Sebastian Ward Review

It’s fair to say that shirts are an addiction of mine.

Some sartorialists choose footwear as their vice, others nearly bankrupt themselves through repeated visits to Savile Row. I have even known one man to be utterly besotted with socks, so much so that he had an entire six drawer chest full of them.

I am pretty attached to ties, I must admit. But shirts are a greater extravagance. I always flit from selecting basic whites and blues – using utility as an excuse – to chasing after French collars, unusual stripes, greens, yellows and pinks.

My collection now has its own, overstuffed cupboard and, due to the hanging arrangements, it is nearly impossible to keep them neatly maintained; a good once over with an iron is always required of a morning.

I was introduced to the pleasures of shirts by my father, who has himself, a formidable collection. He emphasizes the important facets of fine shirting, paying particular attention to collars. He often points out ‘weak collars’ of newsreaders or politicians; curving at the tips, asymmetrical, poor stages for fine tie knots. I have consequently paid enormous attention to collars, ensuring they are starched, stiffened and substantial.

The latter word is certainly one I would use to describe the collar on a Sebastian Ward shirt. There’s something superior and UHNW about this collar, something Dragon’s Den-like. I put it on and instantly felt I was just about to be nasty to someone about their radical idea for dog onesies.

Sebastian Ward is a classic story in modern menswear: a brand borne of frustration.

It was founded by Christopher Berry, a Manhattanite raised the Ivy way, who originally experimented with his design for the perfect shirt on a restored Singer sewing machine. Having encountered kindred spirits, Konrad and Alika, who were sympathetic with his frustrations, they set about producing a design that would combat the mass of ready to wear shirts that are either “too tight-fitting…too short at the tail…or the collars too flimsy.”

The shirt itself is somewhat anti-slim fit. As Christopher states, “It’s ridiculous to believe that a tight and skimpy shirt is going to perform comfortably in our current day and age. Yet, over the years, men have been tricked into thinking that ‘tighter fit’ is synonymous with ‘better fit.’ As a result, functionality and mobility are often limited in modern dress shirts.”

Indeed, everything about the Sebastian Ward shirt speaks of its founder’s frustration with other shirts providing function or form – but not both. The 3.1mm Mother of Pearl buttons are milled to be easy to manipulate through a button hole; the tail is a traditional length to sufficient for the ‘tuck’ when seated; the sleeve length is generous for comfort but the cuff slim.

Like many premium shirt brands, Sebastian Ward use the mighty Lancastrian Thomas Mason’s cotton, which is deliciously smooth. With it’s comfortable fit and high, aristocratic collar band, it feels like a combination of an 18th century lawn shirt and a modern Italian.

If I had to pick a standout feature of this shirt, it would be the collar. For one thing, it’s huge, but not comically so. Secondly, it has a beautiful roll that is majestic with or without a tie.

At $175, this shirt isn’t cheap but then it isn’t designed to be. This is a small brand that caters for a discerning group of men who believe that elegance and comfort should come in the same package. As Christopher states; “The reality remains that athletic men are seeking a flattering, yet practical fit that will reliably stand up to their daily physical requirements.” Having ripped the seams on a shirt with the attractive but impractical description of ‘Extra Slim Fit’, I think I know what he means.

Ravis Tailor Review

There’s more to Asian tailoring than Hong Kong and Hong Bang.

Ravi’s Tailors might not be the most famous ‘distance’ tailors available online but they are certainly one of the oldest.

Founded in 1991 by Ravi Daswani in the Bangkok Palace Hotel, Ravi’s is a singular operation. If the website looks nearly twenty years old, that’s because it is. Back in 1998, Richard James was the darling of Savile Row, the toast of the new generation of bricks and mortar tailoring – at the same time, Ravi’s was setting up an online tailoring platform.

It’s also worth noting at this stage that Ravi’s Tailors is also a good-old travelling tailor. They regularly visit the UK and Ireland for a more traditional measuring service. This is often preferred by many to online-only due to the human interaction. Their schedule for this February is here.
The process

Unlike other tailors, who have developed sleek, minimalist sites with 3D suit builders, professional photoshoots with models and free books of fabric swatches, Ravi’s relies on a more informal method. In much the same way that one might take a magazine cut-out of a film actor to the barber to achieve the desired hairstyle, Ravi’s ask you to supply a few pictures of the kind of suit you want – or choose from the range of styles that are already on the site.

Instead of having radials that change a suit’s design from single to double-breasted, peak to notch lapel or two-piece to three-piece, Ravi’s just ask you to browse through and check whether you prefer the suit worn by Kevin Kline in ‘De-Lovely’ or by Hugh Laurie in ‘Jeeves & Wooster.’ It’s somewhat unsettling to begin with, and you start to wonder just exactly how closely the suit you order will represent that particular style.

You enter an email address, which permits you to go to the next step: fabric selection. There is a very large range of fabrics, many of which have interesting patterns such as window checks and chalk stripes. The swatch images aren’t exactly huge, which is a shame as the swatch books start from £18.75 for a book of 20 swatches.

Following this, there is a good deal of form-filling, but most of it highly beneficial: you can choose light or heavy shoulder padding, exact lapel width, button type (brass, horn mother of pearl etc). Crucially, they also offer two different types of construction: Standard Fused (“the jackets are fused and also have canvas facings for added support”) and Full Canvas (“a ‘floating’ canvas is attached with the silk threads at certain strategic points to ensure the front of the garment is unmarked and no fusing is used”). The latter costs an additional £50, which given the work involved is a bargain.

The suit I chose to review, however, used the standard construction. I wanted a light grey double-breasted design, so sent a few example photographs. I provided detailed measurements of an existing suit and sent them on. The price of such a suit is a rather awkward £296.25.
The product

The suit itself arrived fairly quickly (within two weeks of ordering), although a customs fee was payable.

Out of the box (see above photos) it was fairly wrinkled and needed a good steam – unsurprising, given the journey. The fabric is a rather stiff, mid-light weight wool blend; as I had supplied photos of examples, I was unsure of the exact fabric that I would receive. Given my experience in distance tailoring, I’d say that fabric is 60% of the satisfaction in a suit. A good fit is no longer sufficiently impressive and a poor fabric makes an excellent fit irrelevant. Fabric samples help alleviate concerns about fabrics, so I don’t know why these tailoring companies don’t send potential customers a book of fabrics for a very low cost (like Dragon Inside) or at least let them order them and claim the cost back against future orders (like Tailor4Less).

I disliked the standard plastic buttons provided with the suit and, as usual, sought better replacements in Mother of Pearl (see photographs below).

The jacket fit well – perhaps a little too well. It is certainly a nice cut, but is very slim, particularly in the arms.

The waist is actually a beautiful shape, although when the jigger button is secured and the jacket is buttoned up, there is evident wrinkling due to the strain caused by the button positions. I, personally, don’t mind this as I don’t like the flat-board perfection that everyone else seems to crave. However, others would probably wish to have the jacket let out at the side seams.

The lapels are pleasingly traditional (I seriously dislike skinny lapels on double-breasted suits) and the shoulders are lightly padded. The arms are properly set (I had specified my shoulder slope in the order) which means there is little shoulder divoting.

The trousers were slightly shorter than expected – with very little excess fabric to allow lengthening. They were also disproportionately wide compared to the ultra-fitted jacket. I had them tapered all the way down the leg by one inch at an alterations tailor.

Fit: 8 out of 10 – this was a copy of the measurements of a single breasted suit, so it didn’t turn out badly at all. The jacket is a little tight across the torso, with the wrinkling a result, but it is not at all difficult to wear. I think the shoulders and waist shape are particularly pleasing. The trousers were too full and wide for the suit, but now they have been tapered I am very comfortable with the fit.

Fabric: 6 out of 10 – slightly disappointing, middle-of-the-road in terms of quality. Feels a little hard and unfortunately typical of internet tailors. However, they have other great fabrics available, just need to be able to see them before buying!

Service: 6 out of 10 – strange website and ordering process. High charges for swatch books – and you can’t even choose which swatches they send (just the ‘most popular ones’). I also think that they should sort out the customs issues by arranging prepaying of charges in advance. It’s not nice to know your suit has been impounded by the taxman.

Quality of finish: 7 out of 10 – good but not great. Very few stray threads and very neatly finished button holes. For the price point, it’s a tidy suit. Cuffs aren’t working cuffs though and the original buttons were as cheap as they come.

Overall satisfaction: 7.5 out of 10 – this feels harsh as I’m not at all dissatisfied with the finished suit. I like the fit and it looks a lot better in my eyes now that the trousers have slimmed down and there are better buttons. However, the process – and the website – are not at all reassuring. Given that people spend hours in bricks-and-mortar tailors poring over fabric swatches, the inability to choose the fabric samples you want to see and touch is off-putting and the images of 1980s low-end catalogue models wearing boxy suits is, though transiently charming, ultimately unprofessional and disturbing.

Hrothgar Stibbon Briefcase Review

I have long needed a new briefcase. My old, tanned leather case “Brian” (so named because of my incorrigible fetish for alliteration) had put in a good shift, but long shown signs of serious fatigue.

A Frenchman by birth, he was no doubt shocked by the appalling English weather. His soft sides were tearing at the seams; his supple and all-too-delicate skin was deteriorating. To look at him had become distressing.

Much like a woman ceases to be fulfilled by the gifts of a ‘boy’ and goes off in search of a ‘man’, I realized it was time to invest in a sturdy, bridle leather briefcase. No offence, Brian.

The choices for such requirements are, even in London, rather limited. The one name that dominates in this regard is the house of Swaine Adeney Brigg, supplier of fine leather goods and official supplier to the umbrella stands of Clarence House. Their briefcases are very handsome and very sturdy – but they are not inexpensive.

Of course, they are not cheaply made. And the grade of leather used is of excellent quality. But for a substantial case you are looking at a price point of £1000-£1,500. This is not so bad in the grand scheme of things. Women’s handbags often change hands for double this price using leather of half the quality.

And when you look around at the alternatives such as Glenroyal or Marcellino, you would be forgiven for resigning to such an investment.

However, I was determined to continue searching.

In my search I came across a leather craft brand called Hrothgar Stibbon, who have been making leather goods in Bristol for over 20 years. Visiting the website, I was immediately taken by the description of their values:

“…pride is taken by us in using English bridle leather from Britain’s last remaining oak bark tanner. It takes over a year to transform raw hide into finished bridle leather.”

They have a large range of shoulder bags, most of which appear eminently appropriate for the shooting fraternity and, given that it is “heavily oiled and waxed for water resistance and strength”, imply a leather product that is designed to withstand the great outdoors – not just the cloakroom of a cocktail lounge or the backseat of a London taxi.

There is a satchel, called the Bristol, and two briefcases: the Salisbury and the Winchester. Both of these are made in traditional English (Devonshire) vegetable tanned bridle leather with pig skin interiors and solid brass fittings and rivets of brass plated steel.

I favoured the Winchester for it’s handsome closure straps with brass buckles – a little more interesting and youthful than the Salisbury. The Winchester is also more appealing as it has twin compartments (Salisbury has one). The designs are available in three colours: Black, Havana (a mushroom brown) and Chestnut (a reddish-brown).

I have always had brown briefcases. There is a great deal more to a brown case’s patina and character than black, which I find too severe and morbidly Victorian. A bright brown is also more versatile, as it is more adaptable to wear with various suit and shoe colours.

Therefore, I made an enquiry about the Chestnut Winchester. Unfortunately, Hrothgar (Roth) had to break it to me that he was phasing out this particular colour as it arrives from the Baker tannery a different tone each time, making it hard to maintain consistency. Instead, he offered me two colours from J&E Sedgwick’s tannery; a dark brown called Conker and and warm, fiery brown called Hazel, of which I chose the latter.

I also asked Roth to put my initials on the front of the case to personalize the commission (all bags are made to order) which required the Hrothgar Stibbon logo to move to the bottom of the back of the briefcase.

The result is extremely pleasing. It is one of the finest briefcases I have ever seen. The earthy reek of the tanned leather is intoxicating, the thick bridle handle feels as substantial as a knocker on a castle gate and the brass Cheney lock is of the standard you would expect on models three or four times the price. It is a Rolls Royce of a briefcase, the sort of thing you imagine gleaming in the windows of the emporiums of the grand arcades in Mayfair.

There is so much to admire in the craft and simple material beauty of the product. I love the subtle tooling on the tabs keeping the handle attached to the case, the thickness of the canvas strap, the soft pigskin interior, the stitching around the lock and the little lozenge of leather with my initials.

The most wonderful thing is that this fine piece of leathercraft, made in England by a master craftsman using his own bare hands (and some hefty tools), is also fair value. The price for this case, without the initials on the front, comes in at a gentle but reassuring £299, which is but a fraction of the cost of some cases made by the more vaunted and celebrated names – but which show little to no superiority in craftsman standards or quality of material.

The one downside for potential customers is that Hrothgar Stibbon is an online-only business. This is, admittedly, a double-edged sword; the overheads are minimized which enables the prices to remain highly competitive, but on the other hand, potential customers have no way of seeing (and touching) the product before they buy. Instead they will have to take Roth (and me) at our word. I for one am very glad I took the plunge.

 

Sharp & Dapper Shirt Stays

They say that necessity is the mother of invention.

However, in the modern age I find that the opposite is often true.

There are so many products that create problems in order to sell solutions. Like the myriad bathroom cleaners that profess a singular, unique purpose – when a basic, multi-purpose bleach would often suffice.

There are widgets, bobbits and all manner of tools that purport an essential need; ‘invent today and find the need tomorrow’ seems to be the motto.

However, there are some problems of great irritation that I have wished some mind far greater than mine could attend to.

Ironing has always irked me. It is a chore, the technology for which has barely progressed in half a century. It seems ridiculous in this day and age that we still need to unfold a board, plug in an electronic steam-device and slide it back and forth across a shirt to make it presentable.

In fact, shirts in general are rather annoying.

I like them, of course. But they have a nasty habit of misbehaving.

In the course of a day, I often find even my made to measure shirts not staying where they are meant to be; tucked in my trousers with a smooth front up to my collar. It might sound like Leyendecker idealism, but it always struck me as rather irksome that even a well-starched cotton shirt must crumple so much in an ensemble.

And so when I was presented with the option of ‘shirt stays’ from Sharp & Dapper, I was titillated. Finally, here was a product which sought to govern the ungovernable, twofold. For not only is this product designed to pull on one’s shirt tails to create that smooth-as-a-board effect, it also pulls up one’s socks at the same time.

Of course, theory is all very well but it achieves nothing. Trial is essential to make an idea an invention, and so recently, I set about testing it.

The first step is to attach the elasticated straps to the bottom of your shirt or, if you choose, to the top of your socks.

I chose the socks first and found it rather tricky as I was wearing a thick-ish pair of Uniqlo winter socks rather than a pair of fine merino socks. Essentially, you need to push a bit of rubber inside the top of the sock to create a lump and secure the metal latch over this lump, so that it safely grips the material.

Next, I attached the other end of the strap to the bottom of the shirt front, which was far easier due to the thinness of the shirt material. I repeated the process with the three remaining straps, attaching two to the shirt front and two to the shirt rear.

The sensation is, initially, bizarre. The elastic straps are alarmingly effective and require getting used to. I was very, very aware that I was wearing them, even when I tried on trousers afterwards. However, I have been reliably informed that the unfamiliarity of this sensation passes with regular use.

The best thing is that even a fitted shirt could be improved by its use. It pulled down on the tails, creating a smooth finish across the front that would have been welcome on many formal occasions in memory.

I find it would be particularly useful for black tie, given the use of low waistcoats and the desirability of an entirely smooth front, as well as the proliferation of black silk socks – which have a nasty habit of not remaining on the calves but slinking down to the ankles.

 

MTailor: Getting Tailor-Measured By Your iPhone

‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’

I like science a lot; I even subscribe to a Facebook page titled: ‘I f**king love science.’ But I’m not entirely sure how the technology I’m reviewing today works – I’m content to think of it as magic.

Mtailor

I received an email some weeks ago from Miles Penn of MTailor asking if I’d like to review a MTM shirt made by them. The online MTM shirtmaker market is fairly saturated, but I was immediately taken by two things:

1. MTailor operates not via a website but an iPhone app, and
2. You use that app to measure yourself for your shirt.

The app uses the iPhone’s camera to measure you up. You need only follow some basic instructions while posing for the camera in your underpants (or tights if you’re concerned about internet security).

Never one to miss an opportunity to whip my shirt off, I happily obliged and gave the service a go.

Vital stats

What I bought: A dress shirt in a check pattern
How much does it cost: $79 but my shirt was complimentary
How long did it take: 24 days
Where I got it: www.mtailor.com

The measuring process

The measuring process is surprisingly straight-forward. You tilt your phone against a wall, stand approximately 10 feet away (that’s approximately 3m for those of us not in the USA) and then line yourself up with an outline on your camera and spin.

See the pictures below:




Fit

The fit of the shirt came out very well – you might even say magical. I suppose using mathematics (by approximating the angle of the phone and using the distance of 10 feet and the size of the phone) it is possible to work out my height to some degree of confidence and pixel recognition could do the rest for my other measurements. Nevertheless it is both impressive and confounding how a simple app could do such a good job of measuring me up for a shirt.

I do note that I picked the ‘untucked’ shirt length and therefore the shirt is kicking out a little bit at the waist in my pictures.

Quality

Workmanship

The workmanship used for the shirt is quite good. The stitching is clean and tight and the shirt feels like it will last. However, it must be noted that the shirt does not come with a split yoke and the buttons aren’t sewn with a shank. Having said that, at $79 these shirts are very affordable and I know some sites charge more for a split yoke.

Fabric

The fabric is really soft and has a silky look to it. However, as with a lot of delicate fabrics it tends to wrinkle quite easily. Overall it is a solid fabric though for the price that you pay.

I do note that I had intended this to be a casual shirt with the check pattern, but the sheen of the fabric makes it a little more business/formal looking.

Conclusion

MTailor offers a good range of fabrics at a very cost-effective price. Their measurement system works well and the app might be a way to engage with customers who may otherwise not be bothered ordering made-to-measure. After all, not everyone knows what their ‘correct’ measurements should be and this app makes it relatively easy.

One caveat though: shirts are relatively easy to measure up and I would be a little more hesitant to recommend a similar measurement system for suits which are much more complicated to measure for and make.