Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Trad-Ivy Tuesday: Cleverley Bespoke and Customers for Life

I’ve been threatening to write something a bit more than a tease regarding my George Cleverly bespoke foray but life kept getting in the way. The Cleverley subject hasn't been the only casualty. I’ve not had the time to write much of anything in a thoughtful way. Let’s see what this little window of drivel scrivening time might yield.
Becoming caught-up in the tentacles of bespoke circumstance is a deadly thing. Perhaps not as deadly as addiction to narcotics or other lifespan minimizing endeavors but none the less, it’s tricky. “Ok ADG, stop the florid verbosity and declare what you mean”. This is what I mean—once you have clothing, or perhaps anything else for that matter, made exclusively for you…from start to finish…from a pattern or set of design specs contrived by and collaboratively evolved between you and the artisan, it’s hard to turn back. And no, it won’t kill you as quick as crystal meth but unless you are wildly prosperous, it wreaks havoc on one’s bank account. This I know first-hand.
And I’d always eschewed bespoke shoes. I had/have a bevy of thirty-plus year old either Poulsen and Skone/New and Lingwood or Henry Maxwell bespoken shoes, courtesy of my friend Alan Flusser. Alan knew George Cleverly personally and at least one of my hand-me-down Flusser shoddings were touched by the man himself. I'm also as you know, a sucker for the back story and I've loved hearing Alan tell the story of getting to know Terence Stamp who was also a devotee of the man Cleverley.
I’ve always been thankful for having a similarly sized foot as Alan as well as having the privilege of feeling-seeing-knowing the difference between a truly bespoke shoe in contrast to the declining in most cases, quality of today’s shoes. But in the twelve or so years since receiving my first bespoke hand me downs, I never took the bespoken plunge. Until April 2011.
Suffice it to say that a basic rule of thumb regarding the cost of one pair of bespoke shoes is roughly equal to the cost of one bespoke sport jacket from the best Savile Row tailors. This excludes exotic leathers like alligator or some other reptilian option. You’d probably need to throw another one thousand pounds on the tariff for such bizarre sheathings. 
How do I know? Please—I went straight to the fuzziest of fuzzy offerings during my first survey. But my perusal of the exotics was brief. Even though the costs for this endeavor were gonna be stunning on any account, I practiced a flimsy level of restraint. And for some reason, it’s important to me that you know how I budgeted for this undertaking. I sold two pieces of furniture to accumulate the dosh required to play at this level—I kid you not. Leather chairs languishing in storage since my marital demise became shoe currency. Shut up.
Rationalization becomes a skilled craft…evolving almost in tandem with the growing appreciation one develops for the skilled craft of bespoke. Or the better eye that one evolves after looking at etchings and watercolours for a few decades.  This is just code for you’re gonna spend more money moving forward—or in my case, spending the same amount of money during those times when, than goodness it was temporary, your ass is moving backward at warp speed. And you don’t even need to refine your verbiage to vocalize such rationalizations. It’s long since been done for you by the purveyors of such goods. “The most expensive clothing in your closet is the clothing you never wear” … “Prorate the cost of such goods against the number of years they remain in service….” Yadda yadda. Works for me.  The same strategy has never worked for me however, when it comes to the amount of money I’ve spent on the hedonistic financing of whiskey, women and epicurean endeavors but what the hell. Thanks be to the Lord our Father that I’ve never been very good at cards or seduced by betting on the ponies. 
So my maiden Cleverley foray was fun but in a nervous and tentative way. I’m no stranger to artisans with measuring tapes around their necks with pattern books and chalk at hand. The shoe thing made me nervous…but not for too long. Dominic Casey, Cleverley’s Washington man is a great guy. With a head of swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean hair and an affable demeanor, Casey possesses the patience and diplomacy required of artisans who travel to the colonies and must tolerate tacky Yanks who want their goods.
Legacy Cleverley, at least to me, is manifest in two things…the curiously unique chiseled toe as well as the fact that George Cleverley turned out some of the best side gusset slip-ons ever created. So I wanted my first and perhaps only pair of bespoke shoes to reflect that heritage. But what about fuzzy? Well, the toe and the side gusset slip on characteristics in tandem are fuzzy enough, right? Wrong. Who the hell’s blog are you reading? I selected what Dominic called Conker Cape Buck suede. It's redder than most suedes and it’s just different enough for one to notice. And of course I wanted the Cleverley toe.
The first fitting wasn’t unlike the baste or first fitting when bespeaking a suit. But it’s kinda odd to slip on a pair of shoes with no sole…more so than when standing before the mirror in a basted coat while tailors nip and pin and mark and take notes. Some of the same occurs during the first shoe fitting but the Cleverley artisans do a lot more tactile assessing at this point.
I took notice of a lot more explaining about fit and feel that’s important for first-timers to understand. It wasn’t all too different from the extended lecture that Puerto Rykken had to give me when the Scholte-esque drape of my maiden Flusser garment confused me. Bespoke shoes hug your feet uniquely and all of us who’ve worn our “comfortable” off the shelf size will surely need some help in understanding how bespoke shoes should feel.
The trial fit concluded and I was promised the finished shoe in another few months. One of the other delightfully serendipitous things about making shoes is that it takes longer than making clothes so the second half of the balance due gets to languish in your account a bit longer. Told you I could rationalize anything.

The phone rang about a week before the shoes arrived and it was Dominic. He let me know that he was sending my shoes but that sometime during the final assemblage a very small line of ink, rather like a graphite pencil mark, had made its way on to one of the shoes. He immediately said that he would remake the shoes if the blemish was a huge issue. He also offered the option of reducing the price of the shoes if the mark was not too off putting. I requested that he send them on.
 The mark was present but had Dominic not been so transparent about it…so proactive in letting me know of its presence, I probably would have never noticed it. And please, it’s the kind of mark that suede shoe wearers know is gonna be on your new shoes after the second wearing anyway. But then there was another issue. They seemed a tad too tight…not deal breaking too tight but keep in mind; these aren’t shoes that I bought at the Polo outlet for 60% off. I sold furniture to finance these babies so one shouldn’t have to live with anything that isn’t just right.
One email exchange with Dominic and they, without my suggesting it, declared that they’d have none of it and would remake the shoe entirely, allowing for just a slight adjustment at the instep and of course, being more careful not to blemish the suede during the clicking and the stitching and the lasting. Perhaps it’s the pervasive bad service and mediocre quality that we’re forced to live with that caused me to be over the top gratified. But Cleverley is in a unique business and first time customers need to be happy. And so far, I was beyond impressed. I kept the original pair with the understanding that when Cleverley was back in Washington, I'd just drop the blemished pair off during their visit.
But then…this arrived. I was gut punched. Poleaxed. A replacement for sure. Slightly roomier too. But remember, the fit wasn’t too much of an issue. It was Cleverley who decided on the fact that the two minor issues for a first time customer just wouldn’t do. The thoughtful replacement wasn’t my shoe. It wasn’t what I ordered. 
Part of the thrill of bespeaking things is to add touches that truly differentiate them from the masses. And the British Racing Green leather interior was a crucial adjunct to my already unique choice of Conker Cape and unique toe. Kinda like that discreet tattoo or shirt tail monogram. Or nipple ring. The replacement shoe looked identical to what Cleverley ready-made or Edward Green special order goods convey. But at triple the price and no nipple ring. I needed my green interior.

What to do? I emailed three trusted experts and the feedback was consistent. “This isn’t what you ordered and you shouldn’t have to live with it.” The subsequent email that I sent to Cleverley was diplomatic and detailed—with photos to support my concerns.
My phone rang late one afternoon not too many days later and it was George Glasgow, Sr., current head man and one time acolyte--protégé of the man Cleverley himself. He wasn’t obsequious but he was incredibly transparent and energetically apologetic. It was obvious that he was calling from home, given that it was pushing ten pm England time.They had no answer regarding how their originally sublime and over the top customer obsession had gone so wrong. This is truly a cottage industry and there isn’t a team of Process Excellence/Six Sigma blokes walking around these joints with clip boards, flowcharts and stop watches. Stuff happens. And if I said it once during our twenty minute phone call, I said it a hundred times..."Don't be mad at Dominic...don't be mad at Dominic". Folks, my sense was that these people had been trying to do the right thing from the beginning and that FUBAR-ed things from time to time, kinda like ghosts and aliens and me getting lucky with Roxanne Burgess...happen.
What Mr. Glasgow was emphatic about was my happiness. And by the way, consistent with how I’ve rolled on this blog from the get-go. None of the Cleverley people were aware that I blogged sartorially. As a matter of fact, I suspect that they still don’t. There was none of this "he's gonna trash us in the blogosphere and we gotta fix this snafu post haste." So his efforts to make me happy were no different than his efforts I’m sure, to please any other customer. My options were limitless. I could opt for a third pair to be made. I could have a full refund or if I could live with either one of the pair in my possession, Mr. Glasgow would extend to me a deep concession.
 I also learned from Mr. Glasgow a few things about the first pair of shoes made for a customer. Their profit margins really emerge from subsequent pairs ordered by a first time happy customer. The maiden pair requires carving a last and then adjusting it accordingly after the first fitting. This is a huge time consumer and therefore a lot more man-hours live in the first pair. But for me, it seemed like there might not be a subsequent pair.
I’m a decent businessman. You can’t be in business for fourteen years without having some degree of acumen. And I reckon that I’m a decent negotiator too. The quality of what my peers and I deliver is such that there have been very few unit price beat-downs from our clients over our fees. But I couldn’t take full advantage of what Mr. Glasgow ultimately offered me. I just couldn’t. The man was so fair and so committed to making this thing right that I think he’d have given me the pair for twenty percent of list. Remember, the original pair weren’t that far off the mark. It was Cleverley who decided that the two minor issues constituted a full remake. I could have pushed the consolation deal closer to my favor but I didn't.
I was more than pleased with where we settled and I kept my original Conker Cape pair. Glasgow instructed me to simply hold the second pair and return them to Dominic Casey who would be in town the next month. No problem there…I’m a compliant guy.
Here’s a lesson for all of us…consumers and purveyors. Customer delight, customer centricity, customer focus…whatever. To me it is nauseating rhetoric when you see the words and the behavior doesn’t align. Purveyors…take a page from the George Cleverley playbook. If you want to gain and retain customers for life, then tell them that you want their business forever and walk your talk. If you believe that customer retention is important, then let your behavior match your belief. And customers…be relentless in expecting, especially when spending large sums in the luxury segment, nothing but Cleverley caliber service.

So Cleverley made nil on their first pair of bespoke shoes for me. Actually, with phone calls, man hours involved in emails and back tracking the snafu and remaking a pair of shoes, they lost money. But they also created an environment conducive to ADG making another pair of bespoke Cleverleys and owning two pairs of ready-made George Cleverley shoddings commissioned by Cleverley and contrived at Crockett and Jones.
All’s well that ends well. Cleverly—Quality—Customer Delight…I give the Cleverley boys the highest of marks. If you want a customer for life, consider the Cleverley boys' obsession with how to gain and keep them.

Onward. Broke. Real Broke. And sitting here smirking and speculating at how aghast you'll be when you see the next pair of Cleverley bespokes that are currently in the works.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sartorial Sunday…Random Rambles

And I intend for this to be as rambling and disjointed as I am this morning. I rolled in kinda by accident on a honkey tonk in my ‘hood last night after dinner and stayed till two a.m. You young whippersnappers are surely laughing at that but for me it was unusual. There’s a basement bar called the Bayou Room in Old Town that I used to frequent over twenty years ago and back then it was a little more sedate. And for some reason, while the rest of DC and Alexandria are pretty much smoke free, this joint and the Basin Street lounge two floors above it, remain thick as hell with cigar and cigarette smoke.
Here’s the perverse thing about it. There’s a reason I stayed till two. I loved it. I reveled in the eye irritating haze of smoke and the none too healthy second hand hits I got from cigars. It reminded me of all the years that I did this kind of thing every Friday and Saturday night and when smoke was part of the package. And I knew that my hair, albeit less of it, and my clothes were gonna be thick with smoke smell this morning. It was just a really fun and safe, given that I drank watered down vodka tonics in plastic cups one after the other and didn’t have to drive home. And let me confess this…I danced nonstop for at least an hour. And I’m talking loud head banging music about which I knew nothing. There was no music in the mix that was remotely elegant or crisp or civilized enough to render the shag an option. This was primal body wigglin’ stuff and my whitey whitey white can’t dance self was right in the middle of it. It’s not the beginning of a trend. I might not ever do it again but I sure had fun last night. My ears are ringing and my smokey head hurts.
Ok, on to sartorial stuff. It was a joke, folks. I stated on my tumblr that I was taking a portion of my shoes to the thrift shop in Old Town. Don’t go, they won’t be there. I had them out for a couple of reasons. I am going to get shed of a few pairs but I already have folks who wear my size who are usually willing to transact some second hand shoe business with me. And I’m also pondering what I can go ahead and pack, even though I know not where yet, I am going to land in the Bethesda Chevy Chase area. Additionally, I’ve still got tons of work to do on my place to get it ready to rent.
Yes, it seems that I’ve accumulated a ton of shoes. And there’s another pair of Cleverley bespokes in the works as well as an absurd mongrelizationated green shell cordovan boondoggle gestating presently at Rancourt. It’s gonna be a bell ringer one way or another. And the Cleverley 2.0 effort? Suffice it to say that you should go ahead and practice tisk-tisking now. Two eyelet suede Dainite with tasselled shoe strings in a suede color that you’ve never seen before.
Also, here’s a tragedy for me and an opportunity for someone else. My suede Edward Green Westminister Dainite Double Monks…Dainite Double Monks…sounds like either a Franciscan or Jesuit clique or one of the bands whose songs I wiggled to last night. My Westministers that I’ve worn maybe a half dozen times after waiting nine months to arrive are too big for me. And it’s my fault therefore my only recourse is to sell them. I insisted on a larger size so I own the mistake. I did not listen to my expert guys at Sky Shoes and demanded the size without appreciating the difference in the last. So instead of a perfect 8-D U.S. which is what I needed, I got a perfect 8.5-D U.S. If you are an 8.5-D and you want these, shoot me an email.
They are just too nice and too unique for me to try to live with them avec an innersole or some other compensatory manipulation. Check the retail price of Edward Green Westministers at Leffot or Leather Soul and then add a hundred bucks to that number for the special order/Dainite option and you’ve arrived at what I paid for these. Do not email me and jerk me around with some bullshit offer. But please, if you want them, shoot me an email at maxminimus2000@yahoo.com  . They are essentially brand new and I’ll be willing to let them go at a hefty reduction and if you are in the contiguous 48 states, I’ll cover the shipping. Just make sure you wear an 8.5-D U.S. because once they arrive at your house, they ain’t coming back to mine.
The most daunting packing task ahead is wrapping and packing the small fortune in lead toy soldiers that are guarding this joint. Someone remarked about all of the artwork and the aggravation associated with taking all of it down. That’s easy breezy compared to the old and fragile lead soldiers.
My latest addition…I don’t know what happened to my spending lockdown…is a partial set of the hard to find Heyde Polar Exploration Team. I remain amazed that any of this stuff survived. I had plastic “army men” when I was a kid and we freakin’ destroyed them.
Surprise I know but I don’t give a damn how nerdy my hobbies appear to others. I am completely fascinated with antique, as well as some of the modern lead soldiers. But it is a nerdy hobby. I’ve taken some comfort in knowing that Douglas Fairbanks Jr. had a massive collection for years. So did Malcolm Forbes as well as artist Andrew Wyeth. That’s Sam Torode above, in Wyeth’s studio surrounded by Wyeth’s little lead legions.
I got a kick out of discovering the following passage in the Andrew Wyeth biography that I’m currently re-reading amidst an obsession with the Wyeth clan and their Chadds Ford lives. Andrew Wyeth reflects on being newly married to Betsy…a nineteen year old gal and he only three or so years older. “Wyeth remembers…We were absolutely broke. Best thing for us. We’d go to a movie and spend twenty-five cents for dinner. We started out with an empty living room, a stove, icebox and a lot of toy soldiers.” It was obviously a good start. When Wyeth died, he and Betsy were in their sixty-ninth year of marriage.
And Heavy Tweed Jacket asked me over at my tumblr if “there really are toy soldier swap meets?” Well, they aren’t swap meets per se…they are called Toy Soldier Shows. There’s a huge one each year in Los Angeles, Chicago, New Jersey, the Philly area, two in DC and a couple in London. There are also specialist auctions several times each year. I remember taking LFG to one when she was about four years old and she thought the “show” was going to include a performance of toy soldiers. She wasn’t too crestfallen and I think we both got a chuckle out of her misconception.
But sartorially, toy soldier collectors are walking disasters. Keep the nerd variable in mind. Here’s the visual evidence to support my point.
Also, I’m probably one of the youngest collectors and it worries me on a couple of fronts. The older guys with plenty of dough and memories of actually playing with lead ones, keep the market for the better stuff rather high. Mass produced plastic soldiers, coupled with concerns about lead toxicity, essentially wiped out the commercial appeal of lead ones by the mid-1960s. I also fear that as the older guys start dying off, the market will plummet…at just the time when I’ll need to start selling off my stuff to pay for LFG’s sorority dues. Life’s risky ain’t it? But hell, its risky leaving the house looking like sport model soldier collector guy above, no? So the shows are fun and I always buy something. And I always remain cognizant that I’m the only guy who’s ever worn Belgian shoes to the “Show.”
Final word on shoes for today…My Trad-Ivy Tuesday will actually arrive on Tuesday. It’s already written and in the queue. Scary I know. I’ve finally taken up the task of a full report on my Cleverley dealings over the past year. That’s Cleverley above. Brown shell cordovan. Arriving in August at Leather Soul. Can you image how incredible the patina is gonna be on this number after a couple of years? I’ve said it before…if you can’t see art, talent and God in something so sublime, I worry for you. But don’t worry for yourself. Because I see the same things in hand painted lead toy soldiers.
Ok. I’m done. It’s off to the shower to rid myself of bar smoke. I’ve got a lunch date with LFG. She no longer stays with me on my LFG weekends so lunch is the best I can wrangle. These next however many years are gonna kill me. I don’t regret one bit of the investment I’ve made in this child. But I can say unequivocally that I’ve invested in a way that’s left me unprepared for this current phase. The “she’ll come back to you” statement that everyone who’s already trod this path offers me lands logically on my rational self and falls into nothingness when it touches down on my heart. But please realize that I’m not wallowing in it too much. I’m taking action to adjust to this new and healthy next chapter in LFG’s journey. And I remain mindful of how blessed I am to have a healthy and happy child...who only grunts at me.

Onward. With shoes. And soldiers. And a head/heartache.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Trad-Ivy Tuesday…

…will probably be Trad-Ivy Thursday this week. I still haven’t caught up with my post Puerto Rico and post business travel last week, world. I feel like I’ve caught the last rung of the ADG fire truck ladder as it exited the station to reengage in the post LFG vacation world and I’m just kinda holding on, flapping in the wind, trying to inch my way back up to the driver’s seat. I think I just characterized my life in general. So how 'bout some randomanalia in the guise of reader questions?

Carolina Style asked…"Hope all is well, I come to you with more questions all mightysartorial one. Where about did you acquire your linen cowboy shirt, how much does it cost to have a d-ring made up by Flusser, and where can I acquire horse hair bracelets at a decent price?"
Ok. I can’t remember how much the Flusser belts are and there prices might have inched a little higher over the years. I bought these three over about a three year interval. Once you buy the hardware—or not—if you have D or O rings that you are happy with, the price for the strap is a little bit less. The Brethren and others sell alligator straps without buckles for north of $350 bucks so you can expect these tastier straps to be north of $500 bucks I suspect. And the ostrich goods are no less expensive. Poor birds.
The linen cowboy shirt is from J. Crew. They offered it about five summers ago and it was/is a unique animal. Like all linen, by the afternoon of its wearing, the desired bags—sags—wrinkles and linenesque nuances are in full form and for some reason, even more so with this shirt. Some of the J.Crew/Banana Republic linen shirts are made from cheap linen and it becomes apparent after a few hours of wearing. The bag—sag—wrinkle trifecta looks more like a wadded up paper bag as opposed to the hoped for nuanceticated undulationesque characteristics of better linen. That’s fancy talk for the fact that I loved this shirt so much that I bought two of them. After they went on sale I grabbed a backup for half price, knowing that I wouldn’t see something this fuzzy anytime soon. It’s kinda giddy-up meets Noel Coward and Ian Fleming in Jamaica. Yep, I’ve had coffee and chocolate this morning.
So where can you get one? You can’t. But if you want to spend a few hundred bucks, find someone who offers made to measure shirtings from Individualized Shirts and I bet they’ll make one up for you.
Horse hair bracelets…Of all the wrist junk…and historically, most of it has come from LFG…that I wear, this one is the most meaningful to me. Mark “Puerto” Rykken and his family travelled several years ago to the Galapagos as well as a few countries in South America. He and his sons picked up a few of these from local women who make and sell them and he was kind enough to give me one. I’ve had this one on my wrist for about five years. Last time I was handcuffed I told the officer to watch the horse hair bracelet or I’d have to use my pimp hand on him. I get attached to things in sentimental ways. Shut up. Oh, and where can you find them? Try eBay.
Someone also asked about the source of my shoddings. The cheap scuffs/slippers/espadrillians came from Urban Outfitters and they are about $25 bucks. Like espadrilles, these things for me end up being one or two season throwaways so why pay real money for them? And these things, with their rubber soles, seem to stay on my foot better than those ropey soled espadrille things that sag and bag in ways not are not as complementary as a linen shirt.
And another question about my watches came up. I’m on the record for not spending big bucks on watches. My favorite is a quartz—modern version of the Hamilton Seckron Duo Dial Doctors watch. Hamilton resurrected it about fifteen years ago but it's not on display here. I'm too lazy to find a decent photo of it. I'm intrigued by Doctor's watches and as I shared in a post a few years ago, I think it goes back to my undergrad days when I thrived as a freelance gynecologist.
My other favorites, of which I own three, are from Barrie Law at Waterman’s Watches in England. Go here and tell him I sent you. I’m wearing one of his watches in the photo above.

Ok, this is all I have the juice for right now. Thank you and have a lovely day.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Restraint—It Ain’t

Paul in NoVa writes…“It looks like Tin Tin has thrown out some ADG bait on The Trad with a posting of some British writer criticizing fuzziness in tailoring. He apparently would rather have his kidney taken out with a rusty hook than have a ticket pocket. Not sure if beef roll loafers are up to the rusty hook kidney operation level but is there something sartorial that is for you?”
First, Full Fuzziness is my strategy and there really isn’t an ADG sartorial “rusty hook” that I can think of at the moment. I’d even relent to beef rolls before I’d endure the rusty hook metaphor in situ. The record shows that I’m a South Carolina Fuzzy Diced Redneck … Carolina Anglo Cracker. Therefore, if there was an option for triple vents and nine sleeve cuffs with poacher pockets and bi-lateral pleated breast pockets anchored with four throat latches, I’d be all over it. Mark, “Puerto” Rykken is the one who declared years ago that if Fuzzy Dice were an option, I’d request them every time. So…less is never more with me…restraint is an anti-ADD/ADG trait. Case in point…a reader defined my Bobby from Boston bullet proof jacketing above as an ADG Advent Calendar. Bingo.
A ticket pocket? Add that to the bespoke specs and we’re just getting started.
A final word on Fuzzy…I came of age in a decade when Fuzziness was still de rigueur. This new trend of Brazilian smoothness…this Anti-Fuzz epoch is mildly unsettling for a guy who remembers the lush days of Fuzzy in Full. There’s always room for at least trace elements of Fuzzy Dice. Even small ones.

Onward. Fuzzily