Tuesday, 31 May 2016

A Cufflink to the Past

Old Fossils
Our Anglo-American chums Paul Stuart have really come up trumps with these cufflinks that set tiny ammonites, the fossil shell of an ammonoid, in sterling silver. They make a lovely marine-themed touch for summer. I like the raw hewn nature of the stone cut against the delicacy of the silver setting. I wonder if the two sides are cut from the same fossil or they need to find two of matching size?

The cufflinks are made in Bali, which sounds terrifically exotic and appropriate. Bali Shell Museum'a place that will change your thought about shells' —  has an extensive collection of ammonites if you want to understand more.

Sobering to think that the humble (and extinct) ammonoids were scuttling around the ocean at the same time as the dinosaurs. In Britain, we knew this type of fossil as the serpentstone and it was thought to have healing powers. Perhaps it does. What do we know? Well we know for sure they make excellent cufflinks.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Simon James Cathcart - Clothes by Chaps for Chaps

By Chaps for Chaps
They say that the filtering effect of social media creates an insular echo chamber of conforming opinions and ideas and cultural tribalism. It's meant as a criticism, but I think it just magnifies how people operate in reality, only we get to the point we're aiming for quicker — gravitating towards the people we share a common interest with and towards the things we enjoy.

Heavily 'trending' in chappish territories on social media right now are the clothes produced by Simon James Cathcart. SJC's concept is an interesting example of how social media brings like-minded people together — clothes created by chaps for chaps. The Chap magazine's online presence is the acknowledged lodestar for this type of activity.

About Simon James Cathcart
As they say of themselves, SJC of London is a collective and a company that brings together 'apparel collectors sharing, developing and tweaking' pieces so that you don't have to purchase 'low quality, overpriced, mass-produced garbage to then look like a clone of heavy industry'. You can even suggest products on their forum.

Clothes are pre-ordered and then go into production. Social media outlets are essential to the way they work. They need to reach people who are as interested and enthusiastic about classic men's clothing as they are themselves.

As summer will appear eventually, I thought you might be interested in the Deco Polo they have available right now (top). This really is a jolly item and one of the better polo shirts you will find available right now — a polo shirt with a rare attribute, elegance. Available in a number of colours, the polo shirt has spearpoint collars and looped fasteners for the cat's eye buttons (that have a transverse cut around the holes).  The shirts are made from 8oz bamboo cloth. I used to have a summer jacket made from bamboo cloth, which was very soft and airy.

Match with the Sailor's Dream Neckerchief (available in navy and gold), keep an eye on the weather forecast, and you're all set for a stroll along the Brighton seafront with a Cornish Mivvi when the sun pops out.

Do look out for new arrivals at SJC. We have to stick together, right?

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Piccolo Press

An Invitation to Cut the Mustard
Now that the social season is upon us, there will be an exchange of invites to this, that and the other vying for attendees. Email invitations just won't cut the mustard. They're impersonal and give the impression of lackadaisicalness. They land in your inbox — indistinguishable from invites from your gas supplier and local supermarket — then another thousand emails land on top, they shift down and out of view and all is lost.

If you're hoping to lure the right sort to your own bash, how the invitation is presented and expressed is of utmost importance. Have no fear — excellent chums Piccolo Press (specialist and bespoke printers), a happy band of a dozen craftsmen, can attend to all your invitational needs and matters stationery.

About Piccolo Press
Piccolo Press is based in Nairn, which is close to Inverness (on the glorious North Coast 500 route). For thirty years they have used traditional techniques of engraving, letterpress, thermography (fusing ink and powder to create raised surfaces) and blind embossing to print on thick card and fine papers. Their clients include London clubs and livery companies, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the MCC, the Carnegie Club at Skibo and Glorious Goodwood. Our kind of places.

If you get an invitation to a ‘do’ on Piccolo stationery, it's a 'do' that's definitely worth attending.

Printing Techniques
Piccolo Press is Scotland’s only remaining diestamper. They use copperplate dies and thick board to create handsome invitations with raised print. They achieve a similar effect using thermography and also the traditional letterpress, which pushes an impression into the card, creating a lovely tactile effect. Initials and logos are also sometimes blind embossed onto cards from the back for a more subtle raised effect.

Duplexing of cards to achieve extra thickness and with contrasting colours on each side is very popular, so Piccolo tell me. Added distinction can be created by lining envelopes with tissue paper, gilding the edges of cards, and adding foiling. Just look at what they can achieve on the photos above. It's artwork more than craftsmanship — something to be admired and treasured.

If an invite produced by Piccolo Press is sent out, no sooner does it land on the recipient's doormat than it is being propped on the mantelpiece — pride of place — the minutes being counted until the eager beaver can attend.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Breton Stripes

French Navy Classic
Many classic wardrobe staples have a military history, and a British one more often than not — the duffle coat, the trench coat, the British warm, the Wellington boot, the Raglan sleeve, the Balaclava and so on and so forth — though this isn't always the case. I'm thinking of the MacArthur sunglasses by Shuron of the USA, which we've covered, and the French Navy's Breton shirt.

The Breton shirt (or marinière or tricot rayé) is famously French, like frog's legs (delicious) and pastis (refreshing). The long-sleeved Breton shirt in blue and white stripes was once worn by French sailors — many from Brittany, hence Breton, the region of France settled by Britons that has its own strong Celtic traditions like Asturias in Spain. The shirt was adopted by the greater population, expanding out and becoming a classic in its own right. Jean Paul Gaultier — a delight of a man — helped make the Breton shirt a kind of unofficial French uniform. Vive le Breton shirt. 

I started gathering a few images to show how influences and interpretations of the horizontal Breton stripe have influenced and been interpreted. The collection became more of a general rumination on striped sweaters and shirts. As The Tweed Pig is free of the tyranny of editorial control, I decided not to drop any of the pics. Published and be damned.

See if you can name all of the people shown below.

Where to Get Your Breton Shirt
You will find pretty good Breton shirts in nautical chandler's shops on the coast, but I'm betting on this trifecta of authentic French labels that manufacture in France and have a close association with the style.

Saint James of Brittany has been producing the Binic II heavy woollen Breton sweater since 1889. You can get this one at Stuarts.

Orcival (1939) of Lyon has been making the French marinière in heavy cotton since 1947.

Arpenteur was formed in 2011, but with a dedication to French classic workman's clothing, including the Breton shirt. The Brehat in cotton is their interpretation of the classic, with 3/4-length sleeves.

All three companies produce Breton-style shirts and sweaters in different colour combinations, but I've assumed you would be going for the classic white and navy.

Monday, 23 May 2016

A Civilised Ritual

The Decline and Fall of Double-Brushing Hair
A reader writes: 'If you take the time to watch Brideshead Revisited you will eventually see Charles Ryder brushing his hair with a matching pair of brushes (sans handles I think) which he deftly swirls about his head, one in each hand, coaxing his follicles into place. Such was the morning and evening routine of an English gentleman up until very recently; my late grandfather used brushes of that very sort until the day he died.'

Wishing to resurrect the art of double-brushing hair, our reader asks where is it possible to purchase a pair of such and how should they be used properly. He wishes to find answers to these questions before 'the decline of [his] hairline exceeds that of the brushes themselves'.

Naturally, I recommended Kent brushes for this type of no-handled, oval-shaped hair brush. Two-brush sets were common at the turn of the last century and standard kit bag inclusions — hence 'officer' or military' brush set — in the First World War, like the set in the top photo. You will also see them called palm brushes in our squeamish age. Sometimes they come with a strap to hold your hand in place.

You might sometimes come across vintage military brush sets with wood, sterling silver, pewter or ivory backs; and you can still find new brushes with silver and pewter backs, but these are often presented as christening presents.

Brushes to do the Job
We want brushes that will do the job. Kent has a wood-backed range offering a range of backs and bristles, with a varied amount of hand work involved in making them. The MHS18 below, handmade in England, has a satinwood back with pure white Indian bristle that is hand drawn and stitched into the brush — a quality object.

Of course, to get the Brideshead effect you would need two of these, which you can leave stacked bristle-on-bristle in your bathroom for swirling at any given moment.

How to Double-Brush
In the right hands — yours, to be precise — you can wield the two brushes to smooth the hair and stimulate the scalp. The brush is good for creating a slicked-back style without leaving separations from the teeth of a comb. If the hair is resistant, try adding a dab of Yardley English Lavender Brilliantine.

Why use two brushes? Our readers might offer a fuller (better) explanation, but it obviously gets the job done quicker and you get into a kind of balanced, harmonious movement similar to when you're swinging your Indian clubs for your daily dozen; each brush taking care of its side to make the outcome — a slicker hairdo — more likely. In any event, as we see from the Charles Ryder scene, it adds a little drama and civility to the daily ritual.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Marcello Mastroianni - The Assassin

The Ladykiller of Rome
My barber always finishes my haircut by rolling a flaming torch on my ears and the back of my neck, scraping the edges with an open razor and then rubbing all around with rosemary-infused alcohol. I'm not quite sure what that he's saying about my ears, but it's quite a spectacle, and a rather invigorating way to end to the session.

I am always reminded of the 1961 Italian film The Assassin, directed by Elio Petri and starring Marcello Mastroianni. At the start of the film, Marcello's character Alfredo Martelli, an antiques dealer and small-time playboy, uses a lighted candle on his hair (top picture) to singe off stray hairs. (Why not try it at home, gents?) With such attention to his appearance we are immediately on his side.

Alfredo is picked up by the police and discovers that he is under investigation following the death of his wealthy mistress Adalgisa. As the investigation proceeds, flashbacks prompted by police interrogations show how the relationship between Alfredo and Adalgisa developed, and how those actions now sit with his conscience and sense of responsibility. In these recollections, we see Alfredo as an apathetic and parasitic man, using people for his own ends with sometimes short-lived regret. But could he be capable of murder? And could he ever change his ways?

Marcello's Elegance
In The Assassin, as in real life, I think it was impossible for Marcello to ever look anything less than The Elegant Male from pyjama to overcoat.

Life Lived with a Jazz Score
We are introduced to the character of Alfredo in the opening credits of the film, accentuated by the slightly sleazy jazz soundtrack. We start the film knowing something of the man and his habits,  much like the opening credits of the Ipcress File, released in  colourful 1965, when we're introduced to a jaded-looking Harry Palmer making coffee to a John Barry score.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Exotic Shoes from Paul Parkman

Ostrich Bumps
If you have a taste for the unusual in your footwear, then you should turn your attention to Paul Parkman shoes of Hawthorne, California.

Parkman specialise in making limited edition shoes by hand using unusual leathers and finishing techniques. The green Derby shoes above are made to order from Ostrich leather, with goodyear-welted double sole and Bordeaux leather lining.  If you have never worn green shoes before, you might be surprised to find how wearable the colour can be. I like the nobbly bits on ostrich leather, or the vacant quill follicles if you want to be technical., which are used in the grading process of ostrich leather — well-developed nobbles equalling a  better grade.

Stingray Beads
However, if you wish to be a bit more discrete, yet have a hankering for the exotic too, then these black Derby shoes in stingray leather might be more your bag. They have the same sole and lining construction as the ostrich. The beaded texture is from calcium deposits on the skin, which are more pronounced at the white diamond.

Stingray leather — or shagreen, which was particulalrly popular as a leather in the Art Deco period — is a very durable leather and naturally water resistant. As the leather ages, the white of the beads shows through more and the leather takes on a unique patina.

Do I need to say that both of these types of leather are eminently sustainable? Perhaps I do. You know how angry people can get about everything nowadays.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Pleated Trouser

The Greater Spotted Pleated Trouser
The pleated trouser is being spotted in greater abundance. A once rare species, the pleated trouser was preserved and protected by trouser enthusiasts and diehards who pushed back against our shabby age as hard as it pushed against them.

The fruits of this successful conservation programme have resulted in new pairs being spotted where once you would have only seen the abundant flat-fronted trouser — namely on younger and slimmer people. Confirmation bias means that I see this as a return to common sense rather than a short-term trend. I think it's good to have a menagerie of trouser styles.

Trouser pleats can number from one to three, and they can be the traditionally-British (particularly the double) forward pleat, which is turned inward towards the fly; or they might be the traditionally-Italian reverse pleat, which is turned outward towards the side pockets. The reverse pleat, if not common, has been the dominant pleat in recent years.

Here is the brilliant James Stewart looking extremely dapper and excellently attired in his 'forward facers'.

I wouldn't mind a pair of trousers exactly like those. In fact, I wouldn't mind the whole rig. What a sweater! Let's stick to trousers for this post though. Would any aspiring tailors looking to make a name for themselves be up for the challenge of making an exact pair? Think of the promotional possibilities. I'm a 32" waist and a 33" inside leg, and I have a relatively even temperament. Other measurements and psychological characteristics can be provided on application. Or you can pop round to Tweed Towers with your tape and chalk. I'm reluctant to budge from Somerset at the moment.

You might also see a box pleat or two on a trouser. That looks suspiciously like an inverted box pleat on Richard Gere's American Gigolo trousers — a great film with a great soundtrack. I'm not entirely sure though, so I will ask the tailor who is calling round to make those James Stewart trousers.

We should mention kilts when we talk about box pleats — have a dekko at the seried ranks of military box pleats on the kilt from Kinloch Anderson below.

The New Pleat
Where to find the pleated trouser? Margaret Howell showcased pleated trousers in her summer collection, with neckerchiefs in the style of Slim Chance-era Ronnie Lane.

The Parisian label Officine Générale has a pair of 'pleaters' out in navy and mid-grey (below) Fresco wool.

Final Word
The final word, however, must go to Steed Tailors of London for the forward pleated trousers in the top photo  — wow! (and I don't exclaim lightly).  The trousers were made in a single piece without a waistband — a 'continuous waistband' — which was a favourite style of Fred Astaire. Such clean lines and they look so comfortable and good for dancing in. Perhaps I should include that touch with the James Stewart trousers...

Friday, 13 May 2016

Stillman is Back - with Austen

Stillman Box Set Out on Criterion Label
We are big fans of the films of Whit Stillman at Tweed Towers. We have covered Barcelona and Metropolitan on these pages, and will get round to the The Last Days of Disco at some stage.

So three cheers for our good friends at Criterion who released a box set of the trilogy last month on Blu-ray and DVD. Whit was involved in the digital transfers of this new box set, and new commentaries were recorded with cast members. The box set is a must for your classic film collection.

As dear friend Bertie expressed in one of his letters from Melbourne, why isn't there a contemporary British social chronicler of the same calibre in film-making, and with the same wit and civility? We invented Jane Austen, for heaven's sake.

Whit's New Film Based on Jane Austen Story
Speaking of which, it's nice to report that the hardly-prolific Whit is back with a new film based on an unfinished Jane Austen story called Lady Susan.

Love and Friendship (to give the story a more Austen-like name) is released this month. Whit has extracted the drollest lines from Austen's work and fleshed out the story for the big screen and in an adapted novel of the same title. We can expect sublime dialogue and next to no computer-generated imagery. In other words, it's our kind of film, gents.

According to an interview with The New York Times, which I have open at my desk, Whit has been working on the script for the film for ten years. In the interview, they mention a similarity between Austen's work and Whit's films in that 'characters are obsessed with manners and social norms and class and courtship'.

Whit goes on to state his attraction to the 18th century of Austen:

'I think it’s a superior time, for music, architecture, manners, thought. Not the movies. The movies from that time aren’t so good.'

Read the New York Times interview online here.

The film stars Kate Beckinsale (above) as Lady Susan, the 'fiend''flirt' and 'most accomplished coquette in England'  who has an 'uncanny understanding of men's natures'. I am reading good things about the casting and the film generally. Expectations are very high at Tweed Towers.

Judge for yourselves whether or not it's your cup of tea from the trailer (by Amazon Studios) below.

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