Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Fair Isle Sweater by Mati Ventrillon

Product Placement in Oil on Canvas
Those with an inclination for British style continually refer back to the choices of the Duke of Windsor, not only because he was the epitome of timeless elegance — and not a single time was he caught in ill-considered habit — but because he had a sartorial sixth sense that meant he was willing to take chances and push the boundaries of the classic wardrobe, introducing new colours and combinations to the canon.

He will be inextricably linked with Fair Isle sweaters thanks to the engagingly flippant pose in the painting above by John St Helier Lander. The act of wearing a Fair Isle sweater on his golfing excursions — and being painted in one — is reputed to have helped the Fair Islanders enormously at a time of severe financial hardship. The Fair Isle sweater became a must have. The Duke was a walking product placement for men's style. He set trends that reverberate today; the Fair Isle sweater resonating with such sweater-wearing devotees as Sir Paul McCartney.

What is a Fair Isle Sweater?
What qualifies as a Fair Isle sweater? For one, it needs to have been made in the Shetland Islands. Accept no other location. A traditional pattern is knitted from Shetland wool in the round with a design of no more than half-a-dozen colours. Accept no other wool or design.

Mati Ventrillon Fair Isle Sweater
Mati Ventrillon scores on all these points, hand making as she does the bespoke genuine article in Fair Isle, Scotland. Originally from Venezuela, Mati moved to Fair Isle with her family in 2007 and spent her first few years there learning local knitwear skills.

The business has became a natural progression of location and interest. Mati is inspired by the history of the sweater and of the island. In 2011, she was commissioned to research Fair Isle garments worn by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, led by William Speirs Bruce, to the Antarctic in 1902-1904. The research resulted in her design of the Fisherman Style jumper with high neck and shoulder fasteners.

Thus the traditional Fair Isle sweater lives on in the new generation of Fair Islanders.

Kntting the Sweater
To begin the process, measurements are required by Mati, and preferences for the design and colourway need to be agreed. The design is then knitted using a hand-frame knitting machine in the traditional way, with hand finishing. The sweater is washed and dried to finish it on one of the stretching contraptions you see below — a woolie horse.

What you are left with is a unique and certified Fair Isle sweater to love and to cherish and to pass on to your children.

I think you should go for a V-neck with a mixture of small and medium-sized patterns, fitted sleeves, ribbed cuffs and waistband. The ghostly apparition of the Duke of Windsor — immaculately dressed should he appear — would look on and nod approvingly at your choice.

Here's a section of a Fair Isle knit from the V & A that might inspire you:

Monday, 27 April 2015

Co-Respondent Shoes and Sartorial Determinism

I don't know if it's the unseasonal appearance of a bit of sunshine in soggy old Britain, but we have recently been inundated with requests by chaps looking for a decent (and appropriately flamboyant) co-respondent shoe in white calf or buckskin. This summery shoe by Lodger has become something of an inspiration, and reveals the reputed cricketing origins of this type of shoe.

Well lets' see what our friends are putting out there, shall we? We will stick with the brogue variety here.

George Cleverley Wolfe (Made in the UK)
A bespoke option in tan and buckskin from George Cleverley above.

Foster & Son Co-Respondent (Made in the UK)
Another bespoke option in a darker brown from Foster & Son, with a dash more contrast in the panels.

Rudolf Scheer Spectator (Made in Austria)
A bespoke halbschue in cognac and white calfskin from the sublime Rudof Scheer.

Barbanera Gatsby (Made in Italy)
A more contemporary-looking off-the-peg calfskin co-respondent from these Italian newcomers. Barbanera was founded in 2011 and specialise in making bench-made contrasting shoes in Tuscany, Italy.

Caution: When you wear a pair of co-respondents they have a tendency to bring out the inner cad or rakehell. Don't blame me if you become a latter-day Earl of Rochester, and you are caught red-handed (shoes on) engaged in some nefarious activity. Feel free to blame the shoes though — let's call it 'sartorial determinism'.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Ballindalloch Whisky - You Need to Wait

New Highland Malt
Speyside in the Highlands of Scotland has the largest concentration of whisky distilleries in the country. They have just made room for another one. As well as the distilleries, another famous landmark in the area is Ballindalloch Castle, home of the Macpherson-Grant family since 1546. The family has now opened Ballindalloch Single Estate Distillery. A wise move considering the terra firma (and aqua). The family say it's a return to distilling, but this time as Scotland's first single estate distillery. Water and barley — the ingredients — comes solely from the estate.

A Dram for 2025
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall — or the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay as they are known in Scotland — paid a visit to formally open the distillery this month and help promote this new British business venture — sealing a couple of the whisky barrels that will be left to mature.

You can tour the distillery now, which has been praised for the sympathetic use of materials in a historic part of the estate — look at those splendid copper stills below — but it will be a few years before you can order a Ballindalloch from your favourite bar.

Prince Charles is as immaculate as ever. Some say he looks awkward in a kilt. I don't see it, though I think the hemline has dropped a little. What is the tartan he's wearing? Is it the Rothesay? I know he's entitled to wear several.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Happy Saint George's Day

England — Green, Calm, Sane and Exciting
Happy St. George's day to all our English readers.

I thought it might be a good day to dig out my old 7-inch — The Heart of England. The record has three tracks intended as 'sound pictures' to illustrate the charm of England.

We have Daybreak at a Surrey Farm and In a Village Churchyard on Side 1; Changes on Bells, 'Stedman Caters' on Side 2.

I can't play it to you, but I'm sure you will appreciate the cover and the sleeve notes that remind us that 'England is still green, calm, sane and exciting'.

Stedman Caters - Jolly Nice Sound
The notes say that the bells of St. Margaret's, Westminster (founded 960) — a gay socialite of a church — were used in the recording of the Stedman Caters composition on Side 2.

Stedman Caters is a ringing style. I can't find a recording from St. Margaret's, which is known as the church for the House of Commons, but we can hear Stedman at King's Norton below. And a jolly nice (and big) sound it is too.

Looks like fun? If you fancy the idea of bell ringing in the English tradition, with rope and wheel, why not get in touch with the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers. Perhaps you will be ringing in St George's Day next year.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Cad & The Dandy - The Cloths of Huddersfield

"They all say English cloth is fantastic. They love to tailor it. They can cut it, they can sew it far better than Italian or Chinese cloth."

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Ultimate Panama

Insist on a Real Panama Hat
It's only April, but I spotted my first Panama hat being worn the other day. The unseasonable weather certainly justified it.

How much longer will we be able to see the genuine article? I was reading recently that the art of weaving Panama hats in Ecuador is in danger from — you guessed it — cheap global competition. The skills required to hand weave and block a traditional Panama hat — justifiably recorded on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage — are at risk because the market has been flooded with inconsiderate lookalikes.

The weaving of straw hats from the toquilla grass is believed to have developed in Ecuador in the 1600s, centred around the town of Montecristi. The name for the Panama hat stuck after their association with the building of the Panama canal.

If you are on the lookout for a Panama, insist on the genuine article, and the finest and most even grade of hat weaving you can find — they are the hardest to make and require the greatest skills of the master weaver; and help do your bit to preserve this important 'soft culture' from the bulldozer of globalization.

The Superfino is generally regarded as a benchmark, though grading and nomenclature in the world of Panama hats is notoriously inconsistent. You need to find a reputable seller and get up close to see the quality of work.

Bates Hats 'Ultrafino'
Bates Hats recently launched their Ultrafino Panama hat as part of London Hat Week, They located a Ecuadorian weaver — who makes only 4-6 hat bodies a year — to supply the finest woven raw body, which Bates will block — or mould — to the size and shape of a customer's bonce.

That's an example at the top, and the photo below shows the mind-numbing level of weaving involved. Imagine the difficulty in keeping such a weave tight and uniform. We can't let such skills die out, can we?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Los Groovy Mods de España

Spanish Mod Music - Soy Una de Las Caras
The Spanish have given us a taste for chorizo and the films of Pedro Almodóvar — though I pass on Almodóvar. In exchange, they lapped up mod influences from the UK. A fact not known well enough is that some of the mod music that came out of Spain is really pretty groovy.

Let's take a look at the Kinks-inflected songs of Micky y Los Tonys and the neo-mod of Los Flechazos as evidence of this successful cultural cross-over.

Micky y Los Tonys (Original Mod Era)
Micky y Los Tonys formed in 1960 and recorded their first album in 1963. They were the opening act for The Kinks in Madrid in 1967. The band broke up in 1970, though Micky (Ángel Carreño) went on to represent Spain at Eurovision in 1977. He came ninth.

Here we see them performing the sarcastic El Problema de Mis Pelos and then Cuando Pienso en Ti in the 1967 mod comedy film Codo con Codo (a follow up to Megaton Ye- Ye). There can be no arguments on the level of grooviness here.

Los Flechazos (Mod Revival Part 2)

Los Flechazos (above) formed in the mid-80s and were drenched in mod culture. Sadly, they disbanded in 1998. Lead singer Álex Díez Garin (top picture) is now in the band Cooper.

Here we can see Los Flechazos in the video for A Toda Velocidad — a very catchy song, as you will discover whilst condemned to whistle it for the rest of the day.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Rabitos Royale - Chocolate Astonishment

Delightful Little Tails
I picked up these chocolate delicacies during my latest trip to Spain. Rabitos Royale (little tails) are produced by La Higuera, a family business that started in 1989. La Higuera is located in the town of Almoharin, Extremadura, which is renowned for an excellent variety of sweet figs called calabicita. 

With its biblical origins, they say that tasting the fig — the fruit of the philosophers — is like tasting 4000 years of civilisation. Impressive in itself, but La Higuera tries and improves on that experience by injecting the fig with chocolate truffle and liqueur and dipping it in chocolate.

Improve they have — a star is born, gentlemen. These are a taste sensation. You can buy them online or you can pester your local Waitrose until they stock them.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Grand National - Spring-Heeled Fancy

Spring-Heeled Horse
I'll be looking at an each-way punt on Spring Heeled for the Grand National this year. Or rather the Crabbie's Grand National

Spring Heeled is trained by Jim Culloty (below) who trained last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere, also entered in the race.

Jim aimed Spring Heeled at this year's National after the 8-year-old won the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at Cheltenham last year. Jim thinks Spring Heeled will do well if the ground is good — and it is expected to be. The horse certainly has a confident clop. I'm really convincing myself that this is the one as I type. Where's my wallet? — time to get an ante-post wager on.

Spring-Heeled Jack
I'm not sure if the legend of Spring-Heeled Jack had any influence on the naming of the horse? Spring-Heeled Jack, who entered English folklore in the Victorian period (of London Characters and Crooks), is reputed to be a demonic character, sometimes gentlemanly in appearance, who is able to make extraordinary leaps. A useful attribute in National Hunt racing.

Not wishing to conjure diabolical forces, but let's hope the spirit of Spring-Heeled Jack exerts some 'fluence on his equine namesake today.

Good luck in your betting all.

Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race - Medal Winners & Makers

Sporting Traditions
In a rapidly churning world it is nice to have recognisable signposts up ahead to help us get our bearings. The English social season can help us maintain a familiar course each year. This weekend we have the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race and the Grand National. I think they coincided last year too. Was this always the case?

Cambridge Blues
If you ask me — though I wouldn't, as I know nothing about rowing — I have a good feeling about outsiders Cambridge this year; but you need to paddle hard, lads (inspiring motivational talk in case they read this before the event).

In which case, the Cambridge crew would be quite within their rights to swank around in 'full blue' blazers, like the ones supplied by Ryder & Amies (Cambridge University Outfitters since 1864). If they lose, they may wish to throw their blazers in the Thames in abject frustration. It's their call.

The photo above is from a promotion of Henley Regatta last year, and features Canadian Geoff Roth from Cambridge Boat Club swathed in the famous light blue.

Meet Their Sponsors
The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race — a tradition started in 1829 — has been sponsored since 1976. Logos are not allowed on the boats, and until recently weren't displayed on the crew's kits during the race itself. The name is sponsored though. We're meant to call it the BNY Mellon Boat Race at the moment, which some may think goes against the Corinthian spirit of the competition a tad. I imagine most others would consider this an acceptable sacrifice to ensure the continuation of the race and its popularity. Note that for the first time this year the women's boat clubs from each university will also compete on the same course. Like all the best traditions, it evolves yet stays the same.

Look out for the fine-looking medals (below) when they're being slung around the rower's necks; and consider their manufacture by Royal Warrant-holders Thomas Fattorini Ltd (1827), a family-run gold and silversmiths  — now in its sixth-generation — based in Birmingham's famous Jewellery Quarter.

(Idle thought: Tweed Pig lapel badges so that we can recognise each other in pubs and at racecourses.)

Hackett is one of the official partners of the race and they hedge their support with an all-encompassing split polo shirt (bottom).

Friday, 3 April 2015

Happy Easter

Respect the Easter Egg
Tweed Towers shuts for Easter. I'm now in Spain for Semana Santa. I will leave you with an image above of one of the beautiful white chocolate Easter eggs sold by Fortnum & Mason; English-made by Sussex chocolate maker Audrey's Chocolates.

We have a tradition at Tweed Towers of smashing chocolate eggs over each other's heads to celebrate Easter. Great fun, but it would seem a shame to break one of these lovely things in such a way. Perhaps we'd respectfully use a knife and fork on this one.

Have a nice Easter. Tweedy.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Burgos de Madrid - Teba Jacket

Forget the Spanish Armada — It's History
It's been a few years since the Spanish Armada tried to invade England. Relations have not always been good in the intervening years, but I think it's safe to say that the two countries are now on friendly terms. Just don't try and invade again, eh?

I do my bit to help cement this alliance by unflinchingly enjoying Tweedy's Madrid whenever I can.

Next time in Madrid I will be suitably accompanied by a Teba jacket from Burgos of Madrid. I'm hoping I won't be too hot in the tweed fabric. I think it's starting to warm up over there now.

It's not showing in the pictures, but this type of unlined and unstructured jacket has shirt-style buttoned cuffs, so can be easily dressed down with a polo shirt for the day.

It works just as well with a shirt and tie (and plate of rabo de toro) in the evening. Don't worry about wearing country cloths in town over there — perfectly acceptable.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Mallory Connection - Alan Paine Explorer Range

Mallory and Alan Paine
We have mentioned before the connection between outfitters Alan Paine and mountaineer George Mallory (fascinating Alan Paine tidbit), and the association continues. Alan Paine owner James Hinton recently met Stephen Mallory, grandson of George. Stephen modelled clothes from Alan Paine's Explorer Range, which are inspired by the Alan Paine archive and Mallory's Everest expeditions.

A recap:

Mallory took part in three expeditions to Mount Everest, the final one being his last when he and his climbing partner disappeared somewhere on the North-East ridge on 8th June 1924. His frozen body was discovered years after his disappearance in 1999. Numerous items of clothing were recovered and one such item bore the label W.F. Paine, High Street, Godalming; the shop owned by Alan Paine’s father, William Paine, and the place where William founded his knitwear business in 1907.

Let Everest Come to Tweedy
How can we not be tempted by the Explorer Range? It stands for everything we represent. My own Everest expedition may be off the agenda for the moment, but this range (sort of) allows Everest to come to Tweedy.

Gentlemen, what you see above and below is the timeless Alan Paine Cranwell Moss Stitch Shawl Collar Cardigan in super-soft Geelong wool with tweed trim and elbow patches — such a wonderfully comfortable and practical cardigan.

I performed a couple of minor expeditions to try it out. Worn with a silk scarf in my local tea rooms — cheddar cheese sandwich with onion marmalade chutney, followed by rose tea and Victoria sponge cake — it coped admirably:

I also bravely scaled a promontory on my way to the pub (I wouldn't try it walking back), and, again, the cardigan did its job well:

A very nice cardigan in all, and one for your classic wardrobe, but it is also pleasing that it arrived with its own garment bag (showing the 1924 Everest route). Why don't all sweaters come with these? So practical. The bag won't be needed much at the moment. This is one of those items of clothing that usurps everything else in your wardrobe for a while.

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