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.

The Dinner Suit – Henry Poole & London Craft Week, 5 May 2016

Black Tie.

Are there any two more powerful words you can place on an invitation?

The stipulation is so complete, so final and so gently authoritative. It hits like a steel fist in a velvet glove: there will be no relenting, there is no relaxation – this is a rule.

I have always thought of Black Tie as being the closest thing civilian citizens get to a military parade. Though thought of as “fancy” or “dandy” clothing, Black Tie (or tuxedos/evening dress) is actually the simplest and least-showy form of male clothing in the pantheon of classic menswear.

Yes, it is formal. But formal doesn’t necessarily mean decorativeness or extravagance. Day suits such as loud Glen Checks are far more distracting and exuberant in their elegance; silk ties with paisley motifs in colours like marmalade and plum, far richer and gaudy.

It is the discreet elegance of Black Tie that makes it the smartest form of dress, and it is the uniformity of its expectation that makes it harder to distinguish oneself.

It is easier to make a splash of difference in a day suit. For example, odd waistcoats can add an element of intrigue to a dull, dark suit; bright pocket squares can be deployed as foils to plain neckties – and brightly coloured shirts can distract from otherwise conservative ensembles.

Black Tie is monochromatic and sartorially severe. When a man tries to play around with it too much, it comes off as foppish. When he looks to add a hint of colour he must be wary. Black Tie is very simple – but it’s remarkably easy to get it wrong.

And so, with the ‘parade’ of Black Tie, one must impress with the details. Patent or very well polished black shoes – ideally opera pumps or Oxfords – should shine on your feet. The bow tie (always black) should be subtly textured (moiré silk is particularly fine) and the quality and condition of your evening shirt, with a greater amount of exposure in the chest, needs to be high. Even socks need special thought; black silk should be the first choice, but even if selecting cotton a man needs to pay special attention to the condition and thickness of his hosiery.

However, the most important element of Black Tie is the most obvious; the dinner suit itself.

The perfect dinner suit is an investment. It doesn’t have the regularity of use of a grey chalkstripe or a navy worsted, but to have a bespoke version in your arsenal offers a sublime peace of mind. It will last a lifetime – and beyond, if taken care of. I have a vintage white tie tailcoat, made on Savile Row in the 1920s, that is in excellent condition; in fit, it’s not perfect as it wasn’t made for me, but the exquisite craftsmanship and condition of the garment shows how it is worth the initial outlay.

There is a saying that if God were to wear any clothes, he would be dressed by Henry Poole. Therefore, it is probable that if God were to attend a celestial formal soiree, he would do so in Black Tie from Henry Poole.

On a street that is simply bursting with archives and patterns of famous and celebrated clients, Henry Poole is probably the most storied of the Savile Row tailors. Virtually all of the 19th and 20th century tailors can boast celebrities, authors, aristocrats, sportsmen, musicians and artists in their ledgers but Poole takes it up a level; it has the silver screen stars, but its most illustrious clients are its royal ones.

The Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, is credited with ‘inventing’ the dinner suit’s short jacket, but it was Henry Poole who made it – and it was Poole’s creations that were later popularized amongst American patrons who frequented New York’s Tuxedo Club.

What this means is that Poole has the ultimate bragging rights over the dinner suit – and that when anyone from Poole speaks to you about Black Tie, it’s probably sensible to listen.

Henry Poole and London Craft Week are inviting those who possess this sense, and a mere £15+VAT, to their grand rooms on Savile Row to see how one of their dinner suits, the ‘godliest’ of all, are made.

At 11.00am and 3.00pm on Thursday 5th May, Poole are offering a rare chance to see demonstrations of different processes from tailors Keith Levett and Tom Pendry alongside Henry Poole’s archives and pattern books – almost worth the entrance alone.

Places are limited, and tickets are available here now.

Odd Trousers That Every Man Needs

I don’t really know many men who wear odd trousers.

Most men have a wardrobe of suits and denim: the former is the anchor for the working week, the latter the weekend default. However, any moves to expand beyond this can often leave many stumped as to the most suitable options.

“What the hell is an odd trouser anyway?” you might ask.

Simply, odd means to stand alone. The theory of sartorial oddness is aligned with individuality. Odd jackets need to be worn on their own without appearing that they need to be worn with matching trousers. Very fine wool suit jackets, for example, are not suitable as they look as though they have been forcibly separated from their lower halves. Tweed suit jackets on the other hand don’t look out of place as they are naturally less formal and are therefore expected to be worn as separates – particularly when they are distinctly different to the colour and material of the trousers they are worn with.

Similarly, odd trousers require distinctive qualities and these qualities are best achieved through a combination of colour and texture.

Mid-grey flannel

Number one on any list of odd trousers, grey flannels were the uniform of the marvelous Fred Astaire. So connected was he to this material that Audrey Hepburn gave him a picture frame lined in the same grey flannel of his trousers.

A solid, mid or heavy weight is best. Grey flannels are very versatile and can be worn with casual corduroy and tweed jackets for countryside informality or navy hopsack blazers for a working week Friday ensemble.

Light grey

For spring and summer there is no better trouser than a light grey, lightweight wool. Again, the flexibility of grey’s beautiful neutrality means they can be worn with practically anything – and to anything. Worn with a silver grenadine tie, blue summer blazer and sockless tassel loafers for a slick, summer formal ensemble; or, with a white polo shirt and white plimsolls to a casual picnic. Wear slightly shorter, and tapered at the ankle.

Cream cotton drill

White trousers don’t sound like the most practical suggestion, but there are few better options when the occasion calls for crisp chicness. When the sun comes out, there are few more pleasurable things to wear than a cool pair of cream cotton drills; you feel at once sporty and elegant, slightly retro and yet also timeless. Wear with burgundy penny loafers, blue linen jackets, unlined summer blazers in grey and navy and cosy cricket jumpers for cool summer evenings.

Mid-grey large check

Everyone needs a pair of ‘wild’ trousers. The Victorians, before Queen Victoria’s mourning started the fashion for black, were noted for wearing nattily checked trousers, following the fashion for the writings of Sir Walter Scott and Scottish tartan – a trend which the Queen and her husband Albert had also led, due to their love affair with Scotland and acquisition of Balmoral. Tom Ford’s collections have recently revived this look and they are perfect for wearing to break the formality or stiffness of a look. Navy blazers and velvet jackets benefit the most from their playfulness.

Brown tweed

A single pair of odd tweed trousers goes a long way. Proper tweed is heavy and hard-wearing, but also elegant. Out of town, when wearing cashmere crew and v-neck sweaters, men utilize few options except denim and corduroy. And yet tweed has far more place on casual weekend jaunts to castles and tea rooms than a pair of jeans. Appropriate for both pub and drawing room, tweed is considerably more flexible, not to mention warmer and more comfortable. A rich brown tweed looks glorious next to smooth navy cashmere sweaters and cardigans, deep green wax jackets and burgundy brogues.

Sartorial Love/Hate: Casentino Coats

“Jesus. His coat has seen better days” a colleague murmured as we were flicking through some of the best captures of the biannual peacock-fest that is PittiUomo. It was somewhat inevitable coming from someone who hadn’t yet managed to stretch their sartorial imagination beyond multi-deal Jermyn Street shirts, Barbour paddock jackets and suits from Marks & Spencer.

Their idea of texture is, understandably, confined to silk twills, smooth Super 100s wools and Oxford-cloth cotton. Whilst harsh to call it pedestrian, it is rather wedded to the conventional. And so the distinctive Casentino fabric, with its curious similarity to pilled wool – which afflicts jumpers, cardigans and other woollen wearas a result of friction – is undoubtedly strange. After all, why would you want a coat that looks like it has been someone’s favourite for one decade too many.

“Some new-fangled trendy thing” the colleague surmised, folding his arms and shaking his head.

Not a bit of it. Casentino is an ancient fabric. Long renowned for being strong and warm, it has been used in making blankets for animals and for clothing cold Franciscan friars since the Middle Ages. It then moved from mere practicality to aesthetic heights when it became desirable for its distinctive ‘curls’ in the 19th century, counting amongst its famous wearers the composers Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini.

One of the more well-known examples of the Casentino coat is Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s wearing a double-breasted Hubert de Givenchyorange version (orange being the signature colour of Casentino). It is this mid-century aesthetic that has endured; with sparkling heels, gleaming sunglasses and a fur hat in supporting roles, lifting the Casentino to the giddy heights of chic Hollywood glamour.

More recently, it has been seen on the many dandies prowling around PittiUomo every January; an appropriate environment given the material’s connection with Florence and Tuscany. After all, Casentino is named after a valley area to the east of that great Renaissance city.

And, like most PittiUomo trends, the skilful execution of such fashion can persuade admirers to action.

“I really want a Casentino coat!” men have been gushing online, with the unlikely gusto normally associated with boyhood dreams like driving a Ferrari or sleeping with a supermodel.

However, others struggle to see any appeal in the fabric, reacting to its distinctive texture in much the same way that the Prince of Wales responds to modernist architecture: why would something be made intentionally ugly and then considered uniquely beautiful? “It looks like my granny’s bath mat!” another colleague exclaimed “There’s no way anyone can pull this off, unless they’re a model.”

I sit on the friendly side of the fence. Yes, it’s another Pitti-led fad and a Casentino coat is hardly the first entry in a capsule collection. However, worn in the right way and the right context, it moves the coat to the forefront of the ensemble, without extravagant patterns or embellishments.

In my view, the key elements are colour and texture contrast – with a dash of playfulness.

Colour

Typically, overcoats worn are in navy, dark grey and black. These overcoats are serious and sensible; funeral fodder. Casentino coats are all about the texture, which is playful and curious, and there is no better way of showing off the distinctive curls than wearing brighter colours; the shadowing created by the curls shows up better in colours with greater contrast ranges. You can go for the distinctive Hermes orange or the similarly classic bright green, but they also look good in royal blue, burgundy, rust and purple. Mustard yellow is an interesting idea, and even a very light grey could work. The key is not to think too sensibly or practically; light grey, for example, is a flexible and not outrageous colour, but is arguably very impractical for outerwear, which means it can work with Casentino.

Texture contrast

As a texture showpiece, Casentino needs an appropriate set. Contrasting textures are required to offset its appearance, so layer over smoother textures such as fine worsted and flannel. It’s quite a casual coat, so is also perfect for combining with weekend cashmere rollnecks. It seems to work best with patterns underneath, emphasising its playful edge.

Massimo Dutti Personal Tailoring Refresh

I first reviewed Massimo Dutti’s Personal Tailoring product three years ago. The made-to-measure ‘tailoring’ concept was a straightforward adjustment of a Massimo Dutti suit block. Once the jacket size with the best fitting shoulders had been selected, the tailors set to work with their pins pulling in the waist, removing excess fabric on the arms and correcting the height of the trousers.

Styling options were limited.  The only choice was a single-breasted suit with standard width notch lapels; a classic no doubt, but very basic. There were different swatch books representing different price points, using fabrics from the likes of Cerruti and Loro Piana, mostly in greys and blues – very sober, very sensible.

There were some great touches; horn buttons for braces, fine finishing and raised stitching on buttonholes. However, there were also some frustrating limitations. Only one pleat was possible, not two, and the standard trousers came with belt loops but were not available with side adjusters. Waistcoats were possible, but only in a single breasted design.

It was good. It just wasn’t great. By comparison with the possibilities for personalization with bespoke tailoring, it was a creative straitjacket.

It’s fair to say now that Massimo Dutti’s improved Personal Tailoring service is a little better.

Firstly, the ‘double’ options have opened up. Double-breasted suits, and double-breasted waistcoats, are both available. And double pleats on the trousers? Absolutely.

Secondly, the fabric selection has been ramped up. There are now three distinct suppliers of fabric, forming three price levels for the service. The first level is Vitale Barberis Canonico; the second level is Loro Piana and the top level is Scabal – a nod to Massimo Dutti’s determination to bring a little Savile Row to their very Italian stable.

Given Massimo Dutti’s high street status, there will likely be a few raised eyebrows that they are using fabrics from such esteemed mills. After all, these names are normally associated with the grand tailors from Savile Row, Paris and Milan.

Personal Tailoring now has three distinct collections: Extreme Lux, Business Lux and Country Lux. Massimo Dutti explains “…each collection has a limited edition range of fabrics and colours.” In other words, each collection ‘design’ has a limited run and is then refreshed with different fabrics – an approach that is very familiar to holding company Inditex, owners of fast-fashion masters, Zara.

At the heart of these changes to Personal Tailoring is a man who holds the title of Duke of Feria. He is the head of an ancient aristocratic family that traces its roots back to the royal family of Aragon. His name, Rafael de Medina, might not be familiar to readers, but he is one of the most celebrated members of the Spanish nobility; a tall, striking man with the looks of a Ralph Lauren male model who once ranked on Vanity Fair’s International Best Dressed List.

“When he came along” the tailor said shaking his head “he said everything, the way we were doing the Personal Tailoring, was not good enough. It wasn’t good enough for Massimo Dutti.”

Appointed as Director of the Personal Tailoring offering at Massimo Dutti, after setting up his own clothing venture Scalpers (think of a Spanish J.Crew) Rafael de Medina oversaw some vital changes to the limited and, arguably, half-hearted Personal Tailoring set-up.

In addition to the introduction of the three collections, there is a Personal Tailoring ‘Paper’ (currently in Spanish only), an upcoming Premium Area where customers can access their account, view their orders and even place more orders – much like an online-only tailor – and accompanying shirting and accessories which match the look of each collection.

The Process

As before, you make an appointment with the Personal Tailoring tailors and they hand you a jacket in your rough size (36” for me) to try on. In this case, they had a 34” that fit better in the shoulders. Then, you repeat the process for the waistcoat and trousers.

They pin all over the jacket, waistcoat and trousers to learn how much each item needs to be adjusted from the block when it is made by the company’s tailors in Portugal. The whole process takes about 45 minutes.

Then, the order is placed once you select your fabric and details.

I chose a subtle charcoal Prince of Wales check from the Vitale Barberis range. The stylistic choice was the Extreme Lux collection: wide peak lapels, a double breasted waistcoat and double pleated trousers with turn ups and side adjusters. I selected dark horn buttons and a Burgundy lining to finish it. After the soberness of the previous fabric collections, sensible cloths still prevail but there are now some exciting patterns (thick chalkstripes, Prince of Wales checks) to complement the plain blues and greys.

The price for this was £390 for two-piece suit, and an extra £90 for the waistcoat, making a total of £480. This is the entry level price, so is significantly more than the £380 being charged in 2013.

Waiting time for the suit was a little over a month, which is the standard for Massimo Dutti, however, the trousers that came back were wrong. It turned out the high waisted trousers I had selected were only available flat-fronted. So, the first pair of trousers did not have the requested pleats. It was slightly shocking that the makers in Portugal did not contact the store and tell them this, particularly as I was told I’d have to wait another two weeks.

It was a little over three weeks when I called up to find out that the new trousers were ready, so in total it took nearly two months.

The product

Remembering how I had been impressed with the quality of two previous suits from Massimo Dutti Personal Tailoring, both in fit and finish, I was a little hesitant to get my hopes up that this could be any better.

However, I needn’t have worried. The finish was every bit as good and the fit is arguably better.

The standard construction of Personal Tailoring suits is half-canvas; you pay extra for full-canvas construction. Nevertheless, the body of the jacket drapes beautifully. Admittedly, there is very little sculpting on the waist characteristic of fine bespoke, but then this is made-to-measure and it’s hardly a blocky shape.

Again, Massimo Dutti triumphs on the excellence of the finish. Buttonholes are carefully stitched, buttons are high quality. The use of a good fabric definitely improves the overall suit, and like a ‘bricks and mortar’ tailor, it definitely helps being able to choose the fabric in person.

Fit: 8 out of 10 – A very good fit, given that this is made-to-measure adjustment of an existing block. It’s not perfect, and so anything higher than 8 out of 10 feels a little punchy; armholes not as high as they could be, waist could be more suppressed. However, it’s way better than off the rack suits from high-end retailers that cost 2-3 times more. Would be keen to try the double-breasted suit to see how it compares. 

Fabric: 9 out of 10 – Definitely one of the main reasons to go for Massimo Dutti over similarly priced internet tailors is not only the process of choosing the fabrics (in-store, touching and comparing) but the quality and range too. The fact that they now have collections from three very highly esteemed mills including Scabal and Vitale Barberis is a major selling point.

Quality of finish: 9 out of 10 – Outstanding for this price point. It feels more like a garment from a tailoring house than a mid-market high-street store. It’s not exquisite – no showstoppers like Milanese buttonholes – but it’s very, very competent.

Service: 5 out of 10 – Where Massimo Dutti falls down is service. It’s a shame to say it, but service quality on this outing was poor. It had been excellent on the two previous occasions, so perhaps this was a one-off, but there were a number of issues.

The first issue was the lack of communication between the suit makers in Portugal and Massimo Dutti tailors in London on the trouser issue. Massimo Dutti did apologise for this, but no other dispensation was offered. Given this resulted in a heavy delay, this is disappointing. I had to chase the tailors for updates and my calls were rarely returned. When I paid for the suit, I was initially charged more than I should have been, and had to indicate this to the sales staff.

A lot of this is down the fact that Massimo Dutti is a high-street shop – not a tailor – and their staff are busy with other things. Their level of service training is therefore bound to be somewhat lower and less experienced. It could be that staff are overworked in store; rushing back and forth from stock rooms, dealing with tills, customer enquiries etc. If so, some system needs to be implemented to help them.  These aren’t ‘budget’ MTM suits, and Massimo Dutti’s positioning in the mid-market of menswear needs to accord with a slightly higher service level than the mass-market.

Overall satisfaction: 8 out of 10 – This feels harsh, as I am very happy with the suit. However, I’m not rushing back there just yet. Good things come to those who wait, and I have no problem with the time it took to receive the suit. However, this did not fill me with confidence on the service front. This needs some serious work if Massimo Dutti is going to differentiate itself from ‘other high street’ brands that it considers itself superior to. The product is stronger on this occasion; as it should be for a 25% markup in just 3 years. The service needs a bit of work, and hopefully the introduction of the Premium Area (through the website and app) where “you’ll be able to see all your orders, place new ones, manage your appointments…” will add some degree of access and reassurance that is currently not possible through the existing medium of individual contact with the tailors.

Country Weekends

One of my professional acquaintances recently told me over lunch they had taken my advice and secured a private country house for post-Christmas celebrations and New Year’s fireworks and champagne.

“We’ve taken a place up in Scotland. It’s a massive castle-y thing. Looks spectacular. Probably going to be freezing.”

For anyone curious enough, they had done so through Landmark Trust, which is one of the most splendid and useful causes in the land. With a powerful and unsurprisingly supportive royal patron in Prince Charles, the Trust is a unique blend of heritage preservation and hospitality. Imagine visiting a small stately home and wishing you could have it for the weekend only – without the maintenance, heating bills and crumbling roof – and that you could do so in style, with tasteful furniture of the period and not a flatscreen or wifi router in sight.

Having taking Landmark Trust holidays myself, I enthusiastically told my acquaintance of the gentleness of such an experience; an escape to nature, to an older time, to natural, log-lit warmth, board games and simple pleasures. If holidays are ultimately about escaping everyday life, then Landmarks are the most accurate example.

However, I digress.

My acquaintance had planned to take a few leaves from the book of country gentlemen and actually dress what he termed as ‘the part of squire.’

“I don’t want to be one of those awful Chelsea people who turn up in brand new Range Rovers with Moncler gilets and iPads.”

For him, such a weekend was an escape to the textured, layered, regimented routine of the past. There would be, he insisted, no gilets at the dinner table:

“I want people to wear tweed to breakfast, go on walks through the hills in shooting socks, dress for dinner.”

His guests, he insisted, would surely find the sojourn into a forgotten age fulfilling. It was a world away from BlackBerries, from childcare and the school run; from double-glazing, computers and management-speak.

“It’s like Downton Abbey I suppose!” he spluttered “and that’s why dressing is so important. How would you do it? I’d be fascinated to know…”

An Active Morning

One of the treats of staying in the countryside, particularly in a grand manor house on acres of grounds, is the great plethora of outdoor pursuits that could even be as simple as a “walk to the folly.” However, for such activities, the elements often get in the way. Waterproofing and layering is required when staying out in the cold for extended periods, and a hat is often useful to battle against harsh, cold winds. As such, combining a little formality (a tweed waistcoat) with a practical jacket (a waterproof waxed Barbour), with the addition of a scarlet silk scarf and a tweed flat cap is just the right combination of country elegance and sensible clothing. A pair of Wellington boots would complete the look.

Waxed jacket: Barbour
Tweed waistcoat: Ralph Lauren
Boots: Hunter
Silk scarf: Woods of Shropshire
Tweed cap: Lock & Co

A Gentle Afternoon

Although weekends in the country can be rather outdoorsy affairs with rain, mud, Wellington boots, wet dogs and reddened cheeks, there is always the promise of some refinement; a quiet card game by the fire, some 3pm champagne in the drawing room or reading by the gentle tick of the long-case clock in the hall. Therefore, a tweed jacket (houndstooth is ideal), a crisp white cotton shirt, a pair of grey flannel trousers and brown Oxford brogues would help to keep up the stately atmosphere.

Tweed jacket: Ralph Lauren
Houndstooth trousers: Gieves & Hawkes
Shoes: Meermin

A Refined Evening

Pretending to be the squire of some old castle is enormous fun, particularly when you dress up in evening gear in the accepted ‘code’ of a host. With black tie, whereas guests are expected to don formal evening jackets and shoes, hosts ‘at home’ have often chosen to wear a more relaxed velvet smoking jacket and velvet Albert slippers instead of shoes.

Green velvet jacket: Kingsman
Velvet slippers: Leffot