Thursday, 27 November 2008

A visit to Northampton, and the Edward Green Factory

with Dr. Frank Muller. Originally written and posted in and Ask Andy Forum in 2004, with some updates.

The boot of our car after an afternoon’s shopping in Northampton. Final count – 2 pairs of Edward Greens, 5 pairs of John Lobbs. What a success!

As a detour from a trip I made recently leading a group of watch enthusiasts to the Lange Uhren factory in Glashutte, Germany, I spent the weekend with a Lange's then Joint Managing Director - my good friend Dr. Frank Muller in London. We spent the afternoon in gentlemanly pursuits of browsing the stores in Savile Row, Jermyn Street and at the Burlington Arkade, before spending the evening at Ronnie Scotts with some great Jazz. We hired a car, spent the night in Cambridge University...we stayed in a small hotel right by the campus, and even managed to catch a live choral performance in one of the collages. The next day we went shopping in Northampton oand …ended up with the above spoils.

We called the Edward Green factory ahead, and secured an 11am spot with our hostess – Susie Jones. She met us cheerfully at the door, and showed us around.

The first room we came to, we saw a team of men cutting leather. The process, known as clicking was performed by a highly skilled workman who would cut the individual pieces of leather into patterns. Edward Green shoes use Swiss calf. Bespoke shoes, at that time made under the supervision of Master cordswainer Tony Gaziano, is sent out to outhouses around Northampton. Tony has since left Edward Green and now on his own firm of Gaziano & Girling.

We were told that all clicking for Edward Green was done at this place. The picture below shows a master clicker, placing pieces of leather on his pattern (which, as shown is a piece of green cardboard).

The patterns were then stitched together in these huge sewing machines, like those your mother would use for mending clothes, as shown below.

After stitching, the leather takes the shape of an upper.

A machine was used to make the perforations in the brogue.

The broging pattern on the upper:

Next, we went to visit the man with the lasts. Here all the lasts were stored. Not sure why I only have the small picture for this shot. Bespoke lasts are kept elsewhere, these are RTW lasts.

The sewn uppers were then stretched over the last like so. At this stage, the shoelaces were nothing more than pieces of cloth, just to keep the uppers closed.

The upper is then nailed onto the last, with temporary nails:

An iron wire is then lopped over the last, and pulled into place, stretching the upper over the last. A machine is used to do this:

Then, the nails are then removed, and the shoe/last looks like this.

Another team, in the meantime, prepares the soles, but glueing in the feather. In the Northampton tradition, the feather is made from cloth, but the feather of a benchmade shoe can be also made of leather.

The shoe was then put into a Goodyear welting machine, which did the stiching of the welt, semi-automatically. The operator puts the upper/sole on, clamps it tight, and off the machine goes at a furious pace, finishing the complete welt in less than 20s. EG bespoke shoes are hand stitched, and do not use a Goodyear machine. This process is more involved, and requires more skill from the cordswainer, and of course takes more time.

After welting, the inner side is then filled with cork bits:

And the shoe is then sent for installing the sole. Backtracking upstairs, we came across these two gentleman, who were in charge of “skin stitching” the aprons and center toe seams. First, the thread is prepared by waxing:

Then, the aprons are stitched using a boar’s bristle. From what I can see, using a boar’s bristle, due to the ability of the bristle to flex, gives a smoother finish on the raised apron than can be achieved with a steel needle. Only Edward Green and John Lobb use this technique of sewing with a boar's bristle.

Returning to the shop floor, the outer soles are glued, and stitched on, leaving the thread inside the channels. The shoes then wait with the channels open:

The channel is then closed:

The heels are nailed on:

And the final finishing at the factory floor, the soles are cleaned, and a hot iron is used to apply polish to the edges:

The shoe is then sent to the finishing department, where skilled craftsmen select the final color of the shoe, and finish it to their specifications:

The final product...a beautiful patina, and wonderful shoe. This is the Berkerly in antique oak in the 202 last.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Bespoke personal audio

Not all bespoke...just the headphones.

I have been an audiophile for a long time...many, many years...and retired from active upgrading some 14 years ago. My main system has stayed the same since. The system comprised of an almost all Meridian Digital system.

But the subject of today's post is my portable stereo. Comprising of a set of custom moulded Livewires T1, amplified by RSA Hornet, and MP3s ripped EAC/LAME 320kbps on a Creative Zen Vision 30GB player.

These phones are two drivers, and custom moulded to fit one's ear...bespoke earphones, so to speak. An ear mould is taken, and sent to the factory, and they make the units accordingly.

I see from pics in head-fi that it comes with a plastic LV case with a cleaning tool and some alcohol swabs. But the local dealer Jaben's supremo Wilson gave it to me in a small ziplock bag! He threw in a little black fabric case...quite neat. Doesn't LW ship the case anymore?

Also the wires are Westone, and I find them a bit on the short side.

The fit...initially I feel the right ear fit comfy, and left was very tight that it hurts after an hour. I spoke to a head-fi friend of mine in SYD, and he advised that tight is better than loose...and my ears should accomodate. Indeed they do. Now I feel the right ear, though still maintains a decent seal, is slightly loose...and the left is ok.

I find the LW to be high sensitivity...on my DVD player's headphone output, I am on volume control between 7 (min) and 7:30...8 o├žlock is too loud. This same headphone output for similar volume on the Allesandro MS-1 is 10 o'clock . But when used with the Ray Samuels Hornet, run in with some 500 hours under its belt, on low gain, it is just nice. Volume knob at a rather loud, but comfortable level is about 10 o'clock. Most of the time I listen to about 9.

I guess the LW are still burning in...head-fi reports that the headphones needed some 500 hours to settlein. I have about 150 hours or so, the sonic signature remains more or less the same as when I got it, but the amount of details, and high end extension are improving slight with each day. The bass is strong, mids seem neutral, highs a bit recessed.

Soundstage not as open and airy as my Stax SRM-001. Initially, as this is my first IEM, and I feel a kind off dense feeling on my brain area with the LW inserted. But now it is quite comfortable. In comparison, the Stax is very open, the soundstage seem boundry-less. races.

Midrange sweetness also loses out to Stax, but very close. The Stax, typical of an electrostatic is also better at the speed of transient attacks and nice decays. The LW's overall micro-dynamics are not as well defined. This is perhaps an unfair comparison, because an electrostatic is probably the champion in micro-dynamics.

Detail also seem a bit less than the Stax, but close. The LW is quite fussy with equipment. I can tell easily between 128kbps MP3, 228kbps MP3 and 320kps MP3 (all ripped EAC, LAME) on a Creative Zen Vision versus from the headphone jack of my Sony DVD player. In this sense, it is not different from the SRM-001, which is extremely critical of upstream equipment.

The RSA Hornet made a huge improvement in power, drive and control.

Immaculately constructed, the Hornet was an exceptional amplifier. Ray Samuels is a true genius...his Hornet, Tomahawk, and Predator are all ground shaking products. Superbly built, and powerful sonics...starting from the bass as a foundation, to sikly, powerful midrange, and smooth extended highs, the Hornet is a great amp.

Macro dynamics seem ok...can go very loud, and soft passages are still ok. this refers to the system as above. On its own, plugged directly into the Zen Vision, the Livewires are loud, but lacks some final authority, and driving power. Bass was also less defined. With the Hornet, all these changed and tighten up. Final analysis is that overall the system with Hornet/LW still loses out to the Stax in ability to retrieve low level detail. I have an urge to turn up with volume with the LW more so than with the Stax.

Overall Livewires without the Hornet offers a sound which lacks something to me. But coupled with the Hornet, it takes a different character, takes on an authority like a large 200Wpc amp is like to do, and provides close competition to the Stax. However, the total price of the LW plus Hornet is almost double of a set of Stax SR-M001 (Japan price Y24,000).

The biggest advantage of the LW over the Stax is isolation. The Stax provides no isolation at all, and leaks a small amount to the environment. The LW provides some 20 dB of isolation - good enough to cut off ambient noise in an airplane or train. It was good enough for me to use in lieu of ear plugs when attending the Singapore Formula 1.

Monday, 2 June 2008

The 1930s style

The website ""The 30s Style" is the work of one Mr. Yamazaki, dedicated to return to the zenith of men's style - the 1930s.

Here is a report I posted at The London Lounge, slightly rewritten, on a meeting with Mr. Yamazaki and his stylist - the efferverscent Mr. Okisaka.

Mr. Yamazaki was accompanied by his lovely wife who also acted as translator. I took quite a few pictures during the two hours or so we discussed tailoring, suit design.

Mr Yamazaki wore a beautiful blue suit with multicolor chalk stripes. It is a single breasted design, with large sweeping peak lapels, and was quite stunning. Mr. Okisaka wore the houndstooth double breasted suit.

Mr. Okisaka is not a tailor nor a cutter, but a fashion designer who takes inspiration liberally from the 1930s. He has reached a stage of development in his design career that he is able to freely interprete the elements of the 1930s which suit his sense of style to incorporate into his clothes. This interpretive style is refreshing, his mastery and fluency of the language of design in those years allowed him to either be faithful to the original (like the suit he made for Yamzaki shown here) or to use elements to redisign a suit like the one he is wearing.

A silhoutte of the trio in my hotel room:

Here is a sepia toned photograph of Mr. Yamazaki. Sitting on the chair, he looks regal - reminds me of the late Emperor Hirohito. He is a full blown 1930s chappie, head to toe (except for Crockett & Jones Captoes he wore on Sat). His glasses were vintage looking as was his watch. The suit is particularly beautiful.

And the creator of these suits, Mr. Okisaka - was more flamboyant, and less bound by the 1930s style. His own personal style takes clues from the 1930s, but as mentioned, he is progressed to a stage where he is free to interprete as he pleases.

The Yamazaki 3B SB, 3 piece suit in multi-stripe

The shoulder

Note the heavily roped shoulder, high notch position and large lapels. Note also the handmade buttonaire hole. This style is quite showy. Despite this showy style, it is interesting that the Okisaka-san chose not to use pick stitching on the lapel.

Note also the lapel is cut such that the edge is straight, following closely one of the stripes on the material pattern. Okisaka-san explained to me that he made this so that the lapel looked more angular. Typical English or Italian cut lapels would have a slight curve - known as the belly, which I prefer, and makes the coat look less angular.

The shoulder is hand constructed...picture above showing the inside stitching. The workmanship is immaculate.

Note the angular lapel, with the very high notch position, coupled with a button point which is at approximately midpoint of the coat, and pronounced and pinched waist makes the garment looks rather dramatic. This gives the optical illusion that the wearer is taller than he actually is. The Duke of Windsor used this to great effect.

Level indicating the height of the trousers at the back. The trousers were held by braces, and typical high back, fish tailed.

The back of the coat had a slight fullness around the shoulder blades.

The cloth was a rather interesting vintage material from Thornton-Jones. Lining was apalca wool, which had a very dull finish, rather different from viscose, but still afforded the smoothness to allow one to slide into the coat.

Showing the dart construction. Okisaka-san took great pains to explain that the coat was constructed.

I am not sure if I understand him clearly. But apparently, unlike modern coats, where there is a side panel running all the way from the bottom of the armpit to the coat bottom. This side panel is attached to the rear panel, and the front panel. In his costruction such that the side panel is completely missing, but the front panel extends to meet the rear panel.

Interesting suit, extremely well cut and stitched. But not a style for me...a bit too showy.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Japanese Style

The Japanese have a flair for improving anything. Take the gentlemen's suit. A creation of British tailors, the suit is a mainstay in gentlemen clothing all over the world. The Japanese business community is no different, and have taken to this style very well. The traditional suit is the de facto standard in business wear in Japan. The Kanji name for suit is subero, an phonetic translation of the origin of the Englishman's suit - Savile Row.

But as is typical of the Japanese, they have created improvements to the suit - whether by innovations of Japanese tailors, or demand to other tailoring traditional countries like Italy to produce what they need to take the British Suit to the next level.

Homes and offices in England at the turn of the century were largely unheated. With this as a backdrop it is easy to understand why traditional English material like flannel, tweeds are heavy and warm. In contrast, offices and homes in Japan, especially in large metropolitan areas like Tokyo is rather controlled - heating in winter, air conditioning in summer is a given. As a result, the heavy(starting at weights like 14/15 oz up to 20 oz for suiting) suiting material favoured by the British are not in high demand. Rather, thinner and lighter material are favoured. Typically 9 oz but sometimes up to 11 oz is popular. Also looser weaves like those in fresco (a loosely woven, gauze like material which is wonderfully cooling to wear as it allows air to circulate freely) is popular, as are half lined and quarter lined suits in lieu of fully lined ones.

I feature 2 gentlemen I met recently in a trip to Dresden, Germany. One is Matsuyama Takeshi, a gentleman of great style, and finese. Matsuyama-san writes on a freelance basis for a number of Japanese magazines on style and watches.

A lovely jacket, made of mohair and ultra thin...unlined, made like a shirt. Tie is made by a Florence atelier and true 8 fold, unlined. Very cool and also cool looking.

The other gentleman is a watch publication journalist. I apologise for not getting his name.

Starting at the top...a Montecristi Panama Ultimo hat looks great perched on his head. Buff colored linen coat, with huge patched, cargo pockets. The coat looked like its half or quarter lined. The nonchalance of the pocket square, taking the colour cue from the blue shirt, but not matching. Trousers of the same hue, but lighter, completes this completely degage look. Very cool.

Note Louis Vuitton tote which houses his camera equipment. Is this a new trend for men to carry large versions of what used to be ladies handbags? I also saw another gentleman carrying a Hermes Birkin Manbag elsewhere.

Shoes are Paraboot, complete with red laces and red socks.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Carmina Oxford Boots

Received this pair of boots last week...after a few months of waiting since ordering them.

This is a special order in limited edition made possible by The London Lounge. Available only to Lounge members and only in cordovan, this boot is lasted on the Robert last.

The boot is unusual in a few counts. Oxford (closed laced) boots are quite rare...the only RTW example I know of is made by Edward Green. Secondly, a pair made out of cordovan, is even more rare. Cordovan is a membrane from the hind of a horse, makes an especially tough, and beautiful leather for shoes.

At first glance, the elegance and formality afforded by the Oxford design would seem to clash not go well with usually thicker, heavier cordovan. But this boot pulls it off very well...thanks to the combined design genius of Michael Alden (supremo at The London Lounge) and Carmina.

The boot turned out to be very elegant, and beautiful. As is typical of shoes and boots coming from the Spanish workshops of Carmina, the finish was very fine. The cordovan was heavily impregnated with fat, as can be seen as the whitish residue on the surface, and wax-like look. Rubbing it vigrously with a clean polish cloth would heat the cordovan and bring the fat to a high gloss shine.

Cordovan shine is different from that of calf...the analogy I used to explain to a friend who is an accomplished architect made him instantly understand was the parallel between the shine of granite and marble. Cordovan is like granite. The shine comes from within...there seems to be a thin membrane wax covering the surface. Whilst calf leather's shine seems superficial, skin deep.

The boot is also hand welted. The usual welts in a normal high quality bench made shoes and boot are Goodyear welted. The Goodyear machine, invented by son of Charles Goodyear (who invented the process to vulcanise rubber and created the tyre giant of the same name). This was a great invention in the industralisation of cordwaining. The Goodyear machine looks like a huge sewing machine, and does a similar job...attaching by even, sturdy stitches the welt to the upper. This reduced the skill level required in welting, and introduced mass produced, high quality shoes.

Even very high quality shoes and boots made RTW by John Lobb Paris or Edward Green in Northampton are Goodyear welted. Usually hand welting is reserved for bespoke shoes and boots. Hand welting results in a finer welt, and this translates to a more comfortable fit.

I typically wear the Philadelphia last on Carmina 9.5E, and Miguel Font, the Director of the Paris store, recommended 9.5E on the Robert. At first wearing the boot seemed a bit tight at the instep, but quite comfortable. I think it was a good call by Miguel on the size. In comparison, Robert is slightly longer than the Philadelphia, and typically wearers would order half a size smaller. For reference I wear 9.5E on the Edward Green 202 last.