Friday, August 29, 2014

It Takes One To Know One

Bloggers can go on all we like about the “menswear renaissance,” but the fact of the matter is that even in a sartorial capital like New York, truly well-dressed men remain thin on the ground. One can certainly find any number of suits shuttling between the money mines of Wall Street and Midtown, but theirs are overwhelmingly joyless ensembles: worsted work uniforms worn with thick dull shoes, indifferent ties indifferently knotted, and slung laptop bags biting deep into overpadded shoulders. It’s not passing judgment to observe that these guys would rather be wearing something else.     

Faced with such a prosaic reality, traditionally-inclined dressers tend to seek solace in a wainscoted memory palace, furnished with the sumptuous illustrations and silvered icons of an heroic past. Here we find our phantom tribe of headless avatars and hokey handles, communing in comments and threads about the Fall and Rise of Elegance. Occasionally, we may gather for mildly awkward cocktails that might as well be burned coffee in a church basement. Shoe circles have happened.   

Increasingly, however, we’ll spot One of Us, in the wild, gloriously anonymous, perhaps even doing something other than shopping for or discussing clothes. He is not merely rich, swathed in tastefully bland luxury. He is not merely fashionable, all popped color and seams. We know him by the shine of his well-boned shoes, the shivered break of his deeply cuffed trousers, the roll of his 3-on-2 lapels. He is a dresser, an aficionado, an initiate. He is a menswear dork.

And man, can we ever be bitches to each other. With so much treasure, so much research, so much aesthetic principle invested in the even the smallest details, we too easily lapse into unseemly judgment of those whose tastes diverge even slightly from our own. (Or perhaps more acerbically, those who share our taste but fail our standards of execution. Or perhaps worst of all, those who share our taste and surpass our execution. @#$*%!& dandies!) The traditional gold standard of dressing is, after all, impeccability: the absence of sin. In other words, we’re bloody well looking for it. Too conservative. Too flamboyant. Too retro. Too trendy. Too stiff. Too sprezzed.

Most of us hate being branded as dandies because the term doesn’t conjure elegance so much as fussiness. We are never more fully heirs of Brummelian asshattery, however, than when we take the measure of a fellow dresser by his clothes alone. Whatever you may read here and in other journals of atavistic men’s style, ours is a rare and endangered species, and we should take every occasion to acknowledge and encourage each other, whatever our differing positions on trouser rise or undone sleeve buttons.  

So go ahead and cast the sidelong glance. Offer an approving nod. He’s noticed you too. Don’t worry. It’s all about the clothes.

Text by Andrew Yamato

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summer Is White Shirt Season

The white dress shirt can be a tricky thing. Always de rigueur at night, during the day it flatters some men and washes out those with pale complexions.  Except of course during summer, when any man that so desires can have some skin color and benefit from a white shirt.

The jackets of summer are (or should be) paler in color than those worn the rest of the year, and the still valid rule of thumb is that a man's shirt should be lighter than his jacket  (eschew black and navy blue shirts with jackets no matter how many examples you see on one red carpet or another's publicity seekers). Even a light blue shirt can look marginally dark next to cream linen but white never has this particular problem.

Men who can wear white year-round may wish to have some Sea Island style broadcloth for evening and dressy daytime, voile and linen for warm days, and royal oxford for other occasions. The paler skinned wearer may need just the first two, unless he entertains the opposite sex from time to time or vacations on a boat in the Caribbean. White oxford is a near essential for those activities, whether the owner is the one wearing it or not.

The occasions when each type of shirt will be worn should be the guideline for the type of cuff it ought to have. No-one is likely to pillory anyone for his choice but generally a broadcloth should have turn back cuffs, an oxford should button and the linen or voile can go either way. Collar styles, on the other hand are more of a personal choice so long as they are flattering.

In the photo, a white shirt is the crisply neutral common ground for a summer combination of taupe gabardine jacket, unlined Neapolitan necktie in blue with a touch of brown, white linen square with a muted orange edge and amber Trianon cufflinks. No other shirt color would support so broad a warm weather palette.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Foulard Necktie

There are probably three general styles of necktie worn in America: the solid, including the knits and grenadines so beloved of James Bond, the faux regimental stripe that, though worn with some frequency by Brooks Brothers customers, is aesthetically better suited for less formal occasions, and the small foulard or club tie that is the most common pairing with business suits. Most of the better dressed modern American Presidents wore the foulard, including Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and JFK, generally considered the best dressed of them all.

The popularity of the foulard has much to do with its quiet discretion that complements the solid shirts and solid or semi-solid suits of the business wardrobe. Granted, the Englishman may wear his pin stripes with a regimental necktie. In the States however pin stripes are deemed a bit too banker-like for general wear and few citizens have served in a regiment with its own necktie pattern (Mr. Brooks might have done Americans a better service had he popularized the foulard rather than the bowdlerized regimental).

Being somewhat more memorable than solid ties, a necktie wardrobe needs more foulards than it does solids to prevent "Didn't he wear that Monday?" thoughts. Still, the basic wardrobe need contain no more than half a dozen. If they are mixed with solids during the week, a few with navy grounds and a few with grey will do the trick (either can be worn with navy or grey suits).

For each photo you may find where JFK is wearing a striped necktie, you will find ten where he wears a foulard. With good reason.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trianon, In Good Company

Necessity, the old saw goes, is the mother of invention.  And also the origin for many of the branding tropes of today’s luxury brands.  The shortages of the Second World War reputedly led Hermès to adopt orange shopping bags, which later inspired its distinctive orange packaging, while those of the First World War forced Trumpers to use pink labels on its Extract of Limes toiletries, paving the way for its pink boxes.  For American society jeweler Seaman Schepps (say it a few times and get it out of your system), the Great Depression and World War II meant that both customers and materials were in short supply.  What clientele remained was less inclined or able to purchase large precious stones set in precious metals. 

Then if not now, elegance found a way to survive in an age of privation.  Apparel Arts promoted a Keynesian approach to retail (telling haberdashers that if they followed the fashions of the leading London makers and luminaries and spent out on their shops, the customers would come).   In jewelry, Schepps found inspiration in a trip to the Far East and the juxtaposition of the exotic and unexpected with traditional jewelry materials.  Natural shells, man-made materials, rare woods, corals and carved items all found place in Schepps’ earrings, brooches and cufflinks.  Following the end of the Second World War, this genius for the unexpected found additional encouragement in the bold looks of new fashions.  Schepps himself lived to a ripe old age, decorating icons like the Duchess of Windsor and Jackie O, and following his death in the 1970s his firm gained new stewardship under the guidance of the likeminded Jay Bauer and Anthony Hopenhajm, better known under the name of their own brand Trianon.  As Trianon/Seaman Schepps, both names continue in a bijou little boutique in Manhattan where the curious and hopefully pecunious punter can drool over a majestic selection of some of the most beautiful cufflinks ever designed or made.

Hopenhajm has famously announced that Trianon’s philosophy is that its cufflinks are never just a big stone set in a big piece of gold.  Having at one point collected a library of images of its designs, I’d say that even when Trianon’s cufflinks are simple cabochon stones set in 18-karat gold, there’s always a thought-provoking nuance.  The stones may be unusual semiprecious bloodstones, or stones like labradorite or intricately patterned moonstone, which iridesce.  In other cases, the stones are carved with intaglio designs in them, as with their amber cufflinks featuring images of fish, ships or scorpions, or, in the case of a favorite discontinued design I won’t get my hands on, pink and green tourmaline with foliage motifs.  Seaman Schepps’ influence (and branding) continues in perhaps the most gorgeous cufflink design I know, the four different exotic shells set in gold, each with a different semiprecious or precious cabochon (peridot, citrine, tourmaline and sapphire).

This design, which Will has featured (in pictures of both our personal pairs) before, is one of my favorite pairs of cufflinks, for it embodies to me all that is wonderful about them.  The shells are small enough that they discreetly adorn a buttonhole without overpowering the rest of your ensemble (a rule of thumb, no pun intended, for cufflink size is that the end be no larger than a thumbnail).  And the links are set on gold chains, each end exquisitely different for a variety of combinations.  The differences in each of the four different shells punctuate my position that cufflinks should be double-sided, rather than toggle-backed.  While almost all cufflink brands offer them, I don’t like toggle-backed cufflinks.  They remind me of Porthos’ baldric, all decorative gilt on one side and hidden humdrum on the other.  More worryingly, toggle-backed links come undone (and hence fall out) more easily in my experience. 

In addition to its work with natural shells, Seaman Schepps (and now Trianon) also worked with exotic woods, including lovely small bamboo pieces whose knurls they replaced with tiny studs of gold. I have a pair of very simple sandalwood baton links set in gold made for Sulka which I think were also made by Trianon, for Trianon made a few links for Sulka before that brand’s owners euthanized it back in 2000.  More recent Trianon designs also include the fanciful “carved ancient figures” of turquoise and lava rock, which I’d coveted ever since seeing them in the collection of my e-friend Pococurante and whose heathen likeness on one end has been the victim of latter-day iconoclasts.  More timely are the jadeite balls carved with supposed Chinese good luck symbols and set with ruby and sapphire cabochons in white gold.  Jadeite is an ore containing jade, so it has a variegated pattern showing those veins of jade.   Those were made by Trianon for the Parisian outfitters Arnys a few years before LVMH acquired Arnys and made it part of Berluti.  I am sure that Berluti-Arnys will soon sell very expensive cufflinks again and even more sure that they will not be as interesting as Trianon. 

I was happy to see Will start selling Trianon links on A Suitable Webstore (even if my cufflink-buying days are pretty much over), inasumuch as there aren’t many sources for items that are beautiful, creative and distinctive.  And certainly even fewer sources exist for those that are definitely American in genesis, like Schepps and Trianon.  It’s too easy to pretend to exoticism by spinning the yarn of Italian (to name one) craftsmanship and heritage than to embrace and espouse the truly unique, which is what I encourage of you here.

I wrote recently that I personally don’t think there are any business occasions where cufflinks are really necessary.  However, to me that lack of necessity, for once, is the opportunity to indulge in the cufflinks we hold dear, at their most expressive.

Words and photo by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans

Monday, August 25, 2014

Knits For Indian Summer

Rant on. Why is the vee necked sweater so often worn inappropriately? Vee necks are intended to be accompanied by a necktie (hence the vee) and there are not many people wearing neckties casually these days. True, the vee neck can be worn over a lightweight turtleneck but too often they are paired with an open necked shirt or a tee, exposed clavicle and all. Rant off.

When an extra layer is called for this Indian summer, and it will be, the better choice is a mid-weight crew or boat neck like that worn by Mr. Ian Fleming, author of the original James Bond books. Tieless or with a neckerchief peeking out, the mid-weight crew is flattering as well as easy to wear in temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 27 degrees Celsius).

The keys to Indian summer knitwear comfort are a not too tight fit and a breathable material. Regular cashmere or merino wool are usually too warm for shoulder season. Better are alpaca, linen or washed linen, textiles that wear warm when the temperature is cool and cool when the temperature is warm. And though pure linen has a rougher, less formal texture, linen and cashmere, Will's personal favorite, or alpaca and silk blends offer a smooth surface.

Indian summer approaches. Stay comfortable and please eschew the vee neck.