Sunday, April 27, 2008

Window shopping with the rich and famous: Paris

Ever drifting down the stream--
Lingering in the golden gleam--
Life, what is it but a dream?
--Lewis Carroll

In the grand scheme of things, to have the freedom to dream is a luxury in itself. Even more so is to live the dream, as the next destination for the finer things awaits.

Spending a day in London (see April 21 entry) was indeed an awesome experience culturally and sartorially. A Eurostar train ride to Paris, however, is yet another story when it comes to fashion.

Paris is world renowned for its haute couture. While I am not a member of that exclusive circle, I did enter the doors of the most prestigious shirtmaker in France --Charvet, founded in 1838. It is located at Place Vendome, across the street from Cartier and in close proximity to esteemed jewelers. For those who seek a taste of Charvet's history, click here.

At the time of my visit in early April, a salesperson quoted 600 Euros (about $930) for one custom-fitted shirt. A demi-fitted shirt, which requires fewer measurements that are used in cutting the shirt from a template, goes for 400 Euros (about $620). Ready-made shirts cost 275 Euros (about $425).

Now I know.

Strolling about Place Vendome, one can quickly view the open space of the square and the exclusive shops situated on the perimeter. An example is shown below.

Patek Philippe epitomizes the best in timepieces since its founding in 1839. Serious watch aficionados may wish to consider checking out the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, where four levels' worth of watches are on display.

Suffice it to say that no matter the cost of a Patek Philippe watch, it becomes priceless over time. It is an ideal accessory to wear with your best outfit.

Moving on, a Metro subway ride to Rue Saint-Germain is the next stop on the whirlwind window shopping tour. Walking down the street, numerous stores such as Faconnable and Emporio Armani are in sight. One of my favorites is Berluti, which has breathtaking displays of bespoke footwear. A bespoke shoe here goes for 4,000 Euros (nearly $6,200).

I consider Berluti and John Lobb among the Hall of Famers of shoemaking. While the latter represents the majesty of British tradition in footwear, the former offers an artistic flair that is equally undeniable.

But I digress.

In Paris, I caught a glimpse of the best in men's shirts, jewelry and shoes. Between here and London, you can't go wrong in seeking items fit for a king (or, at the very least, the Duke of Windsor).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Window shopping with the rich and famous: London

Suppose your dollar and a dream came true: You've just won the lottery for megamillions. Uncle Sam gets his cut, all debts are paid in full, and there's a good chunk left over.

Not least, let's say it's now time to upgrade your wardrobe. If you truly allowed your sense of style to flow, with money as no object, where would you shop?

I have embarked on this ongoing quest for the very best (be it on sale or high end) in menswear for more than 20 years. I have hunted for top-of-the line goods at American department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Nieman Marcus and Saks. Yes, there's an awful lot of pricey stuff out there in America.

Of course, much more exists outside the U.S. I'm hardly the first to discover this fact, nor will I be the last dreamer for the good life. But I did get a chance to do some window shopping in London earlier this year.

And, I must say, "A jolly good show."

Let's start on Jermyn Street, where one can assemble an outfit that raises the sartorial bar, from head to toe.

For hats, Edward Bates Ltd. has a wide selection, from bowlers to tweed caps. "Very British," I thought, while trying on some hats before a mirror, as the images of John Steed and Sherlock Holmes came to mind.

Moving on to shirts, Turnbull & Asser is the place to go. According to, the shirtmaker "outfits both Jay-Z and the British royal family." While Turnbull & Asser shirts can be found at Nieman Marcus in the States, there's nothing like entering the T&A mothership in the U.K. The shirtmaker is famous for outfitting actors who play Agent 007, otherwise known as Bond -- James Bond.

In case you're wondering whether you can replicate the suave secret agent look, Turnbull & Asser's bespoke shirts are without peer. A minimum order of six is required and takes several months to make. Make sure one of them is a tuxedo shirt; you'll need that to begin your 007 look at black-tie fund-raisers. Overall, the investment in T&A's bespoke shirts will cost at least four figures.

Looking for a tie? The selection of paisleys, polkadots and rep stripes is vast in London, but at Dunhill on No. 48 Jermyn St., the thin solid, 1960s-style ties seen in the James Bond (actor Sean Connery era) films win the day here. They are simple and elegant. Period.

I would be remiss in not mentioning a staple of Dunhill accessories, and that is Dunhill's lighters, unquestionably several steps up from the rugged Zippos here in the U.S. While these days, fitness is more fashionable than smoking, having a Dunhill lighter goes a long way on the Style Points meter. I'd suggest putting it in the trophy case; relegating this lighter to candle duty would be a gross injustice.

A few doors down from Dunhill is New & Lingwood, whose Windsor store outfits the students of Eton College, the elite, all-boys preparatory school whose alumni include Prince Harry and Prince William, their father, Prince Charles, Patrick McNee (who played John Steed of "The Avengers" TV show fame) and Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond novels).

Out of New & Lingwood's range of menswear and accessories is a real piece of history: Russia calf shoes. The grainy, aged leather used to make these shoes is in limited supply. Click here to read about the leather's history. I tried on these shoes, which cost about $2,000 a pair.

While they were too wide for my feet, I can honestly say that I walked a few yards in these legendary shoes.

Across the street from New & Lingwood, at No. 83 Jermyn, is Henry Maxwell and W.S. Foster & Son, bespoke shoemakers supreme.

Classic styles can be seen in the windows and inside the shop, where the casts of Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin reside. Expect to pay at least $3,000 for a handmade pair.

Maxwell, established in 1750, merged with Foster (est. 1840) in 1999, making a formidable force in men's shoes, luggage and other leather goods.

Before leaving Jermyn Street for the bespoke tailors at Savile Row, let's look at more footwear. Those who are familiar with men's shoes at Nieman Marcus recognize John Lobb, whose machine-made line has been owned by Hermes since 1976.

I walked into this esteemed establishment at No. 88 Jermyn and admired the sleek designs, some of which can be found at Nieman's for at least $1,000 a pair.

That's not the half of it.

A walk around the corner, at No. 9 St. James, is the site for John Lobb bespoke shoes, which is still run by the Lobb family since its founding in 1849. Going the handmade route is indeed the next level of opulence. Given the current exchange rate, a basic pair of handmade calfskin shoes costs between $4,000 and $5,000. (Don't take my word for it; check out Lobb's price list. Keep in mind the exchange rate is roughly two American dollars for one British pound.) According to Lobb's history stated on its Web site, Aristotle Onassis, Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra are among famous past customers.

I could not bring myself to walk in to these hallowed halls of shoemaking. The window displays were enough. There was still Savile Row to visit.

On foot, getting to Savile Row did not take long, about 15 minutes tops. I was able to reflect on the fantasy wardrobe I had assembled so far from Jermyn Street. A handmade suit from one of the Savile Row establishments certainly would top it off, to the tune of several thousand dollars.

So, pick a tailor, any tailor, I muse.

I walked past most of the established boutiques on Savile Row, including bespoke powerhouses Anderson & Sheppard and Huntsman. One store on the Row did pique my curiosity: Ozwald Boateng, which moved to Savile Row last December. Boateng, who was appointed creative director by Givenchy in 2003, offers designs that pop.

When I entered the shop, its low lighting was reminiscent of a nightclub, though the volume of the soothing music inside was low as well. The scene was different from what I had envisioned of a bespoke tailor on Savile Row, but it was a most welcome one. Jeff, the assistant manager, was gracious as he related to me the history of Boateng and the shop, the only black-owned clothier on Savile Row.

Continuing my walk along the elegant window displays on the Row, I happened on several shelves of cuff links made from currency around the world, including American quarters from most of the 50 states, at Davies & Son, which bills itself as Savile Row's oldest tailor (founded in 1803).

I couldn't pass up the chance of purchasing a pair of cuff links from a Savile Row establishment, even if the irony lay in the likeness of American origins. I got the Texas quarter design (see my April 20 entry) and voila! Instant conversation pieces.

My last stop was Gieves & Hawkes, at No. 1 Savile Row. The company dates back to the 1700s, and has been in its current residence since 1912.

This shop is not without a sartorial sense of humor. One of the shoes I saw on a display was pelted with black marks. I'm told that the marks on the leather were made by repeated use of buckshot before they shoes are assembled. See for yourself. Turns out that, at 245 pounds (about $500), the low-cut version of the shoe was sold out. "We anticipate receiving a new delivery towards the end of May," the shop informed me in an e-mail.

Take your time, Gieves.

The bespoke journey ends here in London, but the dream continues. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Taking a vested interest in sweaters

As we spring forward into warmer weather in North America, the cottons, linens, silks and lightweight wools take center stage. Comfort is king, and style should follow accordingly.

When you assemble your comfortable outfit for work, bring the suit jacket or blazer for good measure. Should you decide to leave the jacket home, take a windbreaker for the evening cooldown.

However, during the day, when workplace air conditioning makes for a cooler environment than what you prepared for outside, a windbreaker becomes the practical solution but a less stylish one in the office. Keeping the suit jacket on ensures a professional appearance, but it is subject to wrinkling when sitting (especially if the jacket is cotton and/or linen) or it can become too hot to wear over time (silk and/or wool).

So ... what's a happy medium to wear when you find yourself a little too chilled out at your desk?

A cotton sweater vest can improve your comfort zone. It adds a layer of warmth as it breathes with you. I recommend conservative colors to start. Cable patterns, for example, add a level of subtle elegance to the overall look.

In other words, you'll look smart. Not necessarily bookish, mind you, but with the right color and the right fit, a sleeveless cotton vest is a versatile item in your sartorial repertoire. For instance, with a solid-color, cable-patterned sweater vest and a contrasting golf shirt, you'd be country club material.

Over the years, I have picked up cotton vests from a variety of retailers. The most traditional looking has to be from Brooks Brothers, without fail. Same goes for Joseph A. Bank. The Bobby Jones line also has a selection of eye-catching sweaters. Not least, the Polo Golf lines offer traditional and contemporary looks.

Other designers that I've come across that offer sweater vests include Nautica, Orvis, and Banana Republic.

And so, if you wish to maintain your cool look while minimizing the risk of catching cold indoors, a cotton sweater vest will garner significant Style Points in your favor.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Making stylish statements off the cuff

To be sure, a gold watch, a diamond ring or other such forms of "bling" can certainly catch eyes and turn heads. Few accessories, however, have the potential to represent a man's sense of flair as cuff links.

I don't know about you, but it seems that cuff links have gone underappreciated over the years. They are indispensable for wearing shirts that have French cuffs, but they can be obscured underneath a jacket sleeve. When the jacket is removed, the cuff links may be visible, but the design that may have drawn the wearer to purchasing them might be less easily admired by others from a distance.

The sartorial role of cuff links cannot be underestimated, especially during one-on-one situations. From shaking hands at an introduction to a job interview to a dinner date, cuff links can generate significant Style Points.

The options are many, but here are some fundamentals:

  • Decide how much you want to spend. Precious metals, of course, will be more expensive than non-precious ones. Also, some designers cost more than others.
  • A wardrobe staple: Have a set of polished black cuff links that's part of a set of studs for a tuxedo. These cuff links will go with anything.
  • Take a look at the shirts (and ties) that are in your closet. This will help provide a range of ideas of what you're looking for when you coordinate your ensemble.
  • Don't be afraid to have fun with your selections. Cuff links do not have to be functionally monochromatic fasteners. Like ties, cuff links come in myriad designs.

  • Some of the most fun designs I've seen have come from London-based boutiques. Two examples are pictured above. Davies & Son of London's Savile Row makes colorized versions of American quarters from all 50 states. At right, from Paul Smith, is a striking design that dares to be different.

    Other British retailers, such as Duchamp and Dunhill, offer very appealing, high-end options.

    Of course, a reputable jewelry store will have cuff links that command top dollar. But those who have finicky tastes, consider a visit to an antique store. There's a better chance you'll find one-of-a-kind items that may not necessarily cost an arm and a leg.

    So, if cuff links are your thing, choose wisely. The right set can be the missing link that makes for a smart presentation.

    Friday, April 18, 2008

    Substance Meets Style: Choosing a Cologne

    Just as a power suit can quickly reflect a man's projection of confidence; the right cologne can amplify his masculinity.

    Cologne can be regarded as a power tool. Too much of it can be a turn-off for anyone whose olfactory senses become overwhelmed. Too little defeats the purpose of having purchased the cologne in the first place. (In other words, one can just stick to Ivory soap. Can't go wrong there.)
    For optimal results, go to any department store and talk to the personnel who will gladly assist you. Sample different fragrances on strips of paper before spraying on yourself. Otherwise, you will become an amalgam of scents that could confuse your decision on one of them.

    Do not hesitate to ask a woman's opinion -- independent of the salesperson's -- about a cologne you are considering. This will narrow down the choices quickly.

    Currently, my top five fragrances are:

  • Dunhill Pursuit
  • Eau de Cartier
  • Kiton Black
  • Paul Smith Extreme

  • Versace

    And then, after trying numerous fragrances before tying the knot and having kids, here's a safe bet: It's that all-time classic -- Old Spice. It never gets old. Your spouse, your daughters will not complain about your maturing scent as you age gracefully.

    But until then, young men, the above cart comes before the horse. Find the scent that works for you. Hopefully, the rest will follow.
  • Thursday, April 17, 2008

    The elegant language of bespoke shoes

    Sophisticated gentlemen know quality when they see it, and custom-made goods represent the ultimate expression of style.

    When it comes to footwear, British shoemakers are famous for their craftsmanship. On a recent visit to London, I admired the shoes in window displays of esteemed bespoke boutiques John Lobb and W.S. Foster and Son. There is also an impressive French shoemaker that has a London store, Berluti, which offers classic designs in a variety of colors.

    A few days after returning to the States, I met a representative of U.K.-based G.J. Cleverley & Co. Ltd., who with a colleague was taking orders at the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston. The bespectacled gentleman was impeccably dressed, befitting of one whose business is handmade shoes.

    I'm talking about George Glasgow, Cleverley's managing director and a legend in the business. This year is his 30th with the company, and Mr. Glasgow is a pro's pro.

    "We make seven to 10 pair a week," Mr. Glasgow informed me not long after entering his suite, where his colleague, Dominic Casey, is working with a client who felt so at home that he sat on the floor while considering his options. It is clear that in the world of bespoke, a comfortable atmosphere is something that Cleverley footwear clients come to expect.

    The process of a typical bespoke shoe purchase from Cleverley is straightforward. The customer selects the style, the color and the type of leather desired. Foot measurements take only a few minutes. Then, if necessary, a second fitting is taken about five months later. The finished product, which involves at least five craftspeople, takes approximately eight months to complete.

    Initially, my heart was set on purchasing a pair of Lobb bespoke shoes (its Web site mentions Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington as past clients), but I was soon won over by Mr. Glasgow's advice on making an significant investment on handmade footwear.

    "I'd start out with a pair of calfskin shoes," he said, even though he saw my eyes gazing at the swatches of crocodile and ostrich skins among his samples. Calfskin shoes start at about $3,000, while crocodile is double the price, according to Mr. Glasgow.

    Having seen numerous styles of shoes and swatches on all the tables in the suite, I've come to the conclusion that I'd need more time (and money) before settling on a pair to purchase at this time. But I did, however, have my eye on a croc wingtip that was striking.

    "That shoe was made for Fred Astaire," Mr. Glasgow said, to my amazement.

    I left the Four Seasons suite with a high regard for Mr. Glasgow's knowledge and consummate salesmanship ... and suddenly light on my feet.

    When I resumed command of my senses, I recognize the price tag is steep for the average working professional, but not insurmountable. Investing in bespoke shoes is not exclusively for, pardon the pun, the "well-heeled" customer.

    However, for those who are in the middle class of the economic spectrum, heed these Style Points:

  • Make sure your budget can handle the purchase without throwing your cash flow out of whack. Plan how much you'll need to save within a time frame that puts you in a position to choose your shoes with confidence when it comes time to buy.
  • Also, do some advance homework so that you can maximize your visit with the shoe representative. Bespoke means having it your way, so write down any details you'd like to see reflected in your shoe.
  • Let the shoes do the talking. No need to discuss the process of obtaining them, though you might not be able to say enough about how comfortable they are.

    Just ask Mr. Glasgow.
  • Wednesday, April 16, 2008

    How to maximize quality and value in golfwear

    Whatever your handicap is on the links, Style Points do count when it comes to golf.

    Even if you're one who believes in letting your game do the talking, just imagine how much livelier the conversation would be when lacing up two-color golf shoes to go with crisply creased slacks, a tightly woven cotton shirt, and perhaps a straw hat for good measure?

    Tiger Woods, winner of 13 major championships (and counting) and most recently runner-up in the 2008 Masters, recognizes the significance of his clothing while competing. His signature red shirt on the final round is perhaps the sport's most recognizable sartorial statement.

    Woods is hardly alone in having a signature look. The late Payne Stewart was well known for his caps and knickers, an homage to golf's early days. (If the modern-day crowd needs a visual, just think "The Legend of Bagger Vance.")

    Choosing what to wear for the course is not difficult, but getting quality pieces can be as significant an investment as purchasing the right clubs. For starters, check out shops that sell golf equipment such as Dick's Sporting Goods, Academy Sports, Edwin Watts Golf, Golfsmith and Golfers' Warehouse. Develop some perspective on the clothing lines that are out there, and which ones fit you best. You'll also get an idea of how much you'd like to spend. Keep in mind that these stores have sale days throughout the year.

    For those who are interested in "the good stuff," I'll cut right to the chase: The Bobby Jones line is solid. And, it turns out, its online store has markdowns on shirts for men and women. The Bobby Jones Collection of mercerized cotton shirts are comfortable and do not wrinkle easily.

    Other reputable brands include the Reebok-owned Greg Norman Collection; Ashworth; Cutter & Buck; and Ralph Lauren's Polo Golf and RLX lines; and Nike.

    Now that the clothing part is out of the way, you can get back to the game. Although your upgraded attire may not necessarily shave off strokes from your handicap, you certainly will have gained Style Points.


    Sunday, April 13, 2008

    The deal on denim

    Since blue jeans were invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873, the trousers' evolution from practical workwear to fitted fashion staple surely has been one to watch.

    When I was growing up in upstate New York during the '70s, a local Army & Navy store advertised its inventory of Lee, Levi's and Wrangler jeans frequently in radio and TV spots. I pretty much wore any of those brands throughout grade school.

    Then came the designer craze of the '80s, highlighted by the classic Calvin Klein ads featuring a teenage Brooke Shields. Competition was in full swing: Jordache, Gloria Vanderbilt, Guess? to name a few. Many women -- and men -- were wearing the designer du jour on their back pockets, and were willing to pay a premium for it.

    Even I was willing to try out different brands, but was less willing to spend significantly more for them. I experimented with the relaxed fit of Guess? jeans in the '90s, and got them for at least half off at its factory outlet store at Franklin Mills Mall in Philadelphia. The jeans are quite durable; I still have them to this day.

    Denim prices are coming down these days, but do they still make real deals like they used to? I can honestly say at this point, the answer would be yes -- though the jury's out on whether the Lucky Brand Jeans that I recently purchased from a Costco in Houston would last into the next decade.

    That's right, Costco -- the wholesale shopping club where members can buy items in bulk. In the case of Lucky jeans, which retail from $88 to $150 for men, they cost $36.99 a pair at Costco. I wound up picking up two pair, which, even after the sales tax was added, still cost less than one pair of Luckys at the starting retail price.

    So that's the deal, guys, while the gettin' is good.

    Wednesday, April 2, 2008

    White on the money

    Tom Wolfe may be as well known for wearing white as the best-sellers he has written.

    The esteemed author certainly wears it well; so can you and I. After a recent sweep of Houston area retailers, I have assembled a "recipe" for achieving the cool, breezy aesthetic that comes with wearing white, without compromising my wallet (rounded to nearest dollar, not including sales tax):

    The White Stuff

    Shirt: Polo Ralph Lauren, orig. $89.50 -- discounted price: $35 (Macy's)

    Trousers: Polo Ralph Lauren Classics cargo pants, orig. $125 -- discounted price: $44 (Macy's)

    Socks: Polo Ralph Lauren, reg. $12 -- $5 (Polo outlet at Katy Mills Mall)

    Shoes: Puma, $50 (Puma store at Houston Premium Outlets)

    For less than $150, I'm lounging at the beach or a waterfront restaurant. In these threads, I'd be happy to splurge on the meal.

    The obvious caveat when it comes to wearing white: Try not to get dirty, and never let 'em see you sweat.

    That means no one can step on your shoes, nor can you stub your toes. Do not lean against your car. Avoid ordering pasta. Not least, hope for no rainfall for the duration of wearing your outfit.

    You gain mega-Style Points for stepping out in brand new whites, but you are subject to losing points should they become soiled in the slightest way. Even if others may not see stains, you will know where they are, and that self-conscious realization can challenge your cool exterior.

    Of course, there's always the washer/dryer and the dry cleaners, so don't sweat it too much. Clothes are meant to be worn. So wear 'em well.