Thursday, 22 February 2018

Ocha & Garth: Military Coat Made in London

Ocha & Garth is a small menswear design business making distinctive menswear in Britain which fuses traditional tailoring techniques with very contemporary style. This ability to take a new look at classics has resulted in the Charles Military coat, which I wear here. It clearly has roots in the greatcoats that Guards regiments wear in the winter, with a huge collar and large flapped pockets. A couple of vertical pockets at lower chest height give a warm refuge for the hands on chilly days.

The Charles Military Coat - Harry thinks it should be called after him

Inside is a cotton gingham lining - lovely but slightly incongruous if  you expect something more military. Unlike many modern coats, it's a very generous length - down to the shins. The cloth is from A.W. Hainsworth of Leeds, England, who produce textiles for military and emergency services uniforms and indeed to cover the Woolsack in the House of Lords. Altogether it's a very classic coat with a contemporary, practical twist and perfect for the chilly days of winter and early spring. See Ocha & Garth for more information.

This feature is unsponsored and is written in support of a small menswear brand that makes in the UK and deserves our support. The coat was borrowed for the feature and returned (covered in dog hairs).

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The Turner Twins Interviewed: Comparing Old and New Expedition Clothing

I've written before about my interest in natural and heritage fabrics, cotton and wool cloths, and their use in outdoor wear. I recently met explorers Hugo and Ross Turner at an event held by Breitling, for whom they are brand ambassadors. The twins started their adventures after Hugo broke his neck in a diving accident at the age of 17. The drive and determination needed to recover spilled over into a desire to seek adventure around the world. In doing so they support spinal research charities, including Wings for Life (all links below). 

The Turner Twins compare old and new styles of outdoor clothing

Hugo and Ross told me about two expeditions in which they tested the types of traditional clothes worn by explorers of a century ago using cotton and wool cloths and knitwear. In one they set out to cross Greenland on foot recreating the clothing Shackleton would have worn in the early years of the last century; in the other they climbed Mount Elbrus (5642m) in Russia using gear that Mallory and Irvine would have used on his final Everest expedition in 1923. 

Mt. Elbrus - old and new mountaineering clothing

I asked Hugo to tell me more:

1. In 2014 you and your brother undertook an expedition to Greenland. What were the aims of the expedition?

We set out to cross the Greenland ice cap (east-west) and to find out how hard it was to be an explorer 100 years ago, as 2014 was the centenary year that Shackleton departed for his Endurance expedition. We used replica clothing, kit and equipment and food as we wanted to highlight the performance of Shackleton’s kit and compare it to todays modern equivalent.

Being twins means we can conduct these tests without bias and due to the fact we’re twins means we should technically be identical and therefore any difference in the results from the scientific research conducted on the trips should tell an interesting story.


2. What are the requirements of clothing used in polar conditions?

The number one rule is to have clothing that keep you warm. If you can’t keep your body warm then you’re not going to last very long. Secondly, breathability; if you sweat too much in the cooler extremes of our planet your clothing will freeze and become inefficient. And thirdly, layering; this keeps your temperature more satiated as well as offering better comfort and mobility – vital when you have a range of activities and tasks to complete on an expedition.

Greenland - old and new clothing technologies

3. Please describe the older and new clothing. What are the main differences in appearance and functional terms?

The older clothing, as you can imagine, is made from natural materials: wool and cotton. Jumpers and base layers are all wool while outer jackets, combined with lanolin, can make effective and breathable outer shells. You won’t find any zips either. The early explorers used buttons simple for the fact that zips weren’t invented! The modern kit is lightweight, colourful and mostly synthetic unless you find a manufacturer who knows the importance of natural fabrics when designing base layers. Feather ‘down’ jackets have now largely replaced the 'woolly-pully' while plastics and modern technology has allowed for more features and performance which is more forgiving to the user.

Mt Elbrus

4. Who designed the older clothing and where was it made? What materials were used?

For our Greenland crossing, we managed to get the clothing from Tim Jarvis’s expedition which was used to recreate Shackleton’s journey from Elephant island to South Georgia. The traditional pulk (all nine feet of her) was hand made by Roger Daynes at Snowsled Polar.

The Mallory clothing for the Mt Elbrus climb was made by Barrington Ayre using gabardine to recreate the outer layers. The mountaineering boots were made by Crockett & Jones boots maker [images below]. What you also have to remember is that early mountaineers used almost identical kit as their earlier polar counterparts.
"It’s surprising to see how well the traditional materials and clothing fared against the modern equivalent"
5. Did each brother wear one type of clothing for the expedition, or were you each able to try new and old?

Ross wore the traditional Shackleton clothing in Greenland while Hugo wore the Mallory clothing and kit. Doing these expeditions allowed us to really get into the mind set of these early explorers so we didn’t want to swap our kit and try the modern equivalent. This also helped with the scientific and physiological testing. Having used the traditional and modern clothing in cold environments it’s surprising to see how well the traditional materials and clothing fared against the modern equivalent.

Greenland - new and old-style pulks

6. What sort of conditions did you have in which to test the clothes?

The conditions experienced in the polar environments of Greenland weren’t unusual and it wasn’t uncommon for the temperature to hit 30 below. Taking into consideration the wind speed, it felt much colder. The conditions on Mt Elbrus weren’t hugely different, freezing winds with temperatures around -15, but the main battle was with the high altitude. This makes it much harder for your body to stay warm. Temperatures weren’t as cold but taking into account the high altitude it felt as cold as Greenland.

7. What were your conclusions?

The traditional clothing used by those early explorers was certainly up to the job of keeping them alive. The clothing allowed for warmth, mobility and protection while also allowing breathability. The one major down fall was the weight of all the clothing compared to the modern equivalent.

8. What lessons could be learned for future expeditions and the design of modern clothing?

I think one lesson to learn for future expeditions is to keep it natural! Using natural fibres and materials give that added performance such as wicking and breathability. I’d also say that the zipper is something I’d want to keep over buttons but then you learn about your clothing systems and kit the more you explore so the more you get out into cold environments the more you’ll learn about what kit and clothing systems work for you.

Traditional cleated boots (right) made by Crockett & Jones for the Mt Elbrus climb

9. Unfortunately the Greenland expedition ended prematurely - what happened?

Hugo’s knee became increasingly painful over the first two weeks of the expedition, eventually leaving him unable to continue with the expedition. Due to safety issues we were helicoptered off the ice cap at Dye 2 radar station.

10. What's next for the Turner Twins?

We will be continuing with our series of world first expeditions by aiming to reach another Pole of Inaccessibility later this year. We’ve reach two of these so called Poles of Inaccessibility (Australia and South America), which is defined as the furthest inland point from any coastline on a particular continent. We’ll continue to create unique content for our partners while attempting to reach more Poles of Inaccessibility, so we hope to announce the next project soon.

Old meets new on Mt Elbrus - wearing a Breitling Emergency watch

In the image above, one of the twins wears a very un-early-twentieth-century watch. The Breitling Emergency watch acts as an emergency beacon and is commonly used by pilots, adventurers and sailors. Its dual frequency transmitter is compliant with the specifications of the Cospas-Sarsat international satellite alert system and serves to both issue alerts and to guide search and rescue missions. 

The Breitling Emergency

In a follow-up to this feature I'll be looking in more detail at the older-style clothing worn by the twins.

The Turner Twins and follow them on Instagram and Twitter.
Grey Fox photoshoot looking at brands using natural fabrics for outdoorwear

This is an unsponsored post.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscape Diver's Watch

I love a simple, black dialled watch with a heritage as a robust workmanlike timepiece, so I was keen to feature the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe diver's timepiece. As with many other contemporary watches I've written about, it's the result of a brand using its archives to produce a modern version of a formerly successful watch.

Blancpain Fifty Five Fathoms on a NATO-style strap

The modern Blancpain Fifty Five Fathoms Bathyscaphe (pictured above and introduced in 2013) includes elements of two heritage watches. The original Fifty Five Fathoms diver's watch was produced in 1953 and the Bathyscape (both pictured below) came in later in the fifties with men's and women's models. Both watches were used extensively by divers, professional and military, so their heritage as strong and accurate watches is proven and continues with the new watch.

Vintage Blancpain Fifty Five Fathoms from 1953

Vintage Blancpain Bathyscaphe introduced in the late fifties

The 2013 watch includes recent technical improvements with a modern in-house self-winding movement, a display back (so that you can see the movement) and the inclusion of silicon and other materials to improve robustness and accuracy. It's waterproof to 300m and comes on a sail canvas strap or a nylon NATO-style strap to reflect a robust military diving heritage. With a faintly vintage look, it feels solid and at 43mm is larger than the originals. This would be on the large side for me with my slim wrists, but size is a decision for you, the potential purchaser, to make. See Blancpain for more information.

Friday, 16 February 2018

The Search for Style 7: The Distinction Between Fashion & Style

I was contacted by a reader, David Glass, who has very succinctly defined the difference between fashion and style both for the older man and indeed a man of any age. This is something very familiar to me and his e-mail reminded me that I'd forgotten to mention it so far in this series (there's a link to the series below). With David's help I now put right this omission. 

Winston Churchill - natural style

This is what he says:
Dear David, 
Enjoying your blog posts this month! Your most recent post on capturing the essence of what we mean by style is something everyone should read. 
I think men often are confused about the difference between fashion and style. To me they have a very different meaning. A man must know himself in order to have a personal style that harmonizes with both who he is and his surroundings. He also must know something about style over the years. Successful style (whether others like it or not) is a non-verbal way of communicating sans words who we are. I believe that is the whole point of style, it’s a form of personal expression to the outside world. 
By comparison, fashion seems more about the clothing and the trends than the wearer or his surroundings, and therefore it is far less interesting to me. 
Just some quick thoughts off the top of my head. 
Warm regards,
I'd only add to this, although it's implicit in what David says, that fashion is something that is imposed from outside. Style, on the other hand, is more complex. It is influenced by exterior factors,  but the final result comes from us, reflecting our personality and inspiration rather than that (as in fashion) of others.

I'm receiving many comments. All influence what I think and write here on the blog about The Search for Style, so please keep in touch by commenting here or through my e-mail.

Follow The Search for Style series here.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Exploring Bespoke 4: It's All in the Pattern

In this the fourth of our series exploring the details of genuine bespoke tailoring, Brita Hirsch looks at one of the essential requirements of a true bespoke garment: the pattern. If you visit a bespoke tailor you will see paper patterns hanging in storage. Each represents the size, shape and style of a customer and is used as a template to cut the cloth components which are stitched together to make the final product. 

Brita Hirsch chalks up my pattern onto the Harris tweed cloth. The paper pattern is used as a template

The pattern will be cut by a cutter, from many careful measurements taken from the client. The cutter then works with a tailor/coatmaker/trousermaker to complete the garment over a series of fittings with the client. In Brita's case, she does all these things herself.

Brita Hirsch takes up the story:
"I enjoyed discussing style, and how to capture it, from a philosophical angle but feel the topic deserves a further, more technical chapter. Here we are talking about the cutting pattern, the very foundation of the bespoke process.  
It’s a delicate topic: the individual paper pattern, the provision of which is one of the Savile Row Association’s standards for members [link below], has become an endangered species. It takes skill and time to draft an individual pattern by hand: around eight hours for a three piece suit. The underlying data is totally unique: the customer’s measurements, information about their posture and any deviation from the symmetrical, plus the important style elements. 

Brita applies my pattern to the cloth before chalking up and cutting. The use of the cloth has to be optimised

Skill and time are precious goods and you will find that it is wide-spread practice today, including in some ‘bespoke’ houses, to take a shortcut and use standard sized ‘blocks’ instead of individual patterns. Discernible by the fact that they are cut from cardboard rather than paper (for frequent use), blocks are sets of standard size patterns that are used by large clothing manufacturers for industrial style production. 
A skilled cutter might know how to 'tweak’ the block, produce a reasonable fit and let the process appear bespoke by conducting a number of fittings; however the end result will never be what a truly bespoke garment should be: an absolute delight to wear, fitting perfectly and encompassing every style aspect you are looking for. 
The way to find out if your tailor is about to produce the real thing is to ask to see your individual paper pattern. It should include a full set of panels, which should all bear your name and the date of your commission. If they don’t hesitate to show you the pattern, you are in the safe hands of a bespoke tailor deserving of the name".
For other features in the Exploring Bespoke series here on the blog, click here.

The coat comes together at a basted fitting

Monday, 12 February 2018

The Search for Style 6: Three Ways to become a Well-Dressed Older Man

Is there a simple route to dressing well? Whether you are an older man or in your twenties or thirties, finding style needn't be complex. You may be following my series 'The Search for Style' here on the blog, but for those of you wanting a quick fix, here's three things you can do to up your style game: 

Keep an eye on The Sartorialist for stylish, well-dressed older men

1. Fit: Make sure things fit. Avoid over-long baggy trousers, jackets too long in the arm and too wide across the shoulder and ties that hang over your waistband. Conversely, take care of skinny, tight fits and too-short jackets ('bumfreezers') which can look as if you've outgrown them.

2. Dress your age: Don't wear stuff because your sons or grandsons do and you think therefore you'll look younger. Wearing a young man's styles emphasises the yawning gap between how old you look and how old you want to look, and that smacks of sad desperation. Some items to use very carefully: baseball caps, artificially faded denim, white leather trainers/sneakers (other than for sport).

3. Wear classics: Go for well-fitting classic clothes and shoes which are clean and well looked after. As you gain experience you can add touches (a chambray shirt, well-fitting raw denim jeans, colourful knitwear) to keep the looks contemporary to avoid simply looking old-fashioned.

Follow The Search for Style on this link.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Bennet Winch Suit Carrier Holdall; Made in Britain

Bennet Winch make their bags and luggage in the UK and their products stand out as being a little different in design while being supremely practical. The S.C (Suit Carrier) Holdall is a combined bag and suit carrier, something that will appeal to anyone wanting to carry a suit, jacket or tailored trousers uncrushed for a weekend away. Each part can be used separately. The suit carrier is made from waterproof canvas, so protects the lightweight twill bag when wrapped around it (see video below).

Developed last year in collaboration with Simon Crompton of Permanent Style, it's sold extremely well and no doubt its good looks and functional design have made it a success. It comes in olive or black. See Bennett Winch.
Unsponsored post. While I usually try to see products before featuring them, in this case I haven't seen this item.
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