I ought to start my first column by thanking the team of MensFlair for inviting me onboard. I’m looking forward to working with them, and writing for you.
So what might you expect from me? Well, my passion is independent menswear retailers, and I spend much of my time trying to track them down. You might be thinking I’m just another scribbler advocating bespoke. Not true.
There are basically three types of independent retailer:
-The Designer/Enthusiast; and
Seeking out a few of each will vastly improve your wardrobe and better help you find your own look –a key requirement to achieving that classification of ‘a well dressed man’.
Craftsman are your bespoke tailors, made to measure shirt makers, bespoke shoe makers, hatters and jewellers etc. Their virtue is obvious, you get garments perfectly suited to your taste and physiology. Handwork, purity of material, tradition, skill and love of job are the craftsman’s hallmarks –and the characteristics of a beautiful wardrobe.
If you do some research craftsmen aren’t ruinously expensive. Thomas Pink will sell you an off the peg mass produced shirt for £69. For the same price Stephan Haroutunian – a second generation shirt maker – will make you a shirt (no minimum order), with the finest, softest collar I’ve yet found.
The designer/enthusiast is perhaps my favourite category of independent. These are men on a mission. They love clothes and despair of high street offerings. They want something better. Putting inspirations to paper they go out and find manufacturers to make it happen. Above all they produce clothes they themselves want to own, which often means a high standard of quality.
A fine example of this is Albam founded by James Shaw and Alistair Rae. Their motto is ‘Modern Crafted Clothing’ and they go to inordinate lengths to find British manufacturers. But the agenda of the designer/enthusiast can be anything from recreating a particular look, as in the case of Adam Shener and his perfectly tailored mod suits, to providing Italian inspired luxury menswear for a reasonable price like Adrian Holdsworth at Volpe (in Pimlico). What they all have in common is their clothes are original, limited edition, of a better quality and at a farer price than the high street.
Last is the collector. These guys don’t design, nor do they make their own clothes. Instead they stock other people’s and with them define a look. Neil Crowe at Palmers simply tries to stock a simple core wardrobe of well made clothes: RM Williams jeans and boots, Sebago deck shoes, Eton shirts and a host of lesser known continental brands. At the opposite end of the scale is John Simons who is a legend for his soft shoulder suits, Bill’s Khakis, Pendletons, everything to enable an authentic Ivy League look.
If you worry about putting clothes together then shops like these are a godsend; if you like the look the more you buy the more complete and harmonious will your wardrobe be.
The final point to consider is that success in the mass market means working towards the lowest common denominator. This is never so apparent than in the case of customer service and the shopping experience. The owner of an independent isn’t some sixteen year old on minimum wage itching to knock off; he’s proud of his shop, his kit and wants you to enjoy your experience –and come back. Every independent shop bears the imprint of the owner’s character upon it. This can mean Frank Sinatra singing in the background or being asked if you like a cup of coffee when you enter the shop. Shopping can become a real pleasure.
Taking the time to find half a dozen independent retailers will vastly improve your wardrobe, and may actually result in you enjoying the act of shopping.