29 February 2008

Mr. Hackett

The world seems utterly foreign to me these days. It has changed enormously since I was a younger man, and not at all for the better. Fortunately not everything has succumbed to trendy fashion, and if one looks hard one can still find pockets of tradition and continuity.

This brings to mind the clothing store Hackett. It is amazing to me to realise Hackett has been around for 25 years. During school and university holidays, after obligatory visits to Gieves & Hawkes, Cording's, and New & Lingwood, I would join other young men on a pilgrimage to the Hackett shop on New King’s Road in Fulham. There I would acquire dress shirts (with spread collars and double cuffs), cords, and maybe a v-neck jumper or two. Later we would pick up vintage items, such as a pair of old Lobb brogues or a covert coat, at markets in Kensington and Camden.

Mr. Hackett himself got his start selling vintage kit and in the early days the Hackett shop offered a limited selection of second-hand clothing. It became a mecca for betweeded Young Fogeys and Sloane Rangers, plus floppy-haired officers from the Guards and the HAC, some of whom would visit on their antique bicycle or in a VW Golf GTI. The Hackett brand grew into a major success. But by the early '90s the YF and SR sets started to move on. My sartorial interests, too, had changed, and I focused my attention on other sources. By the mid-'90s the Hackett polo shirt became linked to the shaven-headed 'yob' element.

My interest in Mr. Hackett has persisted over the years. A self-made man who left school at 17, he displays none of the vulgarity and weirdness of his American counterpart(s). He seems a quiet, decent Englishman who through hard work and diligence has created a successful business. It is a view corroborated by those who know him. His friend Ty Jeffries, in a profile in the Independent on Sunday newspaper, where Mr. Hackett writes a clothing advice column, has said: "He remains such a nice guy, very genuine, unpretentious." Mr. Hackett's success warrants a large measure of admiration and respect. Whether or not he receives it, is another question.

Certainly his recent book, Mr. Classic (Thames & Hudson, 2006), was greeted in some quarters with confusion and misunderstanding. A collection of Mr. Hackett's newspaper columns, the book combines the author's musings on, say, Belgian shoes, dinner jackets, and cardigans, with a number of alarmingly creative photos of young men. The effort is a bit too artistic for my tastes, yet it does have undeniable appeal. The section on creative monogramming helped me look at my dress shirts in a new light, while his recollections of visiting Brooks Brothers and Belgian Shoes in Manhattan and Bel y Cia in Barcelona were amusing.

Just a quick note. The book cover features a photo of a young man wearing flip-flops with a dinner jacket, and somehow the notion has spread that Mr. Hackett himself approves of this look. He does not, as a reading of the relevant column confirms.

Is it time to give Hackett a second look? Perhaps, if you are so inclined. I of course am allergic to change, to the extent that switching from, say, Gordon's gin to Bombay Sapphire and back again, is a traumatic event. Still, on re-examination a return to Hackett might seem as if I were re-embracing an old friend with whom I once spent wild days of youth. Hackett seems to be on the move to bigger and better things. So, I will give it some thought. In the meantime, in my recent discussions with company officials, I am given to understand Hackett will be available on these shores in the next year or so. Let me know what you think.

25 February 2008

Viyella Madness

If you find some modern fabric blends leave you cold, Viyella is certain to keep you warm. Viyella is a zephyr-weight flannel fabric made of lamb's wool and Egyptian cotton first created in 1880 by William Hollins & Co., in Nottingham, England. Originally a 55% wool/45% cotton blend, it combines the smooth comfort of cotton with the warmth and porosity of wool. Today's fabric, however, is usually an 80% cotton/20% wool blend.* The ultimate sport shirt for the weekend, Viyella shirts come in enchanting patterns of tartans, checks, tattersalls, and plaids. They are renowned for their classic styling and durability.

I first encountered Viyella as a boy in the form of shirts in various tattersall patterns. They soon became a favourite. Whether beagling in Northumberland or pub-crawling in the Home Counties, I could be relied upon to wear a Viyella shirt. Today I still wear them, though I am partial to tartan and checked designs, pairing them with grey flannels and tassel loafers or khakis and chocolate suede chukka boots. A Viyella shirt is the perfect shirt for the kind of chap who holds his Purdey at jaunty angles.

*over the years, you will have noticed, the wool content of the Viyella shirt has moved in inverse proportion to its price

22 February 2008

Inside the Young Fogey's Closet

10 February 2008

Vintage A&F Advertisement


“I admit that I’m greatly prejudiced against all the blind, squint-eyed, deaf, mute, legless, armless, hunch-backed and so on. I’ve observed that there’s always some strange relationship between the external appearance of a man and his soul, as if with the loss of a limb the soul too has lost some faculty of sensation.”
A Hero of Our Time, Mikhail Lermontov

06 February 2008

Young Men in Spectators

I have exciting news to report. On the advice of some internet chums who know much more about these things than I do, I have just taken delivery of a new pair of spectator shoes. As you know, I long resisted spectators, as I considered them to have an unwholesome Jazz Age appeal. They certainly have enjoyed an unsavoury reputation in England where they are known as co-respondent shoes, a name derived from their association with divorce cases involving adultery. I personally would not choose to wear spectators in court; a respectable full brogue such as the EG Malvern or Crockett & Jones Downing handgrade model are more appropriate, in my experience, particularly when one is trying hard to convince the judge that one is not a liar, thief, or drunk.

After a comparative analysis of the spectator shoe market, I settled on the offering from Brooks Brothers Peal & Co. (see photo), for two reasons. One, the Peal & Co. spectator is constructed of leather and canvas. In my case, chestnut brown leather and beige canvas. I find the contrast between the two materials highly compelling. The canvas is surprisingly durable. Two, the Brooks Brothers spectator lacks a leather 'racing stripe' along the side, a feature found, for example, on the sportier EG Malvern III model, which I also considered. My research into the historical archives indicates the absence of the racing stripe conforms to standard type.

As a new season is almost upon us, I am making plans to pair my spectators with linen trousers in a khaki or British tan colour, or maybe white flannels from Grass Court. Definitely with seersucker trousers. I am misty-eyed just thinking about the possibilities. My former prejudice against them notwithstanding, I am prepared to concede that spectators are indeed fun shoes. And what is the point of all of this, if not to have fun? The world may end tomorrow, but at least I will go out in style wearing my Peal & Co. spectators.

01 February 2008

Sandy Arbuthnot

"I must spare a moment to introduce Sandy to the reader, for he cannot be allowed to slip into this tale by a side-door. If you will consult the Peerage you will find that to Edward Cospatrick, fifteenth Baron Clanroyden, there was born in the year 1882, as his second son, Ludovick Gustavus Arbuthnot, commonly called the Honourable, etc. The said son was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford, was a captain in the Tweeddale Yeomanry, and served for some years as honorary attache at various embassies. The Peerage will stop short at this point, but that is by no means the end of the story. For the rest you must consult very different authorities. Lean brown men from the ends of the earth may be seen on the London pavements now and then in creased clothes, walking with the light outland step, slinking into clubs as if they could not remember whether or not they belonged to them.

From them you may get news of Sandy. Better still, you will hear of him at little forgotten fishing ports where the Albanian mountains dip to the Adriatic. If you struck a Mecca pilgrimage the odds are you would meet a dozen of Sandy's friends in it. In shepherds' huts in the Caucasus you will find bits of his cast-off clothing, for he has a knack of shedding garments as he goes. In the caravanserais of Bokhara and Samarkand he is known, and there are shikaris in the Pamirs who still speak of him round their fires. If you were going to visit Petrograd or Rome or Cairo it would be no use asking him for introductions; if he gave them, they would lead you into strange haunts. But if Fate compelled you to go to Lhasa or Yarkand or Seistan he could map out your road for you and pass the word to potent friends.

We call ourselves insular, but the truth is that we are the only race on earth that can produce men capable of getting inside the skin of remote peoples. Perhaps the Scots are better than the English, but we're all a thousand per cent better than anybody else. Sandy was the wandering Scot carried to the pitch of genius. In old days he would have led a crusade or discovered a new road to the Indies. Today he merely roamed as the spirit moved him, till the war swept him up and dumped him down in my battalion.”

Greenmantle, John Buchan