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.

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.