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.

10 September 2014

I needed a grey and opted for a stripy birdseye from Without Prejudice

It doesn't matter how many suits, jackets and trousers you have, if you don't have the staples you're going to encounter situations where you'll have trouble finding something appropriate to wear. These staples are a grey or a navy suit, or preferably both. During the last years I have not paid enough attention to these basics of wardrobe building and had ended up in need of a new grey suit. In job situations, a grey suit is often more appropriate than some of the other suits and jackets I've recently written about here on the blog (like this boating jacket or this checkered three piece). Though it's a grey suit, it doesn't have to be a boring suit and it should also be a good quality suit. In other words, it's not a purchase one should take lightly as it is likely to be a suit that will be worn frequently for years to come. The best option is, of course, always to have a suit made to your specifications by a tailor, but this time my budget didn't allow for that, so I started looking for ready-to-wear suits which were within my budget. No matter how great it is to have a suit made for you, I also very much enjoy looking for off-the-rack suits. There are so many nice suits available and if you make the necessary adjustments after you've bought it, it can fit just about perfectly.
What I ended up buying was a suit from the London based company Without Prejudice (from now on mostly shortened to WP). To be honest with you, I was not familiar with the WP brand before I started the search for my new grey suit. Now that I've got one of their suits and gathered some knowledge about the brand, I quite like it and think it is well worth a blog presentation.

Without Prejudice is a relative young brand, established as recently as in 2006. In their own words, the founders "believed that for too long menswear had been over-hyped, under performed and continuously failed to meet the high level of quality that London promised to its respected customers. The solution was as simple as it was ambitious: embrace change and inspire innovation, communicate individuality over mass appeal and build a brand that would never sacrifice quality for quantity." During the last eight years, WP has grown to be a brand producing seasonal collections of suits, jackets, shirts, coats, knitwear, shoes and accessories.

To what extent they have managed to fulfil all their ambitious ambitions, I couldn't possibly say, but I would like to say something about the quality and the individuality of the WP garments. One clue to the quality of the products are found in their complete openness about the production of their garments. If there's one thing I like, it's companies who are transparent with regard to how and where their products are made. It shows that they take pride in their company and how it operates. 

In a time where "made in Britain" is one of the biggest selling points for many British companies, and where British companies without UK production tries to be secretive about the origin of their garments, it's quite refreshing to see a British company being proud of their operation despite producing their clothes outside the UK. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I think it's important to embrace quality wherever it is and that the quality of the products and manufacturing are more important than which country it's produced in, and I believe Without Prejudice is a good example of this.    

The fabric for all the WP suits are produced in Italy, a country well renowned for their long history of top quality fabric production. Among others, they use fabrics from well known cloth manufacturers like RedaZegnaOrmezzanoZignone and Marzotto. The fabrics are all made from natural fibres like wool, cotton, linen, mohair and silk. The finished fabrics are than transported to Hungary where the suits are made. Hungary has a textile industry going back centuries and, after set backs during the World Wars, the break up of the Soviet Union and economic changes in 1989-90, and the increased competition from China in the 90s, the industry has managed to change and adapt and still thriving today with the sector employing around 50.000 people. You can read more about the Hungarian textile and clothing industry here

At the WP factory, a team of skillful embroiders hand sew the suits and jackets with meticulous attention to detail. Due to this attention to detail, they only manage to produce about 100 suits a week, which shows that this is a company valuing quality more than quantity. The finished suits are than examined and, when approved, shipped to London where they are further distributed to retailers and customers around the world. 

The final result is a top of the line British designed, Italian crafted, Hungarian made suit, with a beautiful Kufner interlining with a three ply semi wadded cotton chest piece, carefully fashioned into a natural fit, that while remaining resilient to wear and tear, offers a very light final product. 
Having discussed the quality of the suits, it's time to talk about the individuality of the WP suits. There are several small details which set these suits apart from other ready-to-wear suits. The quickest way to recognise a Without Prejudice suit is to look at the button hole on the lapel and the top button hole on the cuffs. Unlike all other lapel button holes you've probably ever seen, the one a WP jacket is vertical rather than the standard horizontal. With regard to the cuffs, a variety of different button formations are used, from the common four button working cuff to the more unique two plus two button cuff or the five kissing buttons cuff. But, a unique detail of the WP cuff is the final button hole which is always purple. Another feature worth mentioning are the shoulders where the stitching has been brought slightly forward to create a better fit for the average person. The lining is also carefully designed to add character to every jacket, and they have also added something I've never seen before on suit jackets, carefully sewed on sweat pads. The trousers also have something you rarely see on ready-to-wear suits, adjustable waist bands on each side. 
Here you see the characteristic purple button hole on the sleeves and you can
also see the rather uncommon two pus two button configuration.
Photo: Taken from the WP website
The suit I bought was the one called Kimberley. Bought from House of Fraser which has a good selection of WP products. It's made from a 100% wool, striped birdseye fabric produced by Reda and although it looks all grey, there is a hint of purple in the stripes which is hardly visible unless you pay close attention. The very subtle purple gives the fabric a certain "je ne sais quoi" which makes it kind of special. The suit has a single breasted jacket with one button and notch lapels. It has three pockets, two with flaps and a ticket pocket without. It has five kissing buttons on the cuffs, but unfortunately the button holes are not working. This is not a huge problem, but I definitely prefer working cuffs and as the suit was described as having working cuffs, this was a slight disappointment. Anyway, I'm quite pleased with this suit and, after all, that is the reason I'm writing this post.

My new Without Prejudice suit.
Photo: AGL
It's a one button single breasted jacket with notch lapels. Notice the vertical
button hole on the left lapel.
Photo: AGL
I love the lining of this jacket. It may not be visible most of the time but, to me,
the lining of a jacket is very important.
Photo: AGL
Notice the signature purple button hole.
Photo: AGL
The side adjusters are a nice feature of the
Without Prejudice trousers.
Photo: AGL
As I mentioned in the beginning, Without Prejudice carries a whole range of products, but it's mainly the suits and jackets I really like, and a cardigan I really wouldn't mind. Below you'll find some of my favourite WP products. 

A very nice single breasted, two button suit with
peak lapels in a magnificent blue colour.
Photo: Taken from the WP website

A beautiful double stripe navy suit. One of the
classics but with a WP twist.
Photo: Taken from the WP website 
A plaid jacket with contrast back collar and ticket
pocket. It also features a two plus two button
configuration on the sleeves.
Photo: Taken from the WP website 
This cable knit cardigan with a shawl collar looks
terribly comfortable. Perfect for cold winter
Photo: Taken from the WP website