‘Finding a Style Identity’ at No Man Walks Alone

Polo coat - ACMy 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.”

Click over to read more.

Turnbull & Asser and the Prince of Wales Feathers

TOMB_OF_THE_BLACK_PRINCE,_CANTERBURY_CATHEDRAL

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.

Black Prince EscutcheonEdward, 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.

Prince of Wales Feathers - T&A

Carved Feathers at Turnbull & Asser, picture via milanstyle.co.uk

Prominent feathers on a T&A sweater label.

Prominent feathers on a T&A sweater label.

The Prince sporting feathers, but not the Prince of Wales Feathers.

The Prince sporting feathers, but not the Prince of Wales Feathers.

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.

cummerbund T&A

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.

If You Could Only Have One Necktie: The Navy Grenadine

Grenadine Navy Talbott

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.

Garza grossa (l), garza fina (r)

garza grossa (l), garza fina (r)

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:

Outerwear: The Rain Shell Raincoat

Rain shell - Sanyo

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.

Old, New, Borrowed, & Blue: Four Dressing Tips For Men

Something BlueWe all know the traditional English rhyme of wedding day advice for women (and also useful for triggering the return of Time Lords wiped from history):

Something old,
something new,
something borrowed,
something blue.

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
“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.

Alden 909You 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.

Something New
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.

BR shop bows

Something Borrowed
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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Something Blue
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.

Something Blue suitI 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 Return of Carlo Franco: The Seven-Fold Tie Maker Is Back

Carlo Franco 1 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 Speck of Carlo Franco

Jill Speck of 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. B&W houndstooth 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!!!

tie knotThere 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.

CF- ties + bowPhotos are courtesy of Carlo Franco.

‘Generational Style’ at No Man Walks Alone

No Man Walks Alone - Generational StyleMy new piece “Generational Style” is up over at No Man Walks Alone:

Perhaps you have an artifact that connects you with your past—your grandfather’s pocketknife, your father’s cufflinks, an uncle’s lapel pin. Others have only imagined being handed such a possession. These pieces are valuable not only as objects, but as memories of heritage and tradition.

Click over to read it all.

Continued thanks to No Man Walks Alone for tolerating my flights of fancy.

The Cordial Churchman Turns Five & Debuts Their Own Braces

Picture via The Cordial Churchman

Picture via The Cordial Churchman

The Cordial Churchman celebrates its fifth birthday with a new video debuting their own make of braces (aka suspenders). Not only making in the USA, but in South Carolina, The Cordial Churchman specializes in fine bow ties.

A true Mom & Pop operation, Ellie Stager made husband, and churchman, Andy a bow tie out of some extra seersucker fabric. I remember way back when Andy posted pictures of it, and everyone started asking him if Ellie could make them one, too. This was before everybody and his second cousin started his own bow tie business.

When I had some fabric I brought back from Chennai (old Madras), India, it was to The Cordial Churchman I turned to have it transformed into Pinstripe Pulpit bow ties. They even made it to my own custom shape.

Stager & Co. at The Cordial Churchman are good folks, will make you a quality bow tie (even transform a long tie into a bow for you), and now will sell you a pair of braces, too. Why, they’ll even sew the braces buttons in your pants for you if you send them in. You can’t beat that.

Giveaway & Review: The Bow Tie Club

Bow Tie Club 01

[Contest is now closed. Winners announced soon.]

Back in the dark days, before there were hipsters and Internet access was dial-up, bow tie sources were few and far between. One of the sources you could rely on, and that had a wide array of options, was The Bow Tie Club.

Two decades after founding The Bow Tie Club, Brooks Brothers and Nordstrom alumnus Kirk Hinckley is still selling bow ties in an era when the landscape is full of competing makers. And even though The Bow Tie Club has such notable clients as Congressmen, Supreme Court Justices, and even Presidents, there is no evidence you will become a hated political figure if you wear Bow Tie Club ties.

BTC UptownKirk kindly sent me three of his ties to look over, and they are certainly worth putting on your list of buying options. And options they have, an ever-rotating choice of over 400 bow ties, that range from classic to camp. I would steer you toward the more restrained choices, but there are plenty of those hovering at the $40 price point.

The ties are USA made (a Pinstripe Pulpit favorite feature) and well constructed. Hinckley claims they use a heavier silk momme weight than Hermes (22 vs. 21). That said, Hermes silks still have a watery luxuriousness that The Bow Tie Club doesn’t give you. Not everyone wants Hermes, certainly, and if you do you will pay dearly for it. I only bring the Hermes comparison because The Bow Tie Club does.

Bow Tie Club labelsA stronger twill weave, more texture to the silk, I think would help The Bow Tie Club ties. Also, they would benefit from a little thicker interlining. Another quibble is the lack of a neck measurement guide sewn in for accurate adjustment. Now, not every bow tie offers this, but they are handy. It’s not something anyone should get worked up about, certainly. These are good ties worth your time.

I am passing The Bow Tie’s generosity on to you. I’m giving away these three bow ties to three lucky winners. I will choose three names from entrants, winner one will have his choice of the three, winner two will choose one of the two remaining, winner three receives the last tie.

You can enter by doing one or all of the following. Do all three for three chances to win! The contest runs through Monday, June 2.

Good luck!

Bow Time Club 02