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.

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.

Sartorial Stereotypes: Beards

The Darwin

The Darwin man is a serious soul. A ‘transport entrepreneur’ (he sells vintage tricycles to commuters) and a ‘professional mixologist’ (he runs a pop-up bar on the river), he would never admit that he follows anything as frivolous as a ‘trend.’

His beard is a work of art to some, a trimmed hedge to many others. However, it would be foolish to deny that such a growth takes dedication, concentration and a good deal of patience. And don’t you dare call him a hipster; beards run in the blood.

“My dad had a beard” he says “when he was lecturing in East London.”

Despite being of intellectual stock, and not without resources of his own (his grandmother came from an old manufacturing dynasty), he doesn’t appear to believe in bourgeois Britain. He shuns benches and pub tables in favour of concrete steps and kerbs and he gave up an inherited Marylebone flat to live “amongst his people” in an ex-Local Authority building in Hackney.

He is famous for silently hating the broadness of the beard trend, and loathes the thought that someone will confuse him with one of the ‘bow tied, tattooed masses’ from the Kingsland Road.

This serious-minded stance doesn’t prevent him from strutting around in Thom Browne shirts, selvedge denim from Chimala and Brogue boots from Grenson.

The Tsar

The Tsar is a man of antique grace.

Though somewhat sartorially defiant and resistant to trends, he was ‘jolly excited’ when the whole ‘beard thing’ caught on, because he’d always craved a regal chinstrap of hair.

A bulky former rugby-playing man-mountain with a subscription to ‘The Chap’ and a wardrobe of three-piece tweed and flannel suits – most with double-breasted waistcoats – he embodies the sartorial zeitgeist that marries tailored elegance and beery masculinity.

A barrister in chambers at Lincoln’s Inn, he tells hearty stories of ‘dodgy foreign clients, blackmail and backstabbing’ to eager young pupils and delights in swigging claret with his politically incorrect head of chambers over a roast at Simpsons-in-the-Strand.

He now has a sharp, Edwardian beard with a sensational moustache, waxed by Trumper at the tips, that recalls the fashion of European monarchs before the First World War.

The Zangief

The Zangief man is a big kid – a lamb in the form of a grizzly bear.

Being something of a programming genius, he ‘hasn’t had to grow up’ and face the realities that others must subject themselves to, which makes him a bit of a softy.

A late-night loner and gamer, he found easy work in a Silicon-roundabout startup and took the 10% equity offer as a bit of a gimmick, and couldn’t care less; as long as he earned enough to pay for his ‘insane’ 70” flatscreen, Sonos soundsystem and Star Wars collectibles.

His introverted, geeky and naive nature is belied by his impressive frame, his severe haircut and his substantial facial hair, which he modeled on the Street Fighter character Zangief – ‘he makes beards look awesome!’

With his striped t-shirts from J Crew and his rolled up chinos from TopMan he appears trendier than he actually is, and is often surprised to be approached by women he considers to be above him.

The Beckham

The Beckham man is a man of trends. A dishy insurance broker with a penchant for cheap girls and expensive watches, if it’s ‘in’, you can guarantee he is already doing it. And despite his previous rants about beards being ‘hilariously fugly’ and for ‘unsuccessful hippies’, he now has a facial growth of which he is proud.

Initially worried that his youthful looks would be obscured beneath the uneven tufts of a scraggly beard, it was when David Beckham wore it to Wimbledon last year, with his neat blazer and high-and-tight haircut that really sold it. He discovered the girls in the office gushing over the pictures saying how they had ‘always wanted to date a man with a beard.’

Bollocks, thought the Beckham man.

Still, since then, he has carefully cultivated a facial growth something between that of a 17th century French cavalier and an Acqua di Gio model. An awkward mix of contrived overgrowth and meticulous trimming.

He loves mixing this look with his trademark three-piece Reiss suits and monkstraps from JM Weston.

 

Sartorial Skiing

Winter sports are without doubt the most glamorous thing about the colder months.

When your nose is running, and your pasty, dry skin is occasionally coloured beet red by a cruel northerly wind, the lapping water, linen shirts, Ray Bans, and Negronis of a glamorous July seem as far away as those brightly twinkling winter stars.

Christmas and the New Year yield some champagne-fuelled merriment and excuse for sartorial grandiloquence, but once January aggressively greys out the bright colours of the festive season, glamour recedes and sickness and quiet, indoor living take hold.

But then it comes: “Fancy some skiing?”

Instantly, the mind drifts to the scenery of the mountains, a montage of James Bond, spectacular views, hot tubs, tumblers of whisky and the iridescent mystique of the wonderful, but truly strange, sport of downhill skiing.

It’s not just Bond who goes skiing.

What yachts are to August, chalets are to February. The international jet-set jets down – literally, in their own jets – as near to the pistes as they can manage and fire up the Range Rovers to Verbier, Courcheval and St Moritz.

Of course, there is the other side to skiing; vomit stained salopettes, shots of pear vodka, screaming ski schools and high-altitude hangovers, but much like the burnt out Brits on Benidorm’s beaches; beer cans often follow where champagne leads.

And sadly, when it comes to style, it seems that beer has the greatest influence. I must admit when I last went skiing, I wasn’t particularly critical of the sartorial side of things. There were these ‘things’ you had to wear; ski jackets, salopettes, ski goggles. It wasn’t a fashion show, it was survival; you were trying not to freeze to death, trying desperately not to break your neck.

But a good deal of time has passed. And in the cold light of a London winter it’s plain to see that skiing, glamorous as it might be, is sartorially repugnant.

It’s not just the swish-swish of Gore-Tex shell. Most of the attire, and indeed the brands, associated with skiing recall the frosted-tipped Nineties; meaningless technical terms, sand-coloured Timberland boots, beanies and Oakley sunglasses.

Of course, there are exceptions to this nonsense. It’s all too apparent now that Remo Ruffini’s investment in and continual development of Moncler aimed to conquer all that was wrong with winter sports back in the early Noughties – and take advantage of large swathes of newly rich Russians, booting up in the Alps glamour spots.

Moncler’s aesthetic takes advantage of its own heritage, and that of downhill skiing. When health and safety were two entirely separate words in the English dictionary, ski boots were made of leather and most ‘ski trousers’ had pleats in them, the alpine look was considerably different.

Fair Isle sweaters, chunky roll necks and lambskin mittens presented a tasteful, see-you-back-at-the-lodge casualness to winter sports – believe it or not, it was possible to make it down the mountain without gear that makes you look like you’re about to attempt a moon-landing.

The bizarrely shiny, down-filled jackets started creeping in by the 1960s – a retro aesthetic that Moncler milks to kingdom come – and by the 1970s, the preppy colours and alpine knits had given way to yellow all-in-one ski suits. The less said about the 1980s ski fashions the better (although just to mention that many designs looked like something out of an Empire of the Sun video) and in the early 1990s, a ski outfit looked like a shell suit made out of sherbet candy.

Then, along with the advent of snowboarding, came the straggly haired potheads – and the ‘surfer dude’ brands.

There’s no getting around it, skiwear – like most outdoor wear – is very ugly.

Few aesthetically motivated brands have taken on the challenge of producing gear that is both practical and attractive. One of the only attractive down ski jackets I could find was at Uniqlo; I laugh in the mirror every time I don a pair of salopettes. Where is the design? Where is the elegance? It’s bizarre for a sport classed as one of the most popular for High Net Worth individuals that there aren’t more brands clamoring for the attention of their wallets.

Canada Goose, Moncler and another brand Bogner are the unchallenged kings of the slopes because they embody the sleek, simple chic that so many of the most elegant skiers seek. And in truth, only the latter two brands can claim to have revived a lot of the past glamour of the sport.

 

New Year’s Sartorial Resolutions

“Have you got any ressies?” someone asked me recently.

“Ressies?” I winced.

“Yea, you know resolutions. New Year’s. I’ve got a few. Need to go to the gym I joined – last January!”

Groan.

I’m not much of a ‘ressie’ man. For me, things like going to the gym and eating healthily don’t really require the New Year ‘spell’; my formidable year-round vanity sees to that.

I could make some weak self-promises around work, some attempt to ‘correct’ my personality – whatever the hell that means – and I could probably set-up a direct debit to a dog charity but I am not so woolly-minded that I can’t see them as mere bait for the bandwagon.

After all, to “resolve” is to ‘decide firmly on a course of action’ and, thinking about it at length, I realized there was very little that would cause me to firmly commit to a course of action, save a few personal business ideas I have been mulling over.

Also, ‘New Year’s resolutions’ are meant to be silly and breezy – at least everyone else’s seem to be. So the only resolutions worth considering are sartorial ones, and given that I spend an inordinate amount of time reading, writing, window-shopping, reviewing, admiring, lusting and dreaming about all things sartorial, it’s clearly an area in which I can make some sensible changes and some firm commitments.

Well, firm-ish.

1. Steadily build my suit collection with MTM and (maybe) bespoke

The suit is king, long live the suit.

Not only do I need good suits for work, I also enjoy wearing them more than any other clothing. It’s a point of mystery to me that many others take no pleasure, or pride, in acquiring and wearing suits.

It’s true that I used to advocate a more substantial collection of odd jackets, trousers and waistcoats. There is no doubt these are useful, but purchasing a three-piece suit gives you all the elements in a single package that, when combined, is the apogee of elegant masculinity.

On the cards: a dark grey flannel three piece for winter and a dark blue linen three piece for summer.

2. Tailor all of my favourite trousers

I have several pairs of trousers that I love wearing, but are slightly off in some way. I have lost weight over the past year, so many are too generous in the waist and thigh. Also, some of the legs do not have the exact taper I would like, and I always feel slightly incomplete when I wear them. Having recently had a pair of suit trousers slimmed and tapered, I have resolved to take the plunge and have all my favourite trousers (including some daring ones in black velvet) tailored.

This improvement to my wardrobe will also mean that I have more reason to…

3. Avoid impulse purchases

It’s long been a part of my philosophy to value quantity as well as quality of clothing. I love variety and feel somewhat dejected at the thought of wearing the same outfit twice. I am therefore what I would charitably term a “good shopper.”

However, this singular fondness has often led to wastefulness; silly items I have worn but a few times. No more, I tell you, no more.

4. Only buy ties on eBay

This is a bit of a cheat resolution as I have long resorted to online auctions for second-hand silk and wool ties.

The reasons are simple; I prefer older silk, I prefer older patterns and they are exceptional value for money. There are some lovely new ties out there, particularly those by Drakes and Ralph Lauren, but they are ludicrously expensive by comparison.

5. Make more significant investments

There are a number of things I should spend more money on, a few key pieces for which I should opt for a little more quality and durability, not just style. I have a habit of choosing on the latter alone.

However, there are some things I am looking for – a good Panama hat, a more capacious washbag – that require more than prettiness. They are long-term pieces for the next decade or so, not fly-by-night fashion.