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Interview with tailor Mark Powell

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August 10, 2016 by Ville Raivio


Natural shaving cream from Executive Shaving

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August 6, 2016 by Ville Raivio

Executive Shaving launched a new shaving cream a few months ago. Its essential oils, coconut acid and glycerine soften the beard while rosemary, eucalyptus, bergamot, juniper and pine needle take care of the scents. Like all of ES’s private label hygiene, this cream is manufactured by a reputable British maker but sold at a favourable price point. I have three jars to give out to Keikari’s Finnish readers, and all one needs to do to take part is leave a comment with an email address under this post. The winners will be chosen according to random numbers and contacted within a week’s time.


Interview with Alexander Kabbaz

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July 30, 2016 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?
AK: 66. Entrepreneur. Bespoke Shirt Maker. Online Retailer of fine Socks, Underwear, Furnishings and Accessories for Ladies and Gentlemen.


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VR: Your educational background?
AK: Engineering studies at Stony Brook University. Fine Art and Clothing Construction studies under the tutelage of Lucia, paternal grandmother, fine artist and costume-maker. Applied Art studies at Harper’s Magazine.


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Collar shapes


VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides shirtmaking?
AK: In no particular order: Woodworking, jewelry making, scuba diving, skiing, tennis, art-welding.


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Back in the days


VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your shirt enthusiasm)?
AK: Four boys Tucker –  13, Dan – 18, Conrad – 20, and Damien – 32. Spouse, Joelle Kelly, is my shirt making partner and a fully qualified master shirt maker. Damien is a qualified shirt cutter but not working in the trade. All wear Kabbaz-Kelly shirts. Were any of them to have to go to a shop to buy a shirt, I’m afraid they would have no idea what size to select.

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Vintage machinery


VR: …and your parent’s and siblings’ reactions back in the days?
AK: No siblings. Parents wore Kabbaz-Kelly shirts which, now that they have passed on, have been handed down to our children and friends.


VR: How did you first become interested in clothing, and when did you turn your eyes towards classic style? Why classics instead of fashion?
AK: I have been interested in clothing since my early teens thanks to the influence of my paternal grandmother, an artist and costumer, and maternal grandfather, a classically well-dressed, self-employed businessman. As a measure of his devotion to style, he sat in his armchair every Sunday attired in three-piece suit, reading the Sunday N.Y. Times.

I began sewing costumes, by hand, for the Westbury Music Fair (under my grandmother) when I was still in single digits. During my teens I learned the use of the sewing machine, making clothes for the requisite succession of girlfriends. At 19, as the manager of New York’s largest fabric store, I was teaching the use of the machine to large classes in the store. It was at that age that I created, mostly by hand, my first suit and a number of dress shirts which, in hindsight, were probably terrible!


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Mystery clients and unique patterns


It was in my late 20s, after almost a decade of design education in the publishing field, that I returned to the field of clothing and began my career as a bespoke maker. I am mostly self-educated in that arena and credit the self-education with being able to bring a fresh perspective to the manner in which clothing is constructed. Well-versed in the “traditional” methods under the tutelage of older seamstresses, I made 43 changes to the basic construction methods of the man’s dress shirt. Some controversial, others simply logical; all remain in use to some degree today.
Classic style is, and will always be, appropriate. Fashion is a fleeting exercise in the self-indulgence of the so-called “designers”: If they do not make some usually insignificant, often ridiculous, change in their clothing from season-to-season there would be no reason to buy anew and they would cease to exist. We should be so lucky.


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Past contracts for company shirts


VR: How have you gathered your knowledge of shirtmaking– from books, in-house training, workshops or somewhere else?
AK: Three ways: Old books dating from back to the 1800s to the mid-1900s, my engineering training at Stony Brook University, and simple trial and error. None of the 43 changes I have instituted in shirt construction methods were ever used for a client until two tests had succeeded: Firstly, the change had to pass muster under the eyes of two seamstresses who, between them, had more than a century of experience sewing bespoke shirts. Secondly, I had to have worn and laundered the experimental method for no less than a year and concluded it to be an actual improvement.


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Completed works


VR: Please tell us how your store was born and what goals you had in the beginning. How have you been received?
AK: Born of a sense of adventure. Only one goal: to make the best which could possibly be made. How I have been received is a matter for others to decide.

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VR: How would you describe your own dress? How about your shirts’ ‘house cut’?
AK: I dress colorfully. I dress for myself. Once I am dressed, if I have done so peroperly, I forget what I am wearing. Any maker who shows you a “house cut” is not a true bespoke maker. As I say in my introductory letter,
“our definition of Custom/Bespoke differs somewhat from those shirt makers who custom-size their ‘house’ design. We don’t do that. Each client’s pattern begins as a blank paper, not an alterable template. Our definition is simple: ‘Bespoke’ means exactly what the client wants it to mean”. Yes, we have the temerity to opine when we believe the client’s choice is lacking in expertise…but it is not we who decide. It is the client.


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Casual shirt with a soft Italian collar


VR: Which tailors/RTW makers do you favour?
AK: Tailors: Vincenzo Nicolosi (retired), Jon Green, Giovanni Gagliano (passed away) RTW makers? None…but I adore the adventuresome (design) spirit of Stefano Ricci.


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Yul Brynner wore Kabbaz


VR: What’s your take on the whole unfused vs. fused collar debate?
AK: There should be no debate. An improperly fused collar is an anathema to quality; a horrible experience. A properly fused collar can be a beautiful work of art which will always appear immaculately presented. There are very few makers with the technical ability to properly fuse a collar; hence the “debate”.
Personally? I prefer the impeccable appearance of a fused collar for my dress shirts. I prefer the softer, less structured appearance of a non-fused collar for my casual shirts.


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As worn by one Wolfe


VR: Over the years you must have learned quite a bit about shirts. Is there something you wish more men would know?
AK: They should know that a quality shirt, properly laundered, should last for decades. Buy less…but buy the best you can afford. Clothing is an investment. Unlike technology and so many other material possessions of today, clothing should not be considered “disposable”.



Photos: The Kabbaz archives

Anatomy and review of Lanvin sneakers

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July 2, 2016 by Ville Raivio

Lanvin has a claim for being the oldest fashion house still up and running. The story goes that one Jeanne Lanvin, a skilful milliner from Paris, founded the house bearing her name in 1889. The same story credits the founding idea to the clothing Lanvin designed and made for her daughter, and in time attracted the attention of the finer set of Paris. This story ends in 1958 when Lanvin’s daughter died, and the ownership of the fashion house has been bounced from one investor to another since. Lanvin is still in the business of fashion, but this side does not interest me — much more interesting are the sneakers that they offer. Unlike most street or casual or leisure shoes, Lanvin’s are made from premium leathers and finished to a high degree.

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Lanvin sneakers were designed by the company’s current head menswear designer, Lucas Ossendrijver, as part of their autumn and winter collections in 2006. Originally for men, the sneakers with their large toe caps were later offered for women as well, and received plenty of press visibility after one Michelle Obama was seen wearing a pair. The rest, I guess, is dryly called history. If the reader hasn’t been following news on clothing, it’s best to note that so-called quality sneakers have become more prominent in the 2000s. While the older pairs were quickly made in China or other far-flung destinations from cheap-ass leathers, with polyester linings and glued stiffeners, the finer models of today hopefully have full- or at least top-grain leather uppers with leather lining, European make, leathery stiffeners and stricter finishing. These, of course, come with a heftier price tag.

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As far as design goes, Lanvin’s sneakers — with their fat rubber soles, flat toes, low profile, big laces, metal eyelets and big tongues — are related to Adidas Superstars, which are related to Converse All-Stars, which are related to Keds, which are related to the very first sneaker, the Plimsoll, designed and made by The Liverpool Rubber Company all the way in the 1830s. If time and traditions have more weight than anything else in clothing, the soft Plimsoll is more classic than most shoe types born later on. Just about the only older design is the opera pump, but those are not seen too often. In essence, the Lanvin sneaker is a copy of the Plimsoll, just without the shaft and in place of canvas uppers there is fine leather, and “the right” logo. The fashion house has its sneakers made in Italy, Spain and Portugal from an endless array of colour and material combinations. Now on to the details.

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The sneakers’ main design point is the contrast toe cap, differing in colour or texture from the rest of the pair. Patent leather is the house’s go-to choice, but I must note that nearly all patent hides are made from third- or fourth-grade leather that’s just covered with a plastic layer to hide the weaknesses. In time, the plastic will crack. The sneaker cap has a folded edge and hidden stiches, which make it very clean-looking. Still, after walking the shoe has bent on the top of the cap instead of behind it, leaving an ugly crease. The smooth cap leather looks lively, nice and high-grade. The rubber soles are truly fat, with a height of 2.8 cm, a boon in case of rainy days or muddy streets. They have a Lanvin logo at the middle and ribbed grip surfaces at the bottom and sides. A loose contrast stitching attaches the sole unit to the uppers. One’d think that all this rubber guarantees a smooth, nice walk but I feel the sneakers are so-and-so as far as comfort goes. The metal eyelets are nondescript apart from the top ones that have a small Lanvin logo.

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The calfskin uppers are smooth, nice and, apart from the embossing, have but a small grain. The leather lining is smooth and pleasant. After bending, the upper leather returns quickly to its original last shape. Writing of lasts, the sneakers have a nicely close fitting around the instep, but the ball of the foot is wide. The sides have very little curves. The toe is elangated and up-close looks comically wide. Luckily this effect disappears when viewed upright. A high point worthy of praise is the heelcup: few lasts, in dressy shoes or leisure pairs, have such a wonderfully close fit all around the heel. The tongue has a foam padding for comfort, but seems to be made from thinner, poorer leather than the upper. Stronger foam lines the ankle sides, again for comfort. Two grommets allow some air to circulate from the inner waist side. While the upper stitching is looser than I’d like, it is straight and has a nice contrast colour. The piping leather around the ankle is made from the same constrast stuff as the toe cap. The shoelaces are flat, waxed and very wide.

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The full sockliner is made from leather and seems to have no foam insert under the heel. A nasty surprise awaits under the liner: the insole is made from fiberboard. Traditional dressy shoes have a nice, thick leather insole that takes the shape of the wearer’s foot, but I guess fiberboard is still better than a hot, sweaty plastic version. Lanvin sneakers cost a bit less or more than 400 euros in Europe. The model has the most high-quality materials, finishing and design I’ve found so far among sneakers, but I still won’t recommend them at full price. Four hundred will buy a fully handmade welted shoe from Hungary, far more durable and better-made in all respects. From sales, yes, I would say the Lanvin sneaker is a good find. What remains to be seen is how the rubber soles and leathers will age and last. This is the sneaker I will compare all others to.

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Interview with Al Castiel III

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June 27, 2016 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?
AC: I’m a twenty-two-year-old University student and I currently intern in the bespoke department at Paul Stuart in New York City. I’m also a contributing writer for Ivy Style, and do freelance writing for other online menswear sites/blogs in addition to my own, Regattas and Repp Ties. I previously worked in sales at Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren, as well as being a campus representative for Social Primer.

 

VR: Your educational background?
AC: I am a rising fourth year student at Boston University pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Sciences.

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VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your style enthusiasm)?
AC: I’m far from having a spouse or children, but women I have previously been in relationships with have appreciated my sense of style and passion for things sartorial.

 

VR: …and your parents and siblings’ reactions back when you were younger?
AC: I don’t have any siblings, but my parents always encouraged me to dress in a manner that I enjoyed, even if it was more formal than that of my peers.

 

VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides apparel?
AC: Besides clothing, my greatest passion is music; I play drums, piano, and guitar, and used to play the drums professionally in a band during High School. I’m also an avid skier, and try to take at least one ski trip every year. I play squash and tennis recreationally, and used to row competitively as well.

Some of my more “adventurous” hobbies include scuba diving and riding motorcycles (of the sport/racing variety). I also love to travel.

 

VR: How did you first become interested in style, and when did you turn your eyes towards the classics?
AC: My father was my one of my earliest style influences. Him giving me his old GQ magazines at thirteen years old got me interested in men’s style and fashion.

When I first arrived on campus for my first day of secondary school, I was overwhelmed with the sea of upperclassmen in Lacoste polos, Sperry Top Siders, penny loafers, madras trousers, repp ties, Nantucket reds, oxford shirts, and the like. I thought to myself, “I want to look like that”. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my father had been wearing Ralph Lauren and tassel loafers for well over twenty years prior.

So, I suppose you can say that prep school was the driving force that turned me towards classic style. The beauty of it was that my schoolmates were just dressing as their fathers did, and their fathers before them too.

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VR: How have you gathered your knowledge of the tailored look — from books, talks with salesmen or somewhere else?
AC: Reading anything tailoring related that I could—from Alan Flusser and Bruce Boyer’s books to various blogs online has been a great source of information for me over the years. Ralph Lauren was one of my earliest introductions to tailored clothing. Working in the clothing business for the past several years has also helped me grow my tailoring knowledge base. Visiting many of the great tailoring houses of Savile Row and talking with the head cutters during the brief time I lived in London was a great learning experience as well.

 

VR: How would you describe your personal style?
AC: I would say my personal style is heavily rooted in timeless American menswear, or what some people call “preppy”, with a strong British influence. I also admire many of the great Italian tailoring houses as well. I definitely have a bit of a “dandy” streak as well.

 

VR: Which tailors or RTW makers do you favour and why?
AC: My primary tailors are The Andover Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They’ve been making my clothes for the past few years now. The legendary Charlie Davidson and Larry Mahoney’s impeccable tastes and discerning eyes have guided me to commission some truly beautiful pieces. Like myself, they subscribe to an American version of the quintessential British look, or the Anglo-American look if you will. I’ve also had many items made for me by Luxire. I can’t say enough great things about them. They are always willing to fulfill even the most obscure tailoring requests.

I am also a big fan of Paul Stuart’s custom garments made in New York as well as Miller’s Oath (both bespoke and ready-to-wear). As far as Savile Row tailors go, Steven Hitchcock, Anderson&Sheppard, Henry Poole, and H. Huntsman&Sons all make beautiful bespoke garments that are considered some of the best in the world. I’m also a big fan of Rubinacci in Italy.

Looking to ready-to-wear, I really love Paul Stuart and Ralph Lauren’s offerings, in addition to Kamakura Shirts out of Japan. Ben Silver in Charleston and Sid Mashburn make an incredible garment too. As far as shirts and shoes go, there are so many companies that I enjoy that I’m afraid I’ll leave a lot out if I name any.

Though, you can never go wrong with a Brooks Brothers oxford cloth button-down shirt.

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VR: Have you any particular style or cut philosophy behind your items?
AC: While I appreciate more “structured” tailors like H. Huntsman&Sons or Gieves&Hawkes, I am a strong proponent of “soft tailoring”, or natural-shouldered garments. I like to have a balance between being too conservative or too trendy, while still remaining timeless. The goal is to be able to wear the same suit fifteen years from now and look current. However, since I’m a sIimmer guy of a rather average height, I prefer to have my trousers made rather differently than the traditionally cut ones you see in the “drape” style of tailoring. I always opt for a plain front trouser with a slim leg, tapered at the knee with very little to no break, and a cuff. Side vents are essential for me on suit jackets and sport coats, as they provide the most comfort and are additionally the most flattering vent option a man can utilize. Surgeon’s cuffs, pick stitching, hacking pockets, and ticket pockets are favorites of mine (I actually use the ticket pocket for my subway card), but I don’t have all of these options on every single one of my garments. I believe that to be well-dressed, one needs to have variety in their wardrobe.

I have a few other style quirks, like wearing Hermès ties, braces with braided silk ends, Alden tassel loafers, or cutaway collar shirts. Additionally, I rarely wear belts unless I’m in shorts, jeans, or khakis. I prefer side tabs with buckles for a cleaner, more streamlined look. Moreover, unless I’m in a professional setting or the temperature is under 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius), I’ll eschew socks.

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VR: When did you set up your own blog, and what was the motivation?
AC: The summer after my senior year of High School, right before entering University in 2013, I thought that blogging would be a fun way to occupy my free time. Over the past few years it has become far more than a way to kill time, but a labor of love.

After years of reading great blogs like (the long gone) Prepidemic, Unabashedly Prep, K. Cooper Ray’s (who would later become my boss) Social Primer (the blog would become the launching point for his neckwear brand), The Trad, Maxminimus, Ivy Inspired, GQ McGee, and many others, I figured I might as well try my hand at blogging too. I always thought that there were plenty of people out there that have the potential to dress impeccably and want to do so, but don’t always have the right guidance. That’s where I figured I could help out. My goal was — and is — to help others get a bit of inspiration from what they see on my site and cultivate their own personal style, gain some sartorial wisdom, and not feel the need to be subject to trends.

 

VR: Who or what inspires you?
AC: I’m truly blessed to know some of my own style icons personally. Charlie Davidson, Bruce Boyer, and Mark Rykken have all taught me incredible amounts and have driven me to learn as much as I can about clothing. I’m proud to say that I have many stylish friends that continually inspire me as well. Additionally, observing well-dressed men on the street and taking cues from the greats like Fred Astaire, Gianni Agnelli, Cary Grant, Prince Charles, and many others is another form of inspiration for me. I also love to get sartorial inspiration from watching classic films.

 

VR: What’s your definition of style?
AC: Style isn’t just about being knowledgeable about clothing. One can be extremely educated about clothes and have absolutely no style, and vice versa. Good taste and an eye for details are essential. It’s about being comfortable in your clothes and always looking at ease in them, whether in pajamas, or in white tie. When people ask me about the difference between style and fashion, I like to tell them that style is a reflection of who you are, and fashion is a reflection of others telling you who to be.

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VR: Finally, how would you describe the dress of the American East Coast universities ?
AC: Severely lacking overall, but with potential. A lot of guys out there are starting to dress up for class a bit more in button-downs, loafers, khakis, etc. Rather unfortunately, this is still a proportionally small amount of students. However, it’s great that fewer and fewer people (almost none these days) are wearing sweats or pajamas to class, at least at my University.

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Alison Schneider: Sometimes Clothes Make the Professor

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June 17, 2016 by Ville Raivio

“There was just one problem with the English department’s job candidate: his pants.

They were polyester, green polyester, and the members of the hiring committee considered that a serious offense. For 10 minutes they ranted about the cut, the color, the cloth. Then and only then did they move on to weightier matters.

He did not get the job.

Neither did a woman lugging an oversized tote bag (too working-class). Or a man sporting a jaunty sweater and scarf (too flaky). Or a woman in a red-taffeta dress and cowboy boots (too — well, too much).

In the world of academe, where the life of the mind prevails, does it really matter if a scholar wears Gucci, gabardine, or grunge? What about good looks? Can such things tip the scales in a job interview, weaken a bid for tenure, or keep you off the A list on the conference circuit? Many professors say they can, although there is quibbling over the reasons why.

Talk about appearances might seem unjustified given the profession’s showing in the arena of good looks and good taste. “Academics are still the worst-dressed middle-class occupational group in America,” says Valerie Steele, chief curator at the museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology and editor of Fashion Theory: The Journal of Body, Dress & Culture.

But despite their threadbare reputation, scholars spend a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about appearances. Last month, Elaine Showalter, an English professor at Princeton University, came out of the closet, so to speak, and admitted in Vogue magazine that she has a fetish for fashion. She waxed eloquent about her Cossack minidress and turquoise boots from Bologna. ‘For years,” she wrote, ‘I’ve been trying to make the life of the mind coexist with the day at the mall.’

She is not alone. Scholars squirm when the topic of appearance arises, but a growing number agree that even in the ivory tower, image and intellect are hopelessly intertwined.

‘I absolutely judge what people wear,’ says Wayne Koestenbaum, an English professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate School and University Center, who dabs on specific perfumes to pay homage to particular writers. (He declined to provide an example. ‘It’s much too personal,’ he says.) But ‘there are people who are excited as I am by certain ideas, certain artistic movements. There are semiotic codes of dress, makeup, and hair that say things about your allegiances.’

He should know. He dyed his hair red when he entered graduate school. ‘It was intimately connected to my intellectual advancement and my movement into feminist and gay theory.’

That sounds like self-conscious gobbledygook to some professors. When it comes to appearances, academe breaks down into two camps: pro-frumpy and pro-fashion. Fans of frumpiness insist that if you want to prove you’re intellectually a cut above the competition, think twice before parading around in an Italian-cut blazer.

‘If it’s a choice between being chic or frumpy, I think it benefits academics more to be frumpy,’ says Emily Toth, a professor of English and women’s studies at Louisiana State University. ‘If you look like you spend too much time on your clothes, there are people who will assume that you haven’t put enough energy into your mind.’ Dr. Toth, who doubles in her off-hours as Ms. Mentor — the Miss Manners of academe — has dished out pithy advice for years, first in a column for Concerns, the journal of the Women’s Caucus of the Modern Language Association, and now in a book, Ms. Mentor’s Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia.

As for the taffeta dress and cowboy boots — which Ms. Mentor saw for herself — such an outfit may signal that a scholar doesn’t grasp the right professional priorities, she says in an interview. ‘If you don’t know how to dress, then what else don’t you know? Do you know how to advise students or grade papers? The clothes are part of the judgment of the mind.’

Clothes also help determine if someone will fit into a particular institution. Ask around, and you’ll hear professors talk about regional norms for academics: The Midwest dresses down, the South dresses up. Tailored but casual wins the day in the Northeast, and anything goes in California — as long as it looks good. Not to mention the fact that individual universities have their own idiosyncratic norms, which professors ignore at their peril.

‘A lot depends on institutional context,’ explains Catharine R. Stimpson, dean of the graduate school of arts and sciences at New York University. ‘At a small, fraught department, where everybody is out to get everybody else, they’d use anything — they could even use a little Liz Claiborne — as a sign of overreaching.’

Perhaps the biggest liability of looking too good is that colleagues and students may spend more time thinking about what a professor wears than what he or she says. When clothes become a distraction, the frumpiness faction contends, they do a disservice to young scholars who are trying to establish themselves in their field.

Men occasionally take flak for putting too much of a premium on their own appearance. People still talk about what Andrew Ross, the ultra-hip director of the American-studies program at N.Y.U., wore to the M.L.A.’s 1991 meeting: a yellow Comme des Garçons blazer, a Japanese hand-painted tie, and wedge-heeled suede shoes. Back then, Mr. Ross told The New York Times that the jacket was ‘a sendup of the academic male convention of yellow polyester,’ but these days he doesn’t care to comment. Little wonder. The outfit made him a legend in some eyes and a laughingstock in others.

Still, he says, ‘I don’t think it’s a bad thing that academics think more about their appearance right now, when the profession is under siege. It translates into a perception that they’re not otherworldly, that they don’t live in ivory towers, that they meet people where they are rather than tell them where they ought to be.’ His only fashion regret: removing his earrings when he went on the market. It didn’t even land him a job.

‘Dressing fashionably in academia is like clearing the four-foot high jump. The bar is not that high,’ says Michael Bérubé, an English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. ‘Anything with some cut or color draws derision — and admiration — because the sartorial requirements of the business are so low.’

Mr. Bérubé may know whereof he speaks. He showed up at last month’s M.L.A. meeting sporting an electric-blue suit of 100-per-cent polyester. He loves the outfit: ‘It’s an amazing color, and it never loses its crease!’

A man may be able to pull off an electric-blue suit without raising eyebrows, but what about a woman? ‘I still think there’s a predisposition to take men more seriously,’ says Domna C. Stanton, a professor of French and women’s studies at the University of Michigan. Junior-faculty women face a particularly difficult quandary, she says. ‘How do they convey professional seriousness without looking like a man in drag?’

Here’s the short list of Ms. Mentor’s do’s and don’ts: For starters, younger women should play down their sexuality. Skirts should be knee-length or below. Pants are never appropriate for interviews. Steer clear of high-heeled shoes. Choose dark colors over light ones. Ms. Mentor recommends dark purple: ‘It looks good on everyone.’

But some people think playing by the rules is the riskiest move of all. ‘I don’t think frumpy gets you anywhere except forgotten,’ says Jane Gallop, a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. She’s made strong fashion statements for years. She wore velvet jeans and a sweater when she went on the job market; donned a now-legendary skirt made of men’s ties when she lectured on psychoanalytic theory and the phallus; and slipped into suede fringed pants and cowboy boots to talk about Western civilization.

She hasn’t toned down her look much since her junior-professor days. ‘I teach in torn T-shirts that I have actually torn myself,’ she says. And she still defends using clothing as conceptual art: ‘There’s a stupid impression that a lack of style signifies seriousness, but anyone who comes from a literary sense of things knows that style is often the best way to convey complicated things. You should use everything you have to make people think.’

Dr. Showalter agrees: ‘Teaching is performance. We use everything we’ve got, and costume is part of it. That’s not to say that you dress up like Emma Bovary, but a little liveliness is desirable.’

‘Give me a break,” replies Camille Paglia, a humanities professor at the University of the Arts. ‘Yes, teaching is a performance art. But when the teacher hijacks the classroom for self-display — of fashion or mannerism or cult of personality — we have a corruption of education. Professors think, “They’re here because of me, because of my wonderful whimsy, my wonderful way of doing things.” It makes me want to throw up.’ Ms. Paglia favors pantsuits for public lectures — she’s especially fond of her flowing, Donna Karan tuxedo suit — but sticks to simple slacks, a plain jacket, and rubber-soled shoes in the classroom.

What does all this sartorial sniping mean for scholars going on the job market and the people who are grooming them? Professors spend an inordinate amount of time fine-tuning not only what their proteges will say at interviews but also how they will look when they say it. Mentors criticize everything from the studs in the job-seekers’ ears to the shoes on their feet.

The result: Scholars hunting for jobs are expected to look far better than those who have one, says Nancy K. Miller, an English professor at CUNY’s graduate school. ‘I wonder if the emphasis on appearance at the hiring level isn’t a displacement of the real issue: that these students aren’t going to get jobs. We focus on their clothing as if the perfect suit or haircut, or the toning down of extravagant styles, will guarantee them a job.’ Alas, she says, it won’t.

The deconstruction of dress weighs particularly heavily upon minority professors. ‘There is a special turn of the knife for racial and ethnic women,’ says Nell Painter, a black historian at Princeton. ‘There are prejudices against people who look too Jewish, too working-class, too Italian, too black, or too much of anything different.’ She adds, however, that ‘if you look too WASPish, that’s probably all right.’

The stakes are high for blacks, Ms. Painter says, because nothing they do is neutral. ‘If you wear a pair of classic trousers and no kente cloth, that makes a statement. And if you wear kente cloth, that makes a statement.’

‘My difficulty with that,” says Karla F.C. Holloway, director of African and African-American studies at Duke University, ‘is that it makes the other parts of you invisible — your scholarship, your intellect, your seriousness.’ That’s why she favors formality. She doesn’t repress her African-American roots — she wears ethnic prints and wraps her hair in a braid, like her grandmother did — but she steers clear of casual couture. ‘Casualness has never been part of our professional demeanor,’ she says. ‘Maybe because we can’t afford to make it part of our professional demeanor.’

The most glaring exception may be Robin D.G. Kelley, a historian at N.Y.U. He does have some designer suits in his closet, but most days he pulls on a pair of black jeans, black combat boots, and a ‘contemporary’ — meaning ’50s-looking — shirt or sweater.

Students think he’s hip and approachable. But looking cool has its cost. ‘At every stage in my career, youth and informality — in dress, in appearance, in presentation — have been the bane of my existence. Professors take me less seriously.’

Fortunately, Dr. Kelley says he has found that ‘the one thing that speaks louder than dress is the work that you do.’

Hair, however, is something else entirely. ‘People lose their jobs over how they style their hair,’ he says. A big Afro is associated with late-’60s radicalism, while straightened hair signals that you’re a ‘serious sell-out white wannabe.’ Braids, dreadlocks, and shaved heads give the impression that you’ve got a chip on your shoulder. ‘When I had my hair short, I was a safe Negro,’ Dr. Kelley says. Now he’s growing dreadlocks, a decision that’s cramping his style when it comes to his current work, a book about Thelonious Monk. He’d like to don the kind of funky hats that the jazz pianist wore, but he can’t until his hair finishes ‘locking,’ he says. ‘It’s really messing up my vibe.’

Things are complicated in other ways for those professors — men or women, white or black — graced with exceptionally good looks. In academe, beauty is a double-edged sword. Scholars, like everybody else, sometimes assume that a sound mind isn’t likely to be accompanied by a sexy body.

Bennett Link, a physicist at Montana State University at Bozeman, posed bare-chested last year in the ‘Studmuffins of Science’ calendar, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to good-looking geeks. The attention over his appearance as ‘Dr. April’ has died down, but he admits that when the calendar came out, he wanted to keep it quiet.

‘The way a person looks doesn’t play much of a role in the sciences,’ he says. In fact, he adds, it’s a matter of pride among scientists to dress down. But image is critical. ‘It’s important to appear smart and competent. I wasn’t sure if the calendar would hurt my chances for tenure.’ (He went along with the idea after his girlfriend at the time had sent in the photos.)

Most people think good looks don’t hurt. ‘Generally, looking attractive helps you get a job,’ Ms. Gallop says. ‘It’s not supposed to be true — and it’s nothing that ever gets said — but prejudices operate against people who are seriously overweight or have bad skin or are really unattractive. It produces a kind of discomfort.’

As Ms. Mentor puts it, if A is the cream of the academic crop when it comes to looks, and F is ‘wolf man,’ then ‘wolf man does not get a job.’ Fortunately, she says, most scholars fall somewhere between B+ and D+. But then, she’s grading on a curve.”

— Frumpy or Chic? Tweed or Kente? Sometimes Clothes Make the Professor, as published by The Chronicle of Higher Education on 23.1.1998


The finest Pitti Uomo documentary

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June 14, 2016 by Ville Raivio

The Life Of Pitti Peacocks – Pitti Uomo Mockumentary from Aaron Christian on Vimeo.


A profile of bespoke shoemaker Dimitri Gomez

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June 13, 2016 by Ville Raivio

English captions available with a click or two.


Interview with Chi McBride

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June 9, 2016 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?
CM: age 54, occupation actor.

Vr: Your educational background?
CM: Education: 1 year of college. College is like sushi. It’s not for everybody.

Interview_with_Chi_McBride_at_Keikari_dot_com

VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your style enthusiasm)?
CM: Married, Father of three. I rarely discuss my family in interviews.

VR: …and your parents and siblings’ reactions back when you were younger?
CM: My Uncle Raymond was my main fashion influence. He was always in a sportcoat or suit and he ALWAYS wore a Borsalino hat.

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VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides apparel?
CM: My passions include collecting and drinking wines, fine dining, cigars and golf.

Vr: How did you first become interested in style, and when did you turn your eyes towards the classics?
CM: I first became interested in style from my favorite uncle, as well as watching films starring Cary Grant, Rex Harrison, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and George Raft. I probably began really eyeing the classics as an influence beginning in my teen years. I also consider the book Dressing The Man by Alan Flusser an undeniable influence on my own personal style.

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Featuring the lovely Julissa

VR: How have you gathered your knowledge of the tailored look — from books, talks with salesmen or somewhere else?
CM: One of my most memorable influences was a salesman for Neiman Marcus that I met in my late 20s by the name of Jance Reynolds. Jance was always impeccably dressed and was a GENIUS at mixing patterns. His influence on me was his classic style, but most of all he influenced my style by teaching me how to steer clear of “the safe look”, as he once said. The next time you’re out in a park, look at the way the colors of nature blend in ways that incorporate unlikely color match-ups, and yet, it all works. It was a profound discovery for me to compliment my accessories, ties, pocket squares, etc., choosing to match the square with a color in the shirt instead of the suit, for example. It became a fun challenge to find “unsafe” choices, when putting together an outfit.

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Vr: Which tailors or RTW makers do you favour and why?
CM: My fabric supplier and tailor are somewhat of a guarded piece of information. My Uncle Raymond, who was as old school as they come, once said to me when I was very young: “Never loan anybody your pen, your car, your tailor or more than twenty bucks.” So, I never do. However, I will say why I favour them is because they’re both extremely knowledgable about their business, wonderful collaborators, have razor-sharp sense of style and are two of my dearest, closest and most valued friends. Being 6’5″ with a generous frame, the RTW market, for me, aside from some pocket squares and socks, is closed. Unless, I’d prefer shopping at the local “Big Man” shop, which I do not. So, I’ll give you some of the MTO/bespoke makes that I prefer.

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MTO/bespoke
My personal Fabric provider and my personal tailor: Suits, shirts, sportcoats, slacks, topcoats, outerwear and formalwear

Socks: William Abraham

Shoes: Saint Crispins, Edward Green, Koji Suzuki, Barbanera

Ties: Patrizio Cappelli

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RTW
Pocket Squares: Hermès, Kiton, Drake’s, Charvet, Tom Ford, Cesare Attolini

Suspenders: Trafalgar

RTW as well as MTO eyewear: Morgenthal-Frederics

Cufflinks: Deakin&Francis, Micheal Kanners, Kieselstein-Cord, Cartier (vintage), Thrift shops

Ties: Robert Talbott

As for why, the same goes for all. In my opinion, they are the best.

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VR: How would you describe your personal style?
CM: If I were to describe my style, I would call it a modern update of 1940s jazz musician’s style. Another style influence that I think very highly of in terms of his personal style is a doctor by the name of Dr. André Churchwell. Google him. All I can say is, Wow. When I grow up, I wanna be like him.

VR: Have you any particular style or cut philosophy behind your items?
CM: My style or cut philosophy? I don’t know if I’d call it a philosophy, however, there are some things I always consider as a rule.

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1. Dress for the WEATHER, not for the season. If it’s 85F degrees outside on Christmas Day, I’m wearing white pants, and white shoes.

2. Always take one thing off before settling on an outfit.

3. Spend money on the best shoes you can afford.

4. There’s no such thing as too many shirts, ties, or pocket squares.

5. A stylist can’t give you style.

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VR: Who or what inspires you?
CM: I am inspired by any craftsman. As simple as that sounds, it takes a lot to be recognized as a craftsman in the truest sense of the word.

VR: What’s your definition of style?
CM: Style, in my opinion, is simply being confident and comfortable in your own skin and enjoying your own company, when no one else is around.

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VR: Finally, given your knowledge on the subject, how would you describe the dress of American male actors off-screen?
CM: Like I said. A stylist can’t give you style.

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Photos: The McBride archives

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0564277


A history of the 3-roll-2 cut

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May 29, 2016 by Ville Raivio

The 3-roll-2 cut is a peculiar look that has been especially favoured by American clothiers in their jackets, suits and, occasionally, coats as well. The 3/2 jacket has three buttons on the chest, but only two of these have been cut for closing. A very long time ago the top two buttons could be closed, but on modern models only the middle one is actually used. The top-most third button is decorative and usually sewn on the lapel’s lowest point. In addition, these jackets are usually pressed to roll directly to the middle button. In text-form, this explanation is, of course, a bit addled but once the reader has seen one of these jackets, he will remember. Brooks Brothers, the most influential American men’s clothier, has told more about the cut’s history based on its archives. According to BB, the eccentric design was born at the beginning of the 1900s when young university students decided to have their 3-button jackets pressed to look like 2-button versions in force. During this time, the two button jacket was the so-called greatest fashion, but the young and hungry students couldn’t afford to renew their whole wardrobe. With steam and iron, the three-buttoned was altered to close like the two-buttoned. Following the students’ example, Brooks Brothers took to using the cut in their readymade clothing — and the model spread across the country.

A_history_of_the_3-roll-2_cut_at_Keikari_dot_com

The 3-roll-2 jacket is as fine and dandy as the rest of the models, though I consider it less plain and less formal due to the additional buttonhole on the lapel. On the 21st century, the cut is not widely seen in the selections of European clothiers. Perhaps this is due to traditions as the 3-to-2 was born and gained fame in America, and boys merely followed the example of their fathers. In the Ivy League school of style, the cut was an essential part of most jackets and suits. The cut spread to the other side of the Atlantic on the shoulders of tourists and travellers, but for one reason or another it didn’t gain as great a following in Europe. Some Italian tailors vehemently favour the look, but big factories have not fallen for it in droves. Ultimately Brooks Brothers also chose to use the 3-roll-2 look in their legendary number one sack suit, which became one of the most sold men’s suit models in the United States. Consequently, and with a stable mind, I choose to call this cut as American as apple pie, jeans, T-shirts and free market economy.

Photographic image: Mr Lauri Hilliaho




Copyright © 2013 Ville Raivio












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"If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed; but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable".
~ Beau Brummell