Sartoria

Chester British?

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Manchester, “summer” 2014. Urgent need dictated the purchase of a new pair of trousers, and House of Fraser was near our hotel. I don’t like jeans (all denim and rivets), and I don’t really like chinos (too much crinkly double stitching on the seams and often so rigid that you look like you’re wearing lengths of drainpipe), and on the British High Street that doesn’t leave a gent much choice. After what was looking like another fruitless trawl round the menswear department, an assistant hared off upstairs to bring down some trousers he knew were languishing up there (“that might fit sir rather better”). He came back with a pair of rather nice flannels (this was a Manchester summer after all) which did indeed fit, and as two-year old remnants were offered at a not-to-refuse price. Thus happened my first encounter with Chester Barrie.

Very satisfactory they proved to be, so I was delighted some months later, to notice that an outlet shop was opening in a shopping ‘village’ just a few miles from my home, of which more later.

Chester Barrie is a long-established tailor whose flagship store opened on Savile Row in 1937. Simon Ackerman, its owner, had had experience of American gents’ tailoring, and sought to create an early global brand. Sir Winston Churchill, Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra were customers.

The brand has a complicated corporate history similar to many others, but the important thing here is its emergence in recent years as a strong exponent of modern British tailoring. While Sprezzatura loves all things Italian, it is still something of a sadness that the home industry doesn’t offer more to please my eye. For me, traditional British tailoring is just too formal, stiff and class-redolent. It may work if you are a member of a city law firm or bank, but I have no wish to wear the badges of those particular cliques, with all the chauvinistic clubbiness that it too easily implies.

What’s more, the clash of multiple primaries, loud patterns, checks, stripes and pastels that one often sees at the ‘country’ end of the look too, to me suggests nothing more than a blatant disregard for the simple rules of aesthetics – or else incipient blindness. There is something in that guidance about never wearing more than two colours at once, and matching the belt and shoes. Perhaps it doesn’t matter when you’re shooting grouse.

So Chester Barrie is a very welcome presence on the market, and I think can give the Italians a good run for their money, in both the styling and the presentation of their collections. The clothes are sharp, modern and yet clearly British. That said, they make an Anglo-Italian blend a distinct possibility, and this is especially useful in the trouser department where Italian imports may look great but clearly aren’t cut with northern European body shapes in mind.

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The fabrics in use are of superb quality (often, I note, Italian in origin) and the manufacturing equally good (also done in Italy on their premium line) – which strikes me as a little ironic for a Savile Row company, but I’m not complaining. I don’t intend to review specific items here, but recommend a click to the website for a more comprehensive view.

And those outlets: they are important. This is certainly not cheap clothing, the prices in a regular outlet easily rivalling those of Milan and Rome – but a little research will reveal that House of Fraser regularly offers a limited range of C.B. clothing with some good mark-downs. The C.B. website offers its own seasonal sales too – and the three outlets in Braintree, York and Gloucester offer good service and some items at prices so reduced as to make the High Street chains seriously blush. Well worth the cost of a tank of petrol to make a visit to one of them, if needs be.

It is good, at long last, to see a British clothier grasping the market for modern, forward-looking clothing with a Brexit-defying edge, and not letting go.

http://www.chesterbarrie.co.uk/

https://www.chesterbarrie.co.uk/store-locator

 

Sartoria

Lussoti – Anglo-Italian style on a good footing…

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Giovanni penny loafer

For some time I have been bemoaning the fact that much British men’s footwear, as well as being deadly dull, was not even well-made any more. Having run out of patience with offerings that lasted barely a season, and given the local famine of inspiration, I got myself up to the West End to see what might be had. I tracked down one of the few self-owned Loake outlets and my jaw hit the deck: £800 for a pair of ordinary-looking black brogues… Well, I suppose I should have expected that from the Burlington Arcade – but when even Russell & Bromley who, while a quality shoe-maker are hardly top of the tree, charge in excess of £200 for a similar pair, I began to realise that it was probably my frame of reference that was out of date…

What’s a man of average means to do? The kind of money I was used to spending on shoes was all too evidently a false economy. Luckily, the dear old internet came to the rescue once again, and doing the virtual rounds of Tuscany, I found several makers who would dispatch to the U.K. – but again, Italian shoes don’t come cheap…

Enter two companies who can provide something of an answer: Scarosso, who are a small German-Italian outfit, and the newcomer Lussoti, who are based not in Chiantishire so much as Chesterfield. Lussoti Shoes may have a convincing Italian ring to the name, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

The company is the project of Luke Twigg and Garry Marshall, who were equally fed up with the lack of good quality, reasonably-priced men’s shoes on the market. Having met little success in sourcing shoes from other makers, they set up their own brand, largely designed in-house, but manufactured using the top-notch  labour and materials of and in Tuscany.

The result? A small selection of hand-made shoes which display a distinct Italian styling but with prices which, while not exactly cheap, at least make the occasional acquisition a distinct possibility. By keeping out the middle-men, cost-savings can be passed on to the customer, and result in a collection the majority of which comes in at between £100 and £250. I have by now re-educated myself such that this is an acceptable price to pay for a product that will hopefully last and last – and after all one does not need new shoes every day…

What makes a significant difference, too, is the quality of the product. Not only are these designs that are quirky and sharp enough to be different without marking oneself out on the mean streets of Chesterfield or Colchester as a full-on Mafioso, but the material quality and craftsmanship really stands out. From the sturdy slip-type box, to the dust bags and complimentary shoe horn, this is a very good all-round retail experience for the price. The two pairs that I now own are light but sturdy, and were almost like wearing slippers from the word go. None (yet) of the six months of agony needed to wear in a pair of Loakes. I like fairly pointed shoes, which are more interesting than blunt-nosed British types. These are just right, with ample toe-room, which is not always the case.

The Nero derbies are extremely supple and while I don’t really like brogues, I find the hand-stamped, oblique reference to those over-elaborate items vaguely amusing. I ordered a pair/size combination that was out of stock, Luke scoured his retailers until he secured a pair for me in just a couple of days.

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Nero derbies

The more recently-arrived Giovanni embossed burgundy penny loafers are also delightful, though needing slightly more walking in. For someone who dislikes ‘boring black’ shoes, these are a good, slightly subversive alternative with grey or black suit or trousers.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I am intrigued to see a number of pan-national companies like this arising as a means of reconciling demand for distinctive products with the places that can supply them. Although the company has only been established since 2015 their shoes are already being retailed in selected shops across the U.K. and at one place in the U.S.A.

Full marks to these gents for the initiative and I just hope that the madness of Brexit does not do too much harm to business models like this.

https://lussoti.com/

The views are solely my own, though the review was written with the co-operation of Lussoti Shoes. The appalling puns are entirely my own work; well, it was one of those afternoons…

Opinion & Thought, Politics and current affairs, Sartoria

Suits E.U., sir!

I can hardly be the only British gent who is regularly bombarded by advertising from Jermyn Street shirt manufacturer Charles Tyrwhitt. I wrote to them several years ago pointing out that while I approved of their democratising marketing strategy, I would be more happy to buy their clothes if their tailoring and design was not all so old-school British. I pointed out that traditional British menswear is often starchy-formal and has associations of occupation and social stereotype that I don’t feel happy with – and that’s without the age profile that it still implied.

I received one of their habitually jolly letters in reply, explaining that this was what the British market still wanted. Well, some years on, I note a distinct modernisation of Tyrwhitt’s catalogue, with sharper styles and fabrics sourced from amongst others, good Italian mills. I also noticed recently, the first appearance of a non-white model in the catalogue: well done – but about time too! I’m certainly not claiming any influence over the decision, but I think it has made Tyrwhitt a more appealing clothier, and has hopefully broadened their market as a result.

While there’s no question over the quality of traditional British men’s tailoring, my reservations still hold, and this is why I tend to prefer French and Italian style – it is slightly sharper while also less formal, more open to interpretation and relatively devoid of the overtones of social class.

So I’ve been delighted to discover more recently, a number of British companies that are challenging the conservative norm by offering British clothing – designed for British body shapes – while looking to the continent for some of their design inspiration. I will be reviewing items by a number of these companies in forthcoming posts.

In the meantime, I must admit I rather worry about the effect of Brexit on this welcome development. Here we have companies doing their design work in one country, sourcing their materials and doing their manufacturing in others, and retailing from others again. A number of them seem to be relatively small start-ups, and one might almost suggest that there is the making of a pan-European industry here, which provides for a range of clients by taking the requisite elements from the different traditions. And that’s without the large number of European companies now selling internationally. If it leads to an improvement in the general sartorial standards of the male British population, that will be a welcome bonus, too.

I will mention the names of Chester Barrie clothing, Lussoti Shoes, Scarosso Shoes and of course Charles Tyrwhitt as some that seem to be taking this route (there are others) – and end by saying that I hope they have plans for dealing with Brexit, because it would be a great shame if their interesting business models and the stylish, well made products they are making, were destroyed as a result of this madness.

 

Sartoria

Shop-keeping done well

 

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I’ve never accepted that, if you live outside a major city the local M&S should be the apex of your clothing options – so it was a great pleasure to discover, a few weeks ago a shop that is confirming the view that regional-town Britain can and should support great independent traders.

Ian Johnstone has established The Shopkeeper Store in the small Essex town of Great Dunmow. Ian has done an excellent job of creating an interior very redolent of traditional shops with wooden floors and a long serving counter.

The selection of goods on offer is what I suppose one would call Gentleman’s wares, ranging from clothing and shoes, through grooming accessories to a small selection of home wares, stationery and books. It is curated (which seems like the right word) with a mind to quality, craftsmanship and sustainability. Most pleasingly of all, the defining criterion for the stock is simply Ian’s own (very good) taste, and as a result he has achieved both a consistent ‘look’ and an extensive knowledge of his goods. It would be nice to see a growth in the more formal though still creative end of his clothing range as his enterprise grows.

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The very courteous personal service and genuine enthusiasm for what he is doing is the icing on the cake, and I sincerely hope that Ian makes a success of this relatively young venture.

It is possible to buy from The Shopkeeper Store online, though if you are close enough, I would recommend a visit just to experience the lovely ambience. Oh, and there is an excellent independent wine merchant next door…

The Shopkeeper Store,

9 Market Place, Great Dunmow, Essex CM6 1AX

www.theshopkeeperstore.com

(Usual disclaimer)

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Opinion & Thought, Sartoria

The God of Small Things

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It may seem rather pathetic that an established teacher, with many years’ experience and a professional blog to his name should be reduced to blogging about…. socks. But in the year since I stopped working, certain things have come into sharper perspective. Even though I worked hard to prevent it, I hadn’t realised the extent to which a regular sixty-hour week comes to dominate your life. Even while not at work, or travelling the thirty miles to and from school, much time was spent chewing over professional matters. Pretty much everything else was shoe-horned in around the edges, at least mentally, even when I was supposedly doing other things. It did me no good.

So it is remarkably pleasurable to be able to get up in the morning and have the time actually consider what clothes I want to wear, rather than just flinging on the usual work-compliant suit and tie. I have always enjoyed men’s style, and even tried to carry this through to the rough-and-tumble of the school environment. I felt it was part of setting a good example, and maintaining high personal standards.

But now I can appreciate such niceties for their own sake, along with the pleasures of fresh morning coffee or an autumn walk. For reasons unknown to me at the time, during my period of convalescence I had the urge to renew my wardrobe, and again I have had time to choose carefully. It was remarkably cathartic.

Bresciani socks are about as good as they get, being made from top-quality materials by a skilled manufacturer in Italy. There are few outlets that retail them in the U.K., but a good choice can be had from meschausettesrouges.com in Paris. Twenty pounds for a pair of socks may seem outrageous, but as with many beautiful things, it is only when you receive them that one can appreciate the craftsmanship, the excellent fit, and the superb materials. So the price perhaps becomes a small one to pay for a small taste of excellence, and the fact that the article itself is so mundane somehow adds to the pleasure.

It’s easy to sneer at such apparent vanity, but it occurred to me that there is a deeper and more significant point here. The key to appreciating fine things is a willingness to see rather than just look, to sense and savour the material qualities of the world around us rather than taking them for granted. To stop what one is doing and just appreciate our sensory surroundings is akin to the ‘living in the moment’ that Mindfulness promotes as an antidote to mental angst. It is a tendency that can be developed with practice. I think it works – it is not shamelessly materialistic to appreciate the sensory qualities of material things – and all it takes is the time and restraint to stop and do so. In fact, the appreciation of what one has, rather than envy at what one does not, is the antithesis of the status anxiety that afflicts so many lives.

But that, I fear, is the one thing hassled modern lives deprive us of: the time to stand and stare (or feel). I suspect it is also what we hurried north-Europeans yearn for in our envious perceptions of the South – the time for the leisurely savouring of life’s pleasures, in a way our cold-climate Protestant-ethic culture does not really encourage. And the more you do it, the more one learns to value superior quality, not in the envious sense, but simply for the extra pleasure it brings. I suspect that is the secret of southern European brio, and it is a cultural meme that we would do well to learn.

Much of modern life seems to me to thrive on dissatisfaction and anxiety; instead of devoting time to fire-fighting on mental health matters, maybe it would be better to dedicate good time to the appreciation of the small pleasures in life that might make emergency action less necessary.

Like an innocent appreciation of the simple, tactile pleasures of a small piece of beautiful fabric.

https://www.meschaussettesrouges.com/en/  (usual disclaimer)

 

 

Sartoria

Diamonds on the soles…

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What’s a ‘poor’ boy to do? Ain’t no overtime will add diamonds to the soles of his shoes…

But the fact that you weren’t born wealthy, and never landed a job with a telephone-number salary, won’t stop you appreciating fine things, if that’s your inclination. You can write it off as class- or money-envy, but it needn’t be. Neither need it be about fashion-victim-hood or the desire to show off. Fine things are considered fine for a reason, and that is often more to do with their aesthetic (and sometimes practical) qualities than the social snobberies that come to be attached to them. The possession of money is not a prerequisite for the appreciation of such things.

It’s true that desirable objects often command high prices, simply through the mechanism of supply and demand – but there are still plenty of ways to exercise reasonable discrimination in how one parts with one’s cash without trashing one’s credit-rating.

Before I get lectured at, I am well aware that poverty can be crushing, in ways that those who do not experience it rarely appreciate; but my purpose here is to debunk the myth that stylish menswear is only accessible to those who are so wealthy they take it for granted that everyone else is too. I acknowledge that am fortunate enough that the the approach outlined here brings some such items just-about into range; what can I say that would placate those still enraged by my attitude? I can only explain that my own work and (former) income as a teacher hardly put me in the super-rich category…

It’s worth remembering for a start that while wealth might make style affordable, it doesn’t guarantee it. I would guess that the majority of the world’s wealthy (starting with The Donald) spend their money demonstrating their grotesque lack of taste, not the converse. Good judgement is more or less free, if you choose to develop it.

And yet it is all too easy to fall prey to the mindset of buying on price rather than quality, something that I think British culture is still remarkably prone to.

Then there is the long-standing advice to buy the best you can afford rather than the cheapest you can find, and to buy less but better. It has stood the test of time for a reason – as more likely will things that you acquire using that maxim. On a cost-per-use basis, cheap stuff may be a false economy; we are considering things here that ought to last a decade or more.

Flashy labels add a premium to not always superior products. But this is not a competition (which you will never win anyway) nor about impressing others, but principally about pleasing yourself by looking and feeling good. If others happen to appreciate your efforts, then that’s a bonus. So while big labels are worth considering, so are others that may be much less well-known. Indeed, part of the pleasure in working on one’s dress comes from the chase and the knowledge and judgement that it requires. The appreciation of good clothing is no different from that of good food, wine, art, music or any other aspect of aesthetic craftsmanship. In some ways it’s too easy just to resort to the best-known brands.

I’ve pretty much given up on the British High Street. Unless you want jeans, chinos and sports-wear, the rewards are generally not worth the effort. It seems to me that unlike in many continental countries, what is deemed adequate by and for the average Brit is too dull to be very pleasing. Sad to say, for anyone even moderately choosy there is far better quality and choice available elsewhere.

Neither do I see the point in the fake brands that mainstream chains use to differentiate their better lines. Even House of Fraser is guilty of having a fake Italian ‘name’ – though to be fair at least the clothes are Italian-made. Why not just stock the real thing (the prices are not always so much different, though the quality often is) – or better still simply produce good-quality clothes that can be sold for what they are? Anyone who is seeking quality is not going to be fooled by such compromises, particularly on fabrics: synthetic fibres will never substitute for good naturals.

Another way of saving is to eschew the service of the boutiques. While there is inherent pleasure in the attention of a knowledgeable tailor, if price is a big issue it is something worth forgoing. You can find the same clothes elsewhere, cheaper. Although some brands now manufacture lower-spec goods specifically for factory outlets, the quality may still be acceptable if you are careful – and this practice is by no means universal. There are some great savings to be made by discerning shopping in such factory outlets – and no one will be any the wiser over where you obtained your clothes, even if that matters to you.

And above all, the internet means you can now shop wherever in the world you choose. One substitutes time for money, both in terms of rooting out the bargains, and in waiting for deliveries (and returning unsuitable items) – but it means you can effectively access desirable clothing no matter where you live, even if your local shops can’t be bothered to cater for you.

In either case, one needs to alter the approach a little. Instead of aiming to purchase a particular item as needed, one needs to be more opportunistic. Buying items that fit and that you like when you see them becomes more important than buying for immediate use; buying them end of- or out of season also makes them cheaper. I would not generally recommend the use of credit as interest can push costs back up, quite apart from the other risks involved – but the ability to draw on extra resources does make this approach easier. PayPal’s four-month interest-free credit works for me on the odd occasion when a particularly desirable item appears at the wrong end of the month…

So here, to conclude is a directory of some of the best sources I have found on my virtual (and real) travels; the list is inevitably Italy-weighted, but you can shop electronically in France or any other country equally well. I do feel a tinge of guilt about what this is doing to British retail, but I can hardly go naked just because it doesn’t deign to cater for my tastes…

If it is quality that matters, continental retailers tend to be better further down the price range than in Britain, where I suspect manufacturers cut corners safe in the knowledge that the average punter will be none the wiser.

I realise that the prices will still draw gasps from some: if you really are into bargain-basement-wear, this is not for you. But for good dressing on a relatively small budget, careful use of these resources works.

https://www.yoox.com/uk/men Possibly the largest online outlet of all. Yoox seems to have access to old-season stock from a vast range of suppliers, including some that one cannot buy over-the-counter in the U.K. I gather the founder is well-connected… It is necessary to keep a close eye on what is on offer as stock changes frequently. Ignore the terrible photos in which the clothes often don’t fit the models, and remember that shipping and returns are often free. Yoox has had some bad press but apart from the odd sizing error, I have never found it to be less than efficient. If you are prepared to sift and/or wait for their ‘action’ offers, there are some stunning savings to be made, with some items from top-notch manufacturers being reduced by 70% or more.

I would recommend looking at Pal Zileri, Armani Collezioni, Caruso, Canali and Corneliani; if you chose your moment, the prices are little different from what one can easily pay on the High Street for much-inferior goods. Zegna and Loro Piana are there too, but still at a hefty price. There are plenty of attractive items by makers not known to most in the U.K.

https://www.kamiceria.com/gb/  A vast range of shirts and other clothes from respected Italian manufacturers such as Bagutta and Xacus. Typical reductions from around £90 to nearer £40 but some nicely-designed cheaper marques too. Sale prices not infrequently dip below the £20 mark. Classic shirts most likely to fit the average British figure. Free postage and returns.

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https://camiceriaolga.it/en I have already reviewed the made-to-measure shirt I ordered from this company – excellent quality for the price of €55 for their standard fabrics; higher priced fabrics also offered. I shall be returning.

https://www.boggi.com/en_GB/home Beautiful clothing, but not often found in bargain outlets. Much of their range is tailored in slim and very slim cuts, but their accessories are well-worth the money during their extended sale periods.

http://www.scarosso.com/en/men/shoes Hand-made shoes that retail around the £190- £220 mark. While that is hardly cheap, the quality is excellent for the price. 10% discount if you are prepared to be bombarded with emails and other substantial markdowns on a regular basis, bringing them nearer High Street prices. Sharper than British designs, but hardly avant-guard.

https://www.loding.fr/en/ French company which has a small chain of lovely shops in most cities there. Their socks are excellent value for money with a wide range of colours and three sizes rather than the now-dominant two (currently £8 a pair, Aug 2017). Good quality shoes as well; I am not familiar with the shirts. They do not have sales, but all products in a given category are priced identically all year round.

https://www.meschaussettesrouges.com/en/ Another way to lift one’s dress without vast expenditure is to focus on accessories, in this case socks. One can purchase high-quality, distinctive socks without breaking the bank (around £8-20); again there is a world of difference between the dull/comic/overtly branded socks that dominate the mainstream British market and something much more interesting. Bresciani are especially worth a look.

https://www.julesb.co.uk Newcastle-based clothier which offers a wide range of labels. Markdowns are often not huge, but good items can be found in their sales.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Segni-et-Disegni Excellent, high-quality ties from a little-known manufacturer in Como. They don’t have their own website, but products can be obtained from Amazon Marketplace, in reality Cravatte Avenue in Lyon, France, which also has its own website https://www.cravate-avenue.com/   £30-£40 for excellent quality without a ‘label’ premium; wider range on C.A.’s website, but slightly higher prices.

S&D2https://www.tresanti.co.uk   Dutch company that sources most of its products in Italy. Slightly off-beat range at less than sky-high prices.

http://www.angelico.it Not quite my taste so I have not shopped there, but mid-range Italian styles with some good markdowns in sale periods.

https://www.puntomaglia.it/index-en  Made-in-Italy knitwear. I have yet to investigate but they look very promising. Gran Sasso is a brand that is well worth buying.

http://www.maestripellettieri.it/ Good quality leather goods at not-extortionate prices. I have only purchased a wallet, but it is very acceptable with good workmanship.

http://www.rionefontana.com/en/ Small chain based in the Veneto; rather too trendy for me as a rule, but I have had some lovely cashmere knitwear from them at sale times, with tremendous mark-downs.

https://maisoncashmere.co.uk Another retailer I have yet to shop from, but think I will have to investigate next winter. They operate batch-manufacture as and when they reach a threshold of orders, so there may be a wait for delivery.

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http://boutique.franck-michel.com/en/ Interesting-looking shirts and accessories from Paris boutique.

https://www.fatherandsons.fr/fr_fr/ Mid-range French chain, with shops in most cities. A little sharper than their English counterparts. Will deliver to the U.K., even though the website is currently monolingual.

http://www.houseofbruar.com/mens/knitwear/merino/ Perhaps a surprising addition, but the quality of their knitwear is excellent, and comparable to others of higher price. Irritatingly low on stock for much of the time, but you might get lucky.

http://www.chesterbarrie.co.uk/ Probably my favourite British brand at the moment; one of the few British tailors to be rivalling the Italians for style.  It is by no means cheap, though selective shopping on their website can occasionally reveal good reductions, and they are stocked by House of Fraser, likewise. If you are within striking distance of their outlet shop at Freeport Braintree (Essex), it is an absolute treasure-trove. The fact that it is within easy striking distance of my home is not good for the bank balance… https://www.freeport-braintree.com/stores/chester-barrie/

https://www.ctshirts.com/uk/home I wrote to Tyrwhitt some years ago asking them to produce a sharper, more modern range. They have eventually obliged, even though, annoyingly, some of the results are only available in slim fits. Nonetheless good quality shirts though fabrics tend to be thicker, in the English tradition. Prices are good during sales, down to the lower £ twenties. Their knitwear is acceptable, but the quality of their other goods tends not to live up to their shirts. I see that certain other Jermyn Street firms seem to be following their business model.

This list will be archived and I may well make additions from time to time.