The Beauty of Japanese Fabrics

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Like many style enthusiasts, I like clothes with unusual details. I just often prefer mine to be hidden. So, sport coats with poacher’s pockets, boots with unseen straps, and pants with an unnecessary number of buttons. The newest project is a leather jacket with a special Japanese lining. I got the idea from Greg at No Man Walks Alone, who was working on a similar project last year until it fell through. Since I won’t be able to get one from him, I’ve been thinking about buying a jacket elsewhere, and then taking it to an alterations tailor to have the lining replaced. Ideally, the jacket would be a café racer, black and austere, constructed from a heavy cowhide, and accented with silver zips. It’d look tough and mean, but also have a special lining inside that no one would see. The only question is what fabric to use.

At the top of the list is boro, a Japanese folk fabric originally used by thrifty farmers and fishermen. Here, a large piece of cloth is repaired with scraps and rags over the course of a few family generations. The result is something that looks like a Japanese version of an American patchwork quilt, where hundreds of indigo patches are pieced together with roughhewn stitches. I imagine those various shades of blue would look fantastic next to black leather.

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The King of Ready-to-Wear

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I recently picked up a copy of Ralph Lauren’s 40th anniversary book, which is now available for $25 on eBay. The thing is massive, being a large format coffeetable book with about five hundred pages. Given its size and weight, I think $25 might have only covered the seller’s costs in shipping. 

The content itself, unfortunately, is somewhat disappointing. It’s mostly a superficial overview of the brand’s identity, covered through 750 photographs and Ralph Lauren’s personal narration. For those who have followed the company closely over the years, a lot of this will be old ground. There’s stuff about Ralph Lauren’s collaboration with Bruce Weber; how he draws inspiration from the Old West and Ivy Style; and how he designs his women’s collections around the idea of a heroine. The text is short and the photographs plenty. Images are mostly culled from old fashion photoshoots and advertising campaigns, so you get lots of men in tweed jackets and breeks, and women in pinstripe suits or Native-American inspired sweaters, standing and looking serious next to expensive cars, or inexplicably being surrounded by old, tin milk cans and shaggy dogs in neckties. You know, Ralph Lauren stuff.

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Poplins Are Boring

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I want to start an ad campaign, like the one Converse has plastered all over my city, with the catchphrase “Poplins Are Boring.” Poplin, for those unfamiliar, is a type of plain weave, where each lengthwise yarn passes over each crosswise yarn – over and under, over and under, and so on. The stuff is very smooth, very flat, and very, very boring. You can get an up-close view of it at Mr. Porter.

I think I wear poplin maybe once every few years, when I have to go to a wedding or something. Other than that, I prefer end-on-ends or twills, where you get a bit more variegation in color or texture. Not enough for anyone else to really notice, but enough for me to care. I’ve also been wearing the following a lot this summer:

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A Sandal Maker

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I don’t wear sandals, but if I did, I’d want to get mine from Barbara Shaum. Shaum is something of a legend in the trade. She moved to NYC in 1951, having just come from a small town in central Pennsylvania, and picked up the leatherworking craft by apprenticing for a sandal maker named Menalkas Duncan. Three years later, in 1954, she opened her own leather goods shop in the East Village, and has been there ever since. In fact, her history there goes back so far that she was the first woman to ever be allowed in McSorley’s — the oldest bar in America, and one that used to disallow women from entry until they were sued in the 1960s under the Civil Rights Act for discrimination.

Sandals are one of the few kinds of footwear that can actually be handmade. Most Western shoes require a machine of some kind. So, even if the welting is done by hand (which is rare), the uppers are almost always sewn together by machine. Sandals on the other hand, can be produced from nothing but simple tools. First a pattern is cut from a tracing of the customer’s foot, and from that come the leather parts that form the base of the shoe. That base needs to be shaped, so the leather is soaked and then hand molded, before being laid out to dry. The leather straps are then cut, dyed, and attached to the sole through a series of holes and ties, depending on the design. Finally, the edges are sanded down and burnished for a finished look.

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Last Call

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A friendly reminder that this Friday is the last day to put in an order for the custom run of tobacco Fresco I’m organizing. If you’re unfamiliar with Fresco, you can learn everything there is to know about it here.

Readers who don’t yet have a tailor might be interested to know that No Man Walks Alone will be taking some of this cloth for a project with Sartoria Formosa. Formosa, for those unfamiliar, is one of the more renowned tailoring houses in Naples. The firm’s founder, Mario Formosa, was a tailor who dressed some of Italy’s most famous stars in the mid-20th century, and many say that he cut a better double breasted jacket than Rubinacci at the time.

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One Cloth, Four Styles

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Despite all the possibilities that come with getting something custom, the world of bespoke tailoring is extremely conservative. And perhaps for good reason. Since clients aren’t trained in clothing design, you don’t want to give them so much rope that they end up hanging themselves. So the choices in bespoke are often simple: how many buttons do you want (one, two, or three?); what kind of lapels (notch or peak?); how do you want your pockets (welted or patch, flapped or not?); and finally, how would you like to pay for your deposit (Visa or Mastercard?).

Recently, however, the London Lounge had a Cloth Club subscription for a brown Shetland houndstooth tweed, which was woven for them by Scotland’s Lovat Mill. Subscribers seemed to take their projects in all sorts of directions. A sample:

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Navajo Weavings

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Since moving into my new apartment, I’ve been looking for some art to fill an empty wall, and had the idea some months ago to get a Navajo weaving. Little did I know, they cost a pretty penny (at least for authentic, original ones that can be described as having a “patina”). So to get a better understanding of what’s worth buying, I’ve been reading a little about the subject. 

One particularly good book is Walk in Beautywhich is an expanded version of The Navajo Blanket, a book published by the Los Angeles County Museum in 1972 to accompany an exhibit. Aside from being a really good introductory text — covering everything from the Navajo’s cultural heritage in weaving to the designs and yarns used in these textiles — it’s also notable that the author, Mary Hunt Kahlenberg, was one of the first museum curators to break with tradition by displaying such weavings as fine art.

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Finally, Tobacco Fresco

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Finally, through a process that felt like childbirth, I present to you: a special run of tobacco Fresco. I first wrote about the project seven months ago with the intention of having the cloth ready for summer commissions. Well, it’s summer now, so it’s too late for this year’s heat, but as my friend Voxsartoria would say, summer will come again. 

Fresco, for those unfamiliar, is a type of high-twist, open-weave worsted wool from J&J Minnis of Huddersfield. It’s resistant to wrinkling, which makes it a wonderful travel cloth, and highly breathable, which makes it ideal for summer. It’s been a longtime favorite of bespoke customers, but sadly, hasn’t been made available in a true dark brown for a long time. Indeed, what Huddersfield currently calls their dark brown is really closer to black.

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Summer’s Sneakers

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The New York Times had an article a few weeks ago about the return of sneakers, and how some men (mostly New Yorkers) have been trading in their wingtips for gym shoes. It wasn’t a terribly interesting piece, to be honest, as sneakers have never not been popular, and men have been mixing them with tailored clothes for at least a couple of years. For anyone who would even be interested in reading such an article, this is all old news. Instead, I thought the author missed what’s a much more broader and interesting development: the rapid growth of designer sneakers in the last twenty years, which has culminated into the crazy market we have today. 

The idea of designer sneakers is as tricky as the idea of designer clothes. It’s never clear what people mean by “designer” — whether it’s about the name behind the label, the intent of the design, or the “theatrics” of the clothes themselves, as Eugene Rabkin once put it. Either way, we kind of know what people mean when they refer to it, and in this way, the rapid growth of designer sneakers is interesting in the same way designer jeans have been interesting. It’s a deliberate de-democratization of something that used to be incredibly democratic. Sneakers are unique in that everyone from Bill Gates to homeless people wear them, but in the emergence of designer sneakers, there’s a new stratification where there used to be none. Designs from Giuseppe Zanotti and Alexander McQueen, for example, retail close to a $1,000 nowadays, which makes the $100 Jordans we all used to covet as kids seem like a joke. 

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Ralph Lauren’s Sale on Sales

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Ralph Lauren just started a new sale today. You can take an additional 25% off already discounted items in their sale section with the checkout code SUMMER14. Some notable items:

Striped raw silk ties: There are surprisingly some raw silk ties on sale, and they qualify for the extra discount. Made in Italy, reasonably classic widths, and $52 with the checkout code. They also have some solid linen ties and a striped navy rep.

Canvas fishing bag: I have the tan version of this bag and really like using it in the fall with waxed cotton jackets. The canvas isn’t as thick as what you’d find on a Filson, and the leather could be a bit better, but the design is great, and the build is solid. A sporty fishing-style bag without pushing you into a full fishing-bag territory. 

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