Friday, 19 January 2018

The Search for Style 2: What is Style?

To find style we need to know what it is. 'Style' is defined by the OED in this context as both 'A particular design of clothing' or 'fashionable elegance or sophistication'. The first definition contains no judgement of quality, the second implies something that is better than most. A man's style might be unkempt, scruffy or unfashionable - but he is unlikely to be called 'stylish'.

Which are stylish? Which have style?

In my examination of style over the next few weeks I'm trying to identify how a man can find a stylish style. I suspect most of us recognise style when we see it. A man or woman gets on the train and something about them makes them stand out. What is it? Is it one factor or many? 

Have a look at the images above. Which, to you, show persons that you'd consider stylish? There's no right or wrongs; it's your decision. Identify what you like or don't like about each. Are there any factors that govern your decision?

In the next feature we'll pin down the elements of style. Meanwhile, have a look at my Pinterest boards here where I collect some of the looks that appeal to me (and a few that don't).

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Exploring Bespoke 2: The Choice of Materials with Brita Hirsch Tailor

In the first instalment of this fortnightly series exploring the elements of true bespoke tailoring, I introduced my collaboration with bespoke tailor Brita Hirsch to explore and describe the skills of bespoke tailoring by designing and making a Norfolk jacket made from Harris tweed. Any such project starts with selecting the best materials. 

The inspiration and the end product - choice of materials is the first important step

Brita takes up the story:
"First stop on the journey to a truly bespoke coat is finding the right material: choosing it wisely is key to everything I do. When it comes to fine cloth and rustic tweed, I'm fortunate to have the world’s best producers on my door step: the best fine wool cloth available to the global market is still produced in the long established woollen mills of West Yorkshire, only an easy drive away from my workshop in Macclesfield. I source my fine worsteds, frescoes and flannels from the knowledgable local cloth merchants who work closely with these mills.  
Scotland, with its accomplished hand weavers, is not far away, either, and I buy my tweeds directly from them. Courtesy of Harris Tweed Hebrides, David was the proud owner of a length of beautiful, conker coloured, richly textured tweed. His idea was to have a coat that is steeped in tradition, a Norfolk jacket, tailored for him.

Harris tweed from the Harris Tweed Hebrides mill (L) and the Adamley design for the silk lining (R)

A classic coat for outdoor pursuits, the Norfolk calls for a lining that is hard wearing, breathable and quintessentially British to perfectly complement the weather-resistant tweed. It might come as a surprise to some, but not to the connoisseur, that the material of choice is silk. The toughest natural fibre available, coming with a molecular structure that is similar to that of wool, silk combines toughness with excellent climate balancing properties, whilst being soft and lightweight. 
But what about the 'quintessential British' part? Well. Macclesfield, in official UNESCO terms the Western end of the historic Silk Road, is home to wonderful silk printers Adamley Textiles. The company supplies many of the big names in the fashion world with the most beautiful silk fabrics and is proud guardian of the David Evans [no relation to Grey Fox's David Evans!] archive of graphic print designs. What, then, could be more appropriate than to use a silk lining for the Norfolk and let David pick the design for his custom print?"
So, we selected tweed and silk as the main materials of the coat. I told the story of Harris tweed here so there's no need to repeat it here. Brita mentions the silk lining from Adamley Textiles. I was surprised when she suggested a silk lining to the coat as I hadn't understood just how tough a cloth it makes, but its robustness, ability to take bright designs and colours and its breathability make it an ideal lining material. Brita and I visited Adamley in Macclesfield (for centuries at the heart of the English silk industry - see images below). 

Brita and I look through the David Evans silk design archives at Adamley in Macclesfield

Screen printing at Adamley Textiles

I looked through dozens of old archive books and I selected a fox head silk dating from first half of the last century. Adamley very generously redrew and printed off a few meters of silk, using the traditional silk screen method, for the lining introducing the colours we specified to go with the conker-coloured Harris tweed. In a future feature I'll show just how perfectly this lining matches the tweed.

The next in this series will be the measuring and cutting stages of the bespoke process.

Brita Hirsch of Hirsch Tailoring
Adamley Textiles
Harris Tweed Hebrides
The Harris Tweed Authority
My trip to Harris Tweed: A Journey to the Heart of the Hebrides

With thanks to photographer Fiona Bailey whose images appear throughout this project.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Exploring True Bespoke Tailoring 1: Introducing a Collaboration with Brita Hirsch Tailor

I've recently had the huge pleasure and privilege of collaborating with Brita Hirsch, tailor, to make a Norfolk jacket designed to show the best of bespoke tailoring. Over the next few months we'll use this project to illustrate the extraordinary craftsmanship, time, materials and skills that go into making a true bespoke garment.

Brita Hirsch, bespoke tailor, at work

Brita and I met a couple of years ago with a view to producing a suit made from British-woven cloth made from wool from British sheep. That project wasn't completed, although Brita has recently produced a British merino cloth (but that's another story: see The Great Northern Cloth here and also on the blog here).

The term 'bespoke' is much abused, often used to describe made-to-measure products which are produced without the handwork, time and skills found in bespoke tailoring. In this series, which starts with the image below, Brita and I will describe the making of a truly bespoke garment.

The photograph above, one of my favourites, was taken in the 1920s by German photographer August Sander. It shows a provincial schoolmaster with his dog. I loved his Norfolk jacket. He's clearly very comfortable wearing it. The soft slope of the shoulder with a slight roll at the top of the sleeve, the elegantly crumpled tweed and the superb fit all suggest a skilled tailor. After some discussion Brita and I agreed that working on a similar piece would give her ample opportunity to illustrate a tailor's skills.

I was keen to have a wool coat that I could wear outdoors from the fells of Cumbria to our local park in London. I'm outside every day for at least two hours, walking Harry, my labrador retriever. I need a coat that's warm, breathable and water resistant. Harris tweed provides all these properties, while having the potential to be tailored into something far more stylish than much of the modern outdoor wear available on our high streets. 

The Norfolk jacket has a long history as an outdoor coat for country sports and mountaineering; an early example of a technical garment with a very practical purpose, to keep the wearer warm and dry, while providing mobility through its construction and storage in its large pockets

From the Harris Tweed Hebrides mill came the cloth for our Norfolk coat - Image Grey Fox Blog

Early last year I visited The Outer Hebrides at the invitation of The Harris Tweed Authority. That visit was described on the blog last year (link below). I came away with a few meters of beautiful conker brown tweed from the Shawbost mill of Harris Tweed Hebrides, full of the colours of the Hebrides, from the white of the sandy beaches, the blue of the sky, the orange of the heather and the yellow of the gorse. This tweed would be used to make the coat and this process will be described in detail over several instalments here on the blog.

We've also been able to collaborate with Macclesfield Adamley Textiles who kindly gave us access to the David Evans (no relation) silk archives so we could select a silk which they then redesigned and screen-printed for the coat's lining. Brita and I are very grateful to them for their generosity and support. Full story next time.

So our project began and in the next instalment of our series Brita covers the first aspect of the bespoke process; the choice of materials.  

Brita Hirsch of Hirsch Tailoring
Adamley Textiles
Harris Tweed Hebrides
The Harris Tweed Authority
My trip to Harris Tweed: A Journey to the Heart of the Hebrides

With thanks to photographer Fiona Bailey whose images appear throughout this project.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Alps & Meters: 'Designed by Tradition' for Skiing and Outdoors

I heard recently from an interesting skiing and outdoor brand called Alps & Meters. I've written much on the blog about the benefits of traditional materials for use in the Great Outdoors. While modern materials have their place in the most extreme conditions, you can't beat tweed, Ventile, merino layers, waxed cotton, Grenfell cloth and woollen knitwear for their good looks. Bright nylon/polyester anoraks are fine for climbing the most challenging peaks, but for less harsh environments, traditional fabrics are quieter to wear, breathable, more subtly coloured and definitely more stylish. 

British Millerain Alpine Anorak and Alpine Winter Trousers from Alps & Meters

Alps & Meters, a US brand born on a trip to Sweden, takes the same view of the place of heritage-style clothing in the skiing and outdoor worlds. They describe their products as 'Designed by Tradition' which sort of encapsulates the message in a few words. But you don't have to look like extras from The Heroes of Telemark; modern design and technology can improve the use and manufacture of traditional materials: think of dry-waxed cottons and water-resistant tweeds.

Materials from the past bring texture, natural colours, improved feel and robustness to outdoor clothes, allowing you to blend in rather than bounce off the landscape. Alps & Meters recognise all this in their range of knitwear, British Millerain waxed canvas, water resistant lambswool and leather - all with waterproof membranes where needed. My favourite pieces are the tweedy Alpine Winter Trousers (which come with braces and a water resistant membrane) and the British Millerain Alpine Anorak on which you can change the orange lacing to a more sober olive if needed (both pictured below and worn above). 

All blend the contemporary with the traditional in a very pleasing way. Leather is used for reinforcement where needed and water resistant knitwear takes the place of the fleece. The collection blends style with warmth and practicality. I've been using mine very comfortably for cold weather sorties into the fells of Cumbria and my son has in eye on them for his ski trips early in the New Year; I'll report back his experiences in due course. See Alps & Meters.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Oliver Spencer AW18 at London Fashion Week Men's

London Fashion Week Men's, which finished earlier this week, has sadly shrunk over the last few editions and none of the usual classic (rather than fashion) menswear brands were present, with only Oliver Spencer putting on a catwalk show. E. Tautz wasn't there and none of the tailoring stalwarts like Turnbull & Asser, Gieves & Hawkes, Chester Barrie etc etc, who used to put on local presentations even if they didn't show on the catwalk, were around.

However, Oliver Spencer didn't disappoint; with the usual diverse selection of models livened up by the presence of a few women (including the lovely Catherine Hayward, Fashion Director of Esquire and Daisy Lowe, left and middle above).  The clothes are available for purchase online through Oliver Spencer’s Vero page.

The collection comprised a significant amount of corduroy, some velvet and sober but rich colours redolent of London, the theme of the show. Greys, pale blues, brown, mustard, burgundy and cream held no threats to men cautious of bright colour. Shapes were very Oliver Spencer, relaxed but essentially classic. Suiting all men, the collection would provide an excellent alternative to the usual unadventurous uniform of the older man, artificially distressed jeans, fleeces and unfortunate trainers. Here are a few of my favourites:

See Oliver Spencer for the current collection.

Monday, 8 January 2018

The Chapar: A New Year, A New Style?

With the blog refocused for 2018 on the search for style, I wanted to look at services that can help you achieve the looks and clothes that you want. I start with The Chapar, a personal styling service for men that enables you to build a wardrobe without having to battle through a high street.

After an initial telephone consultation with a stylist you receive a box of clothes selected to match your size, style, preferred colours and shapes. In my consultation I told the stylist that I was trying to move away from blues; like most men my wardrobe is a sea of blue. In response I received a box of cool greys, country browns, beiges and greens - an excellent start. Everything fits and the only things I didn't really like were the shoes, both boots which I rarely wear; probably my fault for not mentioning that.

The Chapar draws from an impressive range of brands, some familiar like Hackett (always a safe choice), Ted Baker, Sunspel, Orlebar Brown and Ralph Lauren and others less familiar (to me anyway) such as Hartford and Eden Park (whose knitwear I was impressed by; probably my favourite pieces in the box). After selecting what you want to keep the rest are returned (by courier arranged by The Chapar - all very easy) and you are invoiced for what you keep.

Blazer Hackett, knitwear Eden Park (L) & Ted Baker (R) , trousers Velour by Nostalgia

Even for a man like me who (wrongly) thinks he knows what he wants, The Chapar is an extremely useful service. There's nothing like trying something new and The Chapar will stretch you in this way if you want to try a new approach by way of shapes or colours or styles. The stylists are knowledgable and happy to advise. I would have kept everything (except the boots) and am impressed how my wishes were interpreted.

Whether you're sartorially clueless or clued up, The Chapar is worth a try. I first tried them a couple of years ago and it's been interesting to see how they've grown, obviously responding well to a demand from those too busy, or lacking confidence, to go online or to the hight street to do their clothes shopping. To find out more click on The Chapar.

This is a collaboration with The Chapar.

Friday, 5 January 2018

The Search for Style: Coming Soon Here on the Blog

This blog started six years ago to describe my search for style. With this experience under my belt I want this year, as part of my new direction for the blog, to take a personal look into  the elements of style: what it is, how to recognise it and how we can acquire it - does style have any use or purpose? I hope that the discussion will inform all of us as we look for style.

Searching for style: suit Dege & Skinner from cloth made in collaboration with Johnstons of Elgin

Many of you have been in touch to describe your own searches for style. Each of you has different reasons for your search. Some have always been interested in style; others, like me, started late. In my case it was a response to the failure of brands to market themselves properly to older men. Those of us over 50 are responsible for nearly half of consumer spending. We've worked all our lives and tend to be more affluent on average than younger people. Despite this, brands use young models and aim at the young in trying to sell their wares. This approach just doesn't connect with the older man. One of my aims on the blog is to show brands that older men are interested and will buy their products if they want to sell to them.

I'm interested in some of the puzzles around style. How do some older men look stylish wearing clothes that don't fit/are outrageous/very youthful while most of us look terrible in the same outfits? I can't promise answers but I'll give it a go. I'll be grateful for your thoughts, suggestions, questions, answers too. As ever, the blog is nothing without you, its readers here and on Instagram.

Is this style? Pitti Uomo January 2017 (image Grey Fox)

A search for style takes a positive decision to change, to some extent, your wardrobe, life and appearance. You have to feel some passion about this and this means being certain that style brings some benefits. I've found that it does. Not least are positive comments from friends, family and (best of all) women - but style goes beyond mere vanity and embraces confidence, self-respect and respect for others.

I'll also look at the issue of sustainability. A truly stylish man will always consider the environmental impact of his choices and the welfare of those making his clothes. I'm grateful to a reader for reminding me to include this.

Style is more than skin deep. A man needs inspiration in the form of images, blogs, social media and advertising to help him achieve style; he can't do it on his own as it's a deep and complex formula. Let's break down the elements of this formula over the next few weeks. But please... get in touch and let me have your thoughts. My email.

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