Monday, 22 December 2014

"Country attire day"

Today is a special day. Today is "country attire day". What is that, you ask? Well it's something I've just made up, of course. But more specifically it is the day of the year, typically the last Monday before Christmas, where all the usual rules about dressing for the office and not wearing brown in town suddenly stop applying (actually the no brown in town rule never applies as strictly as people think but that's another post for another day) and you can, nay *should* start dressing as though you are at your highland estate or Oxfordshire country pile. Which is, of course, where you want to be.

No sane man likes to work the week before Christmas and yet, sometimes, we must; usually because we are so junior that we have to stay and answer the phones, or so senior that we simply cannot take time away from our emails. Either way, the consolation is that the rules of dressing officially change and from now until the 1st of Jan you must put on your brogues, your cords, your tweed suits, your wooly jumpers, and your casual ties, and go forth to the office with the look of a man who has one foot already by the log fire in his library and one hand trying to prevent his labrador from eating the presents under the tree, and who has only deigned to step onto the district line and come to work because he is very busy and important.

It really can't fail. If you are very junior your boss will probably ask you where you shoot and if you fancy taking a peg on a grouse day next year*, and if you're very senior your team will be delighted to see you looking relaxed and approachable**.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Naadam - Cashmere sweaters and ethical fashion

I don't often talk much about the ethical side of fashion. In part that's because my main interest is in clothes made in the UK by experienced craftspeople who, I believe, are generally well-treated and reasonably well-compensated. Nevertheless, I don't think we can ignore the fact that clothing production has an important ethical dimension. It's not just sweatshops either, throughout the production chain there is the opportunity for big western designers and retailers to take advantage of suppliers and manufacturers, and many do. And then there is the questionable behaviour at the other end of things as well - certain large brands have a reputation for simply destroying tonnes of clothes at the end of each season to avoid 'diminishing' their brand by allowing clothes to hit the market on the cheap through thrift stores or charitable donations.

All of this is a rather uncomfortable side-story to our enjoyment of nice clothes, and so it's nice to be able to support brands that take the ethical side of things seriously. I've been talking recently with a company called Naadam Cashmere, a relatively recent start-up based in New York that imports super-fine cashmere from Mongolia and turns it into beautiful cashmere sweaters, hoodies, cardigans and other accessories. What's cool is that they've made the ethical approach part of their business model from the very beginning, and are committed to re-investing part of their revenue in livestock insurance for the nomadic herders from whom they buy the cashmere. It's a nice approach, and it's producing some really lovely products.

They also recently released a great little video of one of the founders giving away samples and products with minor flaws to New York's homeless, prior to a particularly cold snap. It's a nice gesture, and a good antidote to the Abercrombie & Fitch approach...

Declaration of interest: I have a financial interest in a company that has been consulting on Naadam's website.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Back to Cordings

In case it wasn't sufficiently apparent from my post about shooting breeks, I've rather fallen in love with Cordings, the 175 year old country outfitters on Piccadilly, which is half-owned by Eric Clapton. It really is the most amazing environment; wood-panelled walls just visible between the rows of different tweeds, and staff in country ties and v-neck jumpers floating around taking customers under their wing for as long as necessary to help them make a purchase decision, whether it's a five-piece shooting rig or just a new pair of socks.

What I really love about it, though, is that while it sells beautiful and very traditional clothing, it is quite sincerely a practical country and sporting shop with as much of a focus on quality and hard-wearing construction as any modern store selling fleeces and polyamide jackets. That's part of the joy of any really great suit - being fit-for-purpose doesn't preclude being beautiful, and flawless construction contributes to flawless appearance.

There's no better example than my new Cordings jacket in their house check tweed. It's a beautiful, heavy but fairly smooth tweed in a classic olive green with light blue and turquoise stripes. As befits a country jacket, it's three button with a single vent, and has the attractive and traditional Cordings cut: generous but with a nice shape to the waist and an elegant roll to the collar.

It has an extra row of stitching around the whole edge of the jacket; a touch that is commonly appropriated for purely stylistic reasons, and is undeniably very stylish, but which also strengthens the jacket and makes it more resilient to damage when worn in rough countryside.

There are a few other nice features like working cuffs, which are unusual on an off-the-peg jacket (it was something of a disappointment to me that my off-the-peg Gieves and Hawkes blazer doesn't have working cuffs) and, while arguably more symbolic than truly useful, are a sign of the care and attention that is put into each jacket.

It is, of course, available as part of a three-piece suit (and multiple other pieces, like a shooting waistcoat, a field coat, breeks and I think a cap). I don't (yet...) have any of these, but I'm a big fan of a tweed jacket worn with cords or chinos. Blue works well, particularly if the tweed has a blue overcheck, but bottle green works as well, as do the Sloaney standbys of red or mustard. I favour shirts that are casual but not too aggressively 'country'. That's a fine balance that may only make sense in my head, but by which I mean that blue checked is good, green and brown check is probably a step too far. Tie-wise, a subtly country tie like the one pictured above is obviously appropriate, but a club tie or softer paisley could work fine. The main thing is to avoid a city power-tie, but then I'd probably give that advice whatever you were wearing...

An outfit like that is well-suited to smarter weekend events or, for those unfortunates like me who work in a field where suits are almost unheard of, informal client meetings and casual lunches. The full suit might be more of a challenge in the city unless you particularly want to cultivate the impression that you have merely deigned to visit London for a few hours and will shortly be returning to your shooting estate. And that's fine if you do (or actually are).

Note: The jacket in this article was provided by Cordings for review. No payment has been made for this post, and acceptance of items for review does not guarantee positive coverage.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Frederick Lynn

In the Spring, I'm planning to go out to Chicago - a city I've never visited, but one with a thriving fashion industry and one that I associate with a business-like but sharp and stylish dress-sense. I'm excited to visit some tailors there, and particularly excited to already be talking to one. Frederick Lynn is the creation of Aaron Comes, a 'refugee from the corporate world' of big garment manufacturers who started his own business three years ago making handmade suits and accessories and, in December, opened a beautiful new showroom in Chicago.

With a range of cloths including both very traditional English makes like Scabal and the Italian mill, Marzoni, Frederick Lynn is clearly ready to cater to a variety of tastes and styles. This much is clear from the sample photos they sent me of their suits, which include both a beautiful muted soft three-piece business suit and the sort of bright purple checked sports coat that I imagine ex-Ivy-Leaguers wearing to their country club but which, I fear, I could never pull off.

Like many of the modern generation of tailors and, indeed, increasingly of the old-school ones, Frederick Lynn offer their suits at different price points depending on how much of the work is done by hand. Although I'm a big believer in the advantages of a hand-made suit, I'm also a big believer that a suit that fits properly is more important than anything else, so it's nice to be able to go to a decent bespoke tailor and order a suit that will fit right but won't break the bank.

The range also includes a number of elegant-looking leather accessories, and both bespoke and off-the-peg outerwear. As someone who has long been hunting for a properly long trench-coat instead of the thigh-length ones that are all anyone seems to sell these days, the made-to-order outerwear is of particular interest and something I will be certain to look at when I visit.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to a proper look round the shop in May, at which point I will report back with a more detailed post. In the meantime, if you're in the area and have a chance to pop in, or already have any experience of Frederick Lynn, do leave a comment as I'd be very keen to hear what you thought.