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.

Combatant Gentlemen Shirt & Tie Review

They say that all good things must come to an end.

And so, sadly, ends my patronage of TM Lewin, the Jermyn Street shirtmaker. Once a consistent and aggressive promoter of their poplin, I have been so disappointed with the quality of their product recently that I haven’t been inclined to even browse idly in their stores.

“What can you expect for £20-30 a shirt?” the Pinkers, Turnbullers and Hilditchers chuckle in smug satisfaction.

Quite a lot, actually – a few years ago, at least.

It’s fair to say that the golden era of bargain Jermyn Street shirts is on the wane. Only Charles Tyrwhitt (and to a lesser extent Hawes & Curtis) still regularly offer beautifully soft cotton formal shirts with well-constructed collars for under £30. Lewin, once the king of value, now sell poplin shirts that feel like greaseproof kitchen paper.

Feeling generally dismayed with the decline of this bonanza, I was intrigued by the offer to try a shirt and tie from a company called Combatant Gentlemen, a US based enterprise that seemed to offer a variety of inexpensive sartorial solutions from shirts and ties to knitwear and suits.

With most of their shirts priced between $30 and $45, I was convinced that there must be some kind of catch; the cotton must be inferior or the shirts must be off in terms of fit.

Similarly the Combatant Gentlemen ties, which go for around $14 to $16 and are apparently constructed of 100% silk, seemed to undermine all I had been given to understand about the sub-$20 necktie.

The reality is that both products exceed expectations.

The shirt has a classic, non-cutaway collar and a soft, brushed feel. Having been concerned by the artificial touch of English shirts at a similar price point I was delighted by it’s smoothness. Apparently, the fabrics for Combatant Gentlemen shirts are sourced in Italy and are then shipped to China to be made.

The fit was also of a higher standard than anticipated; fitting snugly around the shoulders and arms and cutting tightly in the waist, the Slim Fit of the shirt is even slimmer than English shirts. And, given the soft feel of the fabric, it is a pleasure to have close to the skin. “Finally!” I thought,  “Here is something that tops the declining Jermyn Street bazaar!”

The tie, playfully called ‘Let’s Polka!’ I chose for its wide-spaced Deco charm; such ties are marvellously wearable with almost any suit or shirt pattern and colour and I have been particularly excited recently by the potential efficiency of accessories.  Though listed as ‘black’ it is in fact a midnight blue, which I actually prefer as it pairs better with navy and grey suits. The feel in the hand is of a tie three times the price; the dots are woven into a smart, matte silk and it has a hard, craft-like feel. The dot spacing isn’t absolutely perfect but then I don’t mind this. I had expected something which felt like a Tie Rack bottom-of-the-bin but it has such a crisp quality, I still can’t believe it retails, non-promotionally, at $16.

There are also some silk knit ties that reminded me of the selection at Uniqlo.

But then I remembered that Uniqlo’s ties are Polyester. And more expensive.

Combatant Gentlemen
was only founded a couple of years ago; as a darn good thing, it has, rather fortunately, a hell of a long way to go till the end.

The Real Collection of Essential Shoes

Esquire magazine recently came up with a list of 8 pairs of shoes that “every man should own.” Intrigued by the insistence of this article’s headline, I was nevertheless disappointed with some of the, rather obviously, ‘advertorial’ choices.

The first selection was inevitable; black Oxfords (which Esquire felt the need to classify as ‘lace up’ – what else is an Oxford?) However, it’s hard to dispute the primacy of this shoe.

The second selection was also not entirely mad – tan derbies – although they had incorrectly pictured tan Oxfords. The third was also passable (brown brogues) although the pair they suggested from Ted Baker were rather too trendy to be an ‘essential’ shoe that ‘every man must own.’

The choices start to disintegrate at four, which is unhelpfully broad: ‘a proper pair of winter boots’ – which sounds more like a grandmother’s commandment than a model of footwear. Firstly, the suggested boots were about as ‘proper’ as Miley Cyrus. Though the copy boasted that they’d be appropriate for both walking the dog and ‘scaling the great outdoors’ (whatever that means) the Redwing boots pictured were more appropriate for hipster nights in Soho than crawling up the Eiger.

It gets more hipster at choice 5 with suede desert boots – really ‘every man should own’? – recovers a bit at 6 with deck shoes but then declines rather seriously at 7 and 8 with the weakest suggestions of all: trainers. The first suggestion are barely acceptable – timeless trainers in plain white. Yes, these are useful for sport – casual tennis matches with friends – but it’s frankly irresponsible to encourage the saddening decline of male elegance by recommending trainers.

The last choice is a laughable add on, an afterthought of a tacked-on advertising brief; ANOTHER pair of timeless trainers. This time, instead of white, they recommend a Navy and Grey pair from New Balance. Why? ‘Because they’ll look great with everything.’ Everything? Really? How lazy.

I was so disappointed with this list that I thought it best to provide my own recommendations. In addition to the black Oxfords which are a safe choice, I would advocate the following:

Burgundy loafer

Every ‘essential’ shoe collection should include at least one pair of loafers. Ideally, these should be something other than black. I have always had a pair of brown or burgundy loafers in my wardrobe, using them for both office wear and weekend casual. The key is to wear tapered trousers or jeans with no break; wide legs, breaks and loafers do not mix.

Dark brown punchcaps  

Dark brown shoes are undervalued. There are so many colours of suit that work better with browns than blacks. Chestnut and tan are the most common choices of brown shoes, and they are also indisputably ‘essential’ colours for any proper collection, but dark brown are smarter and arguably more formal and boardroom-appropriate.

Brown Chelsea boots

Chelsea boots are the best style of gentlemen’s boots for winter warmth and comfort. They’re entirely inappropriate for climbing the Alps, so don’t think these are multi-purpose. They’re good enough for a dry-ish country walk but anything else is unsuitable. Save for cosy, casual weekends.

Chestnut or cognac semi-brogues

Chestnut Oxfords are entirely acceptable but I have always thought they seem rather half-hearted. Semi-brogues, however, have a little more ‘punch’ to them and are a little less formal, a little more country. They work really well with both navy and mid-blue suits and tweed, as well as grey flannel trousers and blazers.

Ede & Ravenscroft’s Spot-on Spring Separates

It is eternally said that spring is by far the most difficult season to dress for; all at once damp, humid, warm, cold, breezy and showery. Not ideal conditions for maintaining a perfectly pressed and coiffured sartorial swagger round town. Likewise, the period of time where the spring weather is moderately bearable is often only a couple of intermittent months long – if that – so it must be said that many retailers and customers alike seldom invest the time or effort in their spring collections and wardrobes.

I have always maintained that this is a shame – for Spring is also an extremely exciting time for snappy dressers. The weather with all its challenges presents the opportunity to put a seasonal wardrobe together that is ready to meet all the elements that the weather has to throw at one. Colourful fine-gauge knits, lightweight and mid-weight spring suiting and blazers, soft cotton trousers, relaxed, debonair throw-on raincoats and lightly structured penny loafers can make their appearance for the first time in months. Its a time of year which lovers of sartorial fashion should embrace and give attention to, so its really rather lovely to find one of Britain’s most traditional menswear brands has attacked it head-on with plenty of gusto and more than a touch of contemporary panache.

Ede & Ravenscroft’s new collection for spring is lovely; versatile, grounded in suitably lightweight and crisp seasonal tailoring, yet with a really handsome compliment of smart-casual and casual options to choose from, all of which presents a lovely blend of traditional and modern dressing. The company is pushing softly tailored, dapper ensembles of separates this season, giving its traditional British tailoring a welcome update and a very serious appeal for the modern man about town. Quirky bow-ties, slim trousers, rolled up hems and deck shoes are all very welcome things to see underpinning the core range of tailored pieces.

Jackets don’t have too much weight or structure for the slowly warming temperatures, but nonetheless maintain a classic English structured and waisted silhouette. The jacketing cloths used all have a lovely drape, handle and plenty of body, without feeling heavy or too warm. This has been achieved through the use of some linen-wool-silk and lightweight worsted wool cloths of excellent quality. Pieces to look out for in particular are a pair of stunning pure lightweight Italian linen blazers in a vibrant tomato red and a cornflower blue, as well as a soft mid-brown wool and silk blended blazer with a handsome taupe windowpane check.

The collection (as you will have gathered from these photographs) draws on the ever-attractive traditional spring colour palette beautifully, without needing to borrow from the richness or darkness of colour expected of a winter wardrobe, nor without keeping back some fun bright colour tones to bring-out in mid-summer. Hues of cool blue, as well as RAF blues and navies form the backbone of the collection, supported by elephant greys and taupes, as well as soft-washed coloured chinos and pops of brighter tones in ties, handkerchiefs and other accessories.

This is a very versatile, clever and easy to wear collection, with bags of understated style and fun little quirks – its delightful by all accounts. It is a further delight to see Ede & Ravenscroft designing something that has such a broad appeal – there is something for every man who enjoys his clothes, whether it be an elegant British suit, the ubiquitous complement of modern tailored separates and a dicky-bow, or just top-quality jazzy socks. I highly recommend you take a look.

All images courtesy of Ede & Ravenscroft.

Instichu Review

A short while ago, I conducted an interview with Institchu UK, a subsidiary of Australian tailoring company, Institchu.

To review the Institchu product, I decided on a Glen check (or Prince of Wales) three-piece – with no overcheck – in a light brown-grey colour that is remarkably flattering on the skin.

The process

Unlike many other internet tailors who ask that customers measure themselves, Institchu UK provide a measuring service – at home or in the office – which is reassuring for those who are unwilling or incapable of providing their own measurements. Though the service isn’t free for individuals (£15), it is if you get a group of three or more together.

The advantages of this are not only that your measurements are speedily uploaded to your online profile by the Institchu UK measuring tailor, obviating the need for you to worry about this element of ordering online, but that you can see a collection of fabric swatches in person.

This is, essentially, a one-off visit so future orders would necessitate being sent further samples but for an introduction to a made-to-measure online tailor, it’s a pleasant hybrid. The alternative is to input your own measurements, which I am also happy with. It’s a matter of confidence in your own ability to take measurements correctly.

I undertook this measuring service and took note of the fabric number that I had selected. It is important to do this as you will actually design and order the suit yourself online – selecting the fabric by its number.

When on the website, the navigation is fairly straightforward. After selecting Suits under ‘The Collection’ you choose the first option: Design your Own Suit.

You are then led through the process of designing the jacket first. The tweaks allowed are fairly standard: notch, peak, shawl and slim lapels; single or double breasted (note that DBs are £15 more); outer pick stitching on the lapel; a natural shoulder (less padded); vents; sleeve buttons and stitching colour. One of the interesting options is button type, where plastic and horn are offered at no extra charge but there are £5 options for satin, fabric, brass, shell and, interestingly, Corozo nut.

You then repeat the process with the trousers and the waistcoat. The former provide the standard options with side-adjusters (which I selected), turn-ups and pocket number/type being the major considerations. Waistcoats are only available in single-breasted designs with different button and pocket configurations possible.

Timing is quick, but not worryingly so. The suit will take approximately one month to be complete from commission to delivery from when the order is placed and confirmed.

This suit comes in around £390, which is comparable to Massimo Dutti Personal Tailoring and Dragon Inside, though a bit more than Tailor4Less and Matthew A Perry.

The product

The suit was delivered in a rectangular cardboard box. The suit inside was folded into a plastic bag. There is no suit bag provided with the order, which I feel is a shame.

For this order, the fabric was no surprise; pleasant or otherwise, as I had seen a swatch in person. The pattern was matched reasonably well across the panels and there were no imperfections.

The finish of the suit was of a relatively high standard when compared to other internet tailors, and comparable to Massimo Dutti’s Personal Tailoring line which I consider to have a very high standard for the price point.

The jacket is made with a full canvas construction. It has a decent form to the body and the stitching, though machine-finished in most places, is well executed. There is also a decent roll to the lapel and the armholes are high and snug.

The buttons are dark horn, which are a strong but elegant contrast to the suit. However, I am pondering whether I would change them to light horn. But then, I am always undecided when it comes to buttons.

The trousers are perfect and certainly the best trousers I have received from an internet tailor.

However, when I first tried the jacket and waistcoat on, there were a number of problems – and, frustratingly, these are problems that seem to frequently occur with internet orders.

Given that I was measured for this suit by another, it would also appear that it hasn’t merely been my self-measurement at fault. I took it to the chaps at Cad & The Dandy who managed to fix it in a few days.

Like the Matthew A Perry linen suit I had made, the waistcoat was cut far too large for my torso in the chest, resulting in a depressing bagginess.

Waistcoats should be as close to the form as possible in my view and I believe that a few wrinkles from a tight fit is far preferable to a characterless stiff-board. My reference point is always the early 20th century photography of three-piece suits; their waistcoats were always incredibly snug.

The jacket was fine in the shoulder – I chose the more Neapolitan ‘Natural’ look – and across the upper back but needed quite a bit of pinning and taking in at the centre and side seams (see pictures above) to provide some shape to the waist as it was rather boxy. Some length was also taken out of the sleeve.

It’s worth saying at this point that, with internet made-to-measure tailoring, the first suit is often a challenge – and sometimes a disappointment. I had issues with my first Massimo Dutti suit and in that case, as with this, your measurements are updated immediately following adjustments, so it’s important to understand from the tailor you have used for alterations just how much is being done and where it is being done.

Secondly, Institchu UK provide a Perfect Fit Guarantee. If you purchase the £10 Suit Insurance with your suit, you’ll be covered up to £75 of your alterations costs. If you haven’t purchased Suit Insurance, Institchu UK will still cover up to £30 on alterations.

And, if you are not 100% satisfied with the fit of your garments and feel that they can’t be altered, then Institchu will gladly arrange a Free Remake for you.

Fit: 7 out of 10 – for the first effort, it wasn’t a disaster and after being worked on by an alterations tailor it actually feels very good and now has a great silhouette to it. Trousers are excellent and the shoulders in the jacket also very good. However, it was initially quite boxy and shapeless in the waist, so needed a bit doing to it.

Fabric: 8.5 out of 10 – far better than the average in terms of quality and range. Touch is pleasant and weight works well with the suit. You can be certain that the fabrics from Institchu are a cut above the grotesque poly-wool monstrosities normally associated with internet tailoring.

Service: 7 out of 10 – sent emails regarding the order constantly and delivery is communicated by text and email. The office and home measuring service is a nice touch, but I couldn’t help but feel that this should mean a more reliably good fit. Also, the suit needs a suit bag in the box too.

Quality of finish: 8.5 out of 10 – for an internet tailor, this is a very good standard of finish. Stitching is well done, no shoddy pressing or worn fabric, buttons are good, interior construction is good quality and it feels like it is going to last.

Overall satisfaction: 7.5 out of 10 – this feels closer to a bricks and mortar tailor, because of the personal interaction – measuring, choosing swatches. It’s similar to Massimo Dutti in terms of service experience. As with most internet tailors, there were problems with the jacket and waistcoat fit. It’s a shame that so much needed doing to it, and that a £400 suit came delivered without a suit bag, because the fabric quality and finish on the product is very high for this category. However, it’s key to reiterate that these problems – and my experience bears this out – tend to be corrected on the second suit, without the need for too much interference from an alterations guru.