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

Monday, April 29, 2013

Keeping Old Things Alive: Fine Binding in NYC

I recently came across an over-sized, early edition of Apparel Arts from Fall 1934. Surprisingly, while the spine was badly damaged, the interior of the issue was in very good condition, with all artwork, pages, and even original fabric swatch samples still intact.

I reached out to Joe Landau at FineBinding.com, who suggested rebinding the places and replacing the outer trim along the edge of the spine. As a result, the hardcover book now has that "new" feel along the spine - I can now peruse the pages to my heart's content and not worry about doing further damage to what truly is an American treasure - an original 1930s hardcover, over-sized edition of Apparel Arts.

For more information on the wonderful restorative work that Mr. Landau and FineBinding.com can do, check out www.FineBinding.com. 42 West 38th Street, New York, NY 10018. 212-252-0129.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

8 Days in Scotland: Day Trip 2 -The Cashmere Heritage Centre at Johnstons of Elgin

Just one of the stunningly beautiful buildings on the Johnstons of Elgin property.

Being so close to the town of Elgin, we decided that our second day trip would be up to the Johnstons of Elgin factory. Our ambitious itinerary included a tour of the factory, a visit to the cashmere heritage centre, shopping at the factory store, with lunch at the coffee shop on the premises thrown in somewhere for good measure. Somehow, we managed to fit everything into one long afternoon!

This post will be part one of the cashmere heritage centre - our first stop of the day. I'll follow up in the next few days with a second post with more images from the cashmere heritage centre, followed by one or two separate posts on our tour of the Johnstons of Elgin's factory. As always, I do apologize in advance for my lack of any real photography skills . . .

One of several cashmere glove/hat/scarf combinations on display at the cashmere heritage centre.

To state the obvious, the process of turning cashmere into a luxury product actually begins in Mongolia, where the raw material is combed by hand from the downy undercoat of the rare Cashmere goat. From there, the fibre is shipped to the Johnstons of Elgin mill, on the banks of the river Lossie. The company has occupied the same site since 1797, where the cashmere is dyed, teased, carded, spun and hand-finished by the latest generation of Elgin craftsmen. While the facilities now sit on 20 acres, employs 790 people, and utilizes some of the most advanced textile equipment in the world, the basic production process has changed very little since the company's founding.

As is to be expected, the heritage centre focuses on much of this history. In addition to the myriad items on display highlighting the Johnstons of Elgin's work with fabrics such as merino wool, camel hair, and vicuna, visitors to the centre are actually able to get a feel for the physical differences of each fabric.

There are also vintage pieces on display, with some dating as far as back as the 1920s. This tweed jacket on display was made in 1927 by the well-regarded Savile Row tailors Tautz & Co.

The placard reads:

I was also stunned by the sheer volume of estate tweeds on display along one wall of the heritage centre. There must have been hundreds of swatches available to choose from in these books.

To be continued . . .

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Chestnut Adelaide Brogue: Alfred Sargent's Moore

After having a chance to see Alfred Sargent's Exclusive line in person at the MRket show back in January, Chay Cooper was kind enough to send me a pair of adelaide brogues in chestnut calf leather (in the interest of full disclosure, the shoes were made available to me at a significantly reduced price). The model is known as the Moore and, to put it simply, the shoes are impressive in several ways.

Some of you will probably find this hard to believe, but the adelaide brogue represented a heretofore unfilled gap in my shoe collection. I'd been looking for something along the lines of the Moore for some time, and of course I'd been hearing about Alfred Sargent's Exclusive line from satisfied customers for awhile now as well.

To begin with, Mr. Cooper's aesthetic sensibilities are readily apparent in the Exclusive line. I was particularly intrigued by the narrow waist on the sole - quite frankly, I don't think I've ever seen a ready-to-wear shoe with such an elegantly tapered appearance -Gaziano & Girling's Deco line being the only thing that came to mind. Looking down at the shoes once they're on your feet, the silhouette is really quite unique. I think this has to do with how the sole edge is literally tapered at the waist - creating a visually appealing effect.

At first glance, I was concerned that the shoes might be too narrow at the heel or along the waist, but my concerns were unfounded. I had chosen the wider "F" width, and this worked out very well. If anything, the width of the shoe at the ball of the foot probably has a bit more room than I've grown accustomed to in new shoes, but this isn't to say that the shoe is ill-fitting. The toe box was actually quite comfortable. And the rest of the shoe fits quite well, especially at the heel (which fits quite snug, which I like).

Of course, the trade-off is that the narrower "E" fitting might have had less room at the ball of the foot but would have instead been tighter at the heel and along the waist. With all of this in mind, I decided to put the shoes to the test and hit the streets (i.e. wear them to work). The shoes were very comfortable, and I didn't notice any slippage or discomfort while walking.

All in all, I found the finishing on the leather uppers and soles to be very well done. The chestnut calf leather has a deep, rich brown color. There is some slight burnishing at the toe box and the back quarters, but its quite subtle and a welcome diversion from the more overt efforts that you see on the market these days.The adelaide throat is distinct and also a nice change from the more typical style that I'm used to wearing. I'm also becoming a fan of the understated elegance of the captoe sans medallion. The brogue design along the back quarters offers yet another eye-catching example of Alfred Sargent's clean punching and stitching. And, of course, the inherent beauty of the solework - evident in the narrow, curved waist and channeled soles - is plain for all to see.

For a shoe that retails at roughly GBP 400, I would compare the Exclusive line quite favorably to Grenson Masterpieces (made for Paul Stuart's Stuart's Choice line) and Crockett & Jones' Handgrade line. I would also say that the shoes offer very good value vis-a-vis some of the other Northampton manufacturers in the GBP 600-800 price range.

Monday, April 15, 2013

8 Days in Scotland: Day Trip 1 - Stonehaven

Dunnotarr Castle, Stonehaven, Scotland.

Last April, a visit to Barcelona to see my brother-in-law and his wife was the perfect opportunity to visit Carmina in person. Having moved on to the University of Aberdeen, our visit this year brought us to the rugged East coast of Scotland, a few hours north of Edinburgh.

As the coastline is literally peppered with ancient golf courses, wool and cashmere factories, and a smattering of Highland castles, I thought a few detours during the week would be an interesting diversion. So, taking care to bundle up, we started out with a day trip to Dunnotarr Castle, in the town of Stonehaven.

Before heading to the castle, we stopped at a fish and chips shop in the town. A 2013 winner of the  independent takeaway fish and chip shop of the year award, The Bay fish and chip shop lived up to the hype. I went with a Mac and cheese pie, with onion rings and baked beans - it was amazing. Everyone else got the fish and chips, and that was pretty amazing too.

Having stuffed our faces, we made our way to the castle. Built on an outcropping of the cliff face in the 16th or 17th century, Cromwell laid siege to the castle in an attempt to seize the Honours of Scotland (the crown jewels). Looking over the ground today, it isn't very difficult to see why the siege failed.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Men In Style: The Golden Age of Fashion from Esquire

While Gruppo GFT's 3-volume Apparel Arts set is something of the white whale of rare books on men's style, Woody Hochswender's book, Men In Style - The Golden Age of Fashion from Esquire, is another pretty hard-to-find title. If not quite as Lochnessian as Gruppo's set.

While the set could probably still be considered good bang for your buck at $500-600 (although copies have been known to sell for upwards of $1200), in comparison Hochswender's book is not oversized, it reprints certain artwork in black and white rather than color, and it is not more than 150 pages. That being said, if original issues of Apparel Arts are out of your price range, or you're looking for something that focuses exclusively on the artwork of Fellows or Hurd, then Men In Style is a reasonable alternative.

Recent copies have been listed for sale on eBay in the $400-500 range, which just seems an exorbitant price to pay for what you're getting. I believe a used copy (in not great condition) sold on eBay recently for roughly $120, which is a more reasonable price, but still somewhat out of whack with the $90 that you'll be asked to pay at Strand's rare book department (or the $110 that store will charge for a signed copy) for a pristine copy. Of course, if you're willing to pay $200 or more for an original issue of Apparel Arts, then you might think $90 is too much for what this is. But to each his own.

There is one point that I was hoping to get some clarification on: is the text that accompanies each image also taken from the original Apparel Arts issue, or was that contributed by Hochswender? This was not entirely clear to me while reading.