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.

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.