opportunities for men to dress up and which require of them any effort. I realise I’m preaching to the converted here, but just why so many men have willingly un-evolved to the point where even T-shirt and jeans are common place attire for dining out, a night at the theatre or lounging in a cocktail bar is beyond me.

Of course those of us who do care about our appearances and make an effort can often find ourselves out on a limb.

So an event for which dressing up and making an effort are a quintessential part of the experience was always going to interest me. Vintage Goodwood is a collaboration between Lord March, of Goodwood Revival and Festival of Speed fame, and Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway, which will bring together an extraordinary mix of fashion, music, film and design from the 1940s to 1980s. A three day event set on the Goodwood estate located in the beautiful Sussex countryside,  it aims to be a show case for 5 decades of British cultural creativity, with an emphasis on living the periods not merely experiencing them. To that end there will be bars, clubs, restaurants and even a vintage high street upon which you can enjoy experiences such coffee in a 50s coffee shop or having your hair done in a 60s salon. Iconic British band the Faces will be re-forming to make a live appearance.

I discovered all this during a chance meeting with Nicholas Butterworth who is part of the team staging and publicising the event. This may all sound rather eccentric, and it is – which is itself a quintessential feature of the British cultural identity.

Having been to the Goodwood Revival, which for those who don’t know is the largest historic motor racing meeting in the World, part of the magic is the effort people make to dress according to the period, from drivers to spectators and staff.

Now, to some this may seem rather silly, but events such as the Goodwood Revival and Vintage Goodwood are a rare opportunity to celebrate manliness in an age when glamour wasn’t merely a hassle.

The Velvet Bow Tie

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The duty of wearing black tie is avoiding individualism; refinement is permitted, adornment ill-advised. Most men are not interested in adornment, so the act of wearing what every other man is wearing is actually rather comforting to the majority. As fussy and funny as the ‘t-shirt and shorts’ man might think black tie, when he sees everyone else is so attired, he relaxes into the evening, safe in the knowledge that the oddity he frowned upon in the mirror is not alone.

Other men, the ones who relish black tie, often find it rather frustrating that they have such little room for experimentation. Custom warns against ‘peacocking’ and so they find themselves, however more elegantly cut, in the same attire as every other Tom, Dick and Harry; wool dinner suit, white cotton shirt, black silk bow. A rogue pocket square is a temptation, but so often regretted and though buttonholes are an addition frequently neglected by the majority, many well-dressed men are still reluctant to employ them. One friend ‘dissed’ my red carnation and informed me that a modern James Bond “would never wear a flower.”

The choices for subtle individuality are slim. A stiff shirt with a detachable stiff collar is certainly an option but it’s bothersome and takes practice and patience. A creamy white jacket isn’t as smart or as practical as black or midnight blue, and many consider it ‘out of context’ if deployed away from Glyndebourne or the Riviera. Waistcoats are useful, but a no-go in the warmer months and they are increasing in popularity, threatening their status as a choice for the ‘individualist.’ I think both patent Oxfords and pumps are wonderful; still surprisingly rare and very elegant. However, many graceful and frustrated gentleman already own a pair or two and are seeking something different, something more unusual which will mark them as a man of thought and subtlety.

Bring forth the velvet bow tie. Shocking? No. Brave? No. Unusual? Certainly; however ordinary the idea of a velvet bow tie seems, you would be hard pushed to find another at the same event. It has a mildly foppish quality, something between Austin Powers and David Niven, and it offers an alternative texture and structure to silk, contrasting perfectly with one’s lapels. It’s also ever so slightly naughty; the velvet bow tie man is certainly not a ‘stiff in a suit.’ There is a faint and attractive hint of scandal about him; he has seen things, done things – but of those things, no one dares speak. He might be tempted to pair his bow with a ‘waterfall’ pocket-square but this would hamper his underlying masculinity; a simple puff of creamy silk will suffice.

The hell of it is, the self-tie velvet bow, the answer to the ‘subtle individualist’s’ black tie prayers is, rather fittingly, a devil to find.

Ettinger Of London

The prestigious car maker Bentley isn’t known for loaning its name willy-nilly, neither does the Prince of Wales his Royal Warrant. So a company that is afforded both must be pretty special.

Despite these accomplishments, and the fact that they are one of the last hand crafted leather goods makers left in England, you still may not have heard of Ettinger. And that, curiously, is also what makes them so special.

ettinger-grain

Started over 70 years ago by Gerry Ettinger, who was by trade a film producer, the company traditionally manufactured their luxury leather goods for other brands. But in the last few years under the direction of Robert Ettinger, Gerry’s son, they’ve emerged from the shadows as a luxury brand in their own right. Under the marque ‘Ettinger of London’, the company are providing a complete range of goods from wallets, bags and hip flasks, to some special collaborations with the likes of Bentley and whisky maker Balvenie.  And all are available, world wide, on their new retail website.

ettinger-flask

Ettinger is a wonderfully British company, from the unassuming Putney terrace house in which the company has its offices and showroom, to the continued dedication to hand crafting and the elegantly simple but inspiringly original products. Look at the manly and achingly beautiful Purple range of wallets (which first attracted me to Ettinger) or their sophisticatedly clean cut TT collection and you see there is something quietly confident about Ettinger; and you don’t get more British than that.

ettinger-purple-collection

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Robert Ettinger to discuss his company and its future plans:

ettinger-robert

Q: I understand everything is made here in the UK. Is that right?

Robert Ettinger: Yes that’s right. Our factory is in Walsall, North Birmingham, a traditional factory which makes products largely still by hand and exported all over the world. But we also have outworkers as well, which is the traditional way of the factories working in the Midlands; where craftspeople work from home. You do the machine side of it, the cutting, but then all the turning and the gluing and handwork, which can only be done by hand, is delivered to the outworkers.

Q: And how difficult have you found it to maintain that ‘Made in England’ label? Some companies complain that even if they wanted to manufacture in the UK they’re unable to find the skilled workers.

RE: There is a rigorous training system, but I also think the other reason we can continue to manufacture in the UK is that we are at the upper end of the market. The quality and the price allows us to make in England, and we’ve found in the last two years, almost since the recession, that people are wanting things made in England. There is a feeling of ‘lets buy British’, something that’s made here, with some heritage, and that allowed us to carry on; and we are even taking more people on, training them up to our standards, which are high.

Q: Really. What sort of time period are you talking about to become fully qualified or proficient to make one of your wallets?

RE: To [be able] make one of our products at the right speed takes about four to five years. It is highly skilled, and watching them it is amazing how fast they work.

Q: How tempting is it to outsource to places like Eastern Europe?

ER: I’m not sure Eastern Europe or the Far East could do our sort of leather work. So it’s not an issue. It is in the blood actually. Pick up an Italian wallet and it is slimmer but it has a definite Italian look, but something made in Britain is a little heavier, not in weight but in terms of look. In some ways it’s like comparing an Italian suit to a British suit, or English shoe to an Italian one. There is something there. If we asked our people to make an Italian look wallet I don’t think they could do it because it’s not in the heart.

Q: So how did the Bentley collaboration come about? Did they approach you?

ER:  Yes they did approach us, and now it’s a collection which is dual branded ‘Ettinger of London for Bentley’ and sold in Bentley dealerships all over the World and through Bentley Online. It’s a great collaboration actually they are a very traditional British Brand. Now we are starting to make products in the leather colours of their upholstery so that the products will match the car interiors.

Q: Are there any other collaborations in the pipeline?

ER: We have a couple of others. For example, we are doing a special flask for Balvenie Whisky. We work with Boodles the Jewellers, and have started to put diamonds onto leather goods, which we don’t think has been done before. It’s very cleverly done. The Diamonds are put onto a base and then the holes are cut by laser, which is the only way to do it accurately enough, so you don’t have gaps between the leather and the diamonds.

ER: We are quite good at thinking up ideas. One of the things we recently produced was our pinstripe collection – to go with the British pinstripe suit. We’ve printed the pattern onto the leather using old fashioned silk screening, but it works so well on leather and it doesn’t come off.

We are getting known as a leather company that’s innovative for our colour, design and creativity.

Most definitely a very special brand and a company to watch…