Smart Style: Shoe Recrafting

AE Recraft Sole 2 Smart Style: Shoe Recrafting

One of the true hallmarks of that storied East Coast Ivy League lifestyle known as “preppy” is its practitioners’ predilection for thrift.

The longevity of a shirt, sweater, favorite pair of khakis, or treasured sport coat is in many ways more prized than anything else.  While those committed to mere preppy fashion may stuff their closets with the latest branded version of vintage inspired wares and overly nuanced brick-a-brac, salt of the earth preps focus on value.  They invest in well made stuff that lasts.  They are busy letting out their dad’s old J. Press blazer (which in fact, this author just did) or figuring how best to reclaim some well-worn but totally functional pair of Allen Edmonds cap toes.

AE Recrafting OLD 1024x682 Smart Style: Shoe Recrafting This last point is actually easier to accomplish than you might think.  Where a new pair of AE’s oxfords may run you $350 or so, your already loved, if world-weary pair, can be fully recrafted (including new shoe trees and felt bags) for the relatively bargain basement price of $150.

Not only does that save you money, another pastime of most old-school preps, it also helps to preserve for another decade some great shoes filled with honest-to-goodness history and hard earned character.

In Allen Edmonds’ case, the process of breathing new life into well-worn footwear begins with setting the shoes on their original last and completely removing the old sole and cork bed. The existing welting is then cut free and an entirely new sole is assembled and stitched onto the shoe.  The old wax is stripped off and a new coat is hand applied.  The shoes are then polished, buffed and ready to head home.

The whole process is an excellent example of living the life with savings to spare. Recrafting your Allen Edmonds shoes is not only a smart way to extend your investment in a great pair of shoes, it also contributes to your own sense of timeless style.

Want to master some real Ivy League ethos, the kind that can’t be purchased or affected? Choose to live by the mantra, “wear it ’till it falls apart.” You will be following in the well-trod footsteps of leather elbow-patched college professor types other guys merely emulate.

More importantly, you’ll also able to better appreciate the stuff you do have, make smarter choices about what you add to your wardrobe, and focus on the stuff you truly love and actually need.

2013 09 05 07.06.13 Smart Style: Shoe Recrafting

2013 09 05 07.12.03 Smart Style: Shoe Recrafting

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Disclosure: Compensation was provided by Cadillac Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles via Glam Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Cadillac Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles.

Cadillac Pre Owned Logo Smart Style: Shoe Recrafting

 

American Made. Global Market.

Frank Clegg has become the face of American leather craftsmanship.  Seemingly overnight, he has surged in the consciousness of high-end customers, style bloggers, Madison Avenue editors, Fifth Avenue retailers, and Made-in-America aficionados.

His brand, Frank Clegg Leatherworks, is built around the fact that he is more than just a name, he is also a maker.

It’s a great story, but it’s only a very small part of the larger story.  No overnight success – not by a long shot – Frank is a craftsman, yes, but he also has 30 years of expertise in custom leather work under his belt.  He has long been sought after by such top-notch brands as Alden and Cole Hann.  And he has legions of customers around the world who hand down his goods father-to-son.

If you want to know what makes Frank tick and why he is very much an American treasure, please read our earlier article about his background and passion for his craft.

The folks at Craft Series, which documents American artisans, created this great video that captures Frank’s remarkable skill and showcases his craftsmanship in action.  Check him out as he creates a custom briefcase on the fly; no pattern and no template.  Just experience and expertise.

 

From Ready-Made to Bespoke

 From Ready Made to Bespoke

Jon Green is a celebrated New York-based bespoke clothier well-known to readers of Forbes, The Financial Times, and American Express’ ‘Departures’ magazine. He is also a good friend of OTC and occasional contributor. Here, Jon provides us with a useful breakdown of the various forms that tailored clothing can take, from ready-made to bespoke.

Bespoke is a term that has been widely used in the United Kingdom for centuries, but has only recently been employed in the United States by tailors attempting to distinguish “bespoke” construction from “made-to-measure,” “custom,” and “bench,” terms often incorrectly used interchangeably. The word bespoke is derived from the English verb of the 17th century, “to bespeak,” i.e., “to speak for something, to give order for it to be made.”

As such, bespoke is actually a very specific and clearly defined term. However, it is also a word so unique and meaningful to the clothing space that marketers and retailers now use it to convey any form of personalization designed to instill a sense of special uniqueness.

The growing menswear market has been especially guilty of this tactic, calling virtually anything that can be customized in any way, bespoke. On the face of it, those who deal in the world of true bespoke will never be confused by this colorful marketing gambit. And, most of those who employ the term to differentiate or highlight their wares or product are often fully cognizant of their deception, mild though it may be.

Still, having a clear understanding of the terms and methods of construction ascribed to various types of clothing, how they are made, and the inherent quality and attention to detail associated with each, is invaluable.

Ready-Made

Ready-made clothing is cut from ‘graded’ commercial patterns. The process of grading was developed over 150 years ago with the advent of massed produced pattern-built clothing. As standardized sizing does not exist, all manufacturers/designers develop their own patterns and grade them. Grading systematically increases or decreases measurements in order to maintain consistent fit and styling throughout a range of sizes. The intent is that they will fit and look the same on everyone regardless of size, which means they fit no one particularly well.

Since most men hate to shop for their clothing, the task often falls to a significant woman, who sends the man, or drags him to the store or a neighborhood tailor for alterations. 70% of men’s tailored clothing sold in the United States is bought by women.

Often, women have a greater degree of confidence buying menswear made by a designer they like for their own clothing. Therefore, manufacturers consider it more important for their suits to look good on a mannequin and to have ‘hanger appeal’ than tackling the impossible task of trying to fit so many different body types and sizes with garments cut from graded commercial patterns. Once cut, the ready-made suit is assembled on a production line by machine operators trained in specialized piecework.

Made-to-Measure

Made-to-Measure clothing is cut and made in the same way as ready-made clothing with one exception: a ready-made pattern is adjusted during cutting for some of the fitting requirements of the customer. The garment is then assembled in the same way as ready-made by machine operators on the same production line. However, a few manufacturers report areas in their factories used exclusively for their made-to-measure production.

As the U.S. economy rapidly expanded after World War II through the 1960s, the growing demand of men seeking more specificity in their tailored clothing, and willingness to pay extra for it, persuaded men’s clothing manufacturers to offer made-to-measure clothing as an accommodation to the stores for whom they made ready-made clothing. Today, made-to-measure clothing is the fastest growing segment of men’s tailored clothing business.

Bespoke

16K3743 682x1024 From Ready Made to BespokeBespoke clothing requires a much more extensive process. Bespoke clothing is a collaboration initiated with a conversation with the client to determine preferences of style, cloth, and the appropriateness of colors.

The construction of bespoke clothing begins with a master pattern maker and cutter hand-drafting and hand-cutting a paper pattern specific to the individual. This pattern will incorporate more than 30 measurements specific to the client.

The cloth and trimmings are then sponged – dampened and allowed to dry – which takes any shrinkage out of them in the even one gets caught in the rain or if a dry cleaner turns up the dryer to shorten drying time. Next, the cloth and the “canvas” are cut and assembled by hand with a needle and thread by a master tailor into a “first fitting” using basting stitches – temporary stitches that do not stress the cloth and are easily removed. After every fitting, the alterations to the garment are recorded on the paper pattern.

After alterations are made, the garment parts are reassembled for the “second fitting.” Following this process, there is usually one more fitting in a more advanced stage of completion.

The finished garment will be made with an abundance of hand tailoring by a single master tailor, a process requiring a minimum of 60 hours for the jacket alone. The paper pattern resulting from this process is kept for use in taking subsequent orders directly to a third fitting, or to finish.

Defining Bespoke

The question is often raised as to why the term bespoke is not more robustly protected. It may seem counterintuitive since the British invented bespoke construction, but while the distinction conferred by “bespoke” is protected by law in France, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the British advertising regulator, has ruled that it is a fair practice to use the term bespoke for products which do not fully incorporate traditional “bespoke” construction methods as described above.

DSC 0053 680x1024 From Ready Made to BespokeIn June 2008, the ASA, ruled that an advertisement describing a suit, “put into a ‘working-frame’ where it would be cut and sewn by machine,” as a “bespoke suit uniquely made according to your personal measurements and specification” was not breaching the Authority’s self-proclaimed advertising codes, notably the truthfulness rule, because the use of the term bespoke was not deemed likely to confuse.  This ruling was significant in formalizing a less traditional definition of bespoke clothing, even though the older distinction with made-to-measure was recognized.

Notably, the ruling also cited the Oxford English Dictionary definition of bespoke as “made to order,” despite the fact a bespoke suit was “fully hand-made and the pattern cut from scratch, with an intermediary basted stage which involved a first fitting so that adjustments could be made to a half-made suit.”  While a suit made-to-measure “would be cut, usually by computer, from an existing pattern, and adjusted according to some of the customer’s measurements,” the ASA stated that both fully bespoke and made-to-measure suits were ‘made to order’ in that they were made to the customer’s precise measurements.

Jon Green
Jon Green Bespoke
509 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10022
212.861.9611
jon@jongreenbespoke.com

 

Frank Clegg, Welcome to the White House

Obama Clegg Oval 5.8.13 Frank Clegg, Welcome to the White House

Brand building is a tricky business.  Try too hard and people don’t trust you, try too little and they won’t even know you exist.  Brands with history, and a history of doing something well, have a big advantage.  “Authentic” brands possess the quality of longevity and substance – particularly in today’s market.

In an attempt to take advantage of this trend, some companies tout embellished histories or toss around the word “heritage” with casual abandon.  They want you to buy into their version of history or their new brand’s freshly imagined “vintage” past.  Then there are the guys who actually make stuff, make it well and often forget to toot their own horn.  They are craftsmen first and marketers second; a rare bird, frankly.  They don’t “market” heritage, their products are their heritage.

So, when the president of the United States went looking for just the right Made-in-America briefcase, he headed directly to Fall River, Massachusetts, and the workshop of Frank Clegg, owner of Frank Clegg Leatherworks.

The briefcase you see at President Obama’s feet in the official White house photo above, propped gently against the legendary Resolute Desk, is Frank’s Double Gusset Zip Top Briefcase, in black harness belting leather.

Exactly how did that outstanding briefcase find its way into the president’s hands?  Apart from being one of the finest leather craftsman in the United States and having a roster of devoted customers that literally spans decades…well, Frank won’t say.  He confirmed that said briefcase is indeed from Frank Clegg, but beyond that he said simply that he is humbled and honored that it accompanies the president.

OTC is an unabashedly proud and longtime supporter of Frank and his exceptional products.  As we said in what is perhaps our favorite post, “Frank Clegg doesn’t just make leather bags; he crafts heirlooms, one at a time, by hand.”  For Frank and his craftsmanship to be honored in such a remarkable way is not only fitting, it is validation of function over mere form, substance over flash, and actual heritage over marketing.

Mr. Clegg, welcome to the White House.

 

Jon Green is a celebrated New York-based bespoke clothier well-known to readers of Forbes, The Financial Times, and American Express’ ‘Departures’ magazine. His loyal and exclusive customers who typically operate in a rarefied air of luxury and quality, can demand, and receive, the best.

Jon, a true gentleman and passionate craftsman, is a good friend of OTC.  He possesses the unique ability to make both a globe-hopping corporate executive and clothing neophyte feel equally respected and appreciated.  At his core, Jon is an educator and historian of all that is ‘bespoke.’

In this guest column, he provides a thoughtful and educational retort to last year’s New York Times article on bespoke tailoring.

16K3804 Luxury Clothier Jon Green Talks Bespoke

The article, “What’s a $4000 Suit Worth?” appeared in the Sunday New York Times Magazine of September 4, 2012. Written by Adam Davidson, an American journalist focusing on business and economic issues for National Public Radio, he also writes the “It’s the Economy” column in the New York Times Magazine.

As a bespoke clothier on Madison Avenue for over 20 years, I read Davidson’s article with great interest.

For the article Mr. Davidson interviewed Peter Frew, a 33-year-old Jamaican born bespoke tailor who apprenticed in Savile Row, London. Mr. Frew, who now works out of his apartment in Queens, makes bespoke suits for clients entirely by hand and by himself. This endeavor takes him 75 hours for each suit, or about 2 suits per month.

Initially, Davidson’s contact with bespoke craftsmanship prompted his acknowledgement of what a skillful tailor can achieve with shears, needle and thread, and his hands. But his excitement quickly faded after learning that in spite of charging $4000 for his suits, Frew made only about $50,000 a year.

“As I watched Frew work, it became glaringly obvious why he is not rich,” Davidson observed. “Like a 17th-century craftsman, he has no economy of scale,” a very powerful point for the author in this discussion. Davidson goes on to say that, “the odd riddle” of bespoke tailoring in our economy is why more people are not willing to pay for it.

One reader responding on-line put it this way, “Bespoke clothing is one of those things you either ‘get’ or you don’t!” That certainly has been my experience.

It is unreasonable to expect that those who find ‘acceptable’ preferable to ‘optimal’ would appreciate the psychic income of a bespoke suit. The lack of appreciation for quality in our culture is profound.

In either case, Davidson missed a great opportunity to enlighten his readers, and perhaps himself, about the value of “Bespoke” clothing.

16K3553 Luxury Clothier Jon Green Talks BespokeThe craftsmanship required to make a bespoke suit has been passed down for centuries through years of training and apprenticeships with master tailors; artisanal craftsmanship develops over a lifetime.

Conversely, ‘an economy of scale’ requires mass production; bespoke clothing cannot be mass-produced.

In today’s marketplace, luxury goods exist primarily as brands of the giant luxury goods conglomerates PPR (Pinault-Printemps-Redoute) whose brands include Gucci, Botega Veneta, Stella McCartney, et al, and LVMH (Louis Vuitton • Moët Hennessy) whose brands are Fendi, Pucci, Givenchy, Berluti, Bulgari, et al. These conglomerates buy artisanal businesses with good reputations and restructure them as profit centers by employing “economies of scale.”

Suzy Menkes, a British journalist and head fashion reporter and editor for the International Herald Tribune since 1988, reflects in her December 6, 2012, New York Times article, on the everlasting style and taste of Valentino Garavani’s retrospective in London’s Somerset House. In it she opines, “Is that alta moda era gone forever with the corporate luxury culture and the tsunami of fast fashion?”

It would be a sad irony indeed to have the money to buy whatever you desired only to have the choice of branded “merchandise” available in malls and airport shops all over the world.

Bespoke vs. Made-to-Measure clothing – Since the early twentieth century there has existed a grey area of garments between the poles of bespoke and ready-to-wear; for which the customer was measured and garments made to the closest standard size in a factory. The distinction made here is between bespoke, a paper pattern created specifically for a client, and made-to-measure, which alters an existing pattern to accommodate some changes for the customer.

Technological change makes this distinction more subtle since fittings are increasingly required for both bespoke and made-to-measure. However, a bespoke service requires an individually created and cut paper pattern kept on file for future orders. Today made-to-measure measurements are often stored too, on a computer.

DSC 0105 680x1024 Luxury Clothier Jon Green Talks BespokeHand-work, often cited as an exclusive benchmark of bespoke, is now increasingly found in limited amounts in made-to-measure garments. Machine-making plays a small part in the creation of most bespoke suits in the sewing of some straight seams for strength and smoothness. Comparison between the construction techniques of bespoke and those of made-to-measure must be experienced to be understood.

Like many others, Davidson lacks the above distinctions, which may explain why Martin Greenfield is identified in the ‘Slide Show’ accompanying Davidson’s article on-line as a “Bespoke Tailor.” Martin Greenfield is a manufacturer whose factory makes ready-made and made-to-measure suits for retailers, tailors, and customers, by the tens of thousands each year.

All of us differ on what we think is ‘worth it.’ Many men, rich or not, would not consider paying even $1000 for a suit. Not because they can’t, but because they don’t see the point.

But for the receptive, a bespoke suit is the perfect expression of artistry and function – an irreplaceable essential whose quality provides the satisfaction that an economy of scale can only promise.

People buy solutions; and to my mind, nothing meets the daily requirement of being well dressed as superbly as a bespoke suit.

Jon Green Bespoke
509 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10022

 

Additional images of Jon Green’s bespoke craftsmanship:

 Luxury Clothier Jon Green Talks Bespoke

DSC 0068 2 Luxury Clothier Jon Green Talks Bespoke

 Luxury Clothier Jon Green Talks Bespoke

 Luxury Clothier Jon Green Talks Bespoke