Street photography and street style–is it dead?

Tom Albo argues over at Esquire that what passes for street style these days is too self conscious and preening to mean anything. The case can be made that the current crop of street style camera jockeys are fashion photographers more than documentarians of “what’s really going on,” but the case that true street style is ever truly “effortlessly cool” is specious. But, as Heisenberg might wonder, were he a Styleforum member, can you observe street fashion without affecting it? Albo defines real street style thusly: “a tough bag, good sunglasses, and solid footwear that helps you dodge the various slow and crazy people in the way… as effortlessly cool as Debbie Harry in the morning.”

Really, this is an excuse to post interviews with two of New York’s most celebrated street photographers–Bruce Davidson (his Brooklyn Gang series documented a group of poor, shiftless teens who happen to look cool as hell) and Ricky Powell (a hobbyist who was in the right place at the right time to catch the rise of NY hip hop on film)–excerpted from Cheryl Dunn’s in-progress documentary, Everybody Street (how meta). There may be a chasm between what these guys (street photographers) do and what The Sartorialist or Bill Cunningham (street style photographers) do, but does that mean “street style” is dead?

Bruce Davidson.

Ricky Powell.

Should I Use Sole Guards? Nick V. Weighs In

The debate—whether it’s advisable to add sole guards to your shoes—has been raised many times on the forum. I wanted to share my insight on the topic from years of experience. There are several angles to consider.

Carmina boots with sole guards and sunken metal toe plate.

First, many people refer to sole guards as “Topys.” Topy is a brand that makes sole guards and has done a great job marketing their name, attaching it to a product until it became the accepted generic. In the same way, people refer to galoshes as Totes. Galoshes are a product. Totes is a brand name. Many brands, patterns, thicknesses, and colors of sole guard are available on the market today.

Next, shoe manufacturers are very protective of whats become a secondary market for them. That is, the ability to re-sole their own brand. This helps them in three ways: sales, customer loyalty, and profits. I have heard salespeople are instructed to advise against sole guards. They are trained to explain that it prevents the sole from breathing.

Clearly, rubber soled offerings are becoming more popular on the high-grades these days. On a Goodyear-welted shoe, the construction on a rubber soled shoe vs. leather is largely the same. The only difference is, on a leather-soled shoe, the sole is stitched to the welt. With a shoe finished with a factory rubber sole, a midsole is stitched to the welt, and the rubber sole is cemented to the mid-sole. The cork footbed is made of the same mixture of rubber cement and cork. Both elements are flexible, but barely breathable.

So, if the claim is made that a thin sole guard prevents a leather soled shoe from breathing, why are they offering rubber soled high-grades?

Some also claim that sole guards make the shoe less flexible. In 35 years, I never heard one complaint from a customer regarding inflexibility of shoes with sole guards. So, I can’t give this argument any merit.

Some might say sole guards throw the shoe off balance. Most sole guards are slightly thicker than a credit card. The leather sole needs to be roughed before applying the sole guard, likewise the under-skin of the sole guard. The net difference of a shoe with a sole guard vs. one without is very close to the thickness of a credit card. So, you can test it yourself. Before you decide on sole guards, put on your new shoes, with one, step on a credit card (under the ball of your foot), the other on the bare floor. If you feel an uncomfortable significance in the balance, opt out on the sole guards.

I have also heard concerns that when a sole guard is being applied its necessary to sand down the new sole, potentially damaging the sole stitching. My comments are based on using a reputable cobbler. Yes, there are butchers; but I’m talking skilled cobblers here. Most high-grades are stitched with in a channeled sole—that means the stitching lies below the surface of the sole. No cobbler worth his salt will hit the stitching while prepping for sole guards. Further, Goodyear-welted shoes are stitched with a lock-stitch. That means each stitch is independent of itself. Even if one or two stitches are accidentally nipped (very unlikely) the stitching won’t unravel.

Now, to the pros of sole guards. Aside from traction and waterproof, the biggest benefit of using sole guards is their value.  A thin sole guard will generally twice outlast a leather sole, in many cases, more. Say, for example, a leather sole lasts you a year and it costs $100 to replace; in two years you will have spent $200. Replacing a sole guard costs $30 to $40. Plus, with a sole guard replacement, you can get your shoes back in a day or so.

I have also heard comments like “If you are spending hundreds of dollars for a high-grade shoe with a leather sole why would you want to cover it with rubber?” As an example, we recently added guards to two pairs of J.M. Weston 180s in croc. Two different customers, both wanted sole guards, for shoes that retail at over $3500 per pair. For those that just like the feel of walking on leather, I have no debate for you. For everyone else, there are other things to consider.

J.M. Weston 180 in croc.

Lastly, a word of caution… the purpose of sole guards is to prevent leather from wearing out, they are waterproof, nonskid, and can present value over time. If your existing shoes have soles that feel spongy or are severely worn, DO NOT put sole guards on them. Even if your cobbler tries to talk you into it. They are intended to be preventive maintenance, not a cure for damage.

Want les Essentiels de la Vie.

Want les Essentiels de la Vie wants you to travel in comfort and style. Their accessories are neither over nor underdesigned, with helpful details where you want them but without utilitarian excesses. Want chooses to be excessive instead with luxury materials and construction.  At Pitti, Dexter Peart showed me what Want has planned for their imagined customer, a long-distance commuter with a penchant for technology, travel, and design.

Their current leitmotif is duality. Many of their standard models are mixing fabrications, and their recurring design touch is in their zips, which are half silver toned and half gold.  The O’Hare tote, an evergreen model, is in Italian waxed cotton with trim in their organic cotton.  Other bags use suede as the context for a calf leather, as in pocket that’s a perfect fit for an iPad–not a rare feature in bags these days, but thoughtfully integrated here rather than tacked on. Elsewhere, caviar leather (stingray) shows up in small leather goods. A fully reversible bag has been made with a double-faced wool blend: one side is gray, one is blue. Want has also made a slipper ideal for air travel: it collapses nearly flat and zips closed. Gray wool matches with cognac leather, and black with black.

At the show all the samples were displayed on collapsible displays of honeycombed kraft paper, topped with sweatshirt gray felt discs. Want is a Canadian operation, and Dexter explained it was some Canadian camaraderie that led them to use furniture from Vancouver’s Molo Design. One stool held a special made-in-Japan executive set, another held their new made-in-Naples gloves in cashmere-lined suede and leather, again with a Want gold/silver zip, and bracelets from a make near Milan. Their manufacturing is diverse–leather bags are made in Italy, some smaller goods in China, and some in Japan. That’s not surprising given the global scale of Want’s reach.

Reversible tote from Want.

Nicest gym bag I've ever seen.

Gym bag detail.

Silver/gold zip on a canvas bag.

Travel slipper in gray/cognac.

Japan-made executive suite.

Gloves and small leather goods.

O'Hare tote in slate green cotton.

 

 

 

Visiting Cheaney shoes at Pitti Uomo

All the English shoemakers at Pitti seemed to be putting their countriest feet forward–Edward Green and Crockett and Jones, associated with sculpted lasts and top drawer finishing, proved they could indeed make beefy, lug soled shoes.  However, I was perhaps more surprised by the elegance on hand at Cheaney shoes, which makes for many private labels and has been trying to grow its own-labeled line (see an interview Nick V. did with Cheaney co-owner William Church). The firm has a 125-year history in Northampton, and a complicated recent history that includes a separation from the Prada group. Cheaney’s reputation is more as a solid value than an aesthetic leader, but the models, materials, and construction on hand in Florence were impressive. Country boots, fiddle-waisted city shoes, and a dose of character in mixed-panel brogues all showed that Cheaney is an important option to consider when choosing your Goodyear-welted, Northampton poison.

Rollin on dubs. (no spinners)

 

Pains me to wear soles like these on pavement.

Bluchers in suede and calf on a reasonably sleek last–not too forward or too broad.

Loved this scotch grain captoe.

Detail on those caps.

Would seem at home with some Engineered Garments gear.

Some country boots with a padded collar in black scotch grain.

Also available in brown.

Takahiro Miyashita The SoloIst at IF

The exclusive collection of Takahiro Miyashita’s The SoloIst at New York’s IF boutique is an homage to wandering. “Keep Walking,” a phrase repeated on The SoloIst site and on Miyashita’s blog, neatly distills the essence of the pieces at IF. Jackets and shirts seem patched from whatever fabric happened to be on hand, and nearly every item is distressed, suggesting the wear of hard travel. On a few pieces, the outer layer of fabric is cut to reveal lining underneath, adding depth to the garment’s surface. Edges are left ragged to give the piece a deceptively unfinished quality. Slashed dramatically with exposed white cotton, a pair of navy linen pants exemplifies the technique.

The abundant detailing in Miyashita’s garments may imply a free and careless attitude, but the materials and craftsmanship leave no doubt that every aspect has been thoughtfully considered. If the clothes evoke a vagabond image, it is an urban vision with a preference for Japanese streetwear and luxe fabrics. An Edwardian brocade jacket of wool, tencel, rayon, alpaca, and cotton (priced at over $2,000), would be more at home in NY or Tokyo, where it can be seen and admired, than in the wilderness it plays on. Another standout, and one of the more accessible pieces, is an incredibly soft jacket in a rich, mocha-toned sheepskin suede (at about $3,000).

The SoloIst work represents a progression from what Miyashita created at the late, lamented Number (N)ine. Number (N)ine was heavy on rock ’n’roll and rebellion. The SoloIst finds Miyashita designing pieces that feel more relaxed; even mature. Long-time fans of Miyashita’s work will still find his signatures in these latest creations, however, and if they’ve mellowed a bit over the years and just want some clothes to wander the city in, they know where to look.

The SoloIst on the racks at IF Boutique.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Details abound on this charcoal double-breasted floral-print jacket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An incredibly soft sheepskin suede jacket.

The suede on the back is slashed along the seams.

A pair of relaxed navy linen pants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On many pieces, the surface fabric is cut to show the lining beneath.

One of IF’s friendly sales assistants shows off a 3/4 coat.

The shirts, like that pictured, feature mixed fabrics and patterns.

Accessories including hats and scarves round out the collection.

 

Finamore at Pitti Uomo

Finamore could rest on its old-world shirtmaker laurels (second oldest shirtmaker in Naples; more handsewing than Betsy Ross [more in the black labeled classica line than in sportier models]; renowned MTM program, fabric from top mills, etc., etc.) but at Pitti 81 chose instead to highlight its innovative side, with look-at-me fabrics and treatments, quilted snap-button shirts, and aggressive collars.  I was surprised to see jackets alongside Finamore’s famous shirts; don’t yet know too much about the tailored goods, but we’re checking into it!

Checks and an excellent out of focus roll on the collar. (Apologies for shallow focus on these–it was dark in the depths of Pitti.)

Fina-floral.

The jackets were lightly tailored and used exceedingly soft fabrics. Accessories–ties and scarves–were top drawer as well.

The Italian-only Finamore rep REALLY wanted me to see the washed (but mostly dirtied) treatments on these quilted shirts. Interesting stuff.

Nick V. talks with Peter Agati, Paul Stuart’s Director of Footwear

Paul Stuart has a sterling reputation as a provider of fine footwear, carrying both ideal business classics and charmingly offbeat models, made in England and Italy. Nick V. of B. Nelson Shoes talks with Peter Agati about his three decades in the footwear trade, sourcing, styling, and Paul Stuart’s current offerings.

Nick V.: Tell us of your background in the Men’s footwear business.

Peter Agati: My career in the footwear industry can be traced back to 1978 with the establishment of my first store in New York City on Madison Avenue at 38th Street. In no short order, my partners and I were able to expand the business, eventually operating a nine-store chain with a warehouse, offices, and distribution center in Long Island City. Over the next few years, my role as buyer led to excursions to several production facilities in the UK and on the European Continent where my interest in production and design afforded me the opportunity to begin customizing orders, and shortly thereafter, to develop my own label.

Most of this additional production was, naturally enough, concentrated in Italy—specifically in Tuscany. After making extended trips to both the Marche region and to the Padova area near Venice we discovered a number of accomplished craftsmen eager to work with us by interpreting and updating the classic styles we were most interested in introducing into our program.

 

NV: Can you tell us some of your experiences while visiting those factories?

PA: I have visited more than a hundred production facilities of every imaginable size in Europe. The trick is to make your way out of the showrooms and offices and into the working factory. The machinery and people on the production line are always fascinating. The average person doesn’t realize the extent of the handcraftsmanship regularly employed in the production of fine quality footwear. There are no conveyor belts with shoes flying through the factory. In Northampton the clickers methodically and painstakingly cut every pattern by hand—but only after assessing the most appropriate manner in which to address each skin. This attention to detail extends from there to the sewing table, where each hole is hand-punched in a brogue derby, to the hand corking of the insole, to the channel stitching of the sole onto a cap toe. All of these craftsmen take enormous pride in their work. That pride is reflected like a signature on each item they produce.

 

NV: Why did you decide to join Paul Stuart?

PA: In 2008 I was invited to join Paul Stuart, one of the most prestigious menswear stores in the world, with the intention of turning the lease department into an in-house shoe department.

NV: Describe the state of Paul Stuart’s shoe department when you joined them.

PA: For nearly 75 years, the Paul Stuart approach has represented the epitome of quality, taste, and—most importantly—the finest assortment of menswear available anywhere in the world. In terms of footwear, it was evident when I joined Paul Stuart that with our customer base showing a distinct preference for English make and styling (our production at that time was dominated by a single factory, with some additional Italian-sourced product), it would be necessary to add new production resources.

Two years into my tenure at Paul Stuart we took the entire shoe department in-house and began the diversification of English brands. We sourced factories throughout the Northampton region where there is a signature of sorts that is unique to each individual factory and to every aspect of the product line. It is something inherent in the finished product that allows one to identify which factory has produced that shoe. Drawing on this signature and recognizing its strengths allows us to choose a diverse selection in a classic environment such as Paul Stuart.

Since then, we have increased our English assortment dramatically and added six new factories to our mix. Moreover, we continue to augment our Anglo offerings with equally high quality footwear carefully selected from throughout the best manufacturers in Europe.

NV: How does the Phineas Cole collection differ from Paul Stuart?

PA: Our facility, with all aspects of production, has also made it much easier for us to extend our own signature to encompass the more forward aspects Phineas Cole. The styles may well begin with all the timeless hallmarks of fine classic footwear but, by working with Ralph Auriemma [Design Director for Phineas Cole, see Styleforum’s visit with Ralph], we interpret the classics and put a much more resolutely modern twist on the collection to complement the Phineas Cole aesthetic.

 

NV: Does your customer base prefer English shoes?

PA: The classic styling of English shoes and the durability of their Goodyear welted construction complements business attire. Many of our clients at Paul Stuart wear the same style for many years and refurbish the shoes several times before replacing them. Although all of the attributes of the English welted construction—things like the hand corking, wooden shanks, full leather insoles, aged oak bark leather soles, and the double stitching of the welted construction—aren’t necessarily known to our clients, the quality that allows for the comfort and longevity of these shoes is obvious. With six English manufacturers currently producing for Paul Stuart, we believe no other store in the states is able boast so large collection fine English footwear.

NV: When you are designing a shoe, what are the most important factors that you consider? How much is influenced by your customers?

PA: When designing men’s shoes, the most important aspect of the design is the toe character of the last. This is one reason why at Paul Stuart you may find 10–12 black cap toes all with different toe characters, fittings, and slight detail differences. The toe sets the tone for each article.

Design inspiration comes from many sources. We often find ideas in archived items that were popular decades ago, and we constantly endeavor to update the looks so they are relevant today. Inspiration can also come from the entertainment industry, such as HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and its prohibition-era wardrobe.

NV: How has the high-grade footwear industry changed since you started in the business? What lies ahead for the footwear department in Paul Stuart?

PA: Footwear designers and retailers like Paul Stuart continue to enjoy success by providing our clientele the highest quality products available. Compromising quality for price dilutes the potency of any brand. Unfortunately, in much of the market, the separation between true luxury brands and the balance of the goods available has increased tremendously; there is a huge gap in quality and price. Although many of the mid-priced manufacturers have fallen victim to competition from the Far East, things are somewhat more settled now and an argument can be made that the top footwear resources will probably continue to get stronger. The internet’s sartorial forum provides a clearer picture of the fashion world and its possibilities. When men realize that a shoe is not simply something you need to complete an outfit but an essential component of that outfit, quality will always come out on top.

At Paul Stuart, we will continue to grow the classic—and, certainly with Phineas Cole, the less conventionally traditional—English collection. We will also continue to expand our already diverse selection of leisure footwear to best complement the wide selection of tailored clothing, sportswear, and accessories we offer. As ever, we are always looking for new items and directions in all of our lines. It is this approach that continues to set Paul Stuart apart from any and all competition.

Thanks Peter!

Images courtesy Paul Stuart.

Coffee with Mariano Rubinacci, Redux.

As Pete wrote earlier, one of the calmer moments we had at Pitti Uomo was our morning coffee with Mariano Rubinacci.

Mariano met us at the Westin Excelsior on the Thursday morning, the last busy day of Pitti Uomo before people start packing it up on Friday in preparation for the long season ahead.  Milan, Paris, and New York are upon you in quick succession after that, making it a very long month ahead.

After introductions, and a brief tangent on the Excelsior’s stunning lobby and cut flowers (I only noticed them when Mariano pointed them out), he suggested that we get a cappuccino.  He explained that he would be going to Pitti after coffee, and asked if we would like to share a cab with him.  Although he seemed politely amused by our presence, he was a gracious host, and patiently answered all of our questions, most of which I’m sure he had answered many times. Where was Luca? How often do they come to the United States? Etc., etc.

Rubinacci spoke of his son, Luca, who was vacationing in Aspen—but Mariano would soon be fitting clients in London.  He went to London to meet clients more often and to New York, less frequently.  A fluctuation in your size?  Within 4 kilos, a garment could be adjusted.  Four kilos was a full size though, and you might need a new garment for further expansion after that.  “Not for me,” he pointed to his own jacket, which I thought looked impeccably tailored, “I don’t change this, to remind myself that I am fat.”  Yes, Rubinacci would be doing some ready-to-wear, but only accessories.  I joked that I might have to steal a jacket he’d once made for a friend.  “No, no, no, that wouldn’t work, since that garment would have been made for someone else.” No, he does not consider himself a tailor—he could not cut a jacket himself.  What he is, “It’s a difficult question.”  But he does tell people what will work for them.  And he does a classic style, which doesn’t change so much.  About Fabio Borelli’s tight suits and high-water pants, “It’s very modern.”  He was very happy that many of the 45 tailors in his workshop were under 50 years old.  He wanted to leave something for his son, he explained, and if everyone was old, that was not much to leave.

Coffee in Italy was good.  It was, according to Mariano, not the water, as some claimed.  He had the same coffee in London, and it tasted the same when made with British water.  He gave us a recommendation for a good seafood restaurant in Florence, something of a rarity; Florence is better known for its enormous steaks (prices are per 100g, often with a 700g minimum).  Next time I go to Florence, I will have to get myself to Fuor d’Aqua.

Outside, while we waited for a cab, he greeted an older gentleman whose car service had just arrived.  “The owner of Kiton,” he told me.  On the drive to Pitti, I asked him for recommendations for leather goods—I needed to get something for my wife.  “There are many good leather goods in Florence, but I am not so much an expert,” he explained.

We walked together to the entrance of Pitti, and then he had to go.  Not sure where tailoring luminaries go.  We were on for another day taking notes and photos at booths.  Although I am unlikely to ever have the opportunity to commission a garment from him, I understand why his clients are so loyal.  He gave us a peaceful hour in the midst of a week of chaos.  Thank you for that, Mr. Rubinacci.

More street style from the Grungy Gentleman.

Styleforum did not send any contributors to Milan this season.  Fortunately Jace, a.k.a. Grungy Gentleman, agreed to pick up the slack.  More instagrammatic style via Grungy.

Robert Rabensteiner at Carven.

Monitaly.

 

Rocking out with @SebastianSauve at Ami

Milan Vukmirovic, again. This man is my idol. Can I get a #mostdope from the congregation?

@Sartorialist doing work backstage at @CoSTUMENATIONAL in a super-cool camo jacket

Just another day at the office @CoSTUMENATIONAL

 

Shoot legends on my iPhone yo.

 


 

Grungy Gentleman’s Milan street style.

Styleforum did not send any contributors to Milan this season.  Fortunately Jace, a.k.a. Grungy Gentleman, agreed to pick up the slack.  More to come from Paris as well.

If you look up the word impeccable in the dictionary, this is what you find @NickWooster

 

 

Mario Boglioli at his presentation (great guy)

Complete honor getting to know one of my idols this week. Milan Vukmirovic in shearling and a white tee.