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Handmade British caps and hats from Lawrence&Foster

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December 2, 2015 by Ville Raivio


How to identify quality cloth with Savile Row tailor Celia Williams

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December 1, 2015 by Ville Raivio

A recent vicuna sample from England brought cloths to my mind. The trouble with most clothes, of course, is that we cannot choose all the details that may have interest for us. Cloth is one of them, but very important for me visually, tactilely, and emotionally. Some cloths
just bring about more pleasure than others. Now, nearly all clothes have the maker’s label today, and this label seems to have become much more important than the cut, material, detailing or cloth. Yet readymade clothes are what we wear. So, how can my readers know if a piece of clothing is made from wonderful cloth? I turned to Celia Williams, who just happens to be a Savile Row tailor over at Steven Hitchcock. Below are some pointers that may just help you.

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VR: What’s your definition of great cloth?
CW: My personal definition of great cloth would mean that the cloth would have to be 11 or 12 oz. in weight, meaning it would have enough ‘guts’ to drape well, be able to wear all year round (assuming no drastic climates) and it would have the ‘guts’ to last for years if not worn like a work horse.

The weave that would be ideal would either be a twill or a herringbone. This is because the intricate way that the cloth has been woven would mean that the cloth is a closed/tight weave. Meaning that the cloth would be hard wearing, somewhat less attracted to holding dirts/liquids, less prone to pulls and catches. It would also mean that the cloth would have an interest, a detail. An excellent cloth for drape is the Bird’s eye weave. As the weave produces a circular pattern, this means that you get a soft fluid drape due to the 360-degree weave. However, the heavier the cloth- the larger the ‘Bird’s eye’, which to me looks clumsy and un-refined, so bird’s eye weaves are. for me, reserved for slightly lighter weight cloth.

The composition would be all wool. Wool used for suiting is always imported from Australia or New Zealand. This is because their breed of sheep produces soft and fine wool, as the climate is warmer than England’s. English wool is reserved for carpets and rugs, as it is courser and harder…not suitable to wear next to the skin.
Colour-wise, that is up to the wearer. However, my advice would be to choose a blue, as there are so many shades of blue that there is a shade for all skin tones…choose wisely.

VR: Some RTW suits have tags from the mill, but most have only the maker’s tag, so we’re left with our eyes and hands for discerning quality — how can we use them to our advantage?
CW: The senses are so important when looking at cloth. Once you have the knowledge of how cloth should feel, you don’t need to read labels or tickets. To use your hands is not something you can teach, it will come over time. However, for the novice, you should be aware that most natural products are warm to the touch…not hot, not cold. When you feel wool, silk, wood, plants, ivory, leather, etc…they are just pleasant to touch, as they are not cold.

There are exceptions, of course, stone, metal, granite, etc…they are natural and are cold to touch. However, man-made products such as plastic, acrylics, concrete, etc…are all cold to the touch. So, when handling a cloth and it at first touch has a cold feel to it, I would question whether the cloth had a percentage of man-made fibre in it, such as polyester. Another telltale sign for polyester is if the cloth has a slight crispy feel and a hard gloss sheen to it.

All wool cloth should feel warm, have a slight prickle to it, smell a little oily, have a soft sheen to it and feel fluid in your hand. If the all-wool cloth is a super 120/150/200, it should have a smoother texture, like paper, and have a brighter sheen like you see on freshly groomed race horses. Mohair is warm and gritty to touch, a definite sheen and a wire-like movement in the cloth.

Cashmere, angora and vicuna are all very warm and soft to touch. Varying in weight, the heavier cloths will have a bouncy feel with a fuzzy texture. The lighter weights with be smoother to handle with a crimp in the pile and, again, with a gloss sheen like a long-haired dog.
Linen and cotton are cooler to touch but not cold. They both have a smooth and hard texture. Linen will crease extremely easily when crunched in your hand; when released, the cloth will stay in the crunched position. Cotton will crease, not as much as linen. However, if crunched in the hand, the cotton will try to spring back flat, but with a few creases. Silk is warm and has a sticky touch. If you run your fingers over the silk, they will almost stick to it as the silk will be so smooth like satin or will be grainy like an eggshell, such as foulard.

VR: One Finnish tailor who I interviewed defines his job as design (in the somewhat industrial sense) because he is merely shaping cloth. Would you agree with him that cloth is the most important factor in clothes?
VR: Tailoring is so much more than design. It is very simple to design something. You could design a house, but would it function as a house? Could you live in it? Will it stay upright? Tailoring is about knowing the client, understanding what he wants, how he will look and how he will feel when wearing our clothes.

The engineering is in the cutting and making the suit fit, making sure it functions on wearing. One of the components is the cloth; it is not the most important as all aspects of the process of meeting the client, measuring, choosing the cloth, cutting the pattern, fitting the baste, making and finishing the suit are all the most important. No one factor is more important than the other, all have to work together in harmony. Guiding the client to pick the right type of cloth for his purpose for the suit, his body shape, his wear, potential and expectations is all part of years of experience and just one of the factors to produce a bespoke suit.

VR: Why should a man pay up to get the suit with great cloth?
CW: To buy quality is wise. To choose a cloth that is made well with good yarn, then it will help with the longevity of the suit. However, there is no point in buying a quality cloth and then have the suit made cheaply. There has to be a balance and a working harmony between the quality of cloth, quality of cutting and quality of craftsmanship.
In a RTW suit, buy the best made quality suit you can afford, look after it, wear it in rotation, and you should get a decent life span from the RTW suit.

VR: Finally, which cloth types are your favourites? Which mills do you usually recommend?
CW: My favourite cloth is flannel. I love its texture, drape, notion and history. Flannel was woven by the Welsh in the 16th Century. It was very course, ugly and used by peasants to keep warm. Over the years, it became refined and became popular with the traditional English ideal. Flannel now exudes relaxed luxury, British-ness and harks back to being old-fashioned. It has become a timeless classic thanks to the peasants of Wales…which is highly ironic. Flannel drapes well in nearly all weights, has beautiful marl colours, excellent texture and looks good on everyone.

The cloth merchants that I use the most are Harrison’s of Edinburgh, which encompass H.Lesser and Sons, as well as Porter and Harding for tweeds. Harrison’s are an excellent company to work with, they produce a
varied amount of different cloths, but owe their talent to keeping the quality high.


Albert Einstein on style

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November 28, 2015 by Ville Raivio

“If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.”

— Albert Einstein


Interview with Amrik Chaggar

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November 12, 2015 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?
AC: I am 39 years old. I specialize in Bespoke Shoemaking & Bespoke Tailoring, I also trained as a Fashion Designer.

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VR: Your educational background?
AC: I started out at London College of Fashion, followed by a Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion&Design at The Surrey Institution, and undertook a Master’s Degree at Central Saint Martins.

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VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your shoe and tailoring enthusiasm)?
AC: I am married to my loving wife for five years, looking forward to becoming parents soon. My Wife has learned that being a Bespoke Shoemaker/Tailor is no nine to five job, but she totally shares my enthusiasm especially in shoemaking .

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V R:…and your parent’s and siblings’ reactions back when you decided to become an artisan?
AC: I come from a family of four siblings, one older brother and two younger sisters. My Father came to the UK after the ‘Idi Amin era’, at a time of aggression. He was a man’s man, a builder by trade. When I went off to Fashion College he raised his eyebrows, as he did not see Fashion as a manly thing to do. He was a champion wrestler in Africa. Idi Amin sent a jeep with his armed solders especially to my Father’s house, as he was known to be one of the strong ones. Later, he played an important part in my shoemaking business as I taught him how to make shoes when he was unable to work due to a very unfortunate heart condition. He sadly left the world in 2006…he joked that he should have become a shoemaker, instead of bricklaying in the cold and rain. 

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VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides apparel?
AC: Renovating Houses, Building Construction, Designing and Boxing.

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VR: How did you first become interested in shoes, and when did you turn your eyes towards artisanal shoemaking? Why classics instead of fashion? The same questions for tailoring, of course.
AC: I started off at London College of Fashion studying Fashion. One day, whilst studying, I went to Berwick Street to buy some fabric and I saw a tailoring shop called Sam Arkus. I asked the owner if I would be allowed to come in as an Apprentice. He said that I was allowed to watch, as long as the toilets were cleaned and the workshop was spotless. I was allowed to watch, but I was not allowed to ask any questions. From there, I was asked to deliver a pair of trousers to Mr. Neilson at Neilson&Nutter, Tommy Nutter’s old shop. This is when I discovered Savile Row.

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I got to speaking to the Tailors and I became friends with Malcolm Plews at Welsh&Jefferies, who recommended me to pop into Gieves&Hawkes. They took me under their wing and I learned Coat Making.
I watched the best Pattern Cutter in the world, Ian Fadden, at Kilgour, French&Stanbury, and I met Gordon from Huntsman. With my curiosity and drive to try out new things, I convinced Master Cutter Malcolm Plews, who has clients like Al Fayed and the Royal Family, to show me how to cut patterns. And he did.

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I formed a Saturday Club with Malcolm and we would cut patterns from scratch; from smoking jackets to dress coats. During my time at Gieves and Hawkes, I was further exposed to the art of making trousers and coats, working with the Finishers and all the ladies from the Military Department, in a real old school establishment. I bought loads of old Tailor and Cutter magazines to read, and applied all the skills that I was learning continuously every day. I still have all of my book collections from back then and I still hold these valued relationships with my connections on Savile Row today. 

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Whilst I was learning how to become a Tailor and Coat Maker in Savile Row at Gieves & Hawkes, I finished my first degree. I worked as I studied. As part of my final Fashion Show, I made some metal shoes which were prototypes, not wearable’s but one-off art-pieces that caught the attention of the media, which led me to be head hunted by Foster&Son. They were intrigued by my ideas. I then made a shoe sample from my Granddad’s carpentry tools, which was laughable looking back now, but a couple of weeks later they called me up to offer me a post to become a Last Maker.

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Even though my first shoe sample was laughable, made with no supervision using only Carpentry tools rather than shoemaking tools, they must have seen something they liked. Mr. Terry Moore approved my work. He then introduced me to the boss, the late Mr. Adlam. I really like him a lot. He was with the Church of England, a Christian, a really nice man who came from a Timber background. He had bought the business for One Pound as it was going into receivership. A huge backlog of work had built up, of up to 10 years of orders, which I cleared up. I got the business up and running again, got on top of all the orders and made it possible for Mr. Moore to work from home, because it was becoming more and more difficult for Mr. Moore to commute to work with old age.

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I was at the right place at the right time and, although I appreciated having the honor and privilege of learning Last Making, Pattern cutting, fitting and all aspects of high-end shoes, I was even more grateful for getting to know Mr. Adlam, and of the relationship I had built with him. He was a drinker, but we had a connection. It was he who gave me the opportunity. He said to me “learn everything from Mr. Moore, learn the business, make it your own, and own it”.

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He left me to it and I took on every word of advice. I worked extremely hard and took the opportunity with both hands. Five years later, he sadly passed away. I parted from Foster & Sons and became independent, working for elite international world-class clientele from senior members of the Rothschild family to Famous Horse Breeders, Authors, Private Bankers and CEOs around the world, who have allowed me to manage their wardrobes.

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Whilst I was at Saint Martin’s, I wrote in my dossier that fashion was becoming redundant and the modus operandi of the way designers were beginning to create collections, season upon season, had no value. Designers were using fashion for attention mixed with their personal lives, or simply to be accepted rather than what was more important, like creating good design work. Designers working from mood boards that were merely a collection of the conscious mind would end up just becoming eclectic borrowers. This proved that a new paradigm in design was needed and that R&D is what would lead to the vintage of tomorrow. All of this was confirmed to me when McQueen committed suicide. I have great admiration for Haute Couture for its theatrics, design and craftsmanship. Haute Couture will always have a role to play, as it brings together a sea of unique ideas and desirable artistic creativity. A copy of my dossier was given by hand to Hussein Chalayan, it can be found in Central Saint Martin’s library today.

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VR:How have you gathered your knowledge of the crafts — from books, in-house training, workshops or somewhere else?
AC: See my words above. If you have enthusiasm, drive and determination with the passion and curiosity to learn like I have, then it just happens. The reality is that I was destined for this journey, to become an artist and a craftsman, and to show the world the art of shoemaking

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VR: How would you describe the styling of the shoes you make? How about the clothes?
AC: The shoes I make are handcrafted to absolute perfection and there is more to come. I learned the proper way of crafting handmade shoes from start to finish. There are customers of bespoke and there are connoisseurs of bespoke. I have a very sophisticated and unique eye, and a ritual way of working. I believe one can only be as good as the last pair of shoes made. I take orders for all traditional bespoke styles and create modern lines in the Last. I make all styles, from pumps, slippers, riding boots, to casuals, Derbys and Oxfords. The same signature applies to Tailoring. I handcraft and cut my jackets with sharp clean lines, razor sharp lapels with the best new, fine cloths available from English Mills. When a customer invests in me, I work with the intention that the shoes and suits I make will take the client to successful places.

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Soon I will be releasing products that are collector’s pieces and limited editions made from luxurious materials combined with unique elements of design. These products are targeted for people who desire and appreciate luxury. These products will be made from only the best materials and the best leathers. I am fortunate to hear existing customers say to me “make me what you want to make me…” evidently the trust has been built and my work has already landed on such feet.  This is my bespoke ethos and I can work continuously with this drive and desire, sometimes days on end without any sleep.

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VR: Do you have a favourite shoe model (eg. monk, derby, oxford, balmoral boot) and leather type? How about for tailored garments?
AC: Correspondents, Red Adelaides, Square Toe Half-brogues and I also enjoy making pumps and velvet slippers. Be it shoes or suits, it is all about the fit that matters. The study of anatomy combined with manipulation to the foot come together to bring a quality of life for the customer.

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VR: There are dozens of cordwainers in the UK — why should my readers choose you? 
AC: 1 – I am the compulsive disordered gatekeeper of refined quality craftsmanship. I handcraft to absolute time stopping perfection, using only the very best leather.
2 – I pride myself that I can travel all corners of the world, I am a mobile craftsman and can bring convenience to my clients who are mostly extremely busy leaders, CEOs, elite global businessmen.
3 – I give my clients a piece of a museum rather than charging them for walking into one.
4 – I am young. Just because a shoemaking company has been around for 100 years does not mean that a craftsman is still making those shoes. When I am making shoes, I am making them end-to-end with my own hands. I do not farm out my work to other makers.

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In summary, my view is that modernism will become post-modernism, the new world order will become post-world order, some men will have a tendency to be feminine and some women will always attempt to de-throne a man, London will always have a traffic jam, the blessed Queen will always love her Corgis and Amrik Chaggar will always handcraft the finest bespoke shoes in the world.

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VR:What is your definition of a good shoe?
AC: Firstly, the foot needs to be supported throughout. This is normally constructed within the Last Making process. This art can only be achieved by an exceptional Last Maker who has dedicated his life to strive for perfection in craftsmanship like I have. To achieve this, one must have the unique ability to hold a customer’s foot in one hand and to create a rotating three dimensional image in their mind, taking the customer’s actual foot measurements and then finding a fine balance between maximising the support required to improve the longevity of the anatomy, as well as being able to create an extremely elegant object of desire, right the way through to the final execution of the product.
I made a conscious decision to concede my life, obsess my self, to strive for perfection. This is only one part in the process because when a client inserts his/her feet into shoes made by me, something magical happens. The client suddenly finds himself standing transcendent at the centre of gravity; the planets align and begin to revolve around him, rather than the other way round. This in my opinion is just the beginning of style and if you don’t get that..? Then forever chase your tail.

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The genius Albert Einstein once said in his paper on relativity “matter and energy tells space and time where to go”. And in Martin Scorsese’s epic movie Taxi Driver to the sounds of Bernard Herrmann, the great Robert De Niro said, “Damn, days go on and on, they do not end. All my life, I needed a sense of some place to go. I don’t believe that one should devote life to morbid self-attention. I believe that someone should become a person like other people. I first saw her at Palantine campaign headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress; she appeared like an angel out of this filthy mess. she is alone…They…cannot…touch…her…“

Although the character Travis is referring to a woman, the same applies for a man in the form of a beacon of light, a glimmer of hope. Be it a dress, or a pair of bespoke shoes the ‘Becoming’ process of a man ends when a man takes his last breath. Until then, it is not the destination that matters it’s the journey. So whatever steps one makes…make your carbon footprint ‘Bespoke’.

I sometimes wish I could walk on to the film set of life and say, “Cut…cut…cut! What are you doing?” I am sick of this obsession people have with their name tags wrapped around their necks whilst unveiling products that create billions to the world. This detachment between new money and the art of clothing concerns me. Go and buy a pure silk tie from Salvatore Ferragamo or Hermès, get yourself a decent business card, and place an order for a pair of bespoke shoes and suit by yours truly. Invest in yourself and update your wardrobe like you do your software.

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VR: Who or what inspires you?
AC: I grew up in a family of builders so I developed my hand co-ordination skills for using tools and having a genetically gifted sharp eye without even knowing. The very first day after I finished high school, I travelled alone to Rostock, Germany, when the Germans had gone on strike to join my Grandfather, Father and Uncle who had gone out to build.

My Grandfather was my everything. He came to England in 1962 from Africa. He woke up at 4am every morning, did his prayers, went to the local temple daily to cook food for a community of an average of two hundred people. He owned many properties in England and abroad, paid for 16 weddings for people who could not afford to get married and let them borrow his house during the weddings. He installed and plumbed baths and boilers in most houses in and around Plumstead and Woolwich, in South-East London, for free, when baths were first installed. He was a Master Builder and had hands that could do anything. He was a smart man who had a super sharp brain.

He could sum up his week’s shopping faster then the women could scan the items on the tills. If an electrical appliance or a drill or clock stopped working, he would figure out a way to make it work. He built his own house from scratch. He climbed four-story scaffolding buildings with a walking stick until the age of eighty-two.  

He had always been with me whether it was building extensions, renovating homes or little projects that I had took on. He also used to sit with me when I made shoes in my workshop. My Granddad was my biggest inspiration in my life and although he did not speak much English and probably did not realise his philanthropy, he certainly instilled it in me.  Although I do a small bit now for those who need it, I look forward to a day when I am in a position to help make a real change. I also have tremendous respect for Mrs. Melinda and Mr. Bill Gates for their foundation in Seattle, which I have visited, and find inspiring.

VR: Finally, how can my readers find out if a shoe has a truly good fit? Not too loose or tight is a very vague tip often bandied around.
AC: After the design consultancy has been finalised, all shoes are made halfway and double-checked with a fitting, leaving no room for error. To experience the feeling of truly good fitting shoes or suits, email me by appointment only at ac@amrikchaggar.com and do not worry about the fitting, I have already mentioned that I have dedicated my life to bespoke craftsmanship.

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Photos: Amrik Chaggar

http://amrikchaggar.com/about-us.html


A definition of style

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October 29, 2015 by Ville Raivio

“Style is what happens when a person bends fashion to his personality.”

– G. Bruce Boyer in his recent interview with Styleforum


A short history of the suit

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October 27, 2015 by Ville Raivio

The following is a translation from my classic style book, Klassikko, published in Finland this year. Placed at the beginning of the Suit chapter, it aims to tell how the western suit of clothes was born, how it evolved through time, and how its forms told the story of the unfolding 1900s. Hopefully some smart publishing house will buy the translation rights for Klassikko, and Keikari’s readers can read the rest of the book one day.

A short history of the suit

The suit is a centuries-old western garment whose cut and details are the mirror of times. In its current form this whole comprises a jacket and trousers made from the same fabric to be worn together. Another pair of trousers along with a waistcoat were popular additions, but these are rare in the 2000s as fewer men need suits often, and manufacturers aim to cut costs and speed up production. To put it extremely succinctly, it can be said that the western men’s suit is the hundreds of years old, traditional leisure garment of the British upper class. Its root form was born from the reform of the English King Charles II in 1666. By his order, the men of his court began wearing three-piece suits of clothes composed of a decorative knee-length jacket, very long waistcoat, and knee breeches, usually cut from the same fabric. The jacket had copious buttons, sometimes the vest was even longer than the jacket, and often the jacket had turnback sleeves that resembled trouser cuffs. The whole was called a justaucorps.

The waistcoat often had sleeves as well, but no inner structure or shoulder pads. The justaucorps was inspired by the contemporary court dress of Persia, experienced firsthand by European travellers of the Silk Road, and its buttons were sewn on the right side of the body. This way swords were not caught in the cloth when mostly right-handed men took offence and weapon. This is how we still button. By the king’s orders, this new dress surpassed the doublet ensemble that had been worn since the beginning of the 1600s. Silk and lace were commonplace in the former garments, but the new suit of clothes was made from wool. This decision was remarkable because wool cloth had previously been the fabric of peasants and labourers. A similar decree was issued by the sunny Ludwig XIV of France, where the new look was boosted by the thoughts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who spoke for a return to nature. The clothes of the 1700s were stiff work because silk couldn’t be shaped like wool, and neither did the shoulders have padding nor the chest have canvas, both of which would have brought even shape for the garment. Most of the jackets had but two darts, both sewn on the back instead of front. Those to the manor born favoured silk fabrics decorated with gold or silver embroidery. Thus, the gentleman’s clothes during these times were imposingly decorated but poorly fitting. Still, English apparel was less showy than French as early as the 1730s, and tourists from the continent were surprised by the very plain Englishman.

After the 17th century doublets and 18th century justaucorps came the full dress jacket-looking frock with a double-breasted long jacket and high turndown collar, large buttons, wide lapels and slim sleeves. Its usual companions were a large, white linen cravat, double-breasted waistcoat, form-fitting leg wear, and high riding boots. Often the jacket was worn with knee breeches and knee-length hosiery, and boots were replaced with low buckle shoes. The popular long waistcoats lost their sleeves in the 1770s cut, at a time when macaroni dandies, overtly primmed and decorated young men, raised disdain on the British isles. Their style was a verge interpretation of French court dress, and these sons of noble families continued their lark unto the beginning of the 1800s.

During the Regency era, England changed course. At the beginning of the 1800s, one George Bryan “Beau” Brummell designed and bespoke his own version of the frock, which was accepted by the gentry. Without Beau’s friendship with the current king’s son, the costume of his design would have hardly triumphed. The new look was based on the country attire of the British upper class, made from sturdy, thick, and durable wool cloths. With the popularity of these garments, English tailors had learned to stretch, shrink, and alter wool with steam so well that the demanding class accepted their works. Beau’s dress was wholly understated, woollen, unadorned, silkless and, compared to the old look, inexpensive — nearly democratic. It was the first ray of a new dawn. The jacket and legwear were made from different cloths, but the dress had no reek of horses like the usual country attire. Instead of a loose cravat, a starched linen neckcloth had appeared around the neck, and it was folded artistically. On the feet were high leather boots like the ones on the countryside, but now these were made on chiseled lasts and polished to a presentable form. Instead of knee breeches, long-legged pantaloons were worn.

On America’s side, strange things were happening at the beginning of the 1800s, when makers like Brooks Brothers laid the foundation for the modern clothing factory. They sold readymade suits, for which all details had been decided beforehand, though their fit was altered to suit the customer. Off-the-peg clothes were on offer even after the 1750s, but they were made slowly by hand. Cloths and custom clothes have always been relatively expensive, and recycling used apparel was commonplace already during the Middle Ages. With the help of factories, the growing mass of pauper immigrants could be clothed for reasonable prices, as well as the enormous Union forces of the American Civil War. A sad but true result of cheap readymade clothing was the gradual disappearance of daily folk costumes and local, traditional garments on both sides of the Atlantic. The tape measure, invented at the beginning of the 19th century, greatly assisted tailors’ work, and improved the cut and fit of clothing. To this day its inventor has not been found. During the 1820s to 1840s, gentlemen occasionally wore two separate waistcoats with their knee-length frock coat. Their fabrics were heavily patterned and -dyed up until the end of the century.

The frock coat finally surpassed other British formal daywear garments in the 1830s. While the Brummellian dress inspired countless forms, the day frock was likely most influenced by military uniforms as it was always double-breasted, and buttoned high on the chest. Within a few decades, the jacket began to be cut with an increasingly narrow waist while the skirt widened. Finally this combination lead to a corseted silhouette on men with slim enough waists. Innovations lead to changes in clothes manufacturing: the sewing machine was invented in the 1840s, the buttonhole machine came two decades later, the 1870s brought the buttoning machine, and the 1900s arrived armed with machine knives that could cut several cloth layers at a time.

Before the 1850s, the most common western daywear for fine men consisted of a black knee-length jacket, grey striped trousers, white shirt with detachable collar, a cravat or ascot tie, and dress boots. Headwear was usually a top hat, and a cane came swinging in one arm. The whole was the common dress of the Victorian gentleman, essential apparel for the so-called rising middle classes and established gentry. It was extremely popular up until the 1910s. The jackets of this time had a longer and clearly narrower waist than today, at its narrowest it resembled a corseted figure. The short reefer sailing jacket, resembling a pea coat, was also in vogue concurrently, though it wasn’t a an outer garment. The rowdy students of Oxford and Cambridge also took to wearing short jackets for daywear. The 1850s brought the first waistcoats that were made from the same cloth as the jacket and trousers in a suit of clothes. At this time, tailors’ trade magazines and men’s style publications were set up to spread the marketing and manufacturing info of apparel.

The arch form of the current suit appeared on men in the 1850s, when the so-called lounge jacket grabbed attention. This original name referred to a carefree lounging garment that was fit for walks, the countryside, the home and leisure time, but not for parties or occasions. Its cut was well full and comfortable, so the clothes were carefree and pleasing after stiff, stuffy morning dress or white tie. The lounge jacket shape was born when the morning jacket hem was shortened and cut less rounded, four buttons were sewn to the body, and the very short notch lapels of the Tweedside country jacket were added. The breast pocket still used today was an essential part of the lounge even then. The double-breasted suit appeared in the 1860s, inspired by the similar-looking reefer jackets, which were like shortened navy uniform coats. The reefers were indeed buttoned higher than pea coats, but the overall shape was still similar. The hems and edges of the first lounge suits were usually decorated with piping. The early suits had sleeves that were very full on the bicep and tapered much towards the wrist. They were common sportswear and country clothing. As time went by, the size of the lapels grew, the number of buttons lessened, and the buttoning point moved from the chest closer to the bellybutton. The same happened to the waistcoat’s buttoning point and lapels as well.

During the 1870s, the new lounge suit proved very popular among the grandees as well. When the frock coat lost popularity, the lounge suit cut from dark wool slowly took its place as gentlemen’s day attire. The dark suit was the most popular daytime dress around the streets of Europe already in the 1890s. At this time, its cut was loose, lapels minuscule, and the buttoning point very high on the chest. Shoulder padding as well as full canvas structure inside the chest, still favoured by tailors today, became the golden norm just before the 1900s arrived. The former evens out crooked shoulders and gives them gravitas, the latter brings an unsurpassed shape to the garment. The Victorian era was the golden age of tailoring because new types of clothing were born in great amounts, the skill in shaping wool cloth reached its peak, the tape measure helped artisans perceive bodily forms, and clothing finally combined smartness with structure and fit. The lounge suit had surpassed all other men’s day garments in popularity by the end of the century, and the previous formal garments were reserved for parties and grand occasions.

Morning dress was already used at the beginning of the 19th century first as a sporting garment, worn on equine morning outings. Hence the name. The oldest models did have an M-shaped lapel gorge and several metal buttons, though, but the current minimal morning dress dates from the beginning of the 1900s. Up until the Second World War, British men followed the dress example set out by the Royal Family, and Europe commonly followed the Brits. Thus the latest changes proceeded from the King or his family to their closest high-ranking servants, and from them onwards. In time, these effects reached the outer rims of the western nations. The suits and jackets of the 1900s were cut very short like bumfreezers, the shoulders were heavily padded and rounded. Finally these shapeless and straight-hanging sack cut jackets were replaced with form-fitting ones in the 1910s, suits that had defined waistlines. Hard, large padding was left off as the newer style had a natural, rounded shoulder line. In America, the youngsters let loose with very long and narrow jazz suits. Back in Italy, a peculiar ethos of futuristic clothing was born within artist circles, and gave birth to wild experimentations while predicting the clothes of the future based on the clothes of the day. The 1920s were mostly happy and young men wanted to feel the age in their clothes. Suits became narrower, shapes were rounded, the jacket hem was lengthened still, and the most popular silhouette was long and slim.

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 decimated countless lives and had a profound effect on American clothes manufacturing. Left with no occupation, diminishing funds, and a hungry family, rags were the last thing in men’s minds. While sales slumped and moods were low, the great invention of the 1930s was the made to order suit. The customer could choose his cloth and pick out a few details, but the garment was not made to his measurements. After the Second World War was done and wrapped up, men had scarce money or will to pay tailors for bespoke orders. Made to measure or made to order deals got the job done well enough. As if an objection to the lightness of the ‘20s and the roughness of WWII times, the 1930s suit was huge in shoulder and nipped in waist, the better to form an exaggerated V-shape. Most jackets, even the single-breasted ones, had peak lapels that suggested added height and broader shoulders. At this time, double-breasted suits were also at the peak of their popularity. The amount of leisure clothes grew greatly and the famed drape cut enjoyed its high time. The few drape jackets still made have retained their main feature: a bit of loose fabric cut on the chest and around the sleeves. This guarantees a wider range of movement for the hands and makes the chest look slightly broader.

Jacket hems were commonly short again, below which a trouser-covered bum swinged. War time rationing greatly hampered all quests for elegance, though the men returning to the home front in the 1940s did not want to fight the government, as happened two decades later. Instead they wanted to belong and be accepted as part of society after so much suffering. The decade’s suit was by all means loose, padded, full, comfortable but mostly shapeless. The ‘40s youth did rebel a bit by looking scruffy instead of kempt, and favoured roll neck shirts instead of collar shirts, knitwear in place of suits. When the 1950s arrived, the most popular American garment for the professional man was the grey flannel suit. Cut in the sack style, it was boring but appropriate, and inflamed no ardours. The so-called natural shoulder line was the greatest innovation in men’s suits for two decades. Now there was little padding so the shoulders looked rounded and soft. After the World War’s second iteration, dressing up for dinner slowly disappeared from grand estates as well. It was popularly not felt the thing to do anymore in an age of new social order and democracy. Elsewhere, American style and culture spread across the globe through Hollywood’s golden era films, whose leading men wore their own custom clothing, not the creations of some “designer”.

During the mid fifties, synthetic fibres appeared and were marketed as the herald of a future without the trouble of ironing or starch, that would never wrinkle or break down. Mixed cloths were woven as well: wool brought its own virtues and synthetics theirs. The fifties also saw more and more men leave ties at home, and begin popping their shirt collars to rest above the lapels. Peak lapels nearly disappeared from single-breasted jackets and suits. Right before the 1960s arrived, contoured, even sexy continental cuts from the French and Italians bested prior, dull models in the US. The influence of the Roman Brioni, in particular, was noted among the fine jet-setting crowd, and the company was the first to hold a catwalk fashion show for men. A clearly defined waist and strong shoulders appealed to men and women all the way in England and America. In addition, fewer men wore jackets during the summer in the ‘50s, so the apparel industry feverishly tried to sell jackets on both sides of the Atlantic. As these were warmer than shirts in the heat, their place was taken by shirt jackets that were made to look like sports jackets, but lacked shoulder padding, canvas structure, and linings. Fabrics with a porous surface offered help for the man in search of a cool summer jacket.

The 1960s were one big rebellion and the suit held no appeal apart from its most casual forms, like corduroy models. Unity was no goal anymore, for all wanted to be beautiful and unique snowflakes. During previous times, men had passed on to their sons what little they knew about the secrets of classic clothing. During the Great Renunciation this tradition was largely lost. As fathers didn’t want to seem like mummies or lose track of the changing times, they now asked for advice from their sons, who told all about the core of cool. Dressing no longer changed through the joint efforts of tailors and style icons, it was the garment industry’s marketing and mass copies that showed the way. The Peacock Revolution that began in England blanketed Europe and America under garish patterns and strong colours. Tommy Nutter’s company helped renew the stuffy image of Savile Row, and showed entertainment stars that not every suit is the same or a completely boring garment. All men’s clothes became slimmer, and rock was rolling while red wine and free sex were flowing.

The 1970s were a time of comical proportions. Shirt collars, ties, lapels and trouser legs were enormous and fitted no one. For some reason nobody told this to the people who lived through the decade. The era was also the high time of the fashion designer, and they sold huge amounts of clothing with peculiar, futuristic designs. In America, Ralph Lauren set up his own company, but differed from other designers in that his inspiration hailed from the first decades of the 20th century, from the traditions of the American East Coast and the British isles. Despite its dementedness, the seventies was the last age to see common, everyday use for the three-piece suit. Afterwards it has become much rarer. With the comical clothes vanished the last bits of smart day-to-day clothing etiquette. As the decade waned, Europeans grew tired with tight clothing and drew inspiration from loose, comfy American cuts. This silhouette was to last for some two decades.

The 1980s suit was baggy and lax with capital shoulders. This cut culminated in Giorgio Armani’s unstructured vision of the tailored jacket with a dropped buttoning point and lapel gorges drooping on the clavicle. It was indeed comfortable and differing, but far from balanced or distinguished because its proportions differed so much from the golden mean. As the inner structure was removed, these jackets offered poorer fits for the human form, and often the set sleeves hanged outside the shoulder’s natural line. During the ‘80s, men’s fashion shows became more popular and the great economic boom fed into conspicuous dressing. In America, the colourful, loose and different costume design of Miami Vice struck the pace. This slack look continued through the 1990s, even though the eighties’ boom had ended humiliatingly. A particular nineties vogue were black suits. During the 2000s, suits grew shorter and very tight in all directions. This look has continued to this day, but clothiers always have the allure to develop and market new and “contemporary” cuts so that we might feel ourselves uncomfortable, and buy new pieces. Despite this, the man who knows classical proportions, balance and the limitations of his body can nonchalantly use his favoured clothes for decades.

The greatest variables in the disappearance of morning dress, white tie, and frock coat were the two world wars, and their concomitant social changes. The strong grip of hierarchical estates and the privileges of the owning class crumbled. New generations wanted to make a visible stand to the past worlds of their fathers and grandfathers. Stiffness did not appeal to those who had accustomed to the lightness of uniforms. Ordinary life thus became more ordinary, and the suit took the place of former garments, which were now reserved for formalwear. Weddings, state occasions, diplomacy and grand balls kept alive the clothes of times past. The suit has been cut anew and its details changed all through the 1900s, but its core remains the same. These many stages can be studied, for example, from the wonderful book Sharp Suits by Eric Musgrave.

During the 2000s, the suit has become a more-or-less ceremonial garment instead of everyday clothing, used to separate celebrations from the commonplace. It is also part of occupational dress for chosen sectors, worn as a marker of appreciation towards the client, listener, viewer, organisation or values. The American clothing company of Paul Stuart has described the suit’s stature in an interesting way: “A proper function of the business suit is to offer a man a decent privacy so that irrelevant reactions are not called into play to prejudice what should be purely business transactions.” In other words, the suit is a mostly neutral garment that hides a man’s place of birth, leisure pursuits, or free choice in clothing in a way that does not bother others. Likely the complete opposite of wearing the suit would be doing foreign business in folk costume. Naturally, suits will not remove accents from speech nor change the wearer’s opinions, but it will also not stand out in city or business settings. The suit has stood the test of time because it is eminently suitable and adjustable.


Keikari on Instagram

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October 26, 2015 by Ville Raivio

Well, there was a time when I kept telling myself that Tumblr was a place I’d never join. Eventually I joined. Then the usual gateway path lead me to Instagram — and here we are, Keikari can be found there as well, sharing random snaps of beautiful cloths, textures, materials, details, accessories, footwear and such.

http://instagram.com/keikaricom/


Making a hand-sewn belt

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October 26, 2015 by Ville Raivio


A great fit in shoes

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October 23, 2015 by Ville Raivio

Few men use welted shoes made on lasts with their measurements. Ill-fitting shoes advance over- or underpronation, treading with the outer- or inner side of the foot too much, which are regrettably common sights on the street, and stress the foot in the long run. Traditional welted shoes usually have wood or steel shanks under the insoles as this construction supports the gait, and guides it towards a natural form. These shoes also have stiffeners made from full leather or leather board inside the heel cup to support the foot in step. When fewer men buy welted footwear, even salesmen aren’t able to help them find a suitable fit, though the main aim of shoe shops of today seems to be higher profits instead of service or promoting stylish walking. With this in mind I wish to guide the man buying welted shoes.

My main advice with fit: the heel should not rise up from the heelcap during step. In practice, this matter is easily examined. First a pair is slipped on, then laced up, after which the other hand grabs the heel of one shoe. Now the foot is raised up while the hand tests if the heel rises from the cap. If it does, the pair offers no support and one might as well be wearing plastic sandals. Two options are on offer. Despite the large heelcap, the shoe can be bought and the fit bettered with thicker socks, added insoles or glued-on heel grips. The alternative is to try another model whose last fits the foot better.

My other tip concerns the instep. If empty space is left between the foot’s instep and the tongue, the pair will also not support the foot very well. This is solved again with thicker socks, added insoles or glued-on tongue pads. Thirdly: one can wriggle his toes inside a well-fitting shoe. Naturally, the toes will also have suitable room width-wise so that they’re not squeezed against the sides. At least 1-1.5 cm of free room should remain between the toe tips and the shoe’s tip so that the pair is also comfortable to walk downhill.

Lastly, it is well to remember that leather will stretch with wear. A new pair can be just a bit tight on the sides in the store because it will stretch later on. The less seams a model has, the more it will stretch. If need be, the shoes can be left at a cobbler who will stretch them height- or lengthwise and improve the fit. This may, however, leave ugly wrinkles on the upper leather. Shoes cannot be stretched length-wise due to the stiffeners inside the toe and heel. Shoehorns are the best friends of the shoe as they prevent the stiffeners from cracking and the leather from stretching too much, both caused by violent on-putting. A small horn is convenient to bring everywhere in the bag. In sum, a well-fitting shoe supports the heel and instep, and will not squeeze anywhere. If the pair is also pleasing to walk in, the better.

Translated from my book, Klassikko.


Baldesar Castiglione’s definition of sprezzatura

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September 29, 2015 by Ville Raivio

“Therefore, whoever would be a good pupil must not only do things well, but must always make every effort to resemble and, if that be possible, to transform himself into his master. And when he feels that he has made some progress, it is very profitable to observe different men of that profession; and, conducting himself with that good judgment which must always be his guide, go about choosing now this thing from one and that from another. And even as in green meadows the bee flits about among the grasses robbing the flowers, so our Courtier must steal this grace from those who seem to him to have it, taking from each the part that seems most worthy of praise; not doing as a friend of ours whom you all know, who thought he greatly resembled King Ferdinand the Younger of Aragon, but had not tried to imitate him in anything save in the way he had of raising his head and twisting one side of his mouth, which manner the King had contracted through some malady. And there are many such, who think they are doing a great thing if only they can resemble some great man in something; and often they seize upon that which is his only bad point.

But, having thought many times already about how this grace is acquired (leaving aside those who have it from the stars), I have found quite a universal rule which in this matter seems to me valid above all others, and in all human affairs whether in word or deed: and that is to avoid affectation in every way possible as though it were some very rough and dangerous reef; and (to pronounce a new word perhaps) to practice in all things a certain sprezzatura [nonchalance], so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it. And I believe much grace comes of this: because everyone knows the difficulty of things that are rare and well done; wherefore facility in such things causes that greatest wonder; whereas, on the other hand, to labor and, as we say, drag forth by the hair of the head, shows an extreme want of grace, and causes everything, no matter how great it may be, to be held in little account.

Therefore we may call that art true art which does not seem to be art; nor must one be more careful of anything than of concealing it, because if it is discovered, this robs a man of all credit and causes him to be held in slight esteem. And I remember having read of certain most excellent orators in ancient times who, among the other things they did, tried to make everyone believe that they had no knowledge whatever of letters; and, dissembling their knowledge, they made their orations appear to be composed in the simplest manner and according to the dictates of nature and truth rather than of effort and art; which fact, had it been known, would have inspired in the minds of the people the fear that they could be duped by it.

So you see how art, or any intent effort, if it is disclosed, deprives everything of grace. Who among you fails to laugh when our messer Pierpaolo dances after his own fashion, with those capers of his, his legs stiff on tiptoe, never moving his head, as if he were a stick of wood, and all this so studied that he really seems to be counting his steps? What eye is so blind as not to see in this the ungainliness of affectation; and not to see the grace of that cool disinvoltura [ease] (for when it is a matter of bodily movements many call it that) in many of the men and women here present, who seem in words, in laughter, in posture not to care; or seem to be thinking more of everything than of that, so as to cause all who are watching them to believe that they are almost incapable of making a mistake?”

— Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, pages 32-33, W.W. Norton&Company Inc. [2002].




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