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.

 

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.

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.