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Jigsaw’s St. James’s Emporium
Tuesday, November 8th, 2016
I have written about the store in the latest edition of Style + Truth, the Jigsaw seasonal magazine. You can also read it here.
The store was designed by London-based Dalziel & Pow, which has a great record in creating attractive retail spaces. It will be interesting to see how this location – between Jermyn Street and Haymarket – fares as a premium retail destination.
Jigsaw uses Fox Flannel
Monday, November 7th, 2016
The latest issue – No 5 – of the Style + Truth magazine from Jigsaw includes three pieces from me, including this short celebration of the premium chain’s use of a Fox Brothers flannel cloth for this coat.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not a Prince of Wales check.It is a Glen Check. It is encouraging to see Jigsaw using a cloth woven in Wellington, Somerset, even if the coat is manufactured in Portugal.
My issue in for Jigsaw loyalty card holders and so includes an actual sample of the cloth. I also have one of the mags with a menswear cover; most have a womenswear image. You can also read my feature here.
Native Shetland from Jigsaw
Sunday, November 6th, 2016
I very much enjoy writing for Jigsaw‘s biannual Style + Truth magazine. The subjects are very much in my area of interest and the title, edited by my former Drapers colleague Ana Santi, has high production values. The current issue, No 5, includes three pieces from me, including this four-pager on a brilliant Made-in-UK initiative using genuine Shetland wool. You can also read about it here.
Called Native Shetland, the mini-range comprises three styles of chunky knitwear for women. The UK-only provenance is explained in the neat swing ticket.
The Eunson style (above) is £198, while the Ollason sweater (below) is £249.
Well done to all at Jigsaw for supporting UK artisans.
You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 at the V&A
Wednesday, September 7th, 2016
A visit to the latest lavish V&A exhibition is highly recommended.
You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 is an extensive overview of just five frantic years, covering music, fashion, social change, politics, science, product design and more besides. I loved it because I lived it, being aged between 10 and 15 years in the period. I am confident younger punters will enjoy it too because so many influences are still being felt today.
Ah, the disappearing art of the LP sleeve – a sad loss in this era of the digital download. There are dozens of sleeves dotted around the exhibition.
It is fascinating to recall the change in The Beatles from the 1964 appearance with Ed Sullivan to the amazing cover of Sgt Pepper’s. I can remember my sister Sue bringing home a copy on the day of its release, 1 June 1967. The cover is recreated in part at the V&A. The show’s title is, of course, taken from Revolution, a track on the Fab Four’s The White Album from 1968.
There is lots of great fashion on show, including this Mary Quant suit and a paper dress that was given away by the Campbell Soup Company in exchange for two coupons from labels of vegetable soup cans.
This tableau is particularly effective (although the second row is hard to see and even harder to photograph!). The jumpsuit on the far right is by Ossie Clark for Mick Jagger.
As we now expect from the V&A, the exhibition is multi-media. It is interesting to see the ad for Polaroid cameras, which have just been updated by the Impossible Project.
Levi’s is the main sponsor, while the “sound experience” comes courtesy of Sennheiser. The compelling and evocative soundtrack plays automatically as one walks round the show.
The Black Power movement is recalled in a section with images including Huey P Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.
The US influence on popular culture is celebrated in all manner of exhibits, but for people of my age just a few lines prove to be so evocative. The movie Easy Rider was amazingly exotic to me when I sneaked in, under age, to see it in Leeds in 1970 or thereabouts. Consider also that Janis Joplin died just three days after recording Mercedes Benz on 1 October 1970.
The largest room in the show is devoted to the rock festivals of the period, especially Woodstock (15-18 August 1969). Massive screens show the familiar footage (here Country Joe & The Fish) but so many of the performances are still exhilarating, including that of The Who; half of the band did die before they got old.
As well as Levi’s and Sennheiser, the V&A was supported by the Grow Annenberg Foundation, Fenwick and Sassoon. The exhibition was organised by Geoffrey Marsh, director of the V&A’s Department of Theatre and Performance, and Victoria Broackes, a curator in the V&A’s Department of Theatre and Performance and head of Performance Exhibitions.
You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 runs from 10 September 2016 until 26 February 2017.
Weaving with The Shetland Tweed Company
Monday, July 11th, 2016
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am always delighted to hear of new fashion and textile producers across the British Isles. The latest on that important list is The Shetland Tweed Company. Set up last year to produce interesting fabrics on Yell, one of the northerly Shetland Islands, this is a two-person operation.
The two persons in question are Andy Ross, who, despite his Scottish-sounding name, was brought up in Zimbabwe, and Kirsty Brabin, who, despite her Scottish first name, hails from The Wirral on Merseyside. Andy has run a charitable concern for the creative industries called GlobalYell on the island for about a decade and Kirsty, a graduate of Chelsea School of Art, was weaver-in-residence with GlobalYell before making a permanent move to this remote British archipelago.
These maps show just how far north the Shetland Islands are. For a long time in the Middle Ages they were more Scandinavian than Scottish. Kirsty weaves using yarn from the native Shetland sheep spun by Jamiesons in Sandness, Shetland – we are talking about a very small carbon footprint here! The aim of The Shetland Tweed Company is to produce cloths that are modern interpretations of classic cloths from the islands. There is no shortage of local inspiration, as these images illustrate.
In the past year Kirsty has produced about seven collections comprising around 80 fabrics. Each collection is named with a Shetland dialect word, such as Lammas (the first of August), Veev (vivid and bright), Aert (direction) and Meid (a landmark used for pinpointing positions in the sea).
The Shetland Tweed Company, which produces 300gms (10.5oz) cloths for menswear and womenswear, is attracting attention for bespoke pieces. As Kirsty uses a hand loom, small runs are possible. Prices start at a competitive £55 per metre. It would be very uplifting to see this creative venture flourish.
Underwear and dressing gown from British Boxers
Sunday, July 10th, 2016
It is interesting to note that an attractive, relatively new, brand for men’s underwear and nightwear has been devised by a woman. Deb Price set up British Boxers in 2012 with the aim of “bringing a traditional product to a whole new generation”.
That key traditional product is boxers shorts, now augmented by jersey trunks, pyjamas, dressing gowns and socks. Deb Price has good experience in the area, having been head of buying at long-established nightwear producer Bonsoir for several years after a career with high-street retailers. Having studied textiles and fashion in Manchester in the early 1990s, she has been able to blend her training and professional experience to create British Boxers.
Most of her sales is done through the website although she is very pleased to be stocked by Harrods. When Deb contacted me and sent me a selection of her goods, I was impressed by the presentation, packaging and branding. The link with boxing is neatly done and is relevant to Deb, who tells me she is the great, great, great granddaughter of Jem Mace (1831-1910), a celebrated pugilist who spanned the bare knuckle and gloved eras.
I did warn Deb that I was not a fan of boxer shorts, but she sent me two pairs anyway. Having given them a test run, I can confirm hers are in comfy 100% two-fold cotton, nicely made and in attractive colours or stripes. They are £22 a pair, £44 for a two-pack. Of their type, these are fine, but I still do not like the loose-fit, the excess fabric and the relatively lack of support that is the characteristic of the boxer short, but I am sure these would please boxer short fans.
Much more to my personal taste are the trunks, which are in a 95/5 cotton/elastane blend that gives a soft but snug supporting fit. My only criticism is that they (like the boxer shorts) have a relatively low rise – the measurement from crotch to waistband – which does not sit well with my belly. But that, arguably, is my problem! The trunks are £18 each or £34 for a two-pack. I like them, not least because the colour selection has more than just the usual options.
The big surprise in Deb’s box to me was the brilliant striped cotton dressing gown. It is beautifully made, with the matching of the stripes showing the attention to detail. It is a very practical calf length and it is altogether much smarter than it looks in the image from the website I reproduce here (my bold blue stripe version is not on the site at the time of posting). As well as the exterior belt, the robe has two inner ties to create a snug fit. The robe costs £89 and is of a weight that will make it ideal for wear all-year round.
Deb Price, who is based in Leek, Staffordshire, has her boxers made locally to home, while her briefs up to now have been made in the East Midlands near Leicester, as are her socks (£14 a pair). But she has hit frustrating manufacturing problems on the briefs (she has used seven UK factories trying to get the quality at the right price!) and is currently looking towards the Czech Republic for production. Those excellent dressing gowns are already made in Prague.
Sitting in the premium menswear sector, British Boxers is definitely worth a look. Beware, however, that putting on the underwear will not give you a physique like the model in the images! Good look to Deb and her team. This is a job well done.
Rampley & Co pocket squares
Sunday, June 19th, 2016
A new supplier of high-quality pocket squares is always a delight to meet. When the products are made in the UK, I am even more pleased. So it was a happy day when my Inbox received a message from Rampley & Co.
Simon Cranston and Elliott Rampley, who previously worked in online marketing, decided that too many pocket squares were nice but predictably “classic”. Their take on this men’s accessories niche is to use historic artistic images for the prints. At the time of writing, there are only 18 selections on their transactional website, but I find most of them very attractive.
The one they sent me shows a hummingbird painted by one William Swainson, a new name on me. The Rampley website informs me that Swainson (8 October 1789 – 6 December 1855) “was an English artist, naturalist and ornithologist and is often best remembered for the quality of his zoological illustrations”.
As well as being attractive in its own right, the square has a selection of colours that means it works well with a variety of jackets, as can be seen in its outings with my linen-silk Magee three-piece suit and my Polo Ralph Lauren brown corduroy jacket.
In the 18 months or so of trading Rampley & Co has partnered with a number of prestigious galleries, including the Wallace Collection and the National Gallery, for its illustrations. It uses lovely 16oz twill silk woven in Como, Italy or Macclesfield in Cheshire, and all the digital printing is done in Macclesfield. Most of the squares measure a generous 42cm x 42cm (17.5ins x 17.5ins) and sell at £55, £59 or £69. As an alternative from silk, the company also has a small selection of Harris Tweed squares measuring 20cm x 20cm (8ins x 8ins) at £45; these would be a welcome addition to my pocket square box.
Harvey Nichols menswear goes big & bold
Wednesday, May 25th, 2016
While it is regularly bracketed together with Harrods and Selfridges, Harvey Nichols is a much smaller department store than its London rivals. It sees itself as a large boutique rather than a huge emporium. This philosophy is reflected in the new menswear area that covers the two lower ground floors of the Knightsbridge building.
It took nine months to remodel the 28,000sq ft space to the design of Virgile + Partners, the interior design agency responsible for Harvey Nicks’ very impressive store in The Mailbox centre in Birmingham, which was opened in July 2015.
The London store displays the same techniques, especially the lavish use of eclectic surface finishes, custom-built fixtures and mannequins, and a general air of complete stylish confidence. In these pictures we see (from the top) the International Designer area, the Denim department and the Off Duty section.
I was pleased – and surprised – to see that there is no space for the biggest brands’ corporate shopfitting; even Polo Ralph Lauren gets just the subtle branding like everyone else.
The result is that, despite its expanse, the new menswear area does have the feel of an independent boutique, albeit one that has been put together with a hefty budget. I liked the way in which the products are allowed to be seen clearly and cleanly. The designers display a real understanding of how most men like to shop – “Just show me what you have and I’ll make up my own mind”.
As well as the huge scale being impressive, the small and not-so-small details like the display furniture and the hundreds of unique mannequins make the space interesting and surprising.
The changing rooms reveal the astonishing attention to detail for the department, which boast 270 brands, including 50 that were new brands for the launch.
Hats off to Harvey Nicks’ CEO Stacey Cartwright, her team and the clever folk at Virgile & Partners for this bold statement of confidence in physical retailing. You would not get this sensory experience from a website.
Romney Tweed: a truly English cloth
Tuesday, May 24th, 2016
Conservative MP Damian Collins has been attending to business in the House of Commons in a suit made from the wool of Romney sheep raised within his Folkestone and Hythe constituency. Usually the relatively coarse Romney wool is used for carpets or upholstery, but painstaking work – all done in and around Huddersfield in West Yorkshire – has resulted in the first apparel-quality cloth produced and marketed as Romney Tweed.
The venture has taken more than three years to come to fruition. The original idea came from local resident Pat Alston, who wanted to create employment in the Romney area. The wife of a retired British diplomat, she hoped to have the cloth woven on Romney Marsh, a sparsely populated wetland that straddles Kent and East Sussex, which has a long history of raising sheep, including the Romney breed shown below.
However, weaving in an area with no tradition of the craft proved to be too ambitious a project. So she looked to the expertise of the weaving heartland of West Yorkshire to process the fleeces shorn from the variety of sheep grazing on the Marsh.
The venture took off after textiles veteran Gordon Kaye, former managing director of premium Huddersfield mill Taylor & Lodge, became involved; his knowledge and contacts enabled Romney Tweed to be realised. The fleece is hand-sorted to select the best fibre then scoured at Curtis Wool Direct in Bingley, worsted-spun at Spectrum Yarns, Huddersfield, and dyed by Paint Box Textiles in Liversedge. The weaving is done at C&J Antich and the finishing at WT Johnson, both in Huddersfield. Sales to the bespoke trade are being handled by cloth merchant Dugdale Bros of Huddersfield.
Dugdale has 15 patterns of the 13oz cloth, which sells for about £54 per metre. Despite the relative thickness of the Romney fleece – it is about 31 microns in diameter compared to the 18.5 microns of a Super 100s suiting fibre – the production process has given it a soft handle. Despite its name, the cloth is actually a worsted quality, meaning it is finer, softer and smoother than a typical tweed.
Collins, who has been chairman of the all-party parliamentary committee for fashion and textiles since 2010, had his Romney Tweed suit made by London-based bespoke tailor Timothy Everest, who spent part of his childhood in Kent. Here cutter Fred Neiddu gives Collins his first fitting in the Spitalfields atelier, while Tim himself removes a sleeve for re-fitting.
Kaye stresses that to create such a soft-handle worsted cloth from the short fleece of Romney wool is challenging technically. “British wools usually are used for woollen qualities, but by hand-sorting the raw fleece we were able to get enough yarn to make it work as a worsted. It is the first time that a Romney cloth has been made entirely in England,” he said.
It is very unusual for a merchant to be able to offer tailors a purely English cloth. While Romney Tweed will never be a huge seller, Savile Row’s tailors – and their discerning customers – want more specials and this has a great story behind it.
Damian Collins wears it well. Back on Romney Marsh, Pat Alston set up a Community Interest Company – a local charity – to manage the project and is looking for funds to ensure that Romney Tweed has a continuing identity. Long may it continue.
Undressed at the V&A
Thursday, May 5th, 2016
The Undressed exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum is worth a visit but beware that it promises more than it delivers. Described as “a brief history of underwear”, it lives up to that description as the presentation is much smaller than I was expecting following the blockbuster Bowie and McQueen shows at the venue in south Kensington.
The exhibition, on two levels of the museum, concentrates on women’s undergarments. What is inescapable is that women over the past 300 years or so have put themselves through a lot more discomfort than men, as witnessed by items like this hooped petticoat and a wide selection of corsets.
It seems extraordinary that sporting corsets for “cycling, tennis and golfing” should have been developed.
As always at the V&A, I marvelled at the fact that everyday items from long ago had survived in such good condition. One of the most charming was this dressing gown that has vertical slits over the front to permit easy access to the breasts for feeding.
A large part of the upper floor of the exhibition is devoted to versions of “women’s underwear as outerwear” but I found the selection rather uninspiring. A lot looked like fairly regular eveningwear.
The men’s coverage is disappointingly sparse. It is fascinating to see the oldest male garment, this undershirt from the late 18th century.
I also liked these red cotton flannel pants from about 100 years later.
A modern version of those long pants was exhibited courtesy of Wolsey. I was not aware that the term “long johns” is thought to be derived from the US champion boxer John L Sullivan.
Inevitably Y-fronts got a look in, courtesy of this charming mini-mannequin that once stood on the counter of an outfitter in The Hague. It’s a pity we don’t see visual merchandising like this too often today.
I was surprised that there was no mention of the boxer short revival of the early 1980s, nor anything about the extraordinary success of the Calvin Klein version of the Y-front that was started by Bruce Weber’s famous photo of model Tom Hintnaus in 1982. That homo-erotic approach still is effective in men’s underwear today.
Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear is at the V&A until Sunday, 12 March 2017.
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