In blog notes 42 I argued that when it comes to polo shirts it is impossible for the frozen northerner to look beyond Lacoste or Fred Perry and in particular the Fred Perry that was made in collaboration with Nigel Cabourn. The alternative to these classics are wide and varied and has led me to Ralph Lauren’s flagship store on Bond Street to explore Ralph’s purple label polo shirt. The famed Mr Lauren has under his umbrella a range of labels such as the aforementioned Purple Label, Polo Ralph Lauren, Big & Tall as well Polo Tennis and Golf and a few more. Each line of clothing is supposed to share the vision of Ralph which probably reflected by the exasperating price range of his Purple Label which is regarded as a more luxurious line of clothing which, in all essence means more expensive. Purple Label products all have that famed Made in Italy tag which is guaranteed to send the price through the roof, so let’s see what we made of the purple label polo shirt. The first thing I noticed was that logo features an embroidered purple label pony which is different to that of their more iconic logo, furthermore it features mother of pearl buttons and is knit from two-ply long-staple cotton which the company argues aids colour retention. I cannot argue with quality of this shirt which is very good, but the price is exorbitant and that’s the rub, do you really want to pay that much for a polo shirt, who will wear it, well, it will probably be worn by people on the French and Italian Riviera and ivy leaguers heading for the Hamptons, but will it be worn in those summer hotspots of Whitley Bay and Tynemouth absolutely no chance in God’s creation, would I swap my Lacoste’s and Fred Perry’s for Ralph’s purple label pony, probably not, but that is not going to stop me lusting after one.
In the early 1980’s the frozen northerner spent most of his summer holidays on the Costa Del Sol, the main objectives of these holidays were to obtain the perfect tan and drink copious amounts of San Miguel, both of which were normally achieved. When the frozen northerner returned home he had to have in his possession at least one brand new polo shirt, normally it would a classic Lacoste, but for our intrepid traveller there was another polo shirt that had to be purchased and that was the Ellesse polo shirt. These polo shirts may have been standard issue in the Metropolis but in the darkest north east of England they were nigh on impossible to find. During this period of time there were few pretenders around trying to steal the crown that had been worn effortlessly by Lacoste since the beginning of time; they mainly came from Italy and included the aforementioned Ellesse, as well as makes such as Fila and Tacchini (I tend to think the iconic Fred Perry was on the backburner at this time but please correct me if I am wrong). Walking down South Parade in Whitley Bay on any Saturday night you were indeed swimming with crocodiles, there were that many men wearing Lacoste so, wearing Ellesse made you a bit different which, I suppose was the aim of the game. Founded in Perugia in 1959 by Leonardo Servadio the brand name Ellesse derives from the initials of original owner L S, with its easy identifiable tennis ball logo Ellesse sportswear was worn with distinction mainly by famous tennis players such as Boris Becker, Mats Wilander and Chris Evert, they may have looked good but you weren’t go to buy the shirt because of these players you were going to buy it because of one man Guillermero Vilas. The big serving Argentinian left hander, looked more like a member of Menotti world cup squad than a tennis player, with his long flowing locks he would easily have fitted in perfectly into a forwardline that included Luque and Kempes but chose tennis instead. The “young bull of the pampas” always looked great in Ellesse especially at the French Open at Roland Garros, on the clay which was his preferred surface, you were never going to look as good as him but it didn’t stop you dreaming. Sadly, Ellesse was taken over by in 1994 by the Pentland group, an investment that was bad for all parties concerned, the company slipped into decline which saw Ellesse gradually lose its place in highly competitive polo shirt market which was rather tragic. Now with the release of its heritage line, Ellesse is trying to make a comeback, I doubt it will make it back to those glorious days of the early 80,s there is just too much competition around producing a better product (stand up Fred Perry) I would love them to do well, but without Vilas they are going to struggle get back to the top.
The north east of England is awash with knitwear by Lacoste, Ralph Lauren and Gant, nothing wrong with that but, the frozen northerner would argue that there are two British businesses, John Smedley and Alan Paine, that are somewhat shamefully overlooked in this region, this is an embarrassment because both firms produce beautiful knitwear, so much so that they must be championed by yours truly. John Smedley has been around for a long time, founded in 1784 this Derbyshire based company has over the years turned out an unrivalled range of magnificent knitwear. Using cashmere, extra fine merino wool and Sea Island cotton in their products, their merchandise is always of the highest quality, which has led to them gaining a notable reputation around the world. The company has always stayed true to their beliefs, resisting the temptation to diversify into other areas of the clothing industry, they have quite often cleverly combined with various other British companies such as Pretty Green and Rouleur to create some really interesting pieces of work. Although John Smedley figures highly on the frozen northerner’s clothing list, I have to say that I love Alan Paine knitwear with the same reverence; despite the fact they have over the last few years expanded into country clothing which I do not agree with, however, I am sure they have made this move to benefit the firm. Alan Paine came into knitwear game much later than John Smedley having been established in 1907 nonetheless, they quickly built a reputation as purveyors of fine knitwear; their products were so popular that George Mallory even took some to Nepal in his failed attempt to conquer Everest in 1924. Finding these goods locally may prove difficult, although Fenwick’s in Newcastle have a small John Smedley franchise with a limited selection, as do Jules B in Jesmond. Finding Alan Paine knitwear in the north east is even harder but Palmers in Jesmond is a probably your best bet, (but if know of more shops stocking these products please let me know). Last year John Smedley opened a new flagship store on Jermyn Street in London which is very nice, but lacks the intimacy of their smaller Brook Street store which I much prefer. Alan Paine have only one shop to my knowledge which is in Rome, however, there are a few independent retailers around the country that stock their wares, you can use the internet to purchase these items of clothing but as I have reported in previous blogs this is no way to buy clothes. So with spring just around the corner start thinking about knitwear and think about John Smedley and Alan Paine.
January is going to be cold and for the frozen northerner it is the most miserable month of the year, you are going to need something to cheer you up after the Christmas holidays, so why not invest in pair of Thomas Riemer gloves. These gloves are beautifully and lovingly crafted by a company that was started in Vienna around about 1845 and is now one of the oldest glove makers still in existence. For some reason that is unbeknown to me this is the first time I spoken about a product made by a Austrian company, but given the quality of this product it will hopefully not be the last, the sheer excellence of these gloves, bought for me as a Christmas gift by my wife the Contessa Di La Proctero demands that they be talked about. Now I realise I may be doing a disservice to outstanding British makers of gloves such as Dents, but I really love the Riemer suede gloves, cashmere lined they are a peach of a product, that should be on display every time you venture outside during the winter months. Thomas Riemer also produces a wide range of leather gloves, but in my opinion their suede gloves are much classier and should be seen as an essential component of your wardrobe. Today Thomas Riemar, has stayed true to its roots and still conducts its business out of its Viennese workshop although, some of their products are now make in Italy and Hungary. The company claims that it targets only the finest materials for it products which is a statement that I find hard to disagree with. Purchasing them on the high street may be difficult but do not despair as online retailers such as www.exquisitetrimmings.com have a wide range of their products, winter may be here, but these gloves will warm your hands up very nicely.
The festive season is now upon us and whether you are fan of Christmas or not, good manners dictate that gifts must be exchanged. For the male species these offerings tend to fall in various categories such underwear, socks, scarves, socks, caps, umbrellas, handkerchiefs the list is pretty much endless, so let’s start with something that every male will probably get on that joyful day, socks. Maybe the thought of getting socks doesn’t fill you with festive glee but the frozen northerner loves socks, pick a bad pair and they can ruin your entire ensemble, so here are a few recommendations that could help you stay ahead of the game. If I only have to choose one make then it is fairly obvious that I am going to choose a pair of Burlington argyles, these socks, with their distinctive diamond pattern are without peer and I have worn these classics for many years. They always look good, especially when worn with a good pair of wingtips such as the ones made by Alden or Rancourt. Normally priced around the £12 mark they represent excellent value for money and really cannot be bettered. However, Burlington is not the company it once was with their goods now being sold under license by various companies, this is disappointing and has led me to other makes because I like authentic goods. Pantherella socks have been on the go since 1937 and have a great range of products that can cater for all tastes with prices starting at around £15 and heading up to £85 for the more discerning customer, they have a wide range of excellent products and are rapidly becoming a favourite with the frozen northerner, made in Leicester they have that precious made in England trademark which is something I love to see.
Finally, if require a bit of sprezzatura then look no further than the Italian sock maker Gallo who make some beautiful knee length socks which look rather stylish, especially when sitting in a Venetian coffee bar sipping an expresso. These are rather handsomeand are socks that the frozen northerner is very fond of.
The frozen northerner is no expert when it comes to socks, hell they come in so many materials and styles it makes my head spin, the socks I have selected are ones I that personally wear so please don’t take offensive that I haven’t chosen a pair that you wear. Should you receive a pair of the aforementioned socks for Christmas look genuinely pleased because somebody has taken a bit of time and effort to try and do things right.
I recently acquired a Southwick oxford cloth button down shirt from John Simons, the significance of which should be of no importance to all, apart from those interested or should I say obsessed with clothes.
The frozen northerner has always been interested in clothes and over the last three years this has become a rather addictive habit, which has to be regularly fed but only by purchasing certain items. Trying to kick this habit is becoming harder and harder and I blame (if blame is right word) one man, Graham Marsh. Three years ago my wife the Contessa di la Proctero bought me a book as a gag gift for Christmas, the book in question was called “The Ivy Look” an illustrated pocket guide to classic American clothing. At the time she had no idea of the influence the book would have on me. Written with his good friend J P Gaul this 206 page pocket book was like manna from heaven and has made me see clothes from a different perspective. The book was a real eye opener, Mr Marsh talks about clothes like no one I have ever read before, his attention to detail was amazing and I opened every page with eager anticipation, this book now has permanent residence on my bedside table along his follow up book “Hollywood and the Ivy Look” written with Tony Nourmand another admirer of ivy style. The impact of these two books has been profound so much so that I can no longer just go into a shop and buy something on a whim, each item now has to be meticulously researched before I can even think about making any sort of purchase. Please don’t think that Mr Marsh and his cohorts have converted me to the kingdom of ivy league clothes he hasn’t, but he changed the way I see clothes now. Several blogs such the www.ivystyle.comhave levelled some criticism at the books and in particular The Ivy Look, the book may not be to everyone’s taste which is fine but personally I loved everything in there from Miles Davis to Bill’s Khaki’s from French and Italian cinema to Shetland sweaters I enjoyed it all. Mr Marsh is a very busy man as well as being involved in the production of Jim Marshall’s Jazz Festival, he is also involved in producing vintage ivy style shirts with Japanese company Kamakura shirts this partnership has only increased my clothes obsessed lust, with his vintage long sleeved oxford cloth popover shirt now being an object of desire that must bought.
Although I admire the work of Mr Marsh I have to say I am slightly disappointed that these highly desirable shirts can only be purchased in Japan or New York, surely the time has come for Kamakura shirts to open a shop somewhere in the UK. Anyway back to the books, at the back of each publication is a list of retailers and websites that will show you in the words of Mr Marsh “where you can buy the good stuff” I would suggest you visit these pages at your earliest possible convenience, because once you have been there it is going to open a whole new world to you. Mr Marsh has opened up a wound that is never going to be healed but listen to his advice and your clothes are going to become much sharper, you may think you are coolest thing on the planet, but check out Robert Culp on page 231 of Hollywood and the Ivy Look as international tennis player Kelly Robinson from the hit 1960’s series I Spy. Culp or should I say Robinson sports amongst other things a Lacoste polo shirt and Persol shades, Andy Murray wouldn’t have a chance.
The frozen northerner has recently spent the half term in London with his wife the Contessa di la Proctero, where we stayed in a very nice apartment situated in Mayfair. As with any trip to the Metropolis, it will mean a trip to both John Simons and Oi Polloi, both of whom still maintain their status as my favourite shops in London. However, on my last trip to London I visited a shop on Museum Street called Thomas Farthing where I purchased a very nice pair of tweed trousers, now on the advice of The Tweed Pig http://www.thetweedpig.com/ I am venturing to New and Lingwood on Jermyn Street in the heart of Piccadilly or is it St James, I never can tell, in search of another pair of tweed trousers. I have passed this shop on numerous occasions mainly because Jermyn Street has some of the finest shoe shops in the world such John Lobb, Edward Green etc. up until now I have never ventured inside New and Lingwood, this shop has had a long association with Eton and always gives me the impression that it is a bit dandified, so it should come as no surprise that there is statue of Beau Brummell right outside their premises. Once inside the shop I have there is quite a bit of stuff that is just not for me, nevertheless remember I am man on a mission with my ultimate goal being another pair of tweed trousers. The staff within the shop were really welcoming and helpful, leaving me very impressed (which is more than can be said about the staff in Drake’s), they advised me that I may like their Swire trousers made from Irish tweed (see below).
These trousers are very different from what I would normally wear, however once I tried them on it was fairly obvious that were going to be acquired, the Swire trousers had some very nice detailing, like side adjusters, which are becoming ever more important to the frozen northerner with his ever increasing or should say bulging waistline. The tweed pig’s advice has come up trumps, the staff and the service given by New and Lingwood was a delight and will ensure that the frozen northerner pays a return visit to their shop, it may not be to everyone’s taste but believe you me, New and Lingwood it is well worth a look in.