Thursday, 29 September 2016

Campbell Cole Simple Collection: British made leather accessories

Campbell Cole's products are infused with a minimalist, high quality design ethic that always leaves me totally impressed. I've featured their British-made products here before. The products in the Simple Collection are made from Italian vegetable tanned leather and develop a patina of age, looking better and better as they're used. 


I've used one of their key wraps for a few years and it's never let me down - as well as looking good. The Simple A5 pouch, leather on one side and suede on the other, either slips inside a brief case or can be used to carry all those little objects (keys, wallet, passport, phone) that would otherwise ruin the carefully tailored lines of one's jacket or trousers.


I'm in awe of this young enterprise. They've never compromised on their pursuit of the highest quality and design. If these objects were embossed with other certain international high-luxury fashion names they would cost several times as much and wouldn't be as good quality (and probably be made in Asia). There are other pouches, wallets and holder in the Simple range. Go to Campbell Cole to find out more.

I was sent some of these objects for review. I've received no compensation for this feature and the views expressed are entirely my own.

Monday, 26 September 2016

The SuitsGreyFox Project 2: Designing the Cloth

In the first blog post on the SuitsGreyFox Project I explained how I'd been invited to design a cloth with Johnstons of Elgin. Famous for their cashmere, merino and lambswool cloths, their mill in Elgin takes raw fibre and dyes, spins and weaves it: all these operations are carried out in the same factory. I'll cover manufacture in the next part of this series; but how is a cloth designed?

Johnstons work with household name international fashion houses and play a large part in producing some iconic designs. Working with their design team I firstly had a look at Johnston of Elgin's wonderful archive, a room full of ancient and fragile leather-bound books containing samples of cloths woven in the mill since Victorian times.

In the Johnston of Elgin archive

Leafing through the books I looked for elements of design that I liked; colours, checks, texture, patterns. I had in mind a Prince of Wales check, and it was lucky I had this idea as a start - without it I would have been overcome by the huge variety of possibilities.

A check with a soft blue overcheck caught my eye

I was taken with a grey check and found a sample with a subtle, soft broad blue overcheck. It seemed to me that this may add a slightly different element to the final design. I also went though more modern and contemporary designs for further inspiration, aided by Brian Hinnigan, Design & Sales Director at Johnstons.

Looking though the collection with Brian Hinnigan, Design & sales Director

Over the next few weeks Brian worked on the design elements I specified and sent me various CAD printouts, showing the possibilities of pattern and colour using the colour library of some 6,500 hues. I considered a range of palettes from brownish red to grey. Brian advised me that a pure cashmere cloth wouldn't have the durability necessary for a suit, so we planned for a cashmere/merino mix. I'll say more about that in Part 3 of this series when I describe the manufacture of the cloth. 

CAD printouts showing some of the design possibilites

After some discussion and tinkering with colours and design elements we ended up with several possibilities. At this stage a section blanket was woven. This exciting stage of the process produces a section of cloth into which all the design options are printed in squares. The blanket was cut up and sent to me for a final decision.

The cut-up section blanket showing the design options

Selecting a final design for weaving was hard, but not impossible. I knew that I wanted a wearable design, useful and durable enough for town or country use, so charcoal/grey with a blue overcheck were the colours of choice. I also wanted a design that was different and had some impact: not enough to make me feel self-conscious wearing the suit, but enough to make a statement. This was the design that I selected:


Throughout I found that Brian and the design team had an uncanny ability to interpret what I was after. I had a reasonably clear picture in my head of what the cloth might look like. The final product is exactly what I had in mind.

In the next part of this feature I'll tell you more about the cloth, its construction and how it was woven.

See more at Johnstons of Elgin. The suit was tailored by Dege & Skinner (this will be featured in part 4 of this series).


Friday, 23 September 2016

Best of Britannia: discounts for readers - visit the Grey Fox curated area

I've mentioned in previous posts that Best of Britannia asked me to curate a menswear section at their London show at Victoria House, near Holborn, later this month (30th September and 1st and 2nd October). You may buy tickets at a 25% discount through the blog to this festival of British-made products from menswear, womenswear, childrenswear, footwear, accessories, jewellery, cycling, motoring, home furnishings and much, much more. It will be lovely to see you there.


To buy tickets click here and add the code BOB25 at the bottom right when you check out to gain the Grey Fox Blog 25% discount.

To read more about Best of Britannia here on the blog, click here.
For more information on the BOB website, click here.

The menswear brands in the Grey Fox Curated section are:
Seaward & Stern
Realm & Empire (who will be offering a discount on their products to Grey Fox Blog readers with a code available at the show).

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Black.co.uk share the Italian heritage & skills that make their products

I met Toby Logue of Black.co.uk when he invited me to take part in a photoshoot last year showing their luxury gifts and accessories made here in the UK and in Italy. I asked him to share with us the techniques that go into the production of the beautifully made Italian items they sell. Here is what he told me, together with details of how you can buy some of the products he talks about:

Toby Logue (centre) inspects an electric loom (see below)

Cashmere Scarves

Heritage

The company who produces Black's Italian cashmere scarves has been manufacturing cashmere yarn for over 100 years. They have five workshops based in Liguria, a region in northern Italy, within one hour’s drive of their headquarters to ensure quality control. 

Cashmere 

They source two types of cashmere; white cashmere from Inner Mongolia and brown cashmere from Outer Mongolia. The raw material is then imported to Italy and sent to Biella for washing and spinning. Biella is located between Milan and Turin and is famous for the quality of its water which is essential in ensuring that the Italian cashmere yarn maintains is softness.

A shuttle loom

Production Process

Once the cashmere has been dyed and spun into yarn, it is sent to the workshops in Liguria to be woven into scarves. The two main looms used to create the finished articles are electronic looms and shuttle looms (both pictured above). 

The shuttle looms used are based on the design of antique Belgian looms and have to be operated by hand requiring highly skilled craftsmen who attach each individual strand of cashmere to the needles and programme the weave pattern manually. 

Pressing cashmere

After this process our scarves are then washed, pressed and finished by hand such as the fringing and any special detailing.


Printed Merino Wool & Silk Accessories

Heritage

Black's printed merino wool and silk accessories are made by a 3rd generation family business whose workshop is just outside Florence in the heart of the Chianti region of Tuscany on the banks of the River Arno. 

Tuscany from the factory

Merino Wool & Silk 

The company sources its silk and merino from the weaving mills and print works based near Lake Como in the north of Italy. This region is renowned for its silk printing and jacquard weaving which feature in Black's latest collection.

Production Process 

Once the fabrics have been printed they are sent to Florence and then measured up to be cut by hand into ties, scarves and pocket squares. 

Cutting the fabric

For the ties, the fabric is laid out along with the lining and cut using an outline and a rotary cutter. Once the tie and lining are in place the fabric is folded and finished with hand stitching. 

For the scarves and pocket squares the fabric is cut using only a ruler and a sharp pair of scissors then finished with stitching and in the case of the scarves, handmade fringes. 

Printed accessories


Products above (top left anti-clockwise):

Leather Gloves

Heritage

Black's collection of men’s leather gloves is produced by a 4th generation Neapolitan company who have been making gloves since 1895. The company also has a small workshop in northern Italy where detailing and quality control are carried out.

Men's leather gloves

Leather & Linings 

The two types of leather used for our gloves are nappa and suede. Nappa leather is regarded as the most soft and supple leather type and is also used for other accessories such as bags, shoes and wallets and comes from the top side of animal. Suede leather is similar to nappa in its softness but differs in texture as it is taken from the underside of the skin.

All Black's men’s leather gloves are lined with either cashmere or silk which is sourced in Italy. 

Glove making

Production Process

The first stage of production involves the tanning and dyeing of the leather. After this stage is complete the hides are hung up to dry then spun in wooden drums which restore the leather’s softness from the dyeing process.

Cutting the hide

The hides are then put onto work surfaces and cutting forms are placed over the leather and the glove shapes are made. At this point the linings are added and the gloves shapes are then stitched together. 

The gloves are then sent to northern Italy for detailing such as contrast stitching which is done by hand and for final quality control.


Products above (top left anti-clockwise):


This post is sponsored by Black's. I'm grateful to them for their support of this blog.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Vintage Tudor: a watch brand now emerging from the shadows

Many readers will know that I used to collect vintage watches. Some of my favourites were those made by Tudor. Until recently, Tudor were seen by some as a sort of poor man's Rolex, but this was an unfair and inaccurate description. Below I show three watches that were once part of my collection but have, very sadly, since been sold.

L-R: 'Snowflake' Submariner, 'Big Block' chronograph and French Navy issued MN Submariner - Image (c) Grey Fox

At the time these were made (the seventies), Tudor watches such as these were cased in Rolex cases and the crowns (winders) and case backs were embossed with the Rolex name and logo. Rolex was proud of its sister brand. The main difference in quality (and therefore price) was the movement. While Rolex manufactured their own movements for their watches, Tudor used off-the-peg Swiss movements from ETA, adapting them for their products. 

This difference didn't adversely affect their durability and accuracy, as I found when wearing these vintage pieces. The watches above were made to the highest quality and, while they were sold at lower prices than Rolex equivalents, the Tudors were well-made watches in their own right.

Much-missed: a Tudor Submariner 9411 with snowflake hands from 1977

Towards the of the last century, Tudor went off track and made some frankly unattractive watches. However, in the last few years they've re-found their roots. The use of its traditional 'snowflake' hands (with a squared end to the hour hand; see the vintage watch top left and the modern ones below), a design never used by Rolex, shows that the modern Tudor has rediscovered the design values of earlier watches. On the whole, modern Tudor watches are good-looking and well-proportioned.

Tudor have now created their own in-house movement, sealing, for me, their position as an independent watchmaker with a proven heritage. Below I show some of my favourites from their present collection from which you will see the heritage influences. They are also accepting the trend towards the slightly smaller watch. The 36mm Tudor Heritage Black Bay 36 (bottom row centre below) is an attractive watch, although I'd like to have seen the snowflake hour hand scaled down a bit to fit the smaller dial.

For more information on these watches, see Tudor's informative website. Prices are very competitive with other luxury watch brands.

Modern Tudor watches

This post is unsponsored and was written independently of Tudor with whom I have had no contact about this piece. All views are my own. The content and images (except in the final image immediately above) are copyright David Evans/Grey Fox. I welcome commissions and paid collaborations to help me run this blog.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The SuitsGreyFox Project 1: from mill to bespoke - a suit is born

To be invited to design a cloth and to find a bespoke tailor to have it made into a suit must be the ultimate menswear blogger's dream. And it's just happened to me. In a collaboration with Johnstons of Elgin and Dege & Skinner of Savile Row a beautiful cashmere/wool cloth was made in Scotland and tailored into a very English suit for a very lucky blogger.

Image Jonathan Daniel Pryce @GarconJon - Chester Brogues by Loake

The project had its roots in my first visit to the Elgin mill at which raw fibre, cashmere, lambswool or merino, enters the building at one end, emerging as gorgeous cloths at the other. I was deeply impressed by the skills and passion of all involved. The mill's archive of cloth samples goes back to Victoria's reign and contains a large selection of designs, many familiar to us today and many unusual to our eyes, but meriting a revival. I harboured a secret dream to design a cloth inspired by what I'd seen. It was therefore a huge surprise, privilege and pleasure to be invited by Johnstons earlier this year to do just that. 

Archive inspiration, one of the samples that inspired the final cloth design

Over the next few weeks I'll take you on the exciting journey from fibre to completed suit, exploring the design and manufacturing skills of a Scottish mill and the cutting and tailoring skills of Dege & Skinner, the Savile Row tailors I selected to make the suit. 

See Johnstons of Elgin and Dege & Skinner for more information about what they do.

At this point I'd like to out on record my thanks to the many people at Johnstons of Elgin and Dege & Skinner who've been involved with this project. I'll mention many as we go along, but one thing is clear - great projects like this are a team effort and the final suit is a model of British design, manufacture and tailoring skills involving men and women of all ages. It's easy not to appreciate just how much goes into making a roll of cloth and a complex garment like a suit. I learned that such skills take years, generations even, to acquire. I hope this series give you some inkling of what's involved.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Barker Shoes: a factory visit

Barker are one of England's surviving Northamptonshire shoe manufacturers and operate from a successful, vibrant factory making and supplying high quality shoes to the world. I was able to visit this summer to watch shoes being made using techniques that blend the traditional with the ultra-modern.

Almost ready to go out - shoes awaiting final checks at the Barker factory

One of the jobs to be done was to overhaul my favourite pair of Barker brogues which I'd brought with me. It was fascinating to see them stripped down and rebuilt as good as new; in fact better, because the nicely worn-in uppers complemented the brand new soles and heels so well that I felt that the shoes were more comfortable than before. It's certainly worth the £100 or so it costs to have your favourite shoes refurbished by the same highly skilled craftsmen and women who built them.

My worn brogues waiting stripping down

Stripping off heels and soles before rebuilding the shoe as new

The refurbished shoes - better than new

I've had the pleasure of visiting many factories in the UK. All buzz with pride, skill and, in the case of all shoe factories, the aromas of leather, polish and modern adhesives. The Barker factory is no exception. As I went round, seeing the leather store, the processes of cutting and shaping the leather uppers, applying the uppers to the last and attaching the soles and heels and the final polishing and checks, I was struck by the immense pride and skill being shown by all.

A glance at a pair of shoes doesn't reveal the large number of component parts to a shoe and the complexity of putting them all together in an elegant, comfortable and durable shape. The skills of the workers, many acquired over decades at Barker, are disguised by the dexterity and apparent ease with which they do their jobs, but trying one of the tasks myself made me realise the depth of the knowledge and skill that goes into each pair of shoes.

The images below illustrate the process from beginning to end of creating a traditional English Goodyear-welted shoe.











Polishing the completed shoe - which is then laced, checked and packed for distribution

Like other British shoe manufacturers, Barker make some of their shoes and components abroad, but they remain proud of the shoes they make at their modern factory in Earls Barton. To find out more about Barker, their range of footwear and their shoe refurbishment service, click here.

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