Shopping Naples: Milord

Most of the good shopping in Naples is done in the seaside district of Chiaia. Here are your bespoke tailors, high-end tie makers, and ready-to-wear luxury brand shops. As you can imagine, most of this stuff is pretty expensive. There are a few affordable spots, however. One of them is Milord Naples, which has been in Naples since 1996 (and has no relation to the Milord in Florence). Some of the things you’ll find in Milord are things you can, it seems, buy almost anywhere—Lardini suits, LBM jackets, Borrelli ties.

Yes, Milord.

 

Some things, on the other hand, are a bit more difficult to come by. For example, there were Agho chambray shirts for $115 and Dallago shirts for $175. Agho was fairly standard, but Dallago featured hand stitching along the yoke and French placket, as well as handmade buttonholes. The thick mother-of-pearl buttons were also hand sewn with crowfoot stitching and a nicely wrapped shank, and the fabric came from Albini or Mason.

Then there was an Intelato camel colored coat for $700. The double-seam pick-stitching was a bit too prominent for my taste, but I could see it working well for a man in his 20s.

Perhaps most impressive of all were these house-brand suede shoes, which were Goodyear welted and made in either Italy or Romania (depending on the line). At full retail, they were $165, but at the end January, when Italian stores have their big sales, they were discounted to about $82.

Told you there are some affordable deals.


To see more of Derek Guy’s articles on shopping in Naples, visit his author page.

Chicago shopping guide, part II.

Our first look at men’s shopping in Chicago covered the venerable Oxxford Clothes, hatmaker Optimo and others. Part two has the goods on a #menswear specialist and some more old-school purveyors.

Haberdash
607 N. State St.
312-624-8551
info@haberdashmen.com

One of a bunch of new haberdashers that have emerged onto the scene in the last few years.  I’ve listed their newer store, since it’s a little closer to the rest of the things on this list, but their Old Town location was ahead of the curve, opening its doors in 2005.  If you’re a hardcore #menswear guy, this is going to be Mecca for you.  Alden, 3Sixteen, Filson, Gant, LBM 1911, Steven Alan, and Woolrich are just a few of the oft-lusted-after brands they stock.  There is also EDC shop, next door to the location listed above, which features exclusively footwear, accessories, and grooming products.  All in all, a can’t-miss if you’re in town for a short stay.

Haberdash's State Street digs.

 

Jack Spade
47 E. Oak St.
312-915-0315

Literally just downstairs from Shrine, it would be foolish not to pop in if you’re already on Oak Street.  Jack Spade has only a handfulof stores, most on the East Coast, and offers a great selection of functional basics that are classic without being humdrum.  The briefcases and messenger bags are a personal favorite of mine.  Plus the people who work here are great and really love the brand.  You don’t feel like they’re there to get a paycheck but to share something they love with anyone who will listen.  And that’s what I’m looking for in retail.

Paul Stuart
107 E. Oak St.
312-640-2650

One of the most elegant mens stores you’ll find anywhere.  The store is cozy (small, but in a good way), the guys who work there are extremely stylish for the most part, and I unabashedly think Paul Stuart always has some great stuff.  Their giant selection of silk knit ties in a reasonable width, many colors with the option of woven spots, are a standby for me, as are the other colorful accessories.  Tip—their travel umbrellas are a great buy if you need something that looks good but fits in a carry-on bag.  There is also a smaller Paul Stuart on LaSalle, but unless you just want to pop in after a visit to the Art Institute, I recommend going to Oak Street.

Ralph Lauren
750 Michigan Ave.
312-280-1655

Sure, you can buy Ralph Lauren stuff pretty much anywhere in the world, including your couch, but his grand stores are undeniably awesome.  This store is actually larger than any of the New York stores, features more than one palatial staircase, all the usual wood paneling and oil paintings, as well as a top-notch selection of vintage goods.  If you’ve been hunting for a 50-year-old Patek in near-perfect condition, look no further.  Also next door is the the RL Restaurant, my favorite re-fueling spot in this part of Chicago.  It lacks the commercial-extortion feel of most restaurants in the Michigan Ave. area, instead feeling like a club in the 1920s.  Service is out of this world, rivaled only by the food.

Aspirational food.

 

Chicago shopping guide, part I.

Chicago is a pretty classic city. Not classic like London, with its tailoring trade and aristocratic propriety.  And not like Florence, where every cobblestone and sport coat is imbued with history and tradition.  It’s classic in a way that’s equal parts rugged Americana and serious business.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Chicago was at the heart of the American garment trade, and more specifically, the American ready-to-wear menswear explosion.  It was not long ago that men switched over to ready made clothes, and Chicago was a catalyst for that switch—urban legends claim one in three garments in the U.S. passed through Chicago.

But Chicago’s history doesn’t weigh it down. Horween Leather (founded 1905) and Oxxford Clothes (1906) sit alongside newcomers like Haberdash and Optimo Hats.  Chicago’s merchants seem to share a passion for authenticity and giving customers an experience along with a product. Whether it’s a custom-fitted hat from Optimo or a chat about tie patterns with the gents at Shrine Haberdashers, you’re getting service and substance for your money.

Below is a brief guide to what Chicago has to offer the guy looking for the best.  And often the best he can’t get anywhere else.

Oxxford Clothes
1220 W Van Buren St. #7
312-829-3600

So this isn’t a store per se, though you can give them a call and set up made-to-measure appointments here.  Oxxford produces arguably the finest factory-made suits around—on par with anything from the better-known Kiton, Attolini, etc.  Honestly, there is more hand-work in an Oxxford suit than in some bespoke suits, although it’s not without its cost.  If you’re a tailoring nut, it’s worth giving them a call and asking if you can drop by to check things out.

Chris Despos
34 E. Oak St.  #3
312-944-8396
chris@despos.com

Chicago used to have a plethora of great bespoke options.  It was just as good, if not better than, New York when it came to fine tailoring.  But things have changed a little in the last two decades.  As far as I know, Chris is the only guy producing a real bespoke suit to Savile Row level standards in Chicago.  This includes cutting a paper pattern for each client, followed by as many fittings as it takes to get things perfect (generally three-ish for a first suit).  He is making me a suit right now, and you can follow the process on Simply Refined to take a look and see if you think it might be for you.

Rack city at Despos.

Optimo Hats
320 S. Dearborn
312-922-2999
info@optimohats.com

Optimo is one of the few great hat stores left, not in this country, but in the world.   If you want, they can bust out the torture-device-esque hat measuring tools and build you something from the ground up, custom fitted to you alone.  Or you can always go for an off-the-shelf staple.  The cost is not low, but like a suit or great pair of shoes a proper hat is made to last a lifetime.  I’ve provided their downtown location, but there is also a Southside location for those who would prefer to stay out of the main shopping district.

Shrine Haberdashers
47 E Oak St
312-675-2105
info@shrinestyle.com

This is the other must-see haberdashery in Chicago.  Nestled on the second floor of an Oak Street townhouse, Shrine is a cool mix of off-beat brands you might not have heard of and tried-and-true favorites like Drake’s and WANT.  Ok, so the over-sized rings might not be my thing, but the store really represents the personalities of the guys who run the show.  Stop in, have a chat about clothes, and maybe pick up something that no one else back home will have seen before.  These guys celebrated their first anniversary in November, and here’s wishing them a good sophomore year.

Oak Street Bootmakers
630-664-6209
info@oakstreetbootmakers.com

No storefront here.  But the shoes are all designed in Chicago by a second-generation cobbler, made out of Horween’s Chromexcel leather, and feature full welts that allow your shoes to be resoled.  Heads and shoulders above the other camp mocs and work boots you find in most stores.  Prices are competitive.  Order online or give them a call if you need to chat about styles, stock, or anything else.

Part II deals with more classics and more newcomers.

Stephen Pulvirent also writes at his blog, Simply Refined.

Chausser shoes at Pitti

I can’t say I know how you go about staking your claim on real estate at Pitti Uomo, but I would think that “smack dab in front of the Cucinelli space” seems like a good spot to be, trafficwise. Nonetheless, Yoichi Maeda, the guy behind Chausser shoes, seemed a little bored as buyers and other visitors considered his boots, shoes, and sneakers before completing their Pitti pilgrimage to Brunello’s kingdom. Those who didn’t give Chausser a second look were missing out on another brand that balances an artisanal focus with an aesthetic one.

Chausser’s Yoichi Maeda in the neon jungle of Pitti.

Founded in 2001, Chausser attracted attention a few years back when its Japan-designed-and-made shoes, many in unusual, domestically sourced shell cordovan, found stockists in the United States. Chausser’s lasts are a little more exaggerated than your average maker–narrow at the waist of the shoe, with slightly bulbed, upturned toes. Not that they’re at all extreme, particularly when worn, but they stood out in Pitti’s tailored pavilion where traditional English makers held court. Some are soled in leather, and some finished with a Vibram sole guard.

Yoichi seemed particularly proud of Chausser’s natural-toned cordovan shoes, which age with wear to a patinated tan. For fans of the concept of wabi-sabi in clothing, these models give the option of pleasant age-ability with distinctive design–sort of N.D.C. via Tokyo. The workboot styled models were most appealing to me, although Chausser also offers loafers and oxfords. On the other hand of the material spectrum is a range of sneakers in canvas and soft suede made up in on-trend shapes (the sneakers are not necessarily made in Japan). Chausser makes pretty women’s shoes as well, although the focus at Pitti was obviously on their men’s lines.

The evolution of a Chausser natural cordovan shoe–new on the left, worn on the right.

Chausser boots in textured leather.

Chausser sneakers.

A visit to Cilento, Naples.

 

The scene at Cilento.

Cilento is the oldest men’s store in Naples, possibly even all of Italy. Like many good things in Naples, it’s not something you’d easily come across unless you knew what you were looking for. It’s outside of the main shopping districts and close to some government buildings. Nonetheless, it’s quite well known to the locals and a real treat to visit.

The shop was founded in 1780, but it wasn’t until 1820 when it was moved to its present location on via Medina, where it’s currently spread across two buildings. The main shop holds a range of clothing, footwear, and accessories that would satisfy the taste of any businessman or outdoorsman. Here you see mannequins with waxed field jackets and floppy cotton hats. Fine leather bags decorate the tops of old wooden shelves, which in turn hold stacks of neatly stacked, soft, woolen knits. Casual trousers and surcingle belts hang from the same display rack, and next to them is a large, heavy wooden tray that holds a selection of handmade ties. Further back in the store, bolts of English wools are set alongside Italian cottons, both ready to be made into custom suits and shirts for incoming clients.

Well stocked.

There’s also a large selection of shoes. In keeping with the store’s classic taste, these include models by John Lobb, Edward Green, and Alden. There is an emphasis on brogues, chukkas, and derbies, and a surprising number of them are black, given Neapolitan men’s reputation for mainly wearing brown.

Exotic skin in loafers and laceups.

The secondary shop is just outside and a few steps away. This one is a renovated boutique dedicated primarily to ties. The room’s central display table holds a beautiful array of seven-folds, each handmade out of English silk. The designs are conservative and elegant, often using small flower or figured patterns not unlike those I found at Marinella. More ties are displayed in heavy wooden trays at the sides of the room, and under them are innumerable drawers holding sample fabrics for bespoke commissions. Prices start around 100 euros, which seemed typical of the high-end neckwear in this city.

Tie fabric from the 1930s.

To some degree, much of this description sounds like any high-quality classic men’s store in the world, but what really sets Cilento apart is the small studio above the tie shop. Go through the back, up the stairs, disappear through another set of doors and you suddenly feel like time has stopped. Spread through these five or six rooms is a complete private collection of objects from the company’s 232-year history. There are counters and shelves with old shoes and wool fabrics; beautiful early 20th century furniture, paintings, and prints; and original receipts from the family’s previous business in the shipping industry. There are also forgotten artifacts, such as an old trouser press and sample silk swatches for custom ties in the 1930s. In the other rooms, there are vintage women’s scarves, made for Fiat using some of their 1920s advertisement designs. The whole place is a veritable museum of Neapolitan sartorial history, narrated through the original tools, garments, and even cloths of their time. Ugo, the eighth generation Cilento behind the company, tells me they host many parties and social events here. You can watch video of last October’s and November’s events on YouTube.

Tailoring history everywhere you look.

A vintage scarf made for Fiat.

Before I left, Ugo was kind enough to give me a bottle of the company’s wine. Only 450 bottles are made per year, and they’re usually given to the company’s best clients. I went home that night, had a few glasses, and listened to the street noise as I thought about how satisfying the day was. It’s not every day you get to check out a men’s store as old as America itself.

M. Cilento e F.llo dal 1780
Via Medina 61 A-B
80132 Napoli
Italy

Tel. +39 081 5513363
Email: cilento1780@fontelnet.it

Superlative socks from Bresciani

Silk hosiery from Bresciani.

As Mike from Epaulet mentioned in his post on visiting Pitti Uomo as a buyer, the sheer number of vendors, from small batch manufacturers to industry giants, is enough to drive a blogger crazy. As a visitor rather than a buyer, I had even less incentive to stay focused, especially when it came to the detail pieces–small leather goods, neckwear, socks, and the like.

Chopsticks, anyone?

Fortunately Fok and I were tipped off to check out the hosiery from Italy’s Bresciani, and we made a point to drop by the booth and talk with Massimiliano Bresciani and Will Boehlke, a fan and stockist. Like many vendors at Pitti (and any other tradeshow), Bresciani had some eye-catching if gimmicky merch out front, but the piano-key and fair isle socks belie the solid quality and subtle designs that are the brand’s backbone. Massimiliano explained that about half of the 360,000 pairs Bresciani makes each year in Spirano Bergamo, Italy, are seasonal designs, and the other half are essentially the same season to season–navy and black haven’t lost their appeal since the company was founded in 1970 by Massimiliano’s father. The wilder patterns and thematic socks are bigger sellers in the U.S. than in the other 42 countries to which Bresciani ships (Russians apparently prefer black, black, and black). The New York Times recently noted a trend for showy socks  among tech entrepreneurs–wonder how many are besocked with Bresciani?

Will, Fok, and Massimiliano talk tips for a suitable sock drawer.

What Bresciani offers to those of use with less whimsical sock drawers is tremendous quality; socks in specific sizes; fine fabrics like silk, cashmere, vicuna, and alpaca; and a variety of designs in the less common but quite practical over-the-calf cut–a true rarity in the United States. Bresciani also has a high level of attention to detail: a 12-step production process that includes hand linked toes (Bresciani pointed out that “hand-linked” is something of a misnomer; the work is too fine to be done entirely by hand, but the sock must be manipulated by hand on the linking machine).

Like tiny fair isle sweaters for your calves.

Sitting and discussing the minutiae of sock construction, we checked out Bresciani’s contrast rib socks in straightforward cotton, pure silk dress socks, and an endless variety of pattern. Massimiliano said they carry 85 to 90 designs each season. I inquired about recommended care for socks, as I’ve had several pairs of (non-Bresciani) hose in cashmere or silk blends disintegrate quickly. M. Bresciani recommends cold washing and hang drying. Avoid the dryer, he said, and their socks can last indefinitely.

Cashmere.

After our visit, Massimiliano sent me a few pairs of over-the-calf socks to try out (no piano keys, fortunately), and a more complete review of how they’re holding up is to come.

A visit to Rubinacci, Naples.

Mention Rubinacci to any tailor in Italy and proper deference is paid, which is impressive given how much petty sniping there can be in the trade. Gennaro Rubinacci founded the company in 1932. “It actually began as a joke,” Mariano Rubinacci told me on my recent visit to Naples. “But of course, we take our business very seriously nowadays.”

Rubinacci’s space in Naples.

The Rubinacci family made their fortunes in the silk trade, which they entered in the 18th century. They imported silks from India and sold them to tailors, dressmakers, and upholsterers in Naples. The family built such a dynasty that Gennaro—Mariano’s father—never had to take on a professional career. Like other men in his family, Gennaro led a life of leisure and elegance. He socialized with royal families, lived in villas, and built a world-class collection of Capodimonte porcelains. He was an aesthete, a courtier, and a leading dandy in his day.

He was also an arbiter elegantiarum. The Neapolitan gentry was heavily interested in tailored clothing at the time, and many of the men would ask Gennaro to accompany them to the tailors so that they could get his opinion on various cloths and cuts. His presence at these fittings became such a ritual that he decided to start his own tailoring house, but more as a side hobby than a real business. It was called London House, since London at the time was considered the standard bearer for men’s style, and Gennaro wanted to represent that style in Naples. At its start, the firm was more like a social club for gentlemen. Well-to-do men went there to socialize, ask Gennaro for advice, and order suits.

Silk is a theme.

Many, many suits. Orders for 30, 40, and even 50 suits at a time were not uncommon and some men would even come in for five or six fittings before they allowed the tailor to finish the buttonholes. To be sure, this was partly because they were demanding customers, but it was also a way for them to gather and socialize with their peers. Tailoring at the time was not just about the products and craft, but also the social activities that went along with them.

Over the years, some of Naples’s most important tailors have worked for Rubinacci. Vincenzo Attolini, for example, invented the softly constructed Neapolitan jacket while he was a cutter here. The legendary Antonio Panico, who replaced Attolini, took this a bit further when he made a safari jacket out of a seven-ounce wool gabardine. “At the time, the lightest summer jackets were made out of a 9-ounce cloth,” Mariano said. “In fact, this cloth was mainly used for priests’ robes, but we used it for jackets.”

Pattern, texture, shape.

In addition to being lightly constructed, Rubinacci’s jackets are built with lapped seams that run along the shoulder. These give the jacket a bit of strength and structure, which is useful for when Mariano violently pulls down on the jacket during the first fitting, so that the garment can take the wearer’s form. The seams end at the big, full sleeveheads, which are fed into small armholes. This construction gives the sleevehead little pleats and puckers, which are not only beautiful artisanal details, but also subtly show off the jacket’s Neapolitan, hand-tailored provenance.

Then there are the other details. Two patch pockets at the hips, and the barchetta (i.e., shaped like a boat) or pignata pocket (shaped like a brandy snifter) at the breast. In addition, there is decorative double stitching at the lapels, some drape at the swelled chest, and an extended front seam that goes down to the hem, which helps the tailor put in more shape at the waist.

Coats at Rubinacci.

These are merely the mechanical, production aspects of Rubinacci’s bespoke tailoring, however. As many Rubinacci customers have said, part of what you’re paying for is the tailoring, and part of it is the service. Gennaro, after all, was largely an advisor, and Mariano plays the same role today. Clients come in with some sort of idea of what they want, and Mariano helps them translate it into an elegant look. There are some details, however, to which he’ll always politely say “no.” A two-button jacket? Always a polite no. Center vent? Also a polite no. In my limited experience working with tailors, I’ve come to really value this kind of pushback, as it shows that the person has an opinion and is willing to assert their expertise.

In addition to their bespoke tailoring services, Rubinacci also offers ready-to-wear collections. At their flagship store, ready-to-wear is housed on the entry level, which sits just above the womenswear floor. The menswear level is decorated with mounted stag antlers and antique ships, as well as silk scarves with paintings printed on them, each of which celebrate some aspect of Neapolitan culture.

A tailcoat and bolts at Rubinacci.

The first room on that level houses ties and pocket squares, the second has sweaters and a dressing room (which is separated, by the way, by a beautiful and substantial silk curtain), and the third has ready-to-wear odd trousers and sport coats. The most amazing, however, has to be the last room, which is almost like a treasure vault. Here you can sit on tan leather couches and admire various display mannequins with old, bespoke tailcoats and morning coats. Two of the walls also hold bolts of cloth, including some from the early 20th century, and next to the couches are the company’s original order books. Flipping through those order books and handling the fabrics brought the Golden Age of the 1930s back to life.

Slubly neckwear.

A book of orders.

Mariano took me on a tour of the laboratorio upstairs, where bespoke garments are made and some of the business administration offices are kept. Thirty tailors and four cutters work there, and they’re spread across five or six rooms. The floor is very quiet, almost like a library, since almost everything is done by hand. The only thing you hear is the tailors’ almost in-unison “hello” as Mariano walks into the room. Otherwise, everyone is heavily concentrating on his or her work, though the sunlight and sea breeze coming in through the open windows makes the room feel pleasant and relaxed.

As we walked back to the main floor, Mariano told me he plans to expand into another building, located very close to the flagship. The new space will house a conference room, an additional workspace for tailors, and a museum to showcase some of the company’s bespoke tailoring from the 1930s through 1950s. I was most excited to learn that this will include some of the garments made for Vittorio de Sica, such as the evening tailcoat he wore in Il Signor Max.

Before I left, I asked Mariano what he thought of the future of his firm and Neapolitan tailoring in general. He’s decidedly optimistic. Many of his tailors are in their 30s and in the last decade, he has seen more and more young men come into the shop as customers. (I imagine much of this is due to his son often being featured on websites such as The Sartorialist). Contrast this to other tailors, who often struggle to find new workers and customers. Rubinacci, with their unfailing commitment to craft and tradition, an international presence, and a very visible public face, seems to have none of these problems. The future of Naples’ biggest bespoke tailoring house seems bright.


Discuss Rubinacci on the official Styleforum thread

A visit to E. Marinella, Naples.

The E. Marinella shop is quite small. It looks out across the park towards the waterfront and its entrance is framed with imported English wood and Calabrian green marble. As soon as you walk in, there is a wrought-iron Liberty-style chandelier that hangs above your head and wooden display tables in front of you that hold an array of beautiful ties. Rep stripes and Macclesfield prints, all made in a rainbow of colors, are showcased alongside a small selection of watches, colognes, ashtrays, and leather goods. Everything here is essentially the same as it was in 1914, before the two world wars and three political regimes that Marinella has seen Italy go through.

The finest in soporificity.

 

E. Marinella has remained here since its opening, even though the company has far outgrown it. There’s simply not enough room here for its inventory or operation. Thus, behind the shop—outside and up the stairs—is a showroom for not only its full collection of neckties, but also all the accessories that the company offers.

Scarves and squares.

 

Timepieces at Marinella.

 

For example, there are the watches that Maurizio (the third generation Marinella man behind the company) has put into production. These actually began with a funny story. It’s often advised that you should leave your Rolex at home when visiting Naples, given the city’s reputation for crime and disorder. As such, Maurizio decided to give his clients plastic watches, which they could wear in place of their more expensive pieces while they were in town. These plastic watches, however, soon became collectors items and clients held on to them for their value. After seeing their unintended success, Maurizio decided to produce a small collection of watches that reflected his passion for timepieces and the company’s sense of style. Today, these watches are made with steel cases and Swiss movements and classic designs.

Neapolitan history in ceramic.

 

They also have incredible ashtrays with paintings of the city’s history, allowing a customer to leave not just with something that reminds them of Marinella, but also of Naples. Near the ashtrays are fine leather belts in a range of brown tones and colorful Kilim scarves.

Loredana, the woman who assisted me at the store, was also kind enough to show me Marinella’s assortment of cufflinks and charms, some of which were made out of precious red coral. Red coral has an elevated place in Neapolitan culture. The origin of the material is believed to be explained in a Greek myth about Perseus. Having just petrified Cetus, a sea monster threatening Andromeda, Perseus placed Medusa’s head on the riverbank while he washed his hands. When he recovered the head, he noticed that Medusa’s blood turned the seaweed into red coral. The material is now believed to protect people from danger and disease, and cure women of sterility. For this reason, a pair of red coral cufflinks would be very special, though also not very cheap.

Links and charms at Marinella.

 

More affordable items in the store include a handsome selection of Italian leather wallets. The simpler card cases start around $125, and they’re excellently made. The leather is finely stitched and the edges are better finished than I’ve seen on most handmade wallets stateside. There are also colognes and perfumes, starting at $110. The red-bottled 286 smells of lavender, sage, and tobacco, with amber and musk at the base. The unnamed blue bottle has a citrusy, almond scent with hints of marine and musk. One of the upsides to these scents is that they’re hard to find outside of Naples (I know only of De Corato carrying them), which means you’re unlikely to risk smelling like another man.

Perhaps most affordable of all were the bath slippers, which came in either a simple ivory or baby blue, with discreet “E. Marinella” embroidery at the top. At about $60 for a pair, should you not be able to leave with anything else, you can probably at least leave with these.

 

Derek Guy also writes at Die! Workwear and Put This On.

E. Marinella
Riviera di Chiaia, 287
Naples, Italy
Ph. +39 081 245 11 82
marinella@marinellanapoli.it


To read more of Derek’s visits to Neapolitan stores, click here

Robert Geller Fall 2012 – Interview and Collection

Styleforum’s Marc Bain brings you a Robert Geller interview and a discussion of the New York-based designer’s Fall 2012 collection.


For his fall 2012 collection, the eleventh for his namesake label, Robert Geller looked to England for inspiration. Models layered with sturdy wools, rain-repellent waxed cottons, and that most British of fabrics, tweed, walked a dirt runway that seemed to lead from an English garden. Gray, brown, and olive dominated the palette, while a few bright notes of marigold and fiery orange sparked amid all the sobriety.  ’80s British post-punk influenced the collection (The Sound’s “Where the Love Is” provided the show’s soundtrack), and a sense of brooding disquiet infused the clothes. Maybe more notable was their debt to English tailoring, with sharply cut blazers and coats, and, in place of Geller’s popular jeans, wool trousers.

Robert Geller’s secret garden.

Although not a departure from his previous work, this was Geller’s most mature show. Some traits were recognizable from past seasons: mesh underlayers and skinny leather pants; sweatshirts, including Geller’s well-known dip-dyed version; ballooning lounge pants. Footwear—suede chelsea boots; balmorals in black, or brown with a black toe—came from the designer’s ongoing collaboration with Common Projects. He also continued his experimentation with the silhouette, balancing slim and voluminous, cropped and elongated shapes. Geller took some of his most successful ideas of the past few years and integrated them into the wardrobe of his slightly older, more sophisticated English muse.

After his show at New York Fashion Week, a smiling Geller spoke with Styleforum contributor Marc Bain about his new collection, English style, and why he really wants his own line of socks.

Dip dye and layers (and non-Men’s-Clothing-approved buttoning) at Robert Geller fall 2012.

Marc Bain: English tailoring and style had a big influence on this collection. What makes English style so great?

Robert Geller: Since I’ve been of an age to recognize style, when I go to London I like the way that the boys dress. There’s a little bit of a dandy-ness to it, but it’s still very masculine. That goes very well with the way I like to dress. There’s still a little sensitivity, a little romance, but I still want it to be masculine. So that really drew me to it, but also the music. I really wanted to look into what it is about English culture that I like so much.

MB: When you think about this collection in the street, do you have a particular scene in mind?

RG: We always design the collection for the street. In the end it’s a business, of course, and I always think about the street. With men, you have your things you obviously need to have: a trenchcoat, you need to have your duffle coat. You need to have all these elements. It’s spinning it in a way that works with what you’re thinking about and where you want to go. So the way it is on the runway, with the bowler hat, isn’t the way people are going to wear it. But definitely some of the layering and the way it’s put together, I would love to see people wearing that on the street.

MB: I imagine it can be frustrating when you make a cool piece that doesn’t get produced. Are there any items this season that you really want to see on the racks in stores?

RG: Yeah, the blazers this season, especially the soft-wool yellow one with the gray trim. I love that jacket. People do buy that from me, but it’s not the main thing people come to me for, like the stronger outerwear, and people want the denim and the shirts. But I’d really like people to get some of the more eccentric pieces.

“I just throw some light / On your cold floors” — The Sound

MB: Are there any fabrics or fabric treatments you relied on a lot in this collection?

RG: Yeah. We actually did a lot of research about the English fabrics, and we ended up using Harris tweed in the collection. We did a lot of coated, waxed cotton, and things that are very British.

MB: For a rainy day, that sort of thing?

RG: For a rainy day, yeah. We have a Mackintosh. All of those things are very directly influenced by England.

MB: You’ve come a long way since Cloak, a line people still talk about. Collectors buy and sell it online and it’s highly sought after. What do you think made it such a popular label?

RG: I think the timing. There wasn’t so much menswear coming out of New York, and I think it surprised people. I look back at it and I think it was cool. I think it was fresh at the time, that look, much fresher than it is today I mean. My development since then has been changing. I’m getting older. That was something I did with Alexandre [Plokhov] and it was a great partnership, but now I’m doing my own thing.

Chunky knits at Robert Geller fall 2012.

MB: You mentioned really liking the tailored pieces from this collection. Do you see yourself heading more in that direction as you mature as a designer?

RG: Yeah, but also I like the mixture. I like to take sportswear and to mix it with tailoring. I think they go together really well. If you’re smart about the styling, I think it can look beautiful. I don’t think it has to be either-or. There are definitely looks where it’s just tailoring and it’s really beautiful, but I like the mixture: the soft and the hard, a little bit playful but refined. You can wear it all day.

MB: Can you talk to me about the collaborations you did for the collection? You’re still working with Common Projects, of course, and now you’re collaborating on socks with Etiquette Clothiers. Why did you want to do socks?

RG: I met this guy, Benjamin [Vergnion], who does this sock brand called Etiquette. We got to talking and I said I always wanted to have Robert Geller socks, and he was like, “Let’s do it.” He makes the finest quality socks in Italy, really amazing, and we knew that we had a lot of these shorter pants—jodhpurs, rolled-up pants—and there were going to be a lot of socks. So rather than buying black socks, because that’s boring, being able to make these really beautiful socks with Etiquette seemed like a great option.

Polka dots and billowy trousers from Geller.

MB: And what about Common Projects? Anything new going on there?

RG: New shoes. I love working with those guys. I think their collection is amazing. We sit together, we think about what we want to do, and season after season we can deliver such a beautiful product.

MB: How has your Robert Geller Seconds line been received since its launch?

RG: It’s good. It’s a way for me to make the things I want to wear when I’m either playing sports or just going out and being casual. You can also integrate it: most of my undershirts are Seconds and the sweatshirt that I have. It’s just a way to make it a little more approachable.

MB: I can see that you’re still playing around with the silhouette in your looks, something you started doing more of in your last collection. Can you talk a little about that?

RG: It started with Raf [Simons], but then definitely with Dior when Hedi [Slimane] was there, it became so slender. I loved it when I first saw them doing it. It was great. But it’s time for a change. It’s not saying, “Now it’s ’80s big, huge shoulders,” but like pushing and pulling the silhouette, mixing it up, and just seeing ways that feel right. I guess I’m figuring out where I feel like it should go as I’m doing it.

MB: I noticed some pieces from previous collections, the mesh for example. Why did you bring it back?

RG: It’s a great styling element, even for me just wearing it in my wardrobe. Instead of just wearing an A-shirt, you have a little bit more texture and you can play around with colors. It’s part of continuing the styling and vision of the past season into this new one. I like that idea.

Pitti Uomo: A Buyer’s Perspective

Mr. Kuhle goes to Firenze.

 

At this point you guys have probably read a hundred Pitti Uomo recaps. But I figured that I’m chime in with somewhat a different perspective: what it’s like to visit as a buyer, and a first-time Pitti attendant at that.

It’s huge.

Good lord. I’ve been to plenty of trade shows in my time, but never on this scale. Pitti Uomo is held in Florence’s Fortezza da Basso, a sprawling fortress complex that dates back to 1534. Without stopping, it would probably take at least 40 minutes just to walk the perimeter of the show. I’ve been to men’s shows before in NYC, Vegas, Germany, and Spain, but this one dwarfs them all.

The old main drag at Pitti.

You need to stay focused.

Trade shows are all about meeting people and putting names to faces. Most of my time is taken up with appointments for brands I already carry–for example, an Alden buy might take 2 hours, Southwick might take 90 minutes, etc. If you’re investing the time and money to fly to Italy, then you really need to make that investment worth it. That means getting there at the opening bell, keeping things tight and focused, and really trying to balance time spent in meetings with time spent looking for new brands and product. Pitti was the most difficult time-management in buying that I’ve ever dealt with.

The hardest items to buy, focuswise? Ties. Buying ties and scarves is hard as hell. There’s hundreds of fabrics and hundreds of designs in several colors apiece. Best to grab a strong-ass coffee and some water to stay well hydrated for those tie appointments.

Add a fresh bunch of Italian paisley... Scarf swatches.

Buying and attending are different experiences.

Before I went to Pitti, I had a cool idea. I would bring along my 1950s Leica M3 and shoot dazzling photos. Oh yeah; I got the lens cleaned and adjusted beforehand. I would make an entire photo gallery of 35mm pics of the “Pitti scene.” I’d have dozens of photographs of incredibly dapper Japanese guys and an overview of all my rounds there.

Wrong.

I had two and a half days at the show. The first day I spent 9 straight hours in the basement of one building, just moving from vendor to vendor. I didn’t get outside until dark and didn’t shoot a single photo with the Leica. Believe me, I was pretty envious of the #menswear Tumblr crew and the many pictures of them hanging out in the main square. When you’re buying at Pitti, you never really have time to appreciate all of the peacockery and happenings going on there. You obsessively look at product and slam a panini for lunch. Not that I’m complaining. An entire day of looking at shoes and sportcoats is a pretty damn good day for me. But buyers never really get to shoot street style photos and ogle the Brunello Cucinelli booth (unless you carry his line in your store).

Check ch-check check check check it out. Shirt swatches.

Pitti is a great resource for manufacturing.

There’s nothing better than talking with people who make things. There’s no BS, no showroom hustling, and no guy-who-just-got-the-account-6-days-ago-and-knows-jack-shit-about-what-he’s-selling. Meeting with manufacturers is a joy for me and it’s one of the best parts of my job. And Pitti is absolutely filled with small-scale manufacturers. I’m talking incredible artisan companies that you’d never find outside of Europe. There’s a robust domestic market in Europe in general and Italy in particular, so Pitti is dotted with small firms that just serve local shops and designers. You’d never know about them unless you go there, and you won’t find them there unless you really put the work into it. But I found a bunch of great stuff, and hopefully all of these contacts will bear some serious fruit come fall 2012.

Mike and team Carmina.

Knit samples.

Florence is pretty ace.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Florence a few times before, and it’s a gorgeous city. In terms of trade show cities, it’s pretty close to the top of the heap. I love Cirque du Soleil shows and dinner buffets as much as the next man (editor’s note: Mike’s opinion on Cirque du Soleil is his own and does not reflect ours), but Florence has it all over Las Vegas. And the Fortezza da Basso will put a serious hurting on the Jacob Javits Center. It’s an inspiring place to visit, and touring the excellent menswear shops in the city will definitely put you in the right frame of mind. Of course, I don’t even have to mention how great the food, wine, and coffee is. It’s a small city, so you’ll run into friends and contacts easily. Overall, I had a wonderful time, and I’d whole-heartedly recommend Pitti Uomo to any other menswear buyers interested in expanding their assortment with some really unique collections and pieces.

The Arno.

Photos courtesy Mike Kuhle.