An Interview with Rory Nichols from Made By Nichols


March 31, 2020 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?

RN: I am 31 years old and my occupation is Owner/Director at Made by Nichols.


VR:Your educational background?

RN:I began my education of leather crafting whilst studying at The London College of Fashion on a three year BA Honours degree at the Cordwainers Footwear Design and making course. On this course, I was taught how to make both men’s and women’s shoes whilst also learning about the fashion industry and about building a business within it.

With fellow artisan Yohei Fukuda

VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your leather enthusiasm)?

RN: Although my main focus is on luxury men’s bags and accessories, I also have an interest in women’s products, my girlfriend has a love for quality leather bags so she is always a source of opinion — whether I want it or not, ha! I often ask for her opinion on details as she also has a degree within the fashion industry, so I can always rely on her for an honest point of view.

VR: …and your parents and siblings’ reactions back when you first decided to go for this job?

RN:Growing up, I was taught to work with my hands from a very young age. My father is an extremely skilled carpenter that has worked on many grand houses in the West Country, predominately Bath, which is next to my home town. As well as carpentry, he also dabbles in antique restoration, so from the age of 13 I have been learning all kinds of woodwork and finishing skills. This, I believe, is where I first gained my eye for detail and started to learn about the high expectations of clients. My parents have always been hugely supportive of my leather crafting career, both often visiting my workplaces in London and most recently with my father laying the floor boards to my new studio.

VR: How did you first become interested in artisanal goods, and when did you turn your eyes towards leather working? Why this material over others?

RN: Leather has always been a material that I adore; the look, feel and the smell is unbeatable when compared to synthetics, there is just no comparison. The natural grains of the skin and ageing process that a product undergoes throughout its life span is a beautiful transformation to watch. One of my favourite items to see age are my wallets; whether calf or alligator skin each item will differ because no two people carry their wallet in the same manner or stuff the same amount of cards into a pocket. After a year or so, when the corners have curled over a little and the leather brushing against the inside of a pocket has burnished the edges, therefore darkening the outer surroundings, I love that look.

VR:How have you gathered your knowledge of the trade — from books, in-house training, workshops or somewhere else?

RN: Since graduating from The London College of Fashion I have spent the last 10 years honing my craft and continually learning about luxury manufacturing and making. Upon graduating, the first position I took was at a start up company called Nat Boyd London. The focus at Nat Boyd was making in-house small leather goods covered with their signature wicker pattern printed onto the leather. Working at Nat Boyd was incredibly valuable for the start of my career and own brand now, because I was involved in all aspects of the business from sampling to showcasing at trade fairs. The products always had a nod to the art world because one half of the ownership was a fellow creative that worked at Andy Warhol’s New York studio at the height of Warhol’s time, before his passing. The other side of the brand and London director of the business was a professional printer who, after years of printing gift products for the likes of The Shakespear’s Globe, began the transition from gifting to luxury fashion items. It was a great place to spend the first three and a half years of my career. 

From Nat Boyd I moved on to work at Dunhill London’s bespoke workshop. This is where, I believe, I learned the true level of luxury and handcrafted products. When I joined, there was a small team of master craftspeople all of whom had decades of knowledge and experience of traditional and also modern luxury leather craft. My manager had previously worked for Yves Saint Laurent and Hermès and the two senior craftspeople I was working with had been at Dunhill, previously known as Tanner Krolle, each for more than 10 years. Working with such skilled and knowledgeable artisans was incredible, the focus at the time of my arrival was the manufacturing of their traditional top frame briefcase, ‘The Worsley’. Learning how to make such a product that consists of all aspects of luxury leather crafting from hand burnishing the edge with a burnishing mitten to hand stitching the frame and handle pushed my skills to a new level. I am indebted to the team at Dunhill for the time and knowledge they shared with me.

After my time at Dunhill, I was approached by Simpson’s London who were building a new state of the art factory in London with the intention to reboot the English leather crafting industry. Simpson’s products share many similarities to the products I was making at Dunhill, such as using English bridle hides and hand stitching, so it made for a desirable opportunity. After a year working at Simpson’s I was made senior craftsperson and put in charge of one of their departments, the medium leather goods section where we made briefcases, messenger bags and travel bags. Working at Simpson’s was a fantastic opportunity because they also manufactured products for other luxury brands. This meant the work was varied and gave myself and my team the chance to try out and learn new making techniques.

VR:Please describe how your company was born and what goals you set for yourself in the beginning. How have you been received so far?

RN: Made by Nichols is the product of 10 years of industry experience. I always knew I wanted to create my own brand, having worked with such inspiring brands and craftspeople I wanted to create something that matches my style, and tilts the cap to the traditional English leather trade that has taught me my skills. For a few years, I have been buying machines from craftspeople that I’ve met throughout my career and putting them into storage until I was ready to take on a space. In late 2018, I took my first studio space in Clapham Junction which is where I am based now.

VR:Have you any particular style or detail philosophy for your wares?

RN: The aim and ethos of my brand is always to use the best quality leathers, hardware and attachments that I can source. The designs of my products are classic with new modern finishes and accommodating to the tech revolution. My own personal style is quite casual but I like to add flares of sophistication and aim to do this through my bags and accessories. Currently my favourite product is my bomber bag because it can be used as a smart day bag for work, big enough to carry all of your work items along with a gym kit or it can also be used for a weekend away whether it be a casual weekend break or business trip.

VR: Who or what inspires you?

RN: Having been part of the industry for a decade now, I’ve seen how tough the market it is, especially when making your products yourself because the overheads and running costs can be very high. I admire any of the brands out there that have stayed true to their values of providing the highest quality products made in their own workshops. Foster and Sons, John Lobb (bootmakers) plus so many more of the specialist stores in and around Jermyn Street, London. Dunhill for continuing to invest in their London workshop and giving people like myself the opportunity to train with some of the best. 
I also take huge inspiration from the Japanese approach to crafting where each individual detail is meticulously considered. In recent times I have become friends with Japanese luxury shoemaker Yohei Fukuda and he has given me some great advice with where best to position my products. For design inspiration, as many of my products have traditional silhouettes, I can certainly admit that I have taken inspiration from past works but I also look towards the new requirements of tech gadgets and how best to house them whilst maintaining simplistic designs. Brands like Tumi, who are not notably famous for stylish design, certainly inspire me with their use of pockets and compartments.
The rise of instagram has definitely provided us all with a plethora of fantastically dressed men. Andreas Weinas is one of my favourite online influencers with his smart casual styles and also formal attire choices; as is Fabio Attonasio of The Bespoke Dudes and Simon Crompton of Permanent Style.
Away from the industry, I take a lot of inspiration from architecture, much of my work uses strong clean cut lines and this is often down to my surroundings in London. The Albert Bridge in Battersea where I live has provided me with many of the shapes in my pieces as have the skyscapers in Cannary Wharf where I have spent a lot of time. Because of my industry experience, I feel I have the ability not only to design products that my clients desire but also to withstand the test of time. Having been fortunate enough to work with the brands and craftspeople that I have, it has taught me the best ways to reinforce and make my products strong and durable which in some of the mass production factories often gets overlooked. I want my products to age well with my clients and to support them on their travels or as they go about their daily tasks.

VR: Why should Keikari’s readers choose you over other British leather artisans?

RN: When selecting luxury leather goods and accessories it’s always difficult to know who to choose; I’d recommend one of my products over many of the other brandsout there because I can customise any of them to your requirements. None of my designs are set in stone and if you require your own personal pocket insert, material choice or leather choice, my past experience within the industry gives me fantastic access to many world-renowned suppliers as well as unknown gems of which many other smaller brands don’t usually offer. I frequently receive messages from fellow craftspeople enquiring about my suppliers but these are sacred and have taken years to collate, so I do not hand them out.

VR: What’s your definition of style?

RN: Style is all about details and how you edit looks to your personality. In the sector that I have focused my products on, men’s style as well as my own is all about tailored fits set off with accessories, such as watches, shoes, and choice jewellery. The more time I spend around quality products, the more I want my attire to be entirely selected. It’s difficult to be stylish from head to toe everyday but, for me, a decent pair of shoes or boots, combined with my every day jewellery (two silver rings and a single bangle) along with a well-fitted pair of trousers and a woollen top works well.

VR: Finally, have you any tips for identifying quality leather and make?

RN: After spending a long time working with leather as my creative medium, my first characteristic when selecting leather is, how does it feel to the touch? Whether it’s vegetable tanned of chrome tanned, I will always expect the surface to have some kind of wax/oil feel. Dry, rigid skins are a sign of being dried too quickly using heaters or not being left in the tanning drums long enough to properly absorb the dyes. A poor quality leather will almost certainly begin to crack or break far sooner than a well finished, properly tanned hide.

The $900 Vintage Florsheim Shoe Restoration


March 14, 2020 by Ville Raivio

BESNARD: a Menswear Company


March 14, 2020 by Ville Raivio

BESNARD is a Dutch menswear company that has its roots back in 1878. That’s when a certain master tailor Albert Besnard set up a shop with a specialisation in court livery. A. Besnard Tailleur plied its trade in The Hague. In the beginning, most of the business came from the nearby Dutch Royal Palace, later on numerous servants and diplomats connected to the regime walked through the door. The times they were a-changin’, though, and Albert had no one to continue or buy the family business, so the store stopped trading after some four decades in business. Fast forward a century, and the master tailor’s great-great-grandson, Victor, found a suit made by the old store. Though Victor Besnard is not an artisan, and his trade is strategy consultancy, he has experience in the field of menswear and from a tailor shop. Thus, the grandson decided to revive the name and set up a business that caters to classic pieces.

As Victor puts it, “I started working in menswear when I was 17 and continued until I started my career as a strategy consultant after college. My time at a luxury multi-brand store sparked my passion for classic menswear, and working at a bespoke tailor resulted in a ‘healthy’ obsession for tailoring and craftsmanship. It wasn’t until long after I started working as a consultant that I missed working with clothing. It was around the same time that I found a bespoke suit made by my great-great-grandfather, at that moment I decided to revive Besnard. It is definitely my ambition to grow the brand to a level where I can make a living from it. Currently, I work 4 days per week in consulting to cover the investment for new products and pay the rent. The rest of my time is dedicated to Besnard.”

BESNARD is run by one man, with occasional help from his wife, and former colleagues in tailoring helped with patterns and samples in the development phase. The company’s target group are men aged 30 to 50 who appreciate craftsmanship or certain designs or details. Trust is an important value for Victor Besnard: in his mind, clothes should be simple in design, have a high quality, and last a long time. They shouldn’t change too much in model or fit from year to year. Countless startup clothing companies have risen up in the 2000s, and standing out from so many others is a challenge. One option is to produce RTW-pieces which take their inspiration and features from bespoke tailoring.

Says Victor: “movies and pictures from ’50s and ’60s are a tremendous inspiration for me. It is fascinating to observe how men dressed at those times. I am a big fan of the ’60s Ivy League look and the design of my button-down shirts was heavily inspired by vintage OCBDs. However, my fit is a bit slimmer to make it more contemporary. In addition, I am very passionate about classic menswear and tailoring. I noticed that the bespoke suits worn by movie stars such as Cary Grant and Sean Connery had a certain masculinity in them. One of the reasons is the higher waist of their trousers, which visually lengthens the legs and shortens the torso, leading to a more masculine sense of proportion. This is something I also wanted to achieve with my trousers. Finally, I am an admirer of the soft unconstructed Neapolitan tailoring. Developing a tailoring line is a time consuming and costly investment, so unfortunately that must wait. This month I am launching a line of untipped ties with hand-rolled edges, in grenadine, shantung and hand-printed silks.”

BESNARD has chosen its manufacturers according to their quality and specialisation. As an example, only some shirt factories use English seams (also known as single-needle tailoring) and some tie makers offer hand-rolled edges. The company also uses unique designs which limits the range of white label manufacturers. The fabrics and materials come from mills which also supply tailors and high-end factories. As for the designs and value, the designer opines: “I think that passion is an important part which makes BESNARD different. The devil is in the details, and I care about every detail. Because little things can make a huge difference; the position of the buttons to ensure a nice collar roll, the difference between the front rise and back rise of a trouser pattern or simply the balance of the width of a shirt placket and the amount of millimeters the stitching is from the edge.”

G.J. Cleverley Vintage Shoes in Tuczek-style Elastic Loafers


March 8, 2020 by Ville Raivio

Much has been said about G.J. Cleverley’s bespoke shoes, likely most by the mouths and pens of men who’ve never owned such pairs. There is no substitute for first-hand experience, so I took it upon myself to grab a pair from the endless selection of eBay. The gamble was with sizing and this cannot be avoided with bespoke pairs. As luck would have it, shoes were made by old man George Cleverley himself.

This I deduce from the pair’s sockliner which features Cleverley’s old address on Cork Street. A short message to the company and back confirmed that GJC moved away from those premises some 40 years ago. Cleverley was alive and well-heeled back them, so this gives me and Keikari’s reader an interesting look at what exactly made his reputation so grand. It would have been swell to look at the shoe trees too, but they didn’t last.

Today’s example pair is an elastic shoe made in the Tuczek-style from alligator leather. A short look at Keikari’s archives will remind the reader why that name is important. Cleverley and John Lobb Ltd. still market a few pairs in this style as Tuczeks. As Cleverley apprenticed and worked at Tuczek’s, his company’s orders were very much inspired by the legendary Nikolaus.

This pair doesn’t have that “suspiciously chiseled toe” that Cleverley has become known for, instead we have a softly squared one likely requested by the original client whose name is not recorded. The single leather sole is light and has a rounded, narrow waist and the heels disappear under the heelcup delicately. Both have nothing that sets them apart from those by other West-End shoemakers. The welt, on the other hand, is cut extremely close and has very clean stitching that nearly disappears into the fudging.

The heelcups look oddly straight from the back but the side profile is nicely rounded. The leather stiffeners inside are firm at the bottom but nearly disappear the higher one goes. The elastic is, as the name suggests, very elastic and has an interesting light blue colour on the inside. The lining seems to be made from leather usually cut for uppers, but it changes into linen at the front of the pair. For no smart reason I can come up with, the sockliners have no foam cushioning inside.

The upper stitching is dense and neat all around. The alligator hides are simply stupendous. There is no cracking, very little creasing, and no scuffs at all. The hides feel soft and had a strong shine even before cream and polish. The scales at the back of the pair, on the other hand, don’t match the small and round belly cuts at the front. Looking online on the GJC website, this choice seems to be the norm for them still in the 2020s. The back scales are larger and square.

Finally, a word on the lasts. The proportions and forms on this pair look very clean, very smart, and (to use that ageless word) just timeless. The shoes are some half a century old but have no shapes or lines that would deter, though not all men appreciate the looks of alligators. To put this all in a single word, these feel proper. This would have appealed to the British gentry who, of course, wanted to look and feel apart from the hoi polloi but didn’t want to attract the wrong kind of looks.

A proper appearance was the thing, though I’m unsure how alligator fit into this equation. I like to think that the pair was commissioned by an eccentric chap who wanted a smart pair for the club, and wore them only on special occasions. The closest RTW-lasts in current times to compare to these elastics would be those sculpted by Edward Green. Their forms look proper and never stick out. In sum, I feel Cleverley earned his reputation by being dependable, within reach, having a high enough quality, attracting the right kind of clients, and offering comfort as well as looks. Yet from what I’ve seen, the company’s shoes were nothing conspicuous or otherworldly or awe-inspiring. Simply proper.

Coincidentally, the fit of the pair was off for my feet in the end and I have put this pair for sale online. If the reader happens to wear size 7 or 7.5UK with a regular shape of foot, a message to me would be welcome.

Bookster: a Made to Measure Tweed Coat


March 4, 2020 by Ville Raivio

Keikari’s latest project is a made to measure tweed coat completed in co-operation with Bookster, the very British online MTM-specialist. To read more about their process and service, do read the prior article.

The coat is made from Highrove cloth by Lovat, a tweedy favourite mill of mine. The model is a common crombie style customised to an uncommon look through Bookster’s many options. It comes with horn buttons, a paisley lining, a newspaper pocket, 3-button fly front, half belt, longer length, and the upper collar as well as pocket jettings have contrast cloth from dark brown velvet. The parcel arrived with a suit bag and a cut of cloth for repairs just in case the coat gets hit hard.

My aim was to get a British tweed coat that has enough detailing to avoid a dull, old man-look. All of the custom details I chose arrived in the finished piece. There was no measuring or trial coat in store, so the coat was made to measure through the info I sent. I took a tape measure to my best fitting MTM-coat and left some room for errors. All of the measurements are also in the finished cut.

The shoulders neither droop nor press, there’s room for movement around the chest, the sleeves are long enough, and sleeveheads are high enough so that the arms have a wide range to swing. The length is what I aimed for and the coat has room for a jacket. The only iffy point is the waist which feels tight. I moved the buttoning buttons an inch and got room for more, but will likely have to ask my tailor to let out the seams. Bookster leaves at least an inch of seam allowances for alterations later on, so this shouldn’t be a problem.

In the end, I was very surprised about the ease of the process and the end results. Granted, my frame is slim and long and such bodies are easier for long distance tailoring than irregular or very round ones. I believe there’s value to be found through Bookster if the reader is willing to spend at least an hour going through cloths, comparing cuts, and measuring his best-fitting clothes at home.

It’s much surer to use a made to measure or altered piece of clothing than going with body measurements, especially online. The cloth selection is similar to what most MTM-companies stock, the scope of customisation is wide, and the company has decades of experience making long distance clothing. That’s the Bookster promise.

Copyright © 2013 Ville Raivio

Only a beautiful life is worth living.

"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