Archive for the 'London' Category

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.

Romances I-V

A while back, I tried to write something about the paintings in the Tate Modern, but it was very frustrating to try to find something to say about paintings that seemed to represent the mechanistic silence of modernity. As a result I decided to write little romantic scenes under them which have something (or at times very little) to do with the artworks themselves. They came out alright, I think. Here’s a list of those five little pieces.

(1) Kandinsky
(2) Warhol
(3) Léger
(4) Pollock
(5) Rothko

It would be nice to see them staged, but as they are just pointless fragments intended to create a contrast with obscure Modernist paintings there’s little chance of that. As they stand, it is enough they trigger a vague memory of a vague experience.

Rothko

I tried to think of something to say about Mark Rothko‘s stuff, but I couldn’t think of anything. Instead, I wrote this little scene under one of his paintings.

Source: Wikipedia

A Romance V

[At an art gallery]
T: It does seem like this is beyond me, or that we are beyond art.
U: ‘We are beyond art?’ That sounds good.
T: Because it makes us sound all mysterious and advanced beyond the comprehension of a concept of art dreamt up by our forefathers?
U: No, it just sounds good after ‘beyond me’ because there’s a kind of symmetry to the statement, that either-or thing.
T: There’s also that generalization, that jump from ‘me’ to ‘we.’
U: True.
[Pause]
U: Do you think there’ll be something better after this?
T: In the next room, you mean? I saw some interesting photographs and posters when we passed the entrance.
U: After whatever it is we are experiencing and seeing in that painting?
T: Why can’t you just enjoy the colors? You are thinking way too much.
U: It makes me feel stupid if I don’t!
T: You do have to learn to be quiet at some point, even if it makes you think you are stupid. Maybe that’s what the painting is telling you.
U: Quiet?
T: Painting’s a dead form anyway.
U: Everything else had already been said.
T: It is simple for a reason.
U: What’s left?
T: Well, there’s us.
U: We aren’t beyond that.
[Kiss]

Pollock

I tried to think of something to say about Jackson Pollock‘s later stuff, but I couldn’t think of anything. Instead, I wrote this little scene under one of his paintings.

Source: Wikipedia


A Romance IV

[Two people facing a masterpiece]
W: What the hell is that?
G: A masterpiece, it says here.
W: It does not open up that well for a masterpiece, does it? Maybe it will get better as we continue to observe it.
G: Adhuc tranquillum est, sed expecta paulum.
W: What?
G: It’s Latin.
W: Oh?
[Pause]
W: You know, what we see and hear is not that much in the end. In fact, you could say that we are blind and deaf and that what we can sense is just the result of an absence of blindness and deafness.
G: You could say that, but you’d have to be a moron to believe it makes any difference.
W: I know. Still, it gives you a nice tingle in your spine to think that sort of thing out loud, doesn’t it? Sort of shake things up a bit and say that because A is dependent on B in some way there must be a shared identity between them and then substitute B for A in whatever you say next because of this residue of identity?
G: It does.
[Pause]
W: You still think it’s a crap painting, don’t you?
G: Let’s wait here for a while. Maybe it will start growing on us.
W: It sure looks like it wants to. It’s like . . .
G: Rhizomatic?
W: Yes.
[G and W hold hands]

Léger

I tried to think of something to say about Fernand Léger, his films and art, but I couldn’t think of anything. (He wrote some stuff about art himself and that’ll help anyone interested to learn more.) Instead, I wrote this little scene under one of his paintings of beer.

Source: Wikipedia

A Romance III

[Man on a mall escalator going down, speaking on the phone]
M: Yeah, he went nuts, completely nuts.
P: . . .
M: He went completely nuts!
P: . . .
M: Totally!
P: . . .
M: Well, he didn’t go completely nuts, but you could tell he was excited.
P: . . .
M: I don’t know. It makes everything seem livelier. You do understand that if we were left with the bare essentials our lives would appear to us as empty and meaningless as they really are.
P: . . .
M: In a way it’s a question of metaphysics. Where are you, you sound like you’re close by.
P: . . .
M: I like the stuff he did with the band more than his solo stuff. There you are!
P: You got everything? Here, smell this. She says it’s got real amber in it.
M: Couldn’t find the peanuts, but I got everything else. That’s a bit rich.
P: Once it dries it should have nice base notes, once the citrus from the top dies down. It’s pretty expensive and the middle florals are a bit too sweet, but after an hour it’ll be just right, I just know it. I think I’ll try it out for a few days. Do you like it?
M: I love the way you smell. I would love you whatever you smelled like.
P: No you wouldn’t.
[Shop keeper talks inanely]
[Kiss]

[Phil Collins]

Warhol

I tried to think of something to say about Warhol’s art, but I couldn’t think of anything. Instead, I wrote this little scene under one of his paintings.

Source: Wikipedia

A Romance II

[Leather couch creaks]
P: Doctor, I suffer from insomnia. I can’t sleep and when I’m awake I’m so tired I’m not really awake. My work suffers, my relationships suffer, and I think I might be losing my mind. I’m afraid to talk to people because I fear my words will come out as madness when I’m like this. And there’s this noise in my head.
D: Well, take drugs. That’s what everybody does.
P: I know, but I don’t want to do what everyone else does. I find the idea of drugs repulsive. It would make me something I’m not and substitute my true self with chemicals. I can’t lose that, my personality, my soul. However difficult this problem is, I still want to be me.
D: Do you realize that you have not uttered a single phrase without referring to yourself? Maybe you should get rid of your current true self. I think it is an absolute bore.
P: Sorry. Let’s try something else, then.
D: What do you want to do?
P: Can’t do anything, really. Too agitated to sleep, too tired to work or think. It’s hellish.
D: Come now, surely hell is worse than this.
P: I said ‘hellish’, mind the ‘ish’.
D: Ah, excuse me. You are not suicidal, are you?
P: No. Couldn’t be bothered.
D: Homicidal?
P: Don’t be silly.
D: Amorous?
P: I thought you’d never ask.
[Leather couch creaks]
[Kiss]
[Song of birds through an open window and fade]

Kandinsky

I tried to think of something to say about Kandinsky, but I couldn’t think of anything. (He wrote tons of stuff about art himself and that’ll help anyone interested to learn more.) Instead, I wrote this little scene under one of his paintings.

Source: Wikipedia


A Romance

[Alarm goes off]
R: Isn’t all this a bit Kafkaesque?
B: What do you mean?
R: Sort of . . . a violently absurd parable that reflects the human condition, if you will.
B: No, I mean what are you referring to as Kafkaesque?
R: Oh.
[Pause, alarm dies]
R: The bell, the siren we heard just now.
B: Sirens don’t do Kafka nor does Kafka do sirens.
R: No, no. Someone’s house is burning down and boots are put on feet and overalls on shoulders and gloves and a small army of people with axes and hoses and trucks head to the site to save someone who probably hates her life anyway.
B: It could have been a car crash or something else.
R: No, it was a fire. In any case, my point still stands.
B: Did you just use that word to impress me, or maybe you lit a fire just to have the occasion to use it and so try to impress me.
R: It has nothing to do with you, but I do like you.
B: I like you too.
[Kiss]
[Distorted violins and fade]