26 December 2014

Warm and comfortable from Label Lab, by House of Fraser

Label Lab is a brand started in 2010, focusing on casual urban fashion, which is sold exclusively by House of Fraser. On the House of Fraser website the brand is described in the following manner:
"Label Lab is the brand of choice for those with an edgy urban style. Rock ‘n’ roll elements are combined with a vintage aesthetic whilst treated and distressed fabrics meet soft colours and unique prints across both the Menswear and Womenswear collection. Denim, leather jackets and graphic tees create the signature Label lab look, with womenswear layering on embellishment and luxe detailing; helping this exclusively launched brand to win an army of fans."
Those of you who have been following this blog may wonder why I've decided to write about a brand which produces clothes with an edgy urban style, with rock 'n' roll elements and garments made from distressed fabrics and denim. My style couldn't be described using any of these labels, and most of what I write about is not particularly edgy, but rather more traditional. Despite of this, Label Lab has several products that I quite like and I've been lucky enough to get hold of an overcoat which fits my style while adding an extra element to my wardrobe. The Label Lab Wrap Over Collar Coat is made from a delightfully soft, heavy, boiled wool blend material. Being charcoal in colour makes it blend in, and useful for most occasions. The design, however, is different from any other overcoat I've ever owned and this makes it stand out among the myriad of charcoal overcoats out there. 
In all simplicity, this overcoat can be described as three quarter length, double breasted, with a concealed six button fastening. What makes it different are the diagonal lines down the front ending in a split at the bottom. This gives this overcoat a wrap around appearance which looks quite elegant. The the over sized, shawl like collar is another excellent feature of this overcoat. The collar wraps around your neck, making a scarf superfluous even in quite cold weather. Raising the collar will give you even more protection from the cold as it reaches all the way up above you ears, keeping you nice and cosy.
Having worn this overcoat a few times now, in cold wintry conditions, I must say that it is very warm and comfortable. So, if you're after a stylish overcoat that will really keep you warm, this could be a very good option, and the price is quite reasonable as well. You'll find it at House of Fraser.  
This overcoat from Label Lab will keep you warm
through the winter. It is very comfortable and
rather stylish.
Photo: AGL

If you raise the collar it will cover you ears and
keep you quite snug. If you add a Russian fur hat,
as I've done here, you are prepared for whatever
the winter can throw at you.
Photo: AGL
Below are some of the other Label Lab items I think are quite nice. For a full selection of Label Lab products, visit the label at House of Fraser.

8 December 2014

My new bespoke tweed overcoat (part 2): the finished overcoat

A couple of months ago I wrote about a new overcoat I was having made (you can read  part 1 here). The overcoat is now finished, so it's only natural that I present to you my new overcoat with which I'm rather satisfied and, I'm pleased to say, I've been well complimented. Since I said pretty much what I wanted to say about the fabric and the tailor in the first post in this mini series, this post will mainly contain photos showing off the overcoat in all it's glory. Enjoy!

Three quarter length overcoat made by Di Pecora
with tweed from Hunters of Brora.
Photo: AGL
Navy velvet collar with matching velvet details
above the pockets.
Photo: AGL

Photo: AGL

Slanted pockets with navy velvet detailing.
Photo: AGL

The lining is a lovely bright orange. Unfortunately,
the photo doesn't give a perfect representation of
the colour (the photo part 1 is more accurate).
Photo: AGL

18 November 2014

The biking gentleman

According to the famous proverb one should do as the Romans when in Rome. This is something I usually like to follow, and at the moment I'm spending a few months in the Netherlands and I've decided to do as the Dutch.
I don't think there's a country in the world with more bikes per capita than the Netherlands and I have gone and bought myself one as well. Buying a bike is something I've been thinking about doing for years but there's always one thing that has stopped me and that is space. Being a city dweller, I don't have too much excess room for storing a bike. Leaving it outside is of course an option, but not necessarily a good one; if the weather doesn't ruin it after a couple of years, someone will probably have stolen it. So, why did I buy one now? Because I found the perfect solution for this problem, a foldable bike. When it's folded together, it is not much bigger than it's 24" wheels and that is much easier to handle for  a flat in the city.
The bike I bought was the Dahon Briza D3 which is a 24" bike with 3 gears (bought from the excellent people at The Cool Biking Company in Amsterdam). For a foldable bike, the Briza is quite large, though much smaller than a normal bike. The reason I bought the Briza was that, although I wanted a foldable bike, I also wanted a bike that would ride like a normal bike and I also wanted the option of mounting a child seat on it. The Briza fulfills all these criteria and I am indeed very pleased with having bought this bike. In addition to the three gears configuration I opted for, the Briza is also available with 7 or 8 gears. Except from the number of gears, the main difference between the Briza with three gears and the others is the presence of a chain guard. For me, it was of major importance to have a chain guard as I will mostly be riding this bike wearing a suit. I would hate my trousers to get dirty from touching the bike chain or even worse, get stuck in the chain. The chain guard provides this protection and I'm more than happy to drop a few gears for that.  
Having got the bike, I would, or course, also need a helmet. A lot of people seem reluctant to wear a helmet, but I definitely think it's a good insurance to have. Helmets haven't always been particularly stylish and most helmets aren't these days either, but some very interesting developments have come on to the market in recent years. Now you can get helmets looking like all kinds of different hats, from broad brimmed summer hats, to caps, to winter hats with cosy flaps to keep your ears warm. In fact, you can get all of the above with only one helmet. With changeable helmet covers, you can make your helmet look the way you want, depending on the season or your mood. There are several companies making such helmets but the one I decided to get was a Casqu’en ville helmet bought from Beg Bicycles. The helmet is actually quite comfortable to wear and when it's disguised as a tweed flat cap, it really doesn't look too bad either.
This bike is, by no means, a sports bike and that is probably what I like the most about it. This bike is about getting from one point to the other in comfort. I find it remarkably satisfying riding the bike wearing a suit and tie, and an overcoat if required. It is liberating to enjoy the gentle exercise without the need for sportswear. I don't feel particularly comfortable in a track suit, and I struggle to imagine a situation where I would find it appropriate to put on a pair of bicycle shorts. The coat tails flapping in the wind while paddling along in third is much more to my liking.
There's something satisfying about riding a bike wearing a suit and tie. So much
more comfortable than any sportswear.
Photo: AGL  
Wearing an overcoat is no problem when riding this bike, and the flat cap
helmet is rather stylish, I think.
Photo: AGL
The Briza when folded up.
Photo: AGL

27 October 2014

Waistcoats will keep you stylish and warm!

When autumn comes and it's starting to get cold outside you will have to dress to keep the chill out, but you also don't want your style to suffer because of this. There are several things you can do: put on an overcoat, change to a warmer undershirt, put on a waistcoat, or all of the above. Overcoats and undershirts have and will be covered in other articles, so here I would like to put the focus on the waistcoat. With respect to the amount of fabric making up the garment, the waistcoat is rather insignificant, so it often amazes me how big a difference putting on a waistcoat makes. A knitted waistcoat, or one made from tweed or other warm material will not only keep your upper body warm but will also keep you stylish as it gives a different dimension to your outfit.
Waistcoats can either be part of a three piece suit and will then be of the same fabric and pattern as the suit. This will create a classic and clean look. Another great way of using the waistcoat is to let it be a contrast to the rest of your outfit. Here you can mix fabrics, textures and colours to create a more exciting outfit. Below I've included some examples of how a waistcoat can be worn, for possible inspiration. 

Rust coloured cashmere waistcoat combined
with a navy suit. The waistcoat is by Suitsupply.
Photo: AGL
Layered up for autumn.
The contrasting rust coloured waistcoat gives this outfit another
dimension. The different texture of the knitted waistcoat also
works very well and the cashmere brings a lot of warmth.
Photo: AGL
Layers of different tweed fabrics. The waistcoat is by
River Woods.
Photo: AGL
Three piece suit with matching waistcoat.
Photo: AGL
Play around with the waistcoat to create great looking outfits. Perfect for the colder months of the year. 

17 October 2014

Tailor4Less, a review of their made-to-measure shirts

I've long been curious about the concept of online made-to-measure (MTM) services, so when I was presented with the opportunity to try an MTM shirt from Tailor4Less I had no problems accepting. The reason I haven't tried it before is basically because there is generally a significant discrepancy between the claims of the different online MTM companies and different reviews of the services available online. The experiences seems to be quite varied with many people being very pleased with their garments and online MTM experience, while many others have quite the opposite experiences. The reason I have been wanting to try a service like this, however, is that I've been thinking it could be a good alternative to off-the-rack garments and I would also like to see for myself what these services are all about.

Before I go on, I would like to clarify a few things. Firstly, no matter what you are made to believe, online MTM services do not produce bespoke clothing. Secondly, there are two types of MTM services. You've got services like the ones Tailor4Less represents which I call online MTM services. These are services where you do everything yourself online. You take all the measurements yourself and you design your garment yourself online according to specifications preset by the company. You can find a list of such services here. The other form of MTM is represented by tailors who are offering a proper bespoke service but want to offer their customers a cheaper alternative. With these MTM services your measurements are taken by professionals and you are generally guided through the design of your new garment but as with the online MTM services, you will have to work within design standards preset by the company. With online MTM services you generally get the least amount of personal service and it is also the cheapest option. With this in mind, I think the best starting point when reviewing an online MTM service is to see how it compares with what you can buy off-the-rack in a normal clothes store.

As stated above, I was given the opportunity to try a Tailor4Less shirt and here are my thoughts about the ordering process, the quality and the fit of the finished product.

The ordering and design process is very straightforward. You've got most of the design options you could want and all you have to do is to tick the appropriate boxes and your shirt design shows up on the side of the screen. After you've specified all the design details like sleeves, collar, pockets, cuffs etc., you move on to the fabric. Here you'll specify the fabric for the body of the shirt and you can also decide to use a separate fabric for the collar and cuffs, both inside and outside. The selection of fabrics is reasonably good. With 135 fabrics to choose from, you'll probably find something you like. Most of the fabrics are 100% cotton, but there are some synthetics available and some cotton blends. Needless to say, I only considered the pure cotton fabrics for my shirt.

The fabric I chose was the one called Magnooth, a white and pink striped fabric weighing 112gr and being described as being appropriate for year round wear. Although, there's nothing wrong with the fabric itself, I wouldn't call it appropriate for year round wear. The fabric is quite thin and I would consider this a shirt for the warmer months. This will, of course, depend on where you live and if you spend your time in Shanghai, where these shirts are made, it may be the perfect year round fabric.

Moving on from the fabric, I decided to go for a button down white collar, rounded French cuffs and no pockets. Keeping the cuffs in the same fabric as the body of the shirt, rather than matching the collar, which I think can be a nice touch.

But does this shirt fit me perfectly, or, at least, better than off-the-rack shirts? The short answer is no.

I'll give the tailor of this shirt the benefit of the doubt and blame it on the measurements. This is, however, one of problems with these services. Since the measurements aren't taken by professionals, there is always the likelihood of some of the measurements being slightly off. I took all the measurements, with good help from my wife, to the best of my ability and still the shirt is some way away from a perfect fit. Let me start with the cuffs. There is nothing terribly wrong with the cuffs but I would have expected a better fit for an MTM shirt. This could very easily be rectified by Tailor4Less if they would ask for the wrist measurements to be taken, but for some reason they don't. The sleeve length, on the other hand, was quite satisfactory and an improvement on most off-the-rack shirts. The fit around the waist, chest and shoulders were also reasonably good. The main problem, however, was across the top of my back, the shirt was quite tight over the shoulder blades which I found slightly uncomfortable.

After two or three attempts, making slight changes to the measurements, I think I would get a much better fitting shirt. But I also think that that is what it takes and that you'll be lucky to make a really good fit at the first attempt. It is, however, stated in the FAQ section of the Tailor4Less website that "if your garment does not fit, Tailor4Less will cover your product alterations up to 45€ per product. If your local tailors cannot fix it, we will produce another garment from scratch with your new measurements." This can, of course, help improving the fit of the shirt, but I still think you will need a couple of attempts to make these online MTM garments to fit really well.

Thus, this is not the perfect shirt but I wouldn't expect that either for the very low price of these shirts. But is it significantly better than off-the-rack shirts in the same price range? At this point I don't think it is, but if you persevere with the measurements, I'm pretty sure you would get a better fitting shirt. The fabric is pretty much of the quality one would expect at the price, nothing spectacular but it works.

I wouldn't like to write off online MTM services and I also don't want to put you off trying one of these services, but be aware that everything probably won't be as straight forward as is generally claimed by these companies.

Below you can see several photos of me wearing the shirt and you can judge for yourself what you think about how it fits. 
The collar is fine and the shirt fits reasonably well across the chest.
Photo: AGL
The cuffs look nice but could have been
tighter for a more tailored feel.
Photo: AGL
As you can see, the shirt is way too tight across the back.
Photo: AGL
The overall fit of this shirt is not bad but could be
(the shirt was ironed 5 minutes before the photo
was taken, so if you look at the sleeves you can see
that this fabric wrinkles very easily)
Photo: AGL

14 October 2014

The Dandy Lab. Will this be the store of the future?

There's a Kickstarter campaign which has been going for a little while now which I think might be of interest to many of the readers of this blog. It's a cooperative project between several young British designers which is called The Dandy Lab. The Dandy Lab is described as being the store of the future, so it might be worth having a look at. I will, at least, follow the development of this project.

One of the founders of this project is Peter Jeun Ho Tsang of Coeur Menswear which I've previously covered on this blog. Another brand which will be part of The Dandy Lab is Holdall & Co which I've also written about in these previous posts.

I will not say more about this project, but will rather refer you to the text below the photo which is a description of The Dandy Lab project prepared by The Dandy Lab team.

Photo: Taken from The Dandy Lab Kickstarter campaign page.
Retail is being reinvented by the unstoppable rise of the internet. The Dandy Lab is the first-ever interactive lifestyle emporium where fashion collides with technology to tailor the shopping experience around a customer's personal interests. The pop up concept store will launch later this year and open for six- months, following a Kickstarter campaign offering the style-conscious man a unique chance to be involved in the project and receive exclusive rewards. 

On 29 September, The Dandy Lab launches their Kickstarter campaign to transform their physical retail space into a store of the future. The project is revolutionising retailing with hyper-personalised, immersive shopping experiences, so that customers can discover, learn, shop and share in an environment tailored just for them. At the same time, they can support British designers who showcase the best of British craftsmanship – such as Private White VC, Coeur, and Foxhunt Menswear, all of whom preserve local skills. 

"The pace of change in retail is increasing and technology plays a critical role in the engagement of customers. Only by continuing to experiment with new offers will brands and retailers be able to survive, and The Dandy Lab is a great opportunity for all involved." 
– Dr. Alastair Moore, UCL. 

Sponsored by notable partners including UCL, CISCO and We Are Pop Up, the team is collaborating with leading-edge technologists to develop bespoke software to enhance the shopping journey. From the moment a customer enters and logs into the store, they will begin their personal experience. A range of lifestyle products will talk to them as they browse, narrating stories to bring the customer closer to the maker.

The store will launch in Central London, December 2014, with more than 40 brands ranging from menswear, footwear and grooming to lifestyle accessories. There will also be a variety of technology start-ups showcased from some of the city’s tech incubators to take innovation to the maximum. 

“The store is going to be very exciting and we can’t wait to feature it in the November 2014 issue. It’s always great to see what innovations entrepreneurs are coming up with.” 
- WIRED Magazine 
"(by The Dandy Lab team)

To read more about The Dandy Lab and to pledge, go to The Dandy Lab Kickstarter page.

10 October 2014

My new bespoke tweed overcoat (Part 1): the fabric and the tailor

I've started a new bespoke project and this time it's an overcoat I'm having made. As with two previous projects (a three piece suit and a boating jacket) I decided to start looking for the fabric myself. If this is something you would like to do, I have compiled a list of cloth merchants which can be a very good starting point. I new it was tweed I wanted for this new overcoat and there are, of course, many different options for sourcing good tweed. Harris tweed is probably the most well known and I already have a Harris tweed jacket I'm very pleased with (shown is these previous posts). I had, however, had my eye on another tweed producer for a while and after having spent a while studying the fabrics on their website, I decided to get in touch with Hunters of Brora.

Hunters was founded by Thomas Hunter in 1901 in the town of Wick in northern Scotland. Hunter later moved his mill down to Brora, where Hunters of Brora produced high quality tweed until 2003, when it became impossible to save the mill. This is where the current owners, husband and wife Charlie and Tamara, took over and set a viable course for the company. In their own words:

"It was very important to us to ensure that the fabric we produce is not only made in a Scottish mill but also that the quality of the tweed is as good as it always was. Once we found our mill we added to our stock of tweed which came from the original mill and started going back into production re-making original Hunter’s patterns but also adding a few modern twists to some of them."

The new Hunters of Brora tweeds have been very well received and are used by a wide range of tailors, and much appreciated by tweed lovers near and far. They also offer a bespoke service, so if you have a tweed pattern you would like to have made, Hunters of Brora may very well be able to help you.

When I got in touch with them, they were very helpful and answered all my questions. We all know it can be difficult to get an accurate impression of what a fabric really looks like, just by looking at photos on the internet. But that problem was easily solved as they offered to send me cloth samples. Thus, I ordered samples from four of the fabrics. The samples were sent to me free of charge. Excellent service!

The cloth samples I received from Hunters of Brora.
Photo: AGL
After some contemplation, I decided to go for the fabric called Littleferry (bottom right in the photo above). In the end it stood between that one and the cloth called Raey (bottom left). So, I ordered 2.5 metres of the Littleferry cloth.

The Littleferry cloth.
Photo: AGL
Now, I had decided on the fabric but then the big question arises, who's going to make the overcoat? I wanted to try something new and I was contemplating using another one of the many tailoring services in London. I am, however, actually in the Netherlands at the moment and I knew there was a tailor here in Leiden, within walking distance from where I live. Thus, I decided to try the local alternative and I visited Di Pecora and had a nice chat with René Schaap. He could get me the overcoat I wanted and at a price I found quite reasonable, so there was nothing to think about anymore, my new overcoat was going to be made by Di Pecora.

Di Pecora was established in 2007 by René Schaap. After many years working in the custom clothing industry at fashion houses like Emporio Armani and Pal Zileri, he decided to follow his dream and ambition of setting up his own tailoring service and thus, Di Pecora was born. A tailoring company with focus on quality and personal attention to the customers. Di Pecora is one of the very few services in the Netherlands delivering really bespoke clothes, and the only one in Leiden. If you can't make time to visit Di Pecora in Leiden, René Schaap will happily visit you where you are. He regularly visit clients within a 100km radius of Leiden. Di Pecora is, however, located in the beautiful historical centre of Leiden and is well worth a visit.

With regard to my own visit to Di Pecora, it was a very nice experience. The service was impeccable and it is always great fun to discuss the design options for a new garment. To give you some hints about what the coming overcoat will look like, I will say that this will be a 3/4 length overcoat with a navy velvet collar, and some other navy details. The lining will be an orange fabric with a small diamond pattern. The overcoat will be presented in much more detail in part 2 of this series, which will be posted after the overcoat is finished.

René Schaap at Di Pecora.
Photo: AGL
The Littleferry cloth together with the lining I chose, orange
with a small diamond pattern.
Photo: AGL
The Di Pecora premises.
Photo: AGL
Some of the garments at display.
Photo: AGL
A morning suit at display.
Photo: AGL
René Schaap taking notes for the design of the overcoat and
looking at the swatch book from Hunters of Brora.
Photo: AGL
René Schaap outside Di Pecora in the
beautiful historical centre of Leiden, in
Langebrug 32A.
Photo: AGL
Now, all I can do is wait until the overcoat is finished. I have great expectations for this new garment and I am, indeed, hopeful that my expectations will be fulfilled. 

5 October 2014

Lounge wear by Hamilton and Hare, luxury for your days off

More than a year ago I wrote about a new underwear brand that I really wanted to try out (read the post here). This brand was Hamilton and Hare and my wishes came true when my wife decided to give me some of these luxury boxers for Christmas. In their own words, "Hamilton and Hare set out to make the best underwear around" and I think they've come a long way in succeeding to reach this rather ambitious aim. The Hamilton and Hare boxers are, at least, the best quality boxers I've ever had.

Several new colours and designs have entered the Hamilton and Hare range of boxers since I got  mine and here are two which I think look particularly good.

Love the design of this boxer, and the yellow is marvellous.
Photo: Taken from the Hamilton and Hare website 
What a lovely colour!
Photo: Taken from the Hamilton and Hare website 

Enough about the boxers, that's not what this post was going to be about. A while ago Hamilton and Hare introduced a new product line, the lounge wear, and that's what I want to present here. Lounge wear is what you put on to wear around the house on days when you have some time off. Days when you have time to relax, have a large and slow breakfast, read a book, watch telly or simply just don't do anything. Lounge wear is for times when you don't intend to leave the house. Many people decide to stay in their pyjamas on such days, or maybe just walk around in their underwear or a track suit. Neither of which is particularly stylish and the thought of being seen in such attire may strike fear in the style conscious gentleman. Hamilton and Hare has come up with the perfect solution with their range of lounge wear: the house coat and the house trousers. I absolutely love these products and if this is what you're wearing, you would actually want the neighbours to come knocking, just so you could show off you're wearing.

The house coat is a real piece of luxury. The fabric is made from the finest merino wools from the oldest mill in Italy, the Vitale Barberis Canonico. The double breasted fastening makes it a much better fit and much better looking that standard belt tied dressing gown, and it is silk lined for extra comfort. 

Below I've included pictures of the two house coat models and some of the different house trousers available. The charcoal house coat with Prince of Wales patterning is my favourite and I would love to pair it with the olive green house trousers.         

Charcoal and Prince of Wales house coat.
Photo: Taken from the Hamilton and Hare website
Navy and birdseye house coat.
Photo: Taken from the Hamilton and Hare website
Olive green house trouser.
Photo: Taken from the Hamilton and Hare website 
Navy herringbone house trouser.
Photo: Taken from the Hamilton and Hare website
Mulberry house trouser.
Photo: Taken from the Hamilton and Hare website 

24 September 2014

I.Sew, masters of the fancy back dress shirt!

Fancy back shirts is something I have no experience with and only a few months ago I hadn't even heard of the concept. It was by following @I_SEW on Twitter and consequently having a look at the I.Sew website, I was first introduced to fancy back shirts. As with many other things new to me, I would like learn more about it and I thought that there could be other people curious about this as well. So, I invited De-anne from I.Sew to write a post for the blog, to tell us about fancy back shirts, herself and the company. I am very pleased to say that my request was accepted, so now I'll give the word to De-anne.

Firstly I would like to say thank you for inviting me to write this article.

My name is De-anne and one year ago I was working alongside my 2nd husband Mark, running a successful gardening business which I had done for 6 years. Prior to this I was a post person but all the time I did clothing alterations from home.

In the beginning, upon leaving school, I was trained by Marks & Spencer’s as a machinist, this was back in the days when M&S made their own quality clothing in the UK. I met my first husband, a soldier, quite young and then embarked upon the life as a soldiers wife. It was not long before I gained myself a position on camp as an army tailor doing alterations, medal mounting, ceremonial dress etc. As is the way within the army, I moved from camp to camp and almost immediately I found myself head tailor at each posting. During this time I was asked to fancy back an odd shirt for Mess functions. 

About this time last year, finding it harder to do the strenuous work in the gardens and with not enough work doing clothing alterations from passing trade at home, as I live out in the sticks, Mark suggested I look into taking a shop in our local market town of Spilsby in Lincolnshire. A daunting task as neither of us has much shop experience. Thus I.Sew was born.

A suitable premises was found and lease secured. Now I had a shop, I knew I would be doing the clothing alterations, but would that be enough to give me an income. I have been lucky as a haberdashery shop was closing down and I managed to take on the dry cleaning agency that they had been running. Still I was concerned that doing clothing alterations would not be enough to make my rent, so I started looking into alternative things I could do. Then one night while at an RAF ball, my friend said to me “have you seen my mate’s shirt?” His mate pulled down one shoulder to reveal a pattern and I said, “I used to make those”. Marks reply, “Why aren't you making them now?” Thus, I.Sew Fancy back shirts came to fruition.

Now I have to say that when you give my husband an idea, it is amazing how far he can go with it and fancy back shirts gave him ideas. Passion is a good thing and as we attend quite a few black tie events, loving the sartorial elegance that it empowers, we became very passionate about my fancy back shirts. 

The idea: a fancy back shirt, a formal or business shirt, or blouse having its back, or back and sleeves, removed and replaced with a pattern and having the original cuffs replaced, all in such a way that when a jacket is worn it cannot be seen. That is simple enough but what patterns do I choose to make? It was then that we hit a bit of a wall. We could buy and make shirts which would not sell, costing me money which I could ill afford. We also took into account that if a lady goes out and meets another guest wearing the same dress, she is not happy. The same would be said for a man buying a fancy back shirt. So, in order to make a shirt, the client would have to choose his own pattern and once made, I could not sell the same pattern to anyone in the surrounding area of where the first shirt was sold to and so, two shirts with the same pattern shall never meet. A good idea, BUT this idea is not just good it’s great! Thinking about it, we realised that I am offering a bespoke service, making a customised unique shirt, one I may not ever make again. So, each shirt has an authenticity certificate so you know its limited edition number. 1-of-1 is the original and to date we have not made a second shirt using the same fabric.

So, where do we find the fabric? To be honest, we have used eBay which has a vast amount of patterned cotton fabric. We have 3 or 4 other trusted sites with good stocks, but in nearly a year of trading I have come to find that fabrics are only available for a short period and then it is gone. If you like a fabric today, in a month's time you may not be able to get hold of it. The fabric I used for one of the first shirts I made is now unavailable. So, we have now come to realise that the fancy back shirts I produce can be very unique.

I then offered Marks services in finding a pattern if the client didn't have the time or will to search for it themselves, which raised another hurdle as we kept getting asked for fabric patterns that he could not find. Mark is, as I said, a resourceful man and it wasn't long before he came to me and said he had found a company in the USA who would print short runs of fabric and he could design his own pattern. Having put it to the test, we have now produced our first self designed fabric for a client: “Lincolnshire flags”. More to follow I’m sure.

So, to recap. So far you have a unique fancy back shirt with its authenticity certificate with a swatch of the patterned fabric on it. This is where most would expect it to stop, but Mark and I are passionate about our shirts so we wanted to offer more. Thus, each shirt comes in its own gift box which includes a hanger, dustcover and matching pocket square. Also, because each white shirt has a coloured back and sleeves, I undertake several trials on the care of your shirt and I include my own detailed care instructions and a box of colour catching sheets that stop colours running into the white. We can also source matching cuff links for most patterned fabrics.

In conclusion, after months of careful thought, deliberation and planning, I can now offer a service that is unique, bespoke and top quality. Now I just need to tell the world. Please help spread the word via social media!

Twitter: @I_SEW
Instergram: i.sew_fancyback_shirts
By De-anne Summer-Wilson from I.Sew

Thank you very much De-anne for telling us your story and for introducing us to fancy back shirts and you relatively new business. I hope your business will be successful and I wish you all the best for the future.

De-anne and Mark have made some videos which are available on you tube and I've embedded one of them below. This one is called "The reveal".

Here are the links to two other you tube videos which I also thought I would embed into this post but, for some reason unknown to me, the technology wouldn't have it.

Here you can listen to an interview with De-anne on BBC radio Lincolnshire

Here you se De-anne showing you what you get when you buy a shirt from I.Sew

Here are three examples of De-anne's creations:

22 September 2014

...Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango...

A while ago I was asked if I wanted do a review of the products from the newly established male grooming brand Scaramouche & Fandango. To be honest with you, I had to think about it a couple of times before I accepted, basically for the reason that I wasn't sure if I could write anything sensible about shampoos, conditioners and shower gels. What persuaded me though was the fact that this brand which had only been around for a year and a bit, had been accepted into big stores like John Lewis, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and many more. The Scaramouche & Fandango shampoo was also nominated for best haircare product at the 2014 male grooming awards. According to my logic then, this brand was likely to have come up with some quite good products and it would be a shame if I didn't take this opportunity to try them out.

The Scaramouch & Fandango product range: Shampoo, Conditioner,
Body wash, Shaving cream, Face scrub and Hydrator.
Photo: Taken from the Scaramouche & Fandango website
The Scaramouche & Fandango product range consists of three shower products: shampoo, conditioner and body wash, and three shaving products: shaving cream, face scrub and hydrator. I have used these products for a couple of weeks now and I believe I have enough information to review them.

Starting with the shower products, I don't really have any complaints or negative experiences with them at all. As I hinted about above, talking in detail about shower products is not something I have much experience with and I also think I'm lacking the proper terminology for it as well. So, what I will present here is a lay persons view of these shower products, but since the potential buyers are nearly exclusively lay people, this might just do the trick. For me, there are a few points which set good shower products apart from the less good or outright rubbish products. Firstly, how long does the product last? Sometimes it feels like you have to use large amounts of shower products for them to have the desired effect, but with good quality products a little splash is enough and thus the product will last longer. Secondly, do the products leave you with a proper feeling of being clean? Many products leave you feeling oily or sticky after use, and there are few things that bother me more when it come to these kinds of products. Thirdly, how do the products smell and how intense is the smell? If I don't like the smell or if the smell is too intense, I am not likely to use it more than once.

So, how do the Scaramouche & Fandango shower range fair with regard to these simple criteria? The answer is, Very Well, I'm pleased to tell you. These shower products are efficient and long lasting, they leave you feeling perfectly clean and the smell is so discreet that it is very unlikely to bother anyone.

When it comes to the Scaramouche & Fandango shaving range, I find it to be more of a mixed bag. I don't mind the face scrub but I have used better. Some of the reasons for using a face scrub are: removing dirt, oil and dead skin cells, lift tough beard hairs and prevent ingrown hairs, and improve the shaving experience and diminish shaving irritation. To do this properly, I think the face scrub need to have a real scrubbing effect. Although this face scrub does a decent job, it could do with a bit more scrub for me to be perfectly happy with it. The shaving cream is the one product in the Scaramouche & Fandango product range that I like the least. For me, it just doesn't do the job properly. When I first used it I thought it looked promising as the cream is quite thick, but I also noticed that it seemed a little dry and that is the main problem with this shaving cream. The main job for a shaving cream is to have a really nice lubricating effect so the razor glides effortlessly over the skin, but this cream just doesn't do that to an extent I'd be pleased with. To make this a good shaving cream, it needs more of whatever lubricating agent is used in this product, or possibly another one. The last product, the hydrator, is the highlight of the Scaramouche & Fandango shaving range. I really like the silky softness of the hydrator as it is applied to the skin, and how it makes the skin feel refreshed and soft for a long time. The hydrator is a an excellent product. The last thing I would like to say about these shaving products is that, just like the shower range, the smell is very discreet and is not likely to offend anyone's taste.

The travel pack with four of the products and a wash bag.
Photo: Taken from the Scaramouche & Fandango website
Lastly, I would like to mention that Scaramouche & Fandango offer what they call a travel pack. This comes with four of the products, the shampoo, body wash, shaving cream and hydrator, and also includes a nice sturdy wash bag. Each of the products come in 50ml tubes which means they can be put in your carry on luggage. Very practical if you're a frequent traveller and like to travel light. 

16 September 2014

My first day cravat, a sartorial step in the right direction.

I recently did something I've been thinking about doing for quite a while, I bought my first cravat. To be accurate I should probably call it a day cravat as a cravat is really just the name for any type of neckwear. A day cravat is also the same as an ascot as it is more commonly known to the North American readers.

The day cravat may not be the most commonly worn neckwear, and compared to ties and bow ties they are not even that easy to get hold of. When other neckwear is sold in just about any menswear store, you'll be hard pressed to find a single shop on the high street carrying a decent collection of day cravats. Luckily, some companies have taken it upon themselves to once again supply the world with this wonderful adornment for the gentleman's neck and, not surprisingly, this coincides with a resurgence of the day cravat as a popular accessory for the style conscious gentleman. Although I hope, and believe, that ties and bow ties will again increase their popularity in the years to come, there will always be many who find these too formal and uncomfortable. For these people, the day cravat is the perfect solution as it has a less formal appearance and sits loosely and comfortably around the neck, while still being stylish and sophisticated. I welcome the comeback of the day cravat with open arms if it can make more people wear decorative neckwear and, personally I see the day cravat as a wonderful addition to my collection of ties and bow ties.

The day cravat I recently bought was my very first, but I find it highly unlikely to be my last. I am already thinking about which one to buy next. What I really like about the day cravat is its versatility. It is stylish enough to be used for just about any occasion, yet so relaxed that it is perfect for a Sunday stroll in the park or taking the kids to the playground.

As I mentioned above, there are a few companies having a good selection of day cravats for sale and one of these is the Cravat Club from which I recently bought my first. The Cravat Club has a fantastic selection of 100% silk day cravats which are all made in the UK. The one I bought was the one called Zephyrus, described as Aureolin Yellow with Dark Teal, White, Lilac & Pastel Blue Paisley Pattern. Below you can see photos of me wearing the Zephyrus and some of the other magnificent day cravats the Cravat Club has to offer. Have a good look at the one named Oleander, absolutely gorgeous.

My first ever day cravat, the Zephyrus from Cravat Club.
Photo: AGL
The Zephyrus matched with a check shirt and Harris tweed.
Photo: AGL
Photo: AGL
Photo: Taken from the Cravat Club website
Photo: Taken from the Cravat Club website
Photo: Taken from the Cravat Club website
Another company which also specialises in day cravats, or ascots as they call it, is the American company Ceravelo. These are are also 100% silk and produced in the USA. Here are some of my favourites from their collection.

Photo: Taken from the Ceravelo website
Photo: Taken from the Ceravelo website 
Photo: Taken from the Ceravelo website
Of other companies carrying a decent collection of day cravats, I would like to mention Horse and Hoof and Soprano. All these day cravats are also 100% silk. Horse and Hoof has a particularly nice selection of country themed day cravats.
Soprano brown patterned pheasant silk country cravat
Photo: Taken from the Horse and Hoof website
Soprano pheasant gold silk country cravat.
Photo: Taken from the Horse and Hoof website
Purple paisley cravat.
Photo: Taken from the Soprano website
Blue cream polka dot cravat.
Photo: Taken from the Soprano website
The day cravat is back and it seems likely that it will increase its popularity in the time to come. If you don't already have one, have a good look at the different website mentioned above and seek out your favourite day cravat, it can only be a positive addition to your collection of gentleman's accessories. I just bought my first day cravat and the way I see it, it was a sartorial step in the right direction.