Men’s Grooming Original: American Crew

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While not our typical focus, OTC does on occasion highlight grooming products that make life a little easier and help you turn out in your best form. Being aware, educated, and confident when it comes to your hair and skin is very much a part of leading a well-rounded and stylish life.

American Crew is a stalwart brand that carved out a niche in the men’s grooming space way back in 1994. Founder David Raccuglia started with his original Daily Shampoo and it’s now back, featuring a new and improved formula that uses naturally derived cleansing agents to break down and gently rinse away your hair’s excess oil. According to the American Crew crew, the new formulation gives hair softness and manageability without build-up, while Sage Leaf and Chamomile extracts provide shine and reduce bacteria. Sounds pretty good to us.

We have indeed testing out this new and improved Daily Shampoo for a few weeks and feel that, in fact, it really does do a better job that some other brands we have have field tested of late. It’s a solid performer that is worth the money.

As we are also product design and branding junkies, we delved a bit into American Crew brand value and positioning. The overall branding and product imagery remains in place and projects a masculine, confident image.

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The label and bottle design reference a manly spirits bottle, think hip flask or small-batch bourbon. The overall appearance and brand value is that of functional reliability underpinned by a sense of heritage and simple quality – all attributes that appeal to the core menswear market that doesn’t want too many flowery extras when it comes to grooming products. In fact, the American Crew lineup has significantly expanded to touch on all facets of men’s grooming, from haircare and styling , to skincare, and shaving.

They are even getting into the scent market; but then again, who isn’t?

Sold primarily through salons (U.S. customers can also purchase through a dedicated online retail site), the label is marketed as limited-access professional quality styling products. When it first hit the shelves, most men were more than a decade away from even thinking about men-focused grooming products. That prescient move by Mr. Raccuglia helped position American Crew as a core player in men’s grooming long before other brands even thought about the space.

While often viewed as being middle-market, it’s not positioned as a luxury line, American Crew’s price points are solidly in the salon product-purchase range. And, to our honest surprise, we feel it performed better than some other super niche-y men’s grooming brands that cost at least twice as much.

 

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As cold weather settles back in across the Northern hemisphere, let’s make sure to keep a little sunshine peeking through the clouds. Indeed, this time of year means wool sweaters and six-whale cords. Yes, there will be more time indoors and more flannels, tweeds, fleece, and hot coffee.

All good things to be sure; however, there is one brand that always makes certain we don’t take things too seriously.

Ntnady makes great, casually breezy belts that blend the practicality of East Coast prep with the laid back chill of SoCal surfing. Founder Napper Tandy is a native Brooklynite marketing exec turned LA craftsman, which explains the pitch-perfect match-up in styling.

Too often belts are a serious business that must meet the work-a-day requirements of understatement, sobriety, and conformity. Of course, when you sit back and look around, you’ll see that there are many occasions when you can loosen up your wardrobe choices and have some sartorial fun.

ntandy_oliveNtandy’s new crop of simply designed belts are a fun fit for your casual winter wardrobe and add some personality while still holding up your flannel-lined khakis.

The new belts add some traditional takes to his classic design: olive and navy nylon, a navy wool flannel, and a fun red/green belt version of Christmas fun pants.

All of the belts are, of course, made in sunny Southern California. The nylon belts are crafted from old-school board short material wrapped around 1000 pound test nylon climbing webbing and simple contrast stitching adds just the right amount of vintage style.

As Napper describes his belts, “I like to think they’re aesthetically part Birdwell Beach Britches, part 70’s Patagonia with a little nip off the flask of the old prep school ribbon belt.” We remember Patagonia from back then – unbreakable crunchy mountain hippy gear – and he’s spot on.

Check out the super fun ways ntandy customers sport their belts, it puts a smile on our faces every time we visit.

We regularly test out all sorts of stuff here at OTC, and Napper’s belts are simple, fun, functional, and plain old cool. They work worn-out old shorts and Sperrys in the summer and khakis and Bean duck boots in the winter. What’s not to like?

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Invest in: Cobbler Union Shoes

Cobbler-Union_FrancisIIaFootwear is, literally, the foundation of your wardrobe. Well made shoes matter, both in terms of aesthetics and practicality. We have all had the experience of heading out in a new pair of oxfords, trainers, boots, or loafers, only to discover too late that they don’t fit well or have the wrong last; they pinch, slide, shift, or simply feel off.

On the other hand, a pair of shoes that fit well and keep your feet supported and firmly in place, shoes that balance your proportions while also enhancing your wardrobe, are a true joy.

OTC is all about blending classic style with modern life. We love to introduce our readers to new and interesting brands, craft-oriented and heritage companies that might not yet be household name, and makers dedicated to providing men with something new and long-lasting.

Footwear maker Cobbler Union ticks all of those boxes. Their shoes are some of the best examples of ready-to-wear footwear we have come across, outside of a few luxury labels with the leverage to tightly control the quality of their own production operations. As with most examples of exceptional craftsmanship, all takes is one look, smell, or touch to instantly convey the level of quality, materials, and craftsmanship employed by Cobbler Union.

We have been testing the Francis II, a double monkstrap that is an excellent balance between dress and informal. The pebbled calfskin provides a relaxed counterbalance to the otherwise streamlined proportions of this classic shoe. Its Goodyear welted double sole created a sturdy base – literally and figuratively – that grounds the shoe, giving it broader proportions well suited for everyday use.

Cobbler-Union_FrancisIIWe found the Francis’ “City” last just right; its slightly raised arch and supporting heel being a good fit for this type of shoe. Interior finishing is of excellent quality, with full Italian leather lining and  quilted foot bed.

After several weeks of use, the shoes are a favorite and have been paired with everything from Nobile Denim jeans to a custom Aspetto suit. They are those rare breed of dress shoe that you want to wear, indeed look for reasons to wear.

One explanation for this unexpected and unerring level of quality is the team behind Cobbler Union. Founded by actual footwear guys with extensive design and production experience ranging from bespoke to luxury ready-to-wear, they know what goes into shoes costing thousands of dollars.

Translating that deep experience and demanding standards into an equivalent pair of shoes for less than $400, was a challenge. However, dedicated runs and direct lines of communication to suppliers, manufacturers, and industry experts, equals high standards and lower prices. The result is a fully defined collection of footwear that touches on formal dress, business dress, formal casual, and informal casual. The collection, which has limited numbers of each model, is comprised of boots, monkstraps, derbys, oxfords, and loafers. Within each of these broad categories are options that allow for almost every wardrobe necessity.

Cobbler_Union_SolesIt is a complete representation of a brand seeking to carve out its own space in a market that has been growing of late: affordable higher-end footwear marketed directly to consumers. Cobbler Union is different in that the people behind the brand have real experience in the luxury footwear industry and exercise the control and direction needed to produce a product for which they could easily justify a significantly higher price.

Should you have the desire and the funds, Cobbler Union also provides a made to order program. Take any shoe in the collection and rework it to meet your needs and wishes. While there is a minimum surcharge for the service added to the cost of your shoes, it’s a relatively small price to pay for creating some shoes you’ll want to wear for decades to come.

Cobbler Union LogoCobbler Union exemplifies genuine commitment to quality and craft, coupled with a desire to get their products into the hands of men who appreciate lasting relationships. That focus on creating a community of like-minded customers actually informs the company’s name. They see themselves and their customers as a union of cobblers; a brotherhood of men who appreciate and celebrate the art of making great shoes. So, to them, you actually aren’t just another customer – you’re a member of the cobbler’s union.

OTC recommends Cobbler Union without reservation. We hope to test out a pair of their boots at some point, and expect the experience to be no less impressive.

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Aran Irish Sweaters: Did You Know?

Aran sweaters are classic winter wear for generations of Irish men and women. But do you know what makes them so special?

Quill’s Woollen Market, a family run business established in 1938 and source of all things Irish, has created this handy graphic to answer all your pressing Aran questions.

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The Rowing Blazers Tie, Get Yours

Rowing Blazers tie

When Jack Carlson penned Rowing Blazers, he created a unique and elegant anthology of the hard-charging yet tradition-bound rowing culture.

An instant classic, it’s a welcome edition to any gentleman’s classic style and menswear library. The book also showcases the vibrant and eccentric designs of the world’s rowing clubs’ historic and in some cases, iconic, blazers.

As a personal homage to his love of the sport and appreciation of its history and culture, Jack began doodling mini blazers in his spare time; different colors, different designs, different badges. Just for fun.

Well, that pastime turned into a personal talisman when he had a one-off version of the necktie made and then sported it in his Rowing Blazers book. It proved a bit of an obsession with some readers asking where they too could get one.

Well, now you can – at least for a brief time.

Get your own limited edition Rowing Blazers Necktie and channel your inner oarsman. It looks pretty cool in the picture above and even nicer in person. The one Jack sent us is a fantastic heavyweight silk navy twill, made in England, and looks great with just about anything. The blazers are amazingly detailed and each one has a personality all its own.

This is a special tie and we love it – an heirloom that’s a unique as it is a bit of preppy inspired fun.

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