About Winston Chesterfield

Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Tailoring Fads I’ll Be Avoiding

“You can only be brought up with taste” a professional acquaintance of mine opined “despite what people think, you can’t buy it and you can’t learn it quickly. It takes so long.”

His opinion is worth respecting. He is mature of year and very well thought of in luxury circles.

“You see so many people copying something, but they always make a mistake, or they focus on the wrong thing.”

It was these words that stayed with me when thinking about how easy, to some degree, copying something is.

Arguments can be had till the cows come home about the differing quality of tailors, whether off-the-rack is better than cheap made-to-measure and which bespoke tailor produces the finest Milanese buttonholes.

The reality is, for the vast majority of those who aren’t Tumblr-addicted forumites that the co-creative process in menswear has experienced a renaissance. Not since before the turn of the 20th century have we seen such a capability to add our own touches, accents and identity to the pieces we buy.

Personalisation is now all the rage.

Of course, for some, personalisation is, and always has been, the name of the game. Tailors have long traded on it; something made for you, with your preferred cut, in your preferred cloth, with your preferred details. It has always been the great ego-rub, the only solution for a man who has conquered everything else. Chiefs, Kings and Sultans would only ever have something made to their specifications. Tailors are there to do their bidding.

However, personalisation is, ultimately, rather dangerous.

Which Chief, King or Sultan could be accused of being a ‘perfect ruler’?

For personalisation to be ‘perfect’ it assumes perfection in those making the command. Of course, a fawning tailoring brand, desperate for public exposure, would say that the pink stitching on your lapel is daring, inventive and brilliant on social media; secretly they think it’s hideous, and they kind of resent you associating their brand with your appalling taste.

“You can have thinner lapels” says the tailor to the client with square-toed shoes and an earring, but under his breath he is fuming that his far superior sense of design and taste is being ignored. An angry tailor is not a happy sight. And you’d wish to goodness they’d just send the non-conforming clients away with a flea in their ear, but they can only do this when they can do without the business. Otherwise the flattery must continue.

In order to provide clarity on my own views of ‘taste’, I have listed out some fads of personalisation that I have seen but will be avoiding.

Coloured buttonhole stitching

One of the laziest customization options from e-tailors is that of coloured buttonhole stitching.

It’s ‘personalisation’ for the sake of it. It doesn’t work and it looks cheap and, arguably, like the tailor ran out of thread of the correct tone.

How is having yellow buttonhole stitching on a charcoal suit ‘showing your identity and personality’?

Skinny lapels

One of the fads that came about through fashion’s adoption of 1960s tailoring (think Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme) is the demand for skinny lapels.

This rarely works. You usually have to be skinny and tall. It’s somewhat androgynous, and therefore won’t work with classic menswear, which is structured and masculine.

Double buttonhole on the lapel

This is one of those ‘just to be different’ BS ‘personalisations’ that has no heritage and no purpose. Like coloured buttonhole stitching, it’s distracting and looks like a blind tailor made a mistake.

Piping on the lining

This has long been controversial. The lining of a suit has been sold to those new to tailoring as the one place in which their taste and personality can be really expressed.

The problem is that vast multitudes seem to have absolutely no taste and a personality that suggests an aging portrait in the attic.

Most tailors that offered you the chance to choose your lining colour and piping to match – “Allowing you amazing colour combinations!” – have now retreated and only offer a select number of linings, due to the repeated horrors of aligning vomit yellow with toilet cleaner pink.

Grumbles: Luggage for Suits

This is a series of unhappy musings on the unfairness, unpleasantness and unsavoury aspects of menswear. The author is in a tender state when he creates these. Please have sympathy.

International travel isn’t a friend to classic clothing addicts.

The people it favours are style minimalists; light packers, anti-accessory activists. They waltz along to security, bypassing the bag drop, with tiny Rimowa cases containing what is probably three to four days clothing. Their insouciance and lack of ceremony is both enviable and fascinatingly irritating.

Carry-on luggage was built for these robots.

It was not built for the likes of yours truly, who even on a recent one night stay for business checked an entire garment bag (with a suit) as it was too big for carry-on.

Absurd? Maybe. But with one meeting to attend and one very well made suit to pack, the kind of cigar boxes they peddle as ‘carry-on size’ nowadays were entirely inappropriate.

In advance of travel, I attempted to find a suitable model of carry-on to alleviate this need for such excesses. So intent was I on discovering the potential of IATA-compliant cases,that I even went to the lengths of asking the salespeople to demonstrate whether a suit and pair of smart shoes could be packed into such cases.

The answer was; they can, but ‘good luck with packing and unpacking.’

“If you want to take a suit, you’re better off with a wheeled garment bag that is IATA-compliant” the Rimowa rep in Selfridges said. “Rimowa don’t make them, but Samsonite do.”

Unfortunately, Samsonite is one of the very few brands who do. Why unfortunate? Well, have you seen a Samsonite bag recently?

Luggage should be attractive. One only has to look at the rise of the now well-backed Globe Trotter to see that ‘pretty’ luggage has an important place on the carousel. Rimowa, with its retro aluminium grooved Classic Flight range has, particularly over the last few years, become a bit of a sensation. Consequently, Rimowa has raised prices and regularly re-Grammed posts from world-famous bloggers and celebrities wheeling their iconic luggage.

And, arguably, attractive luggage is most important to the sartorially conscious gentleman about town. Unfortunately, the only brands that make attractive cabin-compliant hand-luggage seem to have forgotten the man who wears suits every day; particularly those who wear them with pride rather than begrudging duty.

The way cabin luggage is made is to maximise internal volume whilst remaining compliant. The problem with that criteria is that the cases end up being perfect for stuffing sweaters, dresses, socks, underwear and casual trousers – and entirely impractical for finely made suits with hand-crafted shoulders and finely rolled lapels. “You’d need to get hotel housekeeping to press [a suit] as soon as you arrive” said the salesperson peddling a $900 carry-on.

But why can’t Rimowa, Globe Trotter et al make a wheeled garment carrier that fits (non-budget) airlines’ carry on restrictions? Why are the most suitable cases for the most beautiful suits the ugliest cases known to man? Where are the fine leather straps, elegant aluminium grooves and brass clasps for the man looking to make an impression with his fully handmade suit?

As Yoda might say: Methinks in the market a gap there might be.

Brand Review: Yardsmen

One would think that naming a formal clothing hire company after hardy labourers would be a misstep, but Yardsmen – the newest startup backed by the enfant terribles of Savile Row, Cad & The Dandy – is anything but.

Formal hire is a long-forgotten and underserved area of clothing. Although ‘hiring’ clothing rather than buying it has never been as glamourous or exciting – not to mention hygienic – it is currently an area of enormous importance on the giant cutting table of formal menswear for three main reasons.

The first reason is occasion wear. Formal clothing is required less and less these days. I know of many events that only ten years ago carried a black tie dress code, now only ‘encourage’ a jacket and tie. Despite the fact that men are duding up daily in natty suits and waistcoats with decorative pocket squares and buttonholes, the truly formal, regimented culture of dress codes is fast receding. In 1925, it made sense for a gentleman to own both white and black tie ensembles; 90 years later, it’s debatable whether he needs to own any.

The second reason is that hirewear in the UK is dominated by a very small number of brands. These brands are not exactly raising the bar for sartorial standards. In fact, I have penned some pretty pernicious pieces on the rotten world of wedding wear, castigating brands such as Moss Bros for their stack-em-high cynicism, lazy and extremely negligent approach to the provision of morning dress to the grooms of the land. Shoddy morning coats with poor fit have been reported, trousers that are too long are pitched as ‘absolutely fine’, truly hideous ‘cravats’ that look like scrunched napkins are flogged as a ‘classy accessory.’ Similar reports of polyester faced lapels on evening jackets and clip on polyester bow ties pollute their reputation in evening hire. Where, one asks, is the pride in such a trading practice?

It has got to such a point that anyone with half a care about their attire is forced to buy. With increasing numbers exposed to sartorial elegance via portals like Instagram and Pinterest, bars are being raised. “Can you help?” they have written, pleadingly “I need to find a good evening jacket, maybe velvet? I can stretch to £100. I just can’t find anything decent to hire!”

Vintage is a possible avenue, if you can find things that aren’t too tatty or overpriced (vintage is getting a little above itself in that respect). Cheaper brands have been good in the past. I have managed to get some good velvet jackets from the likes of H&M and Zara when their blocks were good and manufacturing costs were lower. Now, with margins squeezed, everything feels cheaper and far less deployable for formal occasions.

Yardsmen is a godsend. Only British fabrics are used, and they are all natural. Evening jackets are in beautiful, fluffy Barathea wools from Yorkshire; morning coats are in elegant mid-weight wool herringbones. Not only this, but the details are all suitable. Waistcoats are elegant colours like dove grey or sand, come in wools and linens, and the trousers for morning dress have the choice (gasp) of houndstooth or striped. Lapels for evening jackets are faced in silk.

There’s also an array of small accessories like fine silk ties and bows and pocket squares. These being items selected by the Savile Row-savvy, they are in a different league to the tat peddled in other rental stores.

Not only this, but the store is a welcoming environment managed by elegant, tailoring-trained professionals who can not only dress themselves, but also help you dress too. You won’t get any ‘It’s fine mate, you’ll be pissed anyway’ from these proprietors. There’s also a workshop in the back of the store that is packed with seamstresses and tailors cutting and stitching cloth all live long day. This is vitally important when one considers the potential ‘temporary’ minor alterations required to make your rental attire a little more personally flattering.

Please note: Yardsmen’s website isn’t yet up and running.

Berluti: Treading a New Path

When it comes to tailoring or ready to wear, Berluti isn’t exactly the first brand that comes to mind.

“Shoes, isn’t it?” someone vaguely acquainted with the name correctly guessed.

Yes, indeed. Shoes. Very beautiful shoes. Very colourful and expensive shoes.

Very, very special shoes.

Special because Berluti is a special brand. The founder Alessandro Berluti was an Italian perfectionist who made last-making an art, crafting beautiful shoes for the beau monde of Belle Epoque Paris, but it was Olga Berluti who turned the brand into the icon, introducing hand-finished patinas in an alarming array of colours.

Indeed, Berluti’s unconventional, almost fantastical footwear (rose accented toes, green and yellow patinas) shines in the undeniably traditional array of, rather staid, brown and black Northampton shoes. In that, they have become the household name for exotic, formal men’s shoes; “men’s Manolos.”

Owned for 22 years by LVMH, the world’s most formidable luxury group, has both blessings and curses. Chief amongst the former is the financial muscle to supercharge product development and marketing spend; most significant amongst the latter is the incontrovertible and relentless expectation for growth and profitability.

The big problem is, artisanal shoemaking, on it’s own, isn’t exactly a massive moneyspinner. For one thing, it is a craft which takes time; hours and hours of fine handwork goes into making each pair of shoes.

Secondly, as this time-consuming and very human process isn’t scalable, the costs associated with producing one pair are very high, resulting in a low volume business where the only profitability is in a hefty margin – far more difficult in an increasingly competitive environment.

The vision for Berluti since the acquisition has remained focused on its specialism of working with fine leather. Briefcases, wallets and belts joined the fabulous shoes on the shelves; a logical extension – and a less costly one.

However, the appointment of the fortunately named Alessandro Sartori as Artistic Director in 2011 spelled big changes for the brand. A former creative doyenne of Ermenegildo Zegna’s successful “Z Zegna”, his pedigree as a designer is undeniable. Since the launch of its ready to wear collections three years ago, Berluti has been quietly infiltrating the world of fine menswear, buying Arnys tailoring business (who made jackets for Le Corbusier) and turning heads with some spectacularly colourful ready-to-wear collections.

Though always punctuated by shoes – typical of LVMH who never forget the power that heritage can bring to a collection – they are looks that have suggested Sartori shares Olga Berluti’s talent for working with colour, and an appreciation for structure and form that underlines the tailoring credibility of the brand.

The 2016 Spring Summer Collection, shown in an elegant courtyard, emphasized both the playfulness and seriousness of the brand. Playful for its irreverent use of bright colours; serious for its unswerving adherence to sensible proportions and lack of unnecessary, tasteless experimentation. There is nothing bizarre or unwearable in Berluti. It isn’t pretentious or self-consciously ‘artistic.’ The Berluti man may be more European than a Purple Label man, probably more creative too, but he’s no fashionista.

Sartori’s “looks” for Berluti aren’t entirely conservative either. They combine the formal with the casual. There is a suede leather blazer with sweatpants but, unlike previous experimentation in ‘high fashion’, these looks actually work very well and are entirely street-ready.

The other thing is, genuine customers of luxury fashion brands tend to be a little older and a little less gaunt than the ‘boys’ who parade the oversized jumpers, skinny black denim and clumpy shoes of your garden variety Paris-based men’s fashion designer. So much so that the idea of anyone older than 23 wearing any of the creations seems preposterous.

And this is where Berluti really shines; you can actually imagine your father, even your grandfather, wearing most of these looks.  And that’s a big compliment. The tailoring is sensible, harsher critics might even say formulaic, but it is this seriousness that is worthy of respect.

It takes a long time, a lot of money and a sartorial realist with the imagination of a child to turn a Parisian cobbler into a global lifestyle brand but, by the looks of it, Sartori (and Berluti) might be halfway there.

Requirements for Instagram: Style and Good Looks

“You want to know why she has so many Instagram followers?” chirped a colleague, in an irritated fashion “because she’s a skinny model. It has nothing to do with her style.”

My ears pricked. An intense discussion was breaking out in my immediate vicinity. The subject of discussion: Chelsea Ciara – a model and Instagram sensation.

“It’s just because she’s famous” someone else added, conclusively while another contended that “she only became famous through Instagram.”

They flicked through the pictures on her account, emphasising their negative viewpoints on her style with grunts of faux-shock: “Ugh!”, “No!”, “What?!”

“She’s attractive though” a deeper voice exclaimed.

A man had entered the conversation with an unwelcome remark. It silenced the critics suddenly.

“See!” said the initiator “She’s pretty, and skinny. It has nothing to do with style.”

I recalled this conversation when I noted GQ’s recent list of “The 50 most stylish men you don’t yet follow on Instagram.”

Like most content from Generally Questionable GQ, I put my tongue firmly in my cheek when reviewing it. There’s always an angle, always a filter applied (no pun intended) that makes these suggestions fit with the publication’s ‘aspirational’ image.

The 50 men were indeed a stylish bunch, with an impressive range of ages; there were rapscallions in their early twenties and world-weary gents in their late 50s, proving once more that male style transcends age groups and generations.

They were positioned as second division style influencers, after the premier league of powerhouse contributors like Johannes Huebl and Adam Gallagher, due to the fact that they “hadn’t yet broken 40,000 followers.”

However, their style is most certainly not second tier.

A mixture of tailoring aficionados, casual streetwear kings and denim lovers, they live in Miami, Hong Kong, Naples and Sydney – as well as the inevitable London and New York. They have different approaches, different side interests; a number also tread the well-trodden Instagram path of hashtagging travel and food, but others are passionate about their local town, types of coffee or artworks.

However, despite their age differences, their diverse tastes in clothes, their multitude of interests and variety of facial hair, there was one common feature that united these men beyond their undeniable style: their looks.

Whether 22 or 42, long haired or high and tight, street-styled or sartorial, each and every one of these ‘must follow’ individuals were well above average in the looks department. Indeed, many of them are models – or have modelled for brands. They aren’t just confident dressers; their desirability goes beyond their ability to pair a pocket square with a patterned tie. They are the living mannequins, the real-life muses. They look good in a way that others could not.

Admittedly, some of these individuals are so stylish that it makes them even more attractive than they are, but I think the fact remains that all of them successfully dodged the ugly stick.

Typical and predictable? Well, yes and no.

It’s certainly typical of the Instagram age. While these men are undoubtedly more talented with a wardrobe of clothes than the average #WIWT punter, complete visual fulfilment is a real concept that women have become all too familiar with over the last three decades. Classically good looking people look more stylish than average or ‘ugly’ people because their entire image is worthy of imitation. People want to look like them – mainly because they, and other people, find them attractive. Their looks become entwined with their style and convey a lifestyle image that is multi-dimensional and vivid. People want to embody them.

I saw a comment made by a follower of a stylish male Instagrammer that alerted an acquaintance of the benefits of following the user in question: “This is who I was talking about, u [sic] should follow; just pics of good looking guys in suits.”

However, as typical as this might be of an increasingly visual, Tinder-obsessed generation, it’s not that typical of men in general.

For a straight man following lots of good-looking guys because they just happen to be ‘very stylish’, there is an awkwardness that is undeniable. I have seen countless, less conventionally good-looking men on Instagram whose sense of style is positively epic. They don’t have the body of Michelangelo’s David, impossible cheekbones, insanely alluring eyes or a ruthless jawline but they do the best with what they have. They might not look semi-model like in every selfie, but they have an amazing ability to combine colours and textures; and despite not being a double of David Gandy, many of them dress far better than he (or his stylist) could.

Is it impressive that Adam Gallagher has over a million followers when nobody I ask has any clue who he is? Undoubtedly. Do I think his celebrity on social media comes solely from his sartorial craft? No way.

Do I think ‘attractive’ people look better in the same clothes? Sometimes, yes. Do I think it’s fair? No.

But neither is life.

The simple rule for complete Instagram domination, for men as well as women, is simple: be famous and good-looking. You only have to look at the most-followed for verification of this.

And let’s be plain about this; this is not a case for ‘it’s subjective’, the ‘eye of the beholder’ nonsense. A spade is a spade. If you are not famous and happen to be stylish, you’d better hope you have looks on your side. Instagram is no friend to the average-looking man.