My latest post at No Man Walks Alone is up, a discussion of finding one’s style identity, with a focus on my own:
“…a style identity ought to be about comfortable self-expression. We shouldn’t be dressing up for a part, playing someone we’re not.”
Dating from the fourteenth century and Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, the royal symbol of three ostrich feathers endures today as the official badge of the Prince of Wales. The badge also in effect serves as a modern logo for venerable Jermyn Street shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser as a result of its role as royal warrant holder for Prince Charles.
Edward, Prince of Wales and heir to the English throne, was considered the beau ideal of English chivalry. Edward also was a military prodigy, distinguishing himself against the French at the Battle of Crecy at the age of 16. His nickname The Black Prince developed after his death in 1376 as a result of his armor color. He adopted the symbol of ostrich feathers with the motto “Ich Dien,” or “I serve,” during the mid-fourteenth century. The badge endures on Edward’s effigy at Canterbury Cathedral.
An adaptation of his feathers would be used by future heirs to the throne as the Prince of Wales’s Feathers, the badge of the heir apparent. The Prince of Wales is able to confer upon merchants a Royal Warrant, a designation for official suppliers of goods to the prince. Warrant holders are allowed to use the feathers badge in the promotion of their business. The Prince’s shirtmaker, Turnbull & Asser, was granted a warrant by Charles in 1980, and has since used the feathers with gusto.
That leads to this Prince of Wales Feathers cummerbund I came across recently. Made by Turnbull & Asser for New York’s Bergdorf Goodman, the traditional black cummerbund is enlivened by the Prince’s badge embroidered throughout. An homage to a traditional royal symbol, certainly, but also a de facto symbol for Turnbull & Asser itself.
Turnbull & Asser is famous for having its shirts thrown about by Robert Redford’s Jay Gatsby and making James Bond’s cocktail cuff. But those cinematic icons are but Johnnys-come-lately when compared to the feathers of the Black Prince as borne today by Prince Charles and conferred upon his Royal Shirtmakers.
Versatility is a wardrobe virtue, particularly when you’re starting out, or perhaps are traveling. It’s also fun to play those games of “if you could only have one….” When it comes to deciding on the One Tie, I think one would be hard pressed to beat the navy grenadine for versatility and elegance. Black grenadine is often pointed to as a “One Tie”, but I find navy more pleasant and versatile.
Solid ties have made a bit of a comeback in the past decade (think James Bond and Mad Men), and grenadines, unsurprisingly, have made an upswing as well. Solid ties can be paired with most anything, but the texture that grenadine offers provides visual interest and contrast to worsted suits. But the texture also allows them to be coupled with rougher cloths like tweed, which simply wouldn’t work with a smooth, satin tie.
Grenadine is a woven fabric that is made to look like a knit. If you compare a knit tie to a grenadine the uninitiated eye might confuse the two, although knit ties typically have a squared off, rather than pointed, end. There are two different versions of grenadine, garza grossa and garza fina. Garza grossa has a larger, bumpier, weave, while garza fina is, well, finer.
I picked up a perfect Robert Talbott navy grenadine recently, and it might just be the perfect necktie. A garza fina, it could be worn with a gray suit at the office, a seersucker suit in summer, or a herringbone tweed and cords in fall. Pack it for a trip and it will be the only necktie you need (I confess to always packing a backup tie just in case I’m attacked by aggressive salad dressing ).
A number of makers, particularly niche makers, offer grenadines (No Man Walks Alone, Sam Hober, Vanda, Kent Wang, Chipp). That said, they can be difficult to find inexpensively as grenadines are always in demand. Chipp is the best budget buy at retail.
If you only had a tie wardrobe of grenadines you would dress far nicer than 99% of the men you come into contact with. And if you only have a navy grenadine, tied in a four-in-hand knot, you will be ready for any situation that comes along.
Watch the folks at Sam Hober make a four-fold grenadine tie:
There are different ways to approach rainy weather. By far the best is simply to go to bed and take a nap. Alas, that’s seldom an option we have. Usually, rain or not, into the outside world we must venture. With the rain falling we need some sort of protection.
Many of us have a raincoat or jacket, the most traditional option being the trench coat. Commonly these have zip or button-in liners that allow for us to adjust to outside temperature. Nonetheless, I find that even trench coats without liners often tend to be heavy, and are by definition double breasted. (Of course there are single breasted raincoats, balmacaans, etc.) When it’s hot, but you need rain protection, you don’t want extra weight.
A couple of years ago I came across a wonderful unlined rain shell made by respected rainwear maker Sanyo of Japan. Its waterproof cloth is lightweight; it adds no real bulk at all when you throw it on. I find it the perfect rainwear solution for late spring through early fall when the days are warm. If you’re in a warmer climate, anyway, it could be the only raincoat you need. Since buying it I’ve worn the rain shell multiples of times more than I’ve worn my trench.
Alas, the problem with rain shells is that they’re hard to find. Sanyo doesn’t even seem to offer one right now. But they are out there, and if you find one now it’s likely to be on sale. When you do find a rain shell, you may very well have a new favorite way to protect yourself from a hot rainy day.
The reality is that consumers crave more than utility.
They crave elegance—even beauty. ~Michael Hyatt
How many niche Bibles have had a $1.4 million dollar budget? My guess is not many, and probably none, ever. But Adam Lewis Greene’s Bibliotheca Kickstarter clearly spoke to people as his initial goal of $37,000, to produce 500 sets, was dwarfed thirty-nine fold. 500 sets have turned into 14,000. Honestly, $37,000 to fund an American Standard Version (never a particularly popular translation) reprint in four volumes was pretty ambitious. Or everyone thought it was.
What led this explosion? Well, not a few have pointed to the hand of Providence, and I certainly won’t argue. But we can also see that this is the culmination of what has been a growing trend.
J. Mark Bertrand has been beating the drum for better Bibles for years now on his Bible Design Blog. A lot of us have spent a lot of hours there. Bertrand’s push for “reader’s Bibles” has been a constant theme, one that has resonated with thousands of people. Greene has acknowledged his own debt to Bertrand. As a result, we have seen real steps forward with the work from Bible publishers like R.L. Allan, Schuyler, Cambridge, and Crossway. Don’t discount Bertrand’s work as a visionary behind Bibliotheca.
Crossway’s new ESV Reader’s Bible, available delivered for a twenty dollar bill and change, was another great step forward for a commercially produced Bible. I have seen how excited people have been about it. I think one of its keys is its affordability. We all love our Highland Goatskin semi-yapp bindings, but relatively few are going to splurge on such expensive Bibles. And even those Bibles still look “Bible-y” with their traditional leather covers and thin Bible paper.
And that’s where Bibliotheca comes in. Greene took everything to a new level, one of his most radical, and counter-intuitive, decisions was to go with four small volumes. Producing it as traditional, albeit well-designed, cloth over boards books was also a move that opened the type of reader who has never heard of Bible Design Blog, Allan Publishers, or Highland Goatskin. That production approach combined with relative affordability—you can buy the four volume set for $75—clearly touched a chord.
Greene also used a popular, and modern, method to reach out with Kickstarter. His beautifully produced promotional video explains his vision, and also introduces us well to the personality behind the project. Each of these elements was important to Bibliotheca going viral.
Well worth your time is this assessment of Bibliotheca from Michael Hyatt, a well-known success guru, but also former CEO and Publisher at Thomas Nelson Publishers, one of the Big Boys in Bible publishing. His observations are spot on, but I especially appreciated his point number three: “Elegance is always right.”
The Bible, and the search for God, is also a search for divine beauty. Shouldn’t the word of God be presented in as beautiful and elegant a way as possible? That doesn’t have to mean expensive or inaccessible. Adam Lewis Greene embraced accessibility and affordability.
If you missed out on the Kickstarter window, which ended on Sunday, you can still order the Bibliotheca set until the final order is placed with the printer. I honestly believe that the Adam Lewis Green’s Bibliotheca Kickstarter is a milestone project that will not only become legendary, but will cause reverberations in Bible publishing for years to come.
Vanity Fair caricatures have been something of an obsession of mine for the past year and half. I gladly give credit to the urbane Maxminimus for introducing me to the vintage prints through his blog and now Tumblr, where he now usually resides. My meagre collection pales to his.
I’ve written a brief introduction to Vanity Fair caricatures for No Man Walks Alone:
Statesmen and scientists, ministers and musicians, authors and artists, there was hardly a human pursuit without a representative in the caricatures of the late Victorian political and society magazine Vanity Fair. From its founding by Thomas Gibson Bowles in January 1869 until its demise at the dawn of the Great War, Vanity Fair’s forty-five year run produced more than two thousand lithographic illustrations.
Founded in 1971, Lexington’s Tolly-Ho Restaurant has long been a burger and shake mecca for University of Kentucky students. I went there myself as a UK student a couple of decades ago back at the old location on the corner of Euclid and Limestone.
Tolly-Ho recently received some great press when The Chive ranked the best burgers in each state, crowning Tolly-Ho as maker of Kentucky’s best hamburger. I figured it was time to revisit Tolly-Ho, after all these years, at its new location on South Broadway.
I ordered the flagship burger, a Tolly-Ho with cheese. With fond memories of their onion rings, I chose rings rather than fries. It’s a good thing that Tolly-Ho makes great shakes because they carry Pepsi products, and, well, nobody wants that (they do have Ale-8-One readily available). I tacked on a strawberry shake.
There certainly is no complaining about the quality of the burger. It’s tasty and moist with the right “burger” taste. I ordered mine with cheddar cheese, and I will say it didn’t have that cheddar bite to it. That quibble aside, it was a solid burger experience. The Tolly Ho is, indeed, a great burger.
I am also a big fan of the onion rings. They were as good as I remembered. The serving size was generous (maybe too generous considering how badly I don’t need to eat onion rings). The batter was crisp and not crumbly, avoiding frequent onion ring failings.
My wife ordered the cheddar tots as her side, tater tots with cheddar cheese inside. They were good, but I’m not a big tater tot fan so I’m not the best judge. I think if they’re the sort of thing you like, you will like them.
I don’t want to fail to mention my strawberry shake. It was rich and thick with real strawberry flavor, not the dreaded Strawberry Quick taste. Some strawberry chunks would be nice, as would a dedicated shake glass or mug rather than the standard plastic Pepsi cups. But get the shake.
It was great being back at Tolly-Ho, although I miss the old location across the street from UK’s Student Center and north dorms, not that those dorms are there anymore. If you’re in Lexington and want to try a classic, stop by Tolly-Ho. Tolly-Ho has a great burger with excellent sides, but for the best burger in Kentucky I’m going to keep looking.
Tolly Ho Restaurant
606 South Broadway
Lexington, Kentucky 40508
Open 24 Hours
The camp moc is a classic American shoe, and no one does hand made moccasin construction better than Maine’s Rancourt & Co. For those who like that factory fresh appearance on your mocs, or just want to know how to get your own shoe bow just right on any shoe, Rancourt has released a video to guide you through the steps.
Each item is intended as a token of good luck for the bride. But there is wisdom contained within those words that can serve a style guide for men as well. We can take each of these elements as a helpful principle for men’s attire.
“Something Old” are your standards, your wardrobe’s foundation, so buy carefully and slowly. The man’s closet should not be an ever changing carousel of radically different options, chucking last season’s must-have because it is now so very last month. Building step by step over seasons, years, and even decades, a man should purchase well established classics to serve as a rock solid wardrobe foundation.
You can safely pull out the grey flannel suit from five years ago because you chose well and carefully at the time of purchase. Your decade old black captoes are kept polished with shoe trees inserted, and while not purchased as part of an “outfit,” go perfectly with your suit. That’s how a well thought out classic wardrobe works. Turning to Something Old is almost always the right place to start.
When stopping in to explore a men’s shop’s new seasonal offerings, the co-owner said to me, “It’s always nice to freshen things up a bit.” Now of course it was in her best interest for me to buy something, but she was conveying just the right idea. Even the most classic wardrobe will suffer from attrition, old items needing to be replaced. But we also enjoy a bit of novelty, and sometimes we are after something new just to freshen things up.
Classic though we want the wardrobe to be, ossified is something else entirely. It is well that we add in that Something New from time to time. This is often done the in the field of accessories. While one might claim to have a timeless wardrobe, it is an ideal impossible to realize fully. We will always be influenced by what is around us.
It doesn’t hurt to give a nod to shifts in stylistic preferences with a new tie or pocket square. The season’s trend may be toward narrower, printed ties, or muted paisleys, all well within the parameters of tasteful style. Such additions keep things fresh, and buying something small can often sate our urge to spend before we get carried away.
I am an advocate of Generational Style, and that’s what I have in mind here. I love vintage items, and with careful selection, vintage items can be well blended into a classic and contemporary wardrobe. These things are Something Borrowed because we simply serve as custodians of what are being passed down from those who have gone before. Perhaps you have something you inherited—I hope you do—but if not, careful purchasing from eBay, Etsy, and even local antique shops can yield Something Borrowed.
The line to walk is narrow here. I am not advocating period correct reenacting in your attire. While I do happily embrace a certain retro look, and maybe more so than most, one ought to avoid the oft decried “costume” (the decrying of which has itself become cliché).
Like Something New, Something Borrowed might consist of soft accessories like ties and pocket squares. But “hard” items made of precious metals, like Deco cufflinks or lapel pins, or items made of leather, like a vintage briefcase, are excellent choices here. After your time with them is over they can be passed along as someone else’s Something Borrowed.
Perhaps it’s the inner Civil War buff in me, but I am a firm believer in the blue and the grey forming the palette foundation for a man’s wardrobe. While shades of brown cannot be discounted, particularly in the cooler seasons, blue and gray will be your cornerstone. And for day to day wear, blue has an even greater versatility than gray. It’s hard to imagine going long without some splash of blue; whether shirt, tie, or pocket square, blue demands to be used.
I noticed that maker of beautiful ties Vanda Fine Clothing speaks of the power of blue in a blog post, “Every other client that comes through our door says he has enough blue ties – but guess what tie colour he ends up buying…?” There is good reason for that.
All blue all the time would certainly be dull, but if your default is to reach for Something Blue then you are doing well.
Keep in mind, then, that old advice for brides when you dress in the morning. If you are wearing a combination of Something Old/Something New/Something Borrowed/Something Blue you are likely finding the right wardrobe balance.
The menswear Internet forum culture of the 2000s has spawned countless blogs (*cough*), and almost as many clothing brands. But without question, the real pioneer of those clothing brands was Carlo Franco, purveyor of Italian seven-fold ties. They placed themselves firmly at the high-end of the market, aiming at the big boys like Brioni, Stefano Ricci, and Kiton.
After early rave reviews, including for their own line of Italian made dress shirts, Carlo Franco’s decline was even faster than their rise. Expanding too quickly, family demands (caring for a dying father), and personnel missteps that led to neglected order fulfillment, ended Carlo Franco’s brief reign. Carlo Franco became something of a cautionary tale of how quickly the world that celebrates you can turn against you if you don’t stay on top of your game.
I was intrigued, then, when I heard that Carlo Franco was coming back. I have been an Internet friend (full disclosure) with original Carlo Franco co-founder Jill Speck for a decade, first through the menswear forums and now on social media. I reached out to her about her relaunch.
Jill agreed to the interview, and she addresses why she is relaunching Carlo Franco, faces up to the troubles when Carlo Franco’s first run ended, and why she’s not backing away from the woven seven-fold tie.
Why have you decided to relaunch Carlo Franco?
Jill: Well, I’m an entrepreneur at heart. And while I joke that Carlo Franco was started as an excuse to go to Italy every year, the fact is that I never got over the thrill of how I felt the first time I walked into my weaver’s workshop in northern Italy and saw all the beautiful silk samples surrounding me on every wall. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how lucky I was to have stumbled into possibly the premier weaver in the entire world of woven silks. Today, I’m blessed to call their art director a friend.
I also never shook that kid-at-Christmas feeling when my very first six designs arrived from Italy in 2003. I was officially in business! I could not have been happier. For some strange reason, I’ve always loved beautiful menswear. Perhaps it’s just because I love seeing well-dressed men!!
So, when life threw me an unexpected little curveball a couple of years ago, making change inevitable, I felt empowered knowing that I was the one who got to choose how it would change. I could put my tail between my legs and head back to the dugout, or I could hold my head high and swing for the bleachers, which is what I decided to do. I didn’t rush into anything. The more I thought about, re-launching Carlo Franco—the one business that has brought me greater joy than just about any other entrepreneurial endeavor in my adult life—seemed like the logical thing to do. A complete no-brainer. It would bring me happiness. That would be the selfish answer!
And yet the pragmatic businesswoman in me never would have brought it to market had the brand not received constant inquiries from former customers who wanted to see Carlo Franco back on the scene again. Hopefully, I could bring back to the market the superior-quality ties that our wonderful customers always appreciated.
After the difficult ending last time—and my understanding is Carlo Franco co-founder Chuck Franke is not involved with the re-launch—why did you decide to use the Carlo Franco name rather than restarting with something different?
Jill: That is a perfectly understandable question, and needless to say, this is not the first time I’ve heard it! The brand itself, “Carlo Franco,” is obviously a fun play on words of my former business partner’s name. We never really thought that “Jillo Specco” had the same ring to it! :-) It is no secret that we are a U.S.-based company. However, 100% of our products are sourced from and produced in Italy. Hence, the Italian reference in our name. But despite the handful of hiccups associated with the brand seven or eight years ago, the brand name “Carlo Franco” still sees hundreds of keyword searches every month, even after we unofficially closed the shutters more than seven years ago. Our customers who had the opportunity to experience the quality of Carlo Franco firsthand still remember it today. Despite a few bumps in our own little Silk Road, we are proud of the superior quality the name connotes.
There were some people frustrated with Carlo Franco’s service last time. What can you tell them to convince them that they should buy from CF this time?
Jill: Admittedly, this is not a fun topic of conversation for me, to say the least; but it is a fair question that deserves an answer. The short answer is that we had fulfillment issues because we did not have enough quality control on the supply side. But at the end of the day, I will take 100% responsibility for every unhappy customer. To be candid, there really were not that many customers affected. However, as you know, in the world of the Internet, that’s all it takes.
The long story is we decided to close down shop because tie-making was merely a labor of love for us. We had many other personal and professional things going on in our lives that were higher priorities at the time. We asked our office staff to make sure that every order was filled and every customer issue was resolved, and then we closed the doors. The young, naïve businesswoman in me believed that it would be done as requested. And frankly, I never looked back. I was working 2,000 miles from home while dealing with a dying father, and the tie business just wasn’t a priority. Of course, hindsight being 20/20, there are many, many, many things I would have done differently. The biggest personal lesson I learned was that people do what you INspect, not what you EXpect. Nevertheless, I still take 100% responsibility for everything that went wrong at that time.
Sadly, it wasn’t for two or three more years, when I decided to clear out some old inventory, that I realized to my horror and embarrassment that there were still unfulfilled orders and very unhappy customers with whom I had to deal. While this was possibly the most difficult business challenge in my life—because it was a question of my personal integrity—I’m very proud to say that there is not a single person in the world, to my knowledge, whose issue was not resolved above their expectations. Customer service will never again fail to be at the top of our priorities. What can you tell me about the mills and makers you are using?
Jill: My weaver is in Como, Italy. They weave for many names you would know. They’re arguably the best in the world, and one of a very small handful who still actually does the weaving in Como—not China. My manufacturer is in southern Italy where each tie is hand-finished and hand-signed by the artisan who completes it.
As good as the quality was from our last manufacturer, we simply could not trust them for fulfillment. They are largely the reason for our loss of credibility the last time. As the saying goes, “Betray me once, shame on you. Betray me twice, shame on me.” So shame on me.
Are all the ties 7-fold?
Jill: Well, as you know, the debate could go on all day about what an “actual” sevenfold is. According to the Italian tie makers’ definition, yes, all of our long ties at this time are currently sevenfold. We are not currently offering the unlined sevenfold, however, because as much as we and our customers love the artisanship of a “true” seven fold, we just found that most customers prefer to have the added heft of the lined, folded tie. However, keep your eyes open! We hope to add a limited selection of true, unlined seven-folds to each of our future collections. But they truly will be limited editions.
Are all the designs woven or are you using any printed silks?
Jill: Well, as my sweet Daddy used to say, “dance with the one that brung ya!” We’ve always loved the way the light reflects off the texture and the richness of woven silks. So, I don’t foresee changing that anytime soon.
Are the designs your own or are you working from a mill’s archives?
Jill: We work in concert with them. We feel very fortunate that they afford us the latitude to make changes to the designs they provide as a starting point. This could mean changes and colors, textures, patterns, image sizes, etc. They also provide us the opportunity to create anything we wish to create from scratch. We’re blessed to have mutual trust and thoroughly enjoy working with them over lots of cups of cappuccino and silk dust!!!
There has been a rise in popularity in the last few years of lighter, printed silks (also grenadines) with light interlinings, no tipping, and handkerchief rolled edges. How do you see Carlo Franco’s heavier ties fitting in with this different market?
Jill: We decided a long time ago that we could not be all things to all people. Neckwear is art. I appreciate changes in the market styles as they come and go and love the beauty of any new artisanship. However, Carlo Franco will likely continue to make the same type of necktie we always have—heavier woven silks along with the occasional cashmere silk blends. But I never say never.
Will there be a bow tie version of each of your long tie designs?
Jill: Yes! In fact, there will be at least one bow tie to each of our 61 new designs this time. It seems that every 20 or 30 years the popularity of bow tie trends upward. And right now, the trend is being led especially by the younger guys, which is fun to watch.
How many designs are you releasing? Price point?
Jill: As mentioned previously, this new collection has 61 new designs. To be more specific, there are 15 different designs with a number of color variations, bringing the total of unique designs to 61.
Pricing is always a delicate subject, and one that we don’t take lightly. Due to the weakened exchange rate, increased costs of shipping, and general inflation, our new long ties will retail for $235, which is still substantially lower than our comparable competitors. The Mogador weave will be $255 and bow ties are $85. However, by way of gratitude for the loyalty of customers through years of good and bad, we will be instituting a “legacy program” for anyone who has been a customer prior to our official re-launch. Those individuals will be given a significant discount on their first order.
Are the designs limited editions or will you continue making popular ties?
Jill: As a rule of thumb, they are all limited-editions. On a rare occasion, we might do a second run. However, it would indeed be a rare occasion. The only exception to that will be our formal line. We plan to focus more this time on providing ties for weddings, New Year’s celebrations, and black-tie events—more of an evergreen collection.
Do you have plans for items other than ties and bow ties?
Jill: For the formalwear, we will probably add waistcoats and, perhaps, cummerbunds. There will be a handful of other high-end accessories such as our mother of pearl collar stays as well as a few other items that we’re not yet ready to announce. But beyond that, yes, we plan to just stay within the realm of accessories for now.