Punching Up in Party Season

lapo-velvet-jacket

Hold onto your hats; party season is here once again.

Between the middle of December and the first birdsong of the New Year, the world turns into an alcoholic, tinsel-and-firework merry-go-round, wringing out the remainder of our leftover greed, wantonness and impropriety. I have only one Christmas party to go to but one acquaintance of mine has three work-related functions to attend; “One’s a divisional thing, the other’s a group company party” And what’s the third? “Oh. I’ve got an invite to the girlfriend’s work ball – can’t be bothered to go.”

It’s a shame that we get so used to such things, we never learn to appreciate them sufficiently in the moment. Life, after all, is about contribution and being part of something greater than mere survival. Being invited to balls and parties should excite us; fill us with that keen sense of anticipation.

It should also fill us with inspiration – and not lead us into the temptation of skimping on a black tie ensemble by wearing a dark grey lounge suit with a clip-on poly bow tie.

I received a frantic missive from a chum recently, asking me how to dress for a ‘terrifyingly trendy fashionista party’, set to take place in a glittering ballroom in one of Mayfair’s grand dame palace hotels. He had a grosgrain silk bow tie and Marcella cotton shirt but what could else he possibly wear to cut a dash and avoid looking like the rest of the rent-a-tux crowd?

The Jacket

I would recommend a velvet smoking jacket style.

Ultra-traditionalists would sniff that this is ‘normally only to be worn in your own residence’ and is not appropriate for an ‘out of home’ black tie function, particularly balls.

Well, balls to that.

It’s difficult to cut a head-turning dash as a chap without looking a little unconventional on such occasions. And given that female fashion has long dispensed with the length requirements dictated for ballgowns, to shun a fabric like velvet, that catches the season’s aesthetic so wonderfully, is frankly silly.

I would opt for a colour rather than black velvet, due to the fact that coloured velvet is infinitely better at reflecting light. Burgundy is elegant, if a little old school, bottle green is currently trending, although not for the light hearted, but the ultimate in sleek smoking chic this season is, perhaps unexpectedly, brown.

In certain light it has a warm, chocolate tone that contrasts deliciously with the cool, crisp white of a starched shirt-front. Black bow ties appear more authoritative next to it and it has an old-world, distinguished charm to it, like a fading label on a great Bordeaux. Or Robert Redford.

Suit Supply and Gieves & Hawkes both have excellent shawl-collared, one-button options available, with black silk-faced lapels and jetted pockets. Paul Stuart Phineas Cole has an all-brown option, with brown-grosgrain peak lapels.

The Trousers

Given the slightly outré jacket suggestion, one might expect me to suggest sober, black Barathea trousers.

These would certainly work very well, however, black Barathea has never really made much of a statement. It fades into the background (quite by design) and, on this occasion, is only for the unimaginative.

You could go all brown velvet like Lapo Elkann. However, velvet suits make me think of Austin Powers.

Instead, I would either recommend black silk trousers, the shine contrasting with the lush matte of the velvet pile, or – if you are feeling brave (and Tom Ford circa 2010) enough – some tartan trousers, with a Scandinavian uber-taper at the ankles. Hackett have some options to oblige.

The Shoes

I always favour patent Oxfords or opera pumps, but this is a look that deserves something a little more dangerous, like Paul Stuart Phineas Cole’s houndstooth evening slippers.

If these go too far, perhaps a plain pair of black, Albert velvet slippers from Brooks Brothers would be more approachable.

Anything other than evening slippers or pumps in this ensemble adds unnecessary ‘clump.’

The other essentials

The usual routine; shirt studs, black silk socks, and a black silk cummerbund. Add a pocket square if you feel it is needed, but keep it fairly conservative. Remember, keeping the small things trad lets the big things go mad.

Why I Won’t Suit The New iPhone

I’m a big fan of the iPhone.

(And no, Apple haven’t sponsored this post.)

It’s so pretty. So well formed. So smooth. So useful. So reassuringly solid.

I am not, however, a fan of the iPhone 6. And the less said of its gargantuan, plus-sized sibling the better.

The implied philosophy that ‘size matters’ is not incorrect. It does. Unfortunately, it counts in the wrong places as well as the right ones.

For as thin as the objects may be, their surface area still makes a substantial impact.

Though many have long complained about the ‘tiny’ screens on iPhones when compared to other brand’s models, I have been quite satisfied with a mere 4 inches. And so have my inside jacket pockets.

I am not one of those who finds it convenient to keep my phone in my bag, nor do I like keeping it in external pockets – as they too often get doused by one of London’s stranger varieties of rainshower.

The driest, and most convenient place, to keep my precious phone is in the inner chest pocket of the suits and blazers I wear on a daily basis. This allows for easy access in the event of answering and making calls, controlling the music selection when headphones are attached and feeling the phone vibrating with an alert.

So far, the Apple iPhone has been of a size that has a low impact on the line of a gentleman’s jacket. Even those items that are finely tailored don’t show a hint of the famous ‘rectangle with rounded corners.’ For those like me that prefer to wear slim fitting jackets, this design discreteness has been a godsend. And other style-minded chaps seem to agree. It takes no genius perusing Pinterest to see that the iPhone is probably the most used phone at Pitti Uomo.

However, it should come as no surprise that we weren’t really meant to walk around with tiny computers suspended next to our bosoms. And the suit, evergreen as it might be in terms of style, was never designed for this purpose either.

And though the inside chest pocket is less revealing than others of its content (largely due to the canvas), a large object (in length and width) does something rather criminal to the beautiful shape of a jacket’s chest. I tried to put an acquaintance’s 6 Plus into my bespoke chalk stripe: “It won’t fit” I said “Ah. Is the pocket too narrow?” they asked “No. The phone’s too big. The pocket is the correct size for the suit.”

Then, another offered up to try the 6 instead. It slipped inside the pocket easily enough. I buttoned it up and looked in front of the mirror. Though the lump itself was shallow, it made such an impact on the silhouette of the suit that it looked as though I was carrying the Holy Bible.

Unlike gentlemen’s accessories of the past such as the hip flask or cigarette case, these supersized phones have not been designed with a sartorial mind.

The solution that most suggest, particularly the tailors, is to engineer around it. Some have created special smart phone pockets, sized accordingly, and many have relocated these lining pockets to the lower half of the jacket to reduce the effect on the shape of the jacket.

Of course, this has a hefty cost implication for existing clothes – and the results aren’t always flawless. It’s also dashed inconvenient to have the phone flapping about down near the jacket hem rather than in easy reach.

Size does matter. But so does elegance.

M&S and Gandy: A Brief Story

Missed opportunity. There are few sadder words in the English language. “Too late” is heartbreaking; “gone forever” is, frankly miserable.

I was ruminating on these maudlin notes when viewing the much ballyhooed and heavily marketed underwear collection created by David Gandy for Marks & Spencer. The story of the product is that Gandy, a male model – reputed to be the world’s most successful – has, for a price, lent his name and experience to one of the British high street’s most famous, and sadly troubled, retailers.

In classic Waugh-esque news headline tone; “Desperate retailer clings to the coat tails of its prize clothes horse.”

However, as slight as it sounds, the model’s offering in this trade isn’t insignificant. His experience has its uses; Gandy has often been snapped wearing very little and so his knowledge of lycra cotton underwear is, no doubt, exceptionally useful.

But when all is said and done, it’s his name that M&S are paying for. “But who’s Gandy?” many of you may cry.

Fair question. And one likely to be asked by most of Marks & Spencer’s most loyal customers. For all the bleating M&S can do about Gandy’s leather bound books and his rich mahogany scented home, he means diddly squat to the average John Bull frantically rummaging the underwear racks.

And here we get to the heart of the problem.

The demographic profile of the average Marks & Spencer underwear shopper is not that of the Calvin Klein underwear shopper. He is generally likely to be price sensitive, buy plain underwear in bulk and see celebrity-endorsed knickers as a merry con.

However, the Calvin Klein shopper might be more susceptible to trends and famous people slapping their names on a pair of tighty whiteys. Bjorn Borg, the Swedish former tennis champ, might have tempted him with his hypercoloured retro designs and name stretched across the waistband.

The issue is, he doesn’t really shop at Marks & Spencer. He knows who Gandy is, and might even have bought a pair of Dolce pants on the back of those sweaty-pec D&G adverts. “Oh wow” he might say “Gandy’s done his own underwear. Nice.” He might even entertain the thought of buying a few pairs, uploading on Instagram, telling his followers: “Check it out – Gandy’s pants. Need a few more pairs – and some more gym time!”

However, for all the guff about quality and details, there’s not much that can draw him into a buying frenzy. It would have been quite cool to have a pair of Gandy pants, but they’re just so…ordinary. Nothing. No quirkiness, no outlandish design or statement. Just quiet, white pants with a small, grey, embarrassed logo identifying the namesake.

My first reaction was of incredulity. It’s true that most M&S existing buyers wouldn’t like a pair of tight, D&G-esque pants with ‘GANDY’ stretched across the waistband. After all, they like Rich Tea biscuits, still listen to the cricket on the radio and own picnic chairs. But then they wouldn’t be the target anyway because they wouldn’t pay £20 for two pairs when they could get five pairs for the same amount of money, simply because a male model they’ve never heard of helped design the collection.

M&S could have pushed the boat out, stretched the brief (pun intended) to be targeted at the kind of fashion brigade who aren’t generally seen within 3 miles of M&S menswear. Create a sensation, get the TopMan-cum-Reiss crowd fighting over a pair; have the 20-something girls giggling in excitement as they take off their lover’s shirts to reveal the model hunk’s name emblazoned across the waistband.

The collection is nothing without his name – and yet the retailer has made such little use of it. A missed opportunity indeed.

 

The RKOI

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me…Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.”

Scott Fitzgerald’s words are never out of date. And there is no better example of this than the notorious Rich Kids of Instagram.

The lives of the wealthy have always fascinated the commonfolk. The cult of celebrity, salacious gossip about tycoons’ scions and the exposure of alcoholic diaries of aristocratic lounge lizards are nothing new. ‘Celebutante’, ‘RKOI’ – they’re just new terms for an old phenomenon.

It used to be called ‘Society’ and it claimed a haughty superiority to everything and everyone else. It led with fashion (the mourning Queen Victoria sparked the Victorians long obsession with wearing black), was instructional on matters of form and conveyed a certain lifestyle that others looked up to and wished to emulate.

Society went to the races at Ascot – so went everyone else. Society ate at Oscar DelMonico’s – so tucked in all who could.

Now, ‘Society’ posts prettily filtered pictures of jets, yachts, Vuitton and AP watches all over a social network. Exposing their gilded, carefree lives to the world with glee and a giddy sense of entitlement, the RKOI are one of the most significant social sensations since the dawn of the internet.

Behaving much like Pinocchio’s chums on Pleasure Island, or the Buchanans in Gatsby they “smash things up and retreat into their vast carelessness” – so careless in fact, that they document their ‘exclusive’ lives for everyone to view online.

The idea behind many of the employed hashtags is inevitably envy.

#youcantsitwithus, #bornrich, #flyprivate – these are not the call signs of open inclusion or balanced upbringings.

The pictures themselves are also stunningly off-putting.

A well-fed late-teen lies in a bathtub half-naked holding a Methuselah of Cristal champagne, blowing his lips in mock-kiss, concealing his eyes from the flash with a pair of sunglasses that cost as much as a television.

Another shows a Bieber-esque twenty-something on his father’s helicopter carrying a Chanel backpack, swearing at the camera as a pretty brunette licks the side of his face.

“The thing is” an intelligent friend recently observed “they don’t know what they’re doing. They’ve so much power and influence because of this wealth but they don’t know what they’re doing with it – they’re literally just kids.”

Kids they are. But kids that could strike fear into the hearts of many a luxury brand.

One of the things I have always found fascinating is when brands ask to be brought ‘to life’ by their own customers.

Fashion design megalodons like Ralph Lauren don’t really do this, and have actually thrived better because of it. Bringing something ‘real’ to the table removes any sense of mystery and fairy tale. It makes it more commonplace, even accessible.

If you take Lauren’s perpetual Gatsby aesthetic for Purple Label, it works because it’s a fantasy and not a reality. I really wish there were young wealthy chaps with white wool suits and spectators dashing about a Hamptons estate in a white 1930s car – but there simply aren’t.

It’s the same effect with Vuitton’s (or practically any watchmaker’s) use of celebrities in their campaigns. Celebrities are so fascinating because they are partially hidden. It makes them more glamorous, which makes them more attractive – which, in turn, makes them want to hide more.

The key word ‘hide’ is lost on the RKOI. They flaunt and flaunt and flaunt. They wear everything and anything because there are no rules and no limits. Though brands have carefully built up balanced images to appeal to a broad cross section of people, their excessive and often tasteless display points more to the vulgarity of the brands than their quality or style.

This is the danger for any brand on the RKOI radar that embraces social media. Your brand, and to an extent your product, ceases to be in your control. They see it, they buy it, they flaunt it.

Free marketing? Be careful what you wish for.

The gluttonous piling of watches; the collages of Ferraris with firearms; the line of cocaine on a Tom Ford suit – these are the things of nightmare for any brand wishing to claim a sense of rarity, craftsmanship, elegance and social responsibility.

Worst of all, they are absolute kryptonite for a brand wishing to carefully maintain an image of style.

Perhaps when they wanted the brand to come to life, they should have read Mary Shelley first.

Down with the Kids

I recently walked past the new Abercrombie & Fitch “Kids” store on Savile Row.

Did you get that?

Abercrombie. Fitch. KIDS.

On SAVILE ROW.

It’s like being told that there’s a Ladbrokes in Belgrave Square.

However, aside from how monumentally disappointing it is to me that this particular berth is now a reality, it did prompt me to think.

Now that the pavement will be clogged with Bugaboos and the air ever more redolent of Abercrombie’s answer to mustard gas, the question for the Row’s ancient tailoring tenants is simple: are they more relevant, for now and the foreseeable future than the new “noisy neighbours” at No.3?

The answer isn’t as simple. Perhaps they are, perhaps they aren’t. What I do know is that I am often approached by people who ask me about buying “Savile Row suits”. I am rarely approached by people who ask me about “Savile Row separates”.

And yet the majority of men skipping around the very elegant part of the capital I work in don’t seem to be particularly fussed about suits – particularly on Fridays, when they don’t have to be.

Of course, down the Row, you’ll always see well-dressed suited men going to and fro, wearing big lapels with DB waistcoats, tie clips and slick Gaziano & Girling brogues as if the 1960s had never happened.

But walk out into Old Bond Street or onto Regent Street and the suits vanish. Like something out of Lewis Carroll, you wonder whether they ever existed at all as you note that the majority of men who are self-consciously well dressed are wearing separates – trousers (or jeans) and a blazer.

While it’s easier to sit back, observe and bemoan decay, there’s a more practical – and profitable – way for the Row tailors to deal with the changing tastes of London men.

By marketing the full capabilities of tailoring – not just suits.

There is no getting away from the fact that Savile Row is really “Suit Street.” You don’t go down there if you want a pair of jeans or some cotton t-shirts.

But what about a pair of grey wool trousers, or some cotton chinos cut the way you want them, or a chocolate corduroy jacket? And where does one get that perfect, navy overcoat for winter?

“We make everything really” one of the Row’s tailors recently told me, rather sorrowfully “but I don’t think people really want much else from us besides a suit.”

Really? The same people wandering into Paul Smith, Ralph Lauren and Cucinelli? What are they looking for in these emporiums then? Chicken breasts?

The changing tastes of fashion should hold no fear for the Row. They once helped create fashion, of course, but they are often resistant to its extremes. However, that doesn’t mean they haven’t adapted. After all, few were forcing their customers into frock coats after the First World War.

For those with the resources, a bespoke tailor is almost the first and only port of call for those in the know. However, I have often taken friends around to peruse swatch books for them to express incredulity at the possibilities available: “What? Bespoke moleskin trousers? Can they do that? Really?”

A more casual uniform is not necessarily a cheaper uniform. After all, men are spending many hundreds on non-bespoke “designer” alternatives. They have the resources and the will. What they don’t have, unlike women, is much of an imagination.

Generally, men need to be fed information about what is possible – almost exhaustively – otherwise they will never ask. It sounds like I am being uncharitable to my own sex but I cannot conceive of a more flattering manner of expression.

Ironically, Abercrombie do have an imagination.

Which other lifestyle brand could have the breathtakingly arrogant fantasy that their overpriced, mass-produced nappies belong on the same street as Huntsman, Henry Poole & Maurice Sedwell?