Growing old disgracefully

The former writer A.A. Gill declared that, “in your thirties, you are too old to wear a T-shirt anywhere but in the gym, you can’t do hoodies any more, or trainers, you should be able to tie a bow tie and you can’t wear shorts in the city. Forty is when you check yourself for all the signs of being a kidult. So, no more jeans. Ever.”

A. A Gill struck me as a sophisticated, elegant man who clearly loved his bespoke suits. He wore a trilby, and ‘dressed down’ in flat caps, tweed jackets, cashmere jumpers, check shirts, flannel trousers and Northampton’s finest on his feet.

The English gent look suited him down to a tee, and I’d agree with most of what he said above – the more mature man should be very careful not to appear as “mutton dressed as lamb.”

But to me, the essence of dress, and what works, has nothing whatsoever to do with age. It’s about attitude and confidence.

I was recently dining at the Flying Pizza in Leeds, when perhaps the coolest dude I’ve seen in ages, meanders through the restaurant to his table.

He’s probably eighty years old, wearing sun glasses, a bold, pinstripe linen jacket, cream trousers and a pair of Lacoste trainers with no socks.

Cool Italian Dude

Upon closer examination, I spotted a chunky diamond encrusted signet ring and gold watch.

He had presence, oozed gravitas and gestured with his hands like Don Corleone.

The photo doensn’t really do him justice, but was the best furtive photography I could manage, without ending up sleeping with the fishes.

One of the things I love about going down to London, is the regularity and variety of stylish people you encounter across all age groups.

On one recent trip, I recall a silver fox with slicked back hair, stepping out of his gunmetal Aston Martin dressed in a stunning double-breasted suit with roped shoulders and mirror shined shoes.

A little later, wandering down the Burlington Arcade, I clocked a European fortysomething, in crumpled deconstructed linen blazer, pleated chinos, aubergine suede loafers, with a pashmina draped round his neck and man-bag.

Both looked fabulous and yet so very different.

One of the wonderful things about my job is the huge variety of people we deal with, from young, thrusting entrepreneurs, to middle aged ‘retirees’ who are enjoying the fruits of their working lives.

The later are in the enviable position of dressing purely for pleasure, rather than business, which means less conformity and more fun! Informal soft shouldered blazers, relaxed Summer jackets, flamboyant racing suits, plush velvet jackets and loafers.

A certain Leeds based ex-lawyer called David, pictured below, is parading a proper Michelsberg head-turner at York races.

D365010F-06A9-4D14-9AB3-CE964FEE45F8

It’s made-up in a vibrant royal blue cloth from a merchant in Napoli, with a punchy white pin-stripe. He’s certainly got the chutzpah to carry it off and is a cheeky nod to his days as the “Wolf of Wellington Street.” ; – )

As a chap enters his forties and beyond, he is at risk of loosing his sartorial way. Becoming a “Kidult” is a very real danger, second only to joining the beige anorak brigade.

Whilst there is always the safe, classical A.A Gill route to go down, I like the idea of (for me) aging disgracefully, like the guy at the Flying P.

I’m not talking about pot-bellies and football shirts, nor, wearing a brocaded silk shirt open to the navel, a la Mick Jagger, but being willing to experiment and try different stuff.

I look forward to becoming really “eccentric” – a fabulous excuse for dumping the rule book and messing with the considered opinion of what’s acceptable.

As A.A. Gill said, “The best thing about dressing up at 60 is that you can start wearing other people’s national costume: djellabas, kurtas, Austrian boiled wool, Sami hats.”

Whilst my skinny legs rule out Lederhosen, I could get really excited about sporting a cool white dish-dasha for summer.

Time will tell how far off the beaten track I will tread, perhaps in those really cool red shoes worn by the Pope.

Pope's shoes

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Top Sock

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

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

Socks - The Rule Book

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

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

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

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

Personally I find the look childish and highly inelegant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More importantly, check out his socks – perfect!

Full Length Socks - De Niro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Uncle Walter

This month I had the pleasure of sharing my ten-year business journey with up-and coming start-up businesses, at a Leeds Enterprise Network event, held at the Yorkshire Post offices in Leeds.

Whilst determination, enthusiasm, self-belief and luck have played a large part in keeping me on the right track (I’m hardly a big success yet!), there are  several individuals who must be credited for their guidance and support.

One was a chap called Graham Rigby. It was Graham (of the Baird Menswear Group) who trained me to measure people up, checked over all my initial orders and even (on his own time) visited my customers with me so I could watch him do the fittings. Sadly now dead, he was a cheerful, cheeky, fag smoking grafter, who loved the trade and on more than one occasion got me out of a tight spot!

Another, and the central character of this post, is Walter Grimes, whose funeral I attended today.

Walter Grimes

Founder of Carl Stuart Ltd, he is in my eyes, a true tailoring legend.

Speak to any cloth merchant, or tailor, and most will have heard of, or, have a story to tell about Walter.

Initially working as a PE instructor in the RAF, he enrolled on a pattern drafting & tailoring course at night school in Leeds. To earn a few quid on the side, he started measuring-up his colleagues at Catterick, and then hot-footed it down to Leeds to get the suits made-up.

Aged 30 years old and with the birth of his first child Nigel, he was forced to move his burgeoning business from the spare room (now commandeered as a nursery by his wife, Lois) and decided it was time to do tailoring full time, and took over the premises of a retiring tailor in Wakefield.

By 1980 he’d built his own manufacturing facility, employing over sixty people, with two retail shops and supplying trade customers throughout the UK and beyond. They’ve made trousers for the tallest man in the world, suits for Elton John and Donald Trump.

To me, he possessed many traits of the stereotypical Yorkshireman. With a bullshit radar the size of a NASA space-station, he called a spade and spade. He told it, as it was, and once he’d made his mind up on something, that was it.

There was no doubt he could be blunt and was certainly a force to be reckoned with. God help the wife of a customer who pointed out a ‘problem’ during a fitting. They would be given centre stage, whilst he sat on the table, swinging his legs, and then would say “can the tailor talk now?..” before sending them scuttling back off to what he called, “the critics chair” in the corner.

A “schmoozer,” he was not. A little prickly on the outside, he did however, have a soft centre, and once he’d got the measure of you (and approved!) there was genuine warmth, and a dry and rather Pythonesque sense of humour. He’d often appear in the workroom wearing strange wigs, hats and oversized spectacles.

His right hand man, Patrick Gaughan, who worked for him for over thirty years, gave a wonderful tribute. Dignified, heart-felt and full of emotion, he spoke of Walter as an ‘old school’ boss. He’d prowl the factory, calling out, “whose talking?” and he was, in Patrick’s words a “workaholic,” never “switching off.”

He spoke of how he took genuine pride in his product, deeply cared for his workforce and his presence (and overseeing eye) was felt from the cutting table to the pressing room.

Despite considerable financial success, trophy cars and flash watches were not his style, although he did have a love of flying and bought a small plane with two friends.

He got a kick out of running a successful business, delivering a high quality suit, and the loyalty he showed to his staff (even in the depths of the recession in the early 1990’s) was unwavering. Many of the lads and lasses in the workroom have been with him for well over twenty years (some forty!) and that’s for a good reason.

There are very few tailors in this country who have come anywhere close to achieving what he has done. He was a man of integrity, a self-starter, bristling with energy, you knew where you stood with him and someone commercially you could depend on.

Privately, the softer side shone through even more. He gave generously to charity, refereed football matches for the prisoners at Wakefield Prison, was a wonderful grandfather to his grand-daughters, Hollie and Katie, and was adored by his daughter, Jane, who now runs the business.

As I said at the beginning, most people in the trade have a story about “Uncle Walter.”

Mine involves a vigorous discussion about the merits of coloured buttonholes. After spitting several feathers at me, he gave me a gentle squeeze on the shoulder and said: “James, you’re a grand lad, you’re doing it, but get organised. Very good.”

I will miss him. The world of tailoring has lost one of its stars and will be a darker place without him.

 

 

On the cod

Five days after Christmas and despite my blood / alcohol level, I’m feeling bloody marvellous.

There’s no doubt it’s my favourite part of the year. A time for indulgence, family and friends.

Here I am, just before Christmas Eve, sinking a few (12%!) ales in ‘Friends Of Ham’ with my oldest friend Pete, over from Amsterdam for the festive season.

image

Apart from the fabulous selection of beers, quality fare and wonderful ambience, the thing that impresses me most is the service.

I love the way you are warmly greeted, escorted to your table, served with a smile by people who are clearly proud and knowledgeable about what’s on offer, and upon leaving, thanked for coming.

It puts a smile on my face and I love being a part of what is simply a very class act. In my book, service is everything.

In the photo above, I’m wearing a little pre-Christmas treat to myself, bought whilst down in London for a long lunch with college friends.

It’s a new trilby from Bates hatters on Jermyn Street in St James.

I used to buy my head candy from Lock & Co, but after receiving a very disappointing level of service (despite having bought half a dozen hats from them including three Borsalinos) I voted with my feet and looked elsewhere.

I’m so glad I did.

Here I am with Bates’s General Manager, Tom Williams, who was kindly giving my new hat a good steam.

image

He also took the time to show me some of their finest grade Panama hats, and educated me on their provenance and rarity.

One such grade was so fine (with a beautiful even colour and unbelievably light in weight) there are only a handful of people in Ecuador who can weave it, and it takes eight months of a persons life to produce the blank.

This has then to be hand-blocked and finished and again, the number of craftsmen who are able to do this are few and far between.

image

It was fascinating stuff, he was a genuine pleasure to deal with and the experience was truly memorable.

It staggers me how so many businesses seem to get away with poor service. Even more so if they are selling a luxury product.

Snooty shop assistants should be feathered and tarred and almost provide an argument for online shopping.

Personally, I find the whole online thing frustrating, vacuous and mildy depressing, although I suppose it’s convenient if you’re buying a basic service, or commodity.

Baked beans and car tax are all very well, but to me it is the people you deal with, and the surroundings where you make the purchase, that can be a source of the utmost pleasure and inspiration.

Only yesterday I sat in The Magpie Cafe in Whitby with my family and raised a cup of tea to toast the wonderful service we received.

They were warm, engaging, lovely with the kids, and that made my fish and chips with Yorkshire caviar (mushy peas) slip down all the better.

Providing a quality service, like those companies mentioned above, will always be at the top of the list at Michelsberg Tailoring.

As New Year’s Eve approaches, I wish you all a wonderful few more days ‘on the cod’ (tailoring talk for ‘on the lash’) and all the best for 2017.

Cheers!

 

 

Bespoke Shirts

This month, Michelsberg Tailoring sold it’s thousandth made-to-measure shirt.

Here are some new Michelsberg bobby dazzlers waiting to be collected before Christmas.

Michelsberg Made-to-Measure Shirts

It all started five years ago, when I was approached by a company who offered to make me a free bespoke shirt, and experience their quality.

Whilst bespoke suits have been a part of my wardrobe since my late twenties, I’d been very happy with my ready-to-wear Eton shirts because a) I liked the fit and b) my ironer-in-chief found their ‘non-iron’ quality a joy to behold.

Needless to say, their ‘try-before-you-buy’ close worked a treat and it was the fit, above all else, that was something of a revelation. Little things I’d put up with, like too wide a cuff width, due to my skinny wrists, are now a distant memory.

A choice of collar and cuff styles, real mother of pearl buttons, stitching options and in-house fabrics, from mills like Thomas Mason and Albini, made their offering even more attractive.

Michelsberg Shirting Fabrics              Michelsberg Tab Collar Michelsberg Collars

Since then, it’s been a great addition to my business and more importantly, to my customers wardrobes.

With a retail price from £150, I think it’s incredible value for money, when you consider that you can easily pay more than that for an off-the-peg number, that doesn’t even fit properly.

Whilst I consider my knowledge of bespoke tailoring solid, I’ve found myself wanting to know more about the world of top-end shirt-makers.

Who are the best? Why? What are, arguably, the features worth paying for?

During a fact finding mission to the menswear show Pitti Uomo, I was pointed in the direction of an Italian family run shirt-making business, called Marol.

I spoke with a charming lady who informed me that their shirts are fully made-by-hand in their Bologna workroom, and would normally be priced from around £450, dependant on fabric. So, not quite your five shirts for ninety-nine quid at TM Lewin then.

After trawling through numerous style blogs and menswear forums, it’s clear they are widely regarded as one of the best in the world.

Other names that kept coming up included Charvet (Paris), Turnbull & Asser (London), Budd (London) Siniscalchi (Milan), Mr. Kabbaz (New York), Battistoni (Rome),  Isaia (Naples), Anna Matuozzo (Naples), Ascot Chang (Hong Kong)

Some of the key things most of them seem to offer (like top-notch bespoke tailors) are:

a) the creation of a fully bespoke pattern, and therefore the option to customise everything, including collar length and shape.

b) fitting sessions before the shirt is delivered, and after the shirt has been washed a few times.

c) the collar and sleeve sewn into place by hand.

d) hand-sewn buttonholes, side seams and hems.

e) an extensive selection of buttons (often mother of pearl) and top-end (often rare / vintage) fabrics.

Of the above, I’ve had experience with Budd (lovely people, very warm and welcoming) and Turnbull & Asser, whom I bought a beautiful sea-island cotton dinner shirt with pleated front for my brother Edward’s wedding in Australia.

He’s recently used Ascot Chang in Hong Kong (and was pretty chuffed with all four of his shirts) and his brother in law (Paul) has tried both Anna Matuozzo and Charvet, with I believe the latter taking first place.

So what’s worth paying for?

Fit. It’s everything. The cloth can be woven from angels hair, but unless it fits right, the rest is nonsensical.

Style is a close second. The shape and depth of collar needs to suit not just personal taste, but to work in harmony with the size and proportion of a man’s face, neck and the tie-knot he likes to wear.

Hand-sewing. As far as stitching goes, the argument is that a hand-sewn stitch is softer than a machine stitch; this supposedly has a functional benefit on the sleeves and collar, providing a smoother shape and more ease of movement.

Put a gun to my head and ask me to tell the difference between two shirts in the same cloth and size, one hand-stitched, the other machine stitched, and to be honest, I think I might be struggling.

To me, the beauty of hand-sewing (like the Milanese buttonholes on our suits), is not about providing a practical benefit. It’s purely aesthetic, a celebration of the skill, patience and precision of the artisan, into producing something beautiful and understated, that is often only recognised by the connoisseur.

Service and experience. To me, the journey you take when having something made, is often more wonderful than the beauty of receiving the finished product itself.

Whether that’s a bespoke suit, a piece of furniture, a painting, or, a pair of shoes, it is that collaboration and shared vision with a passionate, like-minded soul, that makes creating something unique and personal together, so special.

In fact, thinking about it, what a fabulous Christmas present a Michelsberg bespoke shirt (or suit) would make, for a friend, or, loved one! :-)

As the countdown to Santa-season begins, if you do find yourself in the Victoria Quarter on Thursday 15th December doing some last minute Christmas shopping, Charlie and I we will be serving minced-pies and mulled wine to customers from 5pm.

Hope you can make it!

Michelsberg Christmas Drinks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kaizen – the way forward.

As an A-level economics student, I remember watching a case study on a Japanese car manufacturer and their ‘Kaizen’ approach to working practices.

Translated, it means “change for the better,” and has become a term to describe a business philosophy of continuous improvement across all business functions and every member of staff.

Most memorable, was a thousand employees, dressed in immaculate orange overalls, singing the company anthem and doing stretching exercises before the working day began.

Whilst my tight hamstrings and sloppy vocal chords might grumble at such shenanigans, in principle, I think it’s a great idea.

Singing hymns during morning assembly at school was a great way to blow away the cobwebs before a days academic enrichment, and brought teachers and pupils together as a ‘team,’ before the days lessons began.

I’m not suggesting Team Michelsberg will be engaging in 7am pilates sessions, followed by a rousing chorus of “At The Name of Jesus,” but anything that promotes the bonding of team-mates and creates a positive, upbeat, healthy environment has to be a good thing.

To be honest, a long lunch and a pint after work are more along my line of thinking, but the bit I do really like, is continuous improvement.

I have never, nor will I subscribe to the, ‘if it’s not broke, don’t mend it,’ gang. I consider it absolutely vital to try new things and keep raising the bar.

Naturally, I am always looking at potential new suppliers, but loyalty to my existing partners is paramount, and whilst there will always be a new kid on the block, I think you can get more out of people with whom you have an existing relationship.

They say your best customers are your most demanding. I have been working with my Yorkshire based tailors for over eight years and they’d certainly agree with that! But, like L’Oreal products, I’m worth it!!

We’re a bit like a dysfunctional family, they have their ideas, I have mine, but last Friday morning in the workroom was a moment of “Kaizen” magic.

There are things about the cut and construction of their garments (half canvas) that I love, but the recent trend towards ‘softer’ tailoring has gone against them. Hence, the introduction of my new Italian style made-to-measure line.

Heavily padded shoulders, a stiff canvas in the chest, and a ‘fused’ front produce a more (keenly priced) durable garment with a more formal and robust feel, but more of my customers are now looking for something more relaxed.

So, they have worked with me to produce a full canvas product.

This basically means hand-sewing a layer of very soft canvas (pictured below) to the cloth to provide stability and shape to the garment; rather than using a glue-embedded membrane, called a fusible, which is applied to the cloth under heat and pressure.

Michelsberg Full Canvas

Bottom line, it takes much longer to make, the canvas is much more expensive than the fusible, but the feel and fit is second to none. It follows the line of the body like a second skin, gives a lovely roll to the lapel, and help maintain the shape of the garment after cleaning and pressing

Here is my colleague Mr Anderson in a forward fitting of the new prototype.

Charlie Anderson Full Canvas

We’re also been trialling new shoulder pads and sleeve head roles, and cut the top of sleeves with more fullness, to try and provide me with another thing I’ve been mewing about for ages – a roped shoulder.

Roped shoulder

Finally, they have developed a slimmer ‘block’ (the starting point for a customers bespoke pattern) providing a more contemporary fit that should also make it easier to deal with more complex figurations.

My excitement at the difference compared to the half-canvas product was palpable. I could feel the difference in a flash. We’re not there yet on the shoulder (I’d like a fuller, rounder finish) but we’re certainly on the right track.

So big respect to the boys and girls in the workroom for taking the time and effort to do something different.

Change is never easy, but if you don’t move forward, you get left behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

House Michelsberg of Winterfell

This month, it’s been party time at Michelsberg HQ to celebrate 10 years of bespoke tailoring.

Ten Year Birthday Party2

Over a hundred and fifty of my customers, suppliers, family and friends, gathered to enjoy the fabulously talented Vernon Sisters, who performed an eclectic mix of Hollywood swing, Gatsby glamour and 1940’s vintage cabaret.

On the grand piano, I had the silky smooth Stewart Garden tinkling the ivories; a nice touch which played to my sentimental side as he performed for me when I first moved into the Victoria Quarter, five years ago.

I’d hired the infamous mixologists, Dean and Connor, of The Maven Bar to keep the booze flowing, and what a job they did – polished, utterly professional and charming to boot.

It goes without saying I made a speech – show me a stage and I’m all over it like a rash. With my new hand-sewn double-breasted suit in Loro Piana cloth, Hermes tie, bespoke shirt and Foster & Sons’ loafers, I felt quite the man about town.

Throughout my life, I’ve always felt more confident when dressed to the nines, and whilst hardly a shrinking violet, when faced with so many people, I could feel my heart beating.

I must say, it was rather a wonderful moment to stand before so many of my loyal customers, who have been with me from the start, wearing their Michelsberg threads, swigging my booze, and then be presented with the birthday cake (in front of my daughters Avy and Elizabeth) by my gorgeous wife, Nikki.

Ten Year Birthday3

I gave a big shout out to my cloth suppliers and the boys and girls in the workroom, and finally congratulated my partner in crime, Mr Charlie Anderson, who started here in September 2014.

He’s come along way in two years. Not short of confidence himself, he’s beginning to build a real following in Manchester and this month has had an absolute belter. The self-declared “Rock” of the business, his status has now been upgraded to “Rainmaker.”

At the beginning, my goal for the business was to be the best in Leeds.

Now, on the hunt for my next apprentice, we will take our place on the Iron throne, and declare ourselves the John Snow of the tailoring trade. The Kings of the North.

(Images taken by Tony Jacobs)

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.