Archives for September 2012

All Hail the Chelsea Boot

If nothing else, the end to summer was amusing. Traditionally, Britain can always be relied upon to produce the goods when it comes to disappointing weather. And so it was for the fashionistas who descended upon London for London’s September Fashion Week.

Instead of leaden skies, a premature chill and weeping clouds, the inhabitants of Planet Fashion were treated to a rare occurrence; a September heatwave. Most of them were unable to don their carefully selected autumn/winter ensembles due to the risible abundance of sunshine. The street photographers, searching far and wide for wool jackets and rust v-necks, were treated instead to bare legs and seersucker.

Alas, though all of London held out hope, these happy skies did not last. A chilly weekend reminded me that autumn is now in full swing. Back on with the heating, lamps before 18.00, warming whiskies and Nat King Cole and back on with the raincoats, jumpers and Chelsea boots.

As I excavated my cold-weather clothing, buried in the Narnian recesses of my wardrobe, I realised that I had forgotten to replace my now unwearable tan Chelsea boots. Having been subjected to four years of constant use, not to mention rain, snow and anything else Mother Nature cared to experiment with, they are battered beyond recognition. Having been soaked in the wet weather, and despite reasonable care, the leather has crusted and no amount of olive oil or cobbler’s witchcraft can soften the scars.

Searching for replacement boots was not straightforward. I had initially thought about buying brown lace ups instead and scoured the sales for suitable options due to my lack of variation in the boot wardrobe. I found nothing, except the realisation that my wandering from the reassuringly simple Chelsea boot was ill-advised. Everything else seems made for the country; this is the only boot by which a gentleman can make a dignified entrance in town.

Having eyed an attractive pair in New & Lingwood, on sale for £249, and considered the less expensive options in Jones The Bootmaker, whose stock of boots was surprisingly small, I settled on a pair from Loake – the uninspiringly named 290.

The thing with Chelseas is that they don’t look like anything but a boot. They aren’t shoes pretending to be boots or boots pretending to be shoes. They have an honesty and an elegant simplicity that has not been bettered. With a pair of olive cords, navy blazer, Fair Isle vest and pink shirt they provide the ensemble with a degree of equestrian classicism which portrays the balanced look of the gentleman sportsman. With a suit, they convey something different; an irreverent fun-seeker with a touch of rebellion. To be without them is unthinkable.

Volley Sneakers

Volley is an Australian sneaker company born “down under” in 1936 and specializes in canvas and leather sneakers for athletes and those who want to add classic casual footwear to their collection.  Volley’s heritage lies in the pursuit of athletics with tennis players both men and women alike wearing their sneakers faithfully during the Wimbledon championships of the 60’s and 70’s.

For decades the low profile leather, canvas, and rubber shoes have only been available in Australia.  Not until recently have they been stocked in the US in LA and NYC at select Steven Alan and Urban Outfitter stores.  I have yet to see or hear anyone in my sartorial circles speak of these or wear them, so I thought it was the perfect time to introduce them.

Although dress shoes make up the majority of shoe collection, I do happen to own and wear several pairs of sneakers.  Jack Purcell’s, Converse All Stars, and Seavees have made up my casual footwear selections over the years.  I’ve been fortunate enough to add a pair of Volleys to the rotation and have been breaking them in over the last few months.

Volley’s come in several different lines from the classic canvas and rubber rope soled O.C., to the leather S.S, to the sporty International.   The classic line of the O.C caught my fancy.   The shoes are offered only in whole sizes.  I’ve tried and only moderately succeeded in the past with ordering shoes from outside the US.  Fortunately this is one of the few successes.  The 9’s run true to size and fit well although they were a bit snug on the toe at first.  I’d rather have it this way then too big in the heel which many shoes are due to my skinny heels.

These sneakers were a replacement for my Converse All Stars which were falling apart.  So far I can say that I believe my Volleys will actually hold up better than the Converse which are glued rather carelessly and crack at the crease point after several wears.  The Volley roped sole seems to be constructed better although both shoes are made in China.  The canvas is light and breathable.  The shoe strings are sturdy and flat with weighted silver aglets.  The only branding to be seen is the red Volley flag at the back of the heel which I don’t mind.  The gray and white combination is unassuming and functional.  They have married well with my linen five pocket pants and chinos in the summer and I imagine they will go just as well with my cords and denim in the fall.  At an attractive $80 a pair they can be easily replaced over the years as need be to keep one looking stylish and feeling comfortable all at once.

Only Brown

Founded in June 2011, by Kelvin Cheong, Only Brown is an online purveyor of men’s fine leather accessories.  Mr. Cheong distaste for the praise of black accessories led him to compile a collection of quality items from around the world in a myriad of shades of brown from dark to light and in between, and distribute them from his Singaporean headquarters.

I am proponent of brown, yes, even in town.  The number of brown shoes, belts, trousers and pretty much anything else you could think of outnumbers that of anything black in my collection.  Black is great for evening affairs of grandeur and gravitas, but it can be harsh and uninviting in most cases and has no life of its own.  Brown is the antithesis of black.  Brown comes in many hues and shades and carries a life of its own exclusive to the owner.  This is the only purveyor of fine leather accessories I’m aware of that is built solely on offering products in a certain color.

Recently I’ve had the fortunate of conversing with Kelvin about his offerings and philosophy on style and he very graciously offered to have me try one of his products.  Kelvin offers products small and large from travel accessories to lifestyle accoutrements.  At the time of our meeting I was fixated on acquiring another belt.  At the time I had just finished creating my first bespoke belt and was in the mood for another.  While I chose something subtle and somber in my last belt, this time I was in the mood for something more playful.  I decided on the brogue leather belt by Leyva.  Leyva is a Spanish owned and operated company founded 1960 by Antonio Leyva.  Leyva creates some of the most beautiful belts in the world and was recognized with the Alas award in 2008 for its track record of success.

Just coming off a bespoke purchase I was able to specify my own size belt.  This time I had to go back to standard sizing and was a bit hesitant about the fit.  However, the 32 turned out to be a bit snugger than my Hickey Freeman chocolate brown suede belt in the same size.  I can only imagine that the difference exists because of the epidemic of obesity in this country compared to our European counterparts.  The belt itself is fashioned in 100% cow hide with a matte polished brass buckle and the signature brogueing around the whole of the belt.  It also features a slight contrast stitch running lengthwise along the brogueing detail.  The leather is soft and supple and is elegantly stamped with the Leyva crest.

Upon receiving it the belt is beautifully packaged and presented with care and holds its true color compared to what is shown online.  My biggest concern other than the fit was if I had shoes to properly compliment the belt or vice versa.  The color is listed as ‘whiskey’ by but I would’ve called it butterscotch.  At least those are the color cap toe oxfords I wear with it.  It is most certainly a summer/warm weather belt choice.  I’d be hard pressed to reach for this in the winter when my suede or hard wearing bridle belt in burgundy would be better suited for flannels, tweeds, and Shetlands.  However, I did get a few good wears out of it with my linen trousers, pop over shirt and Italian driving loafers.  I’m sure this will be my belt of choice for many sunny days to come whether they are right here in DC or in some foreign playground of which the layman would not be able to pronounce the name.

The Sharpness of Bond

Next month sees the release of ‘Skyfall’, the 23rd installment of the James Bond series. It will also be the third film to star Daniel Craig as 007 which, in films completed, sets him above Timothy Dalton and below only Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore and Sean Connery. Not bad for a man people expected to flop worse than George Lazenby.

I must admit, I was a Craig sceptic. I didn’t really see how a gruff, blue-eyed theatre actor with the physique and charm of an Eastern European bouncer would play the role of the master spy; a discrete, sophisticated, dry martini-swilling cad who somehow managed to be the most valuable agent in the Foreign Office.

Of course, neither could the producers. Which is why Craig’s Bond is as far from the vaguely effete Roger Moore and the occasionally camp Brosnan as possible. Instead of being a walk-on-water superman who masters dangerous activities at the first attempt and winks into the camera as the credits start to roll, Craig’s Bond is a physically brutal killer who spends the same amount of time sprinting around in a polo shirt and jeans as Moore did exercising his eyebrows in a double-breasted blazer.

In truth, in the age of Connery, Moore and Brosnan, Bond was a rather implausible character. The books of Fleming had afforded licence to play up the spy to an audience ill-prepared for heavy-duty violence. One liners, beautiful women, sexual innuendo, silly names, fast cars and snazzy suits – the shaken-not-stirred Bond cocktail – made light of his occupation, and the genre. So much so that people expected other screen spies to retain the same level of cover-blowing glamour.

Craig’s Bond has gone cold turkey. There might be a fast car or two, but the drunken silliness of the series has been erased.

However, as well as the guns, the gadgets and the girls, there is another part of Bond that has continued into the age of Craig. One thing that sets Bond apart from other screen heroes that, incongruous as it might be, still manages to make his seemingly impossible existence more credible – the suits of James Bond.

When I heard that Craig was taking the role, there were whispers that the era of Bond in tailored suits was over. As a fan of the series, I felt a pang. As unrealistic as it is that an assassin of the British government should be prancing around the world in Brioni or Savile Row tailoring, the suits add a maturity and an air of diplomacy that could never exist in the Bourne franchise.

Though the current confection is not entirely to my taste, it remains true to the man’s occupation and the need for discretion. There are no garish patterns, striped shirts or paisley pocket squares and you can forget about looking out for a pair of Berlutis, but then this isn’t the arena for that kind of thing. Bond is a survivor, not an entertainer.

As silly, and as horrifying, as it is that Craig scrabbles around in the dirt wearing a mohair suit – he should in all honesty be wearing camouflage – it wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Just as he wrecks the gadgets and the cars, his use (and abuse) of the suits represents a will to overcome and a disregard for his costume, of which Hardy Amies would have been proud.

There is no doubting that with his seven-year old’s haircut, earpiece and Mad Men pocket square that Craig makes for an unlikely Bond. In truth, he looks more like a bodyguard. However, the Olympic stunt in an immaculate black tie ensemble proved that the suits maketh the spy. In terms of ‘sartoria exotica’, it’s no Boardwalk Empire, but the sleek, steely sharpness of the suits is still a joy to behold.

The Designer Name

What’s in a name? If you asked Bond Street, plenty. If you asked Wall Street, they’d probably agree. The reason why is that Main Street, the commercial avenues of the commonfolk, places more importance on ‘names’ than almost anyone else.

Attending ‘Fashion’s Night Out’ on a crowded Bond Street, the draw of ‘names’ was all around. People gushed passionately as they passed the glittering palaces of designer goods “Oooh, can we go into Vuitton? I love Vuitton!”, “I really want to see what’s happening at Chanel now, I bet it’s amazing!” and “Whatever we do, we have to do Burberry.”

These ‘names’ are a brilliant way of encapsulating a way to make people feel. Luxury brands are built on the same uncertain sands as budget brands; that people should ‘feel’ enough to buy your product. The difference is that budget brands are sold on price, whereas luxury brands afford themselves the magnificence of being sold in spite of, and not because of, price. The brands of Vuitton, Burberry and Chanel are far more carefully constructed than anything in their inventory. They represent the triumph of feeling and emotion. They make some splendid things, but they also make a vast quantity of terrible things – and charge truly eye watering prices for them all.

‘Designer brands’ are simply successful businesses that, having accumulated a good amount of history and fame, have turned from being small-time artisans to luxury goods for one motivation alone: profit. Vuitton was a celebrated luggage maker, Burberry had patented a material that useful in the rain and Chanel was a couturier that made bespoke clothing for women. They bore no resemblance to the powerhouses of perfumed, air-kissed glamour that they are today. In fact, some stories of their origins are entirely inappropriate for the audience that they now court. The moustached, aproned craftsmen who helped forge these mighty brands would not be welcome at their ‘after show parties.’

The revelation of tailoring has, to some extent, opened people’s eyes. When chatting to a tailor recently, he indicated that the new era of ‘tailoring for the masses’ – a reaction to decades of ‘off the rack’ – is the result of a rational consideration of product value. “People are getting fed up with Reiss and the like” he said “they’re seeing things for what they are.” The more they get of tailoring, he indicated, the more they compare it to something of equivalent worth. The designer names of the off-the-rack era were the equivalent of bespoke tailoring; “The Armani suit was the Everest of suits. Nothing could touch it. But it was crap.”

Armani? A crap suit? Surely that’s an exaggeration. “The process of choosing it was crap. It was all based on the name. If you looked at a suit and were told it was an Armani, you’d think it was better than it was.” What about tailors? Aren’t they in danger of becoming the next ‘designer labels’? “Our business isn’t scalable. You can’t take an artisan and multiply him by 1000. We haven’t started cloning people – yet!”