Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Bagpipes for St Andrew's Day

Pipe Dream
Happy Saint Andrews Day to our Scottish readers. I'm sure most of you will be listening to stirring marching band music with a heavy dose of bagpipe today.

I've said it before and I'll say it et cetera, I really like to hear bagpipes played at full throttle. (I enjoy them in Asturias too.) If you're like-minded, you will have come across the name of Rufus Harley, the preeminent  — and only? — jazz bagpipe player. Here's some archive footage of Rufus playing with Sonny Rollins at Ronnie Scott's in London in 1974. You get a good blast around 17' in.

If you're interested in learning this magical instrument, The Bagpipe Shop (UK) and The Piper's Dojo (US) might good places to start looking into acquiring a set on either side of the pond. The Duncan MacRae pipes you see in the top photo are available from Dojo. You can select the length of blowstick and the type of bag and bag cover for your pipes; and things like drone cords and pipe chanters, which don't mean a lot to a non-piper like myself. Who knows, once you pick up the pipes, you could take them in a whole new direction like Rufus.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Santo Mauro - Madrid Hotel and Gin Bar

Possibly More Hotel Coverage
I don't cover hotels as a rule. I spread myself too thinly as it is, though I think I would get bored specialising and writing about, say, shoes all the time. Thankfully, timeless classics and hidden gems gives me ample scope to take the road least travelled. And I thought this hotel in Madrid had enough old-world good looks to arouse your attention. Who knows, if any hotel manager out there wishes me to review their penthouse suite or cocktail bar, I might be persuaded to start reviewing hotels more.

Here's the scoop. Hotel Santo Mauro is part of Marriot's Autograph Collection of hotels. The building is the former residence of the Duke of Santo Mauro and is a lovely place to stay, but you can put on your finest duds and have a jolly old non-residents time of it in the cocktail bar too.

Interiors that look like hollowed out factories are all well and good, but they don't really inspire you to dress up — quite the opposite. The civilised Santo Mauro gently chivvies you into putting on a tie and polishing your shoes. I mean, how could you despoil the look of the place by wearing a T-shirt and jeans? It's just not done. And as Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State has requested (on my passport) that Spain allows me to 'pass freely without let or hindrance', I'm not going to let our side down with uncouth behaviour. I never forget I'm a guest of the country when travelling.

Scene of the Crime
It was done in the Gin Bar with copious amounts of gin. As mentioned in a previous post, I was very settled in the Gin Bar at the Santo Mauro, a very comfortable space to enjoy super generous measures of Hendricks gin.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Scabal's Treasure Box

Scabal's Treasure Revealed
Scabal's Treasure Box contains suiting fabric made from Super 150's wool interwoven with precious metals, platinum and 24-carat gold.

'Midnight blue, anthracite grey and noble black ground shades set off platinum and gold flecks.'

Friday, 25 November 2016

The Dandy - Let us be Elegant or Die!

The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm
If you are looking to understand the genesis and lineage of the dandy tradition, then you might consider Ellen Moers' classic inquiry from 1960: The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm.

Beau Brummel — pictured above as played by John Barrymore in the 1924 film biography — was the original Regency 'Jack-a-Dandy', who created a style in reaction to the effete, elaborately dressed fops of the Macaroni Club. Beau Brummel sought simplicity in dress, but with absolute attention to detail, taking excessive time at his toilette. He would spend two hours each morning on his appearance, obsessively cleaning and shaving. He would then dress with his famous self-imposed 'restraint, naturalness and simplicity' in clothes of buff, white, black and blue, using fabrics of wool, linen and leather (and eschewing elaborate silks, satin and laces). Under his influence, the Prince Regent adopted the Brummel look and London tailors moved lock-step with his sartorial decisions. He defined a template for the modern trouser suit and ushered in a mode and palette for business dress that reverberates to this day.

Ellen describes Brummel's influence on the likes of Count D'Orsay, and uses literature and accounts from the time to explain how the idea of dandyism grew as a 'social and even political phenomenon'. And how it invited mockery and caricaturing in the process.

I read reviews that say the book is dry and academic. I found it quite the opposite, scholarly but an entertaining read — though you need to understand a smattering of French.

Where Are We Now?
The golden age of the dandy was swiftly interrupted by the onset of modernity, creating conditions not suited for the dandy to thrive.

Ellen ends her book at the start of the twentieth century. Satirist and dandy Sir Max Beerbohm (below) is preparing to leave a London that had lost the 'demure poetry about her'. He is fleeing to Italy, away from a London that was being 'cosmopolitanised, democratised, commercialised, mechanised, standardised, vulgarised...'  — He should see it now! — and the 'unlovely things' that made it impossible, as Baudelaire wrote of dandies, to 'be sublime, without interruption'.

The twentieth-century wasn't completely the age of the 'earnest fellow' (and scruffbag). Chaps were still prepared to rack up large expenses along Savile Row; but in terms of dress, if not lifestyle, for examples of the contemporary dandy we might be looking in the wrong places. Sebastian Horsley (below) and Patrick MacDonald, often cited as exemplars of the dandy tradition, are perhaps more fabulous fop than dandy, though the line can blur.

Beau Brummel:
If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed; but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable.
Dressing as a dandy was never about attention seeking. It was about getting the details right.

If Beau started a movement that took a back-to-basics approach to Frenchified excesses in dress, applying a uniform style, then the regimented look of the neo-Edwardians of the fifties such as Bunny Roger (below) and the Teddy Boys attempted something similar.

Similar, too, were the working-class skinheads and mods of the sixties, with their obsessive attention to detail — mods agonising over the depth of their button-down collars, skinheads the folds of the pocket squares in their Crombie coats. They were wearing uniforms dictated by unwritten rules, not costumes. For skinheads, their puritanical look was a sharp reaction to the baroque scruffiness of foppish hippies.

Where are we now? When it can be claimed that the counter-culture of today is where we find the smart and the reserved — reacting to the slouchy sportswear under-dressing of the modern male in much the same way that Beau's dandies reacted to the over-dressing of the Georgian fop — the dandy remains a rebel, as he always has been.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Grenfell for Cordings - 1940s Shooting Jacket

Grenfell 1923
For those of us seeking out the best in British clothing, finding a Grenfell label in a coat tells you all that you need to know about the quality invested in the cloth. Spot it on a vintage rail and the sky becomes golden with rapture.

The classic Grenfell cloth is a cotton gaberdine, first created in 1923, that has a dense weave designed to protect against the elements. It is so-named because of its association with Sir Wilfred Grenfell, a medical missionary who needed a robust, wind-proof fabric for his missions to Newfoundland. He might be an early example of brand association and celebrity endorsement.

Certain styles of coat and jacket became associated with the Grenfell name over the decades. The Grenfell golfer's jacket, first produced in 1931, is still in production:

All of Grenfell's coats are made in London, England.

Shooting Jacket
I'm particularly interested in the fantastic Shooting Jacket for Cordings (top picture and below). Re-introduced from their archive, Grenfell were producing this style of jacket for Cordings in the 1940s.

Here we see good chum of The Tweed Pig Cordings MD Noll Uloth wearing an original shooter from 1947:

Bring out the Inner Bear
Looking for something a little warmer at this time of year? Grenfell have just brought out something for you — the tactile-looking Alpaca Duffle.  The coat has an alpaca wool outer, with horn toggles and leather trims, and is lined with Grenfell cloth and keeper's tweed — a coat to bring out the inner bear in you.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Gloves for Winter Cycling

Frozen Warnings
The  12th Velo Vintage Ride — 'time to cycle, take tea, converse and dress with style' — takes place in Exmouth, Devon, on the 3rd of December. Starting at 10.30 am, the ride will cover ten miles and take in stops along the way for refreshments and live musical entertainment.

Smashing friend Alistair Cope (left in picture above), organiser of the Devon-based Velo Vintage cycle rides, believes this winter ride offers a good excuse for cyclists to 'get out their warm hats, scarves and thick tweed coats'.  He's absolutely right, of course, but I'd also suggest a decent pair of gloves at this time of year. You don't want your hands so cold they can't hold the scone from the Devon cream tea that will undoubtedly be on offer.

So — we want traditional gloves, no fluorescent tech-ghastliness, but gloves that also perform well in winter cycling conditions. We have the answer, chums.

Brancale Winter Leather Cycling Gloves
Brancale, the cycling accessories company, is probably best known for its leather hairnet cycling helmets. Formerly an Italian company, it is now based in the USA, though many of its products are still made in Italy.

The Brancale Winter Leather Cycling Gloves are made in good old England, hand cut and hand sewn from sheep leather that is 'thin, supple and breathable but also very strong' and only improves with age and wear. The winter warmth comes from a fleece lining.

For cycling comfort, the gloves have slight padding on the palm and thumb.

Built to last, Brancale recommends that it will take a few rides for the gloves to shape to your hands and become an indispensable addition to your winter cycling enjoyment.

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Elegant Male on a Bike

With an Insouciant Attitude
Can you imagine James Bond riding a bike wearing a high-viz tabard and a helmet? No, because he's not a ten-year-old boy. When you reach manhood, all you need is an insouciant attitude, perhaps a decent trilby too, and you're ready to ride.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Handsome Hanson Silk Scarf

Daniel Hanson of Nottingham
After we featured his incredible dressing gowns — known in the trade as the Sistine Chapel of dressing gowns — Daniel Hanson kindly contacted Tweed Towers in person, and passed on his gratitude and this link to an interview he made for Left Lion. Daniel says that first and foremost they are 'designers and manufacturers of quality apparel'. Timelessness is a key point:
Fashion is the mood of the moment; designers lead through identifying the mood. It’s a transient emotion. I never felt my work reflected that, nothing has a date or time on it – every garment is totally translatable to today. I’m very proud of that. You can hand-tailor a dressing gown or make them like a pair of jeans using the same machinery. You can make it in a hundred different ways, but it always comes out looking like a dressing gown. I’ve spent 25 years exploring.
For the last fifteen years they have transferred the skills, and exquisite selections of cloth, used to create their robes in to making beautiful and equally limited numbers of Daniel Hanson scarves. The scarves are often made from surplus material form the manufacture of the robes.

I won't say its easy to track down a Daniel Hanson scarf. Daniel says that you may see them sporadically in places like Fenwick or Harrods, but he's hoping to make it a little easier when they eventually make a range available through the Daniel Hanson web site. Knowing I might be desperate to wrap one around my neck, Daniel fixed it for me — multiplied by two. I'm showing you the first of the two scarves here. Stay tuned for the other.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to Daniel for the effort and generosity in making this happen. I understand how busy they are up in Nottingham, and he understood how much I would like to feature the scarves. I'm one happy pig.

Blue Polka Dot and Dogtooth Pattern Silk Scarf
The Blue Polka Dot and Dogtooth Pattern Silk Scarf you see here is made from the most incredible 'crispy' silk Jacquard, woven in Suffolk. The scarf has a dogtooth background with a polka dot overlay on one side. The same vibrant blue of the polka dots is used in a cross-hatch pattern at the ends.

The scarf has year-round use. Folded in different ways I drape it inside and outside coats or use it as a cravat (like the top picture).

It was a mistake to try and capture the pattern outside  — too much reflection from a shockingly sunny day. Sorry about the feeble fold of the scarf on this picture too. I got a passer-by to take it and they didn't think to tell me to tighten the knot or pull the scarf out from the lapel of the jacket. Like true Brits, they just wanted to get away as soon as possible and remove any attention from themselves.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Aged Cigars are All the Rage

Flying Visit to Amsterdam
With only a day in Amsterdam I needed to squeeze a lot in. I started with late lunch at the Lion Noir (pub feel, tasty food and good service), then strolled over to P. G. C. Hajenius for a post-prandial cigar. The charming assistant at Hajenius, leading me around the conditioned room packed with the finest cigars, offered up a 2009 Limited Edition Magnum 48 from H. Upmann. She said that the aged tobacco leaves used in the wrapper, binder and filler made it really special. It certainly had dark good looks and a firm feel in the hand. I don't have the nerve or facilities to store aged and vintage cigars at home — and Hajenius certainly do — so I thought I'd give it a whirl. She handed over matches and cedar spills and I made my way to the cigar lounge. I joined a Dutch chap, based in China, who was in the lounge enjoying a pipe before returning to Schipol. I pumped his fin, then unbidden he vouched his opinion on Brexit. I kept mum as I wasn't in the mood for a debate — being slightly sozzled from lunch. I lit up and mused that the cigar lounge in Hajenius is perhaps the only place in Amsterdam that doesn't have the pungent aroma of smoke from industrial-strength cannabis.

The cigar was splendid, providing a smooth and creamy smoke with aromas of chocolate and spice; though it lasted longer than expected, which meant I was slightly late for the early evening cocktails at Door 74. I was thinking to order a Brandy Alexander, but was revivified in the end by a cocktail called To Be or Not To Be. The drink was mixed from prickly pear-infused mezcal from Mezcales de LeyendaBelsazar Rosé Vermouth and Crème de Châtaigne by E. Giffard (1886), and was a cracking way to usher in the evening.

Ripe Old Age
You know how you become interested in something and then you see it everywhere? Well after I'd enjoyed the aged cigar at Hajenius, the following weekend I read about the rising interest in aged and vintage cigars in an excellent piece by Nicholas Foulkes in the FT's How to Spend it? 

Read it all — it's most informative. They say 'left to mature too long, cigars can decline just like old wine – and ageing will not improve a bad cigar'. Interesting that they also say in the article that Upmann age well. They know what they're talking about at Hajenius. Friends, it's never too late to seek a newer world.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Tweed TV - Train of Thought

Sweet-Tempered Sneaks Through
The Tweed Pig, quiet and unobtrusive since 2010, just like this delightful animated short made by Leo Bridle and Ben Thomas as their graduation piece for The Arts Institute of Bournemouth.

The animation is beautifully rendered and has wonderfully complementary music ― introspectively lovely. You might sometimes think that today's culture is awash with vulgarity and boorishness right to the top, but sometimes the sweet-tempered sneaks though.

Enjoy with your first cup of tea this morning and start the day gently.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Bespoke British Pens

His Pen the Brave Man Draws
The British pen industry has been on its uppers in recent years, but things have changed dramatically for the better. Giddy Fortune's furious fickle wheel has turned once more.

In 2014 disaster struck as one of England's finest pen manufacturers, Conway Stewart — pen makers to successive Prime Ministers and the British Royal Family — closed its Plymouth factory. A group of pen enthusiasts with experience in the pen making industry were not content to see this great name disappear completely. They bought all the stock and formed Bespoke British Pens with a two-fold strategy of assembling the old Conway Stewart stock and supporting contemporary pen makers and designers, such as Henry Simpole and Jack Row, in the process. The aim of Bespoke British Pens is to 'specialise in quality British-made pens'  and to continue the tradition of British pen making.

In short, British Bespoke Pens have gone a long way to saving the British fine pens industry. We at Tweed Towers wish them every success.

Let's have a little gander at what British Bespoke Pens offer. It's going to be a very tough call on the one you choose as that little gift to yourself. You've worked very hard this year, so don't think about it, just reward yourself and allow the inordinate pleasure you'll get from using one of these pens to start as soon as possible. Don't wait until your arthritic and can't hold the bloody thing.

Conway Stewart Lives On
The Conway Stewart pens on offer represent 'the last opportunity to acquire an original Conway Stewart pen made in the old Plymouth factory'. For certain models and casings, only a handful remain.

The Conway Stewart Churchill in quartz green with gold fittings, including 18ct nib in fine, medium or broad widths (though custom nibs are available) is an absolute classic; and will look magnificent on the desk of your gentleman's study. The pen has a cartridge/converter filling system and comes in a leather presentation box.

Henry Simpole
London silversmith and designer Henry Simpole is a master in producing bespoke overlay fountain pens. For Bespoke British Pens he has reproduced the legendary British Onoto Exhibition plunger-filler fountain pen from 1907 — often described as the best fountain pen ever made — which is based on an Onoto plunger-filler body with a sterling silver filigree and black enamel overlay.

The silver overlay is made from an ancient (6000-year-old) lost-wax process. The pen has the famous plunging mechanism to fill the pen with ink, but with newer technology to make it more efficient and long-lasting.

Here's what Bespoke British Pens say of this pen:

What makes ‘The Best of British’? Consummate design skills? Meticulous craftsmanship? Hallmarked sterling silver, rich enamelling and a smooth-as-butter nib? Combine them all and the result, shown here, is the closest you can get to British pen perfection.
Jack Row
Jack Row is described as a 'new breed of pen designer' and is based in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter. He specialises in the production of fountain pens that border on fine art, using architectural inspiration, such as London's 30 St Mary Axe, otherwise known as the Gherkin building, with The Architect’s Pen (top).

Jack's pens are made to order from solid precious metals and gems, and come in an oak and velvet-lined display case.

Stratford Range
Bespoke British Pens have also managed to introduce their own brand of Stratford pens. The aim is to develop a range of British-made pens that 'have all the hallmarks of the heritage British brands with which we have been associated, but with distinctive elements that will help them to be forever identified as ‘A Stratford Pen – Made in England’.

The Shakespeare pen (above) has a casement made from 23ct gold-plated sterling silver vermeil, fully-hallmarked, and has an engraving of Shakespeare on the cap to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death this year.

The 18ct two-tone gold nib (available in standard widths) has a little engraving of the Union Flag:

Kingsman Connection
You may have spotted BBP's 'Kingsman' pen (based on their Winston model) in the first Kingsman film if you were very keen-eyed. You can see it in the trailer below. Though sold out, look out for the Kingsman 2 pens launching next year when the second film comes out. Kingsman was better-dressed than Bond, and appears to have the best pens too.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Designer - Yves Saint Laurent

Excellent Glasses
Yves Saint Laurent has been added to The Elegant Male. The addition was made chiefly to recognise his comportment — famously very polite — and his glasses. Well done, Yves.

Any suggestions for elegant males, please drop me a line. Somebody who is still alive would be good. That said, lined up next is Anton Walbrook when I get around to it.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Wyvern Vale Tailoring - Alpaca Tweed

Dorset Alpaca Tweed
Something exciting is afoot in neighbouring Dorset. Edward Ebbern at newly-formed Wyvern Tailoring — born from Wyvern Vale Alpacas of Dorset — will soon be bringing suits made from British alpaca tweed to market.

Edward developed a love of fine tailoring from his time in the military. Having moved to Dorset to start a herd of alpacas, he has worked at producing a cloth that is pure alpaca and works as suiting fabric. First his herd was developed to create the best raw materials, if you will. Once Edward knew that the animals were producing prefect fleece, he located a British mill that could process the fibre as he wanted by 'blending natural colours and achieving the strength of fibre we needed without losing the silky soft feel'.

Of the fibre used, Edward says: 'We only use fibre that is 23 microns or under which means you will never get that scratchy or rough feel that you can get with wool, which combined with the fact it is a dry fibre is something that can help those with allergies to wool. For a comparison of softness think cashmere.'

Next, Edward secured the talents of a tweed designer and weaver to create the cloth, like the herringbone tweed we see in these pictures, which is 100% alpaca and undyed.

Made-to-measure suits are hand cut and stitched from the cloth in the UK. By their very nature, runs of the cloth will be limited to the amount of fleece the herd is able to produce.

From field to fitting, what is being created is a wholly British product of great quality. It is up to you and I, dear reader, to support such noble and original enterprises and the farmers and craftsmen behind them.

We don't have any further gen on where to order and web sites and such yet. We'll bring more news as we get it. We'll also try and get some more shots of the suits.

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