Archives for April 2011

In Memoriam: Bijan Pakzad


A friend of mine attempted poignancy recently when we were discussing the passing of Bijan Pakzad. “Who?” he said, initially. After my brief explanation of the Iranian designer’s illustrious past, he scoffed in an amused fashion and declared with remarkable confidence; “With his passing, you will see the passing of his entire approach to selling fashion.”

It is true that Bijan’s approach to style was nakedly materialistic and as “the costliest menswear in the world”, it certainly had no objective other than to portray it’s wearer as a very wealthy person. My friend’s perspective was that the nouveau riche are beginning to acquire a sense of restraint and that buying expensive clothes for the sake of it was no longer the zeitgeist.

However, though conspicuous dress is no longer the most popular symbol of wealth – certainly in comparison with the frilled and baubled centuries of the past – a great many wealthy people need, and will always need, the assurance of expense, particularly in a fashion world which is now more accessible to the masses.

Bijan was just one in a long line of exclusive clothiers, stretching back through the ages, who cleverly preyed upon the insecurities of the obscenely rich; for whom ‘being rich’ was never a problem, but for whom ‘looking rich’ never came naturally. In an age where the average office worker can easily be mistaken for a millionaire, looking as rich as you are is increasingly challenging; Bijan was able to cosset his customers in ‘the most expensive store in the world’, purr through the ludicrously high-priced inventory, flatter them, ply them with white-gloved attendants and vintage champagne and vigorously wave a personal goodbye as he counted the several hundred thousand dollars of revenue achieved from a single visit. When it came to Bijan, those who had it weren’t afraid to spend it.

Far from signalling the end of such extraordinary extravagance in menswear, Bijan’s passing has opened a world of potential custom to the next enterprising designer with half a dozen Hollywood names up their sleeve. For all the famous names he dressed, there were hundreds more who had only wealth to their name; word of mouth draws people in but it is the patronage of the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan and particularly designers like Giorgio Armani and Oscar de la Renta which comfort the high-spending, arriviste, anonymous billionaires when they drop several million dollars in an afternoon in Beverly Hills.

Most of the clothing is unremarkable and, though brightly coloured, is a hackneyed mix of Billionaire and Brioni, which is why I haven’t mentioned it until now – it simply isn’t the story. While my friend was right to point out the comical naivety of being attracted to a store that promises expense above all things, he misread the issue as a one-time-hoodwink; casting Bijan as a chancer who knew his market and exploited their extraordinary wealth and now that he is gone, the billionaires’ mist will clear. The idea that everyone who attains great wealth knows exactly what to do with their money is laughable; great wealth is a puzzle and the most intelligent of minds has little idea what to do with all of it, though charity is often bayed by the masses.

The lesson of Bijan’s success is clear; money may not buy style but it can certainly buy money – at least the appearance of having it.

A New Look To No 1 Savile Row


No 1. Savile Row is of course the home of illustrious tailors Gieves & Hawks. I happened to be invited to the recently refurbished shop and preview of the Autumn/Winter 2011 collection. While said collection has some lovely pieces, not least a number of beautiful windowpane check suits and jackets, I spent the majority of my evening in the charming company of the two distinguished gentlemen below.


On the left is Mr Peter Tilley the Gieves and Hawkes Archivist and on the right Mr Andrew Brett Director and head of the military tailoring division. As both a historian and clothing enthusiast, archivist to a tailoring house as distinguished as Gieves & Hawkes would be pretty close to my dream job. Mr Tilley was also Archivist to Dunhill before taking up his post at G&H.

One of the many improvements to the shop being show cased, along with the Autumn/Winter 2011 collection, was the opening up of the balcony above the shop floor which now houses a permanent exhibition of old ledgers and military uniforms. Previously stored away and viewable only by a select few anyone can now visit the collection, something I highly recommend. Unless you have a love of history it would be difficult to explain the joy I get from simply seeing the ledger headed Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington. But not everything is behind glass, as these pictures show.


Never having been a customer of Gieves & Hawkes bespoke service –a bit beyond my pay grade- I’m largely ignorant of the history of this most royally and militarily connected tailoring House. For instance, I hadn’t realised, until Peter Tilley explained it to me, that as late as 1974 Gieves Ltd and Hawkes & Co were separate businesses. While the two companies were discussing a merger an IRA bomb obliterated Gieves’ shop on Bond Street; the choice to base the new firm in Hawkes & Co No1. Savile Row store was thus an obvious one.


While today G&H is synonymous with military tailoring for all branches of the British Armed Forces, originally Gieves Ltd was the Royal Navy’s tailor and Hawkes & Co. supplied apparel to the Army, and in particular headgear. Indeed, it was the Pith Helmet that made Hawkes & Co a fortune; thanks to a visit one day from a customer who had with him a cork hat bonded by rubber. Hawkes new owner bought the patent improved the design and made a fortune in the process.

Of course there is a lot more to the company than these snippets from my conversation with Mr Tilley and Mr Brett, I’d highly recommend you take a trip to No.1 Savile Row and see for yourself.

The Last Pocket Squared King of England


The unfortunate treatment of the upcoming Royal wedding has not been dissimilar to the modern treatment of the festival of Christmas; a glut of early enthusiasm, premature irritation due to over-exposure and a likely feeling of exhaustion when the important moment arrives. The Royal couple have not even begun their individual journeys to the church and yet the ‘congregation at large’ – the television-watching masses – are bored by the very mention of what is now euphemistically termed ‘Friday’s big event.’  Starved of significant street-party royal nuptials for years, we have gorged before the feast and are paying the price.

Instead of providing more meaningless predictions about wedding flowers, the colour of bridesmaid dresses, gold-braided Gieves & Hawkes epaulettes or gifts from the Sultan of Brunei, I think it is a perfect opportunity to discuss the sartorial future of the person who is responsible for creating the hullabaloo; the man upon whom all eyes will be fixed for, make no mistake, though his bride-to-be is an alluring figure, she has been living in borrowed limelight. Had his father not been such an admired figure in dandyland and beyond, invoking deserved praise for his excellent and extraordinarily well-preserved wardrobe, it would be unlikely that Prince William would merit examination. However, he is the son of a man consistently rated as one of the world’s best dressed and as the future king, his personal presentation is of great interest, particularly to his sartorially-inclined countrymen.

There is no doubt that, for a period, Charles attempted to exert his own style influence on his two sons – dressing them in double-breasted suits, sending them to Turnbull & Asser, extolling the virtues of a tiny tie-knot – but there was always something rather uncomfortable in Prince William’s face when he dressed in his father’s image. His suits looked like a uniform; Charles wears them as a second skin. Though he possesses his mother’s coyness of look, he has never lacked confidence when out in public but early years of dressing the part, when he was probably dying to be dressed like the average teenager, were awkward and forced. With his maternal reassurances gone, it was left to his father to mould him. Now that he has a woman of his own, a renewed confidence has appeared in his public presentation – and a new style, too.

Gone are the Charlie touches of extreme cutaway collars, tiny knots, formal-dress tie pins, patterned pocket squares and, crucially, double-breasted suits. Whereas his father dresses with the hang-it-all swagger of a prince from another age, William is quietly self-conscious; the only sign of his using a pocket square has been on formal occasions. He wears sober navy two and three-button suits, wears predominantly white shirts and rarely wears anything other than a plain coloured tie. In fact, his attire is closer to that of our elected politicians, with their identikit approach to suiting, than that of his father or his other nattily attired relatives.

Many will suggest that his youth is the reason for his comparative sartorial blandness and that, in time, the genes that he has evidently inherited from his father will show in his approach to dress, but some suggest that William is being groomed by the Queen for the greatest responsibility of all, due to her rumoured impatience and frustration with his father’s generation and their careless and selfish treatment of royal privilege. Perhaps this public-friendly approach has been carefully orchestrated, much as it is in the ‘Westminster village’ and The White House, to project the prince as less of a loftily-living constitutional Beau Brummell and more of a people’s man. Have we already seen the last pocket-squared King of England?

Menswear Shopping In Tokyo

If there’s one thing that Tokyo does better than any other city in the world it is the shopping experience. New York, London and Paris are all great, but nowhere will you find the same amount of stores, nor the same variety, as you will in Japan’s largest city.


Of course, like any other big city the majority of fashion retail space is dedicated to women’s clothes, but menswear has a great showing. If you’re in Tokyo for a few days, be it for business or pleasure, and fancy doing a spot of shopping, here’s a brief selection of some of my favourite places. With the exception of 1) you’ll be able to find branches of each in various parts of the city.

1) Isetan Men’s, Shinjuku


Isetan Men’s is probably the largest menswear-only department store in Japan, if not the world. Nine floors’ worth of sartorial goodness await the intrepid shopper. The footwear section is absolutely vast (and usually incredibly busy on weekends), while the suit-and-shirt floors often play host to some of Savile Row’s finest tailors. On the whole, it’s not cheap, but if you’re short on time and want to get a wide range of items, this is the place to go. Rejig, the eighth-floor café, is also a good place to grab lunch. The portions are very generous by Japanese standards.

2) Beams


Beams is one of several high-end clothing chains for which there isn’t really an American or European equivalent. Depending on the store, it caters to casual denim lovers, professional business types or a mixture of both. Displays are immaculately maintained and the sales assistants really know their stuff.

For contemporary business wear Beams is definitely one of my favourite places to shop. Much of their stock is Italian by manufacture, though they have a very good selection of made in Japan, own-brand items. I’m a huge fan of their slim-fit dress shirts, which are just about the best fitting off-the-rack jobs that I’ve managed to get anywhere. They’re also especially good value for money come sale time.

3) United Arrows


Much like Beams, United Arrows is a high-end retailer with Italian leanings (its founder is a former Beams man, so this is no surprise). I’ve found that they’re particularly good at producing summer-weight jackets to beat the stifling Tokyo heat – they’re unlined, lightweight, breathable and very comfortable. With spring in the air they’ve taken to producing a very nice line of suede driving shoes and loafers that retail for half the price of Tod’s or Gucci’s. Will have to check them out further this coming weekend…

4) Lifegear Trading Post


If you’re looking for shoes Lifegear Trading Post is the place to go. They offer a fine selection of reasonably-priced footwear for the discerning gent. My only gripe is with sizing. My (British) size-nine feet may be fairly average by western standards, but in Lifegear – as with many other Japanese footwear stores – they tend to cater to more dainty hoofs.

There are also lots of smaller shops that I’d like to talk about, but a single article really doesn’t afford enough space for me to do them all justice. I’ll bring you more of the best that Tokyo has to offer in future instalments.

Reader Question: Southern-Style Hat

I see that you are a connoisseur of Southern-style clothing. I have a very important question that has been causing quite a stir lately and I would like your opinion on it.

I’m the President of a marching band in Covington, LA (about thirty miles away from New Orleans), and our band is very famous in our area, especially during Mardi Gras as we march in six parades, three of which are in New Orleans. What makes us so famous is our style of music (funk, of course, with a little bit of pop) and the fact that we dance just as much, and just as well, as we play. We are known for this, and as we march down streets like Canal St. and Napoleon Ave., people always ask us to dance, or “lay down the funk” as we like to call it. But we are just as equally known for our uniforms. While every other band wears the traditional “marching band uniform,” we wear something completely different.


We have always been known as the Southern Gentleman Band, as well as by our official name, the Marching Wolves. While our Drum Majors wear white tuxedos with blue and gold vests (our colors), the band members proudly wear a blue and gold suit with our famous Panama hat. It is part of time honored St. Paul’s School Band tradition that spans forty years. It’s what separates us from everyone else, and our members take a lot of pride in it.

Over the years we have undergone a few uniform changes. In the 1970’s and 80’s we sported plaid pants, and somewhere in there we also wore ascots. This year marks the 100th anniversary of our school, and we are getting brand new uniforms for the occasion. The uniform itself remains almost the same, but we are having issues with finding an affordable, aesthetically-right hat. Our current hats haven’t exactly won the test of time and have been really beaten up. The new proposed hat is a fedora, thus ousting the forty years of wearing Panama hats. Although just a hat, trading our southern-style hat for a new, cheaper, and possibly more durable fedora has raised quote a lot of controversy with our local school community, alumni, and current band members.


So to get the point, my question is this: does going from a Panama hat to a fedora diminish our southern-style uniform? What are your opinions?

A Panama hat is a traditional straw hat (actually of Ecuadorian origin) that is popular in tropical climates because it is light weight and breathable. The impression of the Panama hat as a “Southern” hat stems from its utility as an appropriate accessory to the summer-weight suits worn in the sweltering heat and humidity of the American South. I expect many style-aficionados might find fault with wearing a summer hat during Mardi Gras in February or early March; however, I would not throw away forty years of school tradition on that technicality alone.

I’m frankly not a big fan of the proposed white fedora. From reading the comments on the Facebook debate, it appears that many others are not fond of it either because it looks cheap, would not be as breathable during strenuous marches, and is a break from tradition. I gather from the other side of the debate that the Panama hats are too expensive and not durable.

One option that may not have been considered is the straw boater. I wrote about them last spring at my blog, A Southern Gentleman. A straw boater has a wide brim similar to the Panama. Straw boaters typically include solid or striped ribbons that could accomodate the school colors. And since a boater is made from layered stiff straw, it would likely be more durable than a Panama hat.

For something completely different, you might consider a porkpie hat. Again, I wrote about porkpie hats last spring. I mention the porkpie hat because of its association with jazz and blues musicians. If you decide to depart from the Panama hat, the porkpie might fit your “funk” style better than a fedora.

This is certainly a curious and unique question. I will look forward to our readers’ opinions and comments on the matter.