Eric Musgrave

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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 & Co20160519_111544

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.    Harvey Nichols New Menswear Destination - Off Duty 1Harvey Nichols New Menswear Destination - Off Duty 2HN Menswear 02HN Menswear 06

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.

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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”.

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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.

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Even the bases of some rails are used as display units for nostalgic boys’ toys and memorabilia.HN Menswear 10HN Menswear 11HN Menswear 12

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.

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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.

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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.20160524_175254

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.20160520_171922

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It seems extraordinary that sporting corsets for “cycling, tennis and golfing” should have been developed.

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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.

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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.

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I also liked these red cotton flannel pants from about 100 years later.

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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.

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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.

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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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Kathryn Sargent opens on Savile Row

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

It was a delight to see my friend (and my occasional bespoke tailor) Kathryn Sargent open a shop on Savile Row last week. After working for 15 years at Gieves & Hawkes at No 1 Savile Row, where she became the first female head cutter in the bespoke industry, she bravely headed out on her own at the beginning of 2012. add473

Kathryn Sargent Bespoke, as I expected, has been a great success. She started out renting a space within Meyer & Mortimer in Sackville Street, where she was when I profiled her for Christopher Ward Watches magazine and for billionaire.com in 2012.

add29Kathryn Sargent, first Female Master Tailor to open own store on Savile Row

She progressed to her own really lovely atelier not far away on Brook Street, just off Bond Street, where her own excellent personal style is reflected in the fittings and ambiance.

Now she has this brilliant space at 37 Savile Row. It is officially a “seasonal store” – which is more commonly called a pop-up shop in fashion circles – but it is to be hoped the landlord is smart enough to offer Kathryn a deal to keep her there permanently.

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Savile Row needs more proper bespoke tailors as opposed to over-priced ready-to-wear designer stores. Kathryn Sargent is a brilliant example of the exceptional artisanship that Savile Row produces.  Kathryn Sargent Ph Cr. Jonathan HordleREX

In the amazing amount of publicity the opening has stimulated, much as been made of the fact that Kathryn is the first woman to have a bespoke tailoring business on Savile Row. She merely stresses that she is a master tailor – and that is the most important part of the story for her. But it is good to see plenty more women coming to the fore on Savile Row; four of the past six winners of the prestigious Golden Shears biennial competition for apprentices and young tailors have been women. Kathryn is a past winner too, of course.

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The Kathryn Sargent shop at 37 Savile Row is a personal triumph for nearly 20 years of incredibly hard work and dedication from the lass from Leeds. I am thrilled for my lovely pal.

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The Holdall & Co interview

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

I have been in touch with Raimonda Navickaite, the founder of Made-in-England leathergoods company Holdall & Co, for more than three years. I have been impressed by her attention to quality and detail, and by her desire to produce nice practical things.

Recently I was delighted to take part in her series of “Everyday Carry with…” interviews with fashion folk. The venue was my Soho club, The Union. My contribution can be found here or if your prefer a video, here.

Keep up the good work, Rai! (And thanks to Jonathan for the filming).

 

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A fresh eye on Silhouette Journal

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Way back on November 19 I had a jolly time being photographed in London for Silhouette Journal, the rather impressive publication produced on behalf of the Austrian eyewear brand Silhouette, with which I have a very happy relationship. The idea was to have me talk about my personal style, so I was not lost for words. I decided to wear the three-piece bespoke outfit made for me by Kathryn Sargent, which remains a strong favourite in my wardrobe, plus my bespoke cotton-cashmere shirt from Emma Willis and various accessories from Drake’s.

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The venue for the shoot was The Union, my lovely club at 50 Greek Street, Soho, where I have been a member for 20 years or so. Predictably enough, its quirky charms entranced the engaging team from Condé Nast in Munich that produces Silhouette Journal.

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The man behind the camera was Ben Mostyn, who did a fine job of shooting me inside and out The Union. My thanks go to Silhouette UK CEO David Chalmers, who got me involved with the brand a few years ago. Hopefully next time I’ll make the cover of the magazine. The latest edition is now available.

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How to put on a fashion show

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

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The role of the fashion show is much discussed at present within the industry. But whether it is a marketing event or a sales exercise or an ego trip for the designer, it is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Anyone wishing to stage a catwalk extravaganza could do worse than read my book from 2014, How To Put On A Fashion Show, which is published by Batsford at £9.99.

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Among the practical tips we have sprinkled more than 250 illustrations, including a few glamorous images from celebrated shows, as illustrated here.

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My former Sportswear International colleague, stylist William Gilchrist, pops up on p. 142 alongside designer Oliver Spencer. It’s always gratifying to involve pals in work like this (although I didn’t pick the pix!)

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My most important tip across the 160-page book? Keep any show short and sweet!

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