A Fine Man Once Said:

"Part of the 10 million I spent on gambling, part of it on booze, and part of it on women. The rest I spent foolishly."

- George Raft

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Walking Tour (Part Four): Saks, Paul Stuart, and Brooks Brothers

          When last we walked the streets of midtown Manhattan together, we stopped by the Crockett & Jones shop just off Fifth Avenue. In this edition of The Walking Tour, we'll continue south along Fifth Avenue to Saks before heading back to Madison Avenue to check out Paul Stuart and the Brooks Brothers' Flagship Store at 346 Madison Avenue.

          Saks & Co., located on Fifth Avenue and taking the whole east side of the street from 49th to 50th street (611 Fifth Avenue), has an eclectic inventory of shoes on display at the 6th floor shoe department. From classic business-conservative English shoes to the sleeker, more fashionable styles from France or Italy, Saks has something for everyone, be it Church's and Edward Green or Kiton and Artioli.

          When I dropped by the shoe department, there was a pre-sale event in progress. Selected models were at 30% off.

          The discounted models also included three pairs of gorgeous Kiton dress shoes - I forget the actual retail and discount prices, but I believe the shoes were still well north of $1000 after the discount. The Kitons were impressive to behold in person, and did not have the "dainty" look that I generally associate with Italian-made shoes.

Kiton shoes: The three shoes at the top with shoe trees -
a brown captoe with adelaide throat, black blucher captoe, and black wingtip.

The Artioli Display

The Church's Display

          If you get tired of looking at all of the shoes on display, walk across the length of the floor to the other end of escalators. Here you'll find shirts and ties from various makers - I'll leave that for another day. To hold you over, here's the Charvet display - looking at the vibrant palette of colors, it's easy to see what Jean Cocteau meant  when he said that Charvet is "where the rainbow finds ideas."

          Time certainly flies at Saks, so whenever you happen to be done, exit the building and walk east towards Madison Avenue. Once on Madison, walk south about five blocks to Paul Stuart at 45th Street.

          Before you walk through the double doors, take some time to peruse the window displays. They are really  quite impressive (please excuse my non-professional camera and generally poor photography skills):

          I've been pleasantly surprised by the shoe selection at Paul Stuart lately. Unbeknownst to many, the store has quietly put together a fairly impressive collection of English shoes for sale. At the high end of the spectrum, the limited edition shoes from Gaziano & Girling are beautiful to behold although there are only a few models available (boot, wingtip, elastic-sided slip-on) at $1148 per pair. While I have always found the G&Gs to be almost too sleek, if such a thing is possible, the leather colors on display were simply stunning (vintage rioja, antique chestnut (?)).

           Paul Stuart also offers a wide selection of models from Crockett & Jones and the Grenson Masterpiece line. I took a closer look at a few  pairs of the C&Js and they all seemed to be on the 248 last. The Grensons are similarly high quality, and these shoes cost around $678.

          Finally, there is a lower Italian-made line that, if I recall correctly, cost about $368. These models could also be called "business conservative" wear, although they appeared to be a bit sleeker with a daintier, thinner sole than the English-made models.

          Once you've looked through the various shelves of shoes, don't forget to look at the sale display to the far right of the main group of shelves - I believe most shoes on the discount rack were priced at 50% off - and it appeared to be a permanent fixture in the shop.

          I spent some time chatting with a sales rep in the shoe department during my visit. In addition to pointing out that the G&Gs will probably never go on sale in my lifetime (he chuckled as he said it), he also informed me that factory refurbishing was available for any of Paul Stuart's models for $170. That seems like a great price for refurbishing if the shoes are actually being worked on at G&G, C&J, or Grenson. This probably bears some looking into . . .

          Once you're done at Paul Stuart, walk one block south along Madison to 44th Street and Brooks Brothers  flagship store at 346 Madison Avenue. Brooks Brothers has what I'd call a very steady inventory of shoes for sale. The makers really haven't changed in quite some time, so you know what kind of quality to expect from the shoes when you walk through the door.

          Come in through the Madison Avenue entrance and head directly for the escalator. Just to the right of the escalator on the ground floor, you'll see a section devoted to sleepwear, robes, socks, etc. Just beyond that, you'll see a little nook with a sign above the entrance stating "Shoe Department."

          Brooks Bros. sells English-made shoes under their Peal & Co. line - essentially, Peal is a defunct English company that was resuscitated by Brooks Bros. for whatever reason. The Peal line shoes are actually manufactured in Northampton by Crockett & Jones and Alfred Sargent. The cognoscenti often talk about deciphering who made what shoe by looking at the nail pattern on the heel of the shoe. Generally, the C&Js will have one row of nails on the heel while the Sargents will have a double row on the heel. I've found that this is correct, although its fairly easy to identify the C&J models since the company includes handwritten last information inside each pair of shoes - so if you know that the 318, the 324, and the 248 are C&J lasts, you'll know that you're looking at a pair of C&Js. Regardless, both companies make very good shoes, and they retail for about $450-500 at Brooks Brothers.

          In addition to the Peal & Co. line, Brooks Bros. also offers a line of shoes that are made in the USA by the Alden Shoe Company of Massachusetts. Known for their shell cordovan offerings in leathers such as Whiskey, Cigar, and Ravello, in addition to more basic colors like Black and Burgundy, Alden is probably the last great American shoe-maker so it is probably fitting that the company's shoes are available for purchase at one of America's oldest clothing stores.

Various Alden cordovan leather offerings on display at
Brooks Brothers' flagship store at 346 Madison Avenue.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Trip to B. Nelson With My Vintage Edward Green Twickenhams

          As I mentioned last week in the Vintage Edward Green for Paul Stuart:The Twickenham post, the shoes appeared to have been re-soled at some point. We were precludedfrom returning the shoes to Edward Green for re-crafting since the company's policy is to not accept shoes that have been worked on previously by another cobbler/shoe repair man. It was also not entirely clear whether Edward Green is still in possession of the now-defunct 201 last for the size 10D, which would be necessary for re-crafting.

          Since I had seen and heard such wonderful things about the work being done by Nick V. and company over at B. Nelson on 55th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues (140 East 55th Street), this seemed like the perfect opportunity to engage their services.

          After bringing the shoes into the shop and discussing what I was looking to have done with one of Nick's cohorts, I decided to have the shoes re-heeled and re-soled using a J.R. Rendenbach sole and heel (website here). There were less expensive options available, but as Edward Green apparently uses the Rendenbach soles in their manufacturing process, this seemed like the right way to go.

          Picking out your replacement sole and heel is basically all you need for a standard re-soling, but as many of you probably already know, "Bells & Whistles" is The Uptown Dandy's middle name.

          After further discussion, I decided to add metal toe taps and channeled soles. The toe taps are useful in that they should prevent the tip of the sole from wearing thin prematurely. A less expensive toe tap is available which is basically nailed over the tip of the sole. However, with a metal toe tap, a portion of the sole is actually carved out so that the tap is flush with the sole. To my eye, this provides a smoother, more aesthetically-pleasing look.

          The channeled soles, on the other hand, are purely cosmetic. With most shoes, the sole stitching is "aloft," or exposed. With channeled soles, an extra layer of leather is added which covers the stitching. It really serves no purpose other than to get the average shoe connoisseur excited.

          In addition, a leather piece was added at the back of the shoe to reinforce the stitching which had come loose after years of having the heel of the foot jammed down into the shoe sans horn. Finally, I asked, if at all possible, that the sole edges be given a natural wood color which we thought might work better with the antique chestnut color of the leather.

          Quite simply, we were stunned by the finished product.

          Generally, the uppers were cleaned and polished (but not shined), which really brought out the patina and vibrant tone of the antique chestnut color.

          I was very pleased with the treatment on the sole edges. The light wood color works very well with the leather color, and I also like the, for lack of a better term, two-tone aspect that the sole edge has now. It is certainly an interesting option to keep in mind going forward when resoling lighter-colored shoes like these, as it seems to give the whole package a little more "oomph" than the typical black or brown edge treatment.

          A closer look at the sole edges from the front of the shoe. You can see here how the metal toe tap is really flush against the sole:

          Additional photos showing the sole edge running the length of the shoe:

           The heels received the same light-wood color treatment. After holding this pair next to another pair of Edward Green shoes, I noticed that the new heel on the Twickenham has a wider circumference than the typically narrower or slimmer Edward Green heel/sole treatment.

          For future re-soling, I might enquire as to whether its possible to keep the heel as slim as it was, but that is nitpicking of the highest order and certainly not a knock on B. Nelson's work. Just to reiterate, my satisfaction level exceeded all reasonable expectations.

          I did not specifically ask for a bevelled waist (which I assumed was a special feature offered at additional cost), but nonetheless, the waist is bevelled. To my hand, the widest point on the sole (near the ball of the foot) is slightly bevelled as well. In the photo below, there is a slightly dark line on the right side of the waist - that is basically an indentation along the waist which probably highlights the bevel better than my attempts to describe it. That indentation continues toward the Rendenbach logo at the center of the sole. You can see the Rendenbach heel in this photo as well.

          A closer look at the metal toe tap.

          An added benefit of the re-soling was what appears to be a lessening of the leather creasing just behind the toe box and right below the vamp. The leather on the left shoe still shows some creasing, but it seems less severe than before, and the leather in the same area on the right shoe also seems much smoother now. Perhaps that is just wishful thinking on my part- you can look back at the original Twickenham post and decide for yourself. Also, the shoes feel a bit snug after resoling, which is probably to be expected.

          All in all, expectations were high based on B. Nelson's reputation. Incredibly, I found that my lofty expectations were met and far exceeded by the capable craftsmen at B. Nelson. If that were not enough, the work was completed within 7 days (as promised) and at a fraction of the cost and time of a factory re-craft by any of the well-known Northampton shoemakers. This is not to say that there are no benefits to a factory recraft - there certainly are many and we look forward to seeing the results of those efforts in the future. However, when factoring in the competitive pricing, the lightning-quick turnaround time, and the superlative workmanship, Nick V. and the team at B. Nelson are definitely worth the shoe connoisseur's strong consideration.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Purple Gang: "Rotten . . .Like the Color of Bad Meat"

Fedoras Aplenty: An old photograph from the Detroit Times shows various members of the Purple Gang awaiting arraignment on extortion charges as a result of their involvement in the Cleaners & Dyers War of 1925-1928. Left to right: (first row) Abe Bernstein, Irving Milberg, Harry Keywell, Joe Miller; (second row) Ray Burnstein, Simon Axler, Edward Fletcher, Abe Axler, Irving Shapiro.

          As with many stories from American history, no one knows for sure exactly how the Purple Gang acquired its colorful moniker. What is known is that many of its members met as juvenile delinquents at the Bishop Ungraded School on Winder Street in the old Hastings Street neighborhood of Detroit's lower east side. The gang, led by the Burnstein brothers (Abraham, Joseph, Isadore, and Raymond), originally started out by rolling drunks, extorting money from other children, and forcing street vendors to pay protection money. It is said that during this period, shopkeepers described the youths as "off-color" or purple. Neighborhood butchers, often victims of the gang's strong-arm tactics, were said to have described the delinquents as purple, "like the color of bad meat." Still others attribute the name to the period when the gangsters were used to strong-arm Detroit cleaners and dyers into a racket-controlled trade association - anyone who refused to join the organization had purple dye thrown on their laundry.

          What is also known is that the gang was ruthless - responsible for over 500 unsolved murders, the Purple Gang controlled the rackets in Detroit through Prohibition until about 1935. Until 1929, gang members were essentially immune from prosecution. Witnesses forgot their previous statements when confronted with testifying against a reputed Purple Gangster in court.

           As is often the case, the gang's veneer of invincibility began to crack by 1931 due to internal strife and dissension. Three members, Joseph "Nigger Joe" Leibowitz, Herman "Hymie" Paul, and Isadore "Izzy the Rat" Sutker, decided they weren't going to take orders from the Burnstein brothers anymore and began encroaching on the territory of other Purple Gangsters. A peace meeting was set up with Raymond Burnstein at an apartment at the Collingwood Manor Apartments on September 16, 1931. But the meeting was actually an ambush - Purple Gangsters Harry Keywell and Irving Milberg gunned down the three turncoats. At the subsequent trial, all three defendants were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in November 1931 (justice seems to have moved a bit quicker in those days).

For the Uptown Dandy, news coverage of the Collingwood Manor Massacre trial provides a unique opportunity to see one of the more notorious racketeers of the day in all his sartorial splendor. In this case, Joe Burnstein attended the trial as a show of support for his brother Raymond, who was alleged to have driven the getaway car after his co-defendants had done the deed.

In this photo we see the Wayne County prosecutor chatting with Burnstein, who is striking a rather rakish pose in his dark suit, camel colored overcoat, and ubiquitous pearl-grey fedora, during jury selection for the trial, October 27, 1931.

A few days later, Burnstein had his picture taken again (wearing a similar outfit) during a recess in the trial at Detroit Recorders Court on November 4, 1931. Pictured with him are his brother Isadore Burnstein (left), who controlled the gang's handbook and wire service operations (wearing his own light-colored fedora), and defense attorney Edward Kennedy Jr.

By the late 1930s, the Purple Gang was supplanted in the Detroit underworld by the Italian mob. The metaphorical "passing of the torch" moment most likely came on November 25, 1937, when Harry Millman, the last of the Purple Gangsters who refused to kow-tow to the Italian mob, was shot at least 10 times by unknown assailants at Boesky's Restaurant in Detroit (the prime suspects were Murder, Inc. gunmen Harry "Happy" Maione and Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss, another noted dandy previously discussed in some detail by The Uptown Dandy).*

Succumbing to the changing times, Isadore and Joe Burnstein "retired" to California (allegedly with an interest in the Detroit rackets granted in perpetuity by the Italians), where they became senior consultants to various West Coast racketeers.

We can only hope Joe Burnstein took his sense of style with him to more hospitable climes.

*Of course, Lieber & Stoller immortalized the gang in popular culture forever when the song-writing duo dropped the gang's name in the 1957 Elvis Presley hit "Jailhouse Rock."

Photos from Paul R. Kavieff's Images of America: Detroit's Infamous Purple Gang.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Vintage Edward Green for Paul Stuart: The Twickenham

The Twickenham

          The Uptown Dandy loves to spend his idle time scouring the internet and local thrift shops for vintage English and American shoes. Our very first post featured vintage and new old stock Johnston & Murphy Handmade 100s, and we followed that up with the thrifting post that featured our greatest shoe "catch" to date: a pair of barely worn Edward Green Cadogans that were basically a perfect fit and have since become a staple in our shoe rotation.

          Recently, The Uptown Dandy was fortunate enough to pick up a pair of vintage Edward Greens that were made for Paul Stuart on the old 201 last. This model was actually featured as the Kingston model in the "201 last" portion of the vintage Edward Green section of Volume III of the World of High End Men's Shoes:

          I contacted Edward Green for additional information and an employee at the factory in Northampton was kind enough to provide the original specifications for the shoes. As the form indicates, this pair was made in November 1985 for Paul Stuart. Fitted on the 201 last, the shoes were made of a "wheat calf" leather in Edward Green's chestnut antique color. Also, the "JH61" design notation indicates that the shoe was designed by John Hlustik, who took over the company in 1982.

          On the pair that I found, you can see the Paul Stuart logo impressed onto the insole of the shoe. Until now, I had seen Edward Greens made for Paul Stuart that stated that the shoes were made by Edward Green on the insole. This is the first pair I've seen that only has the Paul Stuart logo stamped on the insole.

          Inside the shoe, you can also see Edward Green's handwritten size and last information, indicating the shoe is a size 10D on the aforementioned 201 last. I'm not sure what the small numerical notation above the "D" width actually means. Its also unclear whether this is US or UK sizing, although the shoes do fit my size US 10D feet pretty comfortably.

          Aside from the typical wear-and-tear one would expect to find on a pair of 25 year old shoes, there were a few small tears at the back end of one shoe, probably from years of the shoe being taken on and off without a shoe horn. Aside from the creasing between the toe box and the vamp, the leather appeared to be in surprisingly good condition, with a few minor nicks here and there but no major scratches to be seen. For The Uptown Dandy, the only issue with these wonderful shoes were the utterly offensive brown "sneaker" type laces - luckily, those are easy enough to replace.


           As you can see from the picture below, the shoe appears to have been re-soled at some point in its life. This work probably precluded me from returning the shoes to Edward Green for a re-crafting, since the company apparently has a policy of not doing re-crafting or resoling work on shoes that have been worked on previously by another cobbler/shoe repair man. It was also not entirely clear whether the company is still in possession of the defunct 201 last for the size 10D, which would be necessary for re-crafting.

          That being said, we've been meaning to engage the re-soling services of Nick V. over at B. Nelson shoes in New York City for some time now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. As we've heard (and seen) great things about B. Nelson's work, The Uptown Dandy is definitely looking forward to seeing the finished product in a few days.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What We're Reading: Torpedo 1936

          Years ago, when my brother and I worked diligently to amass an impressive collection of golden, silver, and bronze age comic books (and, in all fairness, my brother definitely worked harder at it than I did), he introduced me to a book titled Torpedo 1936. An adult magazine filled with sex, violence, and snappy banter, I took an immediate liking to the the main character, Luca Torelli, alias The Torpedo, and his lackluster sidekick Rascal. My brother recently dropped off the collected stories so I could take another look. Even after all these years, its easy to see why An Uptown Dandy took an immediate liking to Torpedo 1936.

           The series was originally developed by the spaniard Enrique Sanchez Abuli and veteran artist Alex Toth, who illustrated the first two stories in 1981. Unfortunately, the collaboration ended when Toth decided he did not share AbulĂ­'s darkly cynical view of mankind and withdrew from the project. He was then replaced by Jordi Bernet, whose gritty style was well suited to depicting the adventures of the anti-hero Luca Torelli, a heartless hit man, and his pal Rascal, in the violent New York underworld of the Depression era.

          After taking another look at the stories, my first impression was how faithful Abuli and Bernet were to the gangster style of the era. I've already posted in some detail about George Raft and his representative underworld "light suit, dark shirt, light tie" combination, and here we see it illustrated to remarkable effect by Bernet. I've added a photo below of Raft in a similar outfit from the 1939 film, Each Dawn I Die.

George Raft and James Cagney, Each Dawn I Die (1939)

          Clearly, Abuli and Bernet researched the films and styles of the era. The desire to stay true to the "feel" of the era literallycomes across on each panel. On the page below, we can see notations that indicate exactly how much attention to detail was paid to the little things - Torelli  wears a Stetson felt hat, he smokes a camel cigarette, his tie has a stick-pin, and of course he wears the light suit with the hard finish (almost exactly what Raft is wearing in the photo above, down to the dark shirt cuff with light, round links) with a flower in his lapel. The classic tough-guy look is completed by Torelli's pair of "kid gloves."

          Long out of print, these stories are worth tracking down in the complete English set shown above or in the original Spanish-language books. If you're a fan of great artwork, noire-type writing, and the men's fashion of the 1930s, you'll absolutely love Torpedo 1936.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Walking Tour (Part Three): A Short Detour to Fifth Avenue - Bergdorf and C&J

          In Part Two of The Walking Tour, we popped in to Barneys' shoe department. Once you're done there, exit via the 60th street entrance and walk west towards Fifth Avenue. Once you're on Fifth Avenue, walk south to 58th Street. Bergdorf Goodman's Men's Store will be on the east side of Fifth Avenue.

          Once inside, proceed to the back or far end of the first floor. Bergdorf's selection of men's shoes is tucked away into a little alcove at the very end of the first floor. Along the way, you'll see a variety of wonderful items for your wardrobe, from Brioni and Kiton shirt to Hermes ties. Simply follow the rainbow of colors on display via the wide variety of shirt offerings.

Brioni shirts on display at Bergdorf Goodman

I believe these are Kiton shirts and ties on display at Bergdorf Goodman.

An assortment of whimsical Hermes ties on display at Bergdorf Goodman

Once you've made it past the kaleidoscope of colorful pieces on display on the first floor of the men's store, turn right and enjoy the wide variety of shoes, including shoes from John Lobb and Kiton, for sale at BG.

            Just outside the shoe area is a display for some of the new models offered via Church's:

Spectators and other seasonal footwear offered by Church's via Bergdorf

Conservative business shoes, with some exotic skins and brighter-colored leathers
offered by Church's via Bergdorf.

          Exit Bergdorf Goodman and proceed south along Fifth Avenue to 7 West 56th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. Cross over to the west side of Fifth Avenue. When you get to 56th street, proceed on 56th street in the direction of Sixth Avenue. Once there, you'll find Crockett & Jones just a few doors in from Fifth Avenue.

          C&J obviously offers  a better selection than any other vendor servicing the greater NYC area. The store carries both benchgrade and handgrade shoes in a wide variety of colors and leathers. There are probably other places online (Pediwear) or better brick & mortar shops (Brooks Brothers) where you might be able to find C&J shoes at a better price. But there aren't that many places that will offer such a wide selection of models and lasts for you to try on.

The window display at the Crockett & Jones shop on 56th street.

Another shot of the window display at Crockett & Jones,
 showing off a variety of models, colors, lasts, and leathers.

          On the next edition of The Walking Tour, we'll continue on Fifth Avenue and stop in at Saks Fifth Avenue. From there, we'll return to Madison Avenue and look in on the shoe departments at Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Walking Tour (Part Two): The Shoe Dept. at Barneys New York

The Crockett & Jones display at Barneys New York

          Part One of The Walking Tour left off at John Lobb's Madison Avenue shop. In Part Two, we'll proceed south along Madison and pop our heads into Barneys New York, before continuing west to Fifth Avenue where we'll stop at Bergdorf Goodman and Crockett & Jones in Part Three.

          From Lobb, walk south along the west side of Madison Avenue to 61st street. Barneys New York is located at 660 Madison Avenue, which is between 60th and 61st streets. Barneys is a large department store with a wide selection of menswear. Come in through the entrance on the 60th street side and you'll walk right into the men's shoe section. Barney's shoe department probably has one of the more eclectic selections of men's shoes in the city. In terms of selection, it's right up there with Saks or Paul Stuart. (Of course, none of these shops can compare to Leffot, but then again, who does?)

More of the C&J display at Barneys.
Now is probably a good time to apologize profusely for the crummy iPhone photos . . .

A close-up of the C&J display

Some captoes and wingtips from C&J at Barneys

The Alden display at Barneys.
I've never been a big fan of their lasts, but there is definitely a large
following for what many consider to be the last great American-made shoe.

Berluti's absolutely insane wholecut with  burnished hieroglyphics :-)

More Berluti wholecuts sans hieroglyphics

          From  Barneys, we'll exit via the 60th street entrance and walk west towards Fifth Avenue. In Part Three of The Walking Tour, we'll stop in at Bergdorf Goodman and the Crockett & Jones shop.