Mooning in Guiseley

This month, I’ve brought to fruition a project that’s been dancing about in my mind, since clearing out my winter wardrobe.

I love the texture and drape of tweed, and it was with a sigh that I bagged up my heavy Donegal & Shetland wool jackets, to make room for the wool, silk and linen numbers for Spring.

My existing 14 to 18 ounce tweed numbers are all very British, with padded roped shoulders, horse-hair canvas in the chest and fully lined. They are perfect for keeping out the chill on a breezy Autumn stroll in God’s county, but feel like an oven if the sun’s on your back in Summer.

So, I had an idea…

Let’s find a lightweight, but proper tweed, and make the jacket in our more informal, Italian style. No lining. No shoulder pads, No canvas. Just tweed. Less gubbins. Cooler to wear.

Here’s what we came up with.

Michelsberg Conchiglia Jacket in Moon Tweed

Michelsberg Conchiglia Jacket - unlined, no canvas

As far as style goes, it has the very essence of something you’d find at a tailors in Naples. Wide notch lapels, patch pockets, slightly shorter in the body, cut away fronts, kissing buttons on the cuffs, a smaller armhole and wide sleeve-head, to give the wearer greater ease of movement.

But the star of the show is the cloth, from Abraham Moon of West Yorkshire.

Coming in at 11 ounces in weight, it’s very light for tweed, but the woollen yarn used in its production strikes the perfect balance to produce a handle that is soft, and yet has some guts to it.

Based in Guiseley, they are only a five minute drive from my home town of Otley, so this week I paid them a visit to check out their facility.

Here I am lined up (like the usual suspects!) with their Managing Director & Chairman, John Walsh (who is the fourth generation of the family that succeeded the Moon dynasty) and their Sales Director of thirteen years, John Pickles.

 

John Walsh & John Pickles

 

With a turnover of around £22 million, they employ 250 people and are a truly “vertical mill.”

This means that sheep fluff comes in at one end of the factory, and finished fabric and home furnishings and accessories (like scarves, throws and cushions) come out of the other.

The Moon story is a compelling one. Founded in 1837, Abraham Moon provided yarn to villagers to weave at home, collected the cloth, washed it, dried it in the surrounding hills and took it for sale to Leeds market.

Success led him to building a mill on Netherfield road, situated close to the river (for ‘scouring’ / cleaning wool) and right next to the railway for transporting goods in and out.

His son, Isaac, took over the reigns (after he died in a carriage crash in 1877) and was a chip off the old block – the business flourished, and by early 1900’s was fully vertical.

Looking through their incredible textile archives, I was shown the cloths they produced for army greatcoats in the First World War and an array of stunning jacketings that would have been worn by Bertie Wooster types in the 1920’s.

 

Moon Cloth

He died in 1909 and ten years later, the Moon family sold the business to Charles Walsh (their designer and mill manager) for £33,000. The business was then passed down to Frank, then Arthur and now John, who spent many years at the textiles giant Courtaulds, before running the family business in 1989.

He started at a tough time when the textile trade was really up against the wall. Emerging producers in Spain, Portugal, Eastern Europe, Turkey and more recently China were putting huge pressure on margins.

They did what the remaining survivors of our apparel trade did today, and focused on higher value / niche markets with an emphasis on flexibility, customer service and design prowess, working with designers like Ralph Lauren, D&G, Burberry, Brooks Brothers, J Crewe and Paul Smith.

They also diversified, and started producing fabrics for furnishings, and manufactured what has become an award winning collection(s) of accessories like scarves, throws and cushions.

All ranges are stock-supported and are on display in their showroom, which is pictured below.

Moon Showroom

This was consolidated by the purchase of “Bronte Tweed” in 2009, which gave them access to a fabulous customer base of small to medium sized suppliers of home furnishings and gifts.

This process of putting their eggs in many baskets has spread the risk and provided huge potential for cross selling / growth, whilst at the same time protecting them from being held to ransom by a small number of ‘big’ customers.

As a business, they attend twenty seven trade shows around the world every year, and an impressive fifty percent of their business comes from exports. Key markets are Japan – that has always placed heritage high on its agenda when sourcing quality products – and the US, however, their reach is global.

They’ve recently opened up a retail operation in Settle, where the Michelsberg “conchiglia” jacket will be displayed, and another shop is planned to open in York in the near future.

Providing cut lengths to tailors is a new string to their bow, and the chap behind that is my good friend, Mr John Harrop, pictured below.

John Harrop

Previously at Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, he is a cloth man (and man of honour) through and through, and gave me a tour of the mill.

I will never tire of seeing stuff get made. That moment when I shove in my ear-protectors and walk onto the factory floor always gives me a tingle in my tummy and puts a smile on my face. It’s the smell of oil, clanking machinery and team approach to manufacturing that I find so infectious.

Check out the bloke below. He’s ‘blending’ together blue and white raw wool material at the very start of the process, which goes on to produce the woollen yarn which will then be sent for warping, weaving, scouring and finishing.

Moon Manufacturing

Who would believe that the beautiful Moon tweed fabric, on the seating in the foyer of the Oval office in the White House (true!), started its life as a piece of sheep fluff, tossed around by a burly Yorkshireman with a pitchfork in Guiseley! LOVE IT!

As always, time spent in a mill is never wasted, and meeting the people behind what is a truly inspirational brand and local success story was wonderful.

Check out the video below from the Moon massive.

I feel our collaboration on the “Conchiglia” jacket is only just the start between our respective businesses, which share the same values of passion, integrity and self-belief.

Now I’ve reached the Moon, next stop is the stars!

 

 

 

 

The Peacock is dead. Long live the Peacock.

In this months ‘Rake Magazine’, their editor and founder, Wei Koh, heralded “a new era in sartorialism. The peacock is dead, replaced by a concern for purity and restraint.”

He writes with fluency and passion, and brought a smile to my face, as he poked fun at the foppish, flâneurs who descend on Pitti Uomo, the menswear show in Florence, to flounce about in their finest.

I’ve had first hand experience of the above, and the spectacle of thousands of over-caffeinated boulevardiers, braying and kissing in a whirling dervish of hats, suits, silk scarves and sunglasses is something to behold.

Peacocks at Pitti

As far as I’m concerned, I love people who have the balls to dress differently from the crowd. It takes courage and confidence to go against the grain, to dress in clothing that resonates with your body and soul, and not just slavishly follow the fashion zeitgeist of the moment.

I have customers who have slowly developed and evolved their own signature style, and don’t give a hoot if that’s not in keeping with what’s hot on the catwalks of London, or, Paris.

My Instagram feed is still rammed to the gills with trousers cut above the ankle, double-monk shoes worn with no socks, and hairy wrists bedecked with enough bracelets and jewels to constitute a magpies wet dream.

As far as the above goes, I just don’t get it, but seriously, if it puts a smile on your face and a strut in your step, then fill your boots.

There is no doubt that dressing in a dandified manner has become more mainstream over the past decade, and as the wheel of fashion turns, a more informal, and perhaps less aggressive approach to tailoring, is on the horizon.

As far as I’m concerned, the spirit of the peacock is a fundamental part of the Michelsberg DNA.

Our head-turning roped shoulder and epic lapel will always be on the menu, but counter-balanced by a softer approach to tailoring, creating a more laid back vibe, for the man who doesn’t want to look like he’s tried too hard, and yet still turns heads and radiate fabulousness.

Further on in the article, Alessandro Sartori, of Zegna, talks about another key trend, the “focus on the refinement and performance dynamics of materials.”

This is certainly something that is very apparent in our business at the moment. It’s all very well looking great, but clothing has to perform. It has to be fit for purpose.

Many of our customers are international businessmen, travelling from country to country, living out of a suitcase, in climates that can be oppressive. They need suits that are crease resistant, comfortable to wear, and can deal with hot and humid conditions.

Hardy Minnis have just launched their new “Fresco 111 bunch” to cater for these requirements. The worsted yarn is twisted, to create a springy handle, so it bounces back when crushed, and the weave is more open, to allow heat and moisture to escape.

Loro Piana have created a blend of wool, silk and technical yarns (incorporating 2% lycra) made extra resilient with their ‘Rain System’ finish. This gives protection from the weather, extra stretch and thus more freedom of movement. Weighing in at only 180 grams (per running metre), this is incredibly light, so perfect for when the sun shines down on the wicked.

For this Spring / Summer, I’m having a suit made-up in a medium blue glen-check, in a blend of (50%) wool, (30%) silk and (20%) linen by Vitale Barberis.

Normally, I’d avoid linen like the plague, as it creases so badly, but these clever chaps have managed something just short of alchemy. When you crush it, it just springs back looking crisp, calm, cool and collected. It should land early March – can’t wait!

For those of you who haven’t yet experienced the joys of working with a tailor, and buy off the peg, look out for cloths in a blend of wool & mohair. Mohair fibres are much stiffer than wool fibres and as such, are more springy and crease resistant.

Grab the bottom of the trousers and scrunch it up in your hand. Does is crease quickly? Anything that feels very silky, or, ‘limp’ (god forbid) should be avoided.

Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that choosing a ‘thinner’ cloth will be cooler to wear. A heavier cloth is better placed to fight against the rigours of the working day and can still be comfortable to wear in Summer, if the weave is more open (a crepe, or, hopsack), and the jacket is unlined.

I suppose the argument put forward from the Rake Magazine, is that perhaps men are becoming more sensible – looking for functionality over extravagance. In order to look great, you have to feel comfortable, and developments in materials and construction methods can only be a good thing.

As far as style goes, my advice would be to listen to nobody but yourself. Follow your heart and sod what the rest of them are doing. Whilst understated elegance will always be lauded by the many, I salute the man that isn’t afraid to stand out from the crowd and do so for himself, not to impress others.

 

 

 

 

Fantastic Mr Fox

I will always adore the swagger and sleek lines of a jacket with full chest, roped shoulders and nipped in waist.

That said, I can appreciate my Melbourne based brother Edward’s penchant for the softer, more informal approach to tailoring, that is very much in vogue at the moment.

I’ve just delivered this ‘de-constructed’ jacket to my customer Simon, for Ebor day at York races.

Simon Price

Unlined, with no shoulder pads, no canvas, no interlining, it’s basically a tailored cardigan, made up in a cloth from one of my favourite mills in the country – Fox Flannel of Somerset.

Ever since, I picked up a tape-measure, I’ve been seduced by their fabrics.

Like Ralph Lauren, I am a big fan of more natural looking cloths with a more ‘milled’ finish, rather than their “clean cut” shinier counterparts.

Many of my customers like fabrics with sheen, and whilst there will always be a place in my heart for the lustre and opulence of a fitted mohair suit, a flannel to me, is the epitome of an English suit.

Understated, elegant, dependable, who better than to showcase this product, than “M” in the Bond film “Skyfall,” wearing a navy worsted chalk stripe from Fox, made-up by a tailor whom I have the utmost respect for, Timothy Everest.

'M' Flannel suit

They have just sent me their latest bunches and the worsted flannel collection is something to behold.

I’m particularly taken by this wonderful chalk stripe below, which I’m going to have made up in a double-breasted number, with roped shoulders so monumental, they will need spikes on top to keep the pigeons at bay.

Fox Flannel

Whilst my suit will be formal as hell, it is the soft handle of their flannel that will make it the perfect choice for my customers who are embracing a more laid back approach to dress.

Perhaps for a jacket to be worn with Japanese selvedge denim jeans and a pair of sneakers, or, teamed with chinos, Tods loafers and an open neck shirt.

As a brand, Fox has been around since 1772, but to be honest, it is only the last 5 years, they have come into their own.

When I started ten years ago, they had one dusty bunch that often had issues with stock.

Now they’ve nearly a dozen, have just been featured in the Rake Magazine and their retail arm ” The Merchant Fox” is going from strength to strength.

Partnering with the best in breed of British Manufacturers, they are making (with their top end fabrics) throws, cushions, clothing, luggage and accessories.

So, I picked up the phone, smiled sweetly and asked to speak with their Managing Director, Douglas Cordeaux (pictured below), to find out more about what’s going on with the Somerset massive.

 Douglas Cordeaux MD of The Merchant Fox (2)

To be blunt, I can’t stand dull people. I’m probably a bit ADHD (suffering form inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness) and would much rather be shocked, outraged and infuriated by a passionate pitch from a gibbon, than put up with the rambling, droning tones of a dullard.

Luckily for me, Douglas was a complete legend, and for nearly an hour he kept me spellbound at the end of the line.

A design consultant working for Pepe Jeans, his role 8 years ago was to seek out and evaluate the feasibility of working with UK manufactures at a time when Made in England was back in vogue. His opinion then was it was “difficult, but not impossible.”

During this period of his career, he started nattering with Jeremy Hackett, co-founder of “Hackett”, (and now owned by the Pepe Jeans Group) and the name Fox Flannel came up.

Then, run by Jack Hudson for sixteen years, the company was in bad shape. Financially it was making a loss and had little in the way of strategic direction.

On the other hand, with its rich history, heritage and provenance, might this be a company / brand that could be turned into something special?

After all, these were precisely the values that would tick all the boxes for a more discerning international customer happy to pay more for quality.

Born only fourteen miles from Fox, he also studied textiles at Taunton college, and so when he visited the mill for the first time, it was rather a special moment.

Seeing a group of talented and passionate people, actually making something in a way that had been done so for hundreds of years, was highly seductive.

So, he turned to his childhood friend, and “Dragons Den” star, Deborah Meaden, who was also a local lass to Fox, and whom like Douglas, saw the value inherent in the fledgling business.

They quickly became business partners with a plan to make the business relevant and profitable.

Inspired by Italian companies, like Loro Piana and Vitale Barberis Canonico, they wanted to turn Fox into a brand, not just a cloth manufacturer.

Through clever initiatives with brands like Jack Wills, product placement in “Skyfall” and “Kingsman”, re-vamped marketing material, a new website, and (as I can testify) wonderful product development , these guys are now motoring.

Their footprint is global, with 45% of their wholesale business (selling larger quantities of cloth to big brands) from Japan, and are making big strides in France and Italy.

Their “merchanting” business (flogging cloth to the finest tailors in the world) is also on the up and up!

They are now making a profit with a plan to build on their “Merchant Fox” line, seeking out and working with the best artisans in the world to produce luxury products for the connoisseur.

At the moment, as a business, they are still relatively small beer. Just twenty eight people in the South West of England, weaving cloth like they’ve done for generations.

But things are now very different. There is passion and pride in their product, the marketing is spot on and the business is being driven by a man who is clearly on a mission.

He’s eloquent, quick witted, sharp and clearly highly ambitious.

As I head down to Croyde Bay in Devon tomorrow, for a week away in the sun and surf with my family, I’ll raise my panama hat to these guys off the M5 and wish them the best of British for their future together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Something for Wimbledon, Sir?”

Greetings!

Hope you’ve had a cracking festive break and have made a good start to 2016!

Winter is upon us, and whilst the radiators of Michelsberg HQ do battle with the joys of a cruel Leeds wind, our thoughts lie ahead to sunnier climes.

Crazy as it sounds, it is now, as we scrape Jack Frost from our windscreens, the perfect time to start thinking about our Spring / Summer wardrobes.

This week, we’ve had two of the biggest cloth companies giving us pre-launch showcases of their wares for next season.

Introducing Robert Oakes, agent for Scabal.

Robert Oakes

He’s been a part of my life since the very day I started my business. Our first meeting was over a coffee in the bar of the Malmaison Hotel, and his passion for the trade is matched only by his enthusiasm for their fabrics.

A font of knowledge, he has generously provided me with a continuous stream of contacts and advice over the last decade. A genuine pleasure to deal with, he’s a true gentleman, bon viveur and salesman of the highest order.

Only Robert could get me to pick out a jacketing for Wimbledon, as I shivered in my showroom on a bitter Monday morning in January!

Next up the stairway to Sartorial Heaven was Liz Knox.

Liz Knox

Agent for Holland & Sherry, her energy is off the scale.

Bright, cheery, elegant, she’s a tornado of bunches and bonhomie. When it comes to selling, she’s no slouch and rattles off price lists and USP’s like a well-oiled Bren gun.

A classy lady, she strikes me as the perfect head-mistress for a Swiss finishing school, with vowels as polished as the silverware in the Michelsberg Tailoring trophy cabinet :-)

As far as their new collections go, we’ve got some wonderful wool, linen and silk blends, summer-kid mohair and incredibly light weight wools, in classic and daring new designs.

We’ve kept a close eye on the international menswear show Pitti Uomo in Florence this month, which has once again underlined the trend seen at the recent London Collections towards a more informal approach to tailoring.

Separates are key, with blazers worn with cotton trousers and jeans. Perhaps more shocking (take a deep breath / slug of scotch traditionalists) is that the double-monk and polished brogue now has a rival in the form of a pair of trainers.

Pitti 1

 

Pitti 2

A more chilled-out style of dress, combined with rising temperatures, means our new Italian style made-to-measure line, is going to be at the forefront of our offering to customers this coming season.

It’s softer, more relaxed feel, incorporating an unstructured shoulder, and the option of no lining, is perfect for what is certainly a more contemporary look.

To compliment this style further, we also have a new limited edition Spring / Summer collection, representing Italian mills like Loro Piana, Delfino and Ariston.

There are fabulous jacketings with more open, knitted weaves, in wool, cotton, linen and silk. Designs feature classic herringbones and birds-eyes (with some punchy blues and greens), and glen-checks and hopsacks providing added texture and interest.

Team Michelsberg is ready and waiting to kit you out for the good times ahead, whether that’s a large weekend in Ibiza, or, Champagne and strawberries at Wimbledon.

Anyone for tennis?

 

 

 

How Are Your Sales?

 

“You can’t build a business. You build people. People build a business.”

These wise words are from a chap by the name of Mr Spencer Hays – a legend in the world of textiles and tailoring.

Raised by his Mother and Grandmother, he started out in life as a shoe-shine boy in Oklahoma.

His first break was winning a basketball scholarship to University and it was from here that he was recruited by Southwestern Company to sell books, primarily bibles.

He did well. Incredibly well.

Within no time he was running the company, a selling-machine with an uncanny ability to motivate and inspire those around him to believe in themselves and give everything they’ve got.

Within ten years, he’d grown it from a value of five hundred thousand dollars to seventeen million, pocketing a cheeky two mill when it was sold to Times Mirror.

He’s always had a passion for clothing. As a student, he drooled over the fine threads of Oxxford Clothing, and believes, like myself, that “If you dress well, you feel a little better and walk a little taller.”

But it was his shrewd business mind that spotted an opportunity; many business people don’t like, or have the time, to shop.

So, he set up the Tom James Company in 1966, selling made-to-measure suits, office-to-office, the way he’d sold books, door-to-door.

Since then, he’s built up a group of clothing manufacturing and textile businesses servicing a global army of sales people, turning over more than $600 million. Forbes estimates his wealth at over $400 million.

Despite that he retains a humble air. I love the fact that on his business card it says “Salesman.”

Very much from the school of “Glengarry Glen Ross”, he’s all about the “Smile When you Dial,” “Always Be Closing” and “Every No brings you closer to a Yes.”

He even lives up to his name, and the first thing he’ll ask when he meets an employee is, “How Are Your Sales?” (HAYS!)

Some in the trade look down on this approach to selling, considering it heavy handed and aggressive, but it’s exactly what I had to do to get started.

Luckily for me, much of my business now comes by repeat and referral, but I will always admire anybody who is willing to pick up the phone, introduce themselves politely, and extol the virtues of a product, or, service, they genuinely believe is of value to a potential customer.

One of the businesses that was bought by this bible-bashing, sales-god of the Deep South, is the Savile Row based cloth weaver and merchant company, “Holland & Sherry,” with the motto “the finest cloths in the world.”

Now part of his “Individualized Apparel Group”, Holland & Sherry has significant resources – a fully vertical mill for worsted and linen fabric production, together with the Yorkshire mill Joseph & H Clissold, which has been producing worsted cloth since 1910.

Founded in 1836 by Stephen Holland and Frederick Sherry, they opened their doors at 10 Old Bond Street, merchanting woollen and silk cloths.

In 1968, the business bought the Scottish merchant, Lowe Donald, based at Peebles (which is now the centre of their distribution and warehouse operation) and in 1982 the business moved their head office to Savile Row.

I’ve been doing business with them from the day Michelsberg Tailoring was born, and as my business has expanded, so has sales of their cloth – music to Spencer’s ears!

Whilst I often get to see their Northern agents (the effusive John & Liz Knox), I’d decided it was high time I met the gang down South, who check stock, send out swatches to my customers and keep me updated on new bunches and future initiatives.

So, last Wednesday, I hot-footed it down to number 9/10 Savile Row to press the flesh and meet them in person.

Here are the team below – introducing Nicolas Guilbaud, Werner, Sharon Francis, Hasnaa Nabeebocus and Lindsay Taylor (their Sales Director).

Holland & Sherry

I was given the warmest of welcomes and it was great to check out their fabulous range of fabrics, some of which are pictured below.

Holland & Sherry Bunches

As I made my way back along the golden mile with the sun shining down upon me, I fell in love with London all over again.

I adore it’s energy, and feel inspired and uplifted by the beautiful buildings and impeccably dressed people.

Heading down the Burlington Arcade and Piccadilly, you’ve got immaculately turned out British gents in grey flannel suits, with sturdy chest canvas, nipped in waists and roped shoulders.

Then, you’ve got some euro-dude with long flowing locks, resplendent in a floppy linen deconstructed jacket, with a wool/silk scarf draped effortlessly round his neck, Tod’s loafers  and Persol sunglasses. The very spirit of Italian Sprezzatura.

The place makes me want to do better and achieve more.

Very few in the trade have done as well as Spencer Hays, but it’s guys like him that give us something to shoot for.

Whilst a set of steak knives is all very well, at the end of the day, we all want that Cadillac El Dorado.

God bless him and every salesman out there.

 

 

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!

Every Cloud…

“Beauty is only skin deep, it’s what’s underneath that counts.”

Wise words, particularly when it comes to bespoke suits. A beautiful cloth on the surface is nothing without quality scaffolding underneath.

I’ve mentioned in a previous blog about the construction of our suits, both the “British Bespoke” (half canvas) and “Uber-Level” (full canvas).

They incorporate a number of layers, or, interlinings, (body canvas, chest canvas, domette, fusing) which are sewn together by hand, or, machined, to give the cloth shape and create a soft armour with which to flatter the wearer’s body.

The final layer is, of course, the lining and it is here that a garment can be “made or broken”.

A beautifully cut, three piece suit, made-up in a stunning Escorial cloth from John Fosters, will be destroyed in a flash, by pairing it with a lining that is the visual manifestation of dropping an acid tab in Lady Gaga’s wardrobe.

Whilst having a suit made should be fun, getting it right is a serious business.

Many a chap in the wicked world of work often feels the need to conform. Subtle navy blue, or, charcoal grey cloths, in classic understated designs are often de rigueur.

The lining, however, is a wonderful way to express oneself, and the choice is extensive.

My bunches contain pretty much every pantone available, and as well as plains and two tones, I have a range of designs including skull & crossbones, paisleys, stripes, flowers, “make love not war” slogans and even naughty ladies (remember Sam Fox?) bearing their charms.

My own opinion is that whilst it might be tempting to go absolutely mental, a little restraint will keep you on the right side of elegant, rather than come across as tacky, vulgar, or, brash.

A safe option is to go for the same tone as the cloth, but in a lighter shade. It tends to ‘lift’ the ensemble and reduces the risk of any clash with shirts and ties in contrasting colours.

This is particularly apparent if the suit includes a vest, the back of which is on full display when the coat comes off.

A silver lining with a grey cloth works rather well, as does a metallic blue lining with navy.

If it’s a contrasting colour to the cloth you’re looking for, then a deep burgundy, British racing green, or, navy blue lining will add an understated and refined air to the proceedings. These are particularly popular amongst my customers who adopt a “less is more” attitude to their dress.

Whilst I salute this school of thought, a touch of swagger and turning heads is what Michelsberg Tailoring is about.

I love to use a pillar-box red lining against a charcoal grey or black cloth. It’s dark, dashing, with a sniff of Count Dracula about it.

Blue fabrics look fabulous with a flamboyant gold lining and pink is another firm favourite – it’s cheerful, a little eccentric yet still sophisticated.

Whatever the choice, I insist on only using the best. It’s a firm no to synthetic linings made from man made fibres, like polyester and nylon, and a big yes to Cupro Bemberg.

“Bemberg” is the registered trade name for Cupro Rayon, made by Asahi Kasei in Japan. It’s derived from natural fibres (the linters of the cotton plant) and ticks all the boxes in terms of breathability, performance and the environment.

Some tailors will fight the corner for using silk linings. I’ve visited various tailoring forums and the consensus is that whilst silk has a certain mystique, Bemberg outperforms silk in terms of breathability (it has a higher water absorption rate than silk), durability and still looks fantastic.

Other important things to bear in mind when choosing your lining are the weight and weave of the cloth.

A lightweight (8oz / 220-240gm) cloth demands a lightweight lining. If it’s too heavy, there is a real danger it will ‘drag’ on the cloth when made-up, resulting in unsightly bulges and ripples.

As far as weave goes, certain travel cloths, particularly those blended with Summer Kid Mohair, tend to have a more open weave. This is great when it comes to breathability but there is a danger a cream / white, or, vividly coloured lining will show through (particularly on the sleeves).

Picking out a lining can often take as long as choosing the cloth.

If it’s a wedding suit, finding something that pleases the groom AND goes with the colour scheme of the day, is not always easy.

A betrothed couple recently came to see me. The bride-to-be wanted Dusky Pink and her beau wanted Easyjet Orange. Neither would back down. Heels dug in, eyes flashed, arms were folded and the dreaded “darling” word came into play.

Result – a Mexican stand off.

It took all my powers of diplomacy to defuse the situation and luckily I came up with a “win / win” option. Should my business ever go to the wall, a career as a marriage guidance councillor is possibly an option.

When all’s said an done, the beauty of having a suit made is that ultimately you get what you want.

I’ve given my two pennies worth, but when it comes to what lies beneath a jacket, one man’s orange in another man’s purple.

“Less is more” and “dapper and dashing” are all very well, but if Sam Fox’s nipple is what you want close to your heart, then fill your boots.

Wool Week

Last week was “Wool Week.”

Run by The Campaign for Wool since 2010, it’s an international salute to the mighty sheep, on behalf of woolgrowers, fashion designers, retailers, artisans and shifty looking Welshmen.

Patronised by The Prince of Wales, it’s a PR platform to extol the virtues of a fibre that is sustainable, bio-degradable, non allergenic, with fabulous insulation properties.

Events have been run up and down the country and here I am in front of the warping beams at Glendale Mills in Huddersfield.

Owned by Scabal since 1971, it’s been weaving cloth since 1899 and was bought by the group to secure their supply of what is arguably some of the finest quality threads on the planet.

With only thirty percent of the mills production used for its own needs, it’s very much a business in its own right. Trading under the name “Bower Roebuck,” and also incorporating a sister company “Savile Clifford,” they design and weave cloth for the biggest names in fashion. Prada, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, and Dunhill are all loyal customers.

Here I am with the mills Managing Director, Ronald Hall (RHS), and the agent for Scabal, Robert Oakes, having a sneak preview of the Summer 2014 collection before taking a tour of their looms with designers Hayley Cresswell (Bower Roebuck) and Clare Wheeler (Savile Clifford).

It’s my experience that people in textiles genuinely love what they do. Get them talking about yarn counts (see Hayley below), the merits of using soft Yorkshire water in the finishing process, or the flexibility of using the older looms and they literally light up.

With quiet pride, the production director explained they’d recently found a way to weave a particularly complex and luxurious wool and silk blend in a hopsack design. “Most mills in Europe wouldn’t want the hassle.” Coming from a Yorkshireman, that’s emotional stuff. I swear his whippet’s lip nearly trembled.

Evelina (pictured below), one of the ‘menders’ who spots and repairs any faults in the cloth, was equally ebullient.

She explained the extensive training required to do the job and personal satisfaction gained by contributing towards the production of the most sought after fabrics in the world.

The Super 200’s with Vicuna and Chinchilla cloth she was working on would cost about three and a half thousand pounds for a suit length. Ouch.

Whist Scabal’s genius is in strategy, marketing and customer service, these guys simply live to produce something beautiful. It’s a craft, an art and their commitment, pride and passion in the work they do is heart warming.

Later that evening, the Victoria Quarter threw a party to kick off Wool Week. A collaboration between the SIL group, Leeds College of Art, Harvey Nichols and myself, various installations were featured throughout the centre. The mayor showed up, rocked his chain, speeches were made then we all got stuck into the good stuff.

Most of my time is spent with customers and tailors, so it gives me a real buzz to talk shop with men of the cloth.

Here I am with Paul Johnson from WT Johnson & Sons who finish most of the top end cloth produced in the UK. A top bloke, his reputation in the trade is only matched by his performance on the golf course.

It was great to catch-up with old friends Matthew “smiling inside” Simpson and David Gallimore (of John Fosters) and be introduced to David Ogilvie (in the Tweed), Managing Director of Reid and Taylor, now part of the SIL Group.

Final beers were supped with Simon Murgatroyd of Brook Taverner (on the RHS below) who introduced me to James Laxton (on the LHS) of Laxtons Ltd .

He’s a young, sparky entrepreneur who has bucked the trend of off-shore production and invested millions in state of the art technology in their new production unit in Guiseley, West Yorkshire.

As well as the huge environmental benefits and reduced carbon footprint, UK production has delivered improved service with quicker lead times, better management, and a greater control of raw materials and quality. Simples eh?

It’s been a week of getting out and amongst it with the textile massive and I’ve loved every moment. With five different photos of me in this blog alone, I do apologise if I’m coming across as the Michael Winner of the tailoring trade.

Then again, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, so “Calm down dear!” – I’m just getting started!

 

Dugdale Bros & Co

Farewell sweet Summer – you’ve been a joy. This year we’ve been spoilt rotten, but gin and tonics must now give way to a warming brandy, as the cold, hard barrels of Autumn and Winter swing in our direction.

Now is the time for log fires, pastry and mash and breaking out the winter wardrobe.

Respect to Chris, one of my customers, who had the foresight to order this little beauty in August.

It’s a ‘covert coat’ which gets it’s name from the hardwearing ‘covert’ cloth from which it is made – a process which involves the twisting together of two threads of a similar colour (usually in faun or green) which results in a durable fabric with a slightly mottled finish.

This one is sixteen ounces in weight and was sourced from the cloth merchant Dugdale Brothers of Huddersfield. I can still remember the first time I pushed the bell on their highly polished door.

Based here since 1906 (in what used to be the main Post Office) history and heritage drip off every wood panelled wall. It’s imposing, yet warm, and everything feels utterly solid. There’s brass fittings, stone floors, solid oak tables and an iron lift that resembles a cage for Hannibal Lecter.

Introducing Keith ‘Robert’ Charnock, whom I’ve had the pleasure of doing business with since Michelsberg tailoring was born.

To me, he is the Fantastic Mr Fox of the cloth trade. Elegant, with a penchant for cashmere overcoats, he is charm personified.

A textiles man through and through, he’s a born salesman. A true hunter, with eye’s that twinkle with shrewdness, his energy levels are incredible.

He’ll jump up my stairs two at a time, and has more stories than an Italian grandmother. When it comes to tailoring companies, he’s seen and done business with them all.

He began in the trade as an apprentice with John Foster’s of Queensbury, before joining his father at the mill Kaye & Stewart in Huddersfield. These guys made cloth for all the top merchants including Dormeuil, H Lesser & sons (now owned by LBD) and Wain Shiell (now owned by Scabal).

It was here that he learnt, and fell in love with, manufacturing but was tempted away by the iconic tweed merchant, John G Hardy, who wanted to get into flogging wool worsteds and needed a man who knew the game.

After that, he joined Dugdale’s, and eighteen years later, did a Victor Kiam and bought the company from the last remaining family member, Betty.

Dugdales is a true ‘manufacturer without looms’ and in my opinion, is one of the best value for money merchants I deal with. Yorkshire is still the epicentre of UK textiles and the knowledge and relationships that have been built up by this firm, is second to none.

They made their name selling barathea’s, a fine textured weave with a pebbled effect, often used for blazers, military uniforms and dinner suits. Now, their range of fabrics is far more comprehensive, from the more durable Super 80’s and 100’s worsteds to finer luxury blends.

I’ve mentioned their over-coatings, but they’ve also got a cracking mohair bunch, cashmere jacketings, linens and cottons as well as a stunning selection of top quality cupro bemberg linings.

Since the year 2000, the reigns of power have been handed over to his son Robert, pictured below.

A bouncing bundle of bonhomie he has certainly inherited his father’s ability to spin a yarn, in more ways than one! Over a cup of perfectly brewed Yorkshire tea he painted a positive picture for the future.

Bespoke tailoring continues to grow in popularity and whilst thirty percent of the company’s business is export, this is set to increase. At the moment, most of this is within Europe (Italy, Germany and Switzerland) but the Middle and Far East present real opportunities.

One of the threats is UK production capacity, as most of the remaining mills, commission weavers and finishers are pretty much flat out. A good thing, but certainly something that needs addressing.

At the moment they employ sixteen people and ship at least two hundred cut-lengths a day. Here’s Paul and Dean who cut, pack and send out the cloth.

I shouldn’t forget the new blood. Here’s apprentice Jake, only seventeen years old, with guns to rival my very own.

And finally there’s the office posse that ensure the business runs like a well oiled machine. Introducing June (UK trade & accounts), Carole (export), Amy (UK & Export), Clare (Customer Service), Josh (stock control), Brian (accounts), Lynn (accounts & invoicing) and Robert (Top Cat / Mr Big).

Visiting suppliers, in fact anyone in the trade, gives me a real buzz. It’s great to put a face to a name, some of the characters are fabulous and I even pick up a bit of knowledge here and there.

Team Dugdale were an absolute pleasure to be around and their bunches will continue to be a vital part of my tailoring armoury for many years to come.

I’ll end this “Strictly” style, do a Brucey shuffle in my Jeffery West’s and implore the boys and girls at number five Northumberland Street to “Keep Merchanting!”

An Englishman abroad

In a past life, I’m convinced I was one of the sun-worshipping Inca tribe down in Peru.

God bless those healing rays and everything they stand for. Blue skies, short skirts, the crackle of Hendricks gin on ice and the whiff of Hawaiian tropic. Magical.

Earlier on this month I was having it large in Ibiza, to celebrate my friend Flynny’s fortieth birthday. Staying at the Destino Hotel, with big nights on the agenda, it was going to be a glamorous affair, leaving me with the question, what to wear?

The first thing on my shopping list was some new strides. I’ve got legs like an anorexic flamingo so wanted something fairly fitted, with narrow bottoms to show off the new loafers. Looking through LBD’s ‘Mersolair’ bunch, I picked out a couple of pairs in light-weight cotton, and then something odd happened. I found myself flirting with linen.

Made from the fibres of the flax plant, it’s a durable fabric with the ability to absorb and lose water quickly. This means that it is perfect for hot, humid climates. My problem is with the creasing. Ten minutes on your back after pressing and it looks like an elephant’s foreskin.

That said, the weather forecast was looking good – big, fat, sweaty sun-shines the whole way through – and so I plumped for a pair in powder blue. There are moments in my life that I will look back on and smile, and wearing them at the nightclub ‘Pacha’ is one of them.

Ten of us, old friends, hands in the air, screaming our heads off, jumping up and down on sofas in the VIP section, the life of a responsible parent parked for three glorious nights. As I poured myself a glass of Cristal and surveyed the scene below, I was living the life of a playboy and had the trousers to match.

My newly found enthusiasm for linen was strengthened further when my customer Neil commissioned this suit for a forthcoming trip to Tuscany.

Many of the suits I make are head-turners. Sharp, closely fitted numbers, perfect for a night on the town, or a day at the races.

This one is different. It’s for chilling. Made up in a relatively heavy Irish linen, it’s a lovely warm colour and has a wonderfully relaxed, almost rustic feel about it. I love the patch pockets and the trousers have a split back as they are to be worn with braces. There’s even a large ‘hare pocket’ on the inside to accommodate a newspaper, or, rolled up Panama hat.

It’s the perfect attire for the Englishman abroad. I can just see Neil and his wife bimbling along the cobbled streets of Firenze, sitting down to a late lunch of Bistecca alla Fiorentina and a glass of Brunello.

Closer to home, what better attire could there be for a garden party? The jacket draped over the back of a wicker chair, feet up with a glass of Pimm’s, laughing with friends, kids running wild, cricket on the radio.

Linen to me is an enigma. It’s the scruffy cousin of the Huddersfield luxury worsteds and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s louche, devil-may-care attitude makes you immediately comfortable within it’s sun-drenched, wrinkly skin.

Whether it’s a bon viveur floating about on his yacht, a man from the Foreign office doing the rounds in Panama, or, a tailor reaching for the lazers in Ibiza, the flax plant is up there with the best of them.