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Declare war on salt!

5 Mar

I’ve had too many pairs of winter boots destroyed by road salt and I’m mad as hell!

salt winter boots

My disgusting, now defunct suede winter boots eaten by salt. Even the zippers are salt-dried. What a waste.

In Ontario, where I currently live, road salt is used so heavily that the streets are white with it and there is fine white salt powder on everything. Salt is a highly corrosive mineral that leaves a mark on not only our footwear, but damages nature, metals, and building materials.

Catherine Houska, metallurgical engineer, says that despite environmental concerns, salt for de-icing changes the chemistry of soil, is harmful to plants, trees, and fish, and it’s use continues to grow–even “sunbelt” cities now stock salt for freezing rain.

After reading Houska’s Deicing Salt: Recognizing the Corrosion Threat, I realize just how damaging and far-reaching salt pollution is. “Deicing salt poses a significant but often unrecognized corrosion threat to architectural metals and other construction materials,” Houska writes. “Seasonal deicing salt accumulations have been documented up to 1.9 km from busy roadways and as high as the 59th floor of a high-rise building.”

Overuse of road salt in Ontario wreaks havoc on land and crops that we need to eat. In a recent legal case in Ontario, farmers sued the local government for losses on their crops due to the use of road salt and won. With any luck, this case will set a precedent and the use of corrosive de-icing salts and the destructive effects on land and vegetation will be examined and changes made, possibly moving us to a non-corrosive grit for winter traction like sand, used in places like Saskatchewan and in Russia.

Salt’s corrosive nature can eat its way through even the thickest treated leathers. This winter, I watched my once-waterproof suede boots destroyed by road salt to the degree that water seeped into the outside of the boot and left my feet wet, plus, they look so awful that I am embarrassed to wear them, despite spraying with protective footwear products and regular cleanings with water and vinegar to neutralize salt’s corrosive effects. The salt literally ate through the suede and dried out the zipper so much that they are useless now. So what do I do with them? Thousands of boots and shoes have been rendered useless after being eaten by salt, and most of these will find themselves in landfills, adding to our polluted world. There must be an alternative.

The switch to synthetics

Though I’m not a fan of synthetics, once my suede boots went down, I decided that I will not throw any more money away on leather or suede (to be honest, I’ve decided not to wear leather anything anymore because of the animal cruelty and environmental pollution involved in the leather-tanning process). I’ve ordered waterproof synthetic boots that salt should brush off of. I reckon that this will prevent a volume of winter boots from going into the landfill because the salt will not corrode this particular material, and the boots will have a longer life, create less waste, and reduce the demand for more boots.

I’ve written before about the downfall of rubber boots in the Huffington Post that are now so cheaply made that they crack after one season’s wear and quickly fill the dump with spent boots. I am a huge supporter of investing in good footwear that is environmentally responsible and that one can maintain with visits to shoe repair shops to stretch the boot’s life. A Canadian company that makes good waterproof boots is Kamik. Kamik boots are recyclable and made of vulcanized rubber (the process in which rubber is heated to a high temperature which binds unstable rubber polymer chains and makes them strong, elastic, and waterproof, as opposed to cheap PVC which easily cracks and is quickly tossed). Even better, some Kamik boot styles are available at your local Canadian Tire store!

What I really like about Kamik boots is that they are serious about sustainabilty. They make boot liners and linings from recycled water bottles; soles are 100% recyclable, and they create “innovative materials like Ecologic Rubber.” Not only does Kamik use recycled products in their footwear, they also offer a recycling program on some styles: Our shoes last a really long time, but when you’ve worn them into the ground, keep them from getting buried in it by sending them back to us. Brilliant.

Style

Now, many of Kamik’s boots for men are for the outdoors and outdoor activites like farming and winter sport, but what about urban men who wear suits to work? The answer is the coloruful, modern-day Norwegian-designed golash, SWIMS. SWIMS can come in the form of an overshoe or overboot, a stylish alternative to salt-eaten shoes and heavy winter boots. SWIMS has collaborated with the likes of Armani and bootmaker, John Lobb, to bring protective footwear into the stylish spotlight. These products use a type of insulated, tear-resistant rubber to protect your shoes from the ravages of winter moisture. However, I cannot see anything linking sustainability to this company, and that’s unfortunate.

Since most of us do not make governmental decisions about road safety and cannot reduce the use of salt used on roads (though we can contact our local politicians to make our voices heard), our alternative is to choose winter footwear that will last longer than permeable materials like leather, and take them to the shoe maker for repair when needed. Our saving grace would be to wear footwear that we could throw in the blue bin when we’re finished with them, eliminating waste and continuously re-using the boot materials.

There are beginnings of this but nothing is full-blown yet: there are shoe recycling spots (mostly in the U.S. where 300 million pairs of shoes go to landfills each year), Nike has a U.S.-based running shoe recycling program, and we’re stating to see small companies develop recyclable shoes. Excellent steps forward, but for us Canadians, we need responsible, recyclable, waterproof boots.

Anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to shop in between seasons

24 Jul

Before I take a holiday from writing  in August, I thought I’d share some information with you, dear readers, to make your life easier.clearance sale

I shopped with a client yesterday who had a limited budget and wanted specific pieces now, at the end of the summer season but before the fall stock has arrived. A challenging shop? Oh yes! Even as an image consultant who shops with clients all the time, I still find it difficult to create a wardrobe out of  sparse bits of end-of-season stock. If it’s tough for me, it’s probably rough on you, so here’s some help.

If you’re not doing this already, start shopping smart and think practically and consider your whole wardrobe  and how your new pieces will integrate into it. Summer sales are awesome and everyone loves a bargain, but even a deep discount isn’t worth it if you’re not that crazy about the colour or if the garment doesn’t fit well, because you won’t wear it.

The guidelines below apply to the fall/winiter end-of-season sales for January – March too:

Yay! Summer sales!

  •  As the summer continues, the discounts increase and the more pieces you can buy!
  • Stock up on summer staple items like  t-shirts, shorts, flip-flops, etc.
  • Even if you don’t get to wear them much this year, end-of-season garments can be stashed until next year; opening a box of last year’s “new” seasonal clothes  will excite you like a child at Christmas.

#$%*@! Summer sales!

  • Finding your size in that excellent shirt at 60% off is a myth in July unless you’re an odd size. Everything is picked over by then.
  • If you happen to find a shirt that fits you at 60% off , just hope you’ve got something in your closet that you can wear it with. Sometimes it’s best to walk away if you’re in doubt.
  • “Well,” you think, “it’s two sizes too big but it’s 75% off, and you can’t really go wrong at that price.” Actually, you can. Just because a garment is inexpensive doesn’t mean that you should buy it actually wear it. If you’re a man reading this post, you just might be concerned with your image, and an ill-fitting, ill-matched clearance garment won’t do anything to improve yours. Discounted season ends that just aren’t right should be left at the store or worn strictly at the cottage.

Hope that helps! Best wishes until September!

Paisley: full of possibilities

10 Jul

red paisley

Take a moment to look at this picture. Do you notice the incredible detail? The harmonized colours? The pleasant but erratic pattern? You’re looking at paisley, one of the most gorgeous decorative patterns humans have ever devised.

Paisley is an incredible pattern to work with because it is so full of possibilities: paisley can be done in any scale, it may be multi-coloured or monochrome, simple or intricate, and the pattern may be regular and repeating or varied, irregular, and seemingly random. This wonderful, natural design has deep, rich roots that date back to ancient Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers (modern-day Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Syria), where it found its way into building decoration, carpets, fabrics, and the decorative arts of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Sumerians.

This nature-inspired pattern, originally known as botteh or boteh in its native Persian, means “bush, shrub, a thicket, bramble, [or] herb. Some would even take it to mean a palm leaf, cluster of leaves…and flower bud,” according to the Heritage Institute discussing Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion and philosophy.

The boteh pattern is a much-loved, time-tested pattern that eventually made its way into India where it really dug in its heels. For hundreds of years, beautiful cashmere wool shawls decorated with the boteh pattern were popular, and during the 1700s, boteh shawls cast a spell on European women who fell in love with the soft, warm, patterned fabric. During the colonial period, British men returning home from India brought the shawls as gifts for their women, and the demand for these exotic shawls grew in Europe. Seeing an opportunity, the British East India Company began to export the enormously popular and expensive shawls to Europe during the later 18th century.

As the shawls became more fashionable, the demand for them grew, but the high cost kept many away until European hand weavers began to copy the boteh patterned shawls and produced items at a fraction of the cost of the real thing. In 1805, the weaving mill in Paisley, Scotland became the boteh weaving centre of Europe, and the name Paisley became synonymous with the pattern. As weaving technology evolved in the UK, the original 2-colour paisley shawls turned into 5-colour patterns, though this still paled in comparison to the Indian versions that boasted up to 15 colours.

What is paisley?

The paisley pattern can range from very simple to extremely ornate, sometimes positioned loosely among leaves, or flowers, other times simple in regular and repeating patterns. The common denominator is the tell-tale curved teardrop shapes. It is the shape of the paisleys that I find particularly interesting because no one really knows what it’s supposed to represent, though there are many options and theories.

Paisleys could signify halved fresh figs, mangoes, gourds, licks of flame, or Cypress trees (sacred to the Zoroastrians); kidneys, tadpoles, tear drops, pears, or sperm if you’re Freudian.  (During research, I came across a Jehovah Witness message board that discussed paisley as a representation of sperm and therefore considered “taboo”). In any case, paisley seems to have originated as a fertility symbol and becomes more fantastic as it evolves.

Modernized examples of this racy design seen below by Paul Frederick show the incredible variance in paisley patterns, from bold and multi-coloured paisley to quiet tone-on-tone, and from elaborate designs to simple shapes (photos used with permission):

Blue paisley Paul Frederick tie

Tone-on-tone paisley Paul Frederick tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Frederick paisley tie

Paul Fredrick blue paisley tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paisley in menswear

While the paisley motif was woven into fabrics most often worn by women, western men were left out of experiencing this gorgeous pattern until the 1920s-1930s, when paisley was printed on silk and used in men’s ties.

“In response to changing fashion,” says Francois Chaille in  The Book of Ties, “Paisley is constantly being up-dated: hundreds of new paisley motifs make their appearance on ties every year. The motif provides rich opportunities for coloristic nuance and formal invention.”

Of course we in the west remember paisley worn extensively in the 1960s and revived in the 80s, but paisley has never really gone away. In fact, you may find a paisley tie in your collection, or maybe a paisley bandana or neckerchief (Cary Grant liked to wear these under his collars). If you’re lucky, you may have a Ralph Lauren paisley pocket silk for your breast pocket.  Stylish introverts could opt for a pair of low-key paisley socks, and daring darlings may rock paisley Ted Baker shirts or a cool sports jacket with a chic paisley lining.

Paisley isn’t just for clothing. The high-end Italian design house, Etro, likes to incorporate paisley into its collections, and offers paisley luggage, day books, wallets, and manbags in their iconic paisley “comprised of red, turquoise, yellow, olive green and ivory adapted and evolved to become the signature pattern for the brand: an instantly recognisable style which became inevitably synonymous with the luxury world of Etro,” their website says.

If wearing paisley is luxurious, it is also refined. New York image consultant, John Molloy, said paisley ties signify good breeding and education. Alan Flusser, author of Dressing the Man says, “Of all the loud neckties, [Molloy] deemed paisley as the only permissible one because it was the “fun tie” of the upper middle classes.”

I implore you to pull out your whimsical paisley and wear it with confidence; it is so beautiful and varied in pattern, colour, and scale, that everyone will be able to find the right paisley print for them. It is a pattern that speaks of human history, elegance, and refinement; it is a delightful and permanently stylish pattern, and an excellent investment for any gentleman’s image.

 

Through the eyes of Tom Ford: Pride 2014

26 Jun
Tom Ford by Helmut Newton

Photograph by Helmut Newton. Published in Vogue, March 1999.

With Toronto hosting World Pride this year, I feel that much more inspired to celebrate the powerful gay icons that have shaped our world. I spotlighted Freddie Mercury in 2012, Liberace in 2013, and for 2014, the focus is on the clothing, detail, luxury, and the daring of Tom Ford.

Tom Ford is a man who personifies BOLD not only in his clothing designs but in his business dealings. Before launching his own menswear label in 2007, he spent ten years as Creative Director for Gucci and brought them from near bankruptcy to $3 billion a year in sales. He is aligned with Estee Lauder for the Tom Ford Beauty Brand, and he counts 98 retail Tom Ford stores in the world among many other achievements.

American Vogue‘s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, says Ford has an uncanny way of conveying the same three core themes: sex, power, and divine decadence. “I don’t think I have ever worked with anyone with a greater passion for detail or a clearer vision of his aesthetic goals,” she says.

Ford is a powerhouse of talent that goes beyond fashion design. In 2009, he directed and co-wrote the screenplay for  A Single Man, a tale of gay angst in the early 1960s, starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. I recommend it; it’s tasteful and interesting, but tragic.  Ford’s debut film won many awards and Firth received an Oscar nomination for best actor.

He is incredibly talented and successful; a billionaire with enormous power in the fashion industry, and audacious as all hell. Tom Ford does what he wants and he does it well, otherwise he wouldn’t carry clients like Johnny Depp and Daniel Craig. Yet with all that going for him, with all the success and power and wealth, Tom Ford remains human.

Images of beauty 

Ford studied architecture before he turned to fashion and understands how to build things. He uses geometry in his designs and creates sensuous lines and angles in magnificent, often textured, deeply coloured fabrics in his menswear collections.

He seems to have an inborn sense of balance and opulence and learned about fashion through his mother and grandmother. “My mother was very chic, very classic,” he recalls in an interview with Biography. “My paternal grandmother was very stylish in a very Texas way—everything big and flashy, from jewelry to cars.”

Tom Ford jackets

Note the gorgeous geometry of Ford’s jacket lapels and the sumptuous fabrics and colours.

“The images of beauty you get in your childhood stick with you for life,” Ford explains, “So there’s a certain flashiness at Gucci—Texas-inspired—with a certain Western feel.”

When asked if Texas has influenced his designs, Ford tells FDLuxe,  “I have certain notions of glamour that I never lost… I like a heel on a boot. I feel better with a heel. That Texas taste—big hair and a lot of makeup—was my first notion of beauty. And I have to say, to this day, I still have a thing for big hair.”

The big, bold, and flashy was woven into Ford’s designs for Gucci and used in his own menswear line. The casual luxury of his Western-inspired spring/summer 2015 collection is comprised of suede jackets with tasselled sleeves, jeans, denim shirts, and jean jackets–a far cry from his iconic suits and shirts, dapper enough for 007 himself.

“What we wanted to do was to expand sportswear so that our customer has something to wear for every occasion of his life,” he says of the collection.

Ford uses bold and unexpected colour in his menswear collections, and in his current men’s line, pink, lilac, and ocean blue jackets are paired with white shirts and trousers. Coming up for fall/winter 2014, blacks, greys, creams, and earthy colours mixed in with  beautiful violets and royal blues in cotton-silk Jacquard and velvet cocktail jackets.

Tom Ford the human

Despite what we might think a billionaire designer who caters to high-end clients like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Drake might be like, Tom Ford is a regular person.

I spoke to former model, Patrick Marano, now husband and manager to gay media mogul, Shaun Proulx, who posed for a 2005 Tom Ford sunglasses campaign.

“The shoot was in L.A. Poolside,” Marano recalls, “At the break Tom came and ate with us. He was very down-to-earth and friendly. And of course he looked great, impeccably dressed.”

Ford is a real person; he’s sensitive and romantic, and he loves to be in love and be in a relationship:”I’m someone who likes being part of a couple and always wanted that and always sought that,” he says, “And it would probably be true for me whether I was gay or straight.”

When Ford saw his long-term partner, Richard Buckley, the former Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Hommes International, at a fashion show in 1986, it was love at first sight. More than twenty-five years along, Ford and Buckley married this past spring and welcomed their son, Alexander John Buckley Ford (Jack), into the world in 2012. Ford has proved to be a devoted partner and father.

“I feed Jack, I dress him, I change his diaper, and I have a good two or three hours with him every morning, just me and him.” Ford says, “At night, again, I put him to bed and try to spend as much time with him as possible.”

Though it may be unbelievable, our superstar designer changes diapers, cooks, and unless he’s travelling, gets home each night to feed Jack. Now that he’s raising a child, his perspective of the world has changed. In particular, he no longer receives Botox injections, saying, “A lot of things I cared about before I don’t care as much about anymore.”

It’s refreshing that a superstar like Tom Ford understands his limited relevance and shelf-life. “No matter how hard you try there is a cultural moment, but eventually that window’s gone, your time on Earth is finished, and you might as well leave,” he says, “I could absolutely die tomorrow–I would not care. I feel like I’ve lived, I feel like I’ve had a great life.”

Tom Ford‘s style advice:

  • A man should never wear shorts in the city. Flip-flops and shorts in the city are never appropriate. Shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach.
  • At home, off-duty, I wear T-shirts from Fruit of the Loom but I have them tailored – if the sleeves are cut over the tricep your arms look much better.
  • Keep your jacket buttoned. Always. It’s just really flattering – it will take pounds off you.

 

Tips for an awesome spring!

1 May

It’s May Day! That means that spring is here and it’s officially time to welcome the new season. Here are some easy and practical tips for a great spring!

Spring pollenspring apple blossoms

If you suffer from spring pollen allergies and find yourself sneezing and wiping your watering stinging eyes, are you taking the gentlemen’s approach?

Sneezing into your sleeve works if you’re in a cramped public space like a subway, but the best way to reign in your sneezes and pollen-induced tears is of course, the hankie.

Using a cotton or linen handkerchief to wipe your dripping orifices is the better and more elegant way (plus it’s easier on the environment). Find them in department stores or check vintage shops for old and interesting hankies!

Shoes

old shoes

If you’re the type of guy who wears the same shoe all year around, or if you have a spring collection that’s made its way out of storage, sit down and take a good look at them–what kind of condition are they in? Scuffed? Worn? Heels ground down? Spring is a great time to take your shoes to a shoemaker and have them cleaned up, or do it yourself.

I’m always telling men not to toss their old shoes because they are easily restored.  Have a look at this 7-minute video by British bootmaker, John Lobb, who shows the professional way to shine shoes–you’ll be astonished!

Besides shining, a shoemaker can re-heel or re-sole your shoes. Worn heels are unsightly and may put a damper on your confidence. Have your shoes redone to give yourself an instant boost!

Brighten and de-stink!vinegar bottle

After a while, anything made of fabric will absorb the smells around it, and this is not necessarily good news. I am a proponent of natural cleaning products, and gents, nothing beats vinegar for cleaning and removing odours. Using vinegar in your laundry brightens colours, renews drabness, and prevents static cling.

For stuff like socks, gym shirts, stained tea towels, and dish rags, get a stock pot or other large cooking vessel and fill with water. Add a cup of white distilled vinegar and bring to a rolling boil. Add your items, turn of the heat, and let soak overnight. Run through the wash and hang to dry. If you’re lucky enough to have a clothes line, hang outside in the sun to naturally deodourize and mildly bleach.

Other great vinegar tips from 1001 Uses for White Distilled Vinegar:

Remove perspiration odour and stains on clothing, as well as those left by deodorants by spraying full-strength white distilled vinegar on underarm and collar areas before tossing them into the washing machine.

Get cleaner laundry! Add about 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar to the last rinse. The acid in white distilled vinegar is too mild to harm fabrics, yet strong enough to dissolve the alkalies in soaps and detergents. Besides removing soap, white distilled vinegar prevents yellowing, acts as a fabric softener and static cling reducer, and attacks mold and mildew.

Eliminate manufacturing chemicals from new clothes by adding 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the water.

In the words of Robin Williams, “Spring is nature’s way of saying “let’s party!”. Preparing for the party takes work and energy, but you’ll feel great about your efforts, so get in there and enjoy!

Ethical man = sexy man!

20 Mar

By this point, we’re all well aware that we have to manage manufactured goods by recycling, reusing, and repurposing, because the earth won’t get healthier if we continue to create new stuff out of raw materials and toss them into a landfill when we’re done.

The movement to creatively and stylishly reuse existing materials and objects is in full swing and I’ve seen some super cool ways to reuse stuff: got an old ladder? Mount it on a wall to make a book shelf! Make lamps and other cool stuff out of cassette tapes, and for die-hard sports fans in possession of old soccer or basketballs, make a hat! (Check out this blog: 25 Interesting DIY ideas to reuse old things.)

As an image consultant, I like to offer eco-friendly alternatives to my clients and for this post, I’ve found some super stylish accessory pieces for the eco-conscious gent.

Men’s environmentally conscious accessories

Mod wallet by Couch

Couch Mod arrow wallet available at Nice Shoes.ca. Image used with permission.

One of the cooler Canadian eco-conscious and cruelty-free businesses is Nice Shoes, which sells much more than nice shoes. Nice Shoes sells an obvious array of footwear plus great bags, belts, and wallets at their Vancouver shop and online store.

Shown here is the Couch Mod wallet. Couch makes cruelty-free vinyl wallets out of material leftover from their guitar straps (see below). Wallets have lots of room to hold 12 plastic cards and a bill fold for cash.

Repurposed vinyl pieces are strong, durable, easy-to-clean, and vegan/cruelty-free, and I recommend them if you want an inexpensive, ethical long-term investment: I’ve had a vegan bag for several years and it hardly looks worn.

Nice Shoes carries different men’s, women’s, and unisex lines. Below is a fine brown satchel by Matt and Nat, a great overnight bag for the discerning eco-conscious man:

Jack satchel

“Jack” by Matt and Nat, available at niceshoes.ca. Image used with permission.

Vintage car-conscious

Can you think of anything cooler than using the vinyl interior of an early 1970s Volkswagen Beetle to make a guitar strap? Neither can I. Couch, out of Signal Hill, California, does guitar and camera straps from vintage vinyl and repurposed seat belts along with other cool gear.

Couch vintage Volkswagon guitar strap

Couch vintage Volkswagen upholstery guitar strap. Image used with permission.

Being a vegan myself, I like what Couch stands for:

…when it came to making guitar straps, we were not into purchasing the actual hides of leather and then stamping the tabs out of asymmetric sides of beef before sewing them on our straps. The buying and selling of animal skin carcasses was a little too weird for us, thanks.

Couch also makes excellent, hard-wearing, gear for men like wallets, belts, and shaving bags. The toiletry bag below is made of vinyl upholstery originally intended to cover the interior of late 60s/early 70s Pontiac GTOs. This houndstooth model has a metal zipper and is lined with waxed canvas to keep your stuff dry when you splash around the sink.

GTO shaving bag

The houndstooth upholstery of the Pontiac GTO makes for a cool shaving bag. Image used with permission.

In the end, gents, you’re responsible for your actions and the products you use. Like men who volunteer, support animal rights, walk a mile in heels as a gesture to end violence against women, or get involved with anti-bullying campaigns, impassioned, eco-minded men are attractive and in demand. More than that, guys who use repurposed goods out of an eco-conscience are not just good for the future of our planet, dang! they’re downright sexy!

A little gift for the winter blahs

6 Mar

dirty boots

This winter has been horrendous. Gawd, when will it end? Many of us have reached our winter breaking point: it’s friggin’ cold and I’m at my palest; I’ve been wearing the same clothes for months, salt has eaten my footwear alive, and I just want it to be over!

Take a breath and decide to give yourself a gift and clean your winter boots. An odd gift, I know, but you’ve been neglecting them for weeks and the winter has been so cold for so long that you didn’t even notice that their lower third are white with salt. Have a good look at your boots, pick them up, and bring them into the bathroom.

Clean one boot at a time using the instructions below so you can compare the grimy boot to the clean one. I promise that this will give you a feeling of proud accomplishment that will lift your winter spirits:

You’ll need:

  • about 15-20 minutes
  • dirty, salt-stained winter boots
  • damp rag
  • drying rag
  • spent toothbrush
  • cup of warm water
  • shoe polish, leather conditioner, protective spray

Then:

1. Clean your boots:

toothbrush

Toothbrushes are fantastic cleaning tools

For smooth leathers, use a damp rag to wipe off the surface of your boots. You may have to rinse the rag a couple of times before you’re done depending on the filth level your boot finds themselves in.

Elbow grease may be necessary–this is where the toothbrush comes in handy. Short nylon bristles can get into places a cloth can’t, so start scrubbing with your toothbrush and get the dirt and grime out of boot seams, shoelace grommets, the boot tread, and the texture of the sole. Dip the toothbrush in the cup of warm water periodically.

If and only if your boot is waterproof, you can rinse the salt-stained sole under a warm tap, then rub dirt and salt off with a rag and/or a toothbrush. Dry.

2. Clean your laces: 

Do you tie your boots with dirty laces hardened by salt? Fix the problem by unlacing the dirty strings, then submerge them in warm water working the stains away with your fingers. Add a little soap if you like. Push the water out down the length of the lace, then hang to dry (over the shower curtain) or press water out with a towel. Re-lace when dry.

3. Lubricate your zipper:

As you know, fellas, lubrication is important to anything mechanical–and this includes zippers! If your boot has a zipper and that zipper is salt-dried and sticking, it’s time to clean and lubricate the mechanism. If you’ve had the misfortune of having to replace a boot zipper, you’ll know how much it costs, and this will save you some hard-earned dough.

I looked around and found zipper lubricating info on the web. One site suggested using Vaseline or soap (I tried this but it didn’t work well… uh, was the soap supposed to be wet?), but ended up choosing almond oil for the job. I squeezed a few drops onto a Q-Tip and lightly swept it up and down both sides of the zipper, then moved the lube around by zipping and unzipping the boot several times – worked like a charm! Cooking oils like olive oil may work here too, but not sure if any specific types of oil would react to the plastic zipper teeth, so use at your discretion.

4. Polish and protect:

Your boots are now looking a whole lot better than they did 10 minutes ago. To make your leather boots look better for longer, apply a leather conditioner to keep the material supple, allow to dry, then you can go ahead and use polish to cover the scuffs and bring back the colour. Always spray with a protective spray to ward off the next round of winter filth.

5. Shoe repair:

I can’t stress enough how important shoe maintenance is. You’ve invested in your footwear, so take care of it. You can have your boots re-heeled and re-soled; cleaned, stretched, and waterproofed, so you don’t have to throw this winter’s boots away, just get them fixed. Easier on the earth and more money in your account.

Well done! Wearing clean footwear feels civilized and it will give you a lift, no matter what the temperature. Just remember, only a few more weeks of winter 2014 to go, then spring arrives–hooray!

The Sting, among other things

6 Feb

I was lucky enough to see Susan Claassen’s wonderful A Conversation with Edith Head in Toronto last month. Ms Claassen’s 90-minute near-monologue was impressive, as was learning of Ms Head’s costume design work on over 1100 films. What really struck me, the men’s image consultant in love with men’s clothes, was that Edith Head, winner of seven other Oscars for dressing the most talented and glamorous actresses in Hollywood, named The Sting as her favourite costume work because she learned that she preferred dressing men to women (sounds familiar!). 

Oscar winning The Sting costume designs
Edith Head’s costume renderings for The Sting. Photo by Jason Hollywood. Used with permission.

Head was able to make her stars look flawless– “Accentuate the positive and camouflage the rest,” as she used to say. She had two men, the equivalent of today’s George Clooney and Brad Pitt to outfit in period costume, and I though I can’t imagine what would need camouflaging on Paul Newman or Robert Redford, Ms Head certainly accentuated the positive in these two actors.

Seen in the top rendering, Redford’s pinstriped suit nipped in at the waist compacts his torso and broadens his shoulders, boosting his masculine shape, and at right, note the photo of Paul Newman in the soft royal blue suit and dove grey hat playing up his brilliant blue eyes.

I watched The Sting last night and took note of the costumes which made me think of a quote from Savile Row tailor, Edward Sexton: “The man should wear the suit; the suit should never wear the man”. Similarly, Edith Head said, “My motto is that the audience should notice the actors, not the clothes.”

If you are part of the audience who didn’t notice the clothes, let me take you on a brief walk through the character, the costumes, and the celebration of the period, filled with timeless visual symbols and signs of gentlemanly demeanour.

The Sting

The time is 1936 in Joliet, Illinois. The first scene begins with a shot of a pair of fancy two-tone shoes walking past down-and-out men lying on the dusty sidewalk. The man in the shoes walks up the fire escape of a building into a busy gambling den– our first suggestion that despite the country’s Depression, there is money to be made and those who make it, dress fine.

The Sting

The man in the two-tone shoes is conned out of $11,000 by three men, one of whom is small-time con artist, Johnny Hooker (Redford), scruffy in his dust-coloured unmatched trousers and jacket, and tie-less shirt. The first costumes we see strike the contrast between small and big-time crooks.

The Set-Up

By the time Hooker meets up with Henry Gondorff (Newman) in Chicago to do the “Big Con” and swindle crime boss, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), out of half a million dollars, they’re getting their gang together to create a theatre of success and wealth in a fake betting club. Each new gang recruit is told to “go grab yourself a suit”. And so the set-up begins.

1930-era silk tie available at Kingpin's Hideaway.

1930-era silk tie available at Kingpin’s Hideaway.

High-rollers wear shiny shoes and three-piece suits with loud, short, wide silk ties. Hooker, the young and eager up-and-coming con-man, needs grooming, and we watch his metamorphosis from small-time grifter to big-roller. Gondorff takes him to a barber shop for a shave, a haircut and a manicure, then to a tailor who fits a high-waisted navy pinstriped suit with peak lapels and matching waistcoat with a short colourful silk tie.  This silhouette, especially in pinstripes, elongates Redford’s legs and exaggerates his masculine V shape, giving him added visual appeal and at the same time, reflecting his character’s youth, its impatience, and its folly.

Snap-together composite and mother-of-pearl cuff links available at Kingpin's Hideaway.

Snap-together composite and mother-of-pearl cuff links available at Kingpin’s Hideaway.

We watch the rest of Gondorff’s gang transform into “men of wealth” with the addition of pocket hankies, spats, shiny two-tone shoes, tie pins, French cuffs and cuff links; starched collars, braces, walking sticks, and gloves to their already fancy suits and waistcoats.

“Not only do these men look more the part by dressing dapper, they’re more confident,” says Jonathan Hagey at Kingpin’s Hideaway, a men’s vintage shop in Toronto, “They carry themselves with more authority and create the illusion that they are well-to-do types.”

When Gondorff’s gang changes from small-time to big-time, it isn’t only their wardrobe that changes, but their behaviour as well. When Gondorff first meets Lonnegan at a poker game, he wants to fool Lonnegan into thinking he’s an inexperienced and foolish card player. He bursts in, smelling of gin, and says, “Sorry I’m late, I was taking a crap.” Lonnegan has little patience for the unrefined dress of the crass newcomer. “This is a gentleman’s game and a tie is required,” he says sternly.

Though the gang plays it as close to Lonnegan’s look as they can, not all the details are the same. Enter the costumer’s insinuation of character.

Charles Dierkop, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw.

Have a look at the above screen shot and notice the difference in lapel widths and shapes. During this period, lapels were high and often peaked. Redford, the “hero/hunk”, has rounded and upward pointing peaks on lapels in proportion to his body and suggestive of his young age but Shaw, the “villain” is always seen in wide, exaggerated lapels with straight, pointed peaks. In this shot, Shaw looks larger than the other two and particularly devilish with his sharp, massive lapels and waxed moustache.

The Aftermath

The Sting won seven of eleven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and of course, Best Costume Design, but this doesn’t come without some dispute. Edith Head is fabled to have been a little ruthless in her career path, not giving credit where credit was due. In fact, she was sued by the costume illustrator who said it was she who actually designed Newman and Redford’s costumes (source), but I can’t seem to find the outcome of that lawsuit, so I can’t say if it’s true. 

What I do know is that when Edith Head, the most celebrated costume designer in Hollywood history, accepted her Oscar for best costume design for The Sting, she flitted onto the stage in her signature dark glasses and short bangs, in a long white dress with a matching black-trimmed vest.

“Just imagine dressing the two handsomest men in the world, and then getting this!” she said, holding out her award. Her joy and pride in the project cannot be disputed; it is a wonderful film on every level, and tells the story of elegant and ageless gentlemen’s dress and behaviour.

For those of you stylish and confident enough to blend 1930s elegance into your wardrobe, here are more period goodies from Kingpin’s Hideaway:

Dove grey beaver fur fedora.

Dove grey beaver fur fedora.

Two-tone leather spectator / correspondents shoes.

Two-tone leather spectator / correspondents shoes.

Grey double breasted wool jacket with oxblood pinstripe.

Grey double-breasted wool jacket with oxblood pinstripe.

The spawn of Savile Row

23 Jan

It’s the third and final instalment of our Savile Row series, where we’ll get better acquainted with the men that have moved Savile Row style into the 21st century.

In its 200 year history, Savile Row has experienced three major changes: the elegance of proper and formal dress for the first 150 years or so, the reinvention of the Savile Row workmanship woven into the modern style of the Swinging Sixties, and into the new bespoke movement of the 1990s and into the future.

Remember Tommy Nutter, the maverick tailor of 60s London, and his cutter, Edward Sexton who dressed the Beatles and other dandies of the period? These two gents bent the hard rules of Savile Row set during the late 19th century and turned fine tailoring into “the male peacock revolution of the Sixties” (read more from Nutter’s obituary).

Both Nutter and Sexton are the roots of modern bespoke, and their guidance and influence is rampant in modern bespoke and design.

Sexton is Paul McCartney’s tailor and according to the Savile Row Style Magazine, McCartney’s daughter Stella trained under Sexton, “serving an apprenticeship that stood her in good stead when she went on to found her own design business.” Sexton continues to design for men and women like musicians, Annie Lennox and Pete Doherty; models, Cindy Crawford, and Naomi Campbell, and designed costumes for Bill Nighy and Reece Ifans in The Boat That Rocked (recommended watching about a pirate radio in 60s England), among many others.

Tommy Nutter died in 1992, but his legacy has been transferred to two of the three “New Generation” designers: Ozwald Boateng, a self-taught tailor “inspired and guided by Tommy Nutter [who has] carried on his mentor’s legacy of introducing Savile Row to a new Generation,” and Timothy Everest, a one-time Nutter apprentice who blends “impeccable craftsmanship with individualism”. (Source.)

Savile Row’s New Generation

Ozwald Boateng is serious about style based on personality and emotions–“soul, spirit, energy, that’s what it’s about,” he says in a 2009 short film, Why Style Matters.  As a teenager, Georgio Armani inspired Boateng to want to become a superstar of international design, and he has certainly reached his goal. Boateng has designed suits for US president, Barack Obama, and the likes of Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker, Spike Lee, John Hurt, and Sir Richard Branson. He has injected into the tradition of Savile Row, bright, exciting colours, and indeed, his shop at 30 Savile Row pops with colour–he says his shirts look more like jewels. 

To Boateng, suits represent respectability, and he uses the time-honoured ways of Savile Row and its traditional fabrics in his unconventional cuts and colours to make modern, stylish, and individual clothes because as he says, “Style is a journey, it is an extension of who you are and your character”.

Unless he’s doing  commissioned bespoke, Welshman and MBE, Timothy Everest, though not as fearless as Boateng when it comes to colour, celebrates the modernization of Savile Row’s tradition of craftsmanship. “The perceptions of tailoring were old-fashioned, long-winded, boring, expensive, and elitist,” Everest explains, “So we had to turn these things around to be relevant.” 

On his website, Everest explains his sartorial evolution: “It was the early 90s and everyone had gone through the whole “designer” and “brand” thing,” he says. “I felt like I could introduce a new generation to the joys of handmade clothing–investment pieces that stood out and were built to last.”

Everest’s career is incredible–he collaborated with Marks & Spencer to create off-field uniforms for England’s football team for the 2008 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, was the Group Creative Director for Daks, acts as M&S’s Creative Consultant overseeing the Autograph, Sartorial, and Luxury tailoring collections, and designed the uniforms for the Virgin Racing team, among many other varied projects.

Teaming up with British fashion design company, Superdry, Everest did the unthinkable and created a modern clothing collection based in traditional British tailoring. The Superdry line offers a “trans-seasonal” collection of casual coordinating separates in razor-sharp skinny suits in fine fabrics and much attention to detail.

At #29 Savile Row is the shop of Richard James, whose business philosophy is to “produce classic clothing of unsurpassable quality, but to push the boundaries through design, colour and cut.”

According to UK GQ, “James ruffled feathers by maintaining traditional suit-making techniques (using English mills like Fox Brothers & Co, reflecting his commitment to craftsmanship) yet at the same time sweeping aside tradition where necessary (by reflecting the catwalks and having the audacity to open on weekends).”

James designs for the rock and roll elite like Mick Jagger, Mick Ronson, and the Gallagher brothers when Oasis was at its peak but before Liam started his Pretty Green line. James is responsible for Elton John’s stage costumes for his Vegas shows too.

Richard James and I share a love of fabrics and textures and we also agree that black is not the wonderful colour that people think it is: “I don’t like black very much on men,” he says in a Details interview, “It’s not a very flattering colour. A bright navy blue cheers you up. I remember going to see [UK Prime Minister] David Cameron, and he wanted a navy suit. I said, ‘Well, if you have a navy suit on television, it usually looks like a black suit.’ So we made a brighter navy, and he looked fantastic!”

Our feature designers, Boateng, Everest, and James, the spawn of Savile Row, have succeeded in modernizing the deep sartorial traditions of the Row to update younger generations with wearable style, sophistication, and impeccable craftsmanship.

 

The Beatles + Savile Row? Yes!

9 Jan
On the 1969 album, Abbey Road, three of four Beatles wore Tommy Nutter suits.

On the 1969 album, Abbey Road, three of four Beatles wore Tommy Nutter suits.

Part two of our Savile Row series has links to a well-loved and heavily-influential band that shaped our modern musical world – The Beatles.

Back in the day, the “I buried Paul” phrase heard at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” claimed by conspiracy theorists to mean that Paul McCartney was dead, was supported by the image of Paul walking in bare feet across Abbey Road outside of Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles recorded. The idea was that John, in white, symbolized the preacher, Ringo in black, the undertaker or a mourner, Paul, presumed deceased (with a secret imposter taking his place in life and in the studio) in bare feet, and George in hard-wearing denim, the gravedigger.

Complete crap, of course. It turns out that the three of the four Beatles wore Tommy Nutter suits, the rebel tailor of Savile Row.

(Have a look at this interesting page with a short video about the famous cross walk, or “zebra crossing”.)

Nutter, together with his expert cutter, Edward Sexton, opened the influential Nutters of Savile Row in 1969. Nutter’s was a solid symbol of Swinging London – the shop had financial backing from singer Cilla Black (who also worked with Beatles producer George Martin and recorded in Abbey Road studios) and her husband Bobby Willis, who happened to be the Managing Director of the Beatles’ Apple Corps, Peter Brown, board member of Apple Corps and a one-time assistant to Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, and lawyer, James Vallance-White.

“Tommy was a one-man revolution, single-handedly responsible for introducing fashion to Savile Row, whilst committing the equally audacious act of inviting the fairer sex to share a world that had previously been the preserve of gentlemen.” (Source)

Nutter and Sexton were famous for their modern bespoke suits with wide lapels, and flared jackets nipped in a the waist, with accompanying flared trousers in bold colours and patterns that catered to posh businessmen and rock stars. Timothy Everest, then a young man who apprenticed with Nutter interviewed with The Arbuturian, said, “Tommy was very good at articulating to a new audience what bespoke was all about.” 

Nice, but their clientele, especially during the late 60s, were unpredictable even at the upscale Mayfair address: “Tommy came to work one morning to find John Lennon and Yoko Ono standing naked in his shop window, and was later called over to Apple Studios to hear Hey Jude before it was released. “Paul and John asked him what he thought and he said it was a load of sh*t.”” 

Location, location, location

Carnaby Street, the leader of Swinging Sixties fashion was just a few blocks away from Savile Row. Carnaby Street was wildly popular among young people, offering cool mod gear by designers like Mary Quant in shops like Lord John. These young, hip, up-to-the-minute disposable fashions were quite different from the quality of the Savile Row tailors, but times were changing, and so were the neighbours.

The Beatles took over 3 Savile Row in 1969, setting up the offices of Apple Corps, each Beatle taking his own office in the five-storey building, a former gentleman’s club. It was here, or rather, the roof of #3 that became the stage for their final live performance and the Let It Be film that came of it.

For an excellent account of the day and the performance, see this link on the Beatles Bible webpage, and enjoy the music, recorded on the roof of Apple Corps, shocking bespoke-wearing business men and delighting fans who climbed up on their own roofs to see and hear this fantastic spectacle!

PS – Paul kicked off his shoes before walking on the zebra crossing because that day in August was warm

Savile Row style

26 Dec
"He's a great tailor with a lousy sense of direction."  - Hawkeye Pierce, MASH

“Trapper” John, from the 1970s television show, M*A*S*H, unveils his new pinstripe suit. “How do you like it?” he asks his colleague, “Hawkeye” Pierce.

“To make yourself instantly insignificant,” I told a client recently, “Don’t hem your sleeves and wear your pants too long.”

"He's a great tailor with a lousy sense of direction." -Hawkeye Pierce, M*A*S*H*

“He’s a great tailor with a lousy sense of direction!”

What I was referring to is of course, tailoring. Tailored clothing is fitted to an individual’s body while adhering to a set of sartorial rules that casts a proper, gentlemanly, and quite frankly, dashing light on the wearer. A man who pays attention to the fit of his clothes is of an esoteric breed, and everyone can sense it.

One of the world’s authorities on men’s clothing is G. Bruce Boyer, former fashion editor of Town & Country, GQ, and Esquire, who explains that “Individuality, propriety and comfort can be nicely brought together in a good-fitting, well-made suit.”

In his article, The History of Tailoring: An Overview, Boyer says “The English tailor was trained to use woolen cloth, and over years of experimentation and practice he developed techniques for “molding” the cloth close to the body without exactly duplicating the true form of the wearer. In short, the tailor could now actually develop a new aesthetic of dress: he could mimic the real body, while at the same time “improving” and idealizing it!… Men came “gentlemen”… [favouring] discretion, simplicity, and the perfection of cut… the Modern had finally arrived! And the Modern was the tailor’s art.”

“In this age of the shoddy and the quick, the vulgar and the mass-consumed,”  he continues, “tailors can still be counted on to champion uniqueness and quality. It is the hallmark of their tradition.”

This tailoring tradition has been centred in London’s Savile Row in the Mayfair district, near Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus, for over 200 years. The Row was built in the 1730s and until the early 1800s, housed writers, politicians, and military planners until tailors moved into the street to make it the mainstay of what would become the home of the best tailors in the world. 

At its peak, Savile Row boasted forty bespoke tailors – cutters and stitchers who spent up to fifty hours and four fittings on one exquisite suit, but by the late 1960s, interest began to wane and through the 70s and 80s, the number of Savile Row tailors dwindled down to 19. Economies and fashions changed, but one thing that did not was the splendid work that only a Savile Row tailor can deliver.

One of the celebrated tailors of  Savile Row’s “modern” era was Douglas Hayward, the man who “outfitted the Swinging Sixties” and suited up major actors of the period: Steve McQueen, Peter Sellers, and Roger Moore, including the Bond suits of the 1980s. Hayward became friends with his clients, apparently refusing to build suits for people he didn’t get on with.

Another of Hayward’s clients, Michael Caine, explains the simple elegance and ease of wear of his Doug Hayward garments: “It was brilliant tailoring without drawing any attention to itself whatsoever. You didn’t care that anyone didn’t notice it, you knew. You see, it wasn’t for anyone else, it was for you.”

Caine still frequents the shop, though Hayward himself passed away in 2008. Cutters Ritchie Charlton and Campbell Carey, formerly of Kilgour, another Savile Row tailor shop, maintain the shop today and cut their suits in Douglas Hayward style that Carey describes as “typically a West End London-looking jacket, a soft but natural-looking shoulder line, [the construction] nothing too robust.” A softer canvas is used for a Hayward suit, giving the suit more of a relaxed look, and “less of a coat of armour”.

This is the first of a three-part series on Savile Row, its style, its influence, and its legacy. For further reading, please see the links below.

Cut from a different cloth

The real Alfie: The man who was the model for cinema’s most famous lethario

The suits of James Bond

*Thanks to Pete Dangerfield for his stills from “Iron Guts Kelly”, M*A*S*H episode 4, season 3. M*A*S*H fans, please visit his website.