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.

The London Sock Company: Seriously Smart Socks

A couple of weeks ago, I found something waiting for me in my pigeonhole that I had been looking forward to for days, a package of socks from the luxury gentlemen’s hosiers, the London Sock Company. The socks in question have intrigued me for some time. Not only is the London Sock Company offering a superior quality product at a distinctly affordable price, but its doing things in a rather distinctive manner.

Ryan Palmer is a humble co-captain of the company’s ship, claiming the company’s ethos is simple: ‘Our focus from the outset has been to create the best quality products available, whilst making it simple to own and enjoy them’. This is indisputable: the socks in question are simply great.

I bought pairs in navy, turquoise and pink and have worn each pair several times since receiving them. They are considerably more comfortable than a number of other high-end socks I own, including some pure cashmere numbers and socks retailed by a company on Savile Row. Each presents a very vivid colour making them distinctly fun to wear, they stay up around my calves all day long without the need to be hitched-up every twenty paces and more importantly, the vivid colour and shape of the socks is retained between wears and washes. The perfectly woven ribbing of the socks is also an indicator of their quality, requiring time and precision to weave tightly and neatly. The mixing of a classic calf-length ribbed sock with a bold, distinctly modern range of colours speaks perfectly of the company’s ethos – to provide something that is classically sartorial, but which is also inspired by modern times.

If the product is inspired, so is the concept behind the business. As Ryan explains: ‘the inspiration for the London Sock Company began when we saw a picture of five stylish, elegant and rather well-to-do Victorian gentleman. Each hailed from a different corner of the British Empire, but were captured together in a unique image dated to 1883′. It seems that each of these men were wearing rather fine examples of luxurious Victorian hosiery. ‘The aim is simply to serve the true gentlemen among us; helping to achieve the style and elegance of that famous Victorian era, with a modern twist’. Evidently, innovation is an important part of the London Sock Company’s process: ‘The Victorians were famous for innovation and so the London Sock Company has one stylish foot firmly in the twenty-first century.’ This definitely shows.

The first obvious indicator of this innovation is in the production process of the socks themselves. Despite being made by a family-run artisan workshop in Portugal, using specially imported Italian machines which produce socks with the body, natural stretch and softness of a traditional garment, effort is made to ensure that the seams and structure of each sock is as meticulous and invisible both to touch and feel as is technologically possible. Their first range of socks is produced using the highest quality Scottish Lisle cotton, which takes its name from a milling process made famous in Victorian times in Scotland, whereby the chemical structure of the cotton is actively enhanced. The result is a luxurious fiber which is cleaner, more durable and which takes dye better, producing cotton yarns which are exceptionally rich in colour.

Also innovatory is the evident value placed upon ethical production by the company. Firstly, the current range of socks is being expanded through collaborations with up-and-coming young fashion designers including a collaboration with London College of Fashion, offering young talent an opportunity to work in the industry, on a project where they can be recognised and rewarded for their contribution. Secondly, the London Sock Company donates hundreds of pairs of socks per year to London’s homeless as the first phase of their ‘Pull Your Socks Up’ campaign, supporting a number of homelessness charities in the process. Again, Ryan’s explanation is simple: ‘It’s not something we really shout about, but pulling your socks up is one of the first things you do each day. Doing good things is important to us and when we pull our socks up, we’re reminded to do something each day that makes a difference, even if it’s small. People are sometimes surprised that a new, luxury clothing brand has a strong social ethos from day one, but it’s just something we wanted to do’.

Equally smart is the means by which customers can access the socks in question. In addition to their online shop, customers can also sign-up to a supremely convenient ‘Sock Club’ to have a set number of pairs delivered every month through their letterbox, ensuring that there will always be the requisite pair of superior quality socks in one’s wardrobe when needed. If that isn’t both the height of convenience and seriously smart customer service, I don’t know what is.

I had one final question for Ryan; clashing socks, yes or no? His answer – both. ‘Socks offer a subtle way of expressing your personality. If you like wearing clashing colours or even odd socks, then do it and enjoy expressing yourself. Socks are a subtle touch, but when you sit down in your business meeting or even on a date, people will notice and take note’. A valuable and much over-looked point. When one bears this in mind, the commitment of the London Sock Company to producing socks of the finest quality becomes all the more appealing for the dapper gentleman. I can attest that their socks are very satisfying to both wear and own, and well worth investing in for a sleek and sturdy finish to one’s ensemble. I highly recommend them.

Images credit: Rui Jorge

Pheobes & Dee Review

I must admit, I’m not really into modern ties.

I watch movies set in the current day and physically cringe at the fish-skin-shine concoctions that represent what tie and costume designers consider ‘taste’ and ‘fashion’ in the year 2014.

Firstly, it’s satin-silk. Everywhere. Notorious for its reflective capabilities – doubling up as a vanity mirror – it cheapens any ensemble.

Secondly, the patterns leave a lot to be desired. Particularly the stripes, which have more variations in colours and widths than a 1970s living room.

The amazing fact is these ties are rarely as cheap as they look. So-called ‘designer’ ties can cost more than a pair of trousers or a waistcoat, their only validation for such an expense being “It’s Dior, so…”

Now, anyone of suitable tie intelligence will tell you that it is actually hard to make a proper tie very cheaply. The kind of dross they churn out at bargain basement tie-discounters will be scoffed at as utterly inferior. Firstly, the quality of the silk will be seriously questioned. Secondly, the way the tie is constructed will be scrutinized – and will be found wanting.

In much the same way that suit snobs go on about hand-stitching, horse-hair and floating canvasses, tie snobs focus on ‘folds’; the simple point being that more is generally better.

Most ties are folded three to six times and have a wool or faux wool interlining in order for the tie to keep its structure and not flap about in the wind like a toddler’s hair ribbon.

Special ties are those folded seven or more times, where sometimes – depending on the weight of the fabric – no interlining is used. Essentially, more of the tie fabric has been used and is simply folded in on itself seven times to form its own structure.

It also takes more artisanal skill to fold a tie seven times or more, which is the main reason it has cache. In much the same way that hand-stitching has cache over machine stitching, largely because of the fact it requires human sweat and toil. The real question with this folding, as with the stitching, is whether this skill actually adds anything of actual value.

I recently received a tie from Pheobes & Dee, a new brand of Italian hand-made neckwear that focuses on seven fold and knitted ties.

Now, I have to admit, I don’t have much of a fetish for gazillion folded ties. I really don’t mind having a cheaper lining used. I also don’t mind if it’s only been folded three times. I have ties from Tie Rack that have been folded and lined in the same way as ties from Savile Row tailors, and so I never really developed the ‘seven-fold itch.’

However, in much the same way that Rolls-Royce owners never use the umbrellas in the suicide doors or that guests of Four Seasons hotels never use ‘complimentary shuttle buses’, it’s actually jolly nice to know it’s there.

The tie, named ‘The Carrick’, is a beautiful burgundy colour with a white pin-dot pattern and an interlining. When I first opened it I couldn’t quite believe how heavy and thick the thing was. Most ties in my collection flutter in the first gust of wind and feel almost feather-like. This tie has a robustness that reminded me of weighty, damask curtains in grand Paris hotels, as though it would embarrass my suits with it’s, ahem, unflappability.

The reality is, it does. And this is no bad thing. The last seven-fold tie I received was a beautiful thing – but give it a strong breeze by the River Thames and it bobbed about like a windsock. This tie feels elegant, and is comfortable to wear, but it barely moves.

Retailing at $140, it is certainly not a cheap option – but then it hasn’t been made cheaply.