Sunday, April 13, 2008

How the sausage is made

I'd rather see suits made than sausages. The workrooms are much cleaner, at least since the Triangle days. My fellow clothing blog A Continuous Lean has visited the Ciccarrelli factory in Long Island City Queens. Although not as well known as the Greenfield factory in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn that produces for Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece, Harmon, and others, the Ciccarelli factory is the starting point for superbly made lines like the RTW at SEW and also Thom Browne, whose coats you can see here. Look for the red, white and blue lining of the coat cuff placket. ACL posted even more photos here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tentacles extending

I am now blogging at as well as here, where my first post amplifies the store story for the Sun below.

Mensflair is exciting because it's my most international outlet yet. The Sun is mostly for the local, while is national. Like all New Yorkers, I believe my city is the navel of the world, but I want to learn to write for others who may disagree (the fools).

Am I still available to write for you? Of course I am.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NY Sun store story, with one left behind

The New York Sun today is newly redesigned! Yay!

This comes one day after my most recent story, tracking the best stuff I found this season in half a dozen well edited men’s stores. (To see the difference a redesign makes, check yesterday’s layout here, and today’s, still with a few kinks, here.)

In the Sun, however, you will find only five, alas. In print, one only gets a few column inches, while online I have terabytes.

The five stores in the store story are Davide Cenci and Peter Elliot on the UES, Oak and Hollander & Lexer (seen above) in Brooklyn, and Atelier downtown.

Left behind is the wonderful Odin, described below:

Men who are not, perhaps, ardent fashion devotees may find more to choose from at Odin, where, as co-owner Paul Birardi told this reporter, “We buy things we would wear.” Mr. Birardi, who was casually dressed in a hoody when we met in the larger, Lafayette Street store, insisted that he, not his partner, Ed Chai, is the formal one. Between them, Messrs. Birardi and Chai fill Odin with looks that range from the military severity of ex-Cloak designer Robert Geller’s gray-black cotton flannel coat ($669) to the sunny preppiness of shirts by Shipley&Halmos ($169) and Duckie Brown ($305) and more somber retro stylings of Bureau. Collars are 80s small, and lapels often shawl-style. Next door to the original Odin at 11th Street is Den, a spinoff shop devoted alternately to an emerging designer—this season, Geller.

(Odin, 328 E.11 St. at Second Avenue, 212-475-0666 and 199 Lafayette Street, 212- 966-0026; Den, 330 E. 11th St., between First and Second avenues, 212-475-0079,

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Contemporary custom in LA and NY

When I set off to interview Jasmin Shokrian on assignment from my editor, I was skeptical. Shokrian, a womenswear designer, was branching into menswear, and not with one size fits all accessories like scarves, ties, or jewelry, but with the ultimate one-size-fits-one item in a man’s wardrobe – a custom suit. She’s never made menswear in her life, I thought (as it turned out, falsely). What can she know? Sure she’s offering it through South Willard, one of Los Angeles’ most interesting men’s stores, where it has to compete with labels like APC, Raf Simons and Veronique Branquinho, but it still sounded like a very fashionable flash in the pan.

I met Shokrian in gleaming white floor-though apartment on Prince Street that she rents for showings during Fashion Week. Actually, first I met the suit, a slim notch lapel one button model in midnight blue featherweight woven cashmere. It was nowhere near my size, but I tried it on anyway. The canvas chest piece was beautifully light. It was the first suit she has made for her first and so far only client, painter Christopher Vasell (pictured).

When Shokrian appeared we talked about it. The evolution toward menswear seems easy for her. From art school, she moved first into fabric sculptures and then into simple, sculptural womenswear in menswear fabrics. Naturally men were asking her to make things for them, in particular shawls. She showed me pictures of them that looked good. Shawls are hard for men to get away with, but if you’re like JoJo at Atelier, you can, and the effect is smashing.

Shokrian recognizes that without a men’s tailoring background, it would be hard for her to make a good suit herself, so instead she found an LA based custom tailor that she named but kept off the record, since what she’s selling is her eye and stylistic intelligence, rather than his skill with a needle. The details that were distinctively hers were a cotton backed silk lining and silk-cotton voile pocketing, both of which felt very luxurious even if, in the latter case, a bit delicate. The suit itself was unlike the tailor’s usual efforts, she said. I don’t know the tailor, so all I could see was clean modernity – no dandyism here. The coat was not fashionably short – hooray! The lapel was slightly rounded with a downward sloping notch, a signature nowadays of Oxxford, which makes the best-tailored suit in the country but with mostly boxy, stodgy silhouettes. Hers is not. The pants are, or rather the client is, so slim that the thighs gather in with tiny pin tuck pleats on the otherwise flat front. They tapered neatly, with no cuff.

The model showing it also worked as a fit model for Marc Jacobs, in other words, skinny. Vassell had a fit model physique. I noted that one tailor’s New York Times ad showed his men measuring NBA players and sumo wrestlers. She didn’t think they would come up in her client list. Shokrian said her clients are more likely to have fit-model physiques because of their limited size range – problem solved!

The cost is $3-4,000, depending on the fabric, which for a USA made true custom suit with several fittings is not exorbitant, so I wish her luck.

The novelty here is a contemporary multibrand men’s store offering contemporary custom. In New York downtown, one can get custom or at least Made to Measure clothing at several single-brand stores like Duncan Quinn, Seize sur Vingt or Freemans, and other custom-oriented stores like SEW have some ready-to-wear as well, but otherwise one has to go uptown to the larger emporiums. The biggest reason to go downtown, or to hire Shokrian in LA, is to get a tailor or stylist who is young enough, in mind at least, to understand the attitude you want to project and make a suit to match it. I’m not thinking of flashy details but rather of the slim cut and lighter construction that younger men want. A tailor may tell you that he can do anything, but each has his sweet spot, and the sweet spot of today is shifting. The old guard, like designer Alan Flusser in this DNR article about the downtown tailoring scene may look upon the new scene with contempt (some borne of ignorance), but that won’t stop the change from happening.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

"Modern Menswear" and New York City

Last week I interviewed Hywel Davies for an item on his book Modern Menswear, which has now appeared on The book profiles 36 established and early-career menswear designers that he found all over the world, although, in true fashion world reality, his book budget barely got him from his London base through the Chunnel to Paris.

I asked him about New York. As the menswear spotlight shifts bi-annually from Milan to Paris to us, what and where are we, in his eyes? I know that like many other primitive tribes, we consider our home as the navel of the world, but his book introduction suggested otherwise. Milan and Paris are regarded as the key capitals in menswear fashion design….Milan promotes huge luxury brands that sell globally….Paris is a podium for innovation.” OK, and New York? “New York offers important support to designers with a commercial sensibility as their driving force….However it is Antwerp in Belgium and London that are paramount in informing the new contemporaries in menswear.”

Yes, I know we are market-minded, but isn’t it still a bit depressing? (This dispassionate reality-check can be seen, among other places in Suzy Menkes' review of Thom Browne, which she finished by noting, that it’s “difficult - especially in conventional New York - to be both a visionary and an exhibitionist”) Davies tried to mollify me by noting that in the two years since he began his research, New York is looking up. "People do look to America in terms of selling power, clothes that understand the market place…but it’s having a resurgence, of being cool….younger, edgier, creative….it’s challenging the designers that are in Paris which is great."

I’ll try to feel better. He himself should be feeling fine, as Paul Smith is throwing him a party today in his Floral Street London flagship store. For the book itself, pre-order here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My Thom Browne coverage in the Sun

is online here:

The phrase ‘masculine bonnet’ was my editor’s contribution. A bonnet is a hat that ties under the chin, as these do certainly, but still.

The Browne show confronts me in several ways, first in the relation between the runway and the racks. The most wearable bits were the six pocket coats and the formal coats with piping, as I reported. Also important for Browne fans is widening of available fabrics to include stripes, argyles and plaids. The other stuff is mostly for show, as in many couture runway shows. The webbing and feathers, Siamese trousers, straitjacket ribbons and stiltwalkers move a lot of tight gray worsted suits, just as a Calvin Klein or Dior runway show moves a lot of perfume and underwear. It maintains the erotic power and general associations of the brand.

The erotic associations of Thom Browne are confounding because while they bind, constrict and hobble men, they do not feminize. This precise noplace has been tagged by many ringmasters before Browne: recall the menacing androgyny of the MC in Cabaret, or Malcolm McDowell in Clockwork Orange.

Browne’s circus imagery – the striped tent and welcome to the ‘craziest show on earth’ -- sends a mixed message. The circus ring is generally reserved for feats of skill and daring, like his stiltwalker, while the sideshow is for freaks of nature, like his Siamese twin-suit or his tied-up crazies. Browne’s skill is evident in the details of the tailoring, something unfortunately best seen from the back and not seen in most full frontal runway coverage (menswear usually lacks the detail shots that womenswear enjoys), but what he is daring to do mystifies me as it does many others like New York Magazine’s Amy Larocca. I don’t understand how it frees or liberates, and neither do I understand how it makes enslavement exciting.

On the other hand, bare ankles for fall and winter are out, and socks are in. Be glad for that.

Being there (Thom Browne)

Monday’s Thom Browne presentation was in the cavernous Exit Art Gallery on 36th and 10th. Standing outside the striped circus tent, and sipping champagne old-style flat glasses served by Browne-sweatered young men, I spotted one guy I remembered from the Oak Bond St party on Friday.(Oak is a Williamsburg idea now exported to Manhattan, and as a Williamsburger, I’m rooting for it.). The man was unmistakable because he had been wearing the Harmon mudcloth D/B coat (see below) and pants. As a suit, they pull one back to places I have never been, like just outside the frame of a Grace Jones cover shoot for one of her Dunbar/Shakespeare albums. Back in the present, I was asking the Harmon Mudcloth Suit Man, what is the point of being here? Isn’t it all online?

He was a stylist – no wonder he had looked so happy in that suit. Why were we here? He repeated, looking at the champagne (Henriot) and rolling his eyes. OK, beyond that? You can see how the clothing drapes, flows and moves. But video creep is unstoppable; now anyone can see not only stills of the looks but also their continuous motion. So what’s left? Details, which of course do count for a lot in a Thom Browne show – more on this later. But HD video will eliminate this advantage as well. So what is left is really theater, the sensation of rolling with or against the audience of which you are a part. But if you are a critic or a buyer, does this sharpen your appreciation, or dull it?

But then the curtains opened and we hurried to our seats. The Monday Browne crowd and the Sunday Y-3 crowd were wildly different. From Y-3’s day-after press release: “Guests included: Ellen Pompeo, Helena Christensen, Lupe Fiasco, Ioan Gruffuld, Vincent Gallo, The Misshapes, Damon Dash, Justin Theroux, Mark Gonzales, Stella Schnabel, Genevieve Jones, Tom Sachs, Terence Koh, Arden Wohl, Tallulah Harlech, Cho Kang Hee, Drena DeNiro, Aaron Young, Max Vadukul and Craig McDean.” Browne’s crowd was smaller and had a stronger mix of serious clothing people – Andre Leon Talley, Simon Doonan, Robert Bryan– with just a few boldface names like David Furnish, who sat in front of me. Flashbulbs were minimal. In his row were Stefano Tonch of the Times and Tim Blanks, who covers every show for

About the show itself, I’ll say nothing until my bit appears in the Sun tomorrow.

About being there, there are practical advantages. Although catalogue shoots now show clothing from several angles, very few runway videos show more than one. At Y-3, for instance, the photo bank was at one end of the long ice wall, so all images could be full frontal. The audience saw them in profile, revealing that the Y-3 man’s pant silhouette, baggy through the thigh and tapering sharply to the ankle, looks good on almost no one. Also since the wall was so long, and most of the models had shoulder bags, rucksacks, or wheeled luggage, they did look more like chic exporers pre-expedition in some first class Polar travel lounge. At Browne, many of his looks capitalized on male helplessness, and buttoned or tied behind the back. To achieve this, even the most yoga-flexible Browneian would require the services of a servant, or a Master. In the photos online, this cannot be seen.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My Y-3 coverage in the Sun

can be found here.