Today sees the launch of Patrick Grant’s book, Original Man – The Tautz Compendium of Less Ordinary Gentlemen. Perhaps the most articulate designer of his generation, what I’ve always appreciated about Patrick is his ability to tell a great story, from the beautifully compiled notes given out at E.Tautz shows to his recent TV work, so I’m guessing that his first book will be full of charm, well-chosen epigrams and the occasional LOL (the list of gentlemen featured includes Olly Reed and Ozzy Osbourne after all).
Published with the commendable intention of “inspiring readers to lead a less ordinary life” the book showcases more than 80 original men (including some personal heroes of mine like Yves Saint Laurent and Quentin Crisp), selected not for their sartorial prominence (there are more than enough rather obvious coffee table books of that type around), but in recognition of their genuine uniqueness and determination to live life to the full.
Men’s fashion media is full of the same recycled icons and purported heroes so I’m looking forward to having a flick through the book this evening and encountering a few more controversial characters within its pages.
About the book:
Original Man – The Tautz Compendium of Less Ordinary Gentlemen
Editor: Patrick Grant
Format: 21 x 26 cm
Features: Full color, hardcover, 240 pages
I popped into the launch for the Bedwin & The Heartbreakers pop-up at Folk on Thursday night, (my lateness in posting this is entirely due to my extended birthday celebrations over the weekend BTW). Besides the name (which makes the brand sound like an obscure ’80s punk band you should know about) I like their Japanese twist on Americana, which of course, places all the attention on the details. In particular, I was very taken with their Brando-esque weathered biker jackets and the collegiate-meets-selvedge-denim pieces (see my Instagram for close-ups). Their pared-back pumps will be gracing my feet while the weather’s still warm enough. While the word preppy may not elicit the warm fuzzy feeling it may have done a few years back, in these hands the irony isn’t lost.
A few pics from the night here:
I originally wrote this piece about London’s most exciting knitwear designers back in the summer, when thoughts of wooly jumpers and indeed winter itself felt like a distant prospect, stuffed away with the thermal undies, but here we now are in the first properly cold days of the season when a warm sweater makes perfect sense. This piece somehow got squeezed out of the publishing schedule it was intended for, but as some of London’s finest knitted garment designers gave me their time to divulge their thoughts on the art of the knit I’m sharing it with you here.
The humble sweater rarely gets media attention (unless it’s one of those pieces in the free papers celebrating ironic Christmas jumpers) but knitwear for men is becoming more creative and experimental. There will always be scope for a classic – a black cashmere crewneck or a Smedley cotton number for example, but there is movement when it comes to men’s sweaters.
One thing uniting many of the current crop of young British menswear designers, including Sibling, E.Tautz, Baartmans & Siegel, Jonathan Saunders, James Long and Lou Dalton is the interest in producing beautifully executed knitwear (often hand knitted) while pushing the boundaries of what knitwear for men can be.
Lou Dalton’s Fair Isle sweaters for AW14 for example are designed to be worn in reverse, the intriguing, threaded underside adding a subversive urban twist to the item but it could be turned out the other way if you suddenly need to blend in with your rural surroundings.
With this adventurous spirit in men’s knitwear in mind I spoke with three London menswear designers about how their knits come about and what makes them special.
Cozette McCreery of Sibling
As part of it’s re-focus on emerging and influential international menswear designers, Selfridges has recently provided a coveted space for London knitwear brand Sibling, the design trio who perhaps most of all push the knitted form beyond its cozy origins, to showcase their work. Cozette McCreery answered my questions.
What are the key knitwear pieces for Sibling men’s AW14?
Scottish hand knits with re-worked traditional Arran stitches and cables are very much the Sibling handwriting. Also the Fair Isle Leopard, again produced in Scotland using exclusive Sibling-created patterns.
Tell us about how your knitwear is created. Do you use home knitters?
For hand knits yes. All swatches and stitch designs are produced here at the studio. This is what makes us unique as Sid (Bryan) has the best understanding of stitch and how to create them so everything is worked on here first before handing to a factory or home knitter.
What is special about hand knitted pieces?
Even though there is very strict quality control and each knitter works to patterns there is always slight deviation as hand knitting is a handwriting. In our mind and in our customers’ too, this makes each garment totally unique.
Patrick Grant of E.Tautz
Grant has long been a champion for all aspects of British fashion manufacture (as Tweed, the BBC Four documentary he contributed to even before his The Great British Sewing Bee fame demonstrated) and knitwear production is no exception, with pieces often hand-knitted for his brand by a small army of home knitters.
What are the key knitwear pieces for E.Tautz AW14?
We have a small number of intarsia graphic knits based on old Byzantine religious patterns. Otherwise its totally straightforward knits, cashmeres from Willliam Lockie, Shetland crews from Jaimiesons. For AW15 we are looking at quite a bit of hand-knit to match the openness of the hand-loomed tweeds we’re working with.
Tell us about how your knitwear is created. Do you use home knitters?
We take each season as it comes; we try to fit the look and feel of our knits around the overall feel of the collection. Sometimes precise and structured, sometimes looser, we try to give the knits and the cloths the same texture, structure etc. We use home knitters, small hand frame knitters as well as machine knits.
Who are your knitters? What do they bring to the pieces you commission? What is special about home knitted pieces?
We use two main makers. Wendy Keith has a small army of needle knitters who all work from homes across England and Wales. There is a delicacy, a pliability, and a looseness that you don’t get with a machine knit. Also Corgi do their knitting on small hand frames (somewhere between the needle and the industrial machine) again, it just gives a hand feel and structure which has loftiness, it seems like you keep more of the bounce of the original yarn. And there’s also the intangible joy of knowing that its been made by a human being.
Amber Siegel of Baartmans and Siegel
Designers Baartmans and Siegel are also no strangers to the home knit; each of their collections includes desirable knitwear pieces in colours and unique textures that expand the possibilities for men’s knitwear.
What are the key knitwear pieces for Baartmans and Siegel AW14?
Our favorite styles are the black crewneck with red mohair fine stripe detailing, and the honeycomb navy and black slim-fit pullover. Both in a cotton glacé yarn, hand knitted and blended with twisted fine mohair: engineered simplicity
Tell us about how your knitwear is created. Do you use home knitters?
Since our launch we have worked with a talented and charismatic home hand-knitter. Based in south London and in her seventies she is a meticulous perfectionist, who has been knitting since her childhood in Jersey. Watching her hands weave and spin delicate and intricate mathematical combinations is truly fascinating. Each piece is made lovingly, and carefully finished – soft brushed and folded with tissue paper. What she doesn’t know about hand knitting isn’t worth knowing.
What is special about home knitted pieces?
Machine knit is fantastic and can create some very beautiful, fine garments, but nothing compares to the craft and comfort of a hand-knit jumper. The love and effort feels precious and fundamental. A carefully stored hand-knit jumper can last a lifetime. In a time of consumer consciousness, wearing a natural and sustainable fiber garment, which supports traditional and historic skills, is an investment in aesthetic legacy.
With typical understatement, Swedish brand Our Legacy opened a store in London last week. Distinguished by a nifty neon sign, the store, located at the enigmatically named 1 Silver Place in Soho is evidence of the label’s particular success here in the UK. Since designing a range of T-shirts in 2005, co-founders Christopher Nying and Jockum Hallin have found a keen audience here for Our Legacy’s spare but elegant designs, the cut and their inventive use of fabrics finding harmony with a British sensibility in men’s fashion.
“We had been looking for a space here for a while; we wanted something magical and with character,” says Hallin of the new Soho store. “The UK has developed into a great market for us, especially in the past two years. We’ve thought a lot about that, and we’re not entirely sure why—it’s not like it’s been a conscious decision to focus on the U.K. I suppose there was just something that clicked between us,” he adds. Personally, I clicked with Our Legacy round about the time I fell in love with a blue blazer of theirs, in an incredible, nubby cotton fabric which remains one of my favourite pieces of all time.
Just as the clothes seem to dismiss unnecessary detail, leaving only that which genuinely pleases in place, the store design reflects the brand’s lightness of touch: “With the store, the goal was to get heavy things floating. We used simple materials to look more than they are, a bit like with the clothes. There’s an industrial feel to it. Lots of stainless steel, glass, and concrete, plus a resin-covered floor that makes it look like you’re standing on glass,” says Hallin.
With other menswear brands such as E.Tautz, A Child of the Jago and Nigel Cabourn all opening their own London stores literally within weeks (and streets) of one another, it feels like the next part of the menswear story involves a return to bricks and mortar and, equally, a move away from characterless department stores. I’m looking forward to checking out these new individual locations and reporting back on whether they have the sense of “hub” that London stores used to.
Time was when clubs, music and fashion formed a holy trinity. You went out to show off your finest, possibly DIY-enhanced outfit, danced all night to the DJ’s latest discoveries and went home full of ideas about what to wear and listen to next, fashion designers included. These days, the spheres of fashion and club music seem to overlap less, spinning in slightly separate orbits with fashion seemingly more propelled by social media and constant access to imagery. Which makes this post about the hats designed by Jerry Bouthier and Bernstock Speirs for Mason Kitsuné a rare pleasure, having something to say about all three worlds.
Bouthier is renowned for being the DJ at London’s Boombox, possibly the last club to have a real impact on fashion, while retaining at its core the genuine experience of nightclubbing, and importantly, actual dancing. He’s also lent his musical ear providing music direction for catwalk shows including Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson, Sibling, Peter Jensen and Kokon to Zai.
A noted hat wearer himself, here Bouthier has teamed up with milliners Bernstock Speirs (a duo with their own legacy of London nightlife experience to their credit) to create the ‘Highbury Eden’ trilby.
The trilby is inspired by a 1937 design popularised by the then British Prime Minister, Antony Eden. The hat with its exaggerated crown is perfectly attuned to our post-Pharrell-Westwood-stovepipe eyes and is available in a range of gorgeous colours including pink, baby blue, vivid green and navy.
In true pan-media style, the hat release is timed to coincide with the release of Kitsuné Trip Mode, a DJ mix by Bouthier. It has to be said that Kitsuné are one of the few brands to keep alive the legacy of the cross-pollination of clubs, music and fashion, bridging physical fashion stores in Paris and New York (right by the Manhattan Ace Hotel natch) with a record label.
The hats are available exclusively at the Maison Kitsuné store in Paris and online at maisonkitsune.fr.
The mix meanwhile, is available from iTunes here.
And in true contemporary democratic style a mini-mix is available from Soundcloud here.
I’d love to be declaring this as evidence of a return to a closer link between clubs, music and fashion, but I suspect that these spheres will continue to spin in a slightly-less aligned way than in previous eras with Bouthier being a rare example of the overlap. Fashion-led clubs like Ponystep still exist, and late night culture continues to influence what people wear in terms of street style, but there is no longer an essential club to attend, the one night that fuses the best sounds, people and visual spectacle into a single cultural entity. Fashion and music exist side by side now, projected, fed and regurgitated via social media and rarely forming around a movement. Perhaps the best thing you can do is download the mix and have your own party at home, fancy hats optional.
I know it’s Milan fashion week now but I wanted to share with you a quick chat I had with Tim Coppens after his show back at New York fashion week that didn’t make it into my Guardian piece. Coppens’ show was packed, with a palpable excitement front of house and a strong international contingent attending which gave a definite sense that he’s about to become big. There was already much anticipation of the fact Tim would be showing some womenswear alongside the menswear. In the end the collection featured sports mesh, blocked colour and a special blurred neon print called Jungle Sunrise. The focus was on construction, form and function for both sexes but there was also a sleek polish to the pieces that went beyond sportswear and, incidentally there was a definite UK Garage vibe to the styling (not what I assume Mr Coppens means when he talks about the 90s influence!). Overall, I wanted to find out more about the fabrics and his approach to designing for men and women…
SL: In the past you’ve used a lot of luxury fabrics now it feels much more technical…
TC: I think the fabrics are still luxury. We use a cotton nylon wash and there’s a nylon silk so there’s always a technical aspect to creating the fabrics and the knits as well but the feel is never rough. For example, we have the transparent mesh piece that is a fully fashioned knit sweater its not like a mesh that you would buy at the mall but it’s moveable, it’s specially developed in Italy to drape in a special way.
SL: How do you research your fabrics, how do you find these fabrics?
TC: We just work with the mills and sometimes I just find something or try to change something. I try to work with the same mills over and over, with the same producers so we can work on things and get them excited about new things.
SL: So you’re developing your womenswear now as well. How did that come about? Was it a response to demand or was it something you always intended to do?
TC:I always wanted to do it when I started, then people have been interested in seeing a woman’s edition to the men’s collection. And I thought this was the sixth collection so I thought this was the time to introduce a package that was sellable, this was a first step to bring it to market.
SL:It seems like even the womenswear is quite unisex is that something that you aimed for?
TC: There’s already so much on the market, so with the menswear there’s a lot of girls who buy extra small and that will probably continue to grow so there are pieces which go all the way round. But it’s not like a unisex collection, the way it’s cut and the way it sizes and everything is very different from the men’s, it’s really tailored and fit on a woman’s body. We looked at construction as well so the bomber with the suiting details for men was a lot more unconstructed than what we do with the women’s jackets.
SL: And where’s it produced, it’s produced in Italy?
TC: It’s produced in Italy, some in Portugal, Japan.
SL: And the print how did that develop?
TC: It’s a combination of everything: Stone Roses album covers, that whole era, when Ian Brown was still singing with them, it’s a very rough piece not too refined, then we had the parrots with the circles around their eyes, like a jungle theme.
SL: So Ian Brown and The Stone Roses, was that music that you were listening to when you designed the collection? How did that influence come about?
TC: It’s music from the 90s, I’m a child of the 90′s! There’s a lot of bands like Teenage Fanclub from back in the day and it just sticks.
SL: What makes it relevant now?
TC: I started to look at images of rioting and hooligans and Ian Brown came up, with his haircut and that whole thing came together and made sense.