Bring on the gimp

Beauty comes in many forms and the ability to appreciate stunning architecture, a fine wine, or, a gorgeous suit, is not just the right of the connoisseur.

All our opinions are valid, and whilst experience in an area lends credibility, the gift of good taste and a sense of style is subjective, and cannot be learnt.

We are all different and our little grey cells get excited about some things, and sigh “whatever” at others.

Even before I got into the world of bespoke tailoring, suits turned me on. As a young man on holiday in Marbella, I was stopped dead in my tracks in front of the window of Tom Ford.

I couldn’t particularly explain why, but there was something about that jacket, that just grabbed me by the balls, and made me smile.

As you begin to get into something, it soon becomes apparent how much there is to learn about the subject, and as time goes by, you begin to appreciate the finer points and subtleties that can help shed light on ‘why’ some things just simply stand out and shine.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the shoulder is to tailoring what terroir is to wine-making. It’s shape and character sets the tone and silhouette of everything below, and is the first thing somebody notices because it’s in their line of sight.

With the introduction of our new made to measure line, I could finally offer my customers something that to me, is a thing of true beauty, a roped shoulder.

Some of the finest examples out there are by Edward Sexton, Chittleborough & Morgan, and of course, Cifonelli (pictured below).

Cifonelli

Here is one of my recent customers in his wedding threads to be worn in Lake Garda. Check out the way the sleeve head sits proudly above the shoulder line. Love it.

Ross Roped Shoulders

The devil, as they (often!) say, is in the detail, and I am now thrilled to introduce another drool-invoking cherry, that can sit on top of the suit-making cake at Michelsberg Tailoring.

The Milanese buttonhole.

The easiest way to make a button hole is by machine, whereby it is first stitched, and then cut. It takes seconds to produce and is thoroughly fit for purpose, holding either button, or, flower in place, for as long as required.

Hand worked buttonholes are cut first, then stitched, and it is here, we are thrust into the upper echelons of bespoke tailoring, where the skill of the artisan can sing out like a rendition of Nessun Dorma by Pavarotti.

I have watched button holes being made on Savile Row, in Italy and China and it still astounds me as to the complexity of their making.

There are so many different ways of production, but in principle, after the hole is made, a special silk thread called a ‘gimp,’ is placed on top, to keep the buttonhole in shape, whilst the stitches are sewn on top, using  silk buttonhole “twist.”

The quality and look of finished buttonholes, varies hugely, but the style that I adore most, is known as the Asolsa Lucida, or, “glossy buttonhole.”

My research tells me it originated in the Abruzzi region of Italy, and is embraced by the likes of Brioni, Tom Ford and Cifonelli. A photo of a Tom Ford buttonhole is featured below.

Tom Ford Buttonhole

It is often called the “Milanese” buttonhole but this has nothing to do with the area where it was born. The name comes from the brand of silk gimp that was used to create it, marketed and sold by a company called “Gutermann” under the name “Milanese.”

Well now, I am able to offer my customers a Michelsberg Milanese button hole, and here is one below that has been made on a jacket made-up for one of our Manchester customers.

Michelsberg Buttonhole

To me, it’s something special. The way it sits so neatly above the cloth, like a glowing silkworm, a hallmark of patience, craft and time spent creating something beautiful.

Not everyone will notice it. But that’s the point. It’s for “those in the know.” The connoisseur.

Many of my customers love the fact that our cuff buttonholes “work.” They will often leave one undone, as a subtle sign to the outside world that a bit more time, effort and energy was invested by someone else to create it.

Like a masonic handshake, it lets other lovers of bespoke tailoring know they are “in the club,” and whilst some might consider this vulgar, I’m a fan.

Make no mistake, the Milanese button hole is all about beauty. It’s more fragile than other hand-sewn button holes and is often only used on the lapel hole, rather than the others which, like myself, need to work harder for a living!

My goal since starting my business has been to be as opened minded as possible with respect to tailoring, and strive to improve the quality of what we offer in terms of product and service.

Our Milanese buttonholes might only be just less than an inch in length, but they are a giant leap forward for us as a tailoring business.

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Michelsberg Made to Measure

Ciao amici miei!

The Michelsberg Italian Uber level has landed and here I am on a passeggiata outside Michelsberg HQ.

James Michelsberg Italian Uber

As I mentioned in my previous blog, it’s the real deal, top of the tailoring tree. Suit porn for a sartorial connoisseur, absolutely everything hand-made, a work of art.

The moment I slipped the jacket on, my back shivered.

Excitement, adrenalin, I’m not exactly sure what caused those tingles of joy, but it felt like nothing I have experienced before. The soft canvas, so light and yet still palpable, caressed my torso like the embrace of an angel.

The attention to detail was mind-blowing. The Michelsberg label, cross-stitched using matching thread, beautiful hand-made buttonholes and check out that wonderful stitching between the gorge and collar (which I’ve always admired on Tom Ford suits).

Michelsberg Italian Uber Level Details

With a retail price of two and a half grand, it’s expensive.

With our British Bespoke line starting from £800 for a two piece, it’s going to be a jump too far for many of my customers, but it’s a serious addition to the Michelsberg armoury and one hell of a weapon I can’t wait to start deploying.

Whilst I believe there will always be a market for British formal suiting, built to last with a sharp, chiselled silhouette, there is no escaping the trend towards more informal ‘de-constructed’ tailoring.

Armani ‘ripped the stuffing’ out of Savile Row in the 70’s / 80’s.  “Gone were the shoulder pads, the tight armholes, the straight trousers. Armani’s suits draped, they flowed, they allowed wearers to exhale. This was the path forward.” (Lauren Goldstein Milan)

Don Johnson

Judging by the recent collections at Pitti Uomo, the wheel has turned again. Whilst I have serious doubts that the ‘Miami Vice’ suits of my youth will return with gusto, I very much want to offer that softer, Italian style at a more affordable price-point than the new Uber.

Working with the Italians has opened my eyes to a new philosophy of suit making. Whilst I am still totally committed to producing wonderful British suits, I am taking our soft-tailoring offer a step further, with the introduction of our NEW MADE TO MEASURE OFFERING!

Over the past ten years, I’ve visited and had trial garments made with at least a dozen made-to-measure operators, with workshops in Italy, Romania, Egypt, Germany, Czech Republic, Portugal, Mauritius, China and India; the results have been variable.

At Michelsberg Tailoring, service is everything.

Finding suppliers with that same ethos and level of commitment to delighting the customer is difficult.

It’s all very well when things are going right, but what is more important is how people respond when something goes wrong. It is then that a coat-maker, or cloth supplier, can be worth their weight in gold.

Honesty, enthusiasm and passion for our trade are what we are about, but we are only as good as the people behind us and our garments have to stand up for themselves.

At long last, we have found the right people to work with. Their sales director flew in to meet us here in our Leeds showroom, and how refreshing to see such genuine pride in their product and company.

Charlie and I were measured-up, and four weeks later we flew out to their studio to collect our suits and meet the team.

Here’s Charlie in his new threads, made up in a soft wool cashmere cloth by Loro Piana.

Charlie Anderson - deconstructed

The key difference of the Italian style, compared with our British Bespoke suits, is the super light canvas and unstructured shoulder, which means there is no padding.

One of my favourite Neapolitan Tailors is Rubinacci, pictured below. He seems very humble and most importantly for me, his style is very distinctive. He does his own thing, rather than follow the crowd, and I adore his use of colourful fabrics.

Lys lærredshabit med sommerstriber og vinrødt foulardslips

His garments bear all the hallmarks of a Neapolitan suit, key of which is an unstructured shoulder.

As well as a shorter jacket length, cut away fronts, minimal skirt, ‘kissing buttons’ on the cuffs and wider lapels, the sleeves are much wider than the armhole.

This means that when they are sewn into place, it creates a pleat, ‘pucker,’ or, fold, and produces a style known as “Spalla Camicia”, or, shirt shoulder, as shown below on these jackets in our agents showroom.

Michelsberg Spalla Camicia

Whilst I do love the idea of a softer, more rounded shoulder (like Charlie’s) for a more informal blazer, or suit, I’m not really a fan of spalla camicia and  feel it looks rather feminine. That said, if a customer wants it, we can now provide it :-)

We can also offer a more “roped shoulder,” whereby the sleeve head sits proudly above the shoulder line. This can be seem in my made-to-measure suit pictured below, made up in a soft flannel from Carlo Barbera.

Michelsberg Roped Shoulder

Another key design features associated with the Italian style is the “Barchetta” breast pocket, which means “little boat.” I adore the way it accentuates the swell of the chest and is going to be a permanent feature on all our Italian Uber & Made-to-measure garments. Gorgeous!

 

Barchetta

You can also see the double-hand stitching which many people find charming.

Personally, I think it looks rather fussy. On many Italian suits, there is further stitching down the centre back seam, sleeves and trousers, which again, I think is over-kill.

Finally, Charlie’s and my made-to-measure jackets are unlined, which means they will be cooler to wear in the summer. Vital if you live in Naples. Less so in Leeds, but we live in hope..

Unlined Jacket

We will be showcasing some of these garments at the Michelsberg Customer Christmas Party, on Thursday 3rd December from 6pm. The Tingley brass band will be playing carols, and if you are a customer, you should have received an email with all the details. If you haven’t, drop us a line!

On a final note I’d like to say this:

I’ve built my business on British Bespoke. I will always love and champion the English style. At Michelsberg Tailoring, it is here (god willing) to stay. Heavier cloth, canvas, wadding, means the garments are more durable, keep their shape better, and can take a bit of a hammering.

With our British Bespoke and Italian Uber levels, we provide a proper fitting, which will always help when dealing with a more challenging figure. Whilst great results can be achieved using a made-to-measure system, some figures (or style choices) are too extreme and can only be dealt with on a bespoke basis.

Whilst some of our customers adore our British Bespoke offering, they complain about the number of meetings required (3 to 4) and the time it takes to make a suit (2 to 3 months).

Personally, I think the good things in life are waiting for, but with a 4 week turnaround on our made-to-measure, this is going to help those customers who need new threads in a rush. Let’s face it, many blokes leave things to the last minute.

When push comes to shove, it’s something new. Something different. Something I adore. New suppliers, new fabrics and further style choices for you, the customer.

Here’s looking forward to raising a glass of mulled wine with you at the Christmas Party!

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Made in Italy”

I’ve had an itch for some time. It’s been tickling me ever since my first trip to the International menswear show in Florence that is Pitti Uomo.

It’s a condition known as Italophilia – “the admiration, general appreciation or love of Italy, its culture, society, arts and/or people.”

For me, it’s their threads that I adore, and of course, the flair, confidence and way in which they are worn. The Italian dandy, in all his finery, is the espresso sipping peacock of this planet.

Ever since I got into the game,  I’ve been seduced by the royalty of Italian bespoke tailoring.

Brands like Zegna, Brioni and Kiton need no introduction, and every suit connoisseur will have Attolini, Panico, Liverano & Liverano, and Rubinacci on their radar.

Talking generally, the Italian style is softer than the English look, with less canvas and wadding inside their garments and a more natural shoulder.

The overall style is often more laid back, embracing the spirit of sprezzatura, creating an air of nonchalance and invoking a rakish, devil-may-care attitude.

I will always love the hallmarks of a typically English suit – an imposing shoulder line, a chest (like soft armour) that curves powerfully down to a nipped in waist and a slightly flared skirt.

To me, it speaks of tradition. Dignity. Dependability. A sense of order. Gentlemanly values.

It is, of course, entirely possible that underneath this cloak of respectability lies a bounder of the highest order, but, taken at first sight, a chap will be given the benefit of the doubt.

There are many occasions when a level of formality is entirely appropriate, and this is the perfect backdrop for an English suit to shine.

That said, there are times when we can take a chill-pill, lower our guard, and wear clothes that will help bring out the more playful, unencumbered side to our personality.

This is the time to go Italiano.

Well this month, the time came to scratch my Italian itch, fly to Pisa and find my inner Giuseppe.

It started with a whisper from an Italian cloth agent. A workroom, near Florence, tucked away in the tumbling countryside, with thirty people making a product to rival that of Brioni and Kiton.

I investigated further and liked what I heard (apart from the price!). Cloth was despatched and last week I headed out for a first fitting on my trial garment.

First of all I was introduced to their cutter and striker, pictured below. Would you believe the cutter (on the right) is fifty one years old?

What better argument for a diet of red wine, olive oil and mamma’s cooking!

Italian Cutter & Striker

Next it was a trip round the workroom and everything that you’d expect from a low volume, top-notch operation.

Full canvas construction throughout, absolutely everything sewn by hand (here’s a clip of an Italian Button Hole being made), and my god, the enthusiasm for their work was exceptional.

Italian Handsewn

One lady glowed with pride, her bejewelled hands dancing through the air, as she sang the importance of using, not just the eye, but touch and ‘intuizione’, when positioning canvas and pads.

It was then to the office where I was fitted by their master-tailor.

Italy1

How refreshing and enjoyable to be ‘the customer!’

As far as first fittings go, it was straight sailing. The sleeves were slimmed, coat shortened, fronts cut away a bit, button position raised a touch. Minor tweaking. Balance and fit, spot on.

The cutter had clearly done his job well and taken into account my square shoulders, drop right and slightly sway stance.

It was then finally down to the nitty-gritty and a huddle with the master-tailor and their pattern cutter.

It is vital that I understand exactly what inlays are provided, the location of balance points, and when I ask for key measures (such as the finished half waist), we are all on the same page as to where, and how, they are taken.

This is when the fireworks began. Italians are generally passionate people, that’s what I love about them. They are noisy, wave their hands around in the air like a Jewish mother on amphetamine sulphate, and will argue their point like their life depends on it.

We got there in the end, hugged it out (totally true!) and, you guessed it, headed out for a very late lunch.

The place had no frills. Clean, quirky, a very warm welcome, three things on the specials board and I can honestly say, the best bowl of risotto I’ve ever eaten.

In three weeks time, the finished threads will land and then the judge and jury is out.

I’ve paid top dollar and my expectation is high. The quality of finishing is everything and all that passion, time and energy invested in its creation, will hopefully give me the fit and feel I’m looking for.

It’s busy times here at Michelsberg Tailoring. Whilst the “British Bespoke” remains the back-bone of my business, we are also looking at other manufacturing partners, and not standing still for a second.

Whilst this may mean more late night tussles with the customer service kings of Ryan air, on the upside, the wardrobes of Messers Anderson and Michelsberg, are not looking too shabby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Power Cords

Happy New Year my friends – may it be a fabulous one for us all!

I’m slowly getting back to my fighting weight, after what has been a particularly sinful Christmas, and am delighted to report that business has got off to a cracking start.

There’s a real Seventies vibe going on at the moment, with bold checks, wide lapels and deep collared shirts increasingly featuring in the armoury of my victims.

Charlie Anderson cordMy apprentice, Mr Anderson, has fully embraced this nod to the days of helmet-hair and flashing dance-floors, with the addition to his wardrobe of this plush, burgundy corduroy suit.

Back in the days of disco and devilment, corduroy was worn by the likes of Jagger and Dylan, but has also been embraced by the landed gentry and Oxbridge professors.

Whilst I have nothing again brains, or blue-blood, we wanted something sharp, more strutting rock star, than fusty fuddy-duddy. So, we’ve turned up the volume, put on our platform shoes and given it the right royal Michelsberg treatment.

It’s skin tight, fitted to the max, with one button to fasten, flamboyant four-inch peak lapels and a turn-up on the (very slim) trouser.

The look has a raffish air about it – perfect attire for deflowering a fur-clad lovely in St. Moritz, rather than taking tea and crumpets with Stephen Fry in West Bilney.

Corduroy has a wonderfully soft, luxurious and indulgent handle. Together with moleskin and velvet, it was part of a group of cotton and linen based fabrics, known in the Nineteenth Century as the ‘fustians’.

Today, it’s usually made of 100% cotton, although the cloth company Scabal have a lovely bunch blended with 10% cashmere.

In terms of its manufacture, the loom is set up with a higher number of weft threads (running left to right) than warp threads (running up and down) so that a dense, smooth, fabric is produced. This is then cut using special machines to form ‘ridges’ of raised pile down the length of the piece.

Cord is classified according to the size of the ‘wale’, or the number of ridges per inch.

I prefer ‘needlecord’ or ‘pincord’ which has a finer amount of wales, meaning the cord count is higher. It’s softer and more subtle than the brown ‘jumbo’ cord trousers of my youth :-)

Another trend that’s very popular at the moment, is ‘separates‘ – mixing up jackets, trousers and vests in different materials, colours and textures.

Scabal JacketingOne of the benefits of investing in a corduroy suit is that you’ll have a sharp jacket to wear with jeans, flannels, or, cotton chinos. Alternatively, you can wear the trousers with knitwear, or, a closely fitted wool blazer, or, top-coat.

It takes a certain degree of style and flair to get it right, but that’s all part of the fun. Bringing together a selection of garments and accessories to create a look that is harmonious and unique.

We’ve just taken delivery of a stunning new Italian jacketing bunch, as well as Scabal’s Spring / Summer collection in cotton, linen and silk.

Whilst most will work with jeans, they are just crying out for that perfect pair of strides. Whether that’s a light grey shade of cool wool, or a seriously bright gabardine is up to you.

Roll on Spring and let the dressing up begin!

Tennis, trofie and tailors

It’s 4.30pm on a Friday afternoon in Leeds.

Blue sky, twenty seven degrees, and a white-wine and Peroni soaked crowd of suits, are wallowing on the sun-drenched pavement outside the Bar & Grill.

Now is the time of the year to kick back and suck the marrow out of every bone Mother Nature throws at us.

Earlier this month, I decided to take a cheeky day off, and my wife and I headed down to Wimbledon for the tennis.

With yet another glorious day on the cards, and wanting to look the part, my first port of call was to my favourite hatters Lock and Co on St James’s street, to treat myself to a Panama hat.

Armed with my new head candy, we jumped on a bus and crawled along the streets of gold to the grass lawns of the All-England club.

To be honest, tennis isn’t really my game. The highlight for me was the nimble footed lineswoman who, a dead ringer for Miss Marple, was a magnet for an extremely powerful Russian’s serve.

Watching the old dear, busting shapes to avoid getting clattered by a tennis ball, reduced me to a giggling wreck.

After three hours of play, I’d had enough. My long-suffering wife, Nikki, agreed we could up sticks and head to Mayfair, where there just happened to be a couple of tailors I wanted to visit…

First stop was Spencer Hart’s new flagship store on Brook Street. Here I am with Moaz, one of their Sales Associates.

He’s the one in the black suit. Not the Michael Winner look-a-like showing more chest hair than Simon Cowell.

Ten years ago, I visited their shop on Savile Row and met Nick Hart, the founder.

For someone just starting out in the trade, it was pretty inspirational stuff. Dark wood, soft jazz music, razor sharp threads on the wall. The place had soul, a real edge to it.

Since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength, building their brand and launching successful ready-to-wear and made-to-measure collections. They now have a truly international presence, dressing numerous high-profile celebrities.

In a past life, the new shop was a bank, and Moaz was kind enough to let me check out “The Vault,” their underground, luxury personal shopping suite.

Whilst upstairs is “L.A” bright and beautiful, the darker side of Spencer Hart was once again revealed.

Very much a Bond villains lair, you’d be very happy to chill on the leather banquet and select a vintage Rolex, or, commission a bespoke pair of velvet slippers.

Next on the radar was Thom Sweeney.

Based on Weighhouse Street, these guys are currently making a real name for themselves and deservedly so.

The two founders, Thom Widdett and Luke Sweeney, used to work for Timothy Everest before sailing off on their own ship.

I met with Thom and Matthew Gonzales, one of his junior cutters, on a recent trip overseas and it was clear to me then that these guys have style and ambition in abundance.

Their signature dish is the “Horse-shoe” vest, served with a side order of old-school glamour. They’ve also recently launched a ready-to-wear line and I have no doubt we’ll be hearing much more from them in the near future.

Matthew was in their basement workrooms when I arrived and gave me the grand tour. Their shop was fabulous. It oozed with charm and character and like the chaps themselves, impeccably attired.

Judging by the pile of re-cuts he had to do, business is brisk for them at the moment!

After that, it was time for cocktails.

Heading down Bond Street towards Soho, we passed Sotheby’s, the auction house. Directly outside was a crowd of photographers and a sign in the window: “Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale.”

One of my customers, Paddy, works for them at a senior level and so, seizing the day, I wandered across to the doorman (dressed in full morning suit and top hat) and enquired as to whether he was in attendance.

He popped inside to find out. Moments later, a frightfully British chap, who introduced himself as Harry, bustled through the door. We were greeted like long lost friends and swept inside.

After eight years in tailoring I can spot a five grand suit at twenty paces and this place was rammed to the gills with them.

The rarefied atmosphere buzzed with expectation. The art-strewn walls, a shimmering backdrop, to this cultured oasis for the wealthy, privileged, and beautiful.

It turned out Paddy had just left, but Harry ushered us into the sale room and proceeded to give us the lowdown on paintings by Monet, Picasso, Renoir and Mondrian.

The collection raised just over one hundred and twenty million pounds. Not a bad little earner for a Monday night’s work.

I later found out that Harry was in fact, Lord Harry Dalmeny, Deputy Chairman of Sotheby’s. It’s not often I’m given a private tour of art-work by a member of the peerage. Surreal.

We were ‘papped’ as we left the building (hilarious) and the best was yet to come. Dinner at Bocca Di Lupo.

If there are three words you must remember from this post, these are it. Utterly, totally and unequivocally the best Italian food I have eaten in this country.

The courgette flowers filled with mozzarella and anchovy were boules of joy. The roast suckling pig with grapes, white wine and bay, so unctuously magnificent, I felt bereaved when it came to an end.

London really is, a truly special place. Wonderful things can, and will happen for you there, if you have the desire to seek them out.

Fine threads, good food and a smidge of culture are always on my hit list, and as usual our wonderful capital city delivered.

Dining with Giants

On Wednesday 12th February at 6.30pm, I was formally announced into the inner sanctum of the Merchant Taylors Hall in the City of London.

Based at Number 30 Threadneedle Street, this has been home to The Livery Company of The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors’ since 1343, and tonight was their annual Benevolent Association Dinner.

As far as events go in the world of fine threads, this is the ‘Big Kahuna’, the ‘Bomb-Diggy.’ I’d kindly been invited by the cloth company Scabal to join their table.

With adrenalin and champagne surging through my veins, I stepped into a stunning oak-panelled room to be greeted by the great and the good of British textiles and tailoring. Weaving my way through some of the sharpest suits on the planet, I hooked up with my hosts.

Introducing Robert Oakes, roving ambassador of the North for Scabal, and the lovely Hazel Edmonds, who runs the office at their flagship store on Savile Row.

When it comes to service, these guys set the bar. Efficient, warm, and a genuine pleasure to deal with, they are a credit to what is arguably the most forward thinking and commercially minded cloth business in the world.

It was also great to meet and spend some time with their retail sales manager, Ricky Sahota.

No stranger to the joys of wielding a tape-measure, he, like myself, is on the sharp-end of things, and handles the made-to-measure side of the business.

Over a fabulous dinner, we traded war-stories, drank white wine, red wine, port, and commiserated on his 6.30am flight to their head office in Brussels the next morning. Ouch.

Seated next to me was Terry Brown, a former President of the Merchant Taylors Company.

With more than forty years service to Scabal, his loyalty is matched with a reputation for kindness and fair play.

One of the most well connected chaps on the Row, his tales of life in the rag-trade and on the ‘Golden Mile’ were an utter delight.

After dinner, our speaker was Nigel from “The Apprentice.”

After that, it was time for a stiff drink at the bar and it was here that the party really got started.

Here I am with Paul from Huntsman, and Leon, bespoke trouser cutter at Anderson & Sheppard.

At the start of the evening, things were a little bit starchy and stilted. Hushed tones, polished shoes, an overriding sense of decorum.

Then in walks Paul in his white and pink John Travolta special. The room cheered, shoulders dropped and everyone eased-up. The world needs more people like Paul.

Here’s Robert having a quaff with Emma Martin, coat-maker for Dege and Skinner. BBC’s Young Tailor of the Year for 2012, she bubbled with enthusiasm for her trade.

That evening, positivity ruled the roost. It was wonderful to see the place crammed to the rafters with young, ambitious tailors. The future of British Tailoring is bright. And it likes a drink.

I crashed at 3am. Two Nurofen, a glass of water and four hours sleep later, my pink, bleary eyes cracked open to face another day. I wandered down to the river from my hotel in Monument and was faced with this.

London rocks. I jumped into a cab and headed to my spiritual home (after Croyde Bay in Devon), Savile Row. First stop was Number 13, Stowers Bespoke. Ray Stowers was on my table the previous night and had invited me to pop into his shop.

A relatively new addition to the Row, prior to this, they had offered their bespoke service via a concession at Liberty on Regent Street.

They are a young team, were great fun on the night and had also consumed their fair share of pain killers that morning.

Next up was one of my firm favourites, Chittleborough & Morgan, and a meeting with the living legend that is Joe Morgan.

Joe, along with Edward Sexton, were the talented hands behind the stunning suits of Tommy Nutter.

“Nutters” was the place to go in the seventies. They dressed all the big names (Elton, Jagger, The Beatles) and my very next suit (almost finished!) is a nod to their stunning work of days gone by.

I particularly liked this little number in their showroom.

Then it was next door to Number 12, Scabal, to check out their newly refurbished showroom.

Not bad eh? No wonder they have to charge such high prices for their schmutter! :-)

Here’s Andrew Goldberg, their National Sales Manager. Softly spoken, a true gent, he’s mad about cloth and used to run the Leeds operation of Gieves and Hawkes.

By now I was flagging. The hangover was winning the battle with Reckitt Benckiser’s little helpers. I needed sustenance and fast.

So, off to Soho to meet my friend Flynny for lunch, but not before popping in to say hello to my ‘old friend’ Mark Powell, who I’ve mentioned recently in a previous blog.

The food at Yauatcha on Broadwick street was fabulous. Try their tea-smoked ribs. Incredible. And then it was off to Kings Cross and back to Yorkshire where all the civilised people live :-)

As my train left the thumping, pupping heart of Mother England, I had once again been inspired by a city that makes me want to do more and be better.

When it comes to threads, London is ‘The Show’ and I will not rest until ‘Michelsberg’ gets a place in the limelight.

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!

 

London Calling

It’s Saturday morning, I’ve just done my last fitting before Christmas, there’s a brass band playing carols in the Victoria Quarter and I’m feeling simply bloody marvellous.

Whilst the bling-tastic Christmas tree outside is impressive, it’s nowt compared to the bright lights of London.

Last Thursday I spent twelve glorious hours in our throbbing metropolis.

Most of it was out and about on the streets of Mayfair, a perfumed playground for the privileged, where delicate noses safely sniff, far away from the fetid stench of despair and poverty that lies beneath this truly great city.

My first port of call was to investigate a new workroom which I’d heard made-up for the great and the good down South.

I’ve seen quite a few operations in my time and this one hit the spot. Run by a lady with real passion for the trade, I was impressed not just by the quality of their work, but the fact that the atmosphere was jovial. People were enjoying their work and the focus was on quality rather than quantity.

Here I am modelling one of their smoking jackets made-up for one of the outfitters on Jermyn Street who holds a Royal Warrant.

It’s a bit “Captain Peacock” for my taste. I’m not really a fan of all the frogging around the button holes and cuffs but at last I’ve found a team who are happy working with velvet. The uber-cool Michelsberg smoking jacket will be a reality. Get in!

After that, I had lunch with my friend Flynny at The Hawksmoor on Air street. Now that’s a steak joint. Slightly art deco in style it’s a mahogany and leather temple to man-food. A place where the dreams of carnivores collide with the nightmares of the bovine massive.

After my cholesterol raising car-crash of rib-eye, bone marrow, triple cooked chips and red wine, I stumbled outside and paid homage to my spiritual home (after Croyde Bay) – Savile Row.

If tailoring is part theatre, then this is the ultimate stage. Just being here fills me with pride, joy, a sense of hope and fuels the dream of what might be.

My favourite bit in “Masterchef” is where they get to cook for some of the best chefs in the world and meet their heroes in the flesh. Being on Savile Row is just like that for me.

First port of call was Huntsman, pictured above. Now these guys are busy but I was still given a warm welcome by their head cutter, Patrick Murphy, and Johnny Allen, their Sales Manager. Then who tapped me on the shoulder? Steve from Yorkshire Textiles. It seems us Northerners get everywhere.

After that it was over the road to Spencer Hart, tailor of choice to the coolest of cats.

Here I am with Theo Gould in the inner sanctum where fine threads have been commissioned by the likes of Robbie Williams, David Bowie and David Beckham. Eight years ago, when I first started my own tailoring business, I remember entering this cavern of dark wood and even darker suits, meeting Nick Hart and being blown away with the set-up. Inspirational stuff.

Then, it was down the golden mile and off to Lock and Co on St James’s street to pick up a Christmas present to myself – a new hat.

I adore this place. It’s understated, charming, devoid of all pretence. The gentleman above is Andrew Baselgia, their retail manager, and twenty minutes later, armed with a spanking new ‘Borsalino,’ I headed to my final destination – a Christmas party thrown by Scabal on Savile Row.

The wine flowed (heavily) and here I am with the guys from Kilgour – Michael Smith, their Senior Cutter, and Martin Crawford and Andrew Skillen on the sales floor. We talked shop and I loved every moment.

As I pulled out of Kings Cross (drinking yet more wine) I reflected on the words of Samuel Johnson – “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – and after living the dream for a day, I couldn’t agree more.

So that’s it. “Out of office” on. Shop Shut. Here’s wishing you a truly magnificent Christmas and a fabulous 2013 for us all.

Tinker, Tailor, Shoulder, Spy.

007. Three digits, one man, five billion dollars in revenue. James Bond is the ultimate brand.

After the front page of Google, Daniel Craig’s pecs must be the most valuable space on earth. Pay per nip advertising – his agent’s missing a trick.

A third of Skyfall’s £100million budget was paid for by product placement deals and who can blame them. Bond is a living god: the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit of all things cool.

I can’t wait to see it. The ‘intelligent’ and ‘ambitious’ girl will still no doubt have legs up to Orion’s belt. There’ll be a fuel guzzling Aston Martin leaving Jeremy Clarkson slobbering for metaphors, an Omega watch, extreme violence, all washed down with a swig of Heineken.

The other thing that’s guaranteed is sharp threads. I’ve blogged about the Bond tailors in a previous post. If your business involves a needle and thread, then kitting out Fleming’s finest has got to be the ultimate gig.

Anthony Sinclair (Sean Connery), Doug Hayward (Roger Moore), Brioni (Piers Brosnan) and Tom Ford (Daniel Craig) all have got their 007 wings. It might mean sacrificing a hundred suits during filming but imagine the payback? A honey pot the size of Canada faced with a hurricane of fifty pound notes.

Whilst the saviour of Gucci dines out with the Broccoli massive, at least a few crumbs fall from the table to tailors like myself who are still scratching our way up.

Even before the hype, one of my customers was at my doorstep, a feverous look in his eye, thrusting the picture below into my hands and muttering the ‘Little Britain’ catchphrase, “Want that one.”

Single breasted, two buttons, straight pocket flaps. Looks rather classical. Then you spot the gorge on the lapel. It’s higher than usual. And check out the fronts. They’re more cut-away than normal. As for the jacket length, it’s on the short side. Not ‘Top Man’ freeze your bum to death short, but certainly more contemporary in length. Finally the shoulder.

The shoulder is to tailoring what terroir is to wine-making. It’s shape and character sets the tone and silhouette of everything below and is the first thing somebody notices because it’s in their line of sight.

Essentially there are two types of shoulder. One that is ‘natural’, often soft and unstructured, and one that is straighter and more constructed.

Style forums are full of posts declaring the Italians as the godfathers of the “natural” shoulder. It makes sense that in a hot climate, a tailor would want to offer his customers lighter weight cloth, and as such need to use light-weight scaffolding underneath.

The hallmark of a Neapolitan shoulder is one of little (if any) padding and canvas. They also cut the sleeves wider at the top, and this excess cloth is sewn, or ‘eased’ into the shoulder / armhole.

This combined with a clever manipulation of the seams when sewing the sleeve and the shoulder together will often create a slight ‘puff’ or pucker. Some of this can be shrunk away by pressing, although many dandies declare it a thing of beauty.

This is often referred to as a shirt shoulder, or “spalla camicia,” a picture of which is shown below and made by Napoli Su Misura.

Italians don’t have a monopoly on the less is more school of thought. Anderson and Sheppard’s soft ‘drape cut’ is very similar. Here’s Karl, one of their ex employees and now running his own show, wearing a coat with a typically soft, rounded shoulder.

Military and horsey Savile Row tailors such as Dege & Skinner, Gieves & Hawkes and Huntsman tend to go for a bit more welly in the shoulder. The same can be said for Brioni and Caraceni. It’s probably why they do so well in the States as the Yanks, like myself, prefer a more imposing shoulder line.

An example can be seen below in what I consider to be one of the finest and most iconic suits ever made.

The shoulder is straight, there’s certainly some padding and I think it flatters and draws attention to his naturally broad shoulders.

Piers, in his Brioni, also has a more constructed shoulder, however his are ‘roped’ at the end.

The Roped Shoulder, or Con Rollino, is named as such when the sleeve is higher than the shoulder line, as if it has been draped over a rope. I think it looks more formal and is what my customer wanted, similar to the Tom Ford special in my first photo.

As far as Michelsberg is concerned, we’ve always used padding in the shoulders including a ‘sleeve-head,’ which sits between the sleeve and the shoulder and is shown below.

I explained to Jon, Debbie and Sandra in the workroom that a ‘rope’ was the goal and we got busy. It wasn’t easy, but then doing new things never is. We cut the crown (top) of the sleeves with more fullness (so there was extra cloth to create the rope) and added another layer of construction in the head-roll, which I’m pointing out with my stitch-cutter below.

With some scratching of chins and clever sewing we achieved the following.

There are still a few things to sort out but that’s what it’s all about. Pushing the boundaries, being open to new ideas and not being afraid to fail.

I’ve made my peace with the crushing blow that I’ll never get to be James Bond. Which leaves the next best thing. Dressing him. Velvet collar, Daniel?

 

Wilde Times Ahead

“I find that alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, may produce all the effects of drunkenness.” (Oscar Wilde)

Sprawled on my Chesterfield, a glass of tawny port in hand, I couldn’t agree more. For those of you who haven’t seen his biography, “Wilde” is a decent film. Whilst my wife, and no doubt Stephen Fry, enjoyed extensive footage of Bosie’s (Jude Law’s) bottom, I was captivated by the wardrobe.

In a recent article I declared “The Dandy is back,” but compared to the Victorians, we’re lightweights.

Velvet smoking jackets, silk brocaded dressing gowns with quilted shawl lapels, gold pocket-watches, jewel-encrusted tie pins, cravats, double breasted vests and top hats and straw boaters were paraded before me.

I particularly liked this blazer with matching vest.

Checks are everywhere at the moment. I recently made this jacket in a Super 130’s Merino wool blended with Mongolian cashmere. With its purple velvet collar and flashes of purple silk behind the working cuffs, I think it gives the former a run for its money.

It’s been a great month here at Michelsberg HQ.

This Saturday, a friend and customer (Paul Dunphy) dropped me a line to say he had just been voted Best Dressed Man at York Races and here he is pictured below with Jeff Banks (remember The Clothes Show?:-).

As my Facebook Page shows, I’ve been very busy delivering lot’s of new threads to happy customers including a few “Uber Levels.”

The ‘Uber’ is our very top-level of construction. I’ve gone into the nitty-gritty in a previous blog but basically it’s as good as tailoring gets.

The button hole above has been sewn by hand in silk twist – it’s slightly longer than a machined button hole and has that rather charming hand-made look about it.

If you look at the picture below, you can see small dints in the fabric where the canvas in the lapels has been pad stitched onto the cloth by hand to achieve a wonderful roll.

And check out the chain-stitch which makes up the flower-loop. Sweet.

Best of all, it’s got my name in it, beautifully cross stitched by hand.

These are the hallmarks of a truly artisan workshop, craftsmanship at its finest and it gives me a huge buzz to be able to offer it to my customers.

The dream has always been to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best tailoring houses in the world and with ‘The Uber’ in my armoury, I’ve got one hell of a pair of Cuban heels to raise me up to their lofty heights.

There’s much for me to look forward to – at the end of this week I’m heading off to Devon for a holiday in search of cider, surf and sunshine. Can’t wait!

Then, when I get back, I’m throwing a party for friends, customers and suppliers here in the Victoria Quarter, on Thursday 20th September from 6pm.

If it’s anything like my opening bash, things could get a bit messy and as Friday morning rears its throbbing head, let’s remember Oscar when he said, “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”