OTC Recommends: Christensen Bags

Christensen No13_1Most lifestyle brands seek to improve upon a time-tested design or known functionality; a better shirt, hipper jeans, or a cooler laptop case. Christensen Bags, the brainchild of a creative husband and wife team, took a path less traveled and we think it’s made all the difference.

Rather than mimic something obviously traditional, these mid-century inspired bags and folios are unique, well designed, and irresistibly useful. They stand out from the portage crowd for all the right reasons.

Christensen bags are a third space when it comes to holding things. Crafted from a dense twill waxed cotton canvas, they are minimalist and sturdy – built for the work of carrying. While masculine in overall form, the brand’s carryalls and satchels evoke a clean lined, artistic aesthetic that make them perfectly appropriate for men or women. At at the same time, the purposeful materials and robust construction call to mind something you would expect to find in the field or in the hands of an architect at a construction site.

More so than any other bags we have tested, Christensen’s perfectly straddle the line between form and function. Tough yet refined, rugged but clean, pragmatically functional and aesthetically compelling. These bags work equally well hauling papers to the office or hauling tools.

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The carryall line in particular exemplifies this dual personality. Depending on how you use the bag, its functionally minimalist design naturally adapts to the chores and at hand. We have used a No. 28 Olive Carryall at a suit-and-tie conference and for porting sports equipment; it blended into each environment with notable ease.

Our No. 13 Platypus Satchel has become a go-to everyday errand bag. It’s the perfect size; compact but just roomy enough to carry the essentials with space to spare. The design is casually cool and can work with shorts and a polo shirt or with smart office wear. As with the carryalls, a simple panel of pockets and leather pen loops keep smaller items at bay, while the large, open interiors hold more than you might expect.

Construction-wise, the bags are actually double-thick due to the black cotton canvas lining used in all Christensen bags. The carryalls have thick leather bottoms and handles, and an equally sturdy detachable shoulder strap. We are still enamored with the No’ 28’s clever leather wrap handle closure.

The unique tab and stud closure on the No. 13 is also part of its appeal. Distinctive and practical, it is a design element for sure, but also keeps thing well-contained.

Overall, these bags continue to engage our creative side and keep us looking for reasons to put them to use. The company’s stated inspiration of Danish mid-century modern esthetics carries through all its products and underlies their ability to always look like the right choice.

It comes as no surprise that we highly recommend Christensen Bags.

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While familiarity may breed contempt, exclusivity can engender affinity, curiosity even. To wit, where Ralph Lauren may suffer the slings and arrows of ubiquity and accusations of wannabe-classism, clothing brands known to only a few often retain genuine affection and social pull.

Such is the case with American clothing label, Boast.

First, a botany lesson; it’s a Japanese Maple leaf. Really. Second, a little history. To anyone who grew up around a country club in the 1970s and ’80s, Boast was that brand. Playing tennis on the dusty clay courts, all the cool guys wore Boast polo shirt or shorts. Racquetball (perhaps the WASPiest of all sports)? A Boast headband or socks. That leaf logo was, in an exclusive sort of way, ever present, which makes it that much more interesting.

So many brands like to try and build a preppy/vintage/heritage culture off a near-nugget of truth. Others create from whole cloth a background that somehow grounds them in Americana or Ivy League culture. Boast doesn’t need to; it’s the real deal.

Created in 1973 by a group of Ivy League All-American squash and tennis players, including the tennis pro at Greenwich, Connecticut’s Field Club, Boast was an American answer to fancy European sportswear that was at the time dominating the pro shop market. Selling from the back of a station wagon, they grew the brand into a staple of leading country clubs. If you played squash or tennis, you knew Boast.

Boast_Greg_NormanFrom there, the brand grew and was adopted by a certain strata of society and the sports world. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, iconoclasts everywhere were wearing Boast, from John McEnroe on the court to Greg Norman on the links to George W. Bush stumping for his dad. Boast, in no small part due to people misconstruing the leaf logo, was seen a badge of individualism and irreverence- yet almost always within the context of the upper crust.

That, of course, was the hook that kept the brand within a circle of a certain culture. You only really knew about Boast if you ran in the country club crowd at some level. And sporting Boast displayed your edgy independence to a familial menage that would metaphorically nod its head and, with a little wink, grab another G&T or Bloody Mary and mosey on over to the 19th Hole.

Boast never really went away, but it never really grew beyond what it was. And that’s OK. Boast was always about culture and people more than commercialization. Then, with some new owners at the helm determined to preserve all that makes it unique, Boast was re-born in 2012. It was, and still is, a brand for folks who appreciate grabbing a beer or two after a match, not a sustainably-sourced-gluten-free-vegan-detoxyfying-power-smoothie.

These new owners cherish the brand’s history and the philosophy behind what makes it such a special slice of American sportswear.

We tested out a few Boast items over the past couple of weeks and are more than happy to say that Boast is still very much a classic, country club inspired brand that is meant to be worn every day.Boast _Solid-Pique-Polo-Navy-580x580The classic Boast polo shirt is a blast from the past – 1985 (or thereabouts) to be specific. Thick cotton with some real texture, just like they used to be. Want enzyme washed and broken in? Not here. You’ll have wear this shirt to break in, thank you very much. And we like that, because it’s a polo that you are going to wear for years to come and cherish the work it took to build some personal character. It’s made to last and if that means you don’t need to buy another for some time, they’re cool with that.  It even has an old-school drop tail hem; love it.

We also have the navy Pique Sport Coat. It’s like wearing a blue blazer made from your polo shirt. How preppy is that?

Boast_Pique_Sport_Coat_Navy2-580x580This version was inspired by a jacket Boast made as a one-off collaboration with Andy Spade. That collaboration, Boast X Mr. Ned, was dreamed up by Partners & Spade of which Mr. Spade is a principle. Mr. Ned is a beloved tailor in Manhattan where the likes of acclaimed director Wes Anderson have their suits made.

The original was constructed from a heavy navy canvas with red elbow patches. It took a while to break in and literally creased when he bent his arms, but everyone loved it and asked for it. After a little tinkering, this easier to wear version emerged. Patch pockets and unlined with baby blue taped seams. Like if a blazer and a cardigan had a child; informally dressy. If Mory’s still had a jacket rule, this would be what you wore to brunch after a morning workout at Payne Whitney.

Boast is a slice of real American Ivy League, preppy, East Coast, country club life you can wear. That leaf may be mistaken for a lot things, but not for being a poser. Grab a cocktail, grab a seat, and hang out for a little while.

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Sebastian Ward: It’s The Shirt

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There are a lot of shirt brands out there these days. And for the most part, that’s a good thing. Depending on your needs and budget, you can get bespoke, made-to-measure, or off the rack. Dress shirts now come in all manner of pattern, color, style, and fit. Indeed, you can pretty much customize and tweak just about every feature to make it just right for just you.

Not all shirts are made equal, however, and there are times when we just want a great shirt that doesn’t require too much thought.

Features like excellent construction, a good fit, and a design that blends classic shirting qualities with a fresh outlooks are hallmarks of a great “go-to” shirt. It’s the shirt that you want to wear, fits right, and somehow makes you feel especially put together. Often, the best ones are from a brand that does just shirts, is obsessed with shirts, and understands how a great shirt is the foundation of a great wardrobe.

We found that shirt, and its made by Sebastian Ward. Need some context? Think Gianni Agnelli meets Jay Gatsby.

Sebastian Ward makes a thoroughly modern shirt based on design philosophies of the 1920s sprinkled with some Victorian panache. Elements like high arm holes and a fuller cut body with back darting allow the shirt to naturally conform to your body. The longer hem and arms, ending in snug barrel cuffs, guarantee that your shirt stays tucked in place, even when moving around and stretching. While not particularly avante garde, you simply do not see this kind of detail, design, and quality in any other OTR shirt.

If Sebastian Ward shirts have a stand-out feature that makes them easily, and quickly, recognizable, it would be the collar. With a broad cut-away design that sits proud on your neckline, the collar’s elegant proportions are surely distinctive. Long points ensure that with or without a tie, everything stays stylishly in place below a jacket’s lapel while at the same time allowing for a beautiful collar roll. The unique, off-set two button collar – while visually interesting – also adjusts slightly the placket seam, shifting it off the center of your neck, allowing a tie to sit more comfortably.

And the fabric, sourced from Thomas Mason, is just amazing; silky smooth yet substantial. Thick Australian mother of pearl button and single needle tailoring round out the many features which put this shirt at the top of the stack.

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Cobbler_Union_George_1We recently introduced OTC readers to Cobbler Union, a new footwear brand that creates bespoke quality shoes at perfectly attainable prices. The company was founded by luxury footwear industry veterans who know what goes into shoes costing thousands of dollars. Using their powers for good, these fellows set about the goal of allowing any stylish gent to be well turned-out from the ankles downward.

After our impressive experience with the Francis II double monkstrap, we turned our attention to a pair of Cobbler Union boots – the George. Dress boots offer much of the same style and classic form as a pair of brogues, but have the added flexibility of working equally well with stylish, but less formal outfits. Boots can more comfortably dress up jeans or khakis in a way that dress shoes, even those built along informal lines, can’t.

The George combines a Goodyear welt construction with Norwegian stitching, which creates a strong piece of footwear that’s handsome without being too dressy. It’s a dress boot, yes, but with a bit more on the “boot” side of the scale. In fact, to highlight it’s versatility, we are showcasing a #WeekWithGeorge on OTC’s Instagram page.

Boots like the George,  a plain cap-toe with sturdy but low-profile Vibram soles, also have the added advantage of being able to brave inclement weather while keeping your feet dry and comfortable. With a casually refined urban silhouette that belies its work boot qualities, the George is meant to take daily abuse with aplomb. In short, they are built to last and become better looking while doing so.

 

Constructed on the SOHO last, the George provides comfortable, but not too pronounced arch support. The leather is a French grained country calf that wears well and handles the inevitable bumps, scars, and abrasions nicely. The aforementioned Vibram sole, while studded and practical, is also non-marking and blends seamlessly into the boot. In addition, the color-matched Italian leather interior, quilted foot bed, and neatly attached pull tab, are all hallmarks of Cobbler Union’s fixation on craftsman-focused detail.

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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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