Archives for September 2010

Mr Gucci Goes To Washington


Capitol Hill is not the first place you’d associate with a scion of a Florentine luxury goods empire. And yet this is where Giorgio Gucci, heir to the Gucci fortune, was to be found attending a forum discussion on the issue of intellectual property rights in the fashion industry with US government bigwigs. Unfortunately for Signor Gucci, his luggage had gone missing; whilst US Airways scrambled around in an attempt to locate it he was forced to attend the event in, rumour has it, a $450 suit from JoS. A. Bank, a menswear retailer of precisely the same vintage as Gucci (both were established in 1905).

However the indignity may have affected Signor Gucci, it didn’t show. He delivered impassioned pleas about the evil of counterfeit goods, dropping in classic lines about child-slavery and terrorism – themes which carry extraordinary weight on this side of the Atlantic – and he even managed to persuade attendees that the mark of true love is a man who digs deep to buy “the real thing.” The implication being that a man who buys a knock-off not only irreparably harms the youth of the developing world and assists in the destruction of the free world but also reveals that his affection for his lady love is a fraudulent sham.

It was a virtuoso performance from a seasoned marketing shaman. The problem with these Frankensteinian fashion houses is that they expect sympathy when they lose control over their ‘creations.’ The issue is that people who purchase fakes are often people who don’t, mostly by their own admission, actually know an awful lot about design and respond, with impressive honesty, that they buy something for the appearance of wealth and exclusivity; as long as the handbag doesn’t collapse, they’d rather pay a fraction of what the ludicrously overpriced designer version costs.

Fashion is too transient for the ordinary woman or man to buy the ‘it’ bag of the season year in year out; if products were more honestly priced there would be less incentive to buy the fake. Consequently, product desirability would fall as the moderately priced good would be less prized. This would diminish the incentive for counterfeiters. The problem with Gucci, Vuitton and the rest is that they’re not, as they claim, trying to shelter the creativity of their designers but simply enforce their own intellectual property rights; their disingenuousness in this regard does them no favours.

The incident of Giorgio Gucci’s Jos. A. Bank adventure perfectly illustrates the vast gulf in what is and what is perceived to be in the fashion world; Jos. A. Bank might not be the most glamorous, high-end retailer but there didn’t appear to be much wrong with the suit. An expert might have noted certain imperfections but legions of luvvies, had they not been informed of the incident, might well have assumed that the garment he wore was Italian and certainly more than the price he paid for it. Instead, they gushed sympathy for Gucci’s lot in having to ‘descend’ to such a retailer. If he wasn’t in town to represent an industry of such mind-boggling double-standards he might have brushed off the pats of sympathy and revealed his relative satisfaction with the product. But the heir to Gucci, international champion of logos and protector of the luxury goods colossi, was silent.

Suit Shoulders: The Rope Shoulder And Pagoda

The shoulders make a suit in my view. It is from them that all other things hang. They set the parameters for the drape and the silhouette, and nothing gives away a cheap suit more than a poor fitting shoulder.

But I’ve always trouble with the shoulders, even good off the peg suits had provided mixed results.

Being slightly pair shaped I’ve often found regular padded suit shoulders a little too broad. Adding to this a 42 inch chest and slim long neck (15.5 inch) my head can look swamped, at the very least ill proportioned. Soft shoulder jackets, while fitting my shoulders better and evening out the ratios between my shoulders, head and neck, merely emphasis my pair shape.

I intend to have my suits made this year which opens up the possibility finding a style of shoulder better suited to my physical peculiarities. My salvation may lie in one or both of the following forms: the Pagoda and the Rope Shoulder.

Neither style is seen that often, which is in part a matter of taste and the difficulty of making them, thereby unsuited to off the peg manufacture. Even amongst tailors you’ll find varying degrees of confidence about tackling either form.

While both types have very different methods of construction, the aesthetic is similar, namely, a raised sleeve-head.



If you can get this one wrong it can look lampoonish, which why it’s important to seek out a competent tailor. Here the shoulder line is concave and is supposed to follow the natural curve between the collar bone and shoulder point, curving downward from the collar and then rising towards the outer edge of the shoulder. It’s achieved by clever manipulation of the canvas and padding in the shoulder.  There is more to it than that and if you enjoy detail then I can highly recommend the series of articles on Made by Hand (Read from the bottom of the page up).

Rope Shoulder:


The Rope Shoulder, or Con Rollino as the Neapolitans call it, may actually have originated in France and not Naples as is often sighted. It’s referred to as the Rope Shoulder because the sleeve-head stands above the shoulder line as though draped over rope. With little, if any, padding in the shoulder, the rise is created by the upper sleeve being cut larger than the armscye (armhole). The excess cloth, plus the stitching and pressing of the seams between sleeve and shoulder create the ‘puff’. For a fuller explanation I recommend this article by Michael Anton.

In both cases I’m taking advantage of the benefits of less padding and a more natural shoulder, while using the rise to create the illusion of width, thereby balancing out the rest of my shape and the proportions of my neck, chest and shoulders.

Needful Things Part II

Continuing from where I left off last time, here are a few more of my planed purchases and looks for the two seasons ahead.

Jean Jacket and Colourful Plaid


I make no apology; I’m ripping off the look of the chap above. This caught my eye a while back when I wrote about my desire for a jean jacket. I’ve made my choice with regards the jacket, and now I’m looking to play with the look. I’ll be trying the jacket out with black shirts and British Khaki chinos, but I want to go further. Again this is all about contrast. This time it is between the bright peacock plaid and the functional workman like denim. Likewise, in the midst of a cold grey London winter a clever touch of colour and pattern can add contrasting warmth.

This is a speculative experiment so I’m not going to go balls out on this one. That being the case, A. Hume stock a range of reasonably priced brighter Viyella plaids and checks, as does Orvis –some more wearable than others.

Navy Polka Dot Silk Scarf and Grey Cashmere from Johnstons of Elgin


The most versatile scarf of all is a silk navy polka dot. It sits with just about anything, from a Crombie to a Harrington, and yet by some mishap I’ve never owned one. However, being silk it’s not going to keep you warm when winter really bites –even if it is wool backed. As such I don’t see the virtue in investing too heavily in this. So a reasonably priced example, like that at Wood’s of Shropshire, would fit the bill.  But it’s wise to have something for the coldest days of winter. I think the natural counterpoint to the silk polka dot scarf is grey cashmere. And as this scarf has a serious job to do, and ought to be a life time companion, I’m prepared to invest serious money for high quality. This version by Johnstons of Elgin peaks my interest. Not only is the quality assured but the pattern adds a touch of texture and interest. It looks even better in real life.

Argyle Socks


I frequently wear black and brown suede shoes. With this more casual shoe the Argyle sock is the natural bedfellow. Such things are easy to come by, but I have something special and a bit different in mind, naturally. Marcoliani have been making fine quality luxury socks for 60 years in a family run factory located in the Milan region of Italy. They are widely recognised as being amongst the finest sock makers in the world. Aside from this fact, the pattern on their Argyle socks extends from top to toe, unlike most where the pattern ends at the ankle. Normally this wouldn’t make a difference. But I like to wear loafers and would like the pattern to be seen beyond those moments when I’m seated. I’ve seen it done to great effect, but until now I haven’t been able to lay my hands on the requisite sock. Hitherto near impossible to find in the UK, I’ve now found a source for Marcoliani socks in the form of bespoke shirt maker Sartorial Executive.

The Old Favourite: The Barbour


I never really knew why but buying a Barbour jacket was not so much a choice as inevitability as far as I was concerned; it was always a case of when, never if. The Barbour I own, a green Beaufort, doesn’t even get much use. I don’t wear it much in town and the few occasions on which I venture into the country, only a handful require its deployment. Having grown up surrounded by woods and fields, I saw a great many Barbours on the country folk that inhabited the area. I remember how battered and full of holes they were, glistening from years of waxing and consistent use. They seemed indestructible and indispensible and I was determined that I should have my own.

The best thing about owning a Barbour is that they look and feel better as time goes on. The new Barbour is always a little stiff; fresh but harsh and lacking in character. It also carries with it the badge of the arriviste. Country folk in my neck of the woods, forever conscious of their own insecurity, would look askance at a family of pristine Barbours. To them, there was no greater suggestion of the nouveau riche than the fresh smell of Barbour; “I bet they’ve got an awful Range Rover too” they’d be heard to giggle. As meaningless and pathetic a swipe as it was, it did illustrate that the Barbour is one of these garments that has what I refer to as politely as “owners” – people who believe the garment belongs to them and their ilk exclusively.

The great thing about a Barbour is how useful it is; pockets galore and utterly waterproof, provided the jacket is sufficiently waxed. It’s warm too and even warmer if you button-attach one of the cosy linings and unlike a woven jacket, won’t snag on a barbed fence. As my Barbour ages, the colour is changing; a once bright green is now fading in areas through wear which creates a mottled, antiqued look that is merely a fact of age but which, apparently, is greatly in demand for much the same reason that vintage leather jackets are so desirable; the facade of ‘lifelong ownership.’

It is the loyalty of patrons like Prince Charles to their ancient Barbours which has created the snobbery about ‘newness’ to which I have previously alluded. ‘Old money’ elitists need little reason to scoff at the acquisitions of the bourgeoisie but instead of presenting successfully the economical, practical, aesthetic and even emotional reasons for donning the same wax jacket, decade in decade out, there is heard the altogether too self-satisfied cackling derision that a new Barbour is somehow an offence. Ignore this. Simply buy one, wear it proudly from the first and keep it forever; the class commentary is irrelevant.

Needful Things

Thank God; autumn has arrived.

The autumn and winter seasons are, in terms of clothing, my favourite. I have no end of trouble dressing well for summer, and every year I never cease to be disappointed by what retailers have to offer. The next two seasons open up heavy fabrics and chunky knits, opportunities for layering and experimentation.

Having enjoyed a few previews of what’s on its way there are some fine pieces hitting the shops. Ede & Ravenscroft have excelled themselves with a couple of beautiful coats and some classic suits, available with double breasted waistcoats. However, I’ll be getting my major suit purchases made this year, as I’ve mentioned before.

On the less formal side, London’s Garbstore has some nice pieces as does US brand Gant; being less pretentious and more reasonably priced than Ralph Lauren, they are one of the few fashion brands I flirt with. Their collaboration with Michael Bastian throws up some interesting bits.

So I thought I’d share a few of the bits on my list of ‘Needful Things’ for the seasons ahead. This list is by no means exhaustive and sadly not everything will make it into the wardrobe, well no one has that much money. But the discipline of creating a list and sticking to it is an invaluable aid to forming a coherent wardrobe.

Smedley White Cable Knit


I spotted this beautiful cashmere wool mix jumper back in June on my visit to the John Smedley factory. A piece like this doesn’t date, and the fact that it’s white allows you to treat it like a blank canvass upon which you can create a myriad of looks. Looking as good under denim as it would a Covert Coat, and sitting as well with cord and moleskin as flannel and tweed, the possibilities are endless. Make it as showy or as conservative as you like; blue, brown, burnt orange, terracotta, pale grey or camel, all would work with this versatile piece. That to me is its appeal, and the obvious quality makes it a keeper. I’ve been after a white cable knit for several years and had all but given up hope.

Black Shirts with British Khaki Chinos


I don’t have much need for black, except in the guise of a dinner jacket or shoes. But I see this as my winter alternative to a blue linen jacket and white/cream chinos – my perfect summer garb. It works in the same way, creating a contrast that isn’t too jarring between the relative severity of the black shirt vs. the relaxed and earthy Khaki. It is in fact right out of the Steve McQueen playbook. A favourite trick of his was always to pair a dark top half to lighter leg wear with dark shoes. In my case dark shoes are black suede.

Having no black shirts in my inventory, one like that stocked by useful online source A. Hume isn’t too heavy an investment. In terms of what goes on top of the shirt there is a little more versatility than you might think. I have in mind a denim jacket, but grey ground tweeds, herringbone or flannel would work well I think.

More to follow in my next posting.