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