Archive for June, 2018

Menswear Books: Savile Row by James Sherwood

Savile Row SherwoodMy latest acquisition was Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke by James Sherwood. I bought it on a whim at my local bookshop, and I’m very glad I did. It has a foreword by the wonderful Tom Ford that is about the length of your average tweet and about as informative. We all love Tom Ford, but I bet he wrote it on his phone and just texted it in. I must say that I did not have high expectations for the rest of the book either. However, it turned out to be very informative and entertaining. It is informative thanks to a wealth of historical information; it really is a well-researched work that you want to go back to again and again. It has the appearance of a coffee table book, but it would be insulting to call it that. You can read it as a coffee table book, because the illustrations alone make for an entertaining read, but there is a lot more to it than just pretty pictures.

The book begins with a historical introduction and the rest of it is divided thematically into topics such as royalty, fashion, uniforms, Hollywood actors and the recent renaissance of men’s bespoke tailoring. The subchapters, on the other hand, are mostly labelled by tailoring establishments on Savile Row. There are too many to list here, but I assume most of them are mentioned. The author obviously loves Savile Row and all the businesses are described expertly and appreciatively. The descriptions are engaging and link everything to the amazing history of Savile Row tailoring. The final sections of the book deal briefly with grooming, shirtmakers, shoemakers, umbrellas and the like. It closes with some info on the way suits are constructed and a glossary.

In some ways, the book is a long advertisement for Savile Row. Were I more cynical, I might call it cleverly disguised ad copy. I really don’t mind this, because you can learn a lot about the history of tailored clothing as you read. What does bother me a little, however, is that the celebratory rhetoric does not necessarily serve a potential customer very well. For a more closer look at the house styles on Savile Row, I would recommend something like Permanent Style’s review series. As of today, Simon Crompton has reviewed a tux from Richard Anderson, a suit from Henry Poole and a jacket from Anderson and Sheppard. You also get the normally elusive prices listed on the site. A suit from one of the less expensive tailors, Anderson and Sheppard, is listed as £4778.

If you are just a regular guy, paying that much for a suit is probably not feasible. It is an item of clothing for the price of a car. A car will probably be more useful and you can do more with it, but, then again, you don’t wear a car close to your skin all day. It’s a question of choices and if you want a suit by some of the best tailors in the world and can somehow save up five thousand pounds, you might be able to do it. Would it be worth it? It’s difficult to say.

Handmade clothing is out of reach for most people, because it has become a luxury item. This also creates other problems that are not discussed in Sherwood’s book. Some of them are taken up by Bernhard Roetzel in his Essay on Bespoke. With the luxury market being advertised as it is, it is easy to forget that tailors are people too. Things can go wrong, miracles rarely happen and service can be unpleasant. Some of the stuff is clearly overpriced and mistakes can be very expensive. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Because it is a luxury market, the customers are connoisseurs. Menswear writers, Sherwood included, talk fondly of fathers introducing their sons to their tailors when they get their first suit. I doubt this happens that often any more on Savile Row or anywhere else. I personally think a Savile Row suit would be wasted on me like an exceptionally fine cigar or a vintage bottle of wine: I would not be able to appreciate it fully, because I really don’t know enough about suits to do so. Should I study the matter further, knowing more would make me more critical and disappointments more likely. It’s a never-ending balancing act which can be fun, but only if you accept that finding something just right is very rare. That is why I think getting a Savile Row suit would be far too stressful even if I could afford one. For everyone but the very rich, it’s not, as it should be, simply clothing. It’s clothing with an aura and a glorious past.

Wine is off the menu for me these days, but I’m happy with a decent cigar and clothes that fit me fairly well. For anyone striving for connoisseurship, however, it is more or less necessary to read something like Sherwood’s Savile Row. If you really aspire to be one, you should consider it homework.

Menswear Books: Dressing the Man by Alan Flusser

alan-flussers-dressing-the-man-1.jpgWhen I bought my copy of Alan Flusser’s Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion, it was not the book I was looking for. I was actually searching for one of his other books I had heard about on Styleforum (either Style and the Man or Clothes and the Man), but they were unavailable. In any case, Flusser is very famous for being the guy who outfitted Michael Douglas in the 80s film Wall Street. The fashions in the film are not at all to my taste, but it is obvious to everyone who watches it that Flusser was very good at his craft. An article in The Rake tells me that Gordon Gekko’s wardrobe ate up nearly a fifth of the budget. I also always enjoyed the anecdote about Michael Douglas’s shirts requiring shoulder padding, because his natural shoulders were not photogenic enough.

lumberghThe Gordon Gekko outfits have now come full circle and become meme-worthy satires of the aspiring middle-management guy in his power tie, but Flusser’s books are still very good reading. Dressing the Man is more focused on clothing than Bernard Roetzel’s Gentleman and there are fewer lifestyle items. Rather, Flusser is wonderfully obsessed with proportion, pattern and color. In short, he talks about classic menswear a lot and has his feet firmly planted in the golden age of men’s fashion. There are a lot of wonderful pictures and drawings to help you figure out what you should wear and how. It’s a great practical guide with a solid historical perspective.

One of the things you could be critical of in Flusser’s book is his way of dressing people based on their body type and complexion. Can’t I wear what I want to wear? If there is a garment whose color does not really suit my complexion and I really like it, should I just simply skip it and adhere to Flusser’s rules? When it comes to proportion and silhouette, I think you should listen to Flusser. It’s obviously something he knows a lot about and he is also very good at translating that knowledge into something the rest of us can understand. With color and complexion, I would be more adventurous were I someone who likes to experiment with color. There are restrictions your body shape and complexion place on your clothes, but there are other factors at play as well. For one thing, fun. Clothes are a serious matter sometimes, but they should also bring you joy. One of the joys of wearing clothes is breaking the rules. So, I guess what I want to say is that you should read Flusser, learn the rules and then break them wisely.

Menswear Books: Gentleman by Bernhard Roetzel

A friend of mine recently asked about a menswear book I had mentioned on social media somewhere and I thought it would be interesting to write a few reviews of the ones I have in my bookshelf. I should preface this by saying that I am not an expert. If you want expert advice on a large number of menswear books, I would suggest you go to the Gentleman’s Gazette’s list of a 100 menswear books. After that, you might want to come back to this blog to read about my take on the subject.

gentleman roetzelOne of the first books I bought was Bernard Roetzel’s Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion (2009). I was looking for menswear books by Alan Flusser after reading the A Suitable Wardrobe blog. Out of curiosity, I ordered Roetzel’s book as well. More recently, I found his interview on the Gentleman’s Gazette YouTube channel and then followed him on Instagram. I also found out that he writes for Parisian Gentleman. But when I first bought Gentleman, the book was a random find and I had no idea what to expect.

The foreword told me that my copy was the revised new edition and that the original was ten years old already. Some of the information in it has not aged at all, but other things do seem a bit outdated. A section on tobacco, for example, does not seem quite appropriate any more – and I say this as a casual pipe smoker. Nevertheless, it goes over the basics very well. There is a lot of material in the book on a number of topics and I will not even try to summarize it all.  It tells you a little about grooming, clothes (of course), accessories, cultural differences and a few other gentlemanly activities. It will tell you how to fold your pocket square, how to pack your suitcase, what to wear on a fishing trip and how to wear tails. It is very nicely illustrated as well.

I understand that Roetzel’s book was a pioneering work. Today, there is more information available than we can handle, so times have definitely changed. This book required old-fashioned research and lots of time on the road and in the library. I guess the one critical thing I could say about it is that it does not go into great detail when discussing most of its topics. If you go read online forums today, people are obsessively geeking out over every little detail of every garment or code of conduct they can think of.

Roetzel deals in breadth in this book, which I do find a bit healthier than debating the merits of the hand-stitched Italian buttonhole by various regions of the country, but this unfortunately has to be counted as the book showing its age. You can still read it as a small encyclopaedia of menswear and there is nothing wrong with that, but if you want something a little more detailed, you might want to look elsewhere. For example, you may want to try Roetzel’s more recent writing. Having said all that, I do think this one is a must-read if only because it is one of the classics of the genre.

The Carters at the Louvre

Flanööri asked me to write about the new video by the Carters. I am not a fan of their music. I’m completely the wrong person to write about the topic, but that might make this interesting. The song sounds like it follows the common theme of bragging about how much money and stuff the artists have, which I don’t find interesting at all. Of course, all this has very little to do with music and everything to do with the video shot at the Louvre. So, I’ll put the new Death Grips album on and have a closer look at the visuals.

carters 1It begins with a very nice panning shot of the ceiling paintings in the Galerie d’Apollon. They look great in fancy lighting. We get a few close-ups of paintings I do not recognize, and then move to the Mona Lisa room with the Carters. They are dressed wonderfully throughout the video and play their part as celebrity royalty very well.

They change into white costumes and there is a wonderful shot of the Nike staircase with dancers lying on the stairs. Then, there is dancing, tilted shots of a few paintings and a bit more ceiling art. And many shots of the Carters who look very defiant in most of them.carters 2

There is more dancing and singing in front of Napoleon’s coronation, Nike and the Sphinx. There is a quick shot of David’s Sabine Women, after which the Carters take another meaningful look at the camera. I don’t know what they are trying to convey, but they look like they mean business.

carters 4Overall, there are not that many instances where our stars interact with the paintings and sculptures in a meaningful way, but I do get some of the points Sarah Huny Young writes about in her piece in Elle: that blackness is an art form in the video. There are a few shots where we see people mimicking the actions of statues, and a strange image of a man standing on a horse that somehow reproduces a Géricault painting. The latter looks interesting, because it obviously carnivalizes the original image of a Napoleonic officer. The man’s clothing mimics the stars and stripes, he’s wearing a cowboy hat, and he is standing on his horse. It would probably be my favorite image in the video were it not for another one that occurs a bit earlier.

carters 3It’s another David, his Portrait of Madame Récamier. Reclining on the floor under the painting, dressed in headgear that echoes the madame’s dress, are two women who also seem to recreate the symmetry of the strange sofa of the painting. There is a morbid parody of the painting by Magritte where the madame has been replaced by a coffin. I would have loved to have seen it in the background instead of the original. In any case, the Neoclassical dress and general setting of the image point to an idealized version of Ancient Greece, the socialite madame to contemporary ideals of beauty. The two ladies point to something else.

The Carters’s strange poses, defiance, intentional vulgarity (the song is called “Apeshit”) and all the rest of it seem to be aimed at creating a new standard of beauty through a commentary on European aesthetics. The plan still rests on the tradition it criticizes, but the critique does remind us of everything that has contributed to it, and of the fact that it’s still an ongoing tradition. The pieces in the Louvre are not preserved in the past. They are here with us in the present.

I guess that’s what I take home from this: aesthetics is never a theoretical exercise and always entangled with history. To quote Death Grips: “It’s a shitshow.”

Thought is back in style

BrummellDighton1805Beau Brummell, the famous dandy, said: “If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed.” Brummell, a man mostly known for being looked at by John Bull who thought Brummell was splendidly dressed, said many things. Most of them don’t really matter, because he was known for one simple thing: that he dressed extremely well. After mentioning the quip, most menswear writers continue with an explanation of sprezzatura, the meticulous art of looking like you don’t really care what you look like. Few seem to think about what an obviously mad statement this was for a man lived for being seen and looked at.

George Frazier, in his well-known article “The Art of Wearing Clothes“, was one menswear writer who bothered to explain, in detail, what Brummell meant. He wrote:

Prior to Brummell, men had dressed to almost freakish excess. Thus, according to Hayden’s Dictionary of Dates, Sir Walter Raleigh wore: ‘… a white-satin-pinked vest close-sleeved to the wrist, and over the body a doublet finely flowered, and embroidered with pearls, and in the feather of his hat a large ruby and pearl drop at the bottom of the sprig in place of a button. His breeches’ etc.

Brummell’s clothes, then, were subtle in an age when people looked ridiculous. But he still wanted to be noticed for the way he dressed. That is why he dressed down in simple equestrian clothing.

The casualization of dress has continued ever since and now we are down to emulating what G. Bruce Boyer in his book True Style calls the “the male rebel proletariat as superhero.” That basically means the James Dean or young Marlon Brando look. I’m all for it, but something often goes unnoticed when people dress like this. People who habitually dress in the rebel proletariat superhero uniform like to say they don’t really think about their clothes. I’m sure they do, because Levi’s jeans, boots and leather jackets are not inexpensive. If they really don’t think about it, someone else has done the thinking for them. Probably the person trying to sell them those jeans. My attempt at a fancy way of putting it (and my point) would be that the observance of social stratification and identification are always present in the way we dress.

It is pleasant to speculate what will happen to fashions in the future. In his article “Dress Up” Boyer does just that and thinks about a number of possibilities. One of them is

the eminently sensible argument that the jettisoning of the tailored wardrobe is merely a part of the larger and ongoing “democratization” of dress that started to standardize the wardrobe with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and whereby we may all eventually be encased in the same synthetic coverall and molded plastic footwear.

That is the logical end point for dressing down, sure. But if you take a look at menswear today, you will notice that the Crocs are not happening. Rather, I find that fewer men are parroting either Brummell’s strange views or anything else. It seems that a new awareness of dress as something that cannot be overlooked or glossed over with banalities is emerging. By this I mean that there is much more discussion about dressing up or down in general in magazines, books and especially online. Laying down simple Brummellian dictums or repeating inflexible rules does not seem to cut it for the fashionable. In other words, ignorance (wilful or otherwise) does not seem to be in fashion any more. We might still be on our way to the Crocs and polyester overalls, but should we ever go there, there will be plenty of lively debate along the way.

Summer wardrobe fail

I recently noticed that I had only one pair of trousers that fit. Literally. Many of my other clothes were too small as well. This was due to a combination of time spent in the gym and the dinner table. Basically, I’m now bigger all over. Add to this the fact that most of my clothes were old and been through the washer and dryer over and over again. They were mostly a neglected mess. Because of all this, I decided I should build a new wardrobe.

I started by going back to reading about the subject. Years ago, I was a reader of menswear blogs and bought a few books on the subject as well. Since then, I have acquired even more books and studied them quite a bit. I’m even back on the blogs again. Instagram is great, too. However, watching other people wear clothes and wearing clothes are two very different things. There is a lot of trial and error involved. With summer clothes, mine have been mostly errors. Some of them expensive ones.

Midsummer is approaching and I’ve kind of given up on the idea of building a summer wardrobe this year. First of all, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m Finnish and my clothes are for warmth, not show. If it’s warm, I don’t want to buy a summer coat. I simply remove the one I normally wear. Second, the summer in Finland is very short and there aren’t that many warm days. The cost per wear ratio would not be that great. I think I will wait for autumn and worry about summer by wearing less of the same stuff I would wear in any case. Having said that, I did manage to get a pair of trousers and now I have two pairs that fit.

Small victories.

Why do I feel so bad when I’m online?

The blog has been on a hiatus for a long time. Once in a while I would have a look at the stats and feel bad about not updating it, but not bad enough to guilt me into writing again. In the meantime, I’ve been back on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They have fulfilled my need for attention very well, but something has been missing. This blog and the many others I read when I was blogging more were virtual spaces where I could gather my thoughts and put in order all the digital effluvia we all have to deal with every day. Recently, I’ve really felt at a loss with all of it and thought it best to return to blogging.

Today, I found myself saying out loud: “I’m terribly unhappy with the Internet!” Not quite shouting, but loudly enough to startle myself. Why do I feel like this? I think I have all the boring symptoms of a social media addict and I’m online virtually all the time. Everyone is. But most people I know seem to cope very well. They have no problem with it. I feel I do. You can google why this might be the case. There is a lot of talk about the subject. Basically, it’s about altering your brain chemistry via technology. It’s a proper addiction. I should know: I’ve had a few of them before. I’ve beat a few before as well. Or at least they are in remission, however you want to look at it. Anyway, how do you beat addictions?

It varies, but I think substituting unwanted habits with new ones seems to work out fine. The clever readers will think: “Isn’t blogging an old habit you are taking up again?” The even cleverer ones will ask: “Does this not lead to a never-ending cycle of habits?” I would answer yes to both questions. Blogging was never a problem for me (at least I don’t remember it being so), but rather a pleasant and meditative activity. With other social media, I find myself staring at the screen for who knows how long and forgetting what I was supposed to be doing. It destroys attention. That’s the best way I can put it. Not attention span or ability to focus or anything like that. You can focus for hours on social media  junk, that’s the problem. It does something to the mechanism that allows you to focus on whatever you want to focus on. It messes with whatever in your mind allows you to focus on a certain thing. I’m guessing this is a higher mechanism of awareness than just focusing on something in front of you.

As for the other question, I can only answer that there are habits and then there are habits. I brush my teeth, go to work, go to the gym, etc. Many of my habits are good for me. They have been either taught to me or I have acquired them myself. Our upbringing has a great influence on these and as we get older we have to decide for ourselves how we want to spend our limited time on this planet. Writing is rarely a waste of time. I just came up with something I had trouble explaining earlier while writing this post. I would have not thought through all that stuff about attention and awareness had I not started typing a few minutes ago. It’s a pleasurable thing to come up with something like that. Even more pleasurable than getting likes on your social media account.

See where I’m going with this?

In any case, I hope I can get back in the habit of blogging more. The blog will continue to reflect my interests and I have no intention of making it a blog that is dedicated to a specific topic any time soon. It’s more fun to write that way.

Thanks if you read this far and do come back again sometime!