The Romance of Train Travel

It is perhaps not least that I still believe in the romance of train travel, but when faced with a 4 1/2 hour train journey Up North to Huddersfield, I get very excited indeed!

You see, whilst a train may not be taking me off to some far and distant land for sun, sand and the other, it can provide a safe haven from the world outside and some respite to indulge in some of life’s little luxuries; time to put pen to paper, which I enjoy very much, especially over a coffee and a sticky bun. But finding the time to do so has become increasingly difficult. What with wedding suits for brides and grooms, separates and brightly coloured shirts and polos for the jet set and the occasional whistle and flute for city gents; there have not been enough hours in the day of late.

And once the tickets are booked, there is then the consideration of what one might wear for such a journey. Comfort and utility being a priority, of course, I have taken my lead from the golden age of train travel when clothes were a little easier to wear than today’s slim-cuts.

Given the amount of sitting one must do, my incredibly luxurious Fox flannels are perfect, not least because because flannel is very soft and comfortable. Being wool, they are both breathable and cosy, meaning they can be as warm as they are cool. Also, they are cut with a straight leg, as opposed my trademark drainpipe and with a looser seat. This provides a fit with more room at the thigh; perfect for sitting on a train for hours.

Now, because I knew I’d be typing, I decided against cufflinks as they tend to be cumbersome. Moreover, given the shirtings I favour, which traditionally are poplins and oxfords which are not very forgiving, I opted instead for one of our new made-to-measure long sleeve polos from Hubscher. The cotton pique is not only breathable but has more give than my other shirts. And as we will not be entertaining today, I thought we could go sans tie.

And while the weather today may not call for a jacket, I find that the pockets which a jacket affords you are of paramount importance when travelling. Where else would one carry one’s wallet, phone, lip balm, keys, sunglasses? So, we opted for one’s old faithfull summer blazer, which is cut from the recently resurrected Mirage cloth range from Harrisons of Edinburgh, albeit now under the W. Bill banner.

This ensemble Saffron Darby likes to refer to as my Cary Grant look; it’s not all compliments, but we’ll take them where we can get them! And tapping away on our new gold MacBook on the 09:30 to Leeds, with my decaf coffee and aquafaba cake (rustled up by none other than Saffron Darby herself), I am in my element!

Before you know it, we are in the land of looms, alchemists and some of the finest worsteds and woollens know to humanity; Huddersfield. And Huddersfield is home to our new friends from Huddersfield Fine Worsteds who were the consummate hosts and pulled out all the stops for my visit, for which I am most grateful.

We started at the beginning, in the weaving shed, as it is know, seeing their yarns being fed into the looms; the majority of their cloths are woven here with some seasonal collections coming from Italy, such as their iridescent ’Bamboo’ jacketing (yes, actually made from bamboo fibre) and also India for some of their cottons and seersuckers (India were one of the first producers of cotton in the world, and is where our Brown in Town handkerchiefs are made).

Next we headed to their warehouse where all order for the UK and Europe are fulfilled. While you have to appreciate the skill and workmanship that goes into weaving these fine cloths, it is in the warehouse that I get most excited. For it is here that you see the cloths as pieces (approx. 60m lengths) rolled-up and on the shelf and I can see the colours and the patterns and start to imagine them as garments. Once a cloth is earmarked as being desirable, you are then offered the bunch or cards (folders) of the respective cloths – though not to take with you then and there, much to my chagrin! One must wait one’s turn and join the queue to ensure that each bunch is accounted for.

I was also fortunate enough to be shown around the company’s hallowed archive, which, documented in dusty tomes provides a full history of their designs and patterns over the years; the oldest I bore witness to dated back to 1898. But the archive which impressed me the most, was the one which has inspired possibly the greatest sartorial anglophile of recent times; Ralph Lauren. I think he has done more than most to champion British sartorial style, and is regularly photographed for the RL campaigns in Savile Row suits and cloths.

The final part of the puzzle came on day two of our trip, but not before we had sought refreshment and quite possibly the best “ruby” I have ever had the pleasures of eating, not to mention a few ice cold libations – I’m not a lager man, but if you know of a curry house that serves anything other than Cobra or Kingfisher, I’d like to know about it!

The final piece of the puzzle of cloth production took us to W.T Johnson. They are a family owned cloth finishing business, whom, some might argue, are the best in the business. Given time honoured traditions, not to mention the secrecy surrounding some of the processes, finishing is best described as alchemy. These custodians of the dark arts of creating, improving and galvanising the finish of every piece of fine cloth that you are likely every to have worn. The level of detail, the passion and the graft that is involved in taking an entire piece of cloth from a mill and preparing, nay, nurturing it until it is fully fledged and ready to take flight, is remarkable. While I can take little away, what I can inform of you of is that there are two basic things required to ‘finish’ a piece of cloth; water and steam. The former is drawn from Johnson’s own bore hole and, it is suggested, it is the water which is key to transforming a cloth into something that is more than just fit for purpose, but that will last a lifetime.

And while I may now be wearing full regalia; a two piece linen/wool, Oxford shirt inc. tie and cufflinks, I am no less comfortable tapping away on these shiny black keys. And I may not be as fresh as I was yesterday morning, but I am not less happy with my lot; inspired, informed and educated. And I may not have been my turn to entertain today, but I took no less care in my attire for the journey home.

Toot, toot…!

Style is a journey, not a destination..

Something has got me very excited. Very excited indeed. So excited, in fact, that I have had trouble sleeping. And no, it is not my nocturnal Son!
Like my Son though, I am a creature of habit. But all of those habits have stemmed from something which was once upon a time new and which we had discovered. Recently we have discovered that we like to travel overseas in order to recharge the old batteries; while the weather this Summer has been outstanding, it is not much use to those of us that work in a subterranean, windowless environment! Perhaps this is why trips to sunnier climbs really get my mercury rising. Our trips to the Algarve, Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast have both been the source of enormous inspiration, not to mention good sources of serotonin.
Since my first trip to Florence for the Pitti Uomo men’s fashion fair, this now annual pilgrimage ticks both the aforementioned boxes. Indeed, I believe it was during this trip that I was encouraged to adopt the two-piece suit as addendum to my exclusively three-piece wardrobe. And not only do I shop better when abroad, I am also more receptive to those things which are not common to me at home in Blighty.
There is a lot to be inspired by in Florence, starting with it’s central train station Santa Maria Novella, which has the most sublime architecture, and attention to detail such as the matching fonts above every kiosk. Not to mention the facades of their beautiful boutique shops, which line cobble streets and have remained unchanged since the cobbles were laid. If you have not been, might I suggest that you do.
And it is as if this renaissance architecture set the stage for what has become my greatest inspiration in terms of men’s style at and around Pitti this time around. Now, perhaps because it was the Summer edition of Pitti, but certainly those who stood out to me, had adopted a more casual style, more relaxed. While jackets remained neatly cut, albeit in the ubiquitous deconstructed style which lends itself to a Summer wardrobe, trousers and in particular chinos, were much more generously cut than they have been in a while.
I was intrigued to say the least. But before I’d had the chance to consider how I might dip my toe in the water, I chanced upon an Aladdin’s cave selling Italian made chinos in this new looser cut (some too loose for my svelte frame, regrettably). In fairness, it was the fabulous collection of Tin Tin paraphernalia such as T-Shirts, figurines, comics and books etc. which actually enticed me into the store in the first instance – have just started watching an old box set of The Amazing Adventures of Tin Tin with my children, which they love.
Given it was my last day at Pitti and I had a train to catch, I was not afforded as much browsing time as I’d have liked but 20 mins later I was the proud owner of a pair of Devore chinos, generously cut at the seat and with single knife-pleats. Now, pleats are something which I have shied away from in chinos since my first attempt some years ago. But the generous cut seams to make more sense of the pleats than today’s slim-fit chinos. They are also long enough for me to roll them up several times at the ankle, which give them the allure of historical seaside attire, sans the knotted handkerchief!
And with few exceptions, shoes were worn sans socks. Or so I thought until I was informed that there is an invisible sock which is made with Italian men in mind and which are which are invisible when worn with their loafers – who knew? Not me that’s for sure. I myself was a casualty. While my feet may survive an entire day sans socks in Bristol, the heat and cobble streets in Florence got the better of me, managing a mere 20 mins in Florence before I was bruised and bleeding! Canvas daps and Belgian Loafers were popular among the cognoscenti, which looked a lot softer than my Cheaney’s.
I would imagine that the weather has played a part in this sartorial shift, but I believe the seed was sewn when I opted for a more generous cut in my Fox Flannels which I had made at the end of last year. Notwithstanding the straight leg-cut, which affords the wearer more drape behind the thigh, I also cut the seat an inch bigger than usual. These trousers are about as comfortable as they can be, short of increasing the position of the waistband to the navel: Following a commission from a friend of Brown in Town, who requested a pair of trousers inspired by Oxford Bags, I was reminded yet again that high waisted trousers worn at the navel afford the wearer the most comfortable position and ergo the most comfortable trousers. Just think; no slipping down, no binding or digging into your hips as hipsters do and no cutting you in half when you sit down. Heaven.
In fact, I must confess that it is perhaps Mr Carney’s double pleats that have got me most excited of all. For his Oxford Bags-inspired white flannels, from Fox Brothers, naturally, were so exquisite I have been seduced! And while we may not be adopting the higher waistband (preferring my trousers to sit just above my hip bones), nor the wide ankle (I’ll stick with a narrower ankle for now), I proffer that we all know that the day is coming..
The other catalyst for this retro-style is almost certainly the new long sleeve polo shirts which we now offer as part of our made-to-measure shirt range. Tucked in, the long sleeve polo with it’s choice of knitted collar and cuff or the more tailored two-piece collar (also available as a button-down for the preppy’s among us) and single button cuff, inspires something of the Cary Grant in one’s ensemble – or so I am informed by the Memsahib.
But what to wear on one’s feet? I’m not much for canvas shoes, though that will probably change over time. And Saffron Darby has vetoed the Belgian loafer. So, we have sought inspiration from The Talented Mr Ripley, which is set in Italy in the 1950’s and appeals not only to my renaissance tastes, but is indicative of the style which I saw in Florence. After weeks of painful deliberation (my feet still scarred by the abuse they sustained) I have decided to plump for a pair of Bass Weejuns from G.H. Bass & Co. who are purveyors of the Penny Loafer.
I actually owned a pair of burgundy Penny Loafers in my early teens when the 1950’s style was all the rage and we shopped at Flip in Covent Garden for our jeans, chinos and bowling or gas station shirts and Shelly’s for our Shoes; I thought they were/I was the bees knees. But this time around we are opting for black as they will also go well with the cloths of some new trousers which we are working on just now.
First up was a pair of off-white 9oz flannels from Fox Brothers Queens Award collection (now in short supply) and a pair of ginger 12oz linen slacks from W. Bill. Both have been cut more generously on the seat and feature a button-fly. Both  feature double pleats; the flannel’s English and the linen’s Continental, naturally.
So, be bold and follow your instincts even if they fly in the face of what you believe to be right and fitting. And remember to allow a little colour into your wardrobe this Autumn even if you did not during the Summer months. Oh, and get out more, the Vitamin D will do you good!
All the best,
David.

Things What I have Learned..

In what, I have decided will become an annual communique on one’s Birthday, I will continue the theme of it is never too late to learn and being able to teach an old dog new tricks!

Given the long, harsh winter that we endured here in Blighty, I have come to the conclusion that I must get more sun than I do. Not least being holed up in a windowless, subterranean studio Monday to Friday certainly does nothing for one’s tan, let alone serotonin levels – but can also make Jack a dull boy.

So, in addition to Brown in Town’s monthly residency at the Hoxton Hotel, we have also headed North to meet some of the historical mills and merchants whose cloth we take great pride in showcasing. While this may reduce the number of days I can offer appointments throughout the year, I will return wiser and with new cloths to boot! 

And whilst the Darby Minns’  um’d and ah’d over which country and culture we should subject to our children – Summer holidays not being our forte – I took the executive decision to embark upon a buying trip to Florence, and join the other peacocks at the Pitti Uomo trade fair; for purely professional reasons you understand.

Pitti has provided sartorialist’s the world over with inspiration of what to wear, what’s hot and what’s not (peacocking, for one). What I really like about it is that in addition to the solid stable of the best haberdashers and ateliers in the world, you can also catch up on historical brands such as Sunspel, Moon Boot and Diadora; to name but a few of those which I stumbled upon my last trip. 

Now, the following are a list of sartorial wisdoms what I have learned and which were a revelation to me once upon a time. Albeit now I may take them for granted, as I impart them to our patrons on a regular basis, I thought appropriate that they found their place in this years list;

In order to give the illusion of a suppressed waist, a jacket must be a decent length so as to be wider at the hip than the waist. The jacket will also benefit from having side vents as opposed a single vent at the back – this is because a the skirt of a single vented coat clings to the hips making the coat appear narrower. Side vents, on the other hand, flare slightly at the skirt thus making the jacket appear narrower in the middle. Genius.

And if you favour the silhouette of narrow trousers, then they must be wider at the top as opposed straight all the way down. Thus, increasing the seat circumference, so that the trousers slip over your behind as opposed stick to it, then not only will the drape be improved, but it will  make the bottoms appear narrower; pleats, will also accentuate this. 

On the subject of pleats, which I favour for many reasons but not least because they improve drape and reduce unsightly creases from the fly to the hip pockets; which I refer to as cats whiskers. Moreover, pleats improve comfort when seated, for when you sit down and your ham strings and seat expand, the pleats will pop-open and provide ease.  Marvellous.

While pleats are not a house-style, where as some of our design details are, I have learned that a tailors house style; whether that be single buttoning coats at Huntsman, or jaunty angled jacket pockets at Oswald Boateng are not for everyone. However, unless the tailor is informed in advance of your specific foible or disliking of the house-style, then one is obliged to wear the house style, at least for the first garment; whereby you can request that future garments are made sans whichever detail it may be that you do not like. You have been informed.

On the subject of elegance, if you are looking for a great fitting pair of trousers – not to be confused with ’skinny’ or ‘spray-on’ as I refer to them – and the most flattering of silhouettes, then there are but two positions to wear them; your anterior superior iliac spine or hip bones i.e. not hipsters. Or at your navel; think 1950′ and before to include all trousers worn by Cary Grant. For from these positions, your trousers will drape as they are supposed to and provide the wearer with clean lines from just below the muffin top to just above the shoe. The length of your trousers is of tantamount importance also as, if they are worn too long, they will puddle at the shoe and break too much at the shin; thus ruining the appearance and silhouette of not only your trousers but also of your shoes. 

As for shoes, if you enjoy a long stroll to work as I do, then you can’t beat a pair of bench made English shoes, from the likes of Joseph Cheaney for example, or any of the other wonderful shoe makers that can be found on Jermyn St. in London. Not least because they last longer than high street shoes (I once wore through the sole of a pair of Clarkes in under 3 months) but because when you do finally wear through them, Cheaney will not only resole them but rebuild the entire shoe on the original last (the wooden shoe-shaped block upon which a shoe is made and shaped).

And perhaps the most important lesson which I will learn this year, but which I have yet to fully adopt, I do know holds the key to one’s happiness; Let Go. Some things you cannot do for others, even if you want to. You can only be there to support them when they need you. And I mean support, not get out one’s toolbox and try to fix it for them..

So, make hay while the sunshines and in the words of Baz Luhrmann; do not under estimate the importance of sunscreen..

All the best,

 

David. 

Polo Anyone…?!

I wouldn’t say that I was your typical polo shirt wearer, but when the weather calls for it or we are on the continent, nothing speaks of summer to me like a Lacoste polo shirt, particularly a white one. Whilst it is a shame that mine remains in the wardrobe for most of the year, it does give me something to look forward to through the winter months. I remain a fan of the crocodile since I first discovered Lacoste at the tender age of 9yrs old, when I was at my most fashion conscious. Historically, however, like most cottons they shrink after the first wash so they are never long enough second outing or thereafter, resembling a crop top on some wearers. So they have never formed part of my wardrobe lexicon.

That was until I saw a picture of JFK wearing a long sleeve, grey cotton pique polo and khaki’s relaxing on the deck of a yacht; only the latter had appealed to me until that time, now all of a sudden, both did! Thus followed and intense search for the aforementioned polo, which lead me to Brooks Brothers, the American preppy outfitters. To the best of my knowledge, it was Brooks who had made those sported by JFK. While I was not taken with the buttoning single cuff design, I did rather like it’s pointed placket. And to my surprise, Brooks they still make that very design, but they are now only available in bold stripes and resemble an old school rugby shirt. Not the look I was hoping to achieve. 

Foregoing my desire for the original Brook Brothers design of pointed placket, which no one else I could find offered, I continued my search for grey long sleeve polos, which lead me to J. Crew, who are my American outfitter of choice. To my delight they were able to provide me with a very similar grey cotton pique, long sleeve polo – albeit with a square placket but it does nothing to detract from the shirts appeal. I have patronised J. Crew since discovering their first foray into bricks and mortar in the UK, on Lambs Conduit St. in London. I now make good use of their basics such as chinos, belts, shorts, swimmers and the like.

So far, so good. But upon receipt, it was clear that I was no match for an American medium, so swapped them for a small. With regards proportion i.e. sleeve and back length, they are not far off, but they are too loose in the torso. Still, good for weekends spent playing with the saucepan lids. But nothing more.

However, following a chance encounter with with an old friend from the rag trade, I was informed of the Swiss shirtmaker whom they now work for, who have been making exquisite shirts for five generations. Keen to show me their wears, we met at our London outpost, The Hoxton Hotel to thumb some shirtings and see what was on offer. Amongst their rather fine offering of exquisite 2ply Swiss and Italian shirtings including Panama, Poplin, Fil-a-Fil, dobby and flannel to name but a few, there was an entire bunch dedicated to pique cottons for polo shirts – I couldn’t believe my luck!

Itching to give one a try, I commissioned a long sleeve polo in navy, believing it to be a more versatile colour to use for work, but using my own shirt measurements which I hoped would provide me the length and fit I desire. Less than 5 wks later, the shirt was finished. And I could not be more happy with the results; really good fit, great handle and wonderful shade of navy blue with subtly contrasting dark blue buttons. And as for the obligatory laundering test; she passed with flying colours!

When I had originally researched the long sleeve polo that JKF had worn, I was not a fan of the single button cuff. But this, among other design details such as more formal shirt collars including button down collars, are something which we can also offer; some of which we are now in the process of prototyping, courtesy of our Swiss counterparts. 

In the meantime, the original Brown in Town long sleeve polo featuring the classic design of knitted cuffs and collar has received some glowing compliments and are now available, together with your choice of customisations, to order by appointment. 

I hope that you will enjoy yours as much as I have mine; polo anyone..?! 

Yes Chef..!


I am oft’ asked who is Brown in Town’s demographic. Aside a great many grooms for whom we make a great many wedding suits, not to mention a fair number number of City Gents and a handful of high-fliers, coming up through the ranks are those most lauded of creatures whose profile has enjoyed a meteoric rise these last few decades; the Chef!

My own appreciation of good food, not to mention fine wines, is quite possibly associated with my appreciation of the finer things in life; good design, fine cigars and of course nice clothes. And one of the things which I became very good at during my tenure overseas was dining out. Southeast Asia, South America, China and Hong Kong all had wonderful restaurants with great service and fantastic food and drink. In fact, I dined out EVERYDAY for three years. I cooked dinner at home only ONCE – cooking for one is just not very inspiring.

And perhaps inspiration is the reason behind my appreciation of restaurant culture. For I am not only interested in the food and the drink, although they play a huge part: the entire dining experience is tantamount to exquisite cooking and superlative wines. Ambience, architecture, design, presentation, pairing of not only food with wine but crockery with cutlery and even napkins – each one must be executed with consideration and consideration of the others. They all bring something to the table. Pun intended.

Upon my return to Blighty I took a break from retail and joined one of my best friends at the restaurant where he was head chef, The Gun in London’s Docklands. I was his maître d. We worked hard and we played hard. Perhaps too hard. But what I came to appreciate about the hospitality game was that it is very much like retail: they are both service industries but where a fabulous product plays a part in the overall experience. And while for some of its protagonists it is supporting another passion, there are those for whom it is a means to an end. For me, it is the latter.

While the high street groans and large retailers fill their shops with products which none of their staff understand, nor have any interest in concerning themselves with, independent retailers are enjoying brisk trade delivering a product they believe in and take great pride in sharing and enthusing over with likeminded people.

So it may well have something to do with my affinity with the hospitality industry, or it may have something to do with my dining habits, but I am delighted to have have become tailor to some of the owners, head chefs, maître d’s not to mention sommeliers of some my favourite haunts in London and Bristol such as Wallfish Bistro, Bel Air House, The Rummer HotelHotel du Vin, The Glass Boat, The Quality Chop House, The Hoxton HotelThe Ethicurean, Hyde & Co., Café Murano, Rick Stein, SalonCasamia, Bar Buvette, Merchants Tavern and of course Terence Conran to name but a few. In fact, it is Sir Terence who has introduced me to many of the things which I love, not to mention played a part in the launch of my retail career.

And so it should come as no great surprise that many of these friends and cohorts have become patrons of Brown in Town over the years, as I have become a patron of theirs. In particular, when I am staying in London, where I enjoy dining out at the many wonderful restaurants in the vicinity of The Hoxton Hotel.

In fact, it is to a chef that we owe a debt of gratitude for our wonderful outpost in London’s Shoreditch. Shaun Searley, who is head chef of The Quality Chop House in Farringdon, was only available to be measured for his wedding suit before service on a Friday and in the vicinity of his restaurant. But, as you can imagine, living in Bristol with two saucepan lids does not such an appointment make!

So, in the interests of providing a good service, we took a room at The Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch and responded with a resounding “yes Chef!” – Shaun’s betrothed might also once also have been my boss at The Gun, but this had nothing to do with our decision!

Bon appetit..