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.”
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.
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.
March 4, 2020 by Ville Raivio
Over the rolling years, I must have owned more than 150 pairs of welted leather shoes, most of them now sold to new homes. My goal with this silly project has been to find out which things lead to quality in men’s footwear; that is, which leathers look and age best, what last shapes are both pleasing and comfortable, which details are helpful as well as stylish. The ultimate end has been to find out who makes the best damn shoes on the planet. I’ve done the same with collar shirts, neckties and other clothes too, but see the shoe list at the end of this post. Today, after more than 10 years of searching, I feel I’m ready to tip my hat to Edward Green. It’s true, of course, that EG’s pairs don’t have the most handwork (like Vass) nor the closest-fitting lasts (like G&G), they cost more than some artisanal pairs (any from Hungary), and so on. I still feel that their RTW shoes are the best damn things available. How do I love them? Let me count the ways.
Edward Green uses similar oak bark leather soles and heels as most high-end makers, and their finishing is not conspicuous. They do last a very long time in my use like other oaken pieces, the rubber heel piece as well. Most of Green’s models have a 270-degree welt which leaves the heel hidden under the shoe, and this makes the pairs look delicate. The welt is cut close to the uppers, which makes another notch on the list of delicacy. The welt stitching is always tight and clean, the welt is finished with tight, decorative fudging. The leathers Edward Green uses are simply superb, among the best in RTW-shoemaking. They have a clean, smooth grain with beautiful aniline dyes and burnished finishing. The amount of colours and antique shades EG offers is the widest I know of. The same goes for made to order-selection as the factory keeps stock of discontinued patterns and lasts as well. The leathers are easy to care for, polish up well, and crease little. The upper stitching is always tight, accurate, a joy.
The lining leather is soft and clean, though always in the boring sandy colour which nearly all factories go for. The heel stiffener gives a strong support and keeps its shape. Apart from the leathers and finishing, what endears me to EG are the lasts. They both look smart and feel great, there is no exaggeration in shapes or lines. They have a sort of look that forgoes time. I have seen Green pairs from 30 or 40 or 50 years ago that just look right even in the 2020s. What also look right are the upper patterns. Even the finest lasts lead to stupid shoes if the patterns laid on them have odd proportions. The designers at Edward Green have an immense sense of proportion, the patterns just look right. Finally, the factory’s pairs are extremely comfortable. I don’t know how they achieve this as the leathers and structures they use are no different from other high-end British makers. They just feel right when walking.
To sum up the points, Edward Greens are the best damn RTW-shoes because they have developed a tradition of doing many things so well. The leathers, the lasts, the finishing, the comfort, the looks — Green pairs have them all. Several shoemakers I’ve tried have some great things, some do certain parts better than EG, some fail comfort. It really is the combination that does it. What’s more, I have EG shoes made in different times, from the 1990s to this decade, and all have the same level of quality. The standard has been high and enforced, the results consistent. The sad thing is that Green’s shoes are dearly expensive. Their prices have risen several times over the 2000s, the pound is strong, and with Brexit looming in the near distance, the pairs are set to become even more expensive.
The quality is there but behind a gilt door. I, of course, urge the reader to try them out. My tip for the student and prudent man is to buy Edward Green shoes from non-retail sources. There are always dozens of pairs on eBay at any moment, and some of them are unused. The lot includes sample pairs, unwanted gifts, slight seconds, emptied stock, and so on. Another source are European web stores which don’t use English as the default language. I’ve seen Italian retailers, for example, offer Green shoes for 40% discounts from time to time. The gilt door can be passed with cunning and great treasures await.
* * *
To date, I have owned and used American shoes made by Allen-Edmonds, Alden, Johnston&Murphy (vintage), Florsheim, Rider Boot, White’s, Red Wing, Edwin Clapp.
From Hungary: László Vass, Heinrich Dinkelacker, Roznyai, Buday, Saint Crispin’s.
From Italy: Silvano Lattanzi, Borgioli, Buttero, Stefanobi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Romano Martegani, Luigi Borrelli, Italigente, Cortina.
The following from Spain: Meermin, Carmina, Crownhill, and from Portugal Carlos Santos.
From Great Britain: John Lobb, Gaziano&Girling, Cheaney, Edward Green, Loake, Crockett&Jones, Church’s, Tricker’s, Alfred Sargent, Sanders, Grenson.
Finally, from the French I’ve tried Bexley and Bally from Switzerland. I don’t count private label shoes on this list, such as the pairs Crockett&Jones makes for Brooks Brothers under the name Peal&Co. Whatever the label might read, they are still C&J shoes.
February 7, 2020 by Ville Raivio
February 2012 was marked by FTDF’s Pierre-Antoine Levy and Virgile Mercier meeting with the Humphrey Bogart of Japan, Yukio Akamine. In his thorough interview, Akamine shares his journey into a life spent in style, contemplates the classics, and decrees how the Japanese culture has fused with Western dress. Well worth a look or two.
Sadly, Forthediscerningfew has closed down. For occasions like this, we luckily have The Internet Archive and its wonderful Wayback Machine which has saved a copy of the site in the state it was in eight years ago. The interview in English can be read in full.
“With beautiful things, it is all about learning to wait, being patient. People today, they don’t want to give it time. But it is like love, it is like a relationship, it is like learning, like all the things we admire, it takes time. Anything that happens in the snap of a finger isn’t good.”
Copyright © 2013 Ville Raivio