Archives for March 2012

M&S Savile Row Inspired


Richard James has been busy. Hot on the heels of his ‘Mayfair’ ready-to-wear collection for John Lewis comes another collaboration with a UK high-street giant. This time, Marks & Spencer (now re-branded, somewhat bizarrely, ‘Your M&S’) have invited the Row’s modernist tailor to sprinkle a little Savile magic on their notoriously dowdy menswear department.

The ‘Savile Row Inspired’ collection, to be launched on 29th March in the UK, France and Ireland, is all about “bringing the best of British style to the high street at M&S prices.” ‘The best’ in this instance is Richard James, who is probably most known for beginning the New Bespoke Movement on Savile Row, culminating with a feature in ‘that’ issue of Vanity Fair in 1997; the apogee of ‘Cool Britannia’, which is now a cultural irrelevance.

More relevant is James’ membership of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, a ‘club within a club’, that requires member tailors to put a minimum of 50 hours of hand labour into each two-piece bespoke suit. However, although it is fair to assume that James’ will not be requiring the same standards for his M&S branded wares, the ‘Savile Row Inspired’ collection is very much Richard James’ house aesthetic; two button jackets, slanted pockets, pin-dots and pick-and-pick.

As such, the ‘Savile Row Inspired’ moniker is somewhat misleading. These are modern classics, not ‘old’ Savile Row; there are no window checks, flannel, loud stripes or unusual colours. This is very much ‘my first suit’ territory; cautious, unadventurous and ever so slightly predictable. If it were any other tailor, you’d question what input they’d actually had; with James, the restraint is standard. This is his signature, not that of the Row.

Which, to be quite frank, is fair enough. After all, James has a reputation to maintain and M&S have customers to think about, as Richard Price, Director of menswear explains; “Fusing [James’] modern style, and unique attention to detail, with the M&S customer in mind, resulted in a brand new collection that exudes what the modern Savile Row look is all about.” Is it? Plain tangerine ties and bland two-button suits?

If they were being simplistic in their honesty, M&S would say these are their own suits with a Savile Row name on the label. There are some attractive details. The slanted pockets are a nice touch and the buttons are decent. However, though as customer-driven organisations, a tailor and a high-street chain have some similarities, the truth is that M&S needed a bland touch for their collection in order for it to be commercially viable; the sort of thing for which many other tailors do not have the ‘credibility.’ It is somewhat curious that James, founding member of the Bespoke Association and an apparent protector of the great Savile Row name, has commercialised that name in so blatant a manner.

Accessorising the collection are shirts and ties – the former don’t get much more adventurous than a Bengal stripe, the latter are pretty plain and uninspiring; they will both be a big hit with M&S shoppers.

M&S have set themselves a worthy but lofty goal: “to improve the style credentials of M&S clothing and to give its brands more distinctive values which resonate at an international level.” This collection, it claims, “…takes the exceptional quality and style of uniquely British tailoring to a global customer.” Unfortunately, the real ‘quality’ of tailoring is impossible to replicate in ready-to-wear; the style is the only export possible. Richard James, on the Row for just twenty years, claims he has defined it.

A Reader’s Question: Colour Matching

“I’m the kind of guy who always wears navy jackets with pretty much everything. Now I have gotten a chocolate brown Zegna jacket and a mid grey DB from YSL. Could please advice me which colour and type of trousers to wear with those? I personally find it very hard.
Thanks a lot in advance!”

I recently received the above question from a reader of my blog. Choosing separates can be a tricky business. It’s no wonder that most men stick resolutely to suits, the most reliable of ensembles and it’s no surprise that when we choose to introduce a little more variety into our life, we cling to the tested and tried; navy blue blazers.

I am an evangelical promoter of variety and colour in clothing and so I applaud any attempt to explore beyond the mundane or the traditional, although I understand the caution of those who avoid mixing and matching due to the difficulties highlighted by our commentator. I rather enjoy the process, as colour and texture matching is one of the most creative aspects of dressing and the results, though variable, can be very appealing indeed.


Chocolate brown is a beautiful colour to work into an ensemble and there are a number of options for the trousers in terms of colour and texture; it all depends on the type of material of the jacket. If it is an ‘orphan’ – part of a suit – the trouser texture and colour should contrast completely. A cotton drill is an excellent option, provided the jacket is not made of too thin a material. Colours that would work in this regard range from a subtle mid-blue to a strong mustard. If the jacket is – or at least appears to be – very much a blazer, a mid to light grey wool flannel would be perfect. When brown and grey combine, they can produce one of the finest marriages of colour in the sartorial world. If the jacket is more of a summer jacket – perhaps a linen or cotton – a pair of cotton khakis would be perfect. Another option, for a more adventurous man looking to ape the Milanese look, a pair of white trousers would complement the chocolate brown very well.


The mid-grey double breasted jacket is a little more tricky, not least because double-breasted suit jackets often look ‘lost’ when parted from the trousers. Mid-grey is a more formal colour than chocolate brown and is less forgiven when used as a separate. One option is to affect the ‘stroller’ look and pair it with black and white houndstooth trousers. However,  a mid-grey double breasted blazer would also look very fine with a pair of creamy white cotton drill trousers in the summer months (or winter, should you dare) but other traditional colours like navy blue can make the look a little awkward. Mid-blue on the other hand is a much better foil for mid-grey. Unusual colours such as a rich brown – another grey/brown combination – would look good in cotton but linen trousers should be avoided as the structured formality of a double-breasted mid-grey jacket would clash.

Links: Cleaning Suede, Cigar Suit, Evening Clothes…


• How to clean suede shoes. (

• Cigar suit for summer. (

• Noel Cowards’ brown evening clothes.  (

• How low can you go: the $25 outfit (including undergarments.) (

• The $20 outfit (no comment on undergarments.) (

• March madras duels. (

• March favorite: Mackintosh jacket. (

• Minimalistic try-on shoes (

• Foster & Son: an ode to archaic bespoke shoes. (

• How to stop sweaters pilling (

Le Cercle Rouge, a Visual Reminder of the Essence of Men’s Style


French Director Jean Pierre Melville’s 1970 film Le Cercle Rouge, is among the most highly regarded, little seen stealth influences on some of the most well known directors of the last 30 years. The starkly costumed looks of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction read like homage to what must be considered the crown jewel of Melville’s multi-picture exploration of American style gangster flicks, with Le Cercle Rouge being likened by some to the idea of westerns shot with a Paris backdrop.

This is a movie you can settle down with a drink, scotch would be perfect, and study. After a while maybe you find yourself thinking heady thoughts. Maybe it’s time you think, to give the pendulum a push, maybe things have gotten just a little too precious when it comes to the opinions, lessons and injunctions you get about what you should be wearing. It’s all this moralistic relativity and lack of standards in general that’s eating away at you. All of sudden all the colors, combinations and volumes you’re seeing from Pitti or New York are suggesting surrealistic or circus clown inspired movements. “Outfits” not “clothing” anymore you’re thinking. Mixed in the dark or under the influence or both. Not inventions or expressions of true style growing from one’s personality and being  but pea cocking, surface but no content, no direction,  throwing things – anything – against the wall. Me Me Me. And the sunny, unstructured, yet codified modes of display, brown, Italian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You’re quick to add.

By contrast Le Cercle Rouge stands as an apotheosis to the stream of inspiration that resulted in the  bench-mark looks of classical clothing seen through the lenses of the 1960’s. It’s got a stellar cast, no pretty boys or prima donnas. No posers.  This is Alain Delon and Yves Montand and every person in the film personifying their character’s role to the tee. This isn’t a period piece; it’s a Document of its times where the height of the decade’s stylistic invention is showcased. This film’s a reference library for the viewer’s stylistic vocabulary. There‘s little here that couldn’t be incorporated by any man today. Cuff links, 3 piece suits, rich navy suits and top coats, white shirts, narrow ties, charcoal gray – and because it’s France, a naked woman and some dancing girls.


Some might view this film as an “antidote” to fashion waywardness and poseurs in general. In Le Cercle Rouge men are men. They wear suits, not costumes. Everyone looks impeccable, but the hue, cut, and forms never dictate what the men do nor how they do things even though what we see are uniforms both figuratively and literal. No one is constrained from acting in the way the fundamentals of character and circumstance evoke.  Men are running, rolling, shooting, fording streams, smoking, stealing, fighting, sleeping in and working-living in their clothes with utilitarian gusto. And this association with work should be stressed because unlike most of the stylistic mentors and films normally mentioned online, the figures depicted here are not those of the upper strata, the elites of the society normally associated in our investigations or imitation-worthy style but figures from the gray underbelly with its own codes and standards of behavior but with everyone adhering to an almost mannerist depiction of stylistic mores.

The film’s title is derived from a teaching by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who used a chalk-drawn circle in red to suggest that those men whom fate has decided should come together, will invariably do so regardless of the diverse paths and individual personalities. And so we see in this film a mélange of different personalities yet though there’s a “good and bad guys” theme, there’s a moralistic, ethical backbone and an anti-hero bias that permeates the story. They struggle and question life – the life they’ve been dealt. They do it with a sense of personal honor.  No matter which side of the line they occupy, they carry on with a dignity and sense of regard for both themselves and those whom fate has brought into their individual lives.


There are no black hats to clearly identify the villains. The principals are ultra chic in a somber way. No self-consciousness. No parody. None of our simplistic irony. Yet all involved understand the lines separating the different sides are constantly moving and yet their choice of attire clearly demonstrates they are all operating on a similar level. The lines might be shifting on constantly moving sands but the uniform-like exactness of their clothing indicates they’re ready and willing to deal with the fates that are dealt to them. Watch it and learn.

Dean Balsamo is in the magazine industry and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Spring Selections from the High Street

Everyone that knows me – or my methods – knows that the high street is my primary hunting ground. Though I love and appreciate tailoring and a number of high-end products, the fact of the matter is I am a lover of variety and novelty. Fully converting to bespoke clothing is a fantasy for someone in my position, unless I am to severely limit the range and choice of clothing that I so enjoy.

As a keen high street shopper, I am always on the lookout for items of interest when the season changes. Below are three items which caught my eye – individually and as ensemble pieces. When I saw them, I was transported from a cold, wet and dingy afternoon to a mid-summer sojourn; from drizzle stained-windows to the shade of an olive tree.


Blue cotton and linen blazer

Though I have been disappointed with the menswear in Zara of late, there are a few gems in their current collection. This is one of them. A rich blue cotton-linen summer blazer, with quirky bright white buttons and elbow patches. It is the perfect jacket for balmy spring and summer evenings. The lovely shade of blue flatters all skin types and can be used successfully with a vast array of colours; the touches of white give it a youthful, sporty aesthetic and the elbow patches add a casual decoration that encourage it to be used informally.

Orange cotton trousers

Orange is a challenging colour, even as a decorative puff such as a pocket square or necktie; orange trousers are a practically perpendicular test. Despite this, these cotton slim-fit trousers from H&M caught my eye. Bright trousers, as I have discussed previously, are an excellent alternative to bright jackets – which are harder to come by – and allow paler complexions such as mine to introduce strong colour into an ensemble without draining the face. A zesty alternative to the more traditional, clubbier red trousers, these would provide the perfect complement to the blue blazer.

Cotton-cashmere light blue cardigan

Though summer (theoretically) has no need of knitwear, spring can have its chills. Uniqlo have a good selection of cotton-cashmere cardigans, and this option fits perfectly with the ensemble. Normally, I would have need of a haberdasher as the buttons on high street clothing are often disappointing but these contrasting light brown ones are perfect.