Taillour Comes to the US

Over the summer, I emailed Fred Nieddu, the skilled cutter behind the independent bespoke tailoring house taillour, to see if he would be willing to extend his US trunk show schedule to include California. After a bit of emailing back and forth, I'm delighted to report that he agreed. Next month, he and his business partner will be visiting San Francisco and New York City to meet with clients and take orders (subsequent trips will happen once every three or four months, as usual for traveling tailors). 

I became interested in Fred's work at the end of 2020, when I wrote a piece for the Vulture about how the Netflix series The Crown used Barbour jackets to represent each character's relationship with power. Although the article was about waxed cotton field coats, it was the tailoring in the show that truly captivated me. Josh O'Connor's Prince Charles wears the three-button, narrow-lapel suits that the real-life Prince favored as a youth before switching to drapey double-breasted numbers later in life. I remember thinking that the silhouettes were more faithful to the Golden Age of tailoring than the bespoke sport coat I commissioned from Anderson & Sheppard in 2016. 

I later learned that Fred made all of the menswear in the series. He's also made bespoke clothes for Ralph Fiennes in Bond and all of the lead actors in Murder on the Orient Express (along with countless other films and TV shows). This, combined with the fact that he teaches pattern drafting to third-year tailoring students at the London College of Fashion, makes him a rather unique tailor. Most tailors are known for a specific house style they've perfected over time, such as Anderson & Sheppard's soft drape cut, Huntsman's padded look, or Edward Sexton's strong, angular lines. While Fred has a signature style, he's much more adaptable, as evidenced by how his clothes fit like puzzle pieces into the worlds depicted in these shows. 

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No Man Walks Alone Weekend Sale

No Man Walks Alone is an advertiser on this site, but also one of my favorite online shops. I've always felt that guys can build an excellent wardrobe if they simply set aside some money to shop here every season. The store carries everything from classic Italian tailoring to Japanese workwear to even some avant-garde. And from now until Sunday night, you can take 20% off all full-priced items with the checkout code FALL20. Note, since No Man Walks Alone is an East Coast retailer, this promotion runs until 12 midnight Eastern Time. Some things that I think are particularly worth checking out: 

Kaptain Sunshine Traveler Coat

If I had a reduce my outerwear wardrobe to just three staple pieces, I'd keep my Lee 101-J, Margiela five-zip, and Kaptain Sunshine Traveler. Actually, I have two Travelers. I bought one in navy Melton wool a few years ago, and found that I wear it so much, I purchased a lighter version for autumn (the Melton can only be worn in the wintertime). For me, this is the Ultimate Long Coat (ULC). It's the one piece you can always grab from your wardrobe and feel confident about how you look. The coat's power is all in its cut. Kaptain Sunshine's Traveler is roomy and voluminous, comes down to your knees, and has an A-line silhouette. When worn, it covers almost your entire body, effectively making it your whole outfit. I wear it with everything from chunky Inis Meain sweaters and tailored trousers to stained J. Crew sweatshirts and repaired RRL work pants. It's literally impossible to look bad in this thing. No one can do it, not even me. 

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How To Develop Good Taste, Pt. 4

Bespoke tailoring and the restaurant industry share something in that they both use the terms "back of house" and "front of house" to describe how their businesses are structured. "Back of house" refers to the behind-the-scene activities that customers typically don't see, such as the cutters, tailors, chefs, and line cooks who prepare the things that are eventually given to customers. "Front of house" is a little different. In the restaurant industry, this term refers to the customer touchpoints, such as the waitstaff and host who work to create a pleasant experience. The front of a bespoke tailoring house, which can consist of salespeople and fitters, also provides those things. However, they also offer something more important: a sense of taste.

George Wang, the founder of the Beijing-based bespoke tailoring company BRIO, works the front of house. When you commission something here, you're not just paying for the skillful craftsmanship that goes into each garment, but also George's sense of taste. He's the one who created the company's overall aesthetic. He's also the person who will guide you through decisions such as fabric choices and stylistic details. George tells me that each customer is different, and it's important to be sensitive to a person's needs, lifestyle, and even personality. A conservative businessman who needs a winter work suit has very different requirements than a young creative who wants something to wear to summer parties. It's easy to trivialize this service now that there's so much information on the internet, leading people to believe they can do everything independently. But over the years, I've come to appreciate how useful it is to work with a tailoring house that has both "front" and "back" staff persons (tailors, while wonderful, are better thought of as technicians than stylists). At Rubinacci, Mariano does the vital work of ensuring every client walks out of his shop looking "right."

I often ask George for his opinion on things, such as the right fabric to use for a project, what color the lining should be in a folio, and what watch best matches a certain kind of wardrobe. He always gives me an answer that feels like a step above what I would have initially considered. Instead of the usual recommendations for linen, wool-silk-linen blends, and Fresco for warm-weather garments, he recommended to me slippery Super 150s wools in colors such as light blue, coral, and citrus yellow. He also turned me on to London Shrunk, as well as world-class makers such as Sartoria Corcos, Sartoria Marinaro, The Work, Saic, and Masahito Furuhata. In a word, I find his taste to be sophisticated. So, for the last entry in this series, I'll start with George's thoughts on how to develop good taste. 

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How to Develop Good Taste, Pt. 3

It has become fashionable to discuss classic clothing with the same cynicism once reserved for topics such as capitalism or the media. Across menswear message boards, posters frequently type out terms such as classic or timeless with alternating caps (cLaSsIc) or recurring spaces (t i m e l e s s) to signal that they're above such simple ideas. To be sure, traditional clothing has had a difficult decade. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the first companies to file for bankruptcy were suit retailers, Brooks Brothers among them. Additionally, men who invested heavily in soft-shouldered sport coats ten years ago have since traded their Aldens for Nikes, as they've found that tailoring is too formal for their environment. Looking back, many of the things championed as timeless, classic, and trend-resistant ten years ago—slim suits, cutaway collars, and double monks—barely lasted more than a few seasons. Meanwhile, designer labels such as Margiela, Rick Owens, and Engineered Garments have been selling the same styles since the early 2000s, as their clothes are too niche, conceptual, or expensive to ever reach mass consumption and thus over-exhaustion. 

Timelessness is often oversold, but in recent years, I think the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. It's a mistake to think that terms such as classic don't mean anything. Certain styles, such as trousers made with moderate proportions or oxford button-downs that fit and flatter the wearer, are relatively resistant to trends. Classic tailoring also holds a special place in our culture because it's the lingua franca of menswear—a language everyone understands, regardless of their background. Many designer aesthetics require specialized knowledge to appreciate, such as the shabby look of Kapital or the sculptural quality of Issey Miyake's futuristic creations. But almost everyone can appreciate how a man looks in a well-tailored, moderately proportioned suit because of what it represents in our collective memory.

When it comes to matters of taste, few people have a better record than beloved menswear author Bruce Boyer. I first saw Bruce online when Scott Schuman posted this photo of him on his site The Sartorialist around 2007. I was struck by the tastefulness of the outfit—a brown checked tweed with taupe trousers, a green striped tie, a light blue shirt, and a tan mac raincoat that reached Bruce's knees. The thing is, Bruce dresses the same today as he did back then, and in every other photo ever posted of him. On the inside of the dust covers for his books Elegance (1985) and Eminently Suitable (1990), you can find black-and-white author photos of a younger Bruce not only wearing the same things—a semi-spread collar shirt with rep striped tie and either a navy double-breasted blazer or houndstooth tweed—but even clothes in the same proportions. In a Permanent Style feature, Bruce flipped over the in-breast pocket of one of his sport coats to reveal an Anderson & Sheppard label typeset with his name and the date "9/5/83." Imagine never bricking a single fit for nearly forty years (possibly ever). So I asked Bruce: how does one develop good taste in clothes? His answer is below. 

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How to Develop Good Taste, Pt. 2

Style is still something of an art and has not, in Bruce Boyer's words, "descended to one of the sciences." The process of developing taste is akin to developing a worldview or personal philosophy—it's a highly subjective process not easily given to hard rules. But over the years, I've noticed that people who've been able to develop tasteful wardrobes in a short period of time often rely on the gentle guidance of tasteful merchants, tailors, and friends. So for the remainder of this series on how to develop good taste (part one was published a few weeks ago), I'm surveying stylish people on how they think others can develop a similarly keen sense of aesthetics. Consider these entries like gentle advice from a friend who has the kind of high taste that almost seems unreachable.

When I first considered who to include in this post, I immediately thought of Mark Cho. Mark is the co-founder of The Armoury and someone I occasionally turn to for wardrobe recommendations. But it was his interview with WatchBox Studios a few years ago that made me want to get his views on the broader subject of taste. In the interview, Mark discusses his watch collecting journey, which started many years ago with an affordable Omega Chronostop he purchased at a second-hand watch store in Hong Kong. He was drawn to the watch for two reasons: he liked the shape of the case and had never seen a gray watch before. That purchase sparked in him a horological passion, and he was soon obsessed with collecting the milestones and classics in watch-making history. But as he's chopped and changed his collection over the years, he's found that almost none of those iconic pieces have remained. Instead, his watch collection is just a reflection of his taste, which is threaded together by nothing more than his emotional connection to objects. Having seen and handled thousands of watches since that initial Omega purchase, Mark has also developed what art dealers call The Eye—“that irrevocable power to discern art from trash, real from fake, inspired from derivative."

There's no better representation of what it means to have taste than Mark's tantalum and steel Royal Oak. Originally made to celebrate Nick Faldo's 1990 Masters and British Open back-to-back championships, Mark purchased it in 2013 because he wanted a baby version of the jumbo-sized Royal Oak 5402. But the only way to achieve that smaller, thinner profile was to get a quartz movement, which the Faldo version houses. High-horology purists would probably frown on the idea of spending thousands of dollars on a quartz movement, but Mark didn't purchase his Royal Oak as a flex or an "anti-flex"—he simply wanted a smaller version of that design. "The Royal Oak used to be the watch no one wanted, and the quartz even less so," Mark told me. "In the US, many people considered that watch too small, almost like it's a ladies' watch." True style means dressing like you know yourself, and having the confidence to wear things others might dismiss as uncool. At the same time, it requires cultural awareness and sensitivity to the social meaning of your aesthetic choices. I love that Mark's Royal Oak captures all of those things, so we'll start today's post with his views on how to develop good taste. 

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How To Develop Good Taste, Pt. 1

Marcel Duchamp once noted in a 1968 interview with Francis Roberts, “If your choice enters into it, then taste is involved—bad taste, good taste, uninteresting taste.” For those fortunate enough to live in post-industrial societies, where choices are now nearly limitless, taste is everything. Taste shapes what we purchase, the cultural artifacts we consume, how we dress, and how we decorate our living spaces. In the 19th century, standards for taste were passed down through aesthetic curricula conceived in formalized education systems. To have a certain type of taste was to show that you were educated and cultivated. Those standards have not been culturally relevant for over two generations, and thus, debates about taste take place everywhere. They happen in public spaces such as public transport, cafés, and boutiques, where people speak in hushed tones about other people's consumer choices. They also happen on social media and online forums. On Hacker News, a message board for tech workers, people discuss what constitutes a tasteful wardrobe. On subreddits and Facebook groups dedicated to topics wholly unrelated to fashion, such as motherhood and accounting, people post fit pics for feedback. Godwin's Law asserts that all online discussions, no matter the topic or scope, eventually result in someone comparing their opponent to Hitler. There should be a similar adage for how all discussions eventually lead to matters of taste. 

Yet, despite all the interest in taste, few people ask the more fundamental questions: What is good taste? How do you cultivate it? If you’re just starting to build a better wardrobe, how do you adjudicate between the different and often contrasting styles prescribed by hard-nosed traditionalists, Hypebeasts, gothninjas, workwear enthusiasts, and the avant-garde? Discussions about taste frequently take too much for granted, as though the laws governing aesthetics were chiseled into stone tablets. Or they fade into unhelpful aphorisms, such as “to each his own,” at which point participants all quietly drop the subject, not wanting to ruffle feathers. 

I've been thinking about taste a lot in the last few months. Fifteen years ago, if you were interested in classic tailoring, online debates about taste were settled with a scan from Apparel Arts or a photo of how an Italian industrialist dressed during the 1960s. Today, few people care about classic tailoring, and such specialized source materials hold little authority. In recent years, the scope for what we consider "legitimate taste" has widened to include a broader cross-section of society (a good thing). However, it has also become harder to critique ugly outfits (a bad thing). It's also harder to discuss aesthetics, as menswear has become balkanized, and The Discourse is increasingly about how to shop, not dress (a frustrating thing). So, I wanted to write a multi-part series on how to develop good taste. The first part is about theory; the second part is about practice. To be sure, this series will not settle any debates. But hopefully, it will give people better footing when discussing what lies at the heart of menswear: our taste in clothes.

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A Look at Brendon Babenzien’s Debut J. Crew Collection

Twelve years ago, J. Crew menswear designer Frank Muytjens and his team debuted their FW10 collection at New York City's Milk Studios. There was a lot of anticipation in the run-up to this event. At the time, J. Crew had become one of the more visible faces of the heritage menswear movement and had just opened the doors to their menswear-only Liquor Store. On this day, they served journalists Dark 'n Stormy cocktails to loosen up the mood before bringing out a procession of models. The models, who stood atop distressed wooden shipping pallets, wore slimmed-up Donegal suits, raw denim jeans, puffer vests, chambray work shirts, and waxed cotton field coats. Scarves and thin neckties adorned every neck; many ankles were left bare. Some models wore so many clothes that the jacket buttoning points strained from the layers piled underneath.

If you weren't following menswear blogs at this time, you might have missed how significant this moment felt. When photos of the presentation hit blogs such as A Continous Lean and Secret Forts, people went nuts. Nearly everyone could see themselves buying something from J. Crew—if not mainline, then at least one of the In Good Company partners such as Alden and Barbour. Before menswear became splintered into a thousand different factions, everyone talked about this one thing. Whether you were new to menswear or a seasoned pro, whether you had thousands to spend on a wardrobe or only a few hundred dollars, everyone could find something that made them excited. I once called this "menswear's last big moment" because of how it felt so uniting. 

Much has changed since that day's presentation. J. Crew's gingham shirts have become a punchline, inspiring an Instagram account lampooning people who wear them. Prep has been declared dead thousand times over. In May 2020, J. Crew filed for Chapter 11 protection in federal bankruptcy court for the Eastern District of Virginia, making them the pandemic's first major retail causality. Additionally, menswear has been fragmented into countless bits. The middle of the market has thinned out, and everything nowadays is either high-fashion or fast fashion. Micro-communities allow people to play and stay within very niche aesthetics. To the degree that there are still trends, they are no longer about the earnest, flannel look that J. Crew once championed. We've seen Italian tailoring, Hedi's appointment at SLP, the rise of streetwear, normcore, dadcore, Demna's appointment at Balenciaga, the return of 1970s sleaze, and so forth. The market today is much more dispiriting for guys who are just getting into menswear. Everything is either too expensive or alien. If you shop at financially and conceptually accessible brands such as J. Crew, the most you'll get is a half-hearted shrug from fellow jawnz enthusiasts.

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In Good Nature: A No Man Walks Alone x Stoffa Collaboration

Until recently, "collaborations" have been mainly in the purview of streetwear. They're a way for companies with specific strengths or areas of expertise to create something unique together, sort of like how academics from different fields might come together on a project. Growing up, I've always associated the term with Nike, or how a cut-and-sew company might collaborate with a cool brand specializing in screenprints. But as the fashion industry has increasingly embraced streetwear in the last ten years, even luxury lines are marketed under the flashing neon-lights sign of "collaboration." Collaborations are a way for companies to generate not only products, but also online content and interest in today's noisy, crowded market.

The best collaborations involve companies with distinct points of view, but aren't worlds apart. Last week, two of my favorite companies, No Man Walks Alone (a site sponsor) and Stoffa, collaborated on a project called In Good Nature. It's a fall/winter capsule collection that includes dramatic overcoats, patterned tailoring, lounge jackets, drawstring pants, and camp collared shirts with generously sized chest pockets. Like the two companies involved, the collection straddles the line between classic and modern, allowing you to style the clothes in various ways (more on this later).

The name In Good Nature refers to the team's goal of producing clothes with minimal environmental impact. Stoffa founder Agyesh Madan sourced deadstock Italian wools originally made in the late 1990s and early 2000s, saving material that would have otherwise been discarded. You don't often see collections like this because larger brands need enough cloth to produce massive runs. NMWA and Stoffa were able to use these remnants because they made a small capsule collection through flexible Italian factories ("The clothes are made in the same way we would do a one-off MTM," No Man Walks Alone founder Greg Lellouche explained). They also sourced natural, undyed fabrics from the Yorkshire-based mill Marling & Evans, which specializes in this sort of cloth. Most fabrics are chemically treated to take on the color palette of your wardrobe. Undyed fabrics allow the natural color of an animal's fleece to shine through. They're typically cold in hue, have some visual depth (since the fibers haven't been dyed into a flat uniform color), and range from grey to taupe to chocolate brown.

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This Summer’s Best Shirts

Fall/winter style is all about outerwear, but the shirt comes into its own in the summertime. What's typically considered background material for a nice coat or jacket becomes the centerpiece when it's too hot for layering. Unfortunately, there are few guidelines for choosing a good summer shirt. Basic white poplins and light blue oxford button-downs are wardrobe staples but a bit boring by themselves. Summer prints can vary wildly, leaving many people confused about what to buy. So this season, I've compiled a list of what I think are some excellent options, along with tips on how to wear specific shirts and what aesthetics they fit.

THE USEFUL BLUE SHIRT

In the most famous shirt-related scene committed to paper, Daisy Buchanan is described as sobbing stormily into thick shirt folds, her head bent and voice muffled as she cries about how she's "never seen such beautiful shirts before." The shirts had been thrown onto a table, mounted high into a soft, rich pile, and came in a spectrum of rainbow colors, including, as F. Scott Fitzgerald vividly described, "coral and apple green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue." The enchanting description beautifully captures the decadence of the book's main character, the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby. But if you want to build a useful shirt wardrobe, you should stick to just one color: light blue. 

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The New Faces of Tailoring

About ten years ago, I traveled to Naples, Italy to interview bespoke tailors for some stories I was writing for various outlets. When you interview enough tailors, particularly those of an older generation, you will hear the same stories repeated. This typically happens over a strong cup of espresso, sometimes called na tazzulella e café in the local dialect, which is chased down with a small cup of water and a bite of dark chocolate. Whenever you walk into a tailor’s workshop, the first thing they’ll ask you is, “Ve site giè pigliato o’ cafè?” (Have you had coffee?). I was told by a Neapolitan friend that the polite thing to do is always answer in the affirmative. Since I had to interview three or four tailors each day, I went through every day shaking from caffeine. When a tailor makes you coffee, he or she will make two cups — one for you and one for them. Then they'll sit down with you and proceed to complain.

Neapolitan tailors are worried that the tailoring trade in their area will die out in a generation or two, as young people don’t want to make clothes for a living. They also believe that young people don’t have the time or temperament to perfect tedious tailoring techniques, which require years of practice. Many of these older tailors entered their trade when they were young, some as young as eight years old. Today, such practices are no longer possible because of compulsory schooling. One tailor swore to me that you have to train for at least twenty years before you can make a beautiful suit. “Once someone graduates from university, it’s too late for them to become a tailor,” he confidently told me. I wanted to believe him, so I nodded gravely.

While on that trip, however, I was allowed to tour the backrooms of some notable workshops, including those belonging to Rubinacci and Sartoria Formosa. There, I saw young tailors quietly sewing away. It’s true that the labor pool is shrinking — tailors are dying at a faster rate than they’re being replaced. Several cutters in the United States have told me about their difficulties finding skilled coatmakers in this country, so they’re left bundling pieces of cloth and sending them around the world for making. But young tailors exist, and their scarcity has only made it more exciting to see people entering this trade. In the ten years since I made that trip to Italy, I’ve come to know a few. Here are four operations that I think are particularly interesting.

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