Thursday, 27 June 2013

Hitting the Summer Sales 1 - New and Lingwood Shirts

I mostly buy shirts in the sales - twice a year I can pick up a handful from New and Lingwood or Ede and Ravenscroft and then not worry for another six months. It generally keeps me stocked up, and means I get the shirts I like at prices I can (more or less) afford. On this occasion, it seemed wrong not to take advantage of New and Lingwood's very generous 3 shirts for £175 offer...

They're slim-fits again, which fit me much better. Last time I bought slim fits I noted that, as well as the cut, the style was different - with a French front (i.e. no placket) and square tails with no gusset. I'm not sure if that was on the dubious but oft-cited basis that a French front flatters slimmer people, or the even more dubious notion that people who favour a slim-fit shirt inevitably also favour a 'modern' style. Either way, I'm quite pleased to note that all three of these shirts are identical to the standard New and Lingwood style aside from the narrower cut. I assume that's a decision across the board, rather than a coincidence of my selections, but I could be wrong.

Two of the shirts are useful informal shirts with button-cuffs of the sort I tend to wear with a casual jacket or jumper, one in pink herringbone and the other in blue houndstooth. The third is more formal with a double cuff and the sort of very cutaway collar that I am increasingly keen on. I don't often wear a checked shirt with a suit, but I'm quite pleased to have this as an option particularly on occasions when I want to wear my striped three-piece Hackett suit without too much of an overload of stripe...

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A new suit begins

I've been meaning to get a new bespoke suit for ages. It's been over six months since I bought my last (off-the-peg) suit and about a year and a half since I order a bespoke item. The interim has mostly been spent stocking up on odds and ends like tweed jackets, jumpers and a lot of new shirts. Anyway, the time has definitely come for something new and, for a long time, I've had a hankering for a single-breasted three-piece suit with a double-breasted waistcoat. This is a classic look which is increasingly popular with well-dressed men but is still almost impossible to find off-the-peg. Actually, it has hit a couple of top-end off-the-peg stores this summer but only, as far as I can see, in cream or off-white and I assume this is mainly the Great Gatsby effect (albeit more Redford than DiCaprio I think).

All that is by the by, because it is as a smart town suit that this style looks best and where it can be made with a sufficiently understated cloth to avoid the whole ensemble being totally overpowering. It's tough to find an example, but here's a good shot of... yes, Robert Redford as Gatsby. This picture is cunningly cropped to hide the fact that he's wearing brown shoes, but let's ignore that. 

For my own purposes, what I am after is something in a fairly sober business-like grey, but with a bit of texture and pattern that only becomes obvious closer up. I'm not really a fan of very plain cloths and, even when I'm keeping in check my passion for checks, I'd prefer a nailhead or birdseye to something totally plain, so it was with that rough brief in mind that I went for my first appointment at 13 Savile Row, the new premises of Cad and the Dandy

As I explained in my previous post, Cad and the Dandy has come a long way in a short time. For years they've been carefully following the bespoke process, hiring talented staff and turning out increasingly Savile-Row-quality suits but I get the feeling that recently they've taken another significant step up. Their Savile Row operation is overseen by Philippa May; a cutter who previously spent five years at Huntsman and, before that, at Gieves and Hawkes. And for a while they've used the same coatmakers and finishers as elsewhere on Savile Row (including many who've previously worked for big-name tailors). This and their permanent premises makes them, finally, not so much a 'good-value alternative to Savile Row' but simply a true Savile Row tailor.

So what's changed? Well, if anyone had asked me before what differentiated Cad and the Dandy from a traditional bespoke tailor I would have said it was the fact that the main customer-facing contact was often not the cutter. This wasn't a huge problem - James and Ian are talented and knowledgeable, and their head cutter was often around the shop - but in a real Savile Row tailor it requires the cutter to meet with the client so they are working not just from blunt physical measurements but from having personally seen how the customer stands and walks, how their shoulders slope, what they tend to fill their pockets with, and all sorts of other little details. The experience of working directly with an experienced cutter is a big part of the Savile Row process and it's a definite improvement for Cad and the Dandy now that their bespoke clients have their first consultation in person with Philippa.

As well as all the details of the suit requirements, around 20 measurements are taken and jotted down in Philippa's notebook (which probably tells you everything you need to know about the sort of places that claim to be able to make you a 'bespoke' suit on the basis of a handful of measurements entered online). Although Cad and the Dandy already have a pattern for me, Philippa will draft a new one to her own style. Naturally, given where she's spent much of her career, this will owe something to the classic Huntsman cut; one of the most recognisable Savile Row house styles. Although since my preference is for a two-button suit we've avoided directly aping their style, which is probably for the best. Huntsman is arguably (and I use the word advisedly, since any statement like this is bound to provoke an argument...) one of the best tailors in London so I'm definitely looking forward to wearing a suit cut by someone who spent five years there.

Of course part of the service is advice on style, cloth selection and so forth. Despite my vague idea of a nailhead or birdseye, I was eventually steered (with practically no resistance) towards a very elegant dark grey check in a lightweight cloth that will make this suit suitable for an August wedding when I hope to first wear it. The lining, which is especially visible on most three-piece suits that also use the lining fabric on the back of the waistcoat, will be a nice dark red and gold paisley pattern. The end result will, I think, be very smart indeed.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Cad and the Dandy: New Savile Row Premises

Last Thursday (13/06/13) I was privileged to be invited to the opening of Cad and the Dandy's new Savile Row premises at 13 Savile Row. My first meeting with them was just over three years ago and took place in the borrowed premises of (I think) Chittelborough and Morgan, at no 12 just next door to where they are now. While, as I described at the time, the experience was excellent and the service exemplary, that quiet downstairs room now seems a million miles from the grand and beautifully decorated surroundings on the 1st floor at no 13. Most important of all, it is all Cad and the Dandy's own, where their own cutters will work side by side with their own coatmakers and finishers, with every step done on site.

Even on Savile Row, doing everything on-site is relatively unusual, and I think is as indicative of James and Ian's enthusiasm for the whole process of tailoring as it is for their stated objective of removing some of the mystique that surrounds the process. A large part of the secret of their success is in making bespoke suits accessible, both from a financial and cultural point of view, and it's clear that ethos will continue even now they are permanently ensconced on the Row.

In a couple of weeks I shall be there for an appointment to kick off the process of having a new suit made, and will then be able to report more fully on how successful the whole venture is. In the meantime, I'll leave you with one final remarkable part of the party.

In the back of the premises, near the changing rooms, is a small room where some of the shoes that Cad and the Dandy sells are displayed. Currently, though, it's all taken up with an enormous antique loom. Acquired from a friend, and repaired with parts that had to be borrowed from a museum, it is fully functional and over the last few weeks was used to weave a completely unique length of cloth in a Prince of Wales check. James, one of the owners, was then measured (if I were feeling cruel I might suggest that James was used for this exercise rather than Ian in order to reduce the amount of cloth they needed to make...) and the cloth was cut, made and finished all on site.

Finally, on the evening of the party, James appeared standing on the cutting table and wearing the completed suit.

Although I'm not sure this is an exercise that is likely to be repeated on a regular basis (the effort involved in making small lengths of cloth on-site is unlikely to be worthwhile in comparison to buying in from a dedicated clothmaker) it's an impressive achievement and is apparently the first time a suit has been made completely from scratch, including the cloth, all on the premises of a single Savile Row tailor.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Luggage: Pierre Cardin suit carrier

You may recall that a few months ago I posted about my search for the perfect collection of gentleman's luggage. Both the most important and most difficult to find part of all this was a perfect suit carrier. I was looking for something that would comfortably fit not just a suit and a couple of shirts, but also had pockets for wash kit, shoes, and other bits and pieces. That way, if needed, the right suit carrier could contain everything I'd need for a weekend away.

The trouble was, it seemed to be almost impossible to find what I was after. Suit carriers seem to come in one of two types: a) large with lots of pockets, but extremely ugly and made of lots of hard-wearing black material or b) elegant leather or canvas covers with no room for anything but a suit.

Despite a fair bit of searching, I couldn't find anything that combined the best of both worlds, with the exception of Aspinal of London's offering for £500. Tempting, but just too expensive.

In the end, it took a trip to eBay to finally find exactly what I was after. And it only cost me £16 plus £32 to have it couriered to me because it was collection-only and I was too lazy to go to Croydon. Still a bargain though. It's a Pierre Cardin suit carrier made of smart blue canvas edged with leather. The main compartment could easily hold a suit and a couple of shirts, probably even two suits at a pinch, but there are also two zipped pockets inside for shoes, and two large external pockets to carry assorted other items needed for a weekend away.

It's literally exactly what I was after, and I actually find it slightly surprising that what I wanted clearly does (or did) exist, but it took me going to ebay to find it. Perhaps its a question of what is fashionable - as far as I can tell even Pierre Cardin no longer makes bags quite like this but, like everyone else, only offers the ugly black nylon ones.

And now I can't help wondering if PC ever made a matching grip or weekend bag. If anyone spots one, do let me know...