3pc Italian lightweight flannel suit

A Load of Old Flannel

As I furnish one of my customers with a hot toddy, courtesy of our hosts at the Hoxton Hotel, I am made acutely aware that we are knocking on the door of winter‘s discontent: and no one is more discontented than our British summer, who, until hurricane Bertha swept through the nation, I was convinced was set to become an Indian summer!
Not that I’m complaining, on the contrary. Without wanting to sound like a curmudgeon, though I fear that I will, I must confess that I seldom enjoy the scorching hot summer days that we enjoyed this summer. You see, I am of the volition that, summer, and, ergo, sunshine, are best enjoyed poolside and not walking to one’s studio, getting increasingly hotter with every stride, eventually lighting up like a bulb upon arrival at one’s destination when the air cooling ceases. Of course, there are of course pursuits which are best enjoyed when the weather is fine, for example bicycle rides from Bristol to Bath along the old railway. However, with the arrival of Rubin Sonny at the beginning of Summer, I’ve failed to embark upon a single excursion thus far!
But enough of how little I was able to make use of my tailored linen shorts this summer (or indeed, Speedos): we must now turn our attentions to the inclement weather we face, and the greatest winter warmer of all: flannel!
Given the centrally heated environment which we now live in, a good 11 – 13oz English worsted wool suit would probably see you straight; and there’s a lot to choose from, of varying weaves and handles, colours and patterns.
However, flannel, which is probably the most traditional English cloth that ever was, with perhaps the exception of tweed, has been a wardrobe staple for generations. Just consider, if you will, the chalk stripes of Sir Winston Churchill, the double breasted navy blue suits of Bristol’s own Cary Grant and the dancing pants of Fred Astaire; all flannel, all English made – these particular cloth were all produced by Fox Flannel in Somerset. Brown in Town also offer flannels from Harrisons of Edinburgh, Holland and Sherry and W. Bill.
And testament to this suiting stalwart is the fact that, without question, if ever a groom commissions me to make him a traditional, or indeed a vintage (very popular with grooms these days) looking suit, it will, almost without question, be a three piece suit made of flannel. In fairness, we probably receive as many commissions for wedding suits made of tweed, but grooms are often deterred by tweeds autumnal colours, or herringbone patterns, or indeed it’s course nature or indeed weight and instead opt for flannel.
Now, it is a fact that you will not wear a more comfortable suit than one made of flannel – the process of ‘roughing’ the surface until it’s nap is raised and it’s ‘handle’ soft to the touch – which gives the wearer the feeling of being ensconced in a soft, comforting, woollen blanket. And if the weight of the typical English flannel cloth i.e. upwards of 13oz is of concern, I encourage you to feel the handle of our Loro Piana and Vitale Barberis flannels from Italy, which is a lighter weight 9oz, and incredibly soft to the touch.
But if you hanker after a bit of English tradition, and you, perhaps, like, or, moreover, long, to dress like your sartorial heroes, or emanate the sartorial style of your forefathers, or just want to walk to work in sub zero temperatures feeling like you are wearing your duvet, look no further than flannel.
And so, without further ado, may I introduce you to the stiff upper lip of British sartoria, albeit a lip that has just been daubed with lip balm; the flannel suit!

Open All Hours!

If I had a pound for every time someone has said to me in the last couple of months “I didn’t think that you were open on a Monday, David”. Or, “I am in need of a new suit, some shirts, some tweeds (insert missing/threadbare/urgently required garment here), but I am only going to be in Bristol on Tuesday, and you’re not open on Tuesday’s, are you, David”? I wouldn’t so much have enough in order to facilitate an early retirement, but I’d certainly consider revising one’s website to reflect the hours which Brown in Town now keeps, and, possibly, even scribe a blog in the fashion of a classified advertisement to ensure that all my patrons, and, more besides, were aware that since the arrival of my second child, Brown in Town is, effectively, open all hours!

The final hint, and there have been many – I am too tired, and, ergo, too slow on the uptake, owing to a lack of sleep, to realise that I should perhaps have notified all and sundry of our revised opening hours immediately following the birth of our son in July – came during a luncheon at the glorious Old Down Manor, Bristol. Our host, the delectable Olivia Mills, has a vested interest in a real life grocers and convenience store, itself modelled on the much loved television show of the same name ‘Open All Hours’, Thornbury’s own Riddifords – Olivia’s beau is Oliver Riddiford.

And while you may not find Bristol’s local tailor placing orders onto the cutting table in the middle of the night, we can certainly be found in Hotel du Vin’s bar earlier, later and more frequently, than ever before. And the simple reason is this; the pleasure of an hour of yoga in the morning, before ascending the ladder to one’s study in the attic, for 8 solid hours of paperwork, has all at once become less of a catharsis and more of a chore since, not only my children, but also the memsahib, Saffron Darby, moved into the family home immediately following Rubin Sonny’s arrival, whereas before, I had the entire house to myself between the hours of 09:00 and 18:00!

Of course, I realise that no monopoly lasts forever, and that if I want  the family name to continue, or indeed, the business, then it was necessary to have had another child in the form of a son. Of course, it’s always possible that Grace Blake will follow in her parents footsteps, or, indeed, not marry, but we live in hope, eh?!

So, if you are in need of a wedding suit, some tweeds, perhaps, or duds for work, or perhaps services of a shirtmaker, or perhaps you are bereft of some accoutrement; an umbrella, a handkerchief, a pocket square or tie, then rest assured that, even if I am not in my lair at Hotel du Vin’s old cigar humidor, or indeed at The Hoxton Hotel, Shoreditch then I am not far away, and can be contacted in various ways and means, in order to make an appointment.

We look forward to seeing you, all hours..

Why Sing for your Dinner, when you can Smoke a Cigar Instead!

I smoked my first cigar before I’d even finished reading the book which inspired me to begin smoking in the first place; it was The History of Habitat, by Terence Conran. It was 1996.

I had bought my first home the previous year and I was enthralled by this world of interiors and architecture, and quickly became a Habitat devotee. Terence Conran became a huge inspiration, both professionally and personally – some years later I would eventually work for Terence himself at The Conran Shop.

If the second summer of love was the best year of my life (which I spent at college in the St. Martins building on Charing Cross road right next door to the now defunct Marquee Club), then my inaugural year at Habitat on the Tottenham Court Rd, was the second.

And with my first paycheque, I clearly remember the short walk from TCR (as we referred to Tottenham Court Rd), to the cigar counter at Selfridges, on Edward Mews, where I procured my first cigar; it was a petit H. Upmann. It was a revelation and was the beginning of a love affair which has taken me to Cuba and back, inspired me to design the perfect cigar ashtray – which Terence himself assisted me with – and sparked many enjoyable conversations around the world. What it had never afforded me, however, was the fabled cigar dinner: until now that is.

As an enthusiastic novice, I read myriad accounts of cigar dinners between the pages of Cigar Aficionado magazine. I longed to be part of some clandestine smoking club that enjoyed evenings spent recounting cigar anecdotes whilst feasting on exquisite food and drinking fine wines. And last night, I did just that.

Brown in Town opened it’s doors in January of this year inside Hotel du Vin’s old cigar humidor, which for this particular cigar aficionado, is still the greatest coup d’etat in our companies short history. Seldom have I been afforded the opportunity to partake of my favourite pastime as oft’ as I am in my new residency, albeit outside in the courtyard; damn that smoking ban! Nor have I met so many like minded partakers, some of whom have become customers of Brown in Town, not to mention an introduction to the UK importer of all Cuban cigars, Hunter & Frankau.

And so, 18 years after my journey began, my cigar smoking prayers were answered by a cigar dinner at Hotel du Vin, hosted by Hunters Frankau and enjoyed by guests of the hotel, Brown in Town patrons, and Hotel du Vin’s own cigar aficionados alike. And what’s not to like;

We were first treated to an Appleton Rum V/X, mixed expertly by none other than Hotel du Vin’s bartender extraordinaire, Nathan, with Angostura bitters, Oloroso sherry, apricot liqueur and Aperol (and whilst Bristol’s local tailor may suffer from an acute intolerance to most spirits, we managed to sip our way through this wonderful concoction) to accompany one of Cubas more modern brands, the San Cristobal, El Principe. The El Principe is somewhere between a corona and petit corona in size, and is light to medium in flavour. And what a lot of delicious flavour it packs; coffee notes, and sweet top notes make this an easy smoking cigar and one I will seek out in the robusto and Churchill sizes.

To accompany the starter of Applewood smoked duck with baby spinach and pickled walnuts, we drank a very well paired Planalto Douro Reserva, which, whilst not a quaffable wine, was a perfect accompaniment.

When you consider that Cotes du Rhone is typically an easy drinking red (and one of my personal favourites), the Les Couteaux Cote du Rhone Villages 2011 more than held it’s own against the duo of braised short rib and roast sirloin of beef, served with root vegetables, tobacco onions (I see what you did there chef) and celeriac puree. We were encouraged to take this remarkable wine with us out onto the terrace to enjoy with the second cigar of the evening, the Montecristo, Petit Edmundo. A fine looking cigar (I really like the shallowness of the cap), with a toastiness rarely found in a Montecristo, and a good handle too.

The dark chocolate torte with orange sorbet, was quite simply the most incredible torte I have ever had the pleasure of eating. As effective a palate cleanser, as it was rich and chocolatey; there is, in my mind, no better way end to an exquisite meal. With the coffee served strong, and from a cafetiere, Hotel du Vin really did surpass themselves.

But the best was yet to come! Hunters & Frankau had selected one of Cubas oldest cigar brands to complete the evening in the form of the Ramon Allones Specially Selected (robusto) for the final plume. And what a plume it was; full bodied, fruity, coffee and rum notes with a smooth finish, and hands down cigar of the evening. Paired with Appleton Estate Old Fashioned, mixed, again by our Nathan with orange bitters and demerara sugar. A marvellous finish to a perfect evening.

And what could be more befitting than to don my grandfathers smoking jacket, typically worn by our Douglas at the door to the humidor.

In the words of Andrew our head barman, I was feeling a little dusty this morning, but I am already looking forward to our next cigar dinner with eager anticipation. And I would not be surprised if the next one does not take 18 years to orchestrate!

The DB

Like so many of the clothes which we wear today, the double breasted, jacket, or blazer (or db as it is commonly referred to) has it’s origins in nautical history. Derived from a sailors Pea Coat, which takes it’s name from the Pilot Cloth from which it was made, was a short coat woven from heavy blue wool twill, which offered protection against the elements, as well as protection from the rigours of the sailors life manning a ship’s deck.

However, whilst the overcoat’s woollen cloth was robust and versatile, it’s buttons were often sawn-off by the coarse ‘mauren rap’, later, mooring rope, used when mooring their craft and sliding down the mooring line on their stomachs. A redesign was commissioned.

By off-setting the buttons which fasten the front of the coat, sailors were able to lean, lay, or slide on the mooring line, or, indeed, rigging, while working, without sawing through the cotton thread which attached the buttons to the overcoat. And voila, the double breasted coat was born.

More recently, the double breasted jacket has enjoyed several resurgences. Firstly, in the 1940’s when messrs Douglas Fairbanks, and Fairbanks Junior, and Bristol’s own Cary Grant ruled the silver screen; with their broad shoulders, and even broader lapels, nipped at the waist and cut with a relaxed jib, it really was the style of the day.

Fast forward to the 1980’s when Miami Vice had Crocket and Tubbs blazing a pastel-shaded trail across our TV screens sporting their Armani inspired deconstructed double breasted suits, cut loose, broad across the shoulders, but narrower at the ankles than their 1940’s counterparts; better for showing off a tan and the obligatory espadrille shoes!

More recently, Dunhill tailored a double breasted suit for Jude Law, which has helped the renaissance no doubt; in fairness they could have dressed Mr Law in hopsack and it would have been a hit. But what was different about this cut was that it was closely tailored from top to bottom, as well as nipped at the waist. Moreover, the bottom button of the 6 button 2 fastening design was left unfastened: radical at the time, but now the order of the day.

And what of Bristol’s local tailor? Well, I’m currently sporting a navy blue pinstripe, from Harrisons of Edinburgh, worn, by today’s standard anyway long in the coat and well-fitting but not too narrow at the waist; perfect for conducting one’s business throughout the day without feeling the need to remove it.

And what is it that we appreciate about the DB? For those of us that have traditionally worn three piece suits, it offers us the same level (and when I say level, I am referring to the position of the ‘V’ shape of our vest or, indeed, coat, at chest height, around the solar plexus as well as the amount) of security.

But we’re also enjoying a resurgence of the db as blazer. Not, necessarily, in the traditional blue worsted twill cloth that it is associated with, nor, with the obligatory brass buttons; though Brown in Town does receive such commissions from time to time, and is always happy to make such a traditional staple of the gentleman’s wardrobe.

But, more conducive with today’s closely tailored styles, not to mention their environment, todays Italian dandy’s have adopted the db as their own and are themselves blazing a brightly coloured trail of linen, mohair and cotton versions; cut short, and adorned with contrasting coloured buttons and nipped very tight at the waist, very ‘sprezzatura’ as they say in Italy!

So, whether you consider yourself a traditional dresser, a modern day dandy, or, indeed, favour the Italian style of tailoring, there is, without question, a double breasted, jacket or blazer to meet your sartorial needs and suit your personal style, ahem.

The Bare Necessities

While the bare necessities of which Balloo sang in the Jungle Book, my favourite children’s film of all time by the way, may be more be more essential to one’s survival, the prerequisites of a well compiled wardrobe are tantamount to an easy life, particularly if you must get dressed every day in order to conduct your business; whether that be as Bristol’s local tailor, or otherwise.

Clearly there is a resurgence among men for the micro wardrobe, as I have been asked for my assistance in building one several times in as many weeks. So I thought it might be of use to scribe the garments which I think will get you through life, the year, the week or your next business trip, as follows;

The Two Piece Suit
Whether you’re a suit-a-day kind of guy, or not, at some time or another in the next 6 months, you will have cause to wear a suit; get it right first time and you will save yourself the pain and anguish of not getting it right first time i.e. having to buy another next time around, incurring unnecessary expense, or, indeed, having to go shopping (shudders..).

Commissioning a suit should be an enjoyable pursuit, a luxury for some, and simply the only means of ensuring that you will be furnished with a garment that fits, and, provides the wearer with the design details and attributes which he favours and which he knows are the most flattering.

And if we are to consider what would be the most versatile, then, as with all things Brown in Town, we must first consider which colour is most flattering of the wearer and as a general guide, a cloth colour which matches either your eye colour or hair, or, indeed, beard colour, if, indeed, you reside here in Bristol. Or at least a colour which is works well against your skin tone – the girls are often a good source of inspiration where colour is concerned, so listen to your personal style advisor, after all, they will have to look at you wearing it more than you will look at yourself, I hope (vanity is not becoming of any man).

With regard suit design, the contemporary classic is sure to continue to stand the test of time, and so is a good go to if you are in any doubt;

The Jacket
Single breasted, 2 button fastening, double vented, 4 button cuff, notched lapels, straight or slanted pockets (other jacket designs and styles are also available). Weights vary but a cloth weighing between 8/9 0z – 11/12oz should cater for most tastes.

The Trousers
Slanted hip pockets, single right (or left) back pocket, hip adjusters, single pleats and turn-ups to taste, albeit pleats add something in the way of comfort, whereas turn-ups, unless you are tall and endeavouring to anchor your trousers to your shoes, bring little in the way of utilitarian functionality.

The blazer, sport coat or jacket (call it what you will) and grey flannels, worsteds, or, most commonly these days, chinos and jeans, is a timeless staple. Harrisons and H. Lesser offer the best of the best with many colour variations to suit all palettes.

Whether worn with the traditional brass buttons or not, the blue (jacket) is almost certainly certainly the most versatile colour. Bright colours are perfect for the summer months, but avoid a cloth colour which can be mistaken for a suit jacket i.e. grey, black or pin striped: not a good look. A dark blue jacket will work with khaki or pale blue chinos, denim, grey worsted or flannel trousers, and even dark blue tailored shorts.. enquire within.

With the exception of the cut, the design of the classic blazer has changed little over the years. The cut of today’s jib is typically a closer fit, and, aside jetted pockets being more popular than patch pockets, and the single vent more popular than the double vent, the design of single breasted (rarely am I commissioned to cut a double breasted blazer, and more’s the pity), two button fastening, 4 button working cuff, is, for Brown in Town patrons anyway, the most popular, and, I would say, versatile.

Slacks, trousers, jeans, chinos
I would suggest that owning one of each of these garments will you stand you in good stead. If I had to choose only two, or even one, then chinos, followed by grey worsted trousers, are, for me, the most versatile.

Worsted, or Flannels
The cut of this most timeless of wardrobe staples will be based on your own personal taste, naturally, but if I were to make a suggestion for the most versatiles design, then a pair featuring slanted side pockets, a single right (or left) back pocket, forward, or English pleats, will almost certainly see you through any, and all, occasions.

Typically worn without pleats, but feel to experiment, after all, if you find pleats comfortable in your suit trousers, or slacks, why not incorporate them in your chinos, if you have the option. Belt loops are more popular than hip adjusters, not least because many of us have spent years building up a collection of belts to match our shoes. But again, if you fancy a change and are feeling like you want to raise the bar on this otherwise utilitarian garment, then we are only going to encourage you to do so!

Finally, a shirt in each of the following colours will see you through any and all occasions; white, pale blue and pink. If you wear ties with your suits, or indeed jackets, then you will have to decide on which collar to use as the semi-cut away collar will not work as an open neck (shirt), as the collars will disappear under your jacket lapels. If you are able, have one of each made; those to be worn with a suit to feature a semi-cut away collar and double cuffs, and those to be worn open neck a Kent collar and single cuffs.

And there you have it, in essence. For sure we might have a wish list which includes summer suits made of linen, and tweed jackets for Autumn/Winter, but these staples will see you through thick and thin. Then, once you have realised just how simple the male (or micro) wardrobe can be to achieve, the bear neccessities of life of will come to you.. and then we can discuss what additions would make it flourish!