Wet And Welted

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My last week or so has been a mess of snow, ice, rain, slush, and almost every form water can take on this planet. To say this has make footwear an issue is an understatement – stepping outside, one encounters slippery ice patches and ankle-deep puddles on the same block. So, I thought I would take a moment this week to talk about rough-weather footwear and the best options for keeping your dogs warm and dry.

The most obvious, and obtrusive, option is a vulcanized rubber boot, such as the classic Hunter Wellington. Not the most stylish if you’re within 50 miles of a metropolis, these really get the job done. Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber in the first half of the nineteenth century, some speculate by accident, and within a few years it gave us the full rubber boot and Charles Macintosh’s eponymous raincoat.

Mr. Goodyear’s son, yet another Charles in our story, invented the Goodyear welt, which for our purposes is the necessary forerunner to the Goodyear Storm Welt. The regular welt, as I’m sure many of you already know, is a strip of leather between a shoe’s upper and sole, which allows the sole to be replaced indefinitely. Think of it like an anchor. The storm welt on the other hand, is a second band of leather stitched between the welt and outsole, but folded and stitched in the opposite direction from the first welt. Essentially this creates a sealed space between upper and outsole, instead of a crevasse. To my eye this looks best on country boots, in a beautifully-grained mahogany leather of an almost impossible thickness. If you need a storm welt, you should be wearing boots, not shoes. And for me, black shoes are all about looking sleek and polished, so forget it.

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Now there is a middle ground between these two options, which is my personal favorite – the Dainite sole. Forget commando or other rubber outsoles. This is the rubber sole to end all others. Thick, dense rubber, with a patented studded surface, the Dainite sole is made in England and has been since 1894. As long as your feet are solidly on the ground, they look almost as clean and formal as a leather sole, but without the rain-absorbing effect of the later once you step outside. I had a pair of boots with them that finally died, but while my current everyday winter boots have commandos, you can bet when I get them resoled I’ll be going Dainite or bust. Dry feet are a must.

On Heritage As Such

As I have mentioned before, the last few weeks have seen a slew of fashion shows and events, and the onslaught of yet another season’s trends and particulars. But, oddly, one of the things making a statement these last few fashion cycles is the notion of the “heritage brand.” Maybe I’m being persnickety, in fact I’m quite sure I am, but this seems a bit dubious and I wish to pick it apart, if for nothing but self-satisfaction.

Right from the start, there seems to me something suspicious about a company releasing a pile of new trinkets under the guise of a return to golden times. Yes, one can correct the error of one’s ways, but the idea of a brand seeing the light and giving up cyclical commercialism in favor of some call to classicism strikes me as unlikely at best and deceitful at worst. I’m not suggesting that heritage brands don’t exist or can’t be positive, I’m just suggesting we keep our wits about us and not let some centuries-old founding date and a bit of faux-aged chintz trick us into re-outfitting our lives.

That said though, many brands do a fantastic job, but only when heritage is more than a byword. It’s all good and well to say you were founded 300 years ago, but if your goods look and function just like the chap’s who opened shop yesterday, I could care less. Two brands in particular spring to mind instantly when I think of real heritage: Holland & Holland and IWC.

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First, Holland & Holland. When creative director Niels Van Rooyen says that he is serious about the company’s history, he’s not kidding. After Holland & Holland was taken over by Chanel and got a bit “fashiony,” Mr. Van Rooyen left to work for the playful spirits at New & Lingwood down on Jermyn Street. But, eventually, the folks at Holland & Holland realized that what the world needed wasn’t some shop claiming to sell “country fashions,” but the authentic, warm, and personal purveyors they had been but a few years before. With the epiphany, Mr. Van Rooyen returned and brought with him the recreation of a hunting tweed that Mr. Henry Holland, the company’s founder, had been photographed in while Queen Victoria was still a young woman. Technically modern, but still woven in British mills in a century-and-a-half-old design, the tweed, along with a collection of other corresponding products, proves that Holland & Holland’s heritage is more than a number on the door.

IWC, although slightly different, has also been a longtime favorite of mine. I’d always assumed their watches would be too big for me and I’d be confined to admiration from a distance. But, last summer, a lady I know who wears a men’s Portuguese convinced me to slip it on for giggles and I’ve been lusting after one of my own ever since.

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I digress. Born in the later-half of the nineteenth century, IWC combined the ingenuity of American manufacturing with the precision of European watchmaking to create something truly unique in the world. I’ll admit that fine watches really get my blood pumping, but I do find that many of today’s most popular models, although engineering marvels, just leave me flat design-wise. I don’t want a space-age contraption strapped to my wrist; if I did, I’d simply put my phone on a chain and stash it in my waistcoat pocket. In the last few years, IWC has released editions of their Portofino and Portuguese collections harkening back to the early part of the twentieth century, when watchmaking, to my eye, was at its best. Clean design, stunning metals, and an elegance that transcends notions of casual and formal being the hallmarks. A Continuous Lean, a great blog if you don’t already follow it, posted a fine article a few days ago about the new offerings, so I’ll leave the technicalities to them. But, suffice it to say, IWC proves that moving briskly forward can often mean looking languorously back.

It sounds simple when I say it like that, but trust me, it’s not so. Too many brands and labels we see nowadays tout their centenary or some other such anniversary, without so much as batting an eyelash at what got them there. I’m not advocating anachronism, at least not here, but I am calling these so-called heritage brands on the carpet. Heritage, like bespoke a few years ago, and luxury years before that, is quickly losing its true meaning, and we don’t want that, now

Waisting Away

waist-jcrew-tuxOne of the seemingly contradictory facets of what we like to think of as “classic” or “timeless” style is that it is, like everything after all, subject to the whims of fashion. Yes, yes, most devotees of Men’s Flair and similar outlets are not waltzing around in the latest “it color” and reinventing their wardrobe twice a year, but certain things do change over time. The most significant of these is cut.

Dinner-plate sized lapels seemed perfectly at home during the seventies, but as I know from a few regrettable vintage purchases, tend to look dated now. And the razor-slim lapels making a comeback as we speak will, no doubt, look foolish on charity-shop racks in 20 years. For me though, the current trend towards slim, low-rise, &c. brings with it a whole host of concerns for the classically-minded gent. I’m a short, slim guy, so it’s not as if I simply can’t fit into these clothes. Any time a brand wants to make smaller sizes for off the rack clothes it is a cause for celebration in my world, but smaller sizes and scanter proportions are not one and the same.

The low-rise trouser poses a panoply of significant problems. The image above illustrates this perfectly. No offense to J Crew (who I think are doing amazing things to popularize and disseminate high-quality, stylish goods amongst American men), but that tux is not what I would call clean and elegant. That dreaded white triangle kills me. You see it – the one between jacket and trousers that pulls the eye about as far from the face as it can go.

Maybe this is just a personal idiosyncrasy, I’ve been known to have them, but the meeting between shirt and trouser is the least elegant part of men’s dressing. No matter how precisely your shirt and trousers are cut, no matter whether bespoke, made to measure, or off the rack, this border is almost always unsightly and a mess. Add the low rise trouser to the mix, and you’re sure to get some blousing of the shirt, and eventually you might as well be wearing pyjamas.  In this case, a simply cummerbund would fix the triangle problem, but that is really only a sartorial band-aid. A jacket cut to the proper length, and trousers not cut like hipster jeans would be a far-more-preferable solution.

Tucking in a shirt in fact requires slightly higher trousers to function properly. I’m not suggesting everyone need wear navel-grazing pants, but if you can’t fit a full-tailed shirt into the seat, your trousers are probably too low-rise. Trousers are all about long, clean lines, and making your lap look like a wave-pool isn’t doing anyone favors, even before your shirt comes out like a tsunami.

My vitriol might be a bit more than is called for in this situation, but gentlemen, pull your pants up.

A Morning At Carreducker

Happy New Year to all. I thought for my first contribution of 2011 I would share an interview I conducted back in November while in London. James Ducker, half of the dynamic duo that make ups Carréducker shoes, was kind enough to meet with me in his Cockpit Yard studio in Bloomsbury to talk bespoke footwear.

James ended up making shoes almost by accident. After university, James wanted to go to South America, but his mother luckily convinced him to try Spain first. While spending some time there teaching English, he discovered that a father of a student of his worked as a shoemaker, and he enrolled in a class in Barcelona. When the course was over, James kept making shoes as a hobby. Evidently he was no slouch, and upon returning to England was received into a coveted apprenticeship at John Lobb. This is where he met Deborah Carré, and the seeds for Carréducker were sown.

In 2004 the duo launched the mutually eponymous brand, diving head first into the London bespoke shoe scene. With names like Cleverley and Lobb down the road, the pair knew they would need to do something innovative and different if they wanted to make it. The craft of shoe-making is and old and traditional one, but Deborah and James wanted to respect this storied past while injecting it with a heavier dose of design and modernism. Wild bragging, contrast piping, and crazy colored skins are just a few of the options they offer, but really the only limits are the imagination.

The key to Carréducker’s success though seems to me to be the intimacy of the process. They make less than a hundred pairs of shoes a year, and when you order a pair, you know it will be James and Deborah doing most of the work themselves. When I asked James about expanding the business, he told me “I would never want to stop making. This is what I love. I love making shoes. I can’t imagine not doing it.” This connection between artisan and consumer is one of the most distinct facets of bespoke anything. “You have to respond to it, change it, and you’re involved in it,” James told me. “Bespoke, under whatever guise it takes, is more about buying into a process than a product,” and just as any house on Savile Row, “we insist on fittings, because it’s not really a bespoke product if it doesn’t fit you perfectly.” You can be sure that when your shoes are delivered, James and Deborah are almost sad to see them go.

After his time at Lobb, James spent some time teaching shoe-making at Cordwainer’s College and the London College of Fashion, and he and Deborah got the idea to start their very own Carréducker shoe course a number of years ago. Now they hold three courses a year, two in London and one in New York, teaching about eight students per session.

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Image credit: gievesandhawkes.com
Carréducker’s latest endeavor is a partnership with Gieves & Hawkes at No.1 & 2 Savile Row. “We’re behind a glass partition in the shoe department, and you can just about see us from Vigo Street. I think we’re going to provide a bit of theatre because you can actually watch us making.” Unlike the tailors, who do most of their work in basements out of sight, you can actually walk right up to the glass pane and watch Deborah and James at work.

You can tell from the moment you meet him that James is someone passionate about what he does, and for me, this passion is one of the joys of real artisan-made goods. It’s not just about “buying into a process” as James said, but but also about buying into people. Carréducker have lots of new and exciting things coming up that I’m not allowed to tell you about quite yet, but keep an eye out. I think we’ll all be seeing a lot more of Deborah and James in 2011.

PS – Mr. Andrew Williams wrote a piece about some of Carréducker’s offerings last April, which you can still find here.

A Little R & R

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This time of year is a puzzling one for dressing. One moment you’re loafing about the house, relaxing the waistband after a festive dinner with the family, and the next you’re heading out to a holiday party, franticly trying to get those damned trousers to button again. While the later has been written about ad nauseam (by myself amongst others), its the former I want to focus on here. How to dress casually, but elegantly is, I think, the true test of style – and not just at the holidays.

A gentleman typically looks his best in black tie. It’s slimming, makes one look taller, creates symmetry of the figure, and especially in our ultra-casual modernity, it adds an heir of distinction to even the plainest of men. I won’t disparage the art of great black tie, believe me, but I will say that for the style-initiates that haunt places like Men’s Flair, it’s not tough to look great. In fact, it’s hard not to.

Now when dressing casually, there are quite a few things to be considered. First off, you should not only feel comfortable, but look comfortable – just like Mr. Astaire above. Cloths should be softer and jackets and trousers cut ever-so-slightly less close. Generally the colors and patterns that dominate country dressing take over for the sobriety of city garb, even if the holiday dinner is spent around a table on the 40th floor of a metropolitan apartment building.

The trick, in my experience, is to find a balance between ease and effort. Living on a college campus, I don’t spend as much time “dressed up” as I would like, but I get a lot of opportunities for smart casual. Walking to class in pinstriped worsted cut like a razor would just make me look foolish, but I do typically find myself in some mixture of tailoring and more causal attire. The key is keeping things pulled together, even if the elements are each relaxed on their own. Their is a tendency to decide you’re having a “casual day” and to just throw things together haphazardly, but this only looks sloppy, not casual.

I personally have my own peccadilloes as well when it comes to dressing down. There is a particular pair of trousers I own that are old flannels handed down to me by my father, but they are a size too big for me. Maybe a size and a half. But, I often pull them on when running to get a bagel in the morning, or, when I lazily slide out of bed lacking the time to dress properly, they end up doing more than helping me satisfy my early-morning hunger. They look quite terrible, especially from behind, but I’m human and it happens.

More advantageously, because I spend most of my time dressed fairly casually, I have a decent array of corduroy trousers, worn-in chinos, and variably shaded grey flannels, along with quite a few “soft-washed” tattersall shirts to see me through most days. I resist the urge to go for the pyjama-like pants and instead dress with deliberate choices. And, unless I’m deluding myself, I think I look alright doing so.

So when you’re relaxing by the fire, or running errands at the weekend, ditch the suit and pull of something soft and casual. Sounds funny coming from me, but trust me, I’m sure you’ll look dashing.