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?

NiAlma Shirt Review

For a good long time, I have always believed that I was never going to become a Bespoke Billy. I love my made to measure and bespoke items, but I also see plenty of value, and relative quality, in off-the-rack items.

In most areas, off-the-rack items are increasing in appeal. For instance, Zara’s jacket block is probably the best on the high street and, worryingly, is actually more flattering and better finished than many of the online made-to-measure providers.

Trousers from TopMan and River Island have also amazed – even angered – chums working in tailoring: “River Oyyyland?!” they guffaw in disbelief “They’re pretty damn good actually!”

However, one area of ready-to-wear has begun to disappoint: formal shirts.

There was a time when I couldn’t believe my luck in being a Londoner. Jermyn Street, one of the key parishes of menswear, was local to me.

Shoes, ties, grooming products and, importantly, shirts; tons and tons of shirts.

However, over time, this bounty has lost its shine. Supplier changes, cheapening of finish and a confusing inventory have taken what was once a paradise for those in need of a crisp chemise and laden it with land mines for the uninitiated. It is no longer a clean-sweep value-guarantee.

As a result, when I was contacted by NiAlma to review one of their made-to-measure shirts, I was delighted.

Founded in 2007, the NiAlma brand seeks to offer “a premium shirt, comparable with the best brands in the market, at the lowest price possible.” All their shirts are made to each customer’s measurements and there is a massive, Enigma-machine-number of combinations possible.

Their fabrics are all cotton and a good many are from Thomas Mason who has notably supplied Turnbull & Asser with most of their shirting – a reassuring accreditation, particularly for online-only tailoring. Once you have selected your fabric of choice, you then set about customizing the shirt, firstly choosing collar style (largely a variety of spreads, a button down option and some classic collars) and then choosing the height of the collar, the thickness, the tip size and whether a (contrast) French collar is desired.

Then you choose the cuff style (there are nine options), placket style, pockets, pleats, darts and yokes. Pleasingly, you can also choose buttons – although there are currently only four options – and also the colour of the button stitching. For those who are in the habit of forgetting their name, there is also the option of a monogram, which can be positioned on the right or left cuff, inside the collar or on the pocket.

Undeniably, the shirt is very comfortable. The Thomas Mason fabric is crisp and soft. In these pictures I have been wearing it underneath a waistcoat and jacket to show the stress of wear and wrinkles after a day. Some standard elbow creasing and a little on the upper arms too, but generally, the Black Label Thomas Mason fabric holds up well.

It’s not as snug as I expected – or wanted – and even though it feels so much better than all my recent Jermyn Street bundles, it doesn’t have a wow factor. Additionally, I was surprised to see that the contrast white collar used a plush white twill instead of a plain poplin (which is actually harder wearing).

The key to ordering with NiAlma, like any distance tailoring, is self-measurement: getting it right is the difference between success and failure. At $100-$160 for a made-to-measure shirt using high-grade Italian-made cotton, NiAlma is not bad value if the product’s purpose – a shirt that fits a man’s body – is fulfilled.

http://nialma.com/

Sir Plus’s Stunning Surplus

Sir Plus is what’s known in colloquial terms as ‘a clever one’. Even the name of the company is clever. Its clever because the spelling of said name alludes both to that which is classically British; the honour of knighthood – a concept which brings with it associations of integrity and reliability – and also that which is surplus to requirements. Using that which is surplus to requirements is Sir Plus’s business and damn good they are at it too. The firm was the brainchild of the ever excitable Henry Hales – an ambitious and business savvy graduate with a penchant for the sartorial, who started the process of producing and retailing top quality British boxer shorts from recycled materials a couple of years ago. The firm has since grown to produce luxury British products with both ethical integrity and real quality of manufacture.

Initially however, things looked rather tricky. Hales quickly discovered that the cost of printing high quality cloths for his boxers was prohibitive. Undeterred, Hales used his initiative and began scouting for top-quality surplus off-cuts and individual cut-lengths of cloth, which could be employed in the creation of Sir Plus’s quintessentially British undergarments. Hence the firm’s obsession with ‘cabbage’, this being the industry’s slang for surplus off-cuts of cloth. All Sir Plus’s cloths are ‘cabbage’ – pieces lovingly sourced from heritage rich tailors and fabric dealers in the UK and the tailoring capitals of Europe, a strategy which minimises waste within the luxury menswear industry and which creates truly original and quirky products in the process. The brand currently produces boxer shorts, scarves, pocket squares, waistcoats and some rather splendid Nehru jackets.

All Sir Plus products are made in the UK – an admirable and brave decision given the expense that this often incurs. Rest assured however, the quality of Sir Plus’s products truly does shine through. The sky blue linen double-breasted waistcoat pictured is a Sir Plus piece. The Irish linen ‘cabbage’ from which the waistcoat is fashioned is dense, tightly woven and has real body. The ivory lining compliments the warm, light blue beautifully and likewise feels substantial and crisp, as do the cream buttons and piping. I also very much like the eight by eight closure, and sweeping full-darts not often seen. The waistcoat is unusually long, but this allows for the waistcoat to sit cleanly over the waistbands of even the lowest cut modern trousers – this practicality being something I’m sure many readers will welcome. All in all, its a lovely thing – and its appeal is helped in no small measure by the fact that its been handmade in Britain.

Holly Purchase, Sir Plus’s PR & Marketing Manager makes the point perfectly: ‘Customers can feel a real pride in wearing British garments which contribute to the creation of a uniquely British wardrobe. In addition to the benefits of buying and wearing high quality garments that are made in the UK, customers lessen environmental impact and contribute positively to our economy’.

There can be no doubt then, that behind Sir Plus’s attractive eccentricity, (for anyone doubting this – please do see the rather witty video below) lies an engaging obsession for creating products which are both truly original, luxurious and quintessentially British.

http://www.sirplus.co.uk/

 

Mensflair Collection for Tailor4Less

“A man in a suit!” she said “Give me a man in a suit – any day.”

The girl who made this remark was twizzling the straw in her drink, in lip-biting admiration of a group of sartorially well-clad men.

“What about blazers?” I asked, cheekily.

“Huh?” she admonished, realizing that I was clad in what could only be described as a blazer. “Wait. Aren’t they like suits? I thought they were for old men…”

The blazer name gets a bit of a raw deal. So much so that few stores actually call their blazer collections by their true name: “Casual jackets”, “Sports jackets” and, inevitably, the simple “Jackets” seem to be preferred by many retailers.

The ‘blazer’ connotes something a little different, a little retro – perhaps even something more dowdily formal.

When I was asked by Tailor4Less to design a collection of blazers, I was therefore determined that the collection should counter these misperceptions.

There would be a staple navy blazer with brass buttons – in full Brooks Brothers style – but the rest of the collection would be focused on variations around the blazer theme.

The collection was partly inspired by Mid-Century fashion, when men’s sartorial separates began to break away from the Inter-War conservatism of navy and grey.

My first visual was of a bright blue summer blazer with brass buttons, worn with light grey or white trousers and a pair of tan penny loafers, the brightness of the blue countering the stiff formality of an equivalent design in navy.

Similarly, a night blue linen blazer with gunmetal buttons, a double-breasted sand brown cotton blazer – perfect with a white shirt and blue jeans – and a one-button black linen jacket also acted as summer adaptations of the theme.

There were also some Mid-Century classics. A light brown corduroy jacket – partly inspired by the jacket worn by Matt Damon’s character Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr Ripley is the perfect cosy friend for long, sleepy journeys.

A double-breasted light grey blazer in a light, Italian wool is perfect for pairing with blue and dark grey trousers – to contrast with the typical pairing which reverses this colour combination – and a light green blazer is a fun nod to golf club retro that can be worn with a blue shirt, a pair of grey flannel trousers and chocolate brown shoes.

Finally, a double breasted blazer combines a design classic with modern updates; a subtle mid-blue instead of navy, silver-tone metal buttons and patch pockets ensure that it looks and feels contemporary.

The key to wearing blazers is not to take them seriously. The colours and embellishments are there to be enjoyed, not revered. Unless you happen to be a genuine seaman, no one is going to reprimand you for slouching in your blazer.

As always with Tailor4Less clothing, the blazers in this collection are cut to your measurements. They are not ‘off-the-rack’ and as you can see, they fit admirably well.

Prices for this collection start at just under £125 and go up to £190.

Summer Linen: The Stuff of Legend

Linen, a cloth which truly does have its own unique allure. My own personal love affair with the stuff started long before I became interested in sartorial menswear; I remember distinctly that I used to don some bizarre linen chinos in my early teens during the summer in an attempt to look edgy, matched with ghastly lumberjack checked shirts of the sort that appeals to confused and rebellious adolescents.

Today, with several years of engagement in sartorial style under my belt, I wear linen rather differently, but the underling appeal of linen cloths for summer has not changed. It is perhaps the quintessential summer cloth, at once debonair and dishevelled. There’s just something about a well-worn linen suit that conjures a highly romanticised view of tailored dress; a blend of Brideshead Revisited, the French Riviera, Expressionist painter and early twentieth century Bohemian, good quality linen tailoring creates an image of a man who offers the epitome of nonchalant, characterful and expressive summer style.

Although I have written previously on the benefits of cotton and linen blends (this being something that I entirely stand by), in the heat of July and August when the heat is at its most intense, there are only two adequate options for tailored clothing; the lightest wool frescos of seven woven to eight ounces in weight, or similarly lightweight, open-weave linens.

Linens have perhaps the greatest variation in quality of all commonly used tailoring fabrics, but in my experience, although more expensive and tightly woven linens press and launder better than cheaper variants, the tendency to crease incessantly during use remains the same regardless. That’s just how linen behaves. For this reason, linen tends not to make for durable business dress – it doesn’t remain crisp enough to provide a professional appearance suited to most business environments and quite obviously linen suits are not ideal for long-term commuting.

This tendency to crease, combined with its floatiness, is however what gives linen its irresistible rakish charm for casual summer dress. Cut in a two piece suit it makes for a highly chic and relaxed lounge suit for summer soirees, and should be your quintessential port of call for luxurious holidays and impromptu weekend getaways. Likewise, there should be no end to your collection of linen blazers tucked away in the wardrobe for balmy summer days.

Linen gives the opportunity to wear something which offers a great variety of colour and texture. Smooth linen and silk blended twill makes for luxurious suits, chunky linen herringbones or coarse basketweaves offer great mid-summer jacketing cloths and for the hottest climate, a pair of unlined plainweave linen trousers (such as those I’m wearing below) are the ultimate in convenient summer tailoring: light, airy and breathable. I wear such trousers all the time and they’re so comfortable in the heat they may as well be shorts.

Similarly, there’s a real argument for suggesting that casual linen shirting provides the ultimate in chic holiday or even slick weekend style, matched with chinos or even (as I prefer) the aforementioned unlined linen trousers. Although the crumpled structure of linen is not something that will appeal to everyone, there is something effortless in its delightful floatiness that lends movement and a sense of breeziness to linen garments. Loosely cut shirts work particularly well, this being something I only just discovered as of a few weeks ago – having only ever really worn lightweight cotton poplins and oxfords in spring and summer – a decision I now regret, given how effortlessly dapper my linen shirting is proving to be.

Indeed, wearing linen garments slightly more loosely than you might otherwise is the best way to channel this sense of suavity, given linen’s floaty structure. If you don’t give the cloth the room to drape and float a little, the effect is lost. Avoid narrow or close-cut linen trousers like the plague for this reason, ensure that the legs drape spaciously and wear with turn-ups to add a little weight to the trouser bottoms to aid their elegant ebb and flow around your ankles as your swagger down the seafront.

I’d likewise suggest that with the exception of formal morning dress waistcoats (which are often cut in linen to save on weight and density in the summer sun), don’t bother with investing in waistcoats cut from linen; the cloth simply rides up and creases terribly following the natural shape of the torso, because it has no room to flow or drape around the chest and waist. Opt for generously proportioned half-lined and lightly structured summer blazers and trousers for the most comfortable ensembles.

That’s all there is to it really. Linen is a real luxury to wear in the summer and its a luxury which is distinctly affordable. Throw a linen suit on in the morning with an open collar and swan around town all afternoon long. Its cool (in more ways than one), comfortable and supremely chic.