SF10: Talking shop with Tom Park of Leather Soul

Leading up to Styleforum’s 10th anniversary showcase and party, we’ll be talking to some of the people who’ve helped make Styleforum what it is today. First off, Tom Park, owner of one of the world’s finest footwear sources: Leather Soul. With locations in Waikiki, Hawaii and Beverly Hills, California, Leather Soul puts Aldens, Edward Greens, Saint Crispin’s, and others on the most discerning feet in the world. Tom and his Leather Soul colleagues will be bringing shoes from Alden, George Cleverley, and Saint Crispin’s, as well as select accessories, to Styleforum’s 10th anniversary event.

Leather Soul owner Tom Park and LSW General Manager Takuya Hoshino. Photo by Ryan Plett.

Fok-Yan Leung: Could you tell us a little about how you started Leather Soul?

Tom Park: I’ve always loved shoes, I can remember my first pair of Air Jordans back when I was five. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family; my grandfather owned a company and my mother had and still has a florist’s shop here in Honolulu. While in college I worked at a high-end shoe store very much like Leather Soul and learned to love high end men’s dress shoes. From that time I wanted to open my own store and knew one day I would. When my grandmother passed away she left me some money and told me to follow my dreams. I quit my job, sold my car, took out credit card debt, and opened LS back in 2004.

FYL: Could you tell us a little about the evolution of the store and about the products you carry? It’s been quite a success story.

TP: My original concept was to open a classy, comfortable shop where local businessmen could stop by during their lunch breaks and pick up a pair of shoes. I had zero aspirations of opening a location on the mainland or even in Waikiki. I started out selling everything from $75 Sebagos to $500 Aldens. As time passed, my product mix evolved and eventually when I opened in Waikiki, LS evolved into a higher-end specialty shop. Aldens, which had once been my most expensive line, became the lowest priced line in the shop. To this day, we are still growing. I went from being a one-person operation to having a staff of 10. Our next move is to broaden our offerings to include more leather goods, vintage timepieces, and a small selection of clothing. I also plan to open another location here in Honolulu later this year to serve my local customers better.

FYL: How did you find Styleforum? What made you stay? Did you participate in any other forums?

TP: Back in 2004-2005 I found Ask Andy and became very involved there. Members were extremely friendly and I was happy conversing with other shoe lovers and giving any advice and information that I could. Styleforum was always a bit scary to me because I was not into clothing back then and had zero knowledge about clothing. As I became more knowledgeable and enthusiastic about clothing, I started posting more on SF and found the crowd to be more serious and better suited for my evolving business. To this day I check SF daily and really credit it for providing me the knowledge of clothing and footwear I have today.

FYL: You have a very successful (and really, very stylish) blog. What is the traffic like?  Do you ever envision having a webstore?

TP: We average about 3,000 visitors a day on our website. I have no intentions to have a webstore. I think web checkout is too impersonal for the products we sell. The website is blog based and the purpose is really to let our customers know what’s going on. I still write all the content for the blog and take all the pictures. It’s really meant to be very casual and intimate, more like I’m talking to you about the shoes. After people check out the blog, they can visit us, call us, or email us if they want to order something. I get emails every now and then complaining about instant sell outs, accusing me of being all smoke and mirrors. What people don’t realize is that we have about 15,000 customers in our database, thousands of eyes watching our website daily, 40 people visiting LSW alone per day, and 10 salespeople all trying to sell shoes. Of course we sell out quick. Our typical Alden size runs are only 66 pairs. Why not order more? We simply cannot order more and keep the same kind of selection going. We are limited by production issues as well.

FYL: You certainly taught us a lot about shoes. Did the influence ever go the other way?

TP: Of course, I learn every day from Style Forum. If I have a shoe-related question myself, I can often times find the answer on SF.

FYL: Forum people love minutiae, whether it’s about shirts, or jeans, or shoes. Any questions that you’d like to answer once and for all? This is your chance.

TP: Shoes are never perfect. Do not expect them to be. They go on your feet and touch the nasty ground all day. The stitching does not need to be perfectly straight. If there’s a missing perforation, who cares.

FYL: Could you tell me a little about the Leather Soul specials for Styleforum? How did they come about? What were the end products? Things you would have changed if you went back in time?

TP: When my business was smaller, I often times took suggestions from my best customers for new models. For instance, we were the first to do a shell cordovan Indy Boot back in 2005, which was a suggestion from a customer of mine. After successfully doing a collaboration for Ask Andy, I wanted to do one for Styleforum and after a lot of discussions on the forum, the SF Boot was created. We ended up doing an SF Shoe as well which was essentially a low-cut version of the shoe. I really enjoy doing this kind of collaboration with the forum members but it’s becoming very difficult due to production lead times. Also, there are so many limitations that are difficult to explain to people, especially when they are so passionate about the brand. Passion tends to overshadow reality sometimes and people often do not understand why we can’t do this or why we can’t order that. Of course I wish I could do anything and everything people desire, but ultimately I’m just a retailer and I have to go by what the vendor can and cannot do.

The OG Styleforum boot from Alden and Leather Soul.

FYL: You told me that you’ve met a lot of people on the forum. Any memorable stories?

TP: Well, I’m always happy to meet SF members in person. I love to meet people at LSW especially because I love to show off the shop and I appreciate their visit so much. My most memorable meeting was probably meeting Mark (yfyf on the forum) and Parker at the LSBH opening. I remembered Mark (yfyf) being kind of distant and not so friendly (haha!). This was before he opened the Armoury. Now, we are close friends and do business together. He is such a great easygoing guy and I really feel blessed to be his friend. The Armoury is probably my second favorite store (other than LS).

FYL: Could you tell us a little about the latest projects you’ve done in collaboration with Styleforum members?

TP: My collaboration with Kiya and Self Edge was actually about 2 years in the making. We met in Tokyo (with Johan of 3sixteen), ate ramen, drank beers, and decided we wanted to do something together eventually. We have very similar backgrounds and think very similarly. We have become good friends over the past few years. Look for another Leather Soul x Self Edge collaboration in the future.

FYL: Anything else you’d like to tell us?

TP: See you at the W.

Leather Soul rolls deep.

Saint Crispin's 316 in red 076 Inca grained calf from Leather Soul.

 

Edward Green Top Drawer Lichfield at Leather Soul.

 

Alden Norwegian Split Toe boot in Chromexcel at Leather Soul.

Leather Soul x Self Edge boot by Alden.

 

 

Shopping Rome: Jaja Camiceria

Giuseppe Rossi of Jaja Camiceria. Nice shirt.

 

By serendipity, I found Jaja Camiceria while walking around Rome one day trying to find a good lunch. I’ve always believed that when you’re in a touristy area, you’re better off searching for food off the beaten paths. So while walking down a smaller side street near the Spanish steps, I came across this custom tailoring shop.

Jaja has been around for almost 45 years, but changed ownership two years ago and is now run by Giuseppe Rossi. The shop’s front room is where he meets and fits clients, and all the shirts are made in the back. Giuseppe does all the custom pattern making and cutting, and he and three of his tailors do the sewing.

Since everything is bespoke and handmade, they only produce four shirts a day. Hand-sewn seams go around each of the armholes and down the plackets, and distinctive mother-of-pearl buttons slide through the handmade buttonholes.  The side seams, hems, and collars are made by machine, but they’re done with such a high stitch count (nine per centimeter) that they’re barely perceptible.

Signore Rossi was nice enough to demonstrate for me some of his handwork. Taking one of his current client’s shirts, he slowly and patiently hand stitched up the placket. As he later showed me, monograms are also genuinely hand embroidered, which you could tell by examining the back of embroidered fabric. Truly hand-embroidered monograms lack the small piece of fabric on the back that’s attached on machine embroidery to prevent wrinkling.

Prices for custom shirts start at $260, and go up from there depending on the detailing and fabric. Due to how much work is involved in cutting the first pattern, there is a minimum three shirts for the first order. Jaja can also make boxers out of their Italian shirtings for $50, as well as pajamas out of soft cotton flannels for $235. Looking back, I wish I had ordered a couple of monogrammed boxers. Who can’t use a pair of Italian boxers with a shadowed monogram?

Jaja Camiceria
Via Belsiana 7A
Rome, Italy

Signore Rossi stitches a placket.

Handwork on a Jaja placket.

 

Bolts of fabric at Jaja.

 

Collar styles at Jaja.

 

Spreads.

 

Hand-embroidered monogram from Jaja.

 

A man is not fully dressed until he has a pocket square in his pajama pocket.

 

Embroidered boxers--better than writing your name on the waistband with a sharpie.

All photos and text by Derek Guy. Check out Derek’s other sartorial endeavors at Die, Workwear and Put This On.

A visit to Panico, Naples, part II

Antonio Panico adjusts an Ulster coat.

See also part I of Derek’s piece on Panico.

If you know your way around, some of the best food can be had in Naples. Our dinner with Antonio Panico, for example, took place at Pizzeria Mattozzi, a modest restaurant located just a short walk from Rubinacci. I was actually there earlier that day, but foolishly ordered the pasta. The key, I think, is to always order dishes that use mozzarella, which in Naples is made from the rich milk of water buffaloes. Panico ordered six or seven dishes for us to share, most of which had lots of mozzarella (including pizza, of course).

At dinner with us were Mrs. Panico, who was wearing a lovely dress and fur coat, and two of Panico’s Japanese clients, both of whom turned out to be young dandies. One was wearing a pair of grey flannel trousers and a gun club jacket with softly constructed, roped shoulders, three patch pockets, and a rather clean chest. His jacket was slightly more fitted, which is what I assumed he asked for, given his age. His friend had on charcoal trousers and a navy sport coat with two patch pockets, barchetta breast pocket, and sloping, bald shoulders. Signore Panico came dressed in what he wore earlier in the day—a navy suit, light blue shirt, burgundy oxford-weave tie, and pair of black suede chukkas. In addition, he had on a matching burgundy wool scarf and navy Ulster overcoat that he undoubtedly tailored himself. When he wore the Ulster, he would flip the back collar up, as is often done with this style of overcoat, and it flared out in the most handsome way. The overall look was very masculine.

I asked Panico at dinner about the famous safari jacket he made when he was at London House. “I don’t even think about it anymore,” he said. “But if you’d like, I have some other safari jackets in my workshop. Come by tomorrow, I will show you.” I actually had an 8-hour appointment at Isaia’s factory the next day, but Panico assured me that it didn’t matter. He works until very late at night.

The following evening, I stopped by the atelier. Again, as is the custom, Panico welcomed me in and offered me coffee. This time, there were also cigars and chocolates on the coffee table, and on the other side of the room, where there had been wool suiting, there were now two extremely large bouquets of flowers, presumably from happy customers. Panico and I chatted for a bit before a knock came at the door. An older, slightly heavier set Neapolitan gentleman came in. He had thick, wavy silver hair and a grey chalkstripe flannel suit to match. It turned out he has been a client of Panico’s for 30 years, back when the Maestro was at Rubinacci. Now he lives in New York and does business in South Korea and Western Europe. When he can, he stops by Naples to have his clothes made.

“Thank you for the espresso,” he said to Panico’s assistant. He passed on the chocolate, but took one of the cigars. Panico then handed him a lighter.

The gentleman was very worried about the European debt crisis, so we talked for a bit about the European Central Bank, whether Italy should return to the lira, and if the Euro was a doomed idea from the start. After about 20 minutes, the gentleman turned to Panico and, almost as if he just remembered, asked about his jacket. Panico then politely asked for my permission to bring the client to the fitting room, to which I replied, “Certainly, please.”

The fitting is a private affair, of course, and when the two men returned, we continued to chat about various subjects—modernity, family, and traveling. Soon another knock came at the door and a gentleman with neatly brushed-back brown hair appeared. He didn’t seem like he had time to chat, so Panico asked us to excuse him while he brought the client to the back. The silver-haired gentleman and I continued our conversation, and when the Maestro returned, the topic naturally wended its way to tailoring. “Ah yes, the safari jackets,” Panico said, and then nodded, “Let me show you.”

He brought out three belted jackets. One is made from linen, another from cotton, and the last from cashmere. Without any of the structure of lining or canvas, they wear rather light. Panico motioned me to try on a few. Once they were on, he belted them up, pulled up the collar, and straightened them out. I admired them for a moment in the mirror, appreciating their stylish, unique look. Next, Panico had me try on a few Ulster overcoats, which weren’t too unlike the one he wore the night before. These are made from heavy, thick wools and they have an incredible life to them, particularly in the way the lapel line majestically rolls past the buttoning point.

Panico seems to excel in this kind of construction—shaping heavy, thick fabrics beautifully and making them feel as light as possible. They drape wonderfully from the shoulders, and even with the rougher cloths, there’s the signature spalla camicia sleevehead. The silhouette also harkens back to the Golden Age of Italian style—the 1950s and ‘60s – when suits were a bit fuller and had more bravado. Panico’s tailoring, in this sense, feels grand, aristocratic, elegant, and very masculine.

I thought about this for a moment while looking in the mirror. There’s been enough hand wringing over whether there will be enough skilled tailors in the future. Many Master Tailors don’t have apprentices, and the modern economy no longer allows people to enter into the trade at an early age (Panico began training at age 12). More importantly than that, however, is the problem of taste. There seems to be two generations in Naples. The older generation likes a fuller, elegant cut, while the younger generation likes things more fitted and fashionable. I personally have no doubts that there will be skilled cutters here in 20 or 30 years, but it’s not clear whether there will be people with Panico’s level of taste in the future. For those of us who appreciate that 1950s-60s era of Italian style, such silhouettes may be more and more difficult to obtain in 30 years’ time.

Back in the main room, the original silver-haired gentleman and I decided that we’ve bothered the Maestro enough, and that it’s time we leave him to his work. We bade him farewell, and Panico asked that we visit him again when we’re in town.

As many may recall, Filangieri posted this old article at Ask Andy About Clothes many years ago, before AAAC’s servers crashed. In it, he gives his account of having a suit made in Naples, and waxes romantic on not only the garments, but also the process, experience, and social nature of the transaction. His article is almost undoubtedly about Panico, but I think it represents many other tailors here as well. For example, on the day I met Gianluca, the director of O’Mast, he had just gotten back from his tailor, where he had not only stopped by for a fitting, but also to share lunch.

This kind of kind of gentleman’s approach to business is only really practiced among a certain segment of tailors, however. They tend to be from an older generation, and are often cutters running smaller operations. Perhaps because of age or culture, they don’t seem interested in maximizing profits. Their business is steady and loyal. Their clients bring their sons and close friends, and those people stay for decades before doing the same. In some cases, if the Maestro doesn’t think someone is worthy of being fitted, he may even politely turn down the business. For these men, tailoring is as much more about their sense of personal pride than it is about money, and the people they work with aren’t just customers, but also friends.

To be sure, one shouldn’t get the impression that you can go to Naples and buy this experience as though it were part of a pre-packaged ride. It’s not as though for 2,000 Euros you’ll get a bespoke suit and two espressos, but for 500 more, you’ll get lunch. They’re natural extensions of real relationships. Foreigners who come here, on the other hand, often don’t speak Italian, let alone Neapolitan, and the tailors certainly don’t speak English (at least the older ones). Perhaps both parties can get by with enough gestures and pointing to have a suit made, and maybe a cup of espresso will be offered, but these aren’t the same things. The “Neapolitan ‘sartoria’ experience,” as Filangieri calls it, is still alive, but one gets the impression that it’s only for locals.

Unfortunately, as this older generation ages and eventually departs, so may this social dimension of Naples’ tailoring culture. Many of the other houses are too new, too big, or too busy to engage in such things. Even if they had the time, young people tend to approach business differently. This kind of transition could be likened to the evolution of barbershops in America. While they were once places for socializing and leisure, they’re now places where you simply make an appointment and have your hair cut. Neither the barbers nor the clients have the time or inclination to socialize in the same way anymore. As one young salesman at a sartoria told me, “We live in a much busier time now. I can barely get all my work done; I certainly don’t have time to have coffee with everyone. That kind of way of doing business is from a different time.”

And more caffeine.

 

Flowers in the salotto.

Ulster coat, rear view.

Shoulder detail on Ulster coat.

A raglan sleeve overcoat at Panico.

Coat in progress at Panico.

A coat in progress in Panico's fabric room.

Panico shows off a cashmere safari jacket.

A cotton safari jacket.

A tailcoat from Panico.

Lovely lapel roll on a tweed jacket.

Spalla camicia on a tweed jacket.

All photos and text by Derek Guy. Check out Derek’s other sartorial endeavors at Die, Workwear and Put This On.

White Mountaineering fall 2012

In tailoring parlance, pattern matching generally refers to aligning stripes, plaids, or windowpanes at the seams of a tailored garment (where possible). Yosuke Aizawa of White Mountaineering has a different idea of pattern matching: plenty of patterns, very little matching. Fall 2012 has block patchwork, clever mountain-print camo, and Missoni-al zigs and zags, in a palette dominated by grays and reds. The parkas, vests, and backpacks are familiar from the brand’s past seasons of outdoor gear influenced clothes, but camouflaged among them are textured and patterned knits and even a few sportcoat-riffing jackets (and a paisley tie–I can only assume it’s Gore Tex). The runway was an airport walkway for White Mountaineering fall 2012, as the brand send baggage-laden, smartphone-checking models down the runway as well as WM rep Thomas in uniform.

 

Photos via fashionsnap and Styleforum member sipang.

A visit to Panico Naples (part I).

Lu Tung, a Chinese poet during the T’ang Dynasty, has a poem about drinking seven cups of tea. The first cup moistens his lips and throat; the second breaks his loneliness; the fourth makes him perspire; and by the sixth and seventh, he’s called to the gods. I imagine this might happen to you if you visit too many tailors in a day in Naples. Many will offer you a small cup of espresso when you come in (sometimes called na tazzulella e café in the local dialect).“Ve site giè pigliato o’ cafè?”(Have you had coffee?), they’ll ask. It doesn’t matter if you have or haven’t. The Maestro will when you’re his guest, so you should, too.

Antonio Panico.

This is how my meeting with Antonio Panico began. Panico, if you didn’t already know, is a legendary tailor in Naples. He was a cutter for London House after Vincenzo Attolini left, and his relationship with Mariano Rubinacci was as close as Vincenzo’s relationship with Gennaro Rubinacci. Together they made important achievements in Neapolitan tailoring. The most well-known is perhaps the summer safari jacket they made out of seven-ounce cloth, which is so light that it’s traditionally only used for papal clothing. These days, Panico has his own tailoring house, for which he’s the only cutter.

Gianluca, the director of O’Mast, brought me to the workshop, which is located in the ritzy district of Chiaia. It was evening, however, and already dark, so I didn’t have a good sense of where we were going. From what I could tell, we went down one of the quieter streets, entered a courtyard, went up some marble stairs, and knocked on a door that I could barely see in front of me. When the door opened, a softly lit room with warm red walls appeared and standing in front of us was Panico, dressed in a navy suit, light blue shirt (which I later found out was made by Matuozzo), burgundy oxford-weave tie, and black suede chukkas.

“Ah, Gianluca,” Panico said with a gentle smile. He welcomed us in, and asked us the customary “Ve site giè pigliato o’ cafè?” We agreed to have some, so Panico asked his assistant to bring out three espressos and for us to sit down.

The main room where Panico hosts his guests is beautifully decorated. On the walls hang original paintings and antique prints. On one side of the room, a dark wooden table with matching chairs holds the Sotheby’s auction catalog for the Duke and & Duchess of Windsor collections, a large book about Neapolitan nobles, and, on my visit, some piles of neatly stacked wool suiting that Panico had just received. On the other side of the room is a desk with small sculptures and an array of heavy, sharp shears. (Panico took delight in showing me how each pair of shears made their own unique “snipping” sound.) Near the desk are two armchairs and a couch, all of which are upholstered in a beautiful blue and gold fabric. In front of these seats is a red marble coffee table with stacks of magazines and books on men’s style and, on that evening, a silver tray with our three cups of espresso.

We sat and chatted about Naples, Gianluca’s new film, and how business has been. Panico has a deep, almost guttural voice, and his face is almost always very serious. He’s less than impressed when I tell him I write for various men’s style blogs. “I don’t like the internet,” he said while holding a cigarette between his puckered lips. He then lights it with a matchstick, tosses the match on the coffee table, and pulls out a cell phone from his jacket pocket. “I was told I had to get this, but otherwise, I dislike technology. I haven’t even seen my own website.” It might sound like hyperbole, but I believe him. I told him that I’d seen it and it’s quite nice. He shrugged and took a drag from his cigarette.

After a bit of chatting, our conversation naturally led to tailoring. I asked to see some of his work and he brought out a completely unlined, unstructured, cream dupioni silk jacket. It’s single breasted with notch lapels, two patched hip pockets, and a barchetta breast pocket. Its beautiful, nubby hand stitching matched the nubby cloth well, and the construction is so light that it truly fit like a shirt. Gianluca and I tried on a few more jackets, including a heavy brown herringbone tweed with “typical” Neapolitan details—patch pockets, an extended front dart, completely unpadded shoulders, and spalla camicia sleeves. The chest was full, but not so much that it draped near the armholes, and it came in a bit at the waist to give the wearer some shape. The silhouette reminded me a lot of the elegant clothing Italian men wore in the 1960s. I asked Panico if he had to treat these heavy, thick cloths in any particular way in order to achieve such softness and lightness. He motioned with his hands, like he’s working through fabric. “I break its balls,” he smiled.

Panico then gave us a tour of his workshop. A room next to where we sipped espresso is where he keeps most of his suitings, as well as a couple of coats that he’s working on. He noted that he likes to collect vintage cloths, even if clients tend to favor newer materials. Like many tailors, he finds the older stock tends to drape better. The room behind that is the fitting room, which holds a beautiful three-way mirror and another couch. Finally, to the left is Panico’s workroom. I saw a few jackets hanging from the shelves, presumably waiting for clients’ fittings, and chalked up fabrics on the table. Panico only does his pattern drafting and cutting here; the sewing and ironing takes place off-premise. I didn’t see any paper patterns, so perhaps Panico is one of the few tailors who directly draws on the cloth.

We returned to the main room, where we were having coffee, and Panico told us that two of his Japanese clients just came in from Tokyo. He and his wife were having dinner with them later that evening, and he invited us to join. Of course, dinner with the Maestro would be quite an honor, so we accepted. Gianluca and I gathered our things and went back to our separate hotels so that we could prepare for the evening.

Antonio Panico lights up the room.

Salotto (where Panico greets clients)

Decor, including shears, in the salotto.

 

Dupioni silk jacket; completely unstructured.

 

Spalla camicia shoulder on Dupioni jacket.

More detail inside the Dupioni jacket.

 

A spalla camicia shoulder in tweed.

The fabric room at Panico.

 

Panico’s working shears.

A jacket in progress in Panico’s workroom.

Another jacket in progress in the workroom.

A final in-progress jacket, giving an idea of Panico’s cut and detailing.

Read part II of Derek’s visit with Antonio Panico.

All photos and text by Derek Guy. Check out Derek’s other sartorial endeavors at Die, Workwear and Put This On.

Attainable style with the Knottery.

One of the benefits of the recent boom in interest men’s clothing has been the sprouting of grassroots companies that fulfill the niche-y desires of hobbyists—Styleforum favorite Howard Yount, for example, or startup the Knottery, which launched last summer. Based in Brooklyn, the Knottery is run by friends Jay Arem and Jack Fischman, who make limited runs of men’s accessories: ties, pocket squares, and belts among them. Overwhelmingly, their items are well-made and often infused with a humor that cuts the potential mustiness of the men’s furnishings business.

Cable knit wool tie from the Knottery (“The Watercarrier”).

Tempted by the low prices the Knottery offers (ties start at $25; less than the sale price of most fine neckwear), I picked up a couple of wool models last fall, a square-ended cable knit tie in navy and a tweedy, point-ended model with a chambray keeper. The ties knot well and are nicely proportioned—most are 3 inches at the widest, some knits a little narrower. The company does not intend to compete with the neckwear you’ll find in the salons of Napoli that Derek has been covering; rather they offer “affordable style for the initiated; attainable style to the beginner.” To me that’s a worthwhile niche to fill.

I spoke with Jay about getting the Knottery off the ground, and what he and Jack have in store.

Pete Anderson: How did you first get into the business of men’s accessories?

Jay Arem: I had been an avid internet style blog reader for the last few years. I had been working as a manager of a branch of an energy company, and always wanted to do something more creative, but couldn’t find my platform. I had originally wanted to blog, but after many nights staring at the blinking cursor on a blank word document, I realized that it wasn’t gonna work. The accessory business idea started as a joke between me and my now-partner, then-friend Jack after a movie one night. He had been involved in a bunch of different e-commerce ventures in the past but never retail or “fashion.” I made a crude mockup of a site on PowerPoint and emailed him the next day. We agreed to each invest $500 and in the worst case have a bunch of ties to give out as gifts for the rest of our lives.

PA: When exactly did you launch? The Knottery is well past worst case now—you stock ties, pocket squares, lapel flair, and small leather goods. What’s been the most interesting stuff to source?

JA: We went live in June 2011. We have fun every day. Each item presents its own challenge to source. Jack and I both share an interest in production, fabrication, and the sort. While the internet does offer many opportunities to find sourcing for a plethora of items, it remains difficult to find manufacturers of specific items.

PA: Was it truly a from-scratch operation, starting up? Did you have relationships that you could take advantage of at the start, as far as manufacturing, design, etc.?

JA: The whole thing began as a hobby. The website was hard-coded on a per hour basis by freelancers from that original mock-up. The designing was all from scratch. We had a few leads for overseas manufacturing from some of Jack’s other dealings to start out.

PA: The ties you guys carry are interesting–they rely a lot on knits, non-silk fabrics, and texture. Where do you think you get your design sense/aesthetic taste?

JA: It kind of came about from two separate directions: One, we began with fabrics that we could source at lower quantities, not going the standard route of buying direct from silk mills.  Two, we wanted to make ties that we would own and wear. As two guys who have “dressed up” every day for the better part of the last decade, our aesthetic leans toward the dressed up casual look.

PA: That look  seems to be pretty on-trend with a lot of men’s clothing right now: suits and ties for men who choose to wear them, rather than men trying only to meet the minimum requirements of a dress code.  Regarding your fabric choices and sources, is working outside what may be the standard business model for makers–e.g., not buying from silk mills directly–a method you plan on continuing, or was it more a matter of necessity?

JA: A bit of both. It also allowed/forced us into pushing the boundaries of conventional fabric sourcing. One of our first ties were made from an Etsy purchase I had sitting in my closet for about a year. On the other hand we also want to produce some “regular” ties and therefore buy some materials from mills, such as a grenadine we are in the middle of perfecting.

PA: I assume that Etsy fabric made for a small run. How many ties do you usually do per design? Can you tell us a little about construction of the Knottery ties?

JA: We do 50-100 per style usually. Construction, because of the unconventional nature of some of our fabrics we have played and experimented with different linings each time. We continually strive to achieve and are constantly learning more about what makes a tie great. We have sewn many a tie sample ourselves to test out different linings and silhouette dimensions pre-production. Currently most of our ties are lined and self tipped (when possible).

PA: Regarding construction–are your ties all made in one place, or is it sort of make-em-where-it-makes-sense? There’s a great “brewery” based in Maryland called Stillwater that is really just a guy who makes beer at various breweries, depending on what he wants to make and what capabilities he needs.

Also, the Knottery’s non-knottable goods–how did the belts, lapel flowers, and eyeglass “chains” come about?

JA: We use three different factories, depending on the item. The other categories were just a natural extension of what we were doing. Our mission statement has become: “if we want it, let’s try to make it.” That is why we have a cap coming in in the next week or so [eds note: a collaboration with Fairends].

PA: How has reception to the Knottery’s stuff been? To what do you attribute success so far?

JA: We have gotten great feedback. We love what we do and some of the best parts of all this have been meeting people who have similar passions, getting emails from different people just wanting to say hello or make a suggestion.

PA: I should follow up on the production question—one of my ties is marked “Made in USA”—are the factories all in the states?  The ties I’ve seen from you are, in my opinion, very good value, as I bought them for $25. Your current tie prices sell for $25 to $35, and made-in-USA belts all under $70. Do you expect to be able to keep retail prices low as you grow?

JA: We use a factory in China for some of our ties. We use this factory because frankly it wasn’t possible to achieve certain ties at the price points where we needed to be. We are all for Made in the USA , but we put quality and affordability before country of origin.

We hope to continue keeping our prices the same or close to what they are.

PA: I think shoppers appreciate honesty as far as country of origin goes, although made-in-Italy and made-in-USA, among others, will always carry value. One last question—there’s a winking humor in much of what the Knottery does: from your web copy to your designs, including the dub-monk club tie. Where does that come from?

JA: We wholeheartedly agree about the origin carrying value, and continually search for more avenues of U.S. production.

The humor is a natural representation of our brand because its a natural representation of Jack and me as friends. Our daily goal is to outwit one another. For the sake of this interview, I usually am the winner.

Thanks Jay!

Visit the Knottery, or contact them at info@theknottery.com.

My tweed tie from the Knottery.

Cable knit detail on The Watercarrier tie.

 

Tweed tie with chambray keeper.

 

Shopping Rome: Battistoni

In the version of Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley , the two main characters, Dickie Greenleaf and Tom Ripley, are shown riding a train from Naples to Rome. Dickie thinks Tom should get a new jacket, as he’s always wearing the same one. “Let me buy you a jacket,” Dickie says. “When we get to Rome, there’s a great place. Battistoni . “He then proceeds to sing” Roma, we’re taking Tom to Roma! “As Tom smiles out of the side of His mouth and softly repeats the name, Battistoni , like it was some magical place.

The entrance to Battiston in Via Condotti, Rome.

Indeed, Battistoni is enchanting. The shop opened in 1946, right before the Continental look took off in the 50s and 60s. It was during this time That Rome-not Milan or Naples-was seen as the center of Italian fashion. The city’s style and architecture was shown off through Italian film (directors such as De Sica, Fellini and Antonioni, to name a few), and many foreigners felt safer since visiting Italy That had become a republic. Some of These foreigners were American movie stars, like Gary Cooper and Douglas Fairbanks, who would come to the capital to get Their custom made suits and silk pajamas. And as we all know of That period, where America’s cinematic royalty went, much of the public Followed.

Guglielmo Battistoni with Marlon Brando. Brando made motorcycle jackets and denim look good, but he could make Also with the silk neck.

During this time, many of These figures visited Battistoni. The shop was more of a salon than a showroom, however. The wood-paneled walls, marble floors, and fine art lent to rarified air, and some of world’s most interesting men would come here to share ideas and gossip while they picked out ties and got measured. Artists such as Marc Chagall, for example, would rub elbows with literary men such as John Steinbeck, and the Duke of Windsor and Gianni Agnelli were Also known to stop by. Marlon Brando one day even arm-wrestled the store’s founder, Guglielmo Battistoni, just for fun (Brando won). Humphrey Bogart came Often know That he asked if he could leave a bottle of whiskey for himself here. This salon culture has somewhat disappeared in the modern age, but on a recent visit, the space still felt more like a gentleman’s social club than a store.

A clubby interior at Battistoni.

In addition to the atmosphere, the store has an impressive range of finely tailored goods. Battistoni is perhaps most famous Their shirts. After all, the founder, Signore Guglielmo, was an esteemed shirt makers. He made collar points slightly longer and larger, narrower side seams, and high armholes. Everything was hand finished, but fit very cleanly. Today, prices for custom shirts start around $ 500. They also have made-to-measure suits That begin at $ 2,750, and ready-to-wear suits for $ 1,850. *

Then there are the non-tailored goods. For example, they have a selection of Italian-made Inglese-style shoes for about $ 550. These are made with beautiful, dark brown, fine grained leathers and stitched together using a Goodyear machine. There is Also a room full of one-to four-ply cashmere knits ranging between $ 475 and $ 1,000, Depending on the style and construction. Whether v-necks, Crewnecks, or cardigans, These were all incredibly soft and well finished. In the adjacent room, you can find a variety of belts (including some beautifully rich crocodile skins) and a range of outerwear jackets and coats. One of the navy field jackets was Particularly impressive to me. The shell was made with a smooth microfiber and finished with dark horn buttons. The lining was pure cashmere, and there was a removable cashmere vest, Which you could zip in for colder months. Price On That was about $ 2,250.

Field jacket at Battistoni.

Ties at Battistoni.

More Battistonian silks.

Some of the best items in the store are the ties. The silks feature unique application prints, Which means they have crisper edges than Their British counterparts, and the cashmeres have a very nice, soft hand. Both are made with soft interlining, so they knot and drape beautifully. Silks start at $ 145 and $ 190 at cashmeres. I could not possibly resist leaving without one, so I picked up the red tie you see above. Looking back, I wish I had taken the blue tie with white print as well.

Today, Signore Guglielmo’s children, Gianni and Simonetta, manage the store. Both have kept the store exactly as Their father left it, tucked away in a courtyard off of Via Condotti. It’s a store of good taste immeasurably, and a must-visit for anyone in Rome.

The director of The Bicycle Thief Vittorio De Sica-less in the gritty setting of Battistoni.

* Note That All prices in this article include VAT. If you’re a non-EU customer, you can deduct 20%.

Battistoni
Via Condotti 61A
00187 Rome Italy

T: 06/6976111
info@battistoni.com

Shopping Naples: Gutteridge

Should you ever find yourself in Italy and in need of the most affordable wardrobe possible, you can begin at Gutteridge. The prices at this store—which has locations across Italy, including Naples, Florence, and Milan—are near the proverbial rock bottom. For example, when I stopped by during their end-of-the-season sale, they were selling scarves for $20; sweaters, shirts, and ties for $35; and sport coats for $100. That’s H+M territory, and that’s not even considering the 20% VAT discount non-EU customers enjoy.

Decent styling but middling quality at Gutteridge.

 

 

The downside, as you can guess, is that the quality leaves much to be desired. The sport coats have big armholes and slightly stiff shoulders. They’re also are made with cheap fabrics, although they spare us the exaggerated pick stitching many Italian companies like to use. Gutteridge’s knit ties also felt thin and floppy, and the weaves of their sweaters didn’t feel very resilient.

Not that surprising given the price. Personally, I think there are much better deals at shops such as Boggi, but if you had to get a slim fitting sport coat, and you couldn’t spend more than $100, Gutteridge is a decent—if not the only—place to start.

Nobody beats the ‘ridge.

Gutteridge’s plus is offering some Italian styling, of a type you don’t see much of in the United States.

“Saldi” is Italian for “sale.” Use context clues.

 

A chat with Will Boehlke of A Suitable Wardrobe

On November 27, 2006, Will Boehlke posted the first entry at his blog, A Suitable Wardrobe (to a smattering of applause). Today it’s recognized as one of the first blogs to cover classic menswear, influencing many to follow suit and spawning a store specializing in hard-to-find men’s accessories.

 

Will records a monthly podcast.

 

It’s hard to imagine that Will’s modest office space houses one of the largest collection of, say, Drake’s ties, but it’s also Grand Central for store operations: shipping/receiving, a photo backdrop with lights, a small audio/video recording studio, and of course, the merchandise. And not just ties, but also bolts of gorgeous chambray, soft suede chukkas, striking pocket squares for summer, and enough shoe-care products to care for the collections of Styleforum’s most profligate shoe-philes.

Peter Zottolo: What was the main reason you started the blog?

Will Boehlke: I was between things, and I had a lifelong interest in clothing. So I just thought I’d start doing something that I enjoy doing, and if it paid, it paid.  It started with informational posts, primarily—how to put a wardrobe together, what kind of shoes you should have, what kind of necktie, etc.  Nothing like that was available 6 years ago.

PZ: So it filled a niche?

WB: It did at the time, but I think now the blog and the store are more geared toward the clothing hobbyist, and that’s probably where we’ll stay. At first I thought I’d support the blog by advertising, but even at over 300K unique visitors a month, many advertisers just aren’t interested. So I thought if I was going to do this for the long run, I needed to open a store. And it’s been great—I get to go to around the world, I get a lot of clothes, and life is good.

PZ: Speaking of clothes—what’s new for the spring?

WB: I don’t really think that way; I sell perennials. I buy things that I think are beautiful, and I sell more of them than most others. Drake’s ties, for example—I have more of their ties than anyone else, aside from their stores.

A summer combination of silk and linen.

PZ: Since the shop has opened, have you seen any changes in men’s clothing?

WB: Well, ties may have narrowed a bit, but the classics never really change. The number of people who buy the items has increased, but the items themselves are basically the same.

PZ: Was there anything at Pitti Uomo this January that really caught your eye?

WB: Recently Drake’s has made things with fabulous colors and textures—stuff that I don’t recall ever seeing in my lifetime. For example, this year I bought a silk bouclè necktie from them. It’s a beautiful textured weave. Photos can’t do it justice. You have to see it in person.

PZ: Would you ever consider opening a brick and mortar store?

WB: Absolutely—we’re planning on opening up a retail store perhaps by the end of this year. Not sure where, but if in San Francisco, somewhere between Union Square and the Embarcadero, so it can be close to those who come to visit the city. Nothing huge, just a small haberdashery, and open the store to traveling tailors. My only concern is if enough people would buy what I’d sell.

PZ: But I’m sure if people just came in to see and touch the stuff…

WB: …and who can blame them? I have customers who buy an enormous amount of stuff, but start out with just one piece.

PZ: Just to see?

WB: Right. Because you just don’t know… The item may not be soft enough, or the exact color as the picture. But once someone sees and feels them in person…

PZ: …they’d all be gone?

WB: Well, that’s what I’m hoping.

Bolts of shirting fabric, including fine chambray.

Silk boucle, with 50 nubs per inch (NPI).