Gaziano & Girling: The Benefits Of Both Sides

While up in Northampton last week, I stopped in to see Gaziano & Girling’s new workshop. And Dean was kind enough to show me round. There aren’t many shoe makers in England that combine a bespoke and ready-made business in the way that G&G now does, both responding to client’s requests and designing new collections for wholesale and private-label work.

These two sides of the business inform each other in some interesting ways. For example, working with clients on their ideas for bespoke can create inspiration for a ready-made collection. And while some other brands get input from clients through special orders, it is not the same proportion or relationship as that gained by bespoke. You can see some of the slightly more daring G&G bespoke ideas here, from stingray through to laser designs. These are all waiting to go to Japan with Dean for a trunk show.

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“Having a ready-made business also teaches you rigour,” comments Dean. “Manufacturing forces you to be disciplined and consistent. If a bespoke shoemaker makes one pair wrong, he can tweak it or redo it. You can’t do that with an order of 100 ready-made.”

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Bespoke shoemakers without any manufacturing, on the other hand, have a slightly narrower perspective. For example, they often have to use merchants for sourcing leather. A business with bigger volume can afford to order its own leather in bulk, and deal with the tanneries directly.

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“I think it also teaches you how much tolerance men have for the fit of their shoes,” says Dean. “Bespoke tends to focus quite narrowly on how a man’s shoes should fit, according to fixed ideas or a golden formula. But if you watch a man try on sizes, you realise how much personal preference plays a role. You remember there’s a person on the other end.

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“Some men prefer very tight, others quite loose; the Japanese will nearly always go for a size longer and narrower than you’d think. There’s a difference between having the size that ‘fits’ and the size that a customer thinks looks good.”

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And of course, bespoke shoes inform the quality and design of ready-made, as these pictures and Gaziano & Girling’s burgeoning reputation attest. Characteristic design features include the peaked toe-cap and aggressive waist treatment.

Finally, a quick tip from Dean on polishing: try mixing the water you use with a little surgical spirit, in around a 4:1 ratio. Brings out the shine just lovely.

Good luck to Dean and Tony in their new home.

Different Ways To Give A Tie Spring

tiesA good tie has some form of ‘spring mechanism’ so that, after you have untied it roughly, tugged it out of your collar and hung it up, the mechanism gradually returns it to its natural shape.

This is achieved through the slip stitch, which runs the length of the tie from one tack to the other and requires some slack so that, when it is compressed, it can ‘spring’ back into position. On some ties, you will see this slack as a small loop of thread protruding from the narrow end. Off the top of my head, my Hermès, Drake’s and Bulgari ties certainly have it.

However, this is not the only way to create some slack. The excess thread can also be tucked back inside the tie, sometimes even secured to the slipping of the tie itself or to the back of one of the labels. This can be done at the narrow or wide end of the tie.

So why are several ways of achieving this ‘spring’ still being used? “You might wonder that, as I  did once when I first started in the trade,” says Martin Brighty of Hunter’s.

“I was told by the head slipper (seamstress Lil Groger of Holliday & Brown) that the women tie makers would move from firm to firm, bringing with them different techniques. They were often told to use the style of the firm, but if they could they would retain their own method as it was faster – and they got paid per tie. These days the girls again all move between companies, some work for two tie makers at a time, depending upon who has the work. So construction can vary; Hunter’s has both loop and tucked-back ties.”

There is no particular advantage to any of these methods. But one obvious difference with the loop is that you can see it – the spring mechanism and so the craft is on display. The others are less obvious or can’t be seen at all. So some manufacturers prefer the loop in order to prove the craftsmanship involved in their ties.

There aren’t many reasons for not having a loop, but Martin’s colleague David Walker knows one: “I remember selling ties in Harrod’s back in the day, and these Nina Ricci ones were very expensive, £85 or so. One day a man came in and complained that his tie had fallen apart. ‘It just came away in my hands,’ he complained. Turned out he had cut off the loop, thinking it was a loose thread.”

So that’s one disadvantage of an obvious sign of craft.

[Many thanks to Martin and David for their help with this and other posts]

Ties Facts From Peckham Rye

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Following on from the last, rather popular post on Peckham Rye and Hunter’s founders David Walker and Martin Brighty, here are some more insights from the interview:

– When you turn a tie in your hand and it seems to change colour slightly, this is because the light is reflecting off the warp. The warp is one direction of the weaving (the other being weft) of the silk. The warp is subtler and sets the foundation for the tie’s tone. While I have written about warp before (in a piece on Vanner’s) I hadn’t cottoned on to this way of revealing it.

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– Woven ties will often fray slightly along the front edge over time. If you run a small flame (from a lighter, say) quickly along that edge, it will burn off the stray threads and not damage the tie. The same can be done with loose threads in the main weave. (This technique is used with manmade fibres in other industries, but only where you want them to melt and so fuse together. Silk will not fuse, just burn off.)

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– Hunter’s makes a lot of ties for military units. And so many have been amalgamated recently that new designs are coming though all the time. Usually the designers take the dominant colours of each unit and try to find the best combination of them. There’s only a limited number of colour combinations out there though, plus over time the tone of the colours can change – if units have used cheaper tie companies, often the colour over the years comes to look nothing like the original design. That’s one advantage of a history in the industry – at Holliday & Brown they had swatches going back to the 1920s and earlier. So they could check the original swatch.

– The old hand-worked, shuttle looms could weave greater detail than today’s mechanised ones, though obviously nowhere near the speed. “In that old book we had a swatch of the Bugatti Racing Club, which from memory was a royal-blue ground, with a very thin – like one pixel – stripe of black, four pixels of gold, four of red, back to gold, then the black again. You couldn’t achieve that detail today, those looms don’t exist,” says David.

– Back then England made the bulk of the world’s ties, which explains why Holliday & Brown was making for Bugatti. English salesmen spent their lives travelling the globe – Buster Brown of Holliday & Brown used to spend nine months on the road (six of those in the US), all by train and steamship of course.

– When making bespoke ties, a man’s neck size is as important as his height. A short man with a very thick neck may be more in need of a bespoke tie than one of above-average height. And when tall men do have bespoke made, they need to have a wider blade – usually four inches. Otherwise it will just look too skinny.

Two Aspects Of Figuration

suit-backI discovered an interesting aspect of figuration today, while being measured for a new suit. (Figuration being the process where a tailor adapts a suit to your particular bodily quirks – the steps beyond just making sure the shoulders are the right width.)

The tailor pointed out that I have a slight stoop forward, slightly prominent shoulder blades, a hollowed lower back (partly due to being slim) and a large seat. If you can imagine that effect down the line of my back, it produces a S-shape – exaggerated curves caused by the shoulder blades and bum, with a hollow in between.

Most other suits I have follow the line of my back, meaning that the rear of the skirt kicks out a little over my bum. To correct this and mitigate the S-shape, a little more fullness will be added in the small of my back with this suit. But a little will be taken out of the front too, so that the waist size remains the same. Effectively, the lower half of the jacket will be swung backwards a touch.

On my previous suit I had also noticed that the collar stood away slightly from the back of my neck. A fairly obvious fault. But it was also pointed out this time that, when I looked at the suit from the front, this standing away was most prominent on the right of my neck.

This, it seems, was because I leant ever-so-slightly to the right, as well as a little forward. That was noticeable both at the neck but also below my right arm, where the cloth collapses a little between the waist and scye. Rebalancing the suit a little, so it is slightly lower on that right side, should correct this.

Both of these are aspects of fit that I have never noticed before, but of course now will not be able to ignore. Like the day after I had my first bespoke shirt fitted, and realised all my shirts had a slightly short left arm.

These are the pleasures of bespoke, such as they are. Every time you improve one facet of fit, you discover another that is wrong.

I admire tailors and shirtmakers for being able to spot these little things. But I do wish they’d stagger pointing them out to me.

Made-To-Measure Shirts At Diverso

diverso-shirtI remember when I first stumbled across London shirtmaker Diverso. It was a few years ago, when my enthusiasm for clothes was still some distance ahead of my knowledge. Shirts with high collars were highly fashionable, but I couldn’t find any at an affordable price. So when I discovered this boutique tucked down one of the alleys of St Christopher’s Place, I was enthralled.

High, two-button cutaway collars, cocktail cuffs and, most mesmerising, a sea of innovations, colours and patterns. My first purchase was a white shirt with a red floral pattern on the collar band, the inside of the cuff and the edge of the placket. My second was a brown-and-white stripe with white collar and cuffs. I have since disposed of both.

But this was the fault of my youthful tastes, rather than the quality of the shirts. The fit was good, nice and slim at a time when that was harder to find. And the quality of the cotton was high. (You! The one singing ‘Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess. Stop it.)

So I was interested when the guys at Diverso, James and Darren, invited me to try their made-to-measure service just before Christmas. This time I went for a more conservative blue Bengal-stripe, with the lowest of their collars (which happens to be exactly the same height as the ‘taller’ collar prescribed to me by Turnbull & Asser bespoke). My only design whim was to opt for a club collar. Because I don’t own one.

An approximate size (‘medium’) was put on me and adjusted in several places. The collar was made smaller, the cuff size reduced and the arms shortened. The last two had been such a problem with my previous purchases that I had ended up shifting the position of the cuff buttons myself to try and tighten them.

Most importantly, the tails were lengthened. Because the problem with fashion shirts is that some men wear them untucked, some tucked. The length is therefore usually a compromise between the two.

Diverso shirts are made at a factory in Italy whose main customer is Dolce & Gabbana main line. James and Darren convinced it to make shirts for them when they travelled to Italy (fresh from leaving university and a job respectively) and pretended to have financial backing. A successful, cult shop in Fulham later, they moved to St Christopher’s Place and are now contemplating expansion. Wholesale carries Diverso shirts in the south-east, Birmingham and Nigeria, amongst others.

When the shirt came back two weeks later I have to say I was impressed. The collar, body and arms fit well. I was pleased that I opted for just one button on the collar, as this makes its height less noticeable. If I was to niggle, I’d probably have the cuffs a little bit tighter. But overall it was a good first job.

Worth a look, particularly if your tastes in shirts (or ties, or polos) are more adventurous than mine.