Friday, May 31, 2013

Norfolk Insouciance or Synched-Up Sans Souci

Other than my damn-self  I believe the Norfolk Jacket to be the trickiest thing in menswear. It's always conflicted me quite frankly. Why the conflict? Because it’s intrigued me to the point that I’ve considered making one on a couple of occasions only to have my rarely manifest better judgement stop me. Thank you, thank you, rarely manifest better judgement.
So what’s with the intrigue? I think for me, the allure comes from the same place that my affection for bellows-poacher pockets and affinity for Ghurkha shorts and khaki anything emanates. Think little ADG…1971…Mangum’s Army Navy Store. Then fast forward a couple of decades and we add to the military kit broth, a seasoning bag of 19th-early 20th century British Colonial aesthetic and bam…we're there.
And what’s with the reluctance? This one’s easy. It’s not the Shooting Party affectation. Hell, if that was the case, this English Country-ass poseur would a had to throw nine-tenths of his closet out the door two decades ago. Shut up. It’s that darned belt and buckle. If I’d a pulled the trigger on a Norfolk, the Santa Claus-ness of it would cause me to take a pass on wearing it more often than not.
While I’ve never spent the day in a Norfolk Jacket, I believe it to be similar to any double breasted jacket in that if left open, it’s just not gonna look right. And I love the sloppy Norfolk sprezzatura that our boy F. Scottie conveys but I just don’t think it’s practical for me. Hell, is the Norfolk practical for anybody?
In addition to the general obtuseness of the belt thang, the Norfolk by design is essentially a box…a square. A square with a bi-swing back that enables easy arm raising and Purdy gun shouldering when bird hunting. Functional for that particular endeavor and surely warm enough to protect you from the bone chilling elements. So buy one if you are stalking and shooting in the Highlands. Otherwise, where the hell are you gonna wear it and not look like you’ve wandered off the set of your community theatre’s production of Gunga damn something? Even slender folks like my sveltself are probably gonna look boxy in the Norfolk. Now if the bad boy was shaped like a rhombus, I might be in. I mean really, who wouldn’t want to posit the word rhombus when asked about their intriguing jacket?
Let me end my Norfolk ramble with a photo of one who seems to do the Norfolk justice…and vice-versa. I came across this photo of Prince Philip and it was the first time I saw a Norfolk that seemed to look right…to look stylish.
I gandered it for a moment to try and dial-in on what might be the trick to the Prince’s jacket’s lack of obtuseness. Here’s the deal. The front closure is the secret sauce. Two things about it. First, there’s no buckle. It’s a two button closure that when opened, doesn’t have the dangly bits with which one wouldn’t know what to do. (Story of my life) But I think just as important is the width of said closure belt/band. It’s thinner. The attenuated width of this bisecting horizontal girding makes all the difference in the world. Geez…a four inch bisecting girder belt on me would be eight point three percent of my height. Yep, that’s one of the key Norfolk dilemmas. Shut the….
And this obviously bespoken (bespeaked? bedazzled? bedamned?)  rig also has just enough resultant waist suppression while merely buttoned. Cinch-up the belt on those Santa Claus razor strop widthed versions and you’ll get waist shaping too. Gathered up looking…strangu-damn-lation…like a Santa who just finished Weight Watchers.

Ok. It’s off to the shower and then to day-two with this new client here in no man’s land. Somewhere between Chicago and Milwaukee. Think industrial office parks…not the elegance of the North Shore.

Onward. Dangling and Attenuated.


Monday, May 27, 2013

The Great Gatsby

Before seeing this latest and much touted version of one of my favorite novels, I was prepared, almost looking forward to being underwhelmed. I’ve shared my dichotomy…my contradiction before. Clients pay me a pretty fair wage to challenge their views and ideas…to deliberately, through agreed upon processes, pry them out of their comfort zones and test what they believe to be their immutable beliefs. Yet in my personal life I often fight change tooth and nail when my current beliefs are comfortable. And my first reaction to a Gatsby remake was “Why? Why would we need another? What else could be interpreted or reinterpreted or conveyed in a worthwhile way?”
Was there something about the green light or the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckelberg that we’d overlooked to date? What was there gonna be for those of us who love the novel and still believe that Mia Farrow’s frailty conveyed the perfect Daisy ennui and treacle spritzed moneyed impertinence of the time? I’m not a literary or film critic and I’m not an intellectual. I just know what I like. And I loved this latest interpretation of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. I loved it.
I liked Redford and Farrow’s Gatsby and Daisy. But DiCaprio and Mulligan played the parts more viscerally and that alone would have me liking this Gatsby better than the last one. Their guarded wounds ultimately lost some of the restraint that Redford and Farrow never surrendered. And Nick Carraway’s conflicts and Tom Buchannan’s misogyny and cowardice are clearer. But there’s another twist that’s even more impressive and to me, dangerously tricky…
…it’s the Jay-Z—Baz Luhrmann collaboration. What the hell is Jay-Z doing messing with this thing? Let me just tell you that their collaboration is the dash of bitters and the swizzle stick that makes this Gatsby cocktail perfect. It’s as if Mr. Z. et al pushed it right up to the line of being overly kitschy and  Moulin Rouge-ish and then backed off a couple of f-stops. Too much of it and all that is sublime about The Great Gatsby would have been over-egged and tarted up. Who cares, other than the man himself, if the Jay-Z Gatsby soundtrack is a commercial flop? I swear…if another ounce of hip-hop ethnic urbanity had been added, it woulda been toxic. But they hit it. Just right. And it isn’t just visual and auditory window dressing. It’s the perfect siren come-on for hedonistic recklessness. Shut up.
So what didn’t I like about it? I waited and watched all of the credits to see where they’d filmed the  movie. Much of the Redford-Farrow version was filmed in Newport, Rhode Island and I’m always interested in the properties and houses used to stage these movies. I’ve absolutely no issue with the fact that much of this move was filmed in Australia. What I regret is that technology allows for so many of the scenes to be shrouded in digital imagery versus authentic shots of things like bodies of water at sunset. I know it’s less expensive and I realize that technology is stunningly efficient in these matters. But I don’t give a damn. It looks digital and I don’t like it. And finally, a few less “Old Sports” from Gatsby woulda been fine. I realize the book is peppered with the phrase but there’s more tedium in hearing versus reading it.
Oh, and one more thing. We live in a louche world so I’m not surprised that the Gatsby merchandising this time around is louche as well. Party at Gatsby’s t-shirts? Party as a verb should carry a ten-year mandatory with no parole. But even party as a noun in this instance is just sad. The Gatsby party attendees were pawns and poseurs to no less degree than Gatsby himself. Five gets ten that most of the rubes who buy the shirt haven’t read the book. Kinda reeks a bit of the Che image craze.
I wonder if seeing Gatsby through Aussie eyes had anything to do with how this interpretation turned out.

Onward Old Sport


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Quality or Service--Don't Make Me Choose

A reader over at my tumblr asked this question ages ago and I’ve finally made the time to respond…
“OK, as a veteran consumer and occasional custom orderer, which would you say is more important, assuming you had to choose---decent product, with good, friendly, responsive customer service, or excellent product with crappy service. Obviously, you shouldn't have to choose, but some days life isn't as it should be. Whole retail empires have been built on rude clerks (who suddenly fawn when the Special People come in) and McDonalds didn't get where they are by striving for exceptional quality.”
Good question. McDonald’s got where they are via one, maybe two, very compelling strategy (ies) since their inception. I use McDonalds as a teaching metaphor pretty much every week of my professional life and like ‘em or not, they are great strategists. They have been since day-one when Ray Kroc took the McDonald brothers idea on the road. Their strategy…which allows breathtaking wiggle room in areas of quality and customer centricity is crystal clear. It’s …Kids. Yep, kiddies. You get the kids and you’ll get the rest of the family.
So here’s my answer to your question. I will not choose. I will not trade-off either of the two crucial variables that you posit. Well let me qualify my answer. When it comes to the higher priced…bigger ticket items that I purchase, I refuse to compromise. Case in point above. Do those two Cleverley bespoke shoes look the same? Of course not. The lighter one is my replacement pair that showed up after Cleverley, of their own volition, certainly not as a result of any tantrum on my part, declared that they’d start over from scratch and remake my first pair of bespoken shoes. I was poleaxed that they’d actually remake the things. Why? Because the issue at hand wasn’t a deal breaker by any stretch. But after a few back and forths they declared their re-do intent. And I was even more poleaxed when they f_&ked up the specs on the remake.
The price point involved in this example is such that one shouldn’t compromise quality or service or any damn thing in the fulfillment process. This was a FUBAR without explanation and Cleverley did acrobatics to make it right. One day I’ll get off my ass and do a proper story about Cleverley but until then, let me just say that their commitment to getting things right resulted in another bespoke order from me as well as two pairs of their ready-made shoes landing stateside with my name on them. The value equation inputs haven’t really’s just that fewer people seem to use the centuries-old formula anymore.
Product or service quality/benefit divided by cost is the basic math for value. Consultants who want to make a buck have tweaked the equation a bit in order to make a buck but the core inputs are immutable. One could also blend things like customer experience, customer service and whatever additional smattering of variables deemed important for your value equation. And this varies from person to person, no? I playfully challenged a young kid who purveys rather tasty stuff to take a shot at what he thought was my trigger. It was obvious that to answer such a question about my quirky ass required a bit of thought. But after a moment he said, “Dust…for you, a big part of this is the “experience”.” I think he’s right. I’m a sucker for the story. Hell, it’s why I started blogging. I collect many things but one of my favorite procurements is a moment that becomes a memory. And those moments end up in….stories. I love clothes and I love the clothing business so yes, I’m one who loves the experience

On the other hand, I have a childhood friend who enjoys wearing high quality things but told me one time that “I don’t need anyone in a store to necessarily know my name or call me when they have something they think I’ll like.” He’s a rather impatient hunter-gatherer and I can assure you that his value equation doesn’t include an experience variable. He likes high quality goods and any purveyor would be pleased to have his custom but he ain’t gonna be hurt if you are simply courteous and focused on helping him quickly hunt and gather.
Another example…I’m a fairly easy fit for a tailor. Other than my slight stoop, I’ve got no other significant anatomical issues to flummox a cutter. And the good ones know how to get the collar to hug the neck of a stooping plonker like me. (Stooping Plonker…sounds kinda like an 18th century Prussian military man) But if you have enough clothes made, you are gonna end up having one episode where the play hell getting it right. The suit above is one of my favorite Flusser rigs. But it took them a half dozen tries to get the collar correct. And all of the Fluss team involved in the effort agreed that after the final go, if it wasn’t right, the Fluss would start over.
One of the top ten best humans in the entire world, G. The Bruce Boyer told me about an Anderson and Sheppard suit that he bespokeydoked some thirty years ago where, upon review by the Head Cutter, he was told just to keep that one for “digging about in the garden and piddling around” and that another one would be cut for him post haste at no additional cost. Bottom line was that after fiddling about with the garment for a few goes, it was time to begin again from scratch.
Here’s another example. I’m gonna do a lengthier story later on about one of the nicest guys I’ve met in the last year…Nick Hilton. But for now…I literally stumbled into his Princeton shop one day and met him. Of course I’d heard about Norman Hilton and the Norman Hilton—Ralph Lauren lore of legend etc but I’d never been in Nick’s shop and I didn’t know him. Long story short, he was running a bit of a promo on some piece goods and twenty minutes later, he and I were designing a jacket. Surprise…windowpane…peak single breast…three/two…double vented…open patches…I’d be an easy mark for an assassin.
But there was one problem. Nick happily sent me a smart phone photo of the jacket when it arrived at his shop and my heart didn’t sink but I wasn’t ebullient. I don’t order open patch hip pockets and a jetted breast pocket. But that’s what came in. Not a deal breaker but not a crowd pleaser either. At least when the crowd consists of one person and that one is me…the tariff payer…ADG. But Nick and I couldn’t discern from our conversations or from the paperwork who fumbled the ball or quite frankly, whether or not a ball had even been fumbled. Ok, enough about balls.
I couldn’t swear to Nick that I emphatically asked for an open patch breast pocket and Nick couldn’t swear, paperwork wise, that I did or didn’t. I was prepared to be happy with the jacket and to chalk it up to a need for more precision in my communication. I made no demands for any adjustments, jacket or pricewise because I had no right to. Oh, and as is always my policy, Nick at that point, had no freakin’ clue that I blogged about things sartorial. You already know that I don’t play that card.
Perhaps miracle is too strong a word but it ain’t far off. After seeing the jacket in situ and discovering how they converted it from jetted to patch, I’ll tell you that the open patch breast pocket now adorning my jacket is nothing short of clever. If purveyors want customers for life, this is how you get ‘em and keep ‘em. I can only say good things about Nick Hilton and his crew.

Ok, ok, so you rightfully conclude that my examples are only relevant to the nuts like me who spend crazy money on custom things. Well, my advice is to compromise little when spending money in even our more mainstream places. If Macy’s doesn’t treat you right, offer objective, instructive feedback to their management and then go to Lord and Taylor or whatever comparable store you can access.
There’s a gas station near me…yes…a good ole gas station, well not just a gas station per se whose service bays are always packed to the gills. Why? Because they are focused and competent and professional and walk their talk about being customer centric. They charge a little more and people happily pay a little more. There’s no compromised asked by either party.
Even Brooks and Press et al no longer have but a few salespeople from the days when the value equation was Gospel. But the lethargy and benign indifference of a lot of their hourly workers is still better than what you get elsewhere and I can sometimes live with traces of that. But only traces. One of my biggest gripes with even the Polo Ralph Mothership Mansion is that there are very few people working there who can actually explain why you should pay Purple Label prices for Purple Label clothing. And here's another thought...If you don’t like the service at the Macy’s caliber establishments, prolong your purchase(s) for a while…save some additional money and then go to Saks or Nordstrom. Or seek out the few remaining independent retailers who still value your custom.
So I reckon I’ll close this with a point about trade-offs. When I lived in Montclair New Jersey in the 1980’s, I discovered nearby, a little shoe shop in a strip mall near Pal's Cabin where all of the Baker Benjes Polo shoe samples from NYC ended up. And most of them were my size. A colleague and I would hit it about once every two weeks during our lunch hour and gorge on the giveaway priced tasties. The look, the quality and the price trifecta was such that I wouldn’t then nor would I today, give two hoots and a damn about the experience or the attentiveness of the staff. What I got for what I paid was so incredible that they coulda had poo throwing gorillas tending the register and I’d a still navigated the gantlet to buy the goods. But whenever I’m spending amounts of time and money that even marginally exceeds my 1980’s shoe sample experience, I expect a baseline level of kindness and professional competency from everyone.
Ok. That’s it for now. Time to wake my not so tiny dancer, LFG and get her going for another round of dance recital nirvana. The "don't take photos Gestapo" was in full force last night so I could only sneak this little photo when the house lights came up. She's sixth from the left, front row. But you knew that.

Onward. Heading back to South Carolina on Tuesday to help out with my still deciding mama.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Here. Look at this.

And gander at a few other flurries of nothing ‘til I can find the time to write a bigger, more fascinating pile of nothing. I’m just too blessed with a life to-do list that is overwhelming right now and my bandwidth for story telling ain’t present at present. But this is a martini. I. Love. Them. And the other evening I had a rare opportunity to have two of them in Bethesda before I once again left town.
I got dumped on Sunday and I suspect it had something to do with this outfit. Don’t dump people via email by the way. If you’ve gotta cut the cord, at least be decent enough to pick up the telephone. Shut up.
Third Edition closed. It was on my “different bar every night” circuit when I lived here and worked on the Hill that summer. I’m sure it will be replaced by some national or global retail chain or one of those food places that every town has. You know, the places with menus that have freakin’ photographs of the entrees. The “buy local and eat seasonal” food thing is all the rage. Certainly the opposite is in play when it comes to the homogenization of retail and dining joints. Shut up. Again. At 543am.
Nathans closed a good while back. Serendipity now holds sway in the white building at the corner of M and Wisconsin. But it holds nothing for me. There is only one Serendipity and it is in NYC. I have fond memories of taking LFG there when she was a tot. Courtesy of her Uncle Alan Flusser’s connections, we never waited in line and always had great tables. Nathans was a started out joint and for me a nightcap joint. I remember stopping back by Nathans late one night after being at Mendocino a few blocks down. Late, late, late night nightcap. I kissed MTC right there at the bar for the first time. I generally don’t do the PDA thing but the cravin’ was palpable and who am I to deny. It took seven guys to secure her while I grabbed that kiss. Shut up.
Everything’s changing. My little girl grew up and she now straitens her curly hair. But one recent morning, she and my ne iPad Mini decided to come slum with me for a while before we got up and made breakfast. Sublime and rare. I love her.
I’ve been home a lot over the past three months and will continue to do so. Actually, I’ve been home more days in the last three months than I have in the last three years. My mom is taking her cues from anybody but doctors and family. She remains, in between harrowing moments of “it’s gonna be over any moment now”… here. And I’m seeing everything with new eyes. Even my kindergarten that I passed on Cherokee road the other day. I loved Mrs. Wright and her kindergarten. Funny, by the time my ten years younger brother was old enough to go there, it was called Montessori. And it cost more. He’s taller than me. Might a had something to do with the name change at Mrs. Wright’s.
Onward. Blessed. And back on the market. Wearing blazers with a sleeve button undone. But my monkstraps are fully secured. 


Saturday, May 11, 2013

An Open Letter to Drakes

Dear Drakes,

I’ve been wearing your goods for years. Even though most times it was private label, I could still tell that it was yours. The size of the pocket squares, the quality of the silk or linen or those delightful marriages of silk, wool and/or linen—these ingredients would pretty much convey that the goods were sourced from you.
My little mugwump, LFG, was bound or swathed in at least two, maybe three Drakes lovelies when I playfully shot this keeper.
Scarves...textiles...adornments. See, Drakes, we're cultivating your future constituency.
I’d say that most of my Drakes goods have come from sartorial daddy Alan Flusser’s shop over the years. My paisley silk scarf is one of those things that I’d grab if the house was on fire. It’s one of those that deserves being passed down to one who’s important to you.
And speaking of passing things down. I bought this one…another one of your brilliant things…from the Flusser boys as a Christmas gift for my damn self. And I passed it on to someone who deserved it…within sixty days after I bought it.You should appreciate this, friend expressed an admiration for it that was so well stated that after she and I exhausted all possibility of procuring a twin, I sent it to her. And the kicker was that she had already decided who would be the next steward of said Drakes scarf…her grandson. He's still in single digits but isn't it nice to think that his grandma's already holding things precious for him. If he's like me and he grows to love a story and appreciate lore, maybe his grandma will print this one and put in the box with the scarf. Shut up.
So it ain’t just about textiles, Drakes. It’s about creating things that are so rich in color and texture and quality that from moment one, they communicate endurance and legacy and a worthiness to be passed on. In this era of throw away Bangladeshi sweatshop, urban ironic poseur goods, you, Drakes, are an oasis of everything not Bangladeshi sweatshop. So thanks for that.
And Will over at A Suitable Wardrobe always offers a well curated selection of your contrivances. I love Will’s online shop and I’ve bought shoes from him but mostly I go there for what I call a pick-me-up. You know the strategy…when you don’t have the money for new shoes, get a shoe shine and you’ll feel like you’ve got a new pair. When I don’t have the big dollars to bespeak a jacket or buy a thousand dollar pile of toy soldiers, which is more the rule these days, I’ll go over to see what Will’s offering and treat myself to a little surcie. 
It’s always fun to discover the packet in my mail pile. Will’s branding brandishes the exterior and the journey from California is just long enough for me to let its impending arrival slip my mind.
Beyond a reasonable inventory of pocket square standards, you, Drakes, offer a stable of whimsies that are right down my fuzzy alley. Dance steps in multiple colorways? Bingo. I’ll have the orange, please.
So why? Why did you have to go and tart it up? The quality of your offerings is second to none. The colors, textures…hell, I’ve already said it. Shit. You had to go and print the word Drakes on the actual item. Please stop this.
Do what others often do, if you must at all. Attach a discreet branding badge elsewhere. Give us the option to then remove it—like I do with pocket squares—or keep it—like I have with larger scarves. I’ve worn every freakin’ logo known to man and I’m not proud of it. If it ain’t my monogram, I don’t, with two exceptions, wear logos anymore.
I know, I know. All a y’all are saying, “Damn ADG, is this really that big a deal? Just tuck the Drakes brand into your breast pocket so that it doesn’t show.” That’s not the point. The point is that your goods, Drake, carry your name and your brand and your enduring quality without you having to say it for them. It’s rather like Lady Margaret Thatcher said about being a leader. Chances are if you have to say it, you aren’t.
LFG and I are wrapping all of this in love, Drakes.
Onward. Saturday. At home for a change. Warping-Wefting-Wafting...mixing colors, textures, patterns and such.