Interview with Réginald-Jérôme de Mans Part II

We are proud to present to you the second part of our interview with Réginald-Jérôme de Mans, menswear writer, bespoke connoisseur and inveterate seeker. Check out his is tumblr Obey Feline.

Read or re-read part I here.

FTDF: Do you believe that the community emerged because at some point a generation of fathers or grandfathers stopped teaching their sons and grandsons how to dress?

RJ: There’s a necessarily political aspect to a question like this. This is not the Paris of Père Goriot, lacking fathers and father figures. What I mean is that many of the people asserting that a generational break is a reason for why we dress so badly are theorizing that this generational break is why the world is going to hell today, that we turned our back on authority, tradition, morality and all sorts of other values in the 1960s and 1970s and that this is why things are so fucked up now. They play coy when asked what the particular bad things that contributed to this and that should be rolled back are: whether it had to do with women no longer being only sex objects and caregivers, or with dark-skinned people no longer knowing their place, and so on.1The thing is, the same rat races, obsessiveness, one-upmanship and solipsism exist in forums dedicated to all kinds of topics, not just men’s clothing – in fact, any male-dominated internet forum, whether for stereos, martial arts, lovers of certain musical instruments, watches, and so on. Part of male psyche is to have this obsession over needlessly trivial. It does not spring from one generation’s abandonment of elegance – which is not the same thing as the simple ways of how to dress, which is the insinuation. Between 1960 and 1990 we did not forget how to put on clothes or wear them, even if we turned our back on elegance. And forums are not the surrogates to those missing fathers. Perhaps to missing paragons of elegance, but that is disturbing. So we are not the Paris of Père Goriot, but that of Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes (An iGent High and Low), missing our lost fop Lucien de Rubempré.

FTDF: How would you describe your personal style?

RJ: Alas, I think that any of us who have earned reputations on the Internet will be classified as dandies or fops, whether we like that title or not, for the simple fact of caring how we dress and taking pleasure in our clothes. So I would describe my personal style as dandified, because all of us are; colorful; slightly over-the-top.

We all want to see ourselves as the last holdouts for some lost idea of elegance… or perhaps that’s just me and my atavistic fantasies. But I daresay I don’t quite come across that way, not as elegant as I would like to be.

FTDF: How much of an impact did the internet have on your knowledge and on your personal style?

RJ: It’s obviously been influential in terms of the interactions I’ve had with people who were knowledgeable and information received that I could empirically test and verify. The Internet brought me and us into contact with a variety of people we never would have been able to meet otherwise, many with a great deal of knowledge. Still, as always, there’s a need to test and consider the source through personal experience and preference. I occasionally got taken in by the forum vogues, like the one for fresco in 2006 and the cordovan thing in 2008, among others. Japanese knives, too, in 2009. And nowadays, it’s useful to see what new developments there are at various shops and makers I’m interested in, reading between the lines.

FTDF: What is elegance as far as you are concerned?

RJ: That’s a surprisingly difficult question. I’ve been thinking of a definition of style as I’ve been working on my book, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that style is inspiration, no more and no less. I’m also reminded of Bryan Ferry’s rather neat definition of what makes a gentleman, 20 years ago: “good manners and handmade shoes.” I would submit that in that case handmade can include hand-guided through machine, as with Edward Green. But elegance? I’ve thought of one hypothetical definition: the ability to dress with the greatest care and the greatest inspiration, and then to forget what you have on and simply be yourself. But elegance doesn’t always involve care. Outside of clothing, it implies simplicity and clarity, like a good mathematical proof. But in clothing, a complicated ensemble (to avoid using the dreaded word “outfit”) can also be elegant in some circumstances. So it’s rather more complicated or ineffable than I would have thought. Handsome is as handsome does, as the old saying goes.Bryan Ferry III can’t stand them now, but I often think of the line from an old Jane’s Addiction song, “I wish I knew everyone’s nickname, all their slang and all their sayings. Every way to show affection, how to dress to fit the occasion.” That sort of control and flexibility, to me, always seemed something to aspire to – some ideal of courtesy and near-omniscience, in order to be obliging to one’s fellows. Perhaps that in some degree is a kind of elegance.

FTDF: You have met and been a customer to many tailors and shoemakers, what can you tell us about the relationship one is to develop with craftsmen/artisans? 

RJ: What is most important is trust. Find someone you can trust, and then trust him or her and don’t second guess him or her. Unfortunately, it is extremely hard to find a maker you can trust.  Trust doesn’t mean unquestioningly accepting whatever someone produces for you. It means trusting that person to get it right or make it right.tis-akira-sorimachi-medium (1)

Some people have suggested that a good craftsman is one who is unfailingly polite and accommodating, while others have suggested the opposite, that real craftsmen are brusque and brutal. I have known genial artisans and gruff ones who each carried out great work, just as I’ve known artisans both good and bad who bad-mouthed their competitors or who were always gracious about them. As a customer, not a trained craftsman, I know that no matter how much I have learned about how something is made, I am a layperson. Thus, I have to rely on the maker and cannot keep second-guessing him. Unfortunately, whether you can trust someone or not is not something you always find out before you receive your order. In the end, you have to rely on the opinion of someone you can trust.tis-akira-sorimachi-medium

When something goes wrong, as it inevitably will, a good craftsman will make it right, if you give him the opportunity to.

But, also inevitably, you will never get exactly what you wanted in a bespoke order, because you can never fully communicate the image you had in your mind to the person who will make it. It is important to recognize that ideals are always different from their execution, imperfect because it is real. That does not mean that something artisanal must be badly made, imprecisely made or irregular in order to be craft-made or artisanal.  That is a lie of long standing perpetuated by the Internet.

FTDF: How do you feel about Savile Row nowadays?

savilerow

RJ: I like it. Why not? Where else has a neighborhood survived where several dozen different tailors have their shops and can make you each something beautifully handcrafted in the traditional manner?  From Henry Poole to Meyer & Mortimer, through so many others. The real bespoke tailors left in Paris can be counted on one hand and certain of them I would not trust as far as I could throw them with that same hand. It’s very easy to dismiss it, as some of the professionally motivated bloggers have, with rumors impugning the tailors of offshoring or anything else. But there are still a number of very good tailors in and around Savile Row who will make a wonderful bespoke suit, hand cut, hand canvassed and hand sewn in the important places. What almost all of them, or almost all of the larger ones, have had to do to survive is find a secondary revenue stream. In the case of Anderson & Sheppard, it is their new haberdashery selling ready-to-wear. In the case of Gieves & Hawkes, it has been numerous ready-to-wear licenses, foreign licenses in the Far East, diffusion lines of trendy ready-to-wear, and so on. Henry Poole had for a number of years a Japanese ready-to-wear license. Gieves & Hawkes and Kilgour have foreign owners with deep pockets willing to bank on them. Norton & Sons has an MBA owner who launched a trendy, inaccessibly priced ready-to-wear line and raises their profile by appearing on reality shows like The Sewing Bee and so on.  At the core of many of the remaining houses is still the bespoke – certainly at Poole, where I was a customer for several years and where the cut and service were impeccable. The danger for much of Savile Row, frankly, is following the French route where bespoke is simply a miroir aux alouettes, smoke and mirrors because it is so small a part of the business and so deterrently expensive that almost no one actually uses it. Instead, it is something used to sell the ready-to-wear, a branding exercise.  That is the case at several very fashionable French brands with very, very expensive bespoke offers that get a lot of press without there being, or needing to be, a real bespoke clientele. As a marketing tool, all that is needed is the possibility of bespoke.Savile Row

The alternate route that a few of the smaller Savile Row houses have taken is to re-establish themselves as Savile Row-trained and bred, but without a physical store in the Row, instead carrying out fittings at the premises of the cloth merchants who for decades have allowed that as a courtesy.

But if I had my druthers, that is, if I knew I would not be castrated by my wife for ordering more suits, I would go to Camps de Luca for the pleasure of trying them but to Steed for the wonder that is an excellently cut and fitted Savile Row suit.Steed

FTDF: Could you talk to us about your attachment for Edward Green?

RJ: My love for Edward Green is irrational.  Until the 125 last, I actually had a very slightly better fit in Crockett & Jones.  But ever since I got a chance to examine Edward Green shoes in person, they’ve just been my ideal of the English shoe. Back in 2001 I got a chance to look at the Edward Green Westminster and the John Lobb Paris William, each house’s classic double-monk-strap model, side by side. The Green just looked right, and the Lobb looked off. Since then, I’ve noticed that Edward Green’s shoes, both in the proportions of their lasts and of their patterns, just had a perfection to them. The leather quality, the finishing and the construction are on the whole better than any other English maker’s – John Lobb Paris may use some arguably better leathers, but Green’s construction and durability are slightly better than any other English ready-to-wear maker’s I’ve tried. In addition, Green’s vast catalog of models, of last shapes, and the flexibility they had for special orders are amazing. Now they’ve gotten wiser and force many orders into the Top Drawer program at a soberingly high price, but the work is beautiful.Edward Green WestminsterThere’s a lot of foolishness online about handwelted footwear and the importance of that over Goodyear welting (which by definition is carried out by a Goodyear machine), as well as the overstated dangers of gemming. Good hand welting is going to add thousands of dollars to the price of a shoe, for the possibility of perhaps one or two more resolings than a well-maintained Goodyear-welted shoe of quality. Not all Goodyear-welted shoes are of equivalent quality, but Edward Green is among the best of them, and in my experience the finishing and stitching are better than on the other English shoemakers, while the design, subjectively, to me is better than any – John Lobb ready-to-wear is either a bad attempt to copy Berluti or overly finicky versions of the classics Green carries off with panache; Weston is excellent in quality but the styles are less to my taste; Carmina is good quality but nowhere near as well finished; Saint Crispins and Vass rely heavily on their handwork as selling points, but the styles are less accessible to me than Green. Berluti is overpriced and lost whatever specialness it had when its colors and patination used to be a rarity. Green can create with Goodyear welting shoes that are at least as elegant and slim as Berluti in its Blake stitching – and Berluti prices its Goodyear-welted models higher than its Blake-stitched models on the assertion that Goodyear welting is better.Edward GreenGreen can do the perfect unlined loafer as well as the most beautiful lace-up business shoes or magnificent boots, with such a level of finish that even my bespoke shoemakers (such as Cleverley or Delos) have thought the Green ready-to-wear shoes I was wearing were bespoke.EG Isham TDFTDF: What advice would you give to neo iGents?

RJ: Well, as above, that’s a very freighted term, so I would tell them to take a long look in the mirror and think hard about what they are doing with their lives. Then I would give them the advice that the resident rebels had in high school. They had long hair and dressed transgressively and did politically provocative things, and they said to question everything. Regardless of the rest, it’s damn good advice. Learn to think critically and you may become a less happy person, but perhaps a better informed one. Empirical evidence and personal experience are irreplaceable. And I would remind them that the RJ cat (2’5”, 10.1 lb) has a posse.rjcatps

We wish to thank Réginald-Jérôme for his kindness, his knowledge and his sense of humor.

Paris, July 2015. All rights reserved.

Sources: Google Image, Réginald-Jérôme de Mans, Edward Green, Skoaktiebolaget, Akira Sorimachi

Interview with Réginald-Jérôme de Mans Part I

We are proud to present to you the first part of an interview with Réginald-Jérôme de Mans, menswear writer, bespoke connoisseur and inveterate seeker. Have a look at his tumblr here.

FTDF: When did you get interested in menswear and elegance, was it a family thing?

RJ: No. My parents and family were and are interested in value for money and finding a deal.  So some of that filtered down to me, in that I was always interested in finding something undiscovered, a gem in the rough or something that in the right context would be interesting to wear.  However, the concept of value that they have is rather more sane than the way I apply it – knowing that the only clothing that is timeless is clothing that is not completely of any one time.  A bespoke suit from a good tailor today is now so expensive that it will never pay for itself, so a large part of its value has to be in how the wearer thinks it makes him feel.  That is extremely difficult to justify to anyone else.  So my family tolerates my clothing compulsions, but doesn’t claim to share them.

I first got interested in clothes as a teenager, and not initially for the clothes themselves but for what they could communicate. A large part of the anxieties of early adolescence are about belonging and rejecting. Clothes were part of how one could signal, or pose as, belonging, as well as communicate rejection of various ways of thinking, class signifiers, and attitudes.  You could do that through wearing clothes diametrically opposed in style, color and so on to the clothes of those groups, or through appropriation, mockery of those clothes and attitudes, even through outdoing them with exaggeration.  How do you outdo prep? By wearing clothes that are actually well made and elegant.

FTDF: If you started from scratch how did you gather knowledge, from books or directly online?

RJ: Haha, given that I started learning about clothing as a teenager, the Internet was barely more than a gleam in the eye of some guys at DARPA at the time.  I gathered knowledge of one particular clothing aesthetic osmotically, being immersed in it but not of it at a high school where the greedy and grasping upper middle classes of the American northeast held sway in the last gasp of what was prep, in all its judgmental, insecure and plangent pink and green glory. I knew I wanted to aspire to something else. That something else could only be gleaned from magazines and hinted at, in stylized form, in movies – least imaginatively of course through the Bond movies, the gateway drug for so many of us in men’s clothing.  Later, with tongue firmly in cheek, I looked to Terence Stamp in Modesty Blaise and Patrick Macnee as John Steed in the black-and-white episodes of The Avengers, but also to David Hemmings and Terence Stamp in their 1960s movies, and so on.  Magazines like the very short-lived Esquire Gentleman introduced me to old 1960s and 1970s icons like Stamp and Bryan Ferry, men who loved clothing for its own sake after having adopted certain styles of dress when commercial success allowed them to live in the same neighborhoods (literally – the Albany apartment building in Stamp’s case and Primrose Hill in Ferry’s) as English gentlemen without affecting and assimilating the bundle of fucked-up class-ridden attitudes that such gentlemen may have carried.  It’s not a coincidence that a film like Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class came out at the same time that Terence Stamp was setting up in Piccadilly.T.Stamp Patrick Macnee Bryan FerryReading magazines that happened to discuss clothing was easier to justify mentally than purchasing books about clothing, although I ended up doing so finally, beginning with Alan Flusser’s Style and the Man and Bernhard Roetzel’s Gentleman: A Timeless FashionEven at the time I bought them, there was very little about men’s clothing – classic men’s clothing and traditional bespoke – online.  So those two books might as well have been the Dead Sea Scrolls of how to dress, with other writing of any quality on men’s clothing being almost nonexistent and certainly undiscovered.  A large number of us early adopters thus came to the internet heavily informed and influenced by those two writers and their attitudes, particularly Flusser’s on the drape cut in bespoke suits and Roetzel’s very German, more English than the English, fixation on the English makers like Drake’s, the shirt shops of Jermyn Street, the tailors of Savile Row, and so on. What made those two books so important was not just the lack of other comprehensive books on men’s clothing, or websites discussing it, but that the other source, magazines, are by their nature topical and superficial, and generally ill-informed.  Reading between the lines over a number of years, a perceptive reader might have gleaned that there were classic makers of beautiful and quality garments out there, but that message was drowned out by whatever magazine editors had to market that month, not to mention that most people writing about men’s clothing in periodicals have no idea of quality, construction or history and no way to evaluate critically (if they even want to) whatever press release or marketing horseshit they are rewriting under the guise of an article.Flusser RoetzelAt that time, around the debut of this millennium, there were a few very general websites on classic men’s clothing that were little more than directories of tailors, shirtmakers and shoemakers, as well as the website of the infamous defrocked priest Francis Bown, whose mercenary business model for his website about bespoke appears to have been rather ahead of its time, given the great success today of some of the most prominent French and English clothing bloggers.  And again, given that it was the only information out there, all of us read it.

FTDF: What did you seek when you first went on forums such as Style Forum?

RJ: Quite simply, what I was seeking when I first joined an internet clothing forum was the whereabouts of my first tailor. At that time, the few tailors, shirtmakers and others who knew how to use the Internet to create a presence had something of a first-mover advantage, in that they were able to get the attention of people who had started searching online for information about suits, shirtmaking, and the rest, and they were able to engage with potential customers online and make their work immediately accessible.  That was an enormous change.  Previously, those of us who wanted to learn about bespoke and classic clothing had to soak up the few small drops of information, mostly garbled, that would occasionally drizzle out in magazines and the rare book. Exclusivity was not just physical. I note that a more unfortunate consequence was that those first movers, if they did reach out to potential customers online or through their websites, also had the opportunity to bad-mouth their perceived competitors and build themselves up, perhaps undeservedly. And because there were no other real sources of information out there, they could get away with that for a while.Mies joka piirsi mallin tyylikkäästä miehestäI had discovered my tailor through a website he had created online for a much better-known, royally-appointed tailor whom he was associated with at the time.  He had been authorized to represent that tailor on visits abroad. So he was able to gain customers on the reputation of that better-known tailor. He had reached out to me in response to an email inquiry through his website and met me for an initial visit, but shortly thereafter I was unable to reach him by email or phone, so I ended up joining my first clothing forum in order to ask if anyone knew of this fellow and how to reach him. I then got sucked into the discussions and interchange.

Initially I was afraid to join Styleforum. It seemed much more intense than the forum I had joined initially: in attitude, in volume of information, in give and take. Over the years it became the forum I spent the most time on, in part because for a number of those years it was well moderated with just the right level of member autonomy, and a great number of well-informed posters who came to talk about clothes and stayed, for a while, for the snark, schadenfreude and time-wasting in-jokes (you like it, the lamb?). I learned, in that through the forums I gained a lot of information and then I went out and empirically evaluated it, through my own experiences as a customer in various cities and at various makers and shops. That atmosphere changed at one point, but things always do.  We all have our own reasons for moving on, anyway. I had valued the byplay and the supposed relationships I had with a few posters I interacted with frequently on that forum. It was healthier that I stopped posting.

FTDF: What made you want to write about menswear?

RJ: As I mentioned above, posting on forums had not just been to exchange information in a constructive manner. It was a time-suck and a way to dissipate things that I may have wanted to say in a deeper and more constructive way. When I had the opportunity to write more focused things, at greater length than in a forum post, I found it much more gratifying than participating in the rat race of forum life, particularly as so much of it had become, more crassly and overtly, about consumerism and flaunting that consumerism. I wanted, and want, things that have some meaning to me, and those are the things I wanted to write about, to examine that feeling, that meaning. It gave me the opportunity for synthesis, to do something constructive with my obsessions, to interact with the internal drivers for why I wanted certain things and what made them special to me.  In contrast, so many forum exchanges seem to be about why someone else is wrong.  And it was validating to get feedback from people who found something of interest or value in what I had to say.

I lost my soapbox when my Svengali refocused his website.  I’m currently heading back to so-called old media and working on a book that will deal with some of my favorite topics, the history of wonderful places, and hopefully will say new things, so it’s not going to be just a rehash of old blog posts.  And it will probably be the only men’s clothing book ever written to contain a reference to Troll 2. My agent is very patient, thank God.  Writing a book has made me realize that even a blog post on a particular topic could get away with being topical and making throwaway references whereas in print, there’s a need to provide more context and background information since I can’t count on readers to be fully up on the in-jokes and so on.FTDF: How do you feel about the term « iGent »?

RJ: I am taken aback at how this term, initially derogatory, has been appropriated with pride by many people who don’t appear to know what it meant. What made an iGent an Internet Gentleman was that he was educated by the Internet, and that secondhand knowledge upheld his pretentions to being a gentleman, whatever that is in this day and age.

In other words, the Internet Gentleman was someone who went online and talked about clothes and actually believed the half-truths and misremembrances that other people told them, without actually using personal experience or independent, critical thought. They were emblematic of the downsides of the growth of Internet discussion forums:  people who followed invented trends like that of CBD (Conservative Business Dress) or soporific ties, without even knowing what the word soporific meant.  My friend Nicholas Antongiavanni, who uses the username Manton, started a “Soporific Tie Porn” thread on Styleforum years ago after I told him some of his new ties were soporific, that is, sleep-inducing.  Now enterprising eBay sellers use the term in their auctions!

One of the strange phenomena on the Internet forums was that credulousness.  Of course, in the beginning we all hoped we could believe each other, because it seemed that for the first time people, actual consumers, could share and pool their experiences across great distances and divides. In the end, it has meant the creation of new cults of personality as boys with the most toys can flaunt their newest acquisitions and, in some unfortunate cases, attempt to impress their tastes and prejudices on their sometimes all-too-accepting readers. What I mean is that many, many people online did not or do not consider the source or use their own personal experiences to come to independent conclusions, when they subscribe to what someone else online has told them. There are many, many examples – the minor tempest in a teapot around the drawbacks of gemmed and Goodyear-welted shoes versus hand-welted shoes, when in point of fact it’s incredibly difficult to find shoes that are actually hand welted, and almost always many, many times more expensive to buy or resole competently hand-welted shoes than well-made Goodyear-welted shoes. Or the recent debacle around a new tie brand that purportedly only used vintage tie fabrics. No one else appeared to stop to ask why those vintage fabrics hadn’t been used yet – they were hideous.  It wasn’t until the fellow behind it was caught out in numerous other lies and exposed on the forums that the iGents rallied against him.  

In addition, the Internet Gentleman was an Internet Gentleman because of an element of fantasy, even delusion – he was a gentleman in his own mind and only on the Internet, where his presence was as virtual and intangible as the nobility or accumulated prejudices or whatever else made him a gentleman. 

So to me, the iGents are not the new generation of elegants, any more than the cosplayers of the Chap movement are. As you have pointed out, though, the term has been appropriated as a badge of identification by many in that Internet subculture, the same way, I suppose, that furries and 4chanfappers have. And, as I myself pointed out in an article on them, if you know about the subculture, chances are you’re in it. Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère, as Baudelaire wrote in L’iGent de Paris or Assommons les iGents.

FTDF: What did you think of the not-yet known as IGent community back then and what do you think of it now?

RJ: As I wrote above, the term to me had meant someone who did not use critical or independent thought. By extension, that meant he was incapable of self-awareness or irony.  Now that the term has evolved and been appropriated to apparently mean anyone who discusses clothes on the Internet, I suppose we are capable of recognizing ourselves and laughing at ourselves and our pretentions. Still, despite having become a badge or a rallying cry, it carries a connotation of someone who lacks personal experience and perspective, who relies on hearsay and puts far too much faith in what someone else has told him about quality, and so on. Caveat lector, more than ever, since marketers, multinationals and anyone else have discovered how to use all forms of social media, including the supposedly consumer-empowering forums and blogs, to perpetuate the same sort of advertising that we thought we were fleeing from.

FTDF: How do you reflect on its evolution?

RJ: With bemusement. Now we need to be able to laugh at ourselves while using it. What it had meant, and what I had written about in my profile of the iGent, was a crowd of people believing that clothing makes them gentlemen, or taking stuff for free, or talking in stilted, ungrammatical formality that they believe is at the level of the clothes they are talking about.  Someone who trusted but didn’t verify. Someone who didn’t think for himself. In the end, we have found that we can’t trust these supposedly more democratic sources of information (forums and blogs).  First, because certain of the most vocal, or profligate, members of the forums became respected resources due to their volume and not their inherent virtue or value, and secondly, because these platforms have become more corporate – either because they had to in order to survive, or because clever folks realized they could get payment or free stuff from brands in return for posting about them on their Internet sites.  So our poor iGent today is more in peril than ever.  There is more information than ever before, but how much of it is reliable?

FTDF: You are known for being a keen reader and great writer, do you believe that now with the emergence of microblogging such as tumblr iGents tend to focus more on image than on writings so that most iGents nowadays are just copycats who are not that knowledgeable and thus just as easily influenced as any fashion victim out there? Or at least not as knowledgeable as the first generation of iGents who were probably more interested in finding their personal style rather than just emulating someone else’s.

RJ: I’m flattered you think I’m a great writer.  Reactions from my readers at the former A Suitable Wardrobe blog were entertainingly mixed, to say the least.

I’m also thinking of starting a tumblr for those self-indulgent exhibitionistic moments.  A number of my clothing-obsessed friends and e-friends have them, many are rather wonderful, like those of Paul-Lux or my friend Christophe.Photo part of the shoot for rakehound latest editionSartoria & CoI am reluctant to refer to the entire population of men seeking discussion or validation about clothing online as iGents.  Is that what it has come to?  Has the Académie Française OKed that expansion of definition?  Still, your question highlights an interesting point. In the early days, which were no Eden or Arcadia, there were far fewer men interested in talking about clothing, online or anywhere.  In the ensuing 12 years, #menswear and men’s clothing have become very fashionable discussion points. So the population is far greater, and broader, than it used to be. It is more permissible to be interested in men’s clothing than it was. This upsurge really first began to be felt around 2007, and certainly has not let up since then. The enormous growth of tumblrs and so on is both a result and a cause of this. Thus, it goes without saying that this newer generation is not necessarily as obsessive about knowledge and history as some of the early adopters were.

I cannot say that we were chiefly interested in finding our personal style. I think at that time we were happy to find a few kindred spirits. It was, at the time, astonishing to find that peer group. That first generation was the ones who were least aware of their being iGents, and came with their own creepy hangups and prejudices that influenced what made iGent, the subfamilies like the Colonel, with creepy politics and racial views, and so on. A great deal of sartorial conservatism reflected personal political conservatism. And nowadays some of those who were knowledgeable have left or moved on to trying to monetize that knowledge, while those who are left may have chosen to interact differently than in the past.

What your question also suggests is that the new interest in men’s clothing on many people’s parts may have less depth. Certainly, there are still new true believers coming on board, but with interest in men’s clothing being fashionable, many people are coming on without that baggage. In any event, current fashion for the flashy (#sprezz, and so on) has led to a strange homogeneity and a common and spurious lexicon of words they have rendered meaningless through misuse and creative bankruptcy.

FTDF: Do you believe that due to the emergence of blogs and microblogs, the forums have less influence nowadays?

RJ: I have no idea if forums have less influence now; I don’t follow them with enough technical knowledge or diligence to tell. I have the impression that forum readership has steadily increased over the years.  Many people come to the forums to discuss things that they have seen or read on those blogs or microblogs, by which I suppose you mean tumblr, Instagram and so on. Blogging and microblogging have been boons to those who seek particular attention and commercialize themselves, creating a personal brand and using their readership to market items they receive for free or through some other commercial relationship.The extent of my artistic talent is riffing on a Batman meme.People want to see pictures of nice things and read reassuring, flattering nonsense about high-flown concepts.  Most blogs with “gentleman” in the title cater to that.

Sources: google image, Paul-Lux, Sartoria & Co

Interview with Adriano Dirnelli, menswear blogger and connoisseur

We are proud to present to you an interview with Adriano Dirnelli, founder of the blog Dirnelli and contributing editor on Parisian Gentleman, menswear enthusiast and bespoke connoisseur.Dirnelli Isaia Pitti

Lire l’interview en française: ICI

FTDF: When did you become interested in tailored clothing?

Dirnelli: It all really started when I realized the importance of how we dress. It influences how you are perceived by others, but also how you perceive yourself. When I started my own company 12 years ago (I do have a job other than being a #menswear blogger) I had to meet and convince clients, I realized that confidence – that we necessarily convey to others – was very much related to clothing. Actually, when you wear a nice suit which fits you well you feel more confident. It is as if nothing could happen to you and therefore you are more likely to attract clients and land new business.Dirnelli LVSN 2

That’s when I started to be really keen on menswear, in an analytical, almost scientific way, because let’s face it, like any good blogger I am obsessive and kind of a geek when it comes to it. Dressing The Man by Alan Flusser was very enlightening and influential. It taught me most of what I know on the matter and I still refer to it on a regular basis. I recommend it to all readers.

FTDF: Did the internet play any part in your learning process?

Dirnelli: As surprising as it may sound I only came to it later, reading good blogs like yours and Parisian Gentleman as well as forums such as Styleforum.

The great thing with the internet is that it allows all members of the #menswear community to quickly get to know each other. It makes you feel a lot better to know that you are not alone when you are surrounded daily by poorly dressed people who are suspicious of any man interested in clothing and style. If I remember correctly, Michael Alden once assessed that only 20 000 people in the World were interested in Bespoke Tailoring. Well, thanks to the internet we all get to know each other by names!

Ebay also played a great part in my learning process. It gave me the opportunity to buy and test many suits, new or vintage from lots of different tailors and renowned RTW makers. I had a crazy period when I thrifted almost every bespoke garment that was on Ebay. Internet has allowed me to easily acquire an impressive wardrobe for only a fraction of the price.

However, thank you God, my period of bulimic buying is behind me, I have finally calmed down, much to the relief of my wife. Nowadays brands offer me to test their garments because not every blogger has such an impressive wardrobe at home in order to make comparisons!

FTDF: Do you give much importance to rules when it comes to dressing?

Dirnelli: Rules are an essential starting point. It is crucial to know them at first. They are like a safety net for beginners. If you respect them you are almost sure to be properly dressed and at the very least much better than average.

Of course once you know them all, they become a straightjacket and are not as relevant. This is when you need to go beyond the rules, to explore new territories and to adapt them to your liking so you can develop your personal style and find the right balance. Copy first then create. Cover the basics before you go further.Dirnelli Patterns Mix

It must also be said that when it comes to dressing, theory is one thing and practice is another. Regarding pattern mixing for instance: you can carefully follow the theory and still fail completely in practice. This is the magic of the art of dressing well somehow! Sometimes stepping out of the theory leads to something very relevant in practice, you don’t even know how it worked. These are the most enjoyable moments of the daily sartorial adventure of deciding your outfit of the day! I recently managed to associate lavender and beige in an outfit although it should not be possible but it ultimately worked well because the dominant colors of the outfit were light gray, navy and sky blue which are the three great pillars of menswear colorimetry. I could write pages on the matter…

FTDF: What do you think of Parisian tailors?

Dirnelli: I have great respect for Camps De Luca and Cifonelli and given my experience, I believe I can confidently say that Parisian tailors are among the best in the world, if not the best. They do not yet have the worldwide recognition they deserve on the internet because they are ignored by most Anglo-American blogs and forums. These IGents tend to focus only on what they know or what they think they know, namely Savile Row. Americans have also developed a particular taste for Italian tailoring in recent years so that Neapolitan tailors are now over-represented on the internet unlike French tailors who most of the time remain unsung heroes.

That is why I try, through my own English written blog, to put to the fore the savoir-faire of French tailors and French craftsmen. The quality of their work, their accuracy, their effort and their attention to detail are unmatched by Savile Row and Italian tailors. It is not even close.

Camps 1

Camps 2It is also refreshing to see that the “French school” of tailoring has given birth to a new generation of tailors, foreigners, such as Kenjiro Suzuki for instance, who come to Paris to master or develop their craft.

French tailoring is often criticized for its classicism or conservatism but I am appalled by this criticism. As far as tailoring is concerned I believe that being classic is a good thing. Classic does not mean rigid. This new generation of bespoke customers which swoons over the Drape Cut of Anderson & Sheppard or the shoulder line of a Rubinacci should be reminded that Claude François danced in Camps De Luca.

FTDF: The Cifonelli silhouette was deemed too feminine by Yukio Akamine. What is your view on this?

Dirnelli: I would start by reminding our readers that Cifonelli has a unique history like no other Parisian tailor. Thus it would be wrong to consider Cifo’ as a typical French tailor. Cifonelli happens to be based in Paris but it does not stand for the French school of tailoring. It is rather a mix of influences from Rome, Paris and London. Cifonelli is the only tailor in Paris where everything is still measured in inches, because Lorenzo and Massimo’s grandfather had been trained in Savile Row before returning to Italy. That’s why Cifonelli stands apart; its cut is a blend of attributes of multiple backgrounds which create a unique style. Furthermore, it is one of the most innovative tailors in terms of designs. They are always looking to improve the cut and as I said before their attention to details is second to none. Looking at their work and garments it cannot be said that French tailors are conservative.

I don’t think for a second that their cut and the one of French tailors in general can be considered too feminine. Quite the contrary, with ropped and fairly broad shoulders and a defined chest accentuated by a nipped waist, the French cut is prototypically masculine. Come on, do not force me to speak ill of Savile Row… I still prefer the Italians, and I note with an amused smile that nowadays Chittleborough & Morgan seems to be really inspired by some elements of the Parisian bespoke style. Even Simon Crompton of Permanent Style, the advocate of the Row seems to have rediscovered Parisian bespoke tailoring recently.Dirnelli Smalto

FTDF: Why do French tailors suffer from this reputation of boring classicism? Why are they so underrated?

Dirnelli: As I said earlier the accusation of classicism is unfounded and unfair. It is also due to a lack of marketing skills. I like to say that the French have the savoir-faire, the expertise but unlike the Americans they don’t know how to sell it. The famous Parisian lapel known as the “fish mouth lapel” actually refers to a distant past. Parisian style is supposedly blamed for having remained immobile and unfazed by modernity. However, I recently looked at a Hart Shaffner & Marx ad from the 1920’s featuring a fish mouth lapel similar to the one used today by Smalto. It is very rare to see such a lapel on a jacket nowadays, it has almost become avant-garde. When I wear a fish mouth lapel these days I know that I am wearing something that is quite unknown to most men under forty. Besides, when I cross the path of a man wearing a suit with such a lapel, it immediately catches my eye because it is quite uncommon these days. But it will come back in style, everything does eventually. I’m either old fashioned or avant-garde. Menswear is a spinning wheel that never stops.Hart Schaffner & Marc Cran Parisien

Parisian tailors may also be overlooked because of their particularly high price tags. Their lack of marketing skills also explains it. The battle for market shares is now played on the internet, that’s where their future customers are. If French tailors had more American customers maybe they would gain a wider recognition around the World. Lorenzo Cifonelli frequently travels to the United States but Marc De Luca has never held a trunk show there.

Lastly, I notice with despair that Parisian tailors act as if they were “Gallic tribes”; they know little about each other and do not seem to want to gather their forces in order to protect their craft, unlike the English who founded an association on the Row to defend their common interests against the usurpers of some big RTW brands. Nowadays, the customers of French Bespoke tailors are either in Russia, China or the Gulf, but no longer in France, alas. With our declining GDP, we can no longer afford to pay the ever higher prices of a bespoke suit in Paris; unfortunately I believe that these prices have not yet peaked. I bet that despite the stratospheric prices of Camps or Cifo bespoke today, in ten years we will look back at the current prices with nostalgia, the good old days when Parisian bespoke was still affordable…

FTDF: Let’s talk about your blog. How did you get the idea of creating it? What do you get from it?

Dirnelli: I thought about keeping a blog when I began accumulating a lot of suits. I said to myself: “How will I remember if this outfit works or not?” What is the point of having lots of clothes if you always end up wearing the same uniform? I wanted to push myself to experiment and to learn from the process.Dirnelli Arnys 3P

Therefore, I told myself that I would take a picture of what I wore each day. Then I would know which garments would work well together, which outfit would work and it would stop me from always automatically pairing the same pants with the same shirt, etc. With 200 suits, and as many shirts and ties in my wardrobe, I challenged myself to never wear the same outfit twice. But how could I remember if I didn’t keep track? Hence my blog, which at first was meant to be purely personal. However much to my surprise, it quickly gained followers, mostly bespoke enthusiasts and igents from all over the world. I honestly never thought I would have any success doing this. I have now people from around the world asking me for advice on how to dress, what to buy, etc. It is pretty fun.Dirnelli Formosa

Keeping this blog has enabled me to refine and develop my personal style and to learn more about my tastes. There is nothing better than seeing your outfit caught on camera in order to analyze what worked and what didn’t. Mark my words, it teaches you humility. Readers often show you no mercy when they let you know what they think. I thought and wore some outfits only because I knew I was going to photograph them. For instance, I’ve had the white linen suit I wore last Pitti for almost a year in my wardrobe. I didn’t know when I would have the opportunity to wear it. In front of all the best street style photographers of the world in Firenze a few weeks ago, it seemed quite right (laughs)…Dirnelli & Paul Lux Pitti Dirnelli Caruso White Linen Pitti

On a more serious note, keeping this sartorial blog requires more than just preparing your daily outfit. Readers who have been following me from the start tell me that my style has greatly improved over the last two years. It is down to the discipline and effort I put in keeping this blog. When I started it I would never wear a pocket square. The blog has pushed me to try wearing one in order to figure out what I liked and disliked about this accessory. It is now part of my style even though I used to be against pocket squares a couple of years back. The same thing can be said about patterns; I am much less conservative than I was initially. It also made me figure that when you wear a flamboyant garment or accessory you need to tone it down with a plain one in order to create balance.

Neither dandy nor conservative, that’s my motto. But my personal style is constantly evolving and impacted by the inspiring outfits which I get to see on various blogs. Some guys, especially in Scandinavia (who knew?), just have an amazing sense of style. Thanks to the internet we get to see it.Dirnelli LVSN

FTDF: You are known for being a bespoke enthusiast but you are also quite keen on RTW. It is quite uncommon since it is usually one way or the other. Did you have this open minded approach to clothing from the start or was it something you developed overtime?

Dirnelli: I have always despised guys who proudly wore a hideous big watch simply because it was the most expensive around. Expensive does not necessarily equal to beautiful. Lesser known brands can offer a beautiful product, with a very good value for money, you need taste and education to get it. My motto is “best for less”. Any guy can dress well if he has the money (sort of)… However dressing well on a budget requires dedication and creativity. Finding the three hundred dollar watch which seems to be worth three thousands, that’s the challenge. It takes time and requires taste. It is an uphill battle but it is loads of fun.

I have the deepest sympathy and respect for those in menswear who seek the best balance between looks and spending. I am not even talking about worth; I am not talking about quality; quality of manufacture is something else. You may be surprised but I don’t care much about that. Paraphrasing Alan Flusser’s philosophy, I have often written on my blog that a well-fitting RTW fused suit is always better than an ill-fitting bespoke suit. The most expensive brands do not necessarily offer the best silhouette. You must be able to recognize a beautiful silhouette regardless of the price.Dirnelli Formosa

That is why my interest in clothes goes well beyond bespoke tailoring. I am interested in most brands, even the most basic RTW ones as long as they offer something that I find relevant style-wise. I own some beautiful garments that cost me almost nothing and I also own a few expensive garments which are not up to par. One needs to be honest and lucid about this. Some customers are sometimes completely blinded by the price they paid. They go to great lengths to persuade themselves that their jacket is well cut because it cost them an arm and a leg…

I often debate on the matter with fellow IGents and #menswear bloggers. Some consider that a very expensive bespoke garment with imperfections is the ultimate chic because it is a testament to the handwork, it adds to its uniqueness. I strongly disagree. I actually own an Italian bespoke suit cut by a House which I will not name that has a pocket higher than the other. When I think about how much it cost me, such an approximation makes me mad… Neapolitans sell it with a lot of charm, but at least French tailors are less dubious when such things happen.

FTDF: Don’t you regret that you open mindedness isn’t shared by all?  Don’t you think that the bespoke community is a bit exclusive?

Dirnelli: I don’t know if I can be said to be open minded when I obsess so much about details, but thanks anyway. I’m very open when it comes to comparing the pros and cons of bespoke and RTW. I see merit in both and I think that paradoxically MTM or more precisely what we call in France “Demi mesure” is usually the most disappointing offer; I could prove it almost scientifically if I were given the time. I subscribe to the idea that a suit should never outshine the man who wears it. I don’t believe in peacocking. Clothes should only be a reflection of who you are, they are the frame of the picture that is you.

When you have a genuine interest in menswear, you tend go beyond the superficiality of garments. Dressing well raises deep issues such as self-respect, respect of others, appearance standards in society, etc. Behind a façade of futility, the way one dresses is much deeper than we might think. Thanks to menswear, I often make great and fascinating encounters with very genuine people.

FTDF: What do you think of menswear in Paris?

Dirnelli: In Paris we tend to be too influenced by fashion. The rules of classic menswear which are the roots of the timeless style we all aim for are too often overlooked here. That is not the case in England and Italy for instance. Scandinavians and Japanese have a lot more style than we do. When you see them at Pitti, they are in a league of their own. I am not talking about dandyism or exuberance. I am talking about classic business clothes. That is the heart of the matter. In France we could greatly improve. It might be a shocking thing to say but a Spanish or a Greek sharp dresser seem to have more style than a French one these days. Many countries have upped their elegance standards in the last few years while we seem to keep going backwards.Dirnelli Colors

In France we tend to be narrow-minded when it comes to clothing. For instance, if I wear a very classic navy double breasted suit to a business meeting in Paris it may draw attention. Even though it doesn’t fall in the eccentric category by any means it is already too bold for the Parisian business world which considers that black is a beautiful color for a business suit…Dirnelli DB Navy

FTDF: How do you rate the selection of suits available to Parisian men?

Dirnelli: Don’t get me wrong; between the tailors and the different shops we have here, it is possible to dress well. It is definitely not Italy with its many retailers. The main problem in Paris is the chronic incompetence of the sales associates. The advice of a good salesman can be crucial when elegance is concerned. Trained and knowledgeable salesmen could very well be the cure for most Parisian men.

Take the Armoury for instance; what they are doing in Hong Kong and now in New York is amazing. Even if you’ve never set foot in their shop you can still feel their passion and their love for good products from a thousand miles away even though they are “just retailers”. Hats off to them, their endeavor should inspire many retailers especially here in Paris.The Armoury

FTDF: What are the trends that get on your nerves? Which ones do you subscribe to?

Dirnelli: I currently hate the flipped on purpose shirt collar trend. I have seen many guys do it in Firenze… Guys, you need to stop doing that A.S.A.P.Collar Trend

Some trends can annoy you at first but then you finally understand and accept them: wearing the narrower blade of your tie longer than the larger blade for instance. It does work well with knit ties. I was skeptical at first of wearing a button down shirt with the collar unbuttoned like Agnelli, but it sometimes works very well in the right context.Agnelli

I used to find patched pockets irrelevant on most garments but I have now learned to like them on some jackets.

However, I cannot see a business suit worn well with sneakers. It does not work as far I am concerned. The super tight, super short silhouette where the jacket sleeve fits like a diving suit does not get my vote either.

When you are genuinely interested in classic menswear, you tend to quickly realize that certain rules must not be bent too much in order to maintain a balanced silhouette. When you go too far, your suits immediately becomes associated to a period. Nevertheless, it is sometimes interesting to wear clothes that are in fashion. Sometimes I buy a jacket and I think to myself: “I like it now, we will see if I still do in five years.” You need diversity in your wardrobe in order to have garments which suit your different moods.

FTDF: How important is it to know a good alteration tailor?

Dirnelli: It is crucial indeed. Just for the record I’ve lost more than 40 pounds since I’ve started the blog two years ago. Having spent as much as I have on my wardrobe you can easily imagine the consequences I was facing. Finding a good alteration tailor was a necessity for me otherwise I would have had to start from scratch… However, readers should be aware that alteration tailors aren’t really used to deal with precise and uncompromising customers. It is actually quite difficult to find one with genuine tailoring skills. But now that I have, I sometimes get results from alterations that satisfy me more than what I get when commissioning a bespoke garment. Of course this process takes quite a lot of time, you have to develop a strong relationship with your alteration tailor because one alteration sometimes needs to be corrected several times in order to get the result you want. You guessed it, I’m their worst nightmare! One should take into account that alteration tailors regardless of their skills are not stylists, you need to affirm your taste and be aware of what kind of alteration can be made on each garment in order to guide them and get the fit that you want in the end. Lastly, do not be fazed by the reluctance they can express from time to time.

FTDF: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to the young Dirnelli?

Dirnelli: Watch your weight and your diet. When you are slim, clothes instantly look a lot better. It took me two years to fix twenty years of excess. Given all the money I have invested in buying clothes it was really worth it. My clothes now fit me better than ever.

I would avoid accumulating as many clothes. Although it has allowed me to discover and put to the test many makers and brands if I were to do it again, I would avoid reckless spending. Moderation is the key to lasting enjoyment.Dirnelli dépareillé

Lastly, I would get interested in wearing odd jackets a lot sooner. Indeed, you can quickly master the art of wearing a suit with its range of colors and few patterns. However wearing odd jackets is a much more complicated endeavor. It may be the work of a lifetime. Actually, only a few people do it well. But on the evening, on the weekends or on vacations it is often appropriate to wear an odd jacket… that is why you need to learn how to wear it.

We thank Adriano Dirnelli for his kindness, his sense of humor and his time.

Paris, July 2014. All rights reserved.

 

Interview with Seo Ilwon, founder of The Klaxon

We are proud to present to you an interview with Seo Ilwon, founder of the Korean shoe brand The Klaxon (here is our first article about the brand).

Lire la version française ici.Seo Ilwon

FTDF: Can you tell us about the different steps of your career and your background?

Seo Ilwon: I started my career as a men’s fashion merchandiser in 2004. I have always been interested in shoes. And as time went on, I became more and more obsessed with the idea of creating my own brand of shoes. Thus being in my thirties I decided to fully dedicate myself to create a proper brand.vestadbeige3

FTDF: How did you come up with the Klaxon concept? And how do you define it and its style?

Seo Ilwon: The concept of The Klaxon has started from our own taste: we make the shoes we want to wear. If we don’t like a shoe, we will not produce it. Fundamentally, we are also very concerned with the practical aspect of our products.vestadbrown1

For instance, we prefer to use rubber soles instead of traditional leather soles for a more comfortable wear and easier care.7_4

Design is of course very important but we make no compromise when we select materials. We aim to make a quality product.

FTDF: Where do you find your inspiration when you create a model like the Falconry Mouton Boots? Do you consult archives?

Seo Ilwon: We try to develop interesting items every season. When we started to develop the Mouton Boots, we just wanted to design a winter shoe to protect us from the cold and the snow we have every winter. After drawing a few ideas on paper, we were reminded of the falcony boots our fathers wore while hunting during the winter.falconry the klaxon 1

That was our inspiration for the Mouton Boots.FALCONRY-SUEDE

Actually, most of our shoes are inspired by our surroundings and our lifestyle.falconry ver 02

FTDF: Are you inspired by other shoe brands?

Seo Ilwon: We do not focus on specific brands. We tend to focus on product and we always try to make something different, to bring something new to the table.

We try as best as we can to make sure that our shoes and design are not similar to what other brands have done.7_6

If we feel like the design is too similar, we daringly throw it away.pallasbootsgcxldarkbrown3

FTDF: What kind of materials do you use to make the shoes?

Seo Ilwon: We are using Vibram and Dainite soles and leathers from Horween and Charles Stead.7_3

Next season, we will also use Cat’s Paw rubber heels.Cat's Paw

FTDF: Where did your love for the VIBRAM MONTA G.BLOCK ECO STEP outsole come?

Seo Ilwon: It’s a classic model of outsole, but the color is cool.vibram

Above all, it is also great that it is made out of recycled rubber.

FTDF: Who is the « Klaxon Man »?

Seo Ilwon: He is just a lazy awesome guy!

Seo Ilwon 2

FTDF: Korean menswear knows a rapid expansion. Please tell us more about menswear in Korea (inspirations, culture, brands, etc.)

Seo Ilwon: Koreans very much love fashion and men’s fashion is developing and evolving very rapidly here thanks to the internet. Many young Korean men have a keen interested in fashion which is why the market has so much potential. But the market is still immature, men are just starting to be interested in their own personal style rather than blindly adjusting to fashion trends.  I definitely believe that the Korean market will soon be one of the most attractive fashion market in the world.7_1

FTDF: We know you try to export the Klaxon abroad. In which countries can we now find the brand?

Seo Ilwon: Our brand now has several retailers in England, Spain, China, Hong Kong and of course in Korea.

FTDF: Where do you see your brand in 5 years?

Seo Ilwon: I just hope that we will still be making products we are proud of and that our shoes will be available in as many countries as possible.the klaxon team

Thanks to Seo Ilwon for his availability and kindness. Paris, April 2014.

Interview with Tony Gaziano, master shoemaker and co-founder of Gaziano & Girling

We are proud to present to you an interview with Tony Gaziano, renowned bespoke shoemaker and co-founder of Gaziano & Girling.

Lire l’interview en français.

Tony Gaziano

FTDF: Can you tell us about the different steps of your career and your background?

Tony Gaziano: Originally I was trained up to be an architect. That is how I first got acquainted with design. But I quickly decided that I was not interested in becoming an architect. I went into design of shoes and when I was about twenty I started working for a company called Cheaney. Most of the work I did for them was some subcontracted work for fashion brands such as Jeffrey West and Paul Smith. I worked there for several years mostly on design, I didn’t have any practical shoebuilding, it was all just drawing and range building.

After a while, I left and went to work for Edward Green. I started working on more classical footwear rather than the fashion houses. It gave me a deeper knowledge of the product, it was more about quality than fashion and seasonal runs. I worked there for two or three years and learned a little bit about handmaking but I decided I wanted to go deeper into it so I went to work for Cleverley. I have worked for George Cleverley for about seven years, first as an apprentice and then I managed the bespoke workshops which involved last making, designing, cutting the leather, stitching the uppers together and that’s where I met my partner Dean Girling. He was a subcontracted outworker craftsman and I was the craftsman that worked in house. That was fifteen years ago, we started working together but we didn’t have the intention of opening up our own company.Oxfords G&G

I was then contacted by the present owner of Edward Green who asked me to come back from Cleverley to design for the brand. The condition was that I wanted to set up a bespoke setup for Edward Green. So I spent basically the next two years creating a bespoke service for Edward Green.

Then, in 2006, Dean persuaded me to leave Edward Green in order to start up our own company. When we left, the bespoke service of Edward Green stopped and they introduced their Top Drawer range which I still think they are doing today.

In the mist of all that, I’ve done a lot of subcontracted design for brands such as Ralph Lauren and a few other fashion houses as well.

That’s it… Anything more would bore you!

FTDF: How do you reflect on the time you have spent at Edward Green?

TG: When I worked for Edward Green, I had no intention of leaving. I have worked for them twice so it is almost like my second home; I loved the time that I spent there. They are not particularly happy with me now but I still have a lot of affection for this company. Alongside us I think they make the best shoes in the country. Very well made structured shoe. It broke my heart to leave Edward Green but the boundaries were too strict, too classical for me, I needed to be able to create my own identity which is the reason why I left.Lapo Evening G&G

FTDF: You were a shoemaker but you launched a RTW brand…

TG: Thanks to my time at Edward Green, I had a vast experience on the manufacturing side as well and developing and designing lines of shoes. Unintentionally I was lucky enough to have probably the broadest experience in the country because in England you are either a London bespoke shoemaker or you are a Northampton shoe manufacturer. Nobody crossed over; we were the first people to bring a bespoke looking London shoe to the manufacturing side. There is a lot of symmetries with our business. People connect the Italian/English name to that contemporary style of shoes that we have which is English structure but with a little bit of a twist. It is not out there design but it is enough to get people to come out a little bit of their shell and to get more adventurous with their shoes.Hayes G&G

FTDF: Do you feel that a shoemaker has to go into RTW in order to get by. Did you feel you were bound to launch a RTW brand in order to make a living?

TG: When we started the company we were going to purely do bespoke, however RTW is getting better and the bespoke market is becoming more of a niche. Dean and I can make a shoe between us so we could have just stayed me designing, pattern cutting, closing and Dean making. We would have made a very nice living but we ventured into RTW as an experiment and once you started and the ball is rolling you have to roll with it.Double Monk G&G

FTDF: Being a craftsman how did you manage to cope with the hazards of industrial production?

TG: Very difficultly, look how grey I am! On a more serious note, building a factory today is very difficult because 90% of our machinery comes from the 1930’s/1940’s. Moreover it is not only finding the machinery that works but also finding the operatives who can use it. These days, people see in black and white: shoes are either made by machine or they are made by hand. But there is a middle area where there are machines, first generation of machines that were created to replace handmaking that are almost as skillful in themselves as making by hand. It is not about pressing a button, these machines are all levers, very mechanical.Wingtip G&G

Nowadays we have our own factory where everybody is a shoe geek but when we started, we had to work with other people who did not share our passion because they used to make a lower grade product. That is why setting up our own factory was really crucial.

FTDF: What are the specificities of Gaziano & Girling as a brand?

TG: If I had to sum it up, I would say that our drive was to manufacture a bespoke looking readymade shoe. That was the key. People thought that our intention was to make a shoe that was half continental, half English but that was not the intention. We wanted to bring the London bespoke world into readymade shoemaking and to be able to create a service where people could be able to buy that aesthetic without having to have it made for them.

FTDF: Your brand is young but has a very loyal following. What do you think attracts people to it?

TG: I think we were fortunate to hit the time when many forums and blogs exploded, that was lucky. Also when people look at the shoes, even if they can’t explain it, they see the quality, the lines, the passion that was put into it. Some people can talk about it forever, some people can’t but they can still see and feel the difference.Lapo G&G

Most of our customers up to now have been people who are passionate about shoes but we are making a good looking enough shoe which attracts new customers who were probably not into the welted trade before. These days, there is a luxury brand explosion and everybody seems to enjoy dressing again. In that way, we are a little bit lucky but also we are rewarded of all the attention and hard work we put in our shoes. We don’t cut any corners. Everything is done the way it should be done. Nowadays because of commercial fashion brands and people spending a lot of money on something that is not worth, they really understand when they see something that is.Tassel G&G

FTDF: Do you reject trends or do you embrace them?

TG: I kind of reject trends. I like timeless. Trends are for younger people than me.

FTDF: You are the figure of the brand, can you tell us about your partner Dean Girling?

TG: Dean is more the mechanical side. He is a little bit crazy with quality; he is our factory worst enemy! He has tremendous technical knowledge about shoes, he understands the mechanics of the shoes. If something is not right, he can walk into the factory and put it right. He lets me create, I let him maintain.Gaziano & Girling

FTDF: You are famous for you square toe, is it some sort of tribute to the masters shoemaker of the past Nikolaus Tuczek and Cleverley?

TG: A little bit. My favorite shoemaker was definitely Anthony Cleverley, whom I think was younger, and sharper than George Cleverley. During my time at Cleverley I fell in love with his shoes. Much of my inspiration comes from there, especially the Deco Line.Bespoke G&G

FTDF: What are the differences between the Deco Line and the Bench Made Line?

TG: In a nutshell, there is simply more handwork. For instance, we have to handcurve the waist. However, we use bespoke leathers for everything so quality wise  everything is on the same levels in regards to materials but there is a lot more handwork for the Deco Line. Also there was a lot more attention to the design aesthetic of the Deco. It is not to everybody’s taste, it is a little bit sharp for a lot of people but for us it is a special Line which in a way represents the 1920’s as opposed to the more traditional stuff which is inspired for the 1940’s and 1950’s.Deco-sole

FTDF: Would you agree that the Deco is the closest you could get to a bespoke shoe in RTW?

TG: I definitely think so.Holden Deco Line

FTDF: Where do you see Gaziano & Girling as a brand in five to ten years?

TG: I would like to have at least three shops, one in London, one in Paris and one in NYC. Moreover, the quality has to grow as the company grows. We cannot increase the production without increasing the number of craftsmen. It is a long process, it means lots of training. We don’t want to take over the world, but we want to get bigger while maintaining our philosophy and quality standards. It will be hard but it can be done.

We would like to thank Tony Gaziano for his kindness and his wit. We also would like to thank Marc Fass, owner of Calceom, who made this interview happen.

Paris, November 2012. All rights reserved.