In The Fishbowl With Carreducker

Oh does it feel good to be back in London. It’s been quite a few months, but last time I was here I profiled James Ducker of Carréducker shoes. This time I thought I would drop in on him at their new digs at No.1 Savile Row, inside Gieves & Hawkes.

Because of construction, I turned the corner from Savile Row to use the Vigo street entrance, and was immediately surprised to see they’ve smacked James’ face right on the door. This partnership was just getting off the ground in November, so I’m glad to see things have blossomed so well. Entering the building, I could see at the very back of the main room the glass “goldfish bowl,” as James affectionately calls it. There he was, pounding away at some lasts, as I sauntered over to say hello. The couple-meter journey took longer than it might have, due largely to a fine selection of striped knit ties. But eventually I made it and was greeted most kindly.

James took me on short tour of the new facilities at Numbers 1 & 2, which include a blazer room, salon, antique shop, bespoke fitting room / luxe lounge, and workshops, before settling back at his bench to finish the lasts while we chatted.

Carréducker, in addition to the endless possibilities of bespoke, have a few samples exclusive to their new home. My favorite was hands-down an electric-blue suede chelsea boot with a military ribbon pull at the back. And the best part is, because everything is still bespoke, altering existing designs to suit yourself in not only allowed but encouraged. If you want the toe shortened or elongated, great. If you’d rather the gussets be navy than black, fantastic. The best of both worlds, you get an aesthetic from which to draw, but ultimately the choices are yours.

The biggest advantage to trading out of the goldfish bowl though is the intimate relationship the customer gets to develop not just with the finished product, but with the art and artisan as well. You can drop by any day, whether you’re buying or not, and watch James and Deborah at the bench. Lasting, making, polishing, it all gets done right here. When speaking with me, this was the aspect James got most excited about. “Customers,” he said, “are more interested in where their food and things are coming from. And now they can know with their shoes too. You get come in and have a look, and you know we’re the one’s making.”

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There is also, just outside the fishbowl, a gent by the name of Justin Fitzpatrick offering shines. Some of you might already know him from his blog, The Shoe Snob. When I was in he had just finished a gorgeous pair of black laceups in whose toes I could see every pore on my face. So if you need a shine and would rather drop your shoes off than take a seat in the Burlington Arcade, get thee to No.1.

Carry On

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Women, in the States at least, are blessed with the functional advantage of it being socially acceptable to carry a handbag. Now that’s not to say I haven’t been known from time to time to take a small briefcase places where business is the last thing on my mind, but there you have it. Generally when most gents leave the house, they need some combination of phone, cards, cash, and keys. Other paraphernalia for a leisurely life, such as pens, notepads, cigarettes, lighters, &c. are a whole other can of worms, so let’s stick to the basics for now.

Most guys carry around a leather billfold they’ve had for years, have beat to hell, and would part with sooner than their first-born child. For most men though, this once slim contraption is the size of a cornerstone. Unless anxieties concerning the structural integrity of buildings and your possible obligation to aid in such a crisis at a moment’s notice are a daily problem, loose the brick. I’m not suggesting we throw the billfold out the window altogether, rather I’m simply suggesting that no pair of trousers, no jacket, and not anything else for that matter, looks more elegant when you drop a 5 pound weight in it.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the cardholder/money clip tag-team. A nice, slim cardholder keeps a credit card, debit card, identification, and a business card or two safe and sound with room to spare. When I suggested to my father that he slim down his cash-clod, he wanted to know what to do with all the gift-cards, membership cards, and other accessories of modern plastic-mania. It’s pretty simple really: if you’re going to someplace that needs those things, pull them out of a small file-box and put them in your wallet. If you don’t need them, don’t carry them. Ostensibly, you might need any number of things at any given moment, but you don’t take a screwdriver to dinner, do you? Augment that with a money clip, one of the most simple devices in a gent’s arsenal. Literally a piece of metal that holds money together. Simple.

Keys and phones are a bit more complicated. I, presumably like most people, hate getting jabbed in the thigh or chest with a key when I move funny. Most of the major luxury brands make a little zip pouch with clips to keep your keys in, but I must confess the jabbing hasn’t gotten that bad yet. Yet.

Generally, if I don’t have sharp keys in the pocket also, I just take my phone as it is. Rubber bumpers and plastic monstrosities just make the biggest, heaviest thing in your pocket even heavier. And yes, that big heavy mess is just a few ounces. I know. Otherwise, I have a thin, cloth slipcase just to prevent scratches. Less bulk and better lines. Can’t complain about that, can you?

Dressing Alone

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When you get ready for a night out, a day on the town, or what have you, it’s not unusual to want to “dress up” for the special occasion. And yes, we all talk about how we dress for ourselves, not for others, but the true test of that is how you dress at home. I’m not beyond donning sweatpants (no elastic ankles though please) and a sweatshirt at the end of a long day, but I certainly don’t feel my best when I do.

This weekend saw me holing up in my apartment to complete a project I have been working on for over year which I’m submitting this Tuesday. There are a few routes one could to dressing for such an adventure, but I’ll highlight the two I chose: elegant lounge clothes and dressing seriously.

The first is one of the great luxuries of life in my opinion. As anyone who has worked from home can tell you, there are few things more luxuriant and enjoyable than getting out of bed in the morning, in proper PJs of course, throwing on the dressing gown and slippers, and remaining that way all day. Whether you still sit at a desk or work from a couch or bed, there is just something cosy and indulgent about the whole matter. Productivity and indulgence rarely intersect, so take the opportunity where you can get it.

Doing this too many days in a row, or two for that matter, can be energy-defeating though. Too much time in one’s PJs goes from privilege to curse very quickly, and suddenly you just feel like a sloth. So, for Sunday’s writing marathon I went for the opposite. I took an invigorating shower and then carefully donned my flannels, oxford shirt, and leather-soled loafers before sitting down at my keyboard. Not exactly “dressing up,” but a little more than an afternoon around the apartment would typically call for. They say you’ve got to dress the part, and in this case I agree. There is something about putting on a real set of clothes that gets your mind ready to get down to business. I almost always wear a tie when I take exams, as I find I feel more focused.

So next time you find yourself at home all day, pick an extreme. Dress up, or not at all – I promise you’ll enjoy the experience.

It’s The Season To be…Confused

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Image credit: h(y)r Collective Magazine

Yet again the Midwest decides to hit me where it hurts. Unless I’ve slipped into some temporal phenomenon of which I am completely unaware, it is still the middle of February, no? Here in St. Louis though, the mercury decided it was rising, seasons-be-damned, and with mounds of snow still mucking up the gutters it was sunny and over 70 degrees this week. It might have been beautiful, but it was also confusing.

What do you wear when its hot and late-winter? Linen would look ridiculous, not to mention the fact that mine is all still stored away for vernal rotation. Only last week I was tromping around in boots and woolens, so loafers and bare feet would just display my pearly ankles to an audience of blinded passers-by. I found my solution in one of the best places to look to for clothes that can be lived in when its warm but still look substantial enough – preppy basics.

As I hung up the flannels, sadly I might add, the chinos jumped right off the hanger. The mid-weight twill and beat-to-hell look of my 3 or 4 year old dark-oatmeal pair fit in nicely with the lack of foliage and slushy backdrop, but kept me cool enough on the walks to and from campus. A pair of jeans would be an even more obvious option, but I’ll pick my chinos almost every time. Slipped on some thin cotton socks and my pennies, and I was good to go. Burgundy with the chinos, of course.

The harder part for me was what to wear up top. I’m a heavy perspirer, and even a light worsted jacket would have had me arriving to class a dripping mess. Enter the cotton cardigan. Even with the temperature pushing 80 I can usually get away with a single-ply, loosely knit cotton cardigan or v-neck.

The Way, Not The What

carygrant-wayThe internet is full of product guides; some are great, and some not so much. But, while one group of editors may tell you to pull up your trousers and throw on a blue blazer and another group to tuck those trousers into your boots or grab some fingerless gloves, some things remain the same whichever style you choose. There are the “whats” of dressing – jacket, trouser, shoe, accessory choices, &c. – and then there are the “hows” of dressing – drape, harmony, &c.

The whats change year to year, mood to mood, and day to day. And I’m not just talking fashion cycles, but even what you feel like throwing on each morning. Today might just feel like chinos and a washed-finish OCBD, and tomorrow flannels and a sportcoat, but regardless of what I cover myself with I think of the same things. I already mentioned a few of them above, but for me the most important concepts, although I hate to use that word here, are cut, drape, impression, and harmony.

To start with cut, since that is where it all starts, one should be aware of the shape of one’s clothes. Again, don’t worry about whether you like jeans or worsteds – it matters either way. The shape of the garments themselves should be pleasing. The way they sit on your body even more so. Proportion and comfort should work hand in hand, and the little secrets that make the thing what it is should be your little secret. This can be the subtle pleating in the sleeve-head of a jacket, allowing it to move more freely, or the way in which a waistband is gently curved to keep the rise of your trousers sitting perfectly. The insole of a pair of great shoes feels nothing like that of a cheap pair, but no one but you is the wiser.

Drape on the other hand is the more visible aspect of cut. Something poorly cut will never drape nicely. This again though is still anything but glaring. It is clear when the chest of your coat falls perfectly even when you sip your coffee, shake a hand, or turn around to see who called your name, but it’s not clear why. A crisply-hanging trouser crease is a beauty to behold, but it’s usually not the first thing you notice.

This brings us to impression. There is that old adage, supposedly uttered by the Beau about John Bull and noticing you are well dressed. Which in fact meant you were not. But, as long as you look beautifully dressed and not simply dressed in beautiful things, I don’t see a problem here. The key is not to draw attention to any specific aspect, but rather to have them work together to form a single unified vision. No one wants to be the guy with the garish coat or glitzy tie.

And finally, we have harmony. Impression is created by harmony, drape, and cut. Things should work together, but not be too precise. You know, sprezzatura, and all that, but don’t get too hung up on looking too contrived or too nonchalant. What is really important is that when you look in the mirror, nothing looks out of place or too precisely placed. And, as with most things, enjoy dressing or its all a waste.