Friday, 29 May 2015

Just One More - John Smedley from Private White

Moreish Sweaters
Just when you think you can't possibly fold and place another John Smedley knit onto that already substantial and tottering pile balancing in your wardrobe — looming like a knitted Tower of Babel — they lure you back in with another style, another hue, another wardrobe classic you can't possibly live without. Smedley knitwear is so moreish; and they know us so well.

This Smedley cardigan, the Glenham — with hints of Teba jacket — actually comes via the carefully edited collection of Private White V.C..

The cardigan is made from a thickish wool and cashmere blend, and has leather 'football' buttons.

It is of a splendid mustardy colour. I imagine you would reach immediately for a mid-blue Oxford button-down to wear underneath. Good choice, but what about a (hidden) sea island cotton long-sleeved undervest plus silk scarf filling out the lapels instead?

Monday, 25 May 2015

Kingsman - Better Dressed than Bond?

Somebody Does it Better
Those amongst us who pore over the minute details of James Bond's appearance and lifestyle choices — because he's a real person, you know? — have been comparing and contrasting the dress of the latter-day (film) Bond with that of new celluloid secret agent Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service.

The common consensus is that Harry Hart, played by Colin Firth in the film, pips Bond in the style stakes by a considerable distance. He certainly has a more obviously British (and flamboyant) style compared to Bond's rather austere modern look. What are your thoughts? Have we lost Bond to globalisation?

The Kingsman Collection - More British than Bond
By golly, the costume designer Arianne Philips put together an impeccable wardrobe for Kingsman.

From a studious viewing, my notes remind me that there were well-cut suits in classic colours, patterns and fabrics, including double-breasted numbers in abundance. I also spotted a velvet smoking jacket with tartan trousers, proper umbrellas, excellent pyjamas and house coats, and Turnbull & Asser shirts. Lock & Co. gets a mention as a recommended chap's hatterer. Not a bad tally for a film. The name Kingsman is also a play on Huntsman the Savile Row tailors. Hart's secretive organisation is hidden behind a tailor's shopfront of that name.

A tie-in collection for the film has been put together by Arianne in conjunction with Mr. Porter. Great British makers and designers that we know and love are supported in the collection, which is really rather splendid — all items, as far as I can discern, made in the UK. The aim of the 'Kingsman' clothing label is to select 'the best in British craftsmanship to produce each carefully considered garment'.

Here's a list of the rarefied names (and friends) involved:

Fox Brothers (fabric)
William Halstead (fabric)
Dormeuil (fabric)
Savile Clifford (fabric)
Ventile (Fabric)
Mackintosh (raincoat)
William Lockie (knitwear)
Turnbull & Asser (shirts)
Drake's (ties)
George Cleverley (shoes)
Cutler & Gross (Sunglasses)

Pretty impressive, eh what?

High Britishness
From the collection you can see the incredible Chalk-Striped Wool Siren Suit above. Made in England in a grey and off-white chalk-stripe cloth. This is inspired by the one-piece suits Churchill wore in wartime. He liked to be as comfortable and warm as he could be, but still cut a dash, when the air-raid sirens were ringing like billy-o and a bomb could land on his Homburg-clad bonce at any moment. The chest pockets should fit a six-pack of his favoured Romeo y Julieta cigars. Already, I would say this thrashes any tie-in for the next Bond instalment. I could spend three seasons (not summer) in one of these, and I know you could too. Let's declare it our clothes item of the year (so far) — we have nothing to lose (or gain).

Piling on the Britishness is the Grey Double-Breasted Glen Check Suit. Bond probably wouldn't pick this from the hanger as he's more of a single-breasted chap. The suit is made in England from a checked wool produced by Yorkshire clothmaker Savile Clifford.

Moving on to high British evening wear: the Blue Velvet Smoking Jacket and Black Watch Tartan Trews below. The smoking jacket has a silk-grosgrain shawl collar and silk lining.

And something for the weekend: Brown Single-Breasted Brushed-Wool Checked Blazer in cloth from Dormeuil, Welsh-made by Corgi Chunky-Knit Cashmere Cardigan to be worn underneath, and a handsome pair of George Cleverley Suede Oxford Shoes.

Go take a look at the whole collection before it all sells out.

The Film
When a spy film is released starring Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Colin Firth we have to take proper notice. Kingsman: The Secret Service is based on a graphic novel, and was co-written and directed by Matthew Vaughn. The trailer promised Bond with additional British whimsy, but the film is more like Bond directed by Tarantino — lots of comic-book violence.

Harry Hart (Firth's character) works for Kingsman, an 'independent international intelligence agency'. The Kingsman agents are highly-trained; Hart comparing them to modern-day knights.

Harry takes a paternal interest in a bright young London hobbledehoy named Gary, whose father (training as an agent) had lost his life in service. He encourages the waif to veer away from a life of petty crime and apply to train as a Kingsman agent. There follows a period of intense training orchestrated by 'Merlin', played by the always-excellent Mark Strong. To emphasise the knight analogy, the Kingsman operatives all have Arthurian monikers.

Enter — stage right — the villain of the piece. Whilst the training is taking place, Kingsman is investigating a suspicious character named Richmond Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson. He is plotting something technologically fiendish, and it is up to Kingsman to put a stop to it.

Matthew Vaughn subverts the spy film cliches with self-awareness, parody and stereotypical characters; but not so much that the film becomes a pure comedy. The film retains enough drama and suspense to be considered a 'proper' action film. Quibble-wise, I'm not a fan of preposterous fight scenes or slow-motion effects. I prefer gritty realism in a spy film; bespectacled spies sucking a mint and quietly dispatching their counterparts in darkness without fuss. (We prefer dialogue-driven films at Tweed Towers overall, but good-looking films will suffice.) But if you take the film on its own merits, as an over-the-top — and brutal — spy pantomime, it has a certain entertainment value.

Conclusion: We stick with (novel) Bond, but this film wins on wardrobe.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Myopic Eurovision and Little Peggy March

Embrace Failure
Congratulations to Sweden on their Eurovision win. As for the UK, how long do we keep telling ourselves that failure to make a dent in Eurovision carries no shame? Perhaps it really is time to beat a dignified retreat.

Let's spare a thought today for another Eurovision also-ran — Little Peggy March. American-born Peggy aimed to represent West Germany at Eurovision in 1969, but was placed second in the national final. She then failed to represent the country again in 1975.

Here's Peggy with the most Eurovision-like song and video you might ever witness (though not part of the event):

And here she is performing the classic Losing My Touch, one of the greatest beat ballads of the 60s:

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Scabal Talk Kapok

Botanical Textiles
Scabal — the tailoring and textiles business with an operational mill in Huddersfield and a flagship shop and tailors in Savile Row — has released a new collection of fabrics using threads from the Kapok tree. This innovation in botanical textiles required the company to invent a new way of spinning the fluffy silk-like fibre that envelops the kapok's seed pods. The fibre is naturally water-resistant as it is intended as a flotation aid when the seeds decide to take a dip in the ocean and migrate to a new home.

Scabal's weaving wizards have blended the kapok fibre with cotton. The result, they say, is a cloth with a 'pleasing feel against the skin, and a solid texture', and with better drape than out-and-out cotton to boot. The cloth is available in a variety of shades and weighs in at a summery 10.5 oz. Move over fresco, Madras and seersucker.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Music to Button a Cardigan By - Whitewash

Douglas Dares
He sings well. He tickles ivories admirably. He composes his own songs. We need to support young Douglas Dare. Witness how he puts his heart and soul into his live rendition of Whitewash [Amazon] below. Give him a couple of minutes of your time and watch how he builds the song. The audience got their money's worth that night.

Note also the sensible spectacles (below), but ignore the fact that he is revealing his underwear in the video clip. Button up, Douglas.

We have been spinning Douglas' Whelm album at Tweed Towers for a while now and consider it a keeper. The album comprises an intimate collection of songs that have been described as 'richly emotive and beguilingly uneasy'. The sounds make a nice change from all the poorly-enunciated and over-produced blue-eyed soul clogging up the music charts.

And look at the lovely packaging you get with the vinyl version:

Douglas hails from Bridport, Dorset, and is a classically-trained pianist who cites one of his influences as Debussy. You can possibly hear this in the impressionistic, yet contemporary, soundscapes he creates.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Commando and The Queen's Truncheon

Commando Celebrates Brigade of Gurkhas' 200th Anniversary
The Brigade of Gurkhas is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Our dear friends at Commando passed on this quote from Captain Charlie Hardaker from 70 Gurkha Field Squadron, The Queen's Gurkha Engineers:
This year the Brigade of Gurkhas commemorates 200 years of outstanding service and loyalty. Gurkhas have served in every major conflict and have conducted themselves with unparalleled distinction alongside their British counterparts.

Today, Gurkhas are renowned for their graciousness, loyalty and courage. As reserved and mild-mannered in daily life as they are fearless and tenacious in battle, they are dignified people and excellent soldiers.
If I were to describe myself with full frankness — which is never advisable — it wouldn't sound half as commendable.

Commando is marking the anniversary with a re-release of Lone Gurkha (top) and Gurkhas to the Rescue. Lone Gurkha is top-drawer classic entertainment; read agog as a lone Gurkha prepares to hold off a heavy Japanese assault, kukri at the ready.

The Queen's Truncheon? I thought that might drag you in. The Queen's Truncheon is the ceremonial staff — and Colour — carried by the Royal Gurkha Rifles.

Commando x Osprey
Commando has also announced that it is collaborating with Osprey Publishing — the leading publisher of illustrated military history — to create a series of new graphic war novels that will also contain 'detailed historical information describing the featured conflict, campaign and combatants'.

More intel on this development as we receive it.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Chelsea Flower Show Off

It's the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week.

Remember what Capability Brown said about English Gardens: they depend entirely on principle and have 'very little to do with fashion'.

A Capable Wardrobe for Chelsea 

Huntsman - Navy Weave Blazer

Alan Paine - Kilsyth Semi-Classic Saddle Shoulder V-Neck

Budd Shirtmakers - Sky Medium Gingham Check Shirt

Turnbull & Asser - English Silk Tie in Navy and White

Albam Clothing - Slim Fit Chino Trousers

New & Lingwood - Tropical Flower Pocket Square in Tobacco

HJ Hall - Classic Rib Half-Hose Wool Socks

Monge - Wingtip Oxford Shoes

The Merchant Fox - Oak Bark Leather Bound Journal

A. Wright & Son - Pocket Pruner

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Drake's Panama Hat

Multi-Purpose Headwear
As can be seen from the evidence above, as well as providing excellent cover from the sun, a Panama hat makes for a nice thing to roll around your hand when you're thinking about where to enjoy a nice gin and tonic. And you can also tip it over your eyes for a snooze if you've enjoyed the gin and tonic too much.

As can be seen from the photo, the new Classic Panama Hat with green tussah silk band from Drake's — handwoven in Ecuador — looks so well with relaxed summer kit in navy.

I predict this hat will fly of the shelves.

Drake's also stock a tie in the same shade of tussah silk if you want to match up.

Tussah silk production is traditionally associated with India, though it is no longer the biggest producer, and is created from wild silkworms — hence it is sometimes referred to as wild silk. The woven silk fabric created is matt and pleasingly slub-textured in appearance, similar to Shantung silk.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Paul Stuart Wins Wimbledon

You Are Looking Well
I saw the outfit above and immediately thought of you. I pictured you at the Centre Court of Wimbledon. Imagine the sun shining — hard I know —  and you are wearing your Persol 714s with your hair slicked back with brilliantine. You have your strawberries and champagne to hand; the well-dressed, good-humoured and considerate people surrounding you have turned off their their mobile phones and put them away; and you are about to settle down to watch a British tennis player win the men's final in hushed reverence.

We must congratulate you on your sense of style and for creating this perfect moment.

The clothes are mostly from Paul Stuart's Phineas Cole summer collection. Paul Stuart, as we insist on reminding you, are purveyors of top-drawer Anglo-American vestiary for men and women. Their Phineas Cole collection takes its unapologetically flamboyant inspiration for men's clothes from archive 1920s designs, colours and textures.

Purple Linen, Wool and Silk Jacket

The two-button peak lapel unstructured sports jacket is made in Canada from an Italian cloth exclusive to Paul Stuart.

Paisley Linen Pocket Square

The linen pocket square is hand-rolled and made in Italy.

Deco Fans Silk Tie

The tie has an Art Deco fans print, and is hand-made in the US of Italian silk.

Pink Cotton Twill Dress Shirt

The cutaway-collared slim-fit pink shirt has a button cuff, and is made of Italian cotton in Canada.

Cream Wool Trousers

The cream wool trousers, with side adjusters, are from the core Paul Stuart range, and are made in Canada from Italian super 110s wool.

You can decide on the shoes. Suggestions below.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

A Hume 85th Anniversary Tweed

85 Years of A. Hume
A. Hume is a family-run country clothing retailer based in the Scottish borders. It was founded as a gentleman's outfitters in 1929 by Archibald Hume. Archibald's grandson, Archie, took over the business in 1987, and in recent years has been expanding the business online, and stocking some bloody good stuff.

Anniversary Tweed
I am reliably informed that Archie is something of a tweed boffin; the company having a three generation-spanning relationship with the local tweed mills, such as Johnstons of Elgin and Lovat. His knowledge has recently been put to use — A. Hume celebrates its 85th anniversary this year with a collection created by Bladen from a special anniversary tweed designed by Archie.

The anniversary tweed for the collection was inspired by the colours of the Scottish borders; the green of the hills, the blue of the River Tweed and the purple of the heather. I can hear the pipes a' calling. It is a rather lovely and wearable 'muddy green', if I may use that phrase.

The tweed is a limited edition. When it's gone, it's gone. You can see a cap and trousers here, but they also stock a matching jacket.   

Bright tweed news though — A. Hume are looking to bring out new tweed designs for future collections.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Somerset Day

King Alfred - County Ambassador
Wishing all our Somerset readers a happy Somerset Day. I think it's a damned good idea for counties to celebrate their history and the best of what they have to offer. Check to see whether your county has one; and if not, demand one from your representatives.

The 11th of May was chosen as Somerset Day to honour King Alfred the Great, 9th century King of Wessex and King of the Anglo-Saxons — the date celebrates his victory in repelling the Danes in 872. He becomes the county ambassador. They have long memories in Somerset, although I believe Danes are now welcome. (St. Dunstan was also in the running as ambassador at one stage, though sadly, on name alone, Edgar the Peaceful was not.)

Drink to Somerset
Quantock Brewery celebrates the occasion with its Alfred's Ale. The beer is an amber ale made in very limited quantities. If you are in Somerset, look out for it in your local pub — and raise a glass to the county. Sumorsǣte ealle.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Lincoln Leads in Teas

Wailing Laments from Wet Lettuces
High street coffee shop chains do a very good job of luring the masses into their unoriginal shops. It seems that all they need to do is hang out-of-focus pictures of coffee beans on the walls and play acoustic music by navel-gazing 'wet lettuce' singers who wear woollen hats, 'talent beards' and grey marl sweatshirts. They might have Arabic and/or Chinese words tattooed on their forearms too. Forget the quality of the drinks they serve in these establishments.

It's very convenient to use these plasticky hellholes, as they tend to get the best spots in town; but don't fall into the convenience trap. Before you know it your wardrobe will be full of loungewear.

If you are visiting somewhere new, take a little bit of time investigating the area. You will find one or two independent tea rooms or coffee shops that will reward you with a stratospherically better experience and quality of refreshment. And a decent cup of tea.

Stokes of Lincoln

Let's take Lincoln, England, for example. Here you could respectfully put on a shirt and tie and visit Stokes High Bridge Café (pictures above), a fourth-generation family business that was founded in 1892 by Robert William Stokes. The café is situated in a Tudor building on the High Bridge, which was built in 1160 and is the only medieval bridge in the country that still has buildings standing on it. Tea-wise you would probably want to plump for the founder's Gold Medal Blend. Perhaps you should order some local plum bread too.

Imperial Teas of Lincoln

And whilst you're in the city you should also visit Imperial Teas of Lincoln on Steep Hill. Imperial Teas is regarded as one of the finest tea merchants in the country, their shop the very nerve centre for tea lovers in the east of England.

And I quote:
Our range of tea is chosen from thousands of samples sent to us each year from the producing countries around the world. No speciality worthy of the name passes us by and often we are the exclusive stockists in this country, if not Europe, of the world's finest and most rare varieties.
The range of teas from Imperial is both stupefying and edifying. It would be best to seek their advice when looking for samples, but you would be remiss not to include some Darjeeling. That's the Puttabong Moondrops below — it has a hand-twisted leaf with a flavour of 'blackcurrant bushes, mango, stewed apricot and muscatel wine', and a fragrance of 'mild almond and cashews'. They say the best Darjeeling is going to Japan now. Can we let this happen?

With establishments like this in Lincoln, and there are many other independent tea rooms in the city, how could anyone for shame visit one of the boringly ubiquitous coffee shop chains that have muscled into the town centre?

Idea for Lincoln: Hold a tea festival and pitch to become the tea capital of the UK.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Spectre of James Bond

What Did You Think of Skyfall?
I didn't think much of Skyfall, the last James Bond film — I thought the story was terrible, though the great Daniel Craig did his best with it— but I will always appreciate the details and the clothes associated with the franchise; and we must never give up hope that a Bond film will match From Russia with Love. Why don't they produce a series of Bond films set in the '50s or '60s? They could start with the Bond story Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks.

Details are coming out for the new Bond film Spectre, scheduled for release at the end of the year. Intel suggests that, as well as his Tom Ford suits, Bond will be wearing a few choice British pieces. This is all hush-hush, so keep it under your hat in case Spectre get wind and the whole kibosh goes plughole.

Bond Pieces

Royal Doulton British Bulldog (top) (Discontinued)

Mulberry Cashmere-Lined Full-Grain Leather Gloves

Crockett & Jones Camberley Double-Monk with Dainite Sole 

N. Peal Mock Turtle Neck Cashmere and Silk Sweater

See also: N. Peal in Skyfall.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Letter from Melbourne - Desert Rats to Desert Boots

The Clarks Desert Boot
Our Melburnian chum Bertie was looking down at his feet — as we all do from time to time — and contemplating the history behind his footwear — as we do less often. Lumme, did the Clark's Desert Boot have a story to tell.

Bertie sought out his bonded writing paper and his trusty vintage Conway Stewart Dinkie fountain pen loaded with J. Herbin ink. It was time for a letter to The Tweed Pig...

Note: Conway Stewart 1905 went into administration last year, but there are plans to revive the brand. By whom? Made where? Seek out the vintage ones.

Letter from Melbourne
Clark's Desert Boots, to my mind, are an essential piece of British kit. I know some will never trust a Chap in suede shoes, but I say: read the history of these boots and you’ll see that few things could be more British.

Clark's has been in the shoe business for long time, starting out in the 1820s in the Somerset village of Street with the concept of “Street cred” beginning shortly thereafter [etymologists please confirm.]

In the 1930s, Nathan Clark, shoe scion and young man up-for-adventure headed off to Spain – not in search of Tweedy’s beloved percebes – but to drive ambulances for the Republicans. By the outbreak of war, Clark saw service in Burma, where he helped supply Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist Army. And it was out East that Clark first saw the sort of footwear that would inspire the modern desert boot: simple suede boots with minimal lacing and crepe rubber soles. The boots were worn by British veterans of the North African campaign who were rather glamorous figures known to affect cravats and scarves.

By the end of the war, Clark thought there’d be a market for these boots on the feet of civilians. While back in Britain he found it hard to initially convince his family to manufacture the shoe so he took his ideas to the Chicago shoe fair in 1947. The boots sold well to Americans and those nostalgic for the Britain of Empire days, with ads promoting them as 'authentic reproductions of British colonial footwear: the desert boot soled with genuine plantation rubber'.

By the 1950s, Clark had managed to expand the market for his boots with DB’s becoming part of the civilian uniform of each new generation of well-dressed young men starting from the mid ‘50s with trad jazzers, CND marchers, skiffle bands, mods, rude boys and even revolting Parisian students of May ’68.

Bertie's Suggestion
Clark’s Desert Boots are now 65 years old, and to celebrate that milestone I offer my suggestion on how to wear them.

One, the boot itself. While there are a myriad of colours to choose from, I like a systematic approach to things and I go for light colour boots in summer, darker boots in winter. Right now, I have a current preference for Clark’s in ‘cola’ which I'm told is also a popular soft drink.

Two, owing to their association with the Desert Rats in their cravats, a scarf, a neckerchief or a cravat is a must. I suggest Peckham Rye's Poona Orange Silk Scarf.

Thinking of a chota peg in a Hill station somewhere?

Three, I think desert boots go best with what the French call déshabillé, the Italians call sprezzatura and you and I would call casual.

Therefore, I say cords or moleskin. I’d recommend Australia’s contribution to civilised dress: RM Williams Cleanskin 15 oz moleskin.

And four, to complete the look – weather dependant – it could be a duffel coat, a Harrington or an old tweed jacket; but for some reason, I feel inclined to honour the original wearers by choosing something that wouldn't look out of place in the Colonies: a belted safari jacket by Chucs.

I encourage your readers to watch this video from Clark’s and to see that Colonial Chic is only one way to wear this most versatile and enduring shoe.

Bertie Davies, Melbourne

Nathan Clark and the History of the Desert Boot

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