Styleforum first cut—May 24

Photo by Slim Aarons.

Bruce Pask gives the T Magazine endorsement to Orlebar Brown’s photo printed shorts. Wear Slim Aaron’s sun-drenched beachside photos while lounging poolside. META.

Uniqlo signs Novak Djokovic as brand ambassabor. Djok will debut his new duds at the French open–I assume Uniqlo Vintage Chinos and a +J parka.

Our Legacy releases image of their fall 2012 lookbook, shot by Takashi Homma. In: pajama suits, snow-covered leaves. Out: smiling.


Styleforum first cut–May 23

Simon Crompton visits with Alan Flusser. Dressed in track pants and a suit jacket, Flusser touts a new age of Chinese manufacturing (0).

Michael Williams endorses the Nike/Cole Haan Lunargrand chukka. The designs almost compensate for previous Nike/CH models, which were  a hybrid Dr. Moreau would find grotesque.

Complex publishes a list of men’s style blogs you should be reading. I noted one oversight, at least…

WWD covers a goofball parade Beret Baguette Ride in Paris. It’s no Paris-Brest-Paris.

Barney’s presale started today, and other stores should be beginning to mark down spring/summer gear before long. Despite the fact the summer doesn’t even unofficially start until Monday.

The Styleforum First Cut–May 10

The Styleforum First Cut—May 8

Styleforum hosted a little party over the weekend. I’m still hungover, and I wasn’t even there. Photos and summaries in the forum thread and on various tumblrs, like a bit of color or edwinzee.

The Wall Street Journal goes in on the watering down of the term “bespoke.” “Made to measure” crackers just doesn’t have the same ring though.

The Met Gala was last night (that’s right, the Met, you get second billing here). There’s some pictures of guys in tuxedos in here somewhere, but you can be forgiven for ignoring them in favor of Anja Rubik.

Permanent Style gets into summer shirting with chambray. Turns out it’s not just for workwear.

Kanye hates #menswear. #menswear sulks.

Tmag blog reviews the new Kitsune store. They bury the lede that Kitsune sells oxford shirts for $349.

Yoox code alert:  HEADSTART@YOOX for 10% off through May 10 (may be exclusions).

The Styleforum First Cut–May 3

Nick V. talks with shoe care magnate Sergio Barange

Today, the discussion is between Nick V. and Sergio Barange, CEO of Tarrago Brands International, associated with Avel (led by Sergio’s brother-in-law, Marc Moura). Avel is the parent company of Saphir, whose shoe care products are among Styleforum’s most recommended.

Nick V. of B. Nelson Shoes, New York, talks with has been sharing his conversations with some of the biggest names in the footwear business. Check out his interviews with Nick Horween of Horween Leather, Paul Grangaard of Allen Edmonds, Peter Agati of Paul Stuart,  or William Church of Cheaney Shoes.


Nick V.: Sergio, please tell us about your background.

Sergio Barange: I was born and studied in Barcelona, Spain. I got my degree in economics and business management at 23, after a year in the army. The university gave me my fundamental life/work basis, and the army gave me strength and order, and (as a reserve lieutenant) taught me how to manage 200 people.

I later studied for a 1-year Master in Financials, and then a2-year Master in Business and Administration. I worked for a bank in Barcelona, and for a European hotel group.

In my 20s and 30s I founded several businesses: laser printer recycling, Natura Organics™ cosmetics and body care, Doctor Clic computer assistance, and other smaller endeavors.  With Natura Organics I learned how to create and develop quality products, and Doctor Clic taught me to give good service to people (today this company has more than 150 employees).

I speak six languages, which is very useful when traveling.

Since my 30s, I spend my spare time (not much!) mainly with my three girls; I love skiing and golf, and when I can, I fly a Cessna, as I earned my license recently.

NV: What interested you in the shoe care business?

SB: I have always been a fan of nice shoes. Also my hobby has been the do-it-yourself home and decor activities. (The French company Avel does both lines: Saphir shoe care and Louis XIII DIY products).

Beginning in the 1990s the shoe care and DIY businesses were growing substantially and the opportunity for developing a subsidiary of Avel in Spain was a good challenge. Once I started working with Alexandre Moura, my father-in-law, who was a great business man—our family axis and a unique leader—I realized with no doubt that this was my professional life project.

NV: How did you get involved in the business?

SB: In 1992, my father in law proposed that I come into the Avel family business, by building and managing a subsidiary of the company in Spain. I began to grow the Avel business in several countries.

In 2008, the Tarrago Shoe Care Group, which belonged to the Tarrago family, appeared to be in a very poor financial situation and in general distress. After some conversations with the former family owners, Alexandre, his son Marc, and I, bought the whole group.

Tarrago was not only in financial distress, but had poor management. I have been, since then, improving the management, expanding export sales, reducing cost, improving formulations, modernizing machinery, and updating the whole production processes in our plants.

Today Tarrago Brands is a very healthy corporation with presence in more than 50 countries.

NV: What was the business like when you first started in it?

SB: In the late 80s and beginning 90s, the shoe care business was beginning to open to the Internet. I think this has been the most important fact in the last 25 years. Shoe repair shops and small distributors knew very little about the diversity of brands around the world, and the many opportunities to use different products. Local brands were leaders in their own countries and had little competition from abroad.

Also, the Asian products were coming into European and American markets, with the loss of margins and subsequently a decrease of quality for the domestically made products, because of the need to do price adjustments to be competitive.

Great corporations like Sara Lee or Reckitt & Colman were leading the world sales, and small regional business like Tarrago could not afford to globalize without spending great sums.

Despite this, the high-value-added products that Avel proposed at that time, gave Saphir a presence by the early 90s in more than 25 countries, always considering quality as the main factor to differentiate. The company obtained several prizes and Alexandre was honored with the French Legion d’Honneur Medal, the highest French honor, which the French President gave him.

Other brands, controlled by larger corporations, could not follow these “luxury” criteria, and came down to reduce colors, quality, and items, redirecting sales to big retailers. Progressively, these brands disappeared, or changed production to Asian countries for high volume / low quality, closing local plants. For example, Meltonian does not exist in Europe anymore, since the late 90s, and Kiwi is losing force substantially.

Very few brands have today the critical size to develop world sales. Those who are not large enough, will progressively be bought by bigger industries or simply disappear.

NV: What do you consider the most influential impact you have had in the industry?

SB: In my personal experience, buying Tarrago in 2008 has been the engine that accelerated our family business. Our family business could actually be the second or third in world presence in the shoe care.

NV:How would you describe, differentiate the Tarrago, Avel, and Saphir products?

SB: Avel has two main branches: Do-it-yourself products (care of woods, tiles, metals, paints…) under the Avel and Louis XIII brands; and shoe care products, under the Saphir and Saphir Medaille d’Or brands.

Saphir Medaille d’Or is a high-end luxury brand, with the highest consideration in any market where we sell. The general comment is that this brand has no equal. The best shoe, bags and leather brands in the world use these products.

Saphir is Avel’s French large shoe care line. It is considered as the most quality range ever done for quality shoe shops and shoe repair. Saphir has always put quality before price. This is very important for many clients, as the margins obtained when selling this brand are very good, and customers appreciate so much the security of using such good products. They become confident in the brand and in the shop that sold it.

Tarrago is a high quality European-made shoe care brand. Based in the experience of our family, we have been able to put this brand in a much higher level in image and quality than it was before. Today Tarrago, thanks to the confidence of our distributors, is present on 5 continents, and in more than 50 countries.

NV: In my opinion, the polish and shoe care industry has gotten very stale over the past few decades. The only thing that seems to happen is big companies buy out smaller companies. Then the bean counters reduce available colors and products. It all gets pared down to basics. Your comments?

SB: The last 3 years have been very difficult for the European and American economies. The lack of money to finance business projects is putting Europe in a very delicate situation, where the Asian companies are coming with strength, ideas and money.

This is reducing the traditional stores market, which has always sustained the business. We are seeing many businesses close and we do not see many efforts from governments to protect these entrepreneurs; much more education and support is needed if this economic change has to lead to a successful new economic period. I still believe that the Keynesian theory will result and so governments will help more to get out of this situation; in fact, I do not consider we are in a crisis but in a big change. We must realize this to adapt our business to the new rules coming.

What we must not do is decrease our quality, reducing cost and keeping very little margins. We need to maintain our levels, and reinvest in research and development, new machinery, be stronger and propose valid and high-quality alternatives. Fighting against low prices is no future for a family business or even any developed countries’ brand that wants to survive against low salary countries’ brands. We have recently seen what happened to Tacco Footcare in Germany, where they went into a financial distress last November, because of low prices, offering some Asian production, insufficient margins, and no machinery renewal.

Expansion for the leaders in the shoe care market must come by choosing the best merge or buy-out opportunities that we will surely see in the next months or even years.

NV: Many of the shoe makers see this as an opportunity to introduce their own labeled care products for their leathers. Can you tell us what makers you produce products for?

SB: Shoe makers should make their own brand when they accomplish two goals: they have the size to procure branded products to the MOQ [minimum order quantity] requested by producers, which are high; and they have the management of the shops’ where their products are sold.   Many people think than when doing a private label, they should have lower prices, as they ask for “reasonable” quantities. It is not true. For example, when I buy 1 million caps or labels for my shoe cream I get prices that when doing a private label (for smaller quantities), prices are very expensive compared to mine. When I produce my shoe cream, I can do up to 20,000 units in one production turn, in only one color; can you imagine how expensive it is to have to do only 600 or 1,200 units for each color, for a private label? So MOQs the factor that permits gain margins and operating full performance; with private labels, it is difficult to meet those margins, so that is the reason why it has to be sold at a higher price if we want to keep the same quality. Of course, Chinese productions (which have high MOQ by the way), can give nice prices for these private labels, but quality is very low. In Spain we say: “there are no $5 notes that value $4.”

Making shoe-branded products must also be done to the quality that is at the level of the shoes. Cheap shoe care cannot be used for nice shoes. This is something many shoe producers do not look at: when a customer buys a $200 pair of shoes, and the brand proposes a $1 shoe polish, do you see something wrong? I do.

In Saphir, our branded clients are mainly from the leather European luxury items and luxury shoes (English, Italian, French…). Products are done in the art of the highest possible quality.

In Tarrago, we offer a very good quality product for a very tight price, so bigger quantities are demanded. We are not in the battle of reducing quality for cheaper pricing, so normally we only work when client has the necessary MOQ level for doing its own brand, and is interested about quality, not only price. When looking for low prices, we always suggest Asian producers, what is a better choice for that, even though we are very competitive and the price difference is very small.

NV: How many plants do you manage?

SB: Our family business has two factories, one in France and one in Spain. My brother in law Marc lives in France, and I live in Spain.

NV: Their sizes?

SB: The French factory has 30,000 square feet, and the Spanish plant (factory plant and logistics plant) around 15,000 feet.

NV: How many people do you employ worldwide?

SB: Our total human resources are 100 people.

NV: What changes do you see in the near future?

SB: I think we could see how big corporations “discover” that the shoe care is not a great deal for them, and they will abandon this market, which will be led by the big retailers with self-labeled products, done by Asian producers.

By the way, the Asian price gap will not last forever. Prices from Far East will increase every year, so we could see a new economic period where domestic industry could recover, but always with a bigger size, so I come back to my idea of seeing many mergers in our sector.

Concerning the traditional market where we are, as I said before, we will see many mergers and buy-outs, so only a few brands will stay; those selling very cheap will be mismanaged and disappear, as some cheap brands will take the place. But this “cheap” concept will be reduced in the shoe shops and shoe repair, as those wholesalers and shops that do not pay for quality and distinction, could also be in very bad shape in the future, as “cheap” is a natural market for big marts and not for traditional shops.

Quality brands will continue to get bigger; I would say almost one or two in U.S. that will stay for sure, and maybe two or three from Europe.

NV: Where do you see your company 10 years from now?

SB: As is happening already, I imagine our company growing because of our bigger international presence, and also because of the companies we are buying. We have already bought some in the past, and we are negotiating for some others.

We present a great opportunity for intelligent managers. When a company is in distress, the best solution is to merge into a bigger corporation. Unfortunately, to be able to survive in market circumstances, this is the only way to proceed. Or to close. So when the owner or manager of a company in distress, accepts a company like Tarrago or Avel (our group), to take the shares and rebuild the organization, it is a good decision. This permits the manager to keep his work, to keep employees (in many cases), and of course to make its brand to continue to exist!

NV: Favorite reading material?

SB: Fiction books, spy novels and science, but my reading is mainly management and marketing.

NV: Three dinner guests (past and present)?


  1. My father in law, Alexandre; friend and mentor.
  2. Any of my distributors in the world, as it is not only a matter of business and already many are very good friends.
  3. Obama, Sarkozy, and Merkel at the same table, to ask them the truth of what it is all about.

A selection of Saphir Medaille d’or shoe care products.


A 1967 Saphir print ad.


Tarrago’s plant in Manresa.


Styleforum’s “While You Were -apping”–April 26

Title courtesy Jian Deleon.

Neighborhood‘s spring/summer 2012 line editorial from stylist Stephen Mann and photographer Neil Bedford. Put em on the glass! (stephenmann)

Panta gets the GQ treatment from Stephen Pulvirent. No mention of spaghetti? (GQ)

The Smiths may be reuniting. Tuck some flowers in your pocket and Mozzen up that hair. (Pitchfork)

Michael Williams visits the new IWC boutique on Madison Avenue. More window shopping for us Seiko-wristed plebes. (ACL)

NYT’s the Moment blog defends the short sleeve button front shirt. Sort of. (NYT)

SW+D classified of the day: Florsheim by Duckie Brown for Brooks Brothers longwings. Why not throw McNairy in there.

MC classified of the day–ties and pocket squares from Drake’s, Marinella, others.


Styleforum Swag Bulletin–April 24.

Woolrich introduces the Woolrich Elite Concealed Carry line. Bulge only in the places you want to. (NYT)

Cucinelli IPO oversubscribed! I don’t know what that means! (Reuters)

The eloquent and esteemed Reginald Jerome de Mans discusses the value of character via a pair of someone else’s bespoke shoes. Careful, there’s some big words in there. (A Suitable Wardrobe, pictured)

The debut of a men’s focused London fashion week in June will include Oliver Spencer, Tom Ford, Tautz, Aitor Throup, J.W. Anderson, Richard Nicholl, and Richard James, among others. An opening event will be hosted by HRH the Prince of Wales. OMG who will he wear?

Yoox takes 20% off a bunch of stuff, including tons of Italian shirts and suits and some smaller selections of Nigel Cabourn, Our Legacy, Rick Owens, Margiela, etc. (No code, prices marked)

SF10: Learn your numbers in Italian with Peter Watkins of Sette.

Sharp! Peter Watkins and Robert Jensen of Sette.

Styleforum regulars won’t need a primer on terms like seven fold and bartack, places like Como, Italy, or names like Robert Talbott. Them’s tie terms. Sette specializes in limited runs of handmade ties—not everyday ties, maybe, but neckwear you can reach for when you need your “closer.”  Fok talked with Peter Watkins about Watkins’ luxury neckwear line. Sette will be a vendor at Styleforum’s 10th anniversary showcase and party in May.

Fok-Yan Leung: Could you tell me a little about your background and the genesis of Sette?

Peter Watkins: I lived for a time in Italy while I was in college and have always wanted to find a way to do business there. I worked in politics and spent 5 years at the White House in various press aide type of roles. One time, during an official White House trip in Rome, we had a free afternoon, so I wandered along some streets and stumbled on a very small shop which sold only neckties. On the walls were photos of the proprietor and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, among other dignitaries. At the time, I was intrigued by anything custom made for a head of state for obvious reasons. It sort of opened my eyes to an entirely new echelon of neckwear that I’d never really thought about. I’ve always wanted to have some type of business which would give me a reason to be in Italy, and neckwear seemed like a logical product.

FYL: When you went to Como, Italy, what did you say? “I want to make ties for titans of industry…and the president?”

PW: Ha. It shouldn’t be lost that titans of industry and presidents are expected by us to hold to a higher standard in their wardrobes. I would argue heads of state and industry drive neckwear trends because a necktie by its nature is a “power” accessory. You’ll be hard pressed to find a shop in Italy, especially the reputable ones, who don’t boast of having someone like President Clinton, Tony Blair, the King of Spain, or whomever else with power as a customer. If I were selling t-shirts or jeans, I’d want Justin Bieber or Timberlake to be my brand ambassadors. But for ties, give me people with real or perceived power. I heard a story once from a major neckwear manufacturer who said they sold out of light blue neckties when President Bush started wearing the color with more frequency. There was even a hypothesis that his advisors suggested the color was a political calculation in order to try and have a “calming” effect on the country in the aftermath of 9-11. (I doubt it was that calculated, but a fun story.) So our goal in creating a product was to aim for a standard in fit for a president.

FYL: Did you have a clear vision of what you wanted to accomplish from  the beginning?  Did your vision change with your visits to  talk to tie makers in Como?

PW: We knew we had to be different. We wanted to combine a few things which we haven’t seen altogether in one necktie. 1. Make true seven folds. 2. Give each necktie a name and a number and stick to it. A few of our ideas caused some head scratching with the manufacturers. For instance, we wanted to have any and all labels woven into the silk. No after-market tags. It’s nicer. It’s personal. But it makes it very difficult when constructing a seven fold, because the weaving has to be exact. I’ve heard rumors of products being labeled, “Made in Italy,” only to learn just a portion of the product was made there, and the label was sewn on after the fact.

Also, we had to decide whether we would be a true seven fold, and run the silk the entire width of the blade in the back, or if we would “cheat” as you see in some seven-fold ties, where the folds just sort of touch in back. We wanted our bar tacks to take on the shape of the number “7” (as Sette means seven in Italian)—a simple touch, but it’s painstaking in the manufacturing process. It all has to be done by hand, which speaks a lot to our brand I think. So far with our first runs of designs we’ve stayed true to this vision. But it hasn’t been easy.

FYL: Tell me a little bit about how you came to partner with Robert Jensen, and describe the creative process between the two of you.

PW: Bob is a legend in the industry. He has more than 30 years of experience in neckwear alone. It so happened his daughter and son-in-law were friends of ours from school. Bob was transitioning from Robert Talbott, and the timing worked great for us. Bob created the designs and colorways, as well as oversaw the manufacturing. I’m responsible to help get the word out and tell the story.

FYL: Could you guide me through the details that make Sette neckwear “worth it”?  What is the value that you offer your clients?

PW: We are the first to admit a Sette is not for everyone. It’s not meant to be. We make a finite number of each design and will never repeat it. If you own “#4 of Brilliant Blue with Stars,” the point is, you become a part of a club. When you take a look at the construction of a Sette, you’ll see we use an awful lot of silk. The finishings and construction of silk are second to nobody. There is a rush you get when you tie a knot with a Sette, that a necktie with a cotton or wool liner won’t have. My perspective is, when you need your very best results to come from your wardrobe, when you need  your “closer” tie, you will reach for your Sette. When the occasion demands respect (a wedding, funeral, job interview, etc.) you want to show that respect with your best tie. Enter a Sette.

FYL: What is the retail climate, both online and off, for a new brand, in 2012?  Are the purchasing habits of your clients affected by the economy, even?

PW: We are too young to give a wise answer to this question. That being said, I sleep well at night knowing I have a great product. It’s well made. It’s different than anything out there. It has a story. I feel confident there will always be a market for people who “quest for the best,” as the great Stanley Marcus put it.

FYL: I know that you cater to “titans of industry” and “heads of state”,  but there are only so many of those.  What do you offer to the rest of us?

PW: I consider informed readers of Styleforum to be “titans” of good taste. 🙂 [Editor’s note: wait til you meet us.]

FYL: How do you see Sette neckwear in 5 years? 10 years? Do you plan to offer other accessories?  Shirts?  Zen gardens?

PW: We plan to stay simple. Scarves, pocket squares, and other accessories are certainly on the horizon. When we launched Sette, we wanted to stay true to a few goals. 1. Do something fun. 2. Do something in Italy. 3. Try to leverage the professional network to achieve #1 and #2.

FYL: I’m sure that there is a question you wish I’d asked.  Can you tell me what that is, and answer it?

PW: You forgot to ask how to buy a Sette. Online of course!  Also, don’t forget fathers’ day is coming up.

The Styleforum Daily Mentioner–April 23

“Never underestimate the power of what you wear. After all, there is just a small bit of you sticking out at the neck and cuff. The rest of what the world sees is draped on your frame.” –Oscar Schoeffler