City Squares

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For those who want to take the term “international style” a bit literally, Australia-based designer Christian Kimber has been slowly building a collection of city-themed pocket squares that I think is both highly unique and appealing. The squares all feature original art by the designer, and are inspired by the different cities he’s been to. The London square, for example, features the Gherkin skyscraper that he used to pass by every day, while the Hong Kong square is inspired by the skyline he saw in Kowloon (where my shirtmaker Ascot Chang is based, coincidentally). I’ve been admiring the set for a while, but had to wait until the Kimber released his square for Vietnam – where my family is originally from – before I bought my first one.

The designs are great, and have a nice international flavor that I think most men can appreciate, but it’s the abstracted shapes that make them a bit more unique than my usual favorites from Drake’s, Rubinacci, and Holland & Holland. In the pocket, they take on a modern look, perhaps more in the line of Tom Ford than any of the aforementioned companies. Twist a little here or there, and you can show off different colors as you wish. The size, thankfully, is also big enough to not slip down the pocket (something that’s increasingly hard to find nowadays, unfortunately). Quality and make here are similar to Drake’s, and I believe both lines are produced at the same factory. 

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Vintage Russell Moccasin Catalogs

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Before custom shoemaking in the US was mostly bespoke and made-to-orders, there was a small niche of manufacturers who would make shoes based off of the individualized foot tracings that customers would mail in. Russell Moccasin was one such firm. They sold shoes through outfitters such as Orvis, Eddie Bauer, and Abercrombie & Fitch (when the company still served outdoorsmen and adventurers), as well directly to customers through their large catalog business. 

Here are some photos of such catalogs. These date back to the early ’80s and late ’90s. Notice that every one includes a foldout form, which has a Brannock-looking diagram on which you’re supposed to trace your foot. This tracing — along with fourteen other measurements you’re supposed to provide of your feet and legs — is what gave Russell enough information to make you a perfectly fitting pair of sport shoes.

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New Ralph Lauren Arrivals

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Nothing rare or esoteric today, just a bunch of new Ralph Lauren fall/ winter releases that I think look pretty great. Some notables:

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Italian Moccasins

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In men’s clothing, we get most of our traditions from England, but our best casualwear from the US and Italy. Take footwear, for example. Where the English have given us traditional oxfords, derbys, and brogues, it’s the Italians and Americans who have come up with the best slip-ons. In the US, there are boat shoes, tassel loafers, penny loafers, and various incarnations of the handsewn moccasin; in Italy, there are Gucci horsebit loafers and driving mocs. The number of Italian styles in this case is smaller than what the Americans have to offer, but their significance is no less important. It’s the Italian slip-on that you want if you need something on the dressier side of casual. 

Gucci loafers are too flashy for my taste, but I really like drivers in the summer. They were most famously worn by Gianni Agnelli in the mid-century, which is perhaps why we associate them with that carefree lifestyle along the Amalfi coast and the Italian sense of sprezzatura. As the story goes, Agnelli started wearing them after his car accident in 1953. His then lover, Pamela Harriman, caught him with another woman, and while he was fleeing, he crashed his Ferrari into the back of a lorry. The accident left him with a bad foot, so he needed to wear soft, more comfortable shoes. 

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The Intellectual Look

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The uniform of the intellectual is much the same throughout the Western world. It consists of a rough and tweedy sport coat, possibly checked, but always brown; a pair of slightly-too-baggy corduroys or cotton twill trousers; a solid blue or white checked shirt; and suede shoes that are so well worn, the nap is slightly balding around the toes. It’s a decidedly rustic look that stands opposed to the sharply tailored navy suits and crisp white shirts of city slickers and businessmen. 

Take Eugenio Scalfari, for example, who’s been in the news a lot lately for his exchanges with the Pope. Scalfari, for those unfamiliar, is an Italian journalist and political commentator. In the ‘50s, he was among the founders of the Radical Party, which for decades was considered to be a bastion for Italian liberalism and radicalism. Then in the ‘60s, he won a seat in the Chamber of Duties as a member of the Socialist Party. His biggest role, however, has been as a writer. Having founded La Repubblica in 1976, and serving as its editor for 20 years, he’s been a voice of the left, fighting on issues related to women’s rights, political corruption, and the Catholic Church.

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Vintage Allen Edmonds

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Step into any vintage shop today and you’ll find the surviving traces of a once-great American footwear-manufacturing sector. To sure, good shoes are still being produced in the US, but the industry isn’t what it used to be. Its last heave was in the 1940s and ‘50s, when companies were bolstered one last time by a boom in sales – first from the US government, who needed to supply troops abroad with quality shoes, and then from the growing domestic workforce in the immediate postwar period.

Since the ‘60s, however, things have gone into steep decline. The introduction of affordable synthetics and increased competition from abroad have forced many companies into producing cheap crap. Just compare anything made nowadays by firms such as Stacy Adams and Bass, to what they produced seventy-five years ago, and your mind will be blown.

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Ralph Lauren and Architectural Digest

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Every once in a while, Architectural Digest does a feature on Ralph Lauren, with the last one being this online slideshow they put together of some of his homes. Lauren and his wife actually own five residences. There’s an apartment in Manhattan and two houses not far away: a beach house in Montauk, at the tip of Long Island, and an estate in Bedford, which is an hour north of New York City. There are also two more distant getaways: a ranch in Colorado, and a two-house retreat in the posh Round Hill Resort, near Montego Bay in Jamaica. 

Through the years, some of these have been cover features for the design magazine. I’ve pulled out three such issues here, which were published between the years of 2002 and 2007. These won’t be of any interest to anyone who’s not a big Ralph Lauren fan, but for those of us who are — they can be fun glimpses into the life of the man himself. (Spoiler alert: Ralph Lauren’s homes look a lot like Ralph Lauren home catalogs).

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Six New(ish) Brands I’ve Been Watching

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Yves Saint Laurent was once quoted as saying, “I am no longer concerned with sensation and innovation, but with the perfection of my style.” I wish I had that kind of singular focus. While I’m mostly interested in tailored clothing, my eye wanders when it comes to casualwear. I find myself sampling here and there, being drawn to new brands and styles every so often. Here are six newish companies I’ve been looking at this past year. Perhaps you’ll find something to like as well. 

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The Magic of Steam Stations

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Most menswear reviews go something like this: a ridiculously trivial problem is blown out of proportion, and some expensive item is proposed as the solution. The slightly uncomfortable experience of being caught in a drizzle, for example, can be solved with a handmade raincoat with bonded seams; the slightly-off fit of ready-to-wear shoes can be solved with something bespoke; and any difficulty in understanding Four Pins can be solved with someone young and hip, serving as a personal translator. 

In reality, most things have a steep diminishing returns curve, and much of what you need can be satisfied for not too much money. For ironing, I recommend Black & Decker’s D2030 iron, any kind of non-countertop ironing board, and a basic spray bottle (since most irons are terrible at spraying mist or steam). All three can be had for less than $100. 

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"Must Traitors Sleep in the Buff?"

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At the end of An Englishman Abroad – a 1980s BBC television drama about the real life events of Guy Burgess – Coral Browne is sent to do some West End shopping on Burgess’ behalf. Burgess, for those unfamiliar, was a British intelligence officer who was exiled to Moscow for having sold secrets to the Soviets during the Cold War. He says in the film that he’s not unhappy in Russia, but it’s clear that he acutely misses the everyday cordialities of an English gentleman’s life, and the things that go along with it. So, to help him along, Browne gets some things from his old clothiers – suits from Tautz, and shoes from John Lobb. She has no trouble until she goes to “Seka” (which is supposed to be Sulka) to order some pajamas. Burgess wants them to be white or off-white, or navy blue silk. “Only then,” he says, “will my outfit be complete.”

At Seka, Browne is denied, and the salesman says that the firm is only too happy to be rid of a national traitor as a client. She sharply replies, “must traitors sleep in the buff?” You can see the whole sequence at the 50 minute and 40 second mark of this YouTube video. It’s a fun watch, if only to check out some of the real life shops of Tautz/ Hogg, Sons & JB Johnstone, John Lobb, and Turnbull & Asser (the last of which is where the Seka scene was filmed).

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