Bulldog & Wasp

It seems an age since my last article for Men’s Flair, and I should start by thanking Bilal for inviting me back.

I always enjoyed writing for this website as it was a genuine enthusiast’s site.

Enthusiast is exactly how I would describe myself, and I guess I’ve taken that enthusiasm to the ultimate extreme.

The reason for my prolonged absence is that having threatened to set up my own clothing label I’ve actually gone and done it.

It’s called Bulldog & Wasp and represents not only my love of clothes and the art of dressing but also my own philosophy to dressing well and men’s clothing in general. I’m frequently disappointed by what’s offered up to men from both the high street and in particular high end retailers and designer labels. Often you pay for a name only, affixed to low quality high margin garments made with varying degrees of appreciation for the history of the garment or its true form and function. Utility, quality and craft are the things I most desire from a clothing label and my clothes.

So what can you expect in the coming months? I guess you would expect me to plug my own label, and yes from time to time I will do that. But I hope when I do you’ll learn some of the thinking behind the choices I’ve made for products and in so doing it may help you in your own mental sartorial arithmetic. And I’ll be very pleased to hear from you when I’ve got it wrong – or right. You never stop learning.

I hope also to share some of the things I learn while vetting manufactures and some of the things I’ve already learned about clothes manufacturing and design. I hope these will help you to make more informed choices about your own purchases.

I will tell you about other independent labels I’ve found that I think worth knowing about and who deserve support from a wider audience. I hope you’ll find these useful for putting together your own wardrobe of great clothes.

I will, I’m sure, survey Men’s Flair readers so that I might produce a better product or service. And I hope to hear your thoughts on some of the design arguments previously only articulated in my own head – or in my past Men’s Flair articles. These may help you realise you are not alone.

But, above all, I hope to share my enthusiasm for the business of dressing well and fine clothes, one enthusiast to another.

Cotton, Linen And Wool Suits

Casual suits are a summer staple for the well turned out man and with summer just around the corner for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, I thought I’d talk about why suits made out of cotton and linen are considered to be more casual. Specifically, I want to run through some of the difference between suits made from cotton, linen and wool.

However, before we jump into that, have a look at the comparison pic below of me wearing linen blend, wool and cotton suits.

The first thing you’ll probably notice is that my face is blurred in the left picture and the second thing is probably that I have no head in the picture on the right. And while I might be trying to be funny I am trying to make a point: aside from that you’re probably not noticing all that much difference.

All three pictures were taken from between two to five metres away and I really do believe from that distance the average person walking past you on the street won’t notice anything other than the fact you’re wearing a suit.

I mean sure, the cotton suit is a bit stiffer and the linen suit a little less structured, but the first point I’d like to make is that a suit is a suit. Suits present a particular image in the minds of most people and, walking down the street, chances are those who aren’t fashion nerds like you and I will probably not notice the difference between your navy, cotton blazer and your navy, wool suit jacket.

What I’d like you to keep in the back of your mind is that all three of my suits are tailored in a ‘soft’ way: lightly structured with unpadded shoulders; they’re also all in shades of blue. Something I’ll come to at the end of this post.

Finish

Despite what I’ve talked about above there are differences between the three cloths and the first and most noticeable is the finish. When I say finish I mean the way the fabric looks.

Wool is sleeker and shinier than the other two fabrics and adds that classic sharpness you expect from your suit. It also means it looks more ‘formal’ or business-like.

Linen is ‘slubby’. It’s got all these little lines and imperfections running through it so that it looks the messiest of the bunch. Having said that, some would say linen has more character, which basically means it looks more worn-in straight out of the box.

Cotton is generally quite matte and heavy looking compared to the other cloths; I generally find cotton to be woven the most tightly. It’s also the only one that ages gracefully in my opinion; that slight fading along the edges lends cotton suits character the more you wear them.

Drape

All three suits drape differently; drape being how the suit hangs off your body.

Wool drapes nicely and shapes to the body due to its elasticity. It will also pull back into shape far more than the other two cloths. Basically it’s just right for making a garment like a suit, and hence why it is the main fabric used in suit making.

Linen has poor elasticity and therefore does not stretch in the way wool does. It also tends to wrinkle – due to the lack of elasticity. Most people know linen as a wrinkly fabric and this is something to take into account when purchasing a linen suit. It is, however, often woven quite loosely and therefore is quite light and comfortable to wear.

Cotton also has poor elasticity and is generally the most tightly woven fabric. The combination of those two means cotton probably drapes the poorest out of all three fabric types – it just tends to be a bit stiff. Some tailors recommend cutting a cotton suit slightly larger to give you a more comfortable range of motion. Cotton suits also tend to wrinkle over the course of the day.

Why drape and finish suggest casualness

Imagine a business suit. You’re probably thinking of a sharp navy number or maybe a sleek grey one. Maybe you’re even thinking of a boxy, silky-looking, charcoal, power suit worn by a politician. You’ve basically answered the original question in this post: why are linen and cotton suits considered to be more casual?

Neither of those cloths have the same slick finish a wool suit has. Moreover, both types drape a little differently to wool with some wrinkling and some stiffness involved. Together these aspects differentiate cotton and linen suits just enough.

Some might even say that suits made from linen or cotton are sloppier than suits made from wool. I don’t necessarily mean that as a negative; perhaps you’d prefer to think of it as wool suits being sharper than suits made from the former two cloths. Either way, you’d agree that we’re moving towards what we might define as casual – clothing that’s a bit more relaxed.

Cut and colour

I haven’t forgotten the two things I asked you to keep in the back of your mind: cut and colour.

Regardless of the cloth used, a suit can be cut more casually by having natural or unpadded shoulders and being built more ‘softly’ using a lighter canvas or no canvas at all. These aspects again take away from some of the sharp lines that define a business suit; softening up that silhouette lends to casualness.

It should also be noted that bold colours and lines are also more casual. In the first picture in this post both my cotton and linen suit are in a brighter tone of blue and that will lend them an air of casualness.

My point here is that cut and colour can be as important as fabric choice when going for a casual suit or jacket.

Why Copying Can Be The Best Solution

Tailoring isn’t why I started writing about clothes.

I’m well aware that there are countless bloggers, forumers, ‘online personalities’ and seasoned style leaders who are passionate about, even obsessed by, suits.

As a result, there is a consistent and formidable stream of introductions, explanations, examinations and reviews. A torrent of information on all kinds of things; off the rack suits, alterations, buttons, made-to-measure, bespoke, stitchings, linings – almost every tailor, whether Italian, French, Chinese or English has been touched upon.

It is for this reason that I have refrained from focusing on tailoring in this column.

However, I am drawn to comment on a recent commission because my experience is of likely value to readers.

My interaction with Tailor4Less, a European-based internet tailor with operations in China, has been mixed in fortune. I first reviewed one of their made-to-measure suits last year, a navy blue three-piece with a double-breasted waistcoat.

As I recall, my views were mixed. The tailoring was reasonably impressive for the price with the trousers and cut of the jacket more than acceptable. However, the cut of the waistcoat left something to be desired and I regretted not ordering cloth samples before selecting the fabric.

I then designed a collection of Mid-Century inspired blazers, from which I selected the bright blue, brass buttoned single-breasted as the signature piece. To achieve better functionality, I ordered a waistcoat and a pair of trousers in the same fabric.

Unfortunately, though the jacket and trousers fit more than tolerably well, I was again disappointed with the fit of the waistcoat. It was bizarrely full in the chest and the width of the waistcoat mysteriously excessive across the shoulders – especially odd given the same measurements of my body had resulted in a jacket which fit me perfectly well.

I ordered a remake of the waistcoat based on one made for me by Massimo Dutti Personal Tailoring, providing waistcoat length, chest width, waist width and shoulder width measurements to the tailoring staff. The result was a good deal better, but still not perfect. The waistcoat was too wide across the ‘V’ which resulted in it sitting too wide on the shoulders, a problem which was apparent in the first, navy suit waistcoat.

I simply didn’t understand why the block for the waistcoat was so off. Despite good and helpful communication, the result wasn’t entirely satisfactory so for my next order, a Glen check light tweed I provided more than the requested measurements and included the width between the waistcoat shoulders and the length of the waistcoat lapels, including a number of photos, and hoped that the simple science of copying – which has often been recommended to those visiting the tailoring establishments of cities such as Shanghai – could ensure satisfaction through replication.

The result, shown in these pictures, is highly satisfactory for me. I was initially disappointed to have to supply measurements from another garment. However, I have come to realize that replication of a favourite jacket, waistcoat or trouser is not only efficient but also reassuring. It means fewer surprises, less need for alteration and above all, a peace-of-mind that the garment will fit.

Bespoke aficionados would no doubt scoff into their surgeon’s cuffs at this recommendation. I might too if I was regularly commissioning £2000 suits.

The jacket might need a nip at the waist and I think some length could be shaved off. And of course, there’s none of those beautiful ‘because-we-can’ details that you get on the finest suits. However, for £214 for a three-piece suit, I find the value hard to argue with. The waistcoat might simply be a facsimile of one I already own, but why fix it if it ain’t broke?

Remember, when in doubt – copy.

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.