Top Sock

On the 27th of March, I hit 44 years of age.

As well as my usual birthday presents of an annual subscription to ‘The Rake’ and ‘Carve’ magazines, I received further literary stimulation in the form of a book titled, ‘Socks: The Rule Book.’

Socks - The Rule Book

To date, when it comes to colour, I have been rather unadventurous as far as covering my rather petite sized seven feet.

Black and blue is the dominant bruising force in the Michelsberg sock drawer.

When it comes to formal attire, I feel a certain level of restraint is called for in the area of no man’s land, that lies between the hem of a chap’s trouser and the top of his shoe.

I abhor ‘snazzy’ stripy socks, like those worn by Peter Jones on Dragon’s den. Is this rainbow of colour in his ankle region supposed to declare a playful, or, perhaps, rebellious nature?

Personally I find the look childish and highly inelegant.

Hardy Amies said, “the colour of your socks should match the colour of your suit, or trousers.”

I agree in part with this sentiment, although I will occasionally wear a pair of red socks to inject a little colour into an outfit, if the tone of my suit and tie are relatively similar and rather understated.

I vividly remember walking into a department store in Rome and standing before a wall of socks representing every colour under the sun. It was mind-blowing and in a way, rather surreal and beautiful. Perhaps I need to be a little more open-minded with regard to the colour of my suiting, which for the most part, is fifty shades of blue.

My brands of choice are Pantherella (made in England) and John Lewis’s Italian merino wool collection.

Whilst the former company lauds the benefits of a “Hand-Linked toe” – where the toe seam is closed by hand, giving an almost seamless and thus more comfortable toe – to me, the most important criteria in selecting my socks is length.

One of the ultimate sartorial sins is wearing a pair of socks that is too short. What could be worse than a pale, hairy leg, protruding from a man’s strides?

In my opinion they must come to just under the knee, preventing the dreaded calf-flash at all costs.

Who can forget the scene in ‘Casino’ when Sam Rothstein (De Niro) is told by his secretary he has a visitor. He gets up from his desk to reveal he is wearing no trousers, walks over to a closet and slips on a pair straight from the hangar. This is a guy who doesn’t do creases.

More importantly, check out his socks – perfect!

Full Length Socks - De Niro

Rule number 1 (in my new sock book) is that “Socks must always be worn.”

I agree entirely with this. If I see on instagram another double-monk shoe worn with no socks, I’m going to need therapy for anger issues. The only time you can get away with going commando is when you have a tan and are wearing loafers / a driving shoe.

As far as the rest of their rules go, it’s pretty much common sense.

When it comes to material, natural fibres such as cotton and merino wool breathe better, although a small addition of synthetic fibre such as lycra or nylon will help them keep their shape / last longer.

I personally find thick, woolly socks rather ugly. The only ones I own are ‘Bridgedales’ and they only ever get to come out to play when I’m having a stomp in my walking boots.

For formal wear, I always go as thin as possible, unless it’s the winter, and then I’ll treat myself to pure cashmere…bliss.

I’ve done a decent amount of digging and spoke with a few people who know their onions, and the top brands (roughly in escalating price order) to look out for are, Viccel, Gammarelli, Pantherella, Falke, Chup,  Bresciani, Zimmerli and William Abraham.

So go forth my friends and give your toes a treat!

On the business front, Mr Anderson has had a record month in Manchester, and my year end meeting with my accountant “Mr P” was very positive.

I’m all out for “singing when you’re winning,” but we’re not getting complacent. Still a long way to go and much we can improve.

As my old school reports used to say, the lad still needs to pull his socks up. Damn right. World domination ain’t for the half hearted.

 

La Dolce Vita.

Fed, heavily watered with a glow of self-contentment about me, it was time for the auction at the Bespoke Tailors Benevolent Association dinner to begin.

As part of the “Luxury Goods Package,” three little words ‘had me at hello’ – a bespoke hat. 

Digging as deep as any Yorkshireman might dare, I ended up being the successful bidder, and this month headed to London to claim my booty.

Here I am with Tamara Williams, the founder of The City Milliner.

City Milliner

In my opinion, the greatest gifts a salesperson can have are enthusiasm and energy and this young lady has them in abundance. Beautifully spoken, she was charm personified and her love for hat-making was both genuine and infectious.

I’ve always adored hats. Over the years I’ve built up a decent collection of Borsalinos and Panama’s from Lock & Co, but this was my first time at going down the bespoke route.

My customers often tell me that the experience of having a suit made, is just as important and enjoyable as wearing the finished product, and so now it was my turn to be on the receiving end of a consultation.

It’s a wonderful thing when you are dealing with someone who really takes pride in the product / service they provide. It was made very clear to me that I was to have the finest quality she could muster, and was educated as to merits of using felted beaver fur, as opposed to rabbit, as it’s so soft yet incredibly resilient.

We selected the colour of silk band (remarkable how this impacts on the tone of the hat itself!) and agreed brim size, the shape of the top of the hat, the colour of the silk inside and finally I had my glowing dome measured-up.

I’ll have to wait until August for the finished product, but to me, that’s all part of the charm, and testament to the amount of time and effort that goes into blocking, steaming, stretching, pinning, drying, stiffening, cutting, wiring and fitting the finished product!

Her studio is in Kilburn, but she’d kindly agreed to meet me at Scabal on Savile Row, and I left with a spring in my step.

The first thing I did was pop across the road and offer my congratulations to Kathryn Sargent, who has just opened her own shop on the Row. Former head cutter of Gieves & Hawkes, it’s an incredible achievement, but I’d expect no less from a lass born in Leeds :-)

Kathryn Sargent

It was then a quick walk to the end of the street to Pickett, purveyor of luxury leather goods. They’d very generously contributed some money towards their products as part of the auction prize.

With my Mulberry briefcase falling to pieces, it was manna from heaven, and here I am with their salesman, Henry  Sylvester, and my new tan man-bag, handmade in England.

Pickett

After a cracking lunch at Le Bab, recently profiled by Giles Coren, we headed off to Foster & Son on Jermyn Street. One of the oldest custom shoe and bootmakers in the world, their bespoke service starts at around three and half thousand pounds.

Again, they contributed money towards a treat from their wares and my choice was a tasselled black Claverton loafer.

Here are some cheeky photo’s I took of some of their work – love the Edwardian style boot with the buttons to fasten!

Foster

Foster2

My final pit-stop was the Shirtmakers Budd in the Piccadilly Arcade. Established in 1910, they are one of the few companies to have their own cutting room on the premises, and here is their bespoke shirt cutter Darren Tiernan.

Budd

The shirt he is cutting is for a well know, aggressive, opinionated, arrogant TV personality (who cannot be named) but as long as he keeps helping these lovely chaps earn a living, I hope he continues to bore us all with his testosterone fuelled gibbon-like antics.

After a final purchase, I wandered back to the hotel with more bags than Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

To be fair, and my paymaster Mr Scrivenor will confirm, it’s not often that I treat myself.

When I do, London is one hell of a place to splash the cash, eat great food, live La Dolce Vita and unleash the bon viveur that lies within.

 

Yuletide Greetings

On Monday 23rd December, Christmas came early at Michelsberg Tailoring with an exciting delivery from the elves at UPS.

Introducing our new selection of Donegal tweed, knitted silk ties, and assortment of pocket hanks – deep joy.

Michelsberg Ties

With the frenzied excitement of my three year old daughter Elizabeth, faced with a new “Frozen” costume, I ripped off my Hermes number and slipped on a burgundy Donegal, secured with my favourite knot – the half-Windsor.

My subsequent preening was then rudely interrupted by Charlie, my twenty two year old side kick, who informed me that I should really be using the Four-in-Hand.

Let the heated debate begin.

When it comes to tying one’s neck-candy, the question of which knot to use is overwhelming. The half-Windsor, full-Windsor, Four-in-Hand, Double-Four-in-Hand (Prince Albert), Balthus, Trinity, Pratt, Nicky, Kelvin, Fishbone are just a few for consideration.

Any of the above can be viewed using the powers of Google and You-Tube, but for the purpose of this little missive, I’m going to stick with two, as they represent two very different schools of thought.

In the red corner: asymmetrical, smaller, slightly elongated, and often called the “school boy’s knot” we have the Four-in-hand.

four-in-hand-knot-1-of-1

In the blue corner, symmetrical, looks like an inverted triangle, the half-Windsor (it’s larger cousin, the Windsor, often called the “foot-ballers knot”)

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Technically, what works best for you will depend on how spread (open) the collar is, the size and proportion of your face, the tie itself (weight of fabric, its dimensions) and of course, the style of the coat you are wearing it with.

The Four-in-Hand Knot, because it’s smaller and longer, works well on shirts with narrower, or button down collars, skinny or medium-width ties, and men who have slimmer faces with a more defined chin.

Take for example, Mr Connery in the picture below.

Grey-Semi-Solid-Suit-2

His skinny, knitted silk tie and slim 60’s style lapels add weight to the above. As far as his chin goes, it’s certainly slimmer than mine after several Christmas dinners and seven days on the sauce.

In From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming wrote that, “Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot; it showed too much vanity. It was often the mark of a cad.”

Strong words that must be taken with a pinch of salt, particularly when considering he also said “sumo wrestlers can retract their testicles.”

I now call two chaps into the Witness box as further ammunition for my defence:

1) Mads Mikkelsen from Hannibal.

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Here, I think the Windsor knot is a perfect foil for this outfit. It works well with the cut-away collar and echoes the V line created by those fabulous wide, plunging, pointed peak lapels.

2) Patrick McNee from the Avengers

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One of my true style heroes. Immaculate, dandified but certainly not brash. Everything has been considered and laundered to perfection. The starched shirt-collar, vest, lapels and tie all work together in perfect harmony, creating razor sharp lines. Here is a man for whom a wonky knot simply wouldn’t do.

Being realistic, both the four-in-hand and half-Windsor knots each have their own merits, and neither would disgrace a Michelsberg bespoke shirt and suit.

To me, choice depends less on size and proportion and is more about your character and how you wish to be seen by others.

If you are a regular reader of GQ, the Rake Magazine and participate in various online style forums, there is a widely held belief that the four-in-hand is the Gentleman’s knot of choice.

They argue that because it is imperfect and slightly askew, it creates are more free-spirited, laid back impression and is more unconventional.

A man, frequently lauded by the above is Gianni Agnelli, the “Rake of the Riviera.”

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Here was one seriously debonair dude. A bon viveur and lover of Caraceni bespoke suits he epitomised what the Italians call “sprezzatura” – defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “studied carelessness”.

Effortlessly chic, too cool for school, to me, this is the heart and soul of Italian dressing.

Creating an air of apparent modesty and nonchalance, and living with your Mother to be able to afford it :-)

Knitted ties aside, I’ll always be more of a Steed than an Agnelli, but don’t let that polished exterior fool you.

Behind that velvet top collar and Whangee umbrella, lies a mischievous heart and a disgraceful sense of humour.

Ciao for now and here’s wishing you all a wonderful start to 2015.

A ten inch rise

There aren’t many professions where you inform a customer that you’re going to give him a ten inch rise in his trousers.

The ‘rise’ in the world of tailoring is the difference between the outside and inside leg measurements. In simple terms it’s roughly the distance between the top of the waistband and the bottom of the fly.

At Michelsberg Tailoring, there are two cardinal sins when it comes to making a pair of strides. A baggy arse (or ‘seat’) and a floppy crotch (or, to give it its proper name if you’re a chap, a ‘fork’). Too much rise and a pair of pants can resemble a wet, saggy nappy. Not a good look.

That said, too little rise, particularly on a man with a large seat, and you’re on dangerous ground. Nobody wants to see someone prancing about in a pair of nut-huggers with his proverbial balloon knot on display.

A pair of trousers should look ‘neat’ and above all feel comfortable to wear.

There’s a real sixties vibe going on at the moment and most of the trousers I’m making are very fitted, to be worn low on the hips, with narrow bottoms. This style calls for a shorter rise with many a pair resembling those in the picture below.

If you’ve got thin legs and a relatively slim build then these can look very flattering. Not so, if you’re a prop forward with a fifty inch chest with thighs like filing cabinets.

Getting a pair of trousers right requires a good understanding of proportion and getting to grips with what a customer wants and is willing to put up with.

Oscar Wilde said, “Clothes should hang from the shoulder, not the waist.” I’m pretty sure he was talking about trousers and the debate surrounding belts versus braces.

As a schoolboy, I adored the film “Wall Street” and was so impressed by Michael Douglas’s braces that I invested in a pair of my own.

Here I am at a ball in Harrogate, with ex Bradford Grammar School boys Messrs Brunning, Brayshaw and my brother Edward. Clearly the young lady on my right was unimpressed by my scarlet and yellow striped lovelies, but I think I might have had better luck with the young filly below :-)

Wearing trousers with braces has two distinct advantages. Firstly, because they are worn higher (and therefore require a longer rise than the hipsters I mentioned earlier), it makes the legs look longer. This can be seen in the picture below of me lighting up a Marlboro Red.

Secondly, because they are quite literally hanging from the shoulder, they can be fitted loosely around the tummy. This leaves plenty of room for expansion if you want to indulge in a long lunch, sumptuous dinner, or, beer and pie fest.

When it comes to buying braces there are two firms that immediately spring to mind – Albert Thurstons, who supply to the great and the good on Jermyn street and Savile Row, and the American firm Trafalgar.

Forget those with metal clips as they can damage the cloth. What you need are loops of soft gloving leather with hand stitched button holes, like my wedding braces below.

These naturally require brace buttons which are sewn inside the waistband, often with a ‘split-back’. Some of my customers prefer the more old-school style where you have a ‘fish-tail’ back with the buttons on the outside, as illustrated in the picture below.

Whilst I could extol the merits of braces until I’m blue in the face, there are many chaps out there who simply refuse to entertain them. They either don’t like the feel of them on the shoulder, or, have concerns of resembling Bobby Ball, or, a character from a Dickens play.

The alternatives are a belt, or, having strap and buckle side fasteners on the waistband which are pictured below.

These are my favourite choice at the moment. They are very much a nod to the world of bespoke tailoring, work well with braces, and as a bit of a flashy git, I like some bling on the side of my trousers.

Over the past twelve months, I’ve done the hipster, flat-fronted, skinny legged thing to excess and have decided it’s time to revisit my youth. Whilst I’ll keep the bottoms fairly narrow, I’m going to break out the braces, go large on the rise and throw in a forward pleat or two.

As for the gorilla mask and Cherry Docs, least said, soonest mended!

 

Doing “The Baz” in Ibiza

I’ve seen that look in my customers eyes before. Desire, longing, want. Every new Bond film spawns a thousand suit fantasies and the latest catalyst for sartorial spending has been The Great Gatsby.

God bless The Silver Screen. I remember the ‘Unit 4′ cinema in Shipley when I was a child. A lurid horror-show of artex walls, sticky floors and velvet jump seats with built in ash-trays. This was the home of “Ghostbusters”, “Cocktail”, “the Karate Kid” – my friends and I transfixed as the lion roared through a smog of Marlboro reds.

How times change. I’d decided to check out DiCaprio’s latest flick at “Everyman” cinema in the new Trinity shopping centre in Leeds. Ordering my tickets at ‘the bar,’ this was a far cry from my youth, where a man, who’d clearly given up on life, sold stale Maltesers and warm Pepsi from behind a scratched perspex kiosk.

I was asked whether I’d like my beer chilled, or served at room temperature. Yes, there was still time to order a pizza (which they’d bring to my seat) and the seat turned out to be a sofa, complete with plump cushions and a side-table. So far so good.

Sadly, the film was rather underwhelming. The acting was fine, there was glitz, glamour and frilly knickers in abundance but the story had all the depth of a flea’s paddling pool. So, let’s move on to more positive aspects, and in fact the reason why I went in the first place – the clothes.

From the off I was in seventh heaven. Enter stage right the tweed jacket. I adored the bellow patch pockets, half-belt on the back, and the way it had been styled with a bow tie and pocket hanky.

Then came Leo’s white linen suit. I have a love / hate relationship with ‘whites’. On the plus side they look so damn rakish. Perfect for chilling on the deck of a gin palace, or, if you’re Tony Montana, visiting a cocaine field in Columbia.

On the down side, white fabrics are transparent and the seams, pocket bags and your underwear are often visible underneath. Heavy linen masks this better than a fine wool cloth, but then you have to live with the creases. What’s the alternative? Go commando? Use a heavier, thicker cloth and fully line the trousers?? Do that and you’ll end up sweating like a Scouser in Dixons.

In theory, wearing white is a great idea but in practice it can be a bit of a nightmare.

The stand out for me was his pink suit. What a fabulous outfit. I loved the stick-pin through the shirt collar and the tie complimented the cloth quite beautifully. Truly stunning. And how about the double-breasted waistcoat on the right with the widely spaced buttons. Wonderful.

The double-breasted number above was yet another triumph and here is further proof just how much a hat can elevate an ensemble. If you’re looking for a Panama, then there’s always James Lock & Co, or, Bates in London, however, a customer recommended a company called Pachacuti in Derbyshire and they look the business (and are a fair trade organisation).

I’ve heard a few grumbles on various clothing forums that the costumes were not historically accurate for the 1920’s. As far as I’m concerned, it captured the mood and spirit of the time perfectly, and whose really bothered if the trousers were a touch on the slim slide.

A very good customer of mine recently commissioned this bobby dazzler below.

He’s a true gentleman and a huge fan of vintage clothing. It’s inspired from days gone by and certainly wouldn’t look out of place quaffing champagne on Gatsby’s terrace in Long Island.

I’ve dressed it with a linen pocket hanky, a Michelsberg bespoke shirt (with stick pin) and tie, and the pocket watch is my own. As a tribute to the film’s wardrobe department, I only think it fair I should call it “The Baz.”

As of this Friday, my wife and I will be having three wonderful nights away in Ibiza (sans kids) to celebrate Flynny’s 40th birthday with Jo, Rach, Loz, Georgina, Chandon, Mark, Jo and Lu.

As the corks pop and martinis flow, to the throbbing bass and shaking hips of the coolest clubs in the old town, I’ll raise a toast to those bright young things of the 1920’s, who set the bar when it comes to doing decadence with style.

 

The Church of Good Taste

What’s the deal with blokes who insist on getting their kit off in the City centre?

I crossed paths with this chap yesterday morning, his nipple rings flashing at me in the glorious sunshine. Brave as ever, my grip tightened on the handle of my Whangee Umbrella as I prepared to defend myself against this unsavoury character.

Luckily, he had no designs on my wallet, nor waistcoat, the latter which I would have gladly provided in a bid get some of that pasty skin off the streets.

One place you can rest assured of no superfluous papillae is the calm, genteel, wood panelled sanctum of English shoe making that is Church’s store in the Victoria Quarter, Leeds.

It’s just a soda-syphon and secret handshake short of a gentleman’s club and here are Paul and Patrick who are it’s guardians.

I am of the firm opinion that every man should have at least one pair of Church’s in his wardrobe. I’ve currently got my beady eyes on the pair on the left in the photo below.

Perfect with a pair of straight-leg jeans, open neck shirt, charity bracelet and a glass of Champers, for ‘dancing’ the night away in Mahiki with Wills and Kate. Yah?

The chaps at Church’s are lovely guys, incredibly helpful and very knowledgeable about the craftsmanship that goes into making a pair of Northampton’s finest. They truly understand the importance of customer service and that is something to be applauded.

Patrick has even treated me to some of his personal stash of shoe polish and is one of the few people on Earth who can actually out-talk me. On my last visit he was kind enough to provide me with a guide on How To Look After You Shoes which includes “Grandma’s shoe polish recipe” and how to get rid of shoe odor.

I’ve also set up a discussion about shoes on our Facebook Page and would love to get your comments on other makers and your favourite styles.

As the humidity and heat ramp up as we move through August, it can be a tough time for men when it comes to dressing correctly. The danger of short-sleeve shirts, cargo shorts and exhibitionists flashing their nipples at all and sundry is never far away.

Shoes are also potentially dangerous ground. Most men’s feet are an abomination and Prada sandals can be the kiss of death to an unruly toe-nail. Getting it right isn’t easy. Boat shoes – a bit rah? Crocks – god no. Which, I suppose leaves loafers.

I like the suede pair of Church’s below. I can just see them dismounting a dusty Vespa Scooter and settling down for an espresso and grappa in a shady cafe in Tuscany.

Or there are these babies from Jefferey West, which you might find tucked under a kingsize day-bed in Ibiza, awash with empty bottles of Grey Goose, Cristal and sleeping super-models.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to wear quality footwear. It say’s more about you than than any other accessory and is worth the investment in getting it right.

So here’s wising you, your feet and yes, even your damn nipples, a thoroughly enjoyable Summer.

Michelsberg Accessories and Shoes with Soul

If dressing well is an art form, then a bespoke suit is your canvas. If you want to create a masterpiece, then you’ve got to get down and dirty with the details and by that I’m talking about accessories.

Women understand this more so than men – many a cunning cougar, or flighty fox knows how a simple frock from Top Shop can be elevated to dizzy heights when teamed with a strappy pair of Louboutins and a Hermes Birkin.

It’s the same for men. A simple black Mohair suit will own that cocktail party when worn with a summer weight cashmere scarf, tied nonchalantly underneath it, a crisp white shirt and a hanky stuffed rakishly into the top pocket.

Yes, it is the little things that count and will become your trade-mark, and so this month has seen the official launch of the Michelsberg Accessories website for men who laugh loud, live fast and dress proud.

It’s an outrageously indulgent collection of silky loveliness, with some “Casino” style socks and “Steed” umbrellas thrown in for good measure. There is however one thing that is missing and that is shoes.

Without doubt, they are the singularly, sexiest, most important item in a gentleman’s wardrobe and is where mere mortals are transformed into sartorial giants.

I am a huge fan of Jeffery West, although I’ll occasionally flirt with Oliver Sweeney, and have made it my mission to seek out the finest foot candy available to humanity. I’ve already commented on the likes of John Lobb and Berluti but have recently heard incredible things about one of the four remaining shoe manufactures that remain in the UK.

So, I jumped in my car and headed to their factory in Northampton to find out more about the wonderful world of Edward Green.

Established in 1890 the business has been run for the last ten years by Hilary Freeman, who took over, when her partner, the legendary shoe designer John Hlustik sadly died.

Employing 55 craftsmen and ladies, they make 55 pairs a day, of which 80% are exported, and prices start at £585 with their ‘Top Drawer’ range starting at £995.

But before I get into the detail, let’s look at some wonderful, unadulterated shoe-porn:

I love manufacturing businesses and the thing that really hit me when walking round the factory was just how much a truly artisan business this is. Much of the work is done by hand, using the simplest of tools, and what impressed me most was the genuine passion, pride and love for their craft that was apparent in everyone I met.

The shoe-making process begins with cutting out the leather pattern with a ‘clicking knife’, pictured below, named such because of the noise it makes when slicing through the leather.

Then these pieces are passed on to Jill for ‘Skiving’ (pictured below) whose job it is to grind down the edges of the various leather components so that when they are assembled and sewn together, no lumps are visible.

The process is so traditional that they actually make their own needles, using pig’s bristles, to then sew the shoes upper together with waxed thread.

Next step is the ‘lasting’ process where the leather upper is stretched over the wooden last (which gives the shoe it’s shape) by Eddie, both pictured below.

I particularly enjoyed watching the Goodyear Welt being stitched to the upper and insole of the shoe, which is used as an attach-point for the sole. The space is then enclosed and filled with cork under which the wearers feet ‘bed down’ and make their own unique incredibly comfortable fingerprint. How cool is that.

Heels are hand pinned and then it’s off to the polishing room to Tim who applies the hand worked patina, applied in several stages. This ‘antiquing’ process was developed by John Hlustik and is a closely guarded secret.

And a visit to Edward Green would not have been complete without meeting Gary “The Slipper King” who makes these beauties featured below using a ‘cemented’ construction.

On the way back to the office we passed the ‘sale rail’ and bugger, I did it again and added another pair of lovelies to my collection.

My time with Hilary and the good folk of Edward Green was utterly memorable and I look forward to meeting with them again next month at the big Italian Menswear show in Florence, Pitti Uomo.

I must say, at times I do love my life :-)

Wrist Candy

On my twenty first birthday I was given an Omega De Ville watch by my parents and have to say it is one of my most treasured possessions.

I’ve spoken with people who have said they don’t bother with a watch as they have the time on their mobile but to me this is madness.

A watch is so much more than a timepiece – it can be a thing of beauty, an investment, a mechanical marvel, something deeply personal with a wonderful story and history attached to it, a statement about who you are and what you stand for.

Like a bespoke suit, choosing the right watch is totally dependant on the personality of the person wearing it and what turns them on, what they are wearing it with and naturally the environment in which it is being worn.

Take for example, Elton John. He’s on stage, tinkling the ivories in a velvet frock coat, purple sequined hot pants and theatrical wig. The camera does a close up of his hairy little fingers running up and down the keyboard and there it is – a pink, jewel encrusted, platinum Chopard monster, flashing away in a sea of dials, buttons and swarovski crystals. It kind of works for him but if I spotted such a number on my accountant, I’d run a bloody mile.

The modern day watch was born in the early 16th century when a German called Peter Henlein invented a portable mechanical clock called the “Nuremburg Egg” with just an hour hand on the face.

Watches that do more than tell the time are said to have a number of “complications” and include things like showing the date, the moon’s phases, a chronograph (stop-watch), repeaters (which strike the time using dings and dongs) and a tourbillon (a complicated rotating cage that contains various parts of the working mechanism and as it rotates makes the watch more accurate).

Although some time-only watches are worth a fortune, those with many complications tend to be more expensive, however, they cost far more to service and because they are delicate are not for crashing about in every day.

Watches, such as the Breitling Navitimer, are an orgy of complications and dials, and whilst no doubt the toast of airmen the world over, are not for me. I don’t have a pilots license and think they look busy, fussy and messy. My bet is they are predominantly worn by people who want to flash their cash, or who were good at science in school and played Dungeons and Dragons in lunch break.

As far as size goes, I have nothing in principle against large metal watches and think they can look far better on chaps with a bit of meat on them, rather than a skinny strip of leather with a slimline gold face. All I would say is that whilst big has become fashionable over the past few years I would question the longevity of this trend.

So who makes the best watches?

If you go to the websites Equationoftime.com, ThePursistS.com and TimeZone.com you will find a number of forums debating this question. What counts as the ‘best’ is a very subjective question and depends on how much weight you give to the quality of the movement, the number of complications, the rarity of the watch, the historical importance, the accuracy, efficiency and value for money.

That said, it is widely accepted that the following companies are regarded as the mighty stallions who graze and rule the top meadow of the watchmaking world:

Patek Philippe of Geneva, founded in 1839 is ‘the king’ of the watch industry and it’s Calatrava is it’s most famous line. It makes some of the most complicated watches in the world, has what is regarded as the most magnificent museum in the industry and does not bend to fashion.

Audemars Piguet founded in 1875 is still family owned and is one of the most respected brands with a vast selection of sports and dress watches, some simple, some incredibly complicated. It’s Royal Oak luxury sports watch was introduced in 1972 and was made of stainless steel – a big risk at the time, but one that paid off big time!

Vacheron Constantin claims to be the oldest watchmaker since 1775 and initially pioneered using machines in the watchmaking process to produce better quality parts at a lower price. Their watches can be quirky and their detailed enamel work on the Mercator series shows the time quite uniquely.

Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC) is the man when it comes to technology and it’s manufacturing ability is unrivalled. Often supplying the movements and parts for it’s ‘rivals’ it is known as the watchmaker’s watchmaker. It’s Reverso model is its best seller with a watch case that flips over to show a protective back, or the insides.

The list goes on – Rolex, TAG Heuer, Omega, IWC, Lange & Sohne (one of my favourite,), Blancpain, those who are often regarded as jewelers such as Cartier, Bulgari, Chopard and new brands such as Frank Muller, RGM and Jacques Etoile.

A finally I’ll touch on the Swatch. The mechanical Swiss watch industry was batterd by the introduction of quartz watches by the Japanese companies Seiko and Citizen in 1969 which provided incredible accuracy at a fraction of the price.

The Swiss responded with a better and slimmer movement produced by ETA that was introduced into the plastic Swatch watch in 1980. Slim, fun, funky, with some designed by the likes of Vivienne Westwood, sales went mental and they continue to innovate to this day (some have computer microchips that can access the internet) selling more than 20million a year!

The watch you choose to wear will of course be dictated by what you can afford but with a little effort it is possible to find something fabulous and very ‘you’ at the right price.

I would say that a watch is with you wherever you go and is worth investing in. As guys, we don’t spend our money on ‘it’ bags, jewelry, or, ninety quid hair cuts from a bloke called Kiest, so why not treat ourselves to something that is useful, beautiful and can be passed down to our children?

After all, time is the most precious commodity we have so why not keep it in something a little bit special.

Hats off to days gone by

I was recently invited to the 40th birthday party of Big Al Matchett (pictured above and resplendent in velvet), dress code – “The Roaring 20’s.”

This was a wonderful era which I would love to have experienced. The horrors of the first World War had made many people realise that life was for living. It was hectic and hedonistic. I can just see myself and my harem of flappers dancing to jazz music and necking cocktails that were being served for the first time in London clubs.

Forget the Primrose Hill set of today – this was a time of glamour, style and elegance with stars like Cary Grant and Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn the toast of Hollywood.

On the threads front, ‘Oxford Bags’ and ‘Plus Fours’ were born and whilst in the early nineteen twenties gents wore high buttoning single-breasted coats, these gave way to longer double-breasted styles, tightly waisted with side vents and wider lapels.

I must say I do love a cheeky double-breasted number. There is something very old school and dashing about the way the coat sweeps across the body. The buttons accentuate the drop between the chest and the waist, and even the sharply pointed peak lapels seem to add a certain caddish ‘whose your daddy?’ element to the whole ensemble. It is imposing, dignified and in many ways a gentleman’s suit of armour. Perfect for approaching a pretty young gal, stroking ones tash and uttering the Terry Thomas line, “well hello!”

So, out of the wardrobe came my trusty “button two, show three” and one cravat later held nicely in place with a pearl tie pin and all I needed to complete the look was some quality head gear.

Perhaps one of the saddest things that has happened since the 1960’s has been the demise of the hat. Gone are the days when an outfit wasn’t complete without a bowler, trilby, homburg, or fedora, to top it off.

I can’t explain it but the very act of pulling a trilby down over my forehead sent a wave of testosterone rushing to my bollocks. Worn by fast-talking gangsters and cigarette smoking hacks in black and white movies, perhaps for a second I became a modern day James Cagney.

Whatever the reason, wearing one made me feel great and I will definitely be sporting one during my next visit to the races. For those of you who are interested in purchasing one, I’d recommend a visit to James Lock and Co in London.

In fact…I’m about to head off for a long weekend to the Cote d’Azur. Perhaps I should treat myself to a Panama to go with my white linen suit. Ding Dong!

Hanky Panky

Cruising above the out breast welt of a jacket, the pocket handkerchief is the shark of the sartorial sea. Its silky fin commands respect from those accessories lower down the food chain.

Legends who have succumbed to its charm include the Rat Pack, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig as 007, John Steed in the Avengers, Michael Caine as Alfie and the gents from Goodfella’s.

Like Kelly Brook’s contribution to reality TV, its sole purpose is to look good and provide a satisfying bulge in the pocket. It is the final flourish a gentleman makes to his attire and can transform something quite ordinary into the truly exceptional.

Wearing such an accoutrement takes confidence. The only rule as such is that when worn with a tie, the patterns and colours should not match. So long as you have a tailored jacket on your back, they can be worn any time, any place, any where.

There is something I find enjoyable about wearing a battered pair of jeans and white t-shirt at the weekend and then for the sheer hell of it, have forty quid’s worth of silk hanging out of the top pocket of my jacket. Always have been a bit of a flash git.

When it comes to ‘smart’ clobber, the overall look doesn’t have to resemble Captain Peacock from “Are you Being Served?” Think more along the lines of Reservoir Dogs – a closely fitted black suit, white shirt, skinny black tie and then to cap it off, a razor sharp square of crisp white linen slotted into the jacket pocket. Awesome.

Like choosing a tie, selecting the right pocket square requires taste. All I will say is keep it simple, less is more, keep the number of colours down to a minimum and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. The many establishments on Jermyn Street will be only too happy to help.

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for – forget cotton, you need to go for linen or pure silk and size is important. Bigger is better. There is also the matter of how you arrange it. There are four basic shapes – the square, the triangle, the four point and the puff – but the skill is to make it look like you have aloofly thrust it into your pocket with little care for the finished result.

To me, the handkerchief is style personified. Nonchalant. Rakish. Genteel. I only hope you’ll take the plunge, pop one in your pocket and show the plankton of this world how it’s done.