This is not a sponsored article; to read Styleforum’s review policy, please click here.
This is not a sponsored article; to read Styleforum’s review policy, please click here.
I had the genuine pleasure of meeting Francis and Jennifer at the Styleforum Maker Space this year during Pitti. The two minds behind GIIN are–without a doubt–a pleasure to speak with about many things, including their products. It is genuinely a pleasure when you meet people who are passionate about their work; on account of shared interests in menswear, the satisfaction is multiplied. Speaking with them about their materials, manufacturing, the ideas that went into the design, and their brand goals, therefore, was a remarkable experience.
GIIN’s slogan is Elevated Essentials, which precisely sums up their products. Between the boutonniere (see my review here) and their undergarments, you get the sense that Frank is striving to do things differently with his products. The products have been imbued with Frank’s desire to improve and innovate, and are in many ways his attempt to elevate something as humble as an undershirt into something that transcends the norm.
Over dinner at Berberè, I recollect both of them speaking about how much waste they find in the clothing industry. The prime example for them were generic cotton undershirts, designed–more or less–to be disposable. These undershirts serve their purpose, being worn a few times, then they disappear into landfills when they no longer are in pristine condition. Following them from a commodity chain perspective, everything becomes an afterthought: the quality of the cotton; the rapid production; the cheap mistreated labor. Every aspect of what is ethical or warrants quality is ignored to streamline prices.
Instead of approaching their products as if they were disposable, GIIN chose to approach their clients with sincerity and a desire to show their products quality and refinement. I’ll provide an example of this sincerity–if you were not aware, GIIN had a giveaway and a Styleforum member won the contest but was outside of the sizes that they made. Rather than turn the winner away with an apology, they custom made the product for the client, because they felt everyone should be entitled to quality products.
As such, quality to Frank is in the details and life cycle of the object. The products that Frank is creating and has created, he won’t bring to market unless he’s more than satisfied; he tests all of his products repeatedly before they are made for the market. Each shirt he wears and washes around 100 times, in order to ensure that they maintain quality. As such, the life of wear that the shirt receives is accelerated in order to witness first hand how well the product will hold up.
When talking to Francis, I mentioned to him that I never wear undershirts except when I’m wearing something like a turtleneck sweater. I know that there are two schools of thought concerning this: one that extra layers make you sweat more and overheating; the other that extra layers help prevent you from showing sweat stains and protect your shirt. Having lived in humid Houston, I fell into the school of thought that more layers == bad sweating. Of course, that is only true when outside, because after wandering indoors from the summer heat, you feel trapped inside an icebox.
Frank offered to change my mind by offering me a shirt and a pair of underwear to see how I liked them. He firmly believed that I would come around to his mentality after I would have tried his engineered undergarments. Just so you understand, this was pure generosity-nothing was expected in return except that I provide my honest feedback to him. I told him sure, and decided to start wearing the garments the next day or two so I could provide him feedback immediately.
After wearing the garments for one day, I decided I would write a review, because I actually liked the garments. I will point out that–in the end–I’m still not a wearer of undershirts all that often, but I see that they are useful, and even when worn in warm/hot environments they actually serve a use to prevent odors and staining.
I provided Frank my feedback regarding the undergarments. One note is that I actually put them on inside out the first day, seeing as how there are no stitches or sewn in labels. Instead, the fabric pieces are bonded together using a high-end seamless bonding method. The raglan sleeve adds for ease of movement, and the laser cut ends without seams lie invisibly under shirts or other layers. Frank is especially proud of his boxers because they have a three-dimensional aspect to them which help support the male package, rather than squeeze it flush against the body or leg. Of course, in so doing this, there is no fly, which might be a deal breaker for some men.
For me, however, while I will sing praises about the undershirt (hence the title of review), I will note that I’m not the biggest fan of the boxers. I enjoy the support that they provide and I don’t mind the lack of a fly opening, but rather, the biggest complaint that I have is that the underwear is a low/medium rise; I personally prefer higher rise, but this is a personal preference. It isn’t as if the boxers are even unreasonably low rise: it more is just that this cut of underwear is not something that I would normally gravitate toward. However, there is a benefit here for some men: the lower rise works well with lower rise pants or jeans.
Frank told me that I could reuse the undershirt when traveling by washing it in the sink/shower, then hang dry so it would be ready the next morning, stating that odors would disappear. I tried that at first, but came to realize that just by hanging the undershirt, the smells took care of themselves without added washing. As such, when I was embarking and packing for an almost two-week trip, I decided to take both the boxers and the undershirt to put it through its paces, seeing how it holds up in a wide variety of environments, temperatures, and under various garments.
In the end, I spent close to two weeks (thirteen days total) wearing the same undershirt. Of course, yes, it took on some odors over that time, but after hanging it up every night it rid itself of any scents, leaving barely perceptible–if any–noticeable odors.
As I’ve said before, normally I don’t wear undershirts since I sweat a lot; I find them stuffy, I find that I sweat more than normal with the extra layers, and I find them not helpful. But this might actually be not a function of the undershirt, but a function of the terrible quality cotton that goes into cheap undershirts. However, the GIIN undershirt works exceptionally well at preventing excessive sweating because of the wicking nature of the fabric (the fabric is a combination of high twist cotton, polyester and lycra). When I’m stuck in a middle seat on a plane, I normally smell terrible by the end of the flight because I’m sweating since I can’t spread out my arms. However, coming off the plane each time, I wasn’t scolded and avoided by anyone (including those I work with). I noticed changing at the hotel that my shirts did not smell bad; if anything the undershirt acted as a shield to prevent further sweating. Because the shirt is seamless and form-fitting, it is not noticeable that you are wearing an undershirt either.
At thirty dollars a piece, before trying one, I would have said the undershirts were pricey. However, after seeing what they can do, putting it through the paces, experiencing the quality and construction first hand and hearing about went into designing and manufacturing the product, I feel the price is completely fair.
For sizing, I got a small, which in reality might be a touch tight when it began being worn. I probably should have gone with a medium; however, they are fairly forgiving seeing as how the fabric has a lot of stretch. As such, order either true to size, or if you order a size smaller, you will feel just more support from the tighter fabric. I think that the tighter fit also helped improve my posture, seeing as how the tighter fit on the raglan shoulders made me more conscious of how I was sitting, and that I should sit up straighter. That, however, is another story, and for each person to decide.
For those that were curious-or just plain repulsed-yes, I did wash my other clothes as I was traveling.
You can purchase GIIN undergarments on the official website.
If you have questions regarding the product, you can ask them on GIIN’s Official Thread on the forum.
This is not sponsored content. To read Styleforum’s review policy, please click here.
Despite being ubiquitous, belts are oftentimes overlooked as an accessory. Like many others on the forum, I personally wear a lot of trousers with fitted waistbands or side adjusters, so I oftentimes go out without wearing a belt for the simple fact it isn’t necessary. However, a good belt can make an outfit more polished or–to the masses–a bit more complete. I’ve been asked more than once if I left it behind at airport security. On the other hand, I oftentimes receive compliments when I wear a nicer belt, and I have never received as many comments on a belt (especially within such a short time frame) as the ones I’ve gotten for these belts from Atelier Bertrand.
The mastermind behind the eponymous, Parisian Atelier Bertrand, is Jerome Bertrand. The brand is a reflection of his idea that high quality, luxury leather goods can be available at a reasonable cost. Jerome has been an extreme pleasure to speak with; he is enthusiastic about his brand and is knowledgeable about every aspect of the product, the different leathers, tanneries, artisans, et cetera. I’ve rarely experienced this level of knowledge and passion from someone in the industry.
I received an offer from Jerome to write a review of one of his reversible leather belts. After thinking through my collection and wardrobe, I decided I ought to get something that was unlike the other belts I owned, so I opted for his taupe and navy blue. It was a hard choice because many of his belts have interesting color pathways (e.g. the cigar and red), but the taupe boxcalf won my heart with a sort of particular elegance. Jerome was generous enough to send me another belt in the black and Prussian blue pathway since I had remarked to him about how lovely that color was as well. Because of this, for complete disclosure, in addition to reviewing the belts, I decided to help Jerome with the English copy on his website in order to show some extra appreciation and help him out as a young brand.
Upon receipt of the belts, I was impressed by the leather quality, especially on the box calf side. The tumbled/grain leather is also lovely, partly on account of the particular shades of blue, but unlike most belts in a grain leather, the boxcalf reinforces and lends structure to the end product. In my extensive email dialogue with Jerome, I learned that he selects leathers from quality tanneries like Haas or Deggerman for a variety of his products. For his belts, he uses lesser known and smaller producers that maintain the same level of quality. Because his products and brand is based in France, he has access to a large network of tanneries, many of which employ still historical, artisan methods in their work. The box calf on the taupe belt is some of the best I’ve felt (and would be lovely as the secondary color on a pair of spectators). For both belts, for each side, there are no noticeable muscular/fat striations or blemishes, and the full grain calfskin holds its own as a truly luxury leather in both appearance and feel.
GIVE REVERSIBLE BELTS A CHANCE
I had never owned a reversible belt before, so I didn’t know what to expect going into this review, and it took me a bit of time to understand that the tongue of the belt is actually supposed to go under the belt and buckle, making it appear very streamlined. Jerome commented that the reversible belt is ideal with a suit because it provides a clean look (and I couldn’t agree more). After using it a couple times, it became quite logical and easy to put on and take off the belt.
Please note that when you purchase a belt, I recommend going for a belt that is a size up from what you would normally wear. Jerome sells his belts in European sizes, and after a long discussion, he convinced me upon his recommendation I get the size greater than what I thought was a direct conversion for what I normally wear. In the secondary belt Jerome sent me, he gave me the size I originally asked for, which, though it fits, was more difficult to tighten because of how you push the belt buckle through the hole directly, rather than slide it on with a more traditional belt buckle. I measured the length of the holes to the buckle, and even though the length was the same, I had a harder time fitting into the smaller belt (this could also be from the Fall Winter gut I’ve been accumulating from all my culinary indulgences). However, as with most clothing fits, your mileage may vary.
In terms of construction, the finishing on the belt is top notch. The stitching is done as a mix of both machine and hand, with the hand stitching reinforcing the machine stitching so that the belt lasts longer. The thread matches the colors of the leather, and there is no contrast on either side of the belt. The holes were punched cleanly – and you can spot that immediately given the sleek and minimalistic look of the belt. The edge is extremely consistent and even, and it also matches the darker color of each belt’s pathway. The solid brass (nickel free) buckles are made in Italy and are only available in a silver tone. This quality finishing is a reflection of the type of manufacturers that Jerome uses: Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant.
For those of you unfamiliar with French manufacturing, companies can be classified as living heritage companies, or Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant, EPV for short. These companies are essentially the pride of French manufacturing and tradition and make goods in traditional methods. Jerome chooses to work with EPV companies as much as possible, simply because he ends up getting better quality goods. The leathers he uses are from EPV tanneries, and likewise, his EPV manufacturer is in Limoges and produces goods for luxury brands renowned for quality.
While talking with Jerome, I asked if he was using the EPV companies in part as a marketing tool, since in Europe, especially in Italy and France, there is a strong appreciation of culture and heritage; for the French, it is an appreciation for “cultural capital.” However, for Jerome, it is less about the marketing of methods that are part of historical French culture; he employs EPV makers because the heart and soul that goes into the objects made by these heritage brands oftentimes result in a better product. Although this is a qualitative measurement–the ethos of an object cannot directly translate into a sort of material value–I would agree with his assessment.
The appreciation of such products, however, comes with an awareness of the nature of a product: for example, people who know about shoes tend to love Edward Green not merely because it is a status symbol, but because it has a cultural heritage that imbues the objects with value; you know what type of care went into making it. The same can be said for hand-sewn shirts and suiting. Likewise, Atelier Bertrand provides excellent quality goods which are worth the price to informed consumers because they recognize and understand what is quality in such goods.
Jerome is looking to provide reasonably priced leather goods by offering pre-orders each month, offering products made from high-quality tanneries like Haas. He can thereby reduce their cost because he already has sold some of the product, ensuring demand and not ending up with a lot of dead stock. With leather goods this excellent, Atelier Bertrand should have no problem selling its wares, and I can highly recommend them if you are going for a streamlined European look with belts such as these; their wares are on par with and are a more affordable luxury than Hermès (who he is clearly taking aim at with these belts), and you can experience higher quality when compared to many traditional brands while not devastating your wallet.
Atelier Bertrand Official Website
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The Internet is now saturated with made-to-measure suit programs, all of them offering impeccable fit and finish in an endless range of styles and fabrics to men working in the tech industry. Many of these, however, offer a flimsy product, and many simply don’t look good. Enter the Suitsupply Custom Made program, which you’ll note is explicitly not an MTM program, and which rather cleverly plays to Suitsupply’s strengths. The gist of it is this: Suitsupply offers a range of suit styles and a range of fabrics. You match one to the other using their very simple online order form, and voilà! After a few short weeks your perfect suit arrives.
The reason I say it’s clever is that, when offered an overabundance of choices in the form of internet check-boxes, most men tend to over-adjust. Individually specifying the minutiae of a jacket’s measurements often results in a garment that is either ill-fitting or a Frankenstein of influences. While this is true of the public at large, I think it’s also true of us hobbyists: most of us truly don’t need made-to-measure clothing, or at least, not when it doesn’t come from a tailor. In fact, I think that perhaps the best thing about Suitsupply’s Custom Made program is that, when you’re ordering from your computer, you’re not even given the chance to mess things up.
I should note that between the time I placed my order and completed this article, the Custom Made system has been changed slightly for the better. It appears that most, but not all, of Suitsupply’s jacket styles are available for order through the Custom Made program, as are a couple of trouser styles. In addition, there are a number of fabrics available, both standard worsteds and a rotating selection of seasonal fabrics.
All you need to do is:
It’s a very simple process, and after browsing the available winter fabrics, I hit upon the admittedly crazy idea to take a legendary Styleforum suit and see if Suitsupply could replicate it. The garment in question: Peter’s glorious oatmeal Fox Brothers 14oz flannel double-breasted number. Suitsupply had on hand a ‘light brown’ seasonal fabric that seemed close. All that was left to do was order – although I had a few kinks to work out, as I didn’t know my size.
Here’s the rub: orders placed privately, online, come with no ‘expedited remake’ option. In addition, anyone ordering a suit online should fully expect that their new garment will require alterations, unless it comes from a tailor or a program with which you’ve worked successfully in the past. This means that if you’re not near a brick-and-mortar location, you can either order a range of RTW garments in order to gauge your size or try your luck and hope you’re not stuck waiting another 3-5 weeks for a remake.
I chose option 3, which was to visit the Denver Suitsupply location. I went there in order to find my size, but while there I learned that Custom Made orders can also be made in-person, with the help of a sales associate who can aid you with things like inseam length. Additionally, Custom Made orders placed in store cover the alterations they expect you to need, and that is a serious point in the program’s favor. Please note that only purchases made at brick-and-mortar stores qualify for free alterations; Suit Supply will not cover the cost of alterations for suits ordered online, without the assistance of a professional Suit Supply SA.
The other Big Deal about the Custom Made program is the range of sizes available. If you’re on the extreme ends of the sizing spectrum, you’ll be able to order things that should, in theory, fit you. If you’re a guy who can never find anything in your size that isn’t in a bog-standard fabric, this is your chance to branch out a bit. One of the best features of the program is that if you’re not happy with your order, whatever it is, you can return it unworn, no questions asked – just as you would an OTR order. That’s not usually the case with systems like this, and it gives Suitsupply a huge leg up.
That’s a lot of words to say that the process of ordering a Custom Made suit from Suitsupply is really very easy. You pick your size, you pick your fabric, and in a few weeks your new suit arrives. In my case, the most difficult part of placing an order through the Suitsupply design your own suit program was assuring the sales associate that there is simply no alternate timeline in which I am a size 38R in any garment.
I think this only bears mentioning because it could very well be the case that purchasing three different sizes in the same RTW jacket and trousers might in fact be easier to do online than bye visiting the store, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. You’ll have the privacy of your own home in which to gauge what feels the most comfortable, as well as the time to make a decision (on size, fit, and finish) without feeling pressured. On the other hand, the sheer number of cuts that Suitsupply offers means that if you have a location near you, you may as well visit just for the chance to take your time and go through each fit and fabric.
Ordering, Sizing, and Alterations:
Upon checkout, I learned (after asking about the drop-down menus on the SA’s device) that minor changes to the measurements of things such as inseam and sleeve length can be made to orders placed in-store. I did not, following my SA’s insistence that these changes were better made in person, which I can definitely imagine being the case – I would rather have to make those minor alterations after the fact rather than being forced to re-order the entire suit if one of those adjustments goes horribly wrong, at least on a first order.
All of the alterations my suit needed were included in the purchase price of the suit and made by Suit Supply, since I ordered the suit in store. These included nipping the jacket waist, taking in the trouser waist and inseam, and shortening the jacket collar. Making those alterations once the suit arrived was very, very simple. I brought the suit into my local store, had it pinned, and left without passing on anything aside from my email address so that said alterations could be added to the order in my account. It was completely painless, and impressively streamlined. You’ll likely pay $100 for the same service at a third party tailor, so although you pay a bit more through Custom Made than OTR, it’s not a huge upcharge, especially if it means getting something you want.
Suitsupply’s Custom Made program is obviously much less friendly for first-time customers, or even repeat customers who may be unsure of their size, simply due to the nature of the game. However, the generous return policy makes ordering a suit a risk-free process outside of the unavoidable wait time. For example, if you’re in a time crunch – I can already predict the number of threads that will pop up in the spring and summer of 2018 asking where a last-minute wedding suit can be found – you may have to be smart with both the timing and contents of your purchase.
As with any online purchase, sizing can be an issue. I asked Ms. Soland how Suitsupply suggests new users make their choice. She responded: “The best way to determine your size is with an in-store try on, or by placing a ‘test’ order from our RTW collection. Soon there will be a prompt for first time customers, which will allow them to chat with a specialist and avoid the need for remakes.”
At the moment, the online process is simple and user-friendly, with the usual caveats: although the fabric preview system does its best, it is still rudimentary, and customers may not enjoy that alterations on an ordered suit are essentially guaranteed to be necessary when there are so many online MTM companies that purport to offer perfectly fitted results. Of course, readers of Styleforum will likely be aware of how rare those companies deliver said results, and I think that for an enthusiast forum the Suitsupply system makes a lot of sense. If the garments fit you well, and you know how to talk to a tailor – or if you generally require only minor alterations to OTR garments – the program offers fantastic value. It’s streamlined, it’s easy, and there’s no emailing back and forth – although as Ms. Soland notes, there is a chat system in the works should you have questions.
The Final Suit:
Three weeks after placing the order in store, my suit arrived, packaged as usual in a zip-up garment bag and box large enough not to crush it:
I’m pleased with the results, and I think that this suit demonstrates one of the program’s strengths: if your product is solid, offering a choice of fabric lets your customer experiment with garments they may otherwise not have considered; streamlining their ability to buy it makes life easy for company and consumer.
Keep in mind that if Suitsupply’s models don’t fit you, you won’t be able to change that with the Custom Made program. Again, it is not an MTM program; the only ‘fit’ flexibility you’ll get is the ability to order your jacket and trousers in different sizes. The usual peculiarities apply: tighter jacket and trousers with intentionally bowed pockets, a tendency towards shorter length all around, and an overall look that you either love – or don’t.
Ultimately, my order cost $679 (covered by Suitsupply), including the $40 fabric upcharge. That’s firmly in the middle of Suitsupply’s range, and for under $1,000, Suitsupply’s suits remain a very, very good value. If you can find a model that fits you, it’s hard to do better for the price without turning to the long and uncertain process of searching secondhand.
It has always been easy to order the products online, and with the Custom Made program it’s even easier to get what you want. Yes, you pay more than you would for some online MTM competitors, but I would prefer the sound knowledge of an excellent return policy, a streamlined system, and a guaranteed result over trying my look with unprofessional measurements.
Of course, if you don’t really need something special – if you’re just looking for an interview suit – you don’t need to use the Custom Made program, and you’ll save money by ordering from Suitsupply’s already-broad OTR offerings. However, if you’re a fan of the brand, a difficult-to-find size, or you have something specific in mind, you’ll greatly enjoy the flexibility of being able to purchase beyond what’s shown online.
Personally, I would love to see a list of fabrics that expands to include more interesting options (beyond than just flannel in winter and linen in summer), as much of what you see is fairly standard (greys and blues that are mildly indistinguishable online) and having the option of more characterful fabrics would make the program more worthwhile for both enthusiasts as well as those consumers looking to add to their collection.
On top of all that, if you have access to a Suitsupply location, you get the added benefit of free, easy alterations – for most men, that alone is a huge boon. Whether or not you enjoy visiting a Suitsupply store, the company is fixated on making the experience customer friendly. The stores, in my experience, have never been crowded, and the staff are attentive, which allows you to have a beer, a scotch, or just a glass of water while you browse and try things on. Suitsupply remains my pick for easy-to-access RTW suits in the USA.
Suitsupply has inspired legions of fans in part due to the ‘collectibility’ of its garments (they’re affordable, stylish, and effectively marketed), and the Custom Made operation seems designed to supplement that. If you know your size in a given model but you want to, say, purchase a pure-linen model of your favorite suit for a warm summer, you can do so without any fuss. My experience with Suitsupply garments has been that they are very consistent within sizes, although perhaps less so across models, and I would feel comfortable re-ordering a jacket and matching trousers in a fabric that caught my eye.
All in all, the Suitsupply Custom Made program is slick, streamlined, and impressively user-friendly. It’s a natural extension of Suitsupply’s in-store product and service. Suitsupply may have taken their time in arriving at the ‘custom’ market, but if you can nail your fit, or you have the patience for remakes, I think that this new program will become a go-to for the price range.
GIIN will be part of the Styleforum Maker Space this January at Pitti Uomo. The Styleforum Maker Space is a combination pop-up shop and wholesale space, geared towards exhibiting fantastic small brands and makers to Pitti’s influential and knowledgable visitors for both wholesale and retail.The Maker Space runs from January 9-11, 2018.
When I was told that I would be writing a review of a boutonniere, several questions formed in my head, but instead of inquiring about the product, I just said “okay.”
Why bother with a series of questions when all they want me to do is write a review? Because boutonnieres are usually associated with weddings and are live flowers, I wondered to myself what it could be that I would be reviewing. And I figured, if I didn’t know anything about the product, I would be less judgmental when I received the item.
I put this to the back of my mind because I’ve been traveling often, only to come home and find the postman with that small nondescript package for me. Perhaps this is the way all reviews should work: the reviewer should be given something in order to look at it without any a priori knowledge, assumptions or requests.
You can imagine my surprise when an unexpected little bubble wrapped envelop was given to me by the postman. The package looked like it came from one of the Alibaba solicitors shipping their wares into the United States at a discounted penny-rate; I opened this international parcel to find a lovely box from GIIN, a Styleforum affiliate whose motto is “Elevated Essentials.” Inside the box was a flower, poignant and pristine, with a few of the leaves showing the small delicate imperfections that one can find on flowers in the wild. Yet the flower itself, however ephemeral originally, looked somewhat at home in the box, radiating a sort of delicate beauty as it was now shaped and formed into a more permanent form able to survive being shipment from across the world.
Peter wrote an excellent article on the boutonniere that discusses how and when to wear one, as well as the value of real flowers. However, there is something positive to be said about these new alternative boutonnieres-flowers that will neither wilt nor decay, preserving their very nature and beauty indefinitely. GIIN markets these boutonnieres as a form of “Enduring Elegance,” and I could not agree more. These artisanal flowers retain a sense of two of the most important concepts in nature – imperfection and beauty.
Many of you have probably heard of the Zen-Buddhist concept of wabi-sabi, an aesthetic ideal that places value on the impermanence of objects shown by their use over time. While wabi-sabi is all the rage in a lot of menswear concepts, illustrated by a love for foxed shirt collars or natural patinas on leather, this flower does not work in that aesthetic framework as it is frozen in time. However, the Japanese have another framework that is quite apropos for GIIN’s artisan boutonniere: kire.
In Japanese aesthetics, kire, or “cut,” is a concept in the Rinzai School of Zen-Buddhism rooted in the teachings of Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1768). Zen master Hakuin believed that the nature of oneself is only understood once one has cut the root of their life; in other words, you let go of something completely, only to have it die and return again to life. These flowers, which have been taken from nature at the height of their glory, have been disassembled and recreated outside of their ephemeral nature, only to be positioned reborn as an object that exists in perpetuity. Rather than being beautiful for the sake of its impermanence (another aesthetic concept known as mono no aware, or the “pathos of things”), GIIN’s flowers are ascribed elegance as it lives after death.
GIIN crafts these flowers by hand, taking miniature rose petals that have been treated carefully, by arranging them into the shape of a small rose on the end of a pin. The pin has a small safety cap, so after running it through your lapel (or through the buttonhole), you can pin the flower to your lapel as you would a normal boutonniere. The flower looks – and in many ways probably is – delicate (I wouldn’t go in for a giant hug only to crush your lapel), yet it is simultaneously resilient seeing as it stands outside of the flow of time.
There is a lot of merit to having a flower that withstands decay, i.e. serving as a memento. I personally think my spouse would have appreciated it if I had given her one of these for our wedding; something that could be used later when we have an anniversary dinner, serving as a continuous symbol of our love.
It is appropriate then to understand GIIN’s boutonniere in the framework of kire seeing as how that concept is tied closed to the floral arrangement art of ikebana, literally “making flowers live.” GIIN has created a wearable version of an ikebana arrangement by ascribing life to the flower after its death through the processes used. It serves as a living flower, bringing a little flair and life to an outfit, despite being dead. It serves as a reminder of the various life events during which you wore it. Their miniature rose flower, lacking any sort of roots to ground it in nature or to keep it fresh, still looks at home regardless of wherever it is, their ethos becoming a symbol of enduring elegance in a world of impermanence.
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New shoe companies seem to be popping up all the time these days. The market today for Goodyear or Blake-welted shoes in the $200-400 price point makes the days of hunting for decent-looking Allen Edmonds Seconds seem like ages ago. Into this mix has entered a new UK-based company, Holden & Green. I received a complimentary pair of their shoes to review for Styleforum’s Journal, and commenced wearing them regularly for a month to get a feel for their quality, fit and value.
First, let me get something out of the way: while the shoes were given me for free, the opinions below are my honest thoughts.
My initial impression of the shoes was very positive. It is evident from the first that the construction quality is very good, with a fit and finish that shows very close attention to detail—no stray or crooked stitching hastily trimmed off, no varied discoloration. The construction strikes me as akin to some “mid-tier” bench grade shoes I’ve owned and handled—something along the lines of Crockett & Jones or Alfred Sargent.
The leather of course looked great out of the box, but even the cheapest shoes out there look great brand new, so a month of wear would help in determining its quality. The last shape is an attractive, elongated, European silhouette. And the soles feature a beveled waist and red-painted channel-stitched sole.
Some Background on the Brand
H&G is so new that you can scarcely find anything about them on the Internet. I reached out to the owner and founder of the brand, Frank Clune, to get some information on the company and the product they make.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work in the West End shoe world for the last five years and to meet some of the legendary characters—genuine one-offs who seem to be disappearing from the world of work, who thrive in this business,” he says. He has no shoemaking training himself, but worked at legendary London bespoke shoemaker Foster and Son, where he met Terry Moore and worked with John Spencer, Emiko Matsuda, Emma Lakin and Lucy Smith. Frank owns the brand, taking guidance and advice from some of the people in the business he met during his time there.
Before starting Holden & Green, he started an eBay business selling overstock from UK retailers. The experience there taught him which styles and colors sell well (black outsells brown, for instance). Once he launched H&G, the aim for the brand was to make “quality at a good price, which means European-tanned leathers and excellent making,” he says. But to hit the price point he wanted to hit (below £300, or about $400USD), “it also means that we need to use non-European makers. This has been the most interesting and challenging part of the process to-date.” The shoes are made in two workshops: one in the Far East (not China, he says), and the other in North Africa. “We cannot speak highly enough of their attention to detail and their responsiveness,” he says.
The shoes I was given to try are definitely outside the typical business wardrobe of most non-menswear-enthusiasts. If the split toe and elongated last don’t catch your eye, the red painted sole and beveled waist just might. However, the rest of their models, which fall under what they call the “City collection,” are a bit more conventional for a conservative business dress environment (albeit with contemporary, European silhouettes). That conservative design bent, alongside the lessons learned from his prior overstock business, may mean the average antique museum calf-obsessed Styleforum member won’t find much to get his heart racing. But from Frank’s perspective, “getting City-Boys out of their curly-toed abominations feels like the right thing to do morally; for every City gent in his Henry Poole suit and Edward Green’s, there are two dozen others who need more than a little help.” All told, the niche he’s aiming for “is a retail price point beneath £300, using European leathers and tanneries, and getting the right maker to work with the best lasts we can find.”
Impressions After One Month
I kept a running mental checklist of how I felt about the shoes, typing occasional notes, over the course of a month, wearing them 2-3 times per week. At the end of that time, I treated them sparingly using Saphir Renovauteur, and a polish. I personally do not like the shiny fresh-out-of-the-box look of shoes, preferring instead a nicely broken-in and freshly polished look. I wanted to see how the leather reacted to a polish.
First, I was pleased to find the initial new-shoe stiffness disappeared very quickly—within the first two weeks. They still aren’t completely broken in, but that uncomfortable period of new leather shoes is gone.
Second, the leather’s appearance maintained its attractiveness. The factory-new shiny finish didn’t completely go away by the end of the month, but it had dissipated somewhat. I can’t speak to how well these will age over years of wear, but my experience in the time I’ve had them is positive.
Third, the completely subjective matter of fit: these are the best-fitting leather-bottom shoes I’ve ever owned, and are far more comfortable than any other leather shoe I’ve owned. Around the same time I received them, I purchased some Crockett & Jones-made Peal & Co. shoes from Brooks Brothers—they are much more to my liking stylistically, but fit-wise they don’t hold a candle to these.
Fourth, the other completely subjective matter, which is of style and design: I personally find these ugly. Their “City collection” designs are better, more along the lines of something I’d wear. The red sole and beveled waist are a nice, but a purely aesthetic touch, and aesthetic appeal is of course in the eye of the beholder.
Speaking of the differences in design between the channel-stitched, beveled-waist shoes I received and the more prevalent City collection (with neither of those aesthetic features), Frank says they are both of the same quality of make: “We’d say that they’re very good benchgrade shoes.”
All said, I’d say they are a good value for the money. They come in slightly higher than mainline Meermin, which I own and think are an excellent value. But for that extra $100 or so, you get considerably better construction, and noticeably better leather quality. Compared to more-expensive Crockett & Jones or Alfred Sargent, you get comparable quality at a much more attractive price—assuming H&G makes a style you like. They currently sell five styles, with ten more slated to be released in time for the holiday season.
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Holden & Green shoes are for sale on their website www.holdenandgreen.co.uk.
You have probably seen, just as I have, innumerable photographs of Very Stylish Men wearing Baudoin and Lange’s “Sagan” loafer. In the last year, the shoe has become the shoe of the menswear cognoscenti, the shoe worn by the men at Pitti who obviously know what they are doing and know that they are doing it – the men you actually care to see photos of. If you’ve somehow managed to miss them, take a look at @baudoinlange on Instagram for an endless reel of drool-worthy shoes, and then come back and read the rest of this.
The Sagan loafer is the first RTW project from Allan Baudoin, a product he felt deserved to have its own brand to support it. It began its life as a shoe to wear in the atelier where his bespoke shoes are made, and gained its own momentum when bespoke clients – along with other shoemakers and bespoke cutters and tailors – began asking after them. Now, it’s sold both directly through the Baudoin and Lange website, and has been stocked at a handful of retailers such as BnTailor and The Armoury.
Belgian-style shoes have been experiencing (thanks in part to Rubinacci’s mainstream “Marphy” loafer, often worn by the Instagram star Luca Rubinacci) something of a resurgence across the internet’s various men’s style communities – Styleforum being no exception. It’s not that hard to see why: when you can wear a shoe that’s as comfortable as a slipper, and that is in this case as buttery and supple as anything you could imagine, it makes sense to wear it every chance you can get.
The “classic” Sagan loafer sports an unadorned apron; it is also available in a penny, string, or tassel makeup. The pair I received is of the tassel variety, made up in dark brown suede. This makeup was suggested by Bo, whose last name contributes the “Lange” to the brand, as perhaps the definitive Sagan iteration. He also suggested I order a size 45, which I did – I generally wear a 12-12.5 US, which lines up nicely with the recommendation on their website. All that was left was to wait.
Each pair of Sagan loafers ordered from the Baudoin and Lange website is made to order. The site declares that they are working on a backlog of common sizes to reduce the waiting time, but also says to expect a wait time of up to three weeks (note: at the time of publishing, that window had been increased to four weeks). An old member-written review on Styleforum noted that the early packaging (back in 2016) was sub-par; this is certainly not the case now. The shoes arrived in a slim, handsome box, packaged with little fanfare but entirely ready for wear.
They are, in a word, gorgeous. New, the suede has a luster that connotes (if you are me) a stirring combination of Savile Row smarts alongside raw, animalistic luxury; as if the shoes should be worn with a fur cloak on the set of Game of Thrones and then to the Louvre that same evening, being of course perfectly at home on the plane that would transport you between venues. I opened the box that held them in an unlit room; I imagine that, had you seen me from the outside, my face would have been illuminated as though in a Renaissance painting.
Forgive the hyperbole.
Comfort and Style
In addition to looking not-too-shabby, the Sagan loafer is bizarrely comfortable. I should instead say that it’s cleverly designed, because the cork-and-foam padded insole offers ample cushioning for long periods of wear, and the way that the shoes are built means that they can accommodate a range of foot widths (I am a fairly standard D width) as the suede ‘stretches’ around the foot very nicely.
They are made of unlined suede lambskin, which Justin of The Shoe Snob called “The cashmere of suede.” Similarly, Simon Crompton called the Sagan “The best Belgian-style loafers I have ever worn.” They’ve been featured in The Rake, they’re seen on the best-dressed men on the Internet, and, well, you get the idea. So it was no surprise that the Sagan looks beautifully at home with tailored clothing. What did surprise me was the shoe’s surprising versatility. Shorts? Success. Denim? Check. Wide-legged trousers? You got it. In fact, some of the best looks I’ve seen featuring the Sagan loafer come courtesy of Styleforum member Beepbop, who wears them with a host of streetwear-friendly names.
After a series of daily experiments I decided, in the name of Styleforum and science, to wear them just about wherever I could. I didn’t expect universal success: after all, this is a shoe that is closely related to a house slipper. Besides, the Sagans are so supple and so downright beautiful that it felt more than a little sacrilegious to treat them like just another pair of shoes, and I was reluctant to see them brought to harm – but for your sake, dear reader, I carried on. The following is a short list of activities for which I can fully recommend the Sagan loafer:
And the following are activities for which I do not recommend wearing the Sagan loafer:
That’s a lot of activities. Throughout them all, the Sagan performed beautifully – they’re comfortable enough to be worn for long periods of time, good-looking in a way that makes you want to spend a lot of time staring at your own feet, and versatile enough to be worn with a range of garments in a range of situations.
Price, Quality and Final Thoughts
As shown here, the Sagan tassel loafer costs 325 GBP, or about $425. For that price, you’re buying a handcrafted loafer made of the finest, softest, most supple suede I’ve ever seen on a shoe. The quality is what you would expect from a RTW project with bespoke roots: superb. These are, quite simply, stunning shoes. Considering how versatile and comfortable they are, I think that the amount of wear you’ll end up getting from them makes the price well worth it, even if you’re not spending every day in high-waisted trousers and patch-pocket jackets.
I can see these being the perfect travel shoe for a tailored wardrobe, especially on overseas trips when you want a shoe that’s easy to slip on and off and that won’t restrict your feet as they swell like balloons. They’re so slim that they’ll pack easily in a suitcase as well. Add the fact that they’re comfortable enough for a day on your feet and you’ve got a shoe that performs as beautifully as it looks.
Recently I have tried to shy away from outright “Buy/Don’t Buy” recommendations, but for anyone who is on the fence about ordering these, I can heartily recommend you do so. They’re a pleasure to look at, and a pleasure to wear. Others seem to like them as well – I don’t normally hear “I like your shoes” from strangers, but I think it goes to show that they look something special.
Men are, largely, still collectors when it comes to clothing, and this is an ideal shoe to collect. Every time I load up the website I’m struck with the urge to order a second color, and I imagine that when (and it’s probably a when, not if) I do that a third order won’t be far behind.
Baudoin and Lange ‘Sagan’ tassel loafers in dark brown, shown here with cotton trousers from De Bonne Facture, a denim shirt that has lost its tags, and a La Portegna portfolio.
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My grandfather grew up in New Jersey, the son of Ukrainian Jews who’d emigrated to escape prosecution and worse and found a new life running a grocery store in the city. Until he died and my grandmother moved to a smaller house, my family and our collected relations would converge upon my father’s rambling ancestral home with a sort of semi-irregularity dictated by holidays and the globe-hopping travel schedules of my always-moving grandparents.
My grandfather, a man of whom I have fond but few distinct memories, had a study that I found fascinating, decorated with objects he’d collected from innumerable journeys abroad, smelling of – retrospectively, at least – a combination of cologne, pipe smoke, and mothballs. It’s that smell – as indistinct and hazy as it may be now, sixteen years after his death – that I most associate with him. It followed him when he came to visit our family, followed him when we joined my grandparents for a family reunion in the South of France one year, and was as much a part of him as anything else he was.
Strangely, I also remember his shirts. One shirt, in particular: white, with plain black stripes, a buttoned collar, and a mighty roll. In my mind’s eye he’s either wearing that shirt or he’s lounging in a chair in a pair of faded navy blue shorts in the Provençal sun; not quite Picasso but not that far removed in the mind of a ten year-old.
Perhaps that’s why I find the shirts that Yellow Hook makes so compelling. They put me back in a mindset where I’m just a child, face buried in my grandfather’s shirt, wondering when I’ll be big enough to wear one like it. The smell is a part of it – out of the box, Yellow Hook shirts smell like a tailor’s shop in New York or New Jersey, like my grandfather’s study; but the cut is a part of it too. At almost thirty years old, I’ve finally gotten big enough to wear shirts like these. They’re roomy across the back with a very handsome taper through the waist, and a collar that looks like the collar on my grandfather’s old shirts. They fit well. They fit like a shirt should fit.
As you may have gathered from what I’ve written about Pitti and about other brands, it can be hard for me to separate people from product. That’s as true for Yellow Hook as it is for many of my favorite brands. Rob Rossicone, one half of the husband and wife team who run Yellow Hook, is a man I’ve only met twice, but one whose heart I can firmly say is in the right place. Of particular pride is his Italian ancestry, which he’s keen to share through the pieces he makes with Yellow Hook, but in conversation with him he comes across as equally invested in America’s multicultural heritage. He and his wife are both public school teachers, and in my eyes bring a similar earnestness to what is really their chosen labor of love.
Rob sent me two shirts to look at: one of his Napoli spread collar shirts in summer-weight pinpoint oxford, and a red chambray button-down collar. Fit, as Yellow Hook is keen to point out, is subjective, but the shirts are both slim (no darts), comfortable, and far from tight but very flattering. Rob cites various makers as benchmarks: Borelli, Finamore, Turnbull & Asser, Charvet RTW – but the fit is not as skinny as most of the Neapolitan RTW shirts I have tried, and are much more ‘American’ in style: the pinpoint oxford spread features side pleats, the chambray a single box pleat and locker loop, and the style is both comfortable and comforting. That was the goal from the beginning: provide an American-made product to compete with imported luxury.
And it’s all made in America, too: the shirts are all single-needle stitched in the New York metro area, as are the ties – Yellow Hook’s first product, originally sewn by Courtney Rossicone herself. Full details of individual shirts can be read on the Yellow Hook website, but single-needle stitching is standard, and Yellow Hook produces limited seasonal runs in selected fabrics, which means that stock is always limited and rotating.
It’s hard to claim that anything in 2017 is honest, but Yellow Hook shirts feel honest in a way that so much clothing – even nice clothing, even clothing I love – doesn’t. Part of that is because Yellow Hook is itself a celebration of American multiculturalism; the shirts showcasing the founder’s Italian ancestry as seen through the the melting pot that is the New York area. These aren’t shirts that are pretending to be something else. They’re American in the best way; inspired by global heritage and traditions and made for everyone.
How they Look
Yellow Hook has become most known for their collar roll, which is the exact kind of collar roll you could have found on my grandfather’s shirts: soft, buxom; a size and shape that’s as psychologically comforting as it is physically, and is large without being overwhelming. Similarly, the cuffs are minimally and tightly lined, making them both comfortable and easy to roll (messily, like me). I also like the the signature yellow contrast gusset, which lends a workwear bent to the product – even if it’s not a detail that will often see the light of day.
The fabric choices for these two shirts are also well-considered for the summer months. Pinpoint oxford makes excellent warm-weather shirting, but I’m particularly taken with the hand on the red chambray button-down, which is lightweight and breathable with a texture that has really grown on me the more I’ve worn it. I’m showing it here with the sleeves rolled up, but it also looks right at home under a jacket.
I’d like to note that the red chambray shirt is shown on the Yellow Hook website with yellow contrast stitching; the stitching on mine is tone-on-tone. Additionally, the neck on my pinpoint oxford was enlarged slightly at my request, and these are both details that could be requested via Yellow Hook’s not-really-advertised MTO program for a $50 surcharge and a lead time of 6-8 weeks. For the time being, I’m not sure how focused Yellow Hook is on their MTO program, nor do I know the extent of what’s on offer, but if you need a special size that’s a very modest price increase given the product you get in return.
To return to the issue of fit: subjectivity aside, these aren’t the only Yellow Hook shirts I’ve seen, and I do think that the fit really nails that “sharp, but comfortable” line. I mentioned the American-ness of the style, and these are shirts that work with a tie and a jacket or at a barbecue with the sleeves rolled up.
If you’re looking for shirts that give good value – and who isn’t – it’s hard to argue with Yellow Hook’s offerings. New, the summer pinpoint spread collar runs $200 (although it’s currently on sale for $135, and Yellow Hook’s retail prices have now dropped to $135-$155), and the chambray button down retails for $135. Given the single-needle stitching, limited production runs, and entirely human-driven construction, I feel that’s a great price, although it also means that the number of options available at any one time is limited. However, when you add in the intangible qualities I’ve tried to describe above, which will certainly vary in relevance from person to person, I think that you’re left with a product that is, again, honest both in how it what it advertises and in how it wears. That’s hard to come by, and in my mind makes Yellow Hook a very attractive purchase.
I don’t get excited by brands that tout “American Made” as their only selling point, and I don’t come from a school of thought in which the only measure of a garment is the fineness and perfection of the cloth and stitching. In the case of Yellow Hook, being American Made isn’t so much a feature as a backbone – and it supports a product that’s American not by exclusion of outside traditions, but by the inclusion of histories both foreign and domestic. That these are nice shirts is not in question, but as is so often the case, it’s the abstract qualities that, to me, make clothes worth wearing.
Update 7/7/2017: the article has been edited to reflect Yellow Hook’s updated pricing.
Yellow Hook is a Styleforum affiliate. If you’re interested in learning more about the brand, you can do so here.
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Back at Pitti 91, Arianna and I had the pleasure of running into Phillip Nappi, who’s the head of Tennessee-based footwear brand Peter Nappi. I can remember reading about the brand in its early days, and coming back to it occasionally over the years due to what I thought was a pretty handsome offering of un-fussy workboots. It fell off the Styleforum radar for a bit, but there’s always been off-and-on interest in the boots, and the brand’s been reinvigorated with a new push, a new adventure to Pitti, and even a new brick and mortar location to support its Nashville flagship store. I’ve circled back continuously, which made it particularly fun to talk to the owner.
As is the case with most brands I end up liking, part of my interest came because I liked Phillip a good deal – he’s earnest, straightforward, and very evidently in love with what he does. That last part encompasses a bit more than just overseeing a shoemaking company, since Peter Nappi is part of what I think is a pretty interesting Southern-US garment and craft movement (along with other brands like the underrated Shockoe Atelier), and their store in Nashville is as much a community space as it is a showroom for shows and events.
You might not be surprised to hear that, after all of this, I was pretty happy to have the chance to take an extended look at a pair of Phillip’s wares, in the form of a some extended wear and review of the Julius boot, which is their flagship model. Specifically, I looked at the “Julius basso” boot in Snuff. I happen to be a fan of lightweight work boots, and of light, versatile boots in general. I’ve owned many different brands in many different styles, and boots that can more or less stand in for sneakers have always had a place in my wardrobe. These fit that bill, both in the way they look and the way they feel.
Silhouette and Style
In the case of the Julius basso, the larger, rounded toe, tapered waist, and short heel give the boot a very handsome silhouette – the toe isn’t so upturned as to resemble Carpe Diem and its descendants, but it’s also enough to make the boot noticeable. According to Phillip, it’s based on a 20th century Italian work boot model, and I think it strikes a really nice balance between being handsome, eye-catching (I’ve been wearing this pair for a little over a month, and for whatever reason they seem to get noticed more than my other footwear), and easily wearable. As is, I think it’s a good alternative to a more standard chukka boot, while not demanding heavy workwear styling – it’s more at home with light jeans or fatigues than, say, a pair of Redwings, while also feeling a bit less precious (and a bit more versatile) than the Styleforum favorite that is the sleek side-zip boot (think Margiela).
They wear very similarly to sneakers as well. This model is unlined (though others are), but it’s also due to the low heel that wearing the boot doesn’t feel any more, well, taxing than wearing a pair of sneakers, aside from the lack of rubber sole. However, in this particular case the thinness and flexibility of that sole (more on this later) makes the boot what it is, and the unlined upper that this particular model features makes it a good option for summer. I often get very sick of wearing sneakers, but heavy boots are, well, heavy, and the low height and breezy construction mean that I feel pretty good about wearing these in the 80 degree heat.
This year, Peter Nappi has introduced a “Julius Due” model that is, according to Phillip, very similar to the standard flagship but with a slightly narrower toebox. Phillip told me via email that the Due model “Was really a test to see how the market responded to it,” which I take to mean that the standard Julius isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
This particular boot is constructed with a Blake-stitch, which I understand will concern some of our readers who are concerned about potential quality trade-offs. However, this is at its heart a lightweight workboot, and the slimmer sole looks very nice with the silhouette of the shoe. I’ll point you to Permanent Style’s dismissal of concerns over Blake stitching, but I’ll also say that if the thinner sole concerns you from a comfort perspective – this is not an issue in my experience – the addition of a rubber sticker sole will solve all your problems (and is something I do to all my boots anyway).
When I asked Phillip why he opted for Blake as opposed to Blake rapid, he told me that the brand originally began using the Blake stitch, and that last year they experimented with Blake rapid to make the boots look more “Beefy,” but that in the end, the brand is known for its lightweight, Blake-stitched construction, and that’s the route they’ll be going.
I find the sole and construction very comfortable, and there’s enough room in the boot for an insole should you choose. In fact, I think they’re very comfortable – it’s nice not to have to worry about crowded toes, but the silhouette from the top down really is well thought-out. I imagine that it would be nice to have a more cushioned insole, but that’s a very personal preference and there’s plenty of room in the boot for an insole.
I should note that Peter Nappi also sells a completely hand-stitched Julius model that also sports a hand-stitched Goodyear welt (yes, you read that correctly).
Price, Quality, and Final Thoughts
First, I should offer a disclaimer that, except at the far ends of the bell curve, ‘quality’ is not generally a metric I pay much attention to. I have never had a pair of shoes fall apart on me (with the exception of a rubber heel coming off), and I am not easy on my belongings. In this particular case, I think it’s more important to note that some will no doubt find the thinner leather sole less comfortable than a more rigid sole would be, but it’s equally important to note that this is purely personal preference. If you’re used to wearing lightweight Italian shoes, Peter Nappi boots will feel very familiar. This is, I think, a big part of the charm – the boots are flexible enough to be “shoe-like,” which makes them feel versatile and wearable, especially in the summer as an alternative to sneakers.
As listed, the price for the model shown is $595, which puts it firmly in the “mid-market designer” category. That’s not cheap, but it is competitive with many of the many other brands in the price range, and Phillip told me that they’ve managed to lower prices (when’s the last time you heard that?) based on increased production, reduced fuel costs (the boots are still manufactured in Italy), and the relative strength of the dollar. As a result, the new Julius Due retails for $100 less. “We always aimed to be as approachable as possible,” Phillip told me. “We want everyone to be able to experience what we’re so passionate about. After seven years, the tide is finally turning in our favor.”
That seems to me a better conclusion than any I could write: Peter Nappi’s boots are, in my eyes, defined by their accessibility. They’re easy to style, easy to wear, and they look damn good on the foot.
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Although this review is unfortunately a bit late for our Fashion Revolution feature, I was still very happy to have the chance to discuss the venture that is the Invisible Acts workwear jacket, which is a one-off (for now) project from Nina Aganovich and Brooke Taylor, the duo responsible for the brand Aganovich. As opposed to a runway garment, Invisible Acts is the name for a Kickstarter-led production run of a high-quality, “Ethical” chore jacket (as Invisible Acts terms it), which “[Embraces] the slow fashion/co-op movement to tackle issues of quality, ethics and sustainability” in the fashion world. the resulting chore jacket is made entirely of organic, non-GM cotton woven in Italy on narrow shuttle loom machines (which should be familiar to fans of selvage denim), which is then constructed at a co-op factory in France.
It’s no secret that the world of fashion – and of fast fashion in particular – is the scene of some pretty damning abuses of both the environment and of human rights. That’s why, in addition to considering what you buy and why you’re buying it, I think it’s important to draw some attention to projects that are making an attempt to better the system. Of course, I think that it’s easy to be (understandably) dismissive of projects such as these, which have popped up occasionally in the world of fashion and menswear as attention- and marketing-grabs void of any real intent or meaning. Many companies have marketed new ‘lines’ of organic or fair-trade goods, which leaves more skeptical consumers wondering what’s happening with the rest of the main product. It’s a good question, and one worth asking. However, in this case Aganovich – a small design studio attempting, as we speak, to make the push into the couture schedule – are both nimble and hands-on enough that I thought the idea was worth another look.
It’s not surprising that initiatives such as these tend to come from smaller, more mobile companies – Aganovich, in this case, is intimately familiar with the labor-hours required for garment production in the way that a massive fast fashion chain simply cannot be. The company, and by extension the customer, is simply too far removed from the product. It’s equally unsurprising that there’s joy to be had from participating in what is, essentially, a GMTO project (a process with which I’m sure many Styleforum members will be familiar). I’ve never minded the idea, because it forces you to slow down and consider whether the product is ordering is actually one you want (need, in the world of clothing, being a relative term) and whether you’re willing to wait for it – overconsumption being, of course, one of the issues of which we as consumers both responsible and otherwise are now more aware.
You can read more about what and who, exactly, is behind the Invisible Acts project on their website, but the gist of it is that sustainable fabric and sustainable production result in a garment that’s both desirable and ethically responsible. Unfortunately, due to some hardware and scheduling issues, I wasn’t able to get my own photos ready in time for this article, and have used Invisible Acts’ proprietary photos instead. However, I find them accurate in their depiction of the product.
The Invisible Acts jacket is based on a traditional French bleu de travail, although the pattern is mercifully more modern and the product is notably cleaner in finish than what you’d find from both vintage and (most) contemporary version of similar pieces. It’s available for both men and women, and instead of being a purely unisex piece there are some minor pattern adjustments between the two models. All of the seams are well-finished, the reinforced buttons well-attached, and the details well-thought-out: pockets are reinforced, an oft-overlooked interior pocket is present, there’s nothing about it that to me (who has owned and seen countless chore jackets) screams of wasted opportunity or wasted material. It’s also very much not a fashion product, which is particularly notable due to fashion’s current (and ongoing) obsession with workwear silhouettes and styles. It is, conversely, a decidedly functional – though well-designed – jacket. As Brooke Taylor, one of the duo behind the project says:
“As a design house, we could have added a few twirls, some conceptual weirdness – tried to make the jacket more ‘hip,’ to render a fashion interpretation of a workwear garment. We talked long and hard about this and decided ‘No, the starting point has to be simple solid and straightforward,’ it has to pass muster at being what it actually is.”
I’m always intrigued by declarations such as this, and in this case what the jacket actually is, is a very competent and surprisingly effective garment. The cotton drill used for the jacket is a 520g/m weight, which means it’s quite heavy but not oppressively so. For example, a good friend of mine who spends most of his free time in his basement machine shop in front of lathes and CNC machines was very impressed by the weight and mobility when he tried it on, and said that he’d be happy to wear it every day while working. If you’re attempting to make a manufacturer’s jacket, it’s a good thing if an actual manufacturer is happy to endorse it.
I have seen and owned many chore jackets, and most of them – including some of my favorites – don’t pass that test. In this case, the only deviation from a rigorous lack of extraneous detail is the visible selvage line that runs down the center seam of the jacket. It’s a detail I’m neither attracted to nor repulsed by, and somehow it feels unforced despite the ongoing preponderance of selvage-detailed-everything in the denim world.
The heft of the fabric also means that the garment will require some time to break in. I’ve only been wearing mine for a week or so, but it hasn’t shown much sign of softening yet – which is also just fine with me, as I’ve always enjoyed the process of wearing clothing into shape. Another plus is that the jacket is pre-washed, so you don’t have to worry about compensating for shrinkage. It’s also almost a mercy that the jacket isn’t made in indigo, since just about every other chore jacket these days is – the color on the grey model I received is very nice, and the coal black looks equally good. I should note that, according to Invisible Acts, the white model is a slightly lighter weight (250g/m) than the other two fabrics, if you’re after a jacket that drapes more easily out of the box.
I also happen to think that the jacket looks pretty damn good. The pattern is more flattering than it would be from a repro or purely workwear-focused company, and as already mentioned the details are well-considered. Fit-wise, a manufacturer’s bleu de travail was designed to sit close to the body, so that fabric did not catch in moving machinery. The Invisible Acts jacket is not tight, but rather slim and slightly boxy without much waist suppression. If you’re familiar with workwear, it will fit familiarly.
It fits well, and it’s also a handsome piece, but it’s a two-and-a-half season garment that won’t see much use over the summer or in the depths of winter, unlike other options that might be made from linen blends or lined with sherpa fleece. That said, there’s plenty of room even in your proper size to layer, and you also have some leeway in terms of sizing – you can size up for a boxier fit, or down for a trimmer cut. In effect, it’s an obviously well-designed piece that’s not cutting corners for the sake of a marketing opportunity. Invisible Acts is also not a reproduction of a vintage blue de travail, so you should not expect it to be – it’s a modernized take on the same, which I think has its own charms.
I could personally do without the iconography – the oversized brand logo on the interior of the jacket is the combination of a raised fist and a factory – which is also available on buttons that you can purchase separately. I’ve nothing against it per se, but it smacks a little bit of an undergraduate’s first reading of Marx. So does some of the campaign imagery, which I think is slightly misleading, and perhaps to the projects’ detriment. This is a very versatile garment, that I’ve been wearing both with wider twill trousers and with slim Japanese denim. Thanks to the color and inspiration (a chore jacket, rather than a Type 1 or 3 jacket), it doesn’t feel like wearing a denim tuxedo – it’s a garment that would be at home with either ripstop fatigues or faded jeans.
On the other hand, the more forgiving side of me – and, perhaps, the part that still remembers what it’s like to read Marx as an undergrad – thinks it’s just fine to let the imagination run a little bit, the way Aganovich obviously does when crafting its runway collections. After all, part of fashion’s charm is to take us to places we might not go, and part of the magic is that garments can become more than the sum of their parts.
At approximately 200$ (the Kickstarter price – the predicted future retail price is 518EUR), the Invisible Acts jacket falls within the same price range as some of the more affordable workwear and repro brands (think Sugar Cane or Rogue Territory), while the retail price would see it in line with a brand such as Mr. Freedom or Iron Heart), although it’s obviously dissimilar in looks. To me, that’s more than fair, and not out of line with what I’d expect. The jacket is available in Coal (black), Slate (grey), and Snow (white), and if you are interested in one, take note because the Kickstarter campaign ends this Sunday, June 4th, after which point the early backer price disappears.
As for the jacket itself, I’m a fan. It is, admittedly, not pushing any boundaries – although that was not the intention. Instead, it’s a quality version of a garment that most of us have or will have owned at least once. I’ll be interested to see if Invisible Acts goes anywhere after this Kickstarter, and Mr. Taylor says that, now that the project “Has established a base…it can go in all sorts of directions.” I don’t know if there’s room for a high fashion brand’s experiments in ethical workwear, but I suppose the market will let us know. At the very least I can say that there’s room in my closet for more projects such as this.
As is always the case with clothing, the question of whether or not you should buy the garment comes down to whether or not you yourself like it. For me, a person who likes chore jackets but has no real desire to wear denim jackets or look like a 20th century rail worker, it’s one of the relatively few options that’s both aesthetically appealing and, well, functional. And importantly, the fact that this is an ethically-made jacket doesn’t take away from either its form or its function – you’re not sacrificing quality or design by purchasing a garment made this way, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that instead, you’re gaining from it.
None of us are perfect. That’s something that Mr. Taylor is quick to point out: “Anyone that says they can get it all perfect is lying. Because no matter how ethical your garment may be, you’re going to deliver it burning jet fuel. As a former deckhand I have a dream of one day delivering by sailboat, but…well, I’m sure our customers would be overjoyed.” Even so, Mr. Taylor is also happy to declare that the project itself has been an educational experience, and that he hopes that by “Asking the questions, keeping up the conversation, challenging [our]selves, that it influences others to do the same.” We’ve seen, the past few years alone, a massive shift in awareness towards ethical manufacturing, and while it’s always difficult to get consumers to think beyond the pocketbook – and to keep that momentum going – and projects such as these are perhaps more important than any of us think.
For both Aganovich the brand as well as readers of Styleforum, we’re somewhat – somewhat – insulated from these concerns. However, during Fashion Revolution week we suggested that you ask both yourself and your favorite brands: “Who made my clothes?” In this case, it’s nice to know that the answer won’t keep you up at night.
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