Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thanks for a Good Year

With 2009 nearly over, I just wanted to post a quick note thanking all my readers. After spending the holidays with the family, I'm ready to start the new year with fresh material for my blog which is, as ever, a work in progress. Look out for a fresh post with new content January 4th, 2010.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gift Wishlist #3 - Mills Canvas Bags

Wm. J. Mills & Co. have quietly been making top quality canvas goods since the late 19th century. Based in Greenport, New York, they started out as sailmakers first and foremost. Today, sails comprise but a small portion of their business. What they make primarily now, is great items out of Whaler Canvas.

I have a small travel duffel in the red above; well, it's burgundy, to be specific. Made of their Sunmbrella marine canvas, it's a great useful bag for long weekend trips, or trips to gym, or...whatever. Pick one up and support a company that has 120 years of practice in making excellent gear.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Three Days of the Condor

When I think of 1975, let me tell you what I don't think about. Style. It's my opinion that, by and large, the mid to late 1970's, and well, much of the 1980's - well that was the time that style died. I know not everyone feels that way, but there's very little to like. So I was pleasantly surprised when I watched Three Days of the Condor.

Robert Redford looks pretty damn cool in it. Sure his blond hair is very 70's, but the outfit could easily be slightly updated today and still look great.

One thing immediately apparent when watching the movie; they just don't shoot a film this way anymore. Plenty of long shots, camera angles held for what seems to the modern attention span a long time, it's a different experience than a modern cut and jump film scene. But it manages to hold your attention. The long scenes with a static camera angle develop nicely, the scenery around the actors looms larger.

Oh yeah, and it has Max Von Sydow in it. Enough said.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gift Wish List #2 - The Hill-Side

With the Holidays right around the corner, everyone needs to start thinking about dressing their holiday best. I'm not talking awful sweaters with dreadful patterns; though I have been to an ironic terrible sweater holiday party or two in my day. I'm talking about busting out a nice outfit for a holiday dinner. And every man looks good (at least to Mom) in a tie.

And what do I want for Christmas? A tie, but not strictly speaking, a traditional tie. I want a tie made by the Hill-Side. While they are not a traditional looking tie, they have character by the bucket load. These aren't your usual silk or wool neckties. Made from interesting unique fabrics like selvage chambray from Japan or waxed canvas or selvage chino twill, they immediately stand out, stand above the usual tie. And I can't wait to get one. Or two. Or three.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wish List Gift #1 - Iron Ranger Boots

With the Holidays upon us, I thought I'd share some of what I hope someone is buying me for Christmas, Hanukkah or whatever. Simply for being me.

Red Wing Iron Ranger Boots -

I love these boots. Similar to the Russet Service shoe worn early in World War 2. The Iron Ranger has a cap toe much like it, but with speed laces, which I appreciate. Originally sold by Red Wing in 1953, the Iron Rangers are a welcome re-issue to their line up. The cap toe, and variety of leathers to chose from, makes picking up a pair of these an easy decision. Check 'em out below:

And here's this years limited model, for J. Crew:

Here's a picture of the Russet Service Shoe, which the Iron Ranger looks much like (Different sole):

Monday, December 7, 2009

Taking Inventory

Previously an online only publication, Inventory Magazine released it's inaugural issue. The magazine is the literal manifestation of the vision of it's creative director, Ryan Willms. I was an avid reader of his first online offering, h(y)r collective, an online only men's magazine. The content was a great mix of reviews, music, and menswear, from a very American point of view. Which, I have to admit, is ironic given it's headquartered in Vancouver. So, let's say a North American point of view. H(y)r collective first morphed into Inventory online, and then finally the print edition which was just released. And it's off with a bang, with Interviews with Christophe Loiron, founder of Mister Freedom, Yuki Matsuda, from Yuketen.

One of the things that immediately impressed me with the magazine was the quality of the paper it was printed on - thick, textured flat paper which holds the ink for each line of text, each great photograph beautifully. The magazine is light on advertising, and heavy on content and presentation. It's full of good content with in-depth interviews and stuffed with beautiful images. Leave it on your coffee table and it's a focal point of conversation.

Not only does Inventory have a point of view, they are willing to put their money where their mouth is, with an online shop full of clothing picks, selected items which showcase their editorial aesthetic.

Order a copy today, you won't be disappointed.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Context IN the Press

A short and simple post today: Context is in the news. The store launched in 2005, and it's great to see it getting national attention. In the December 2009 issue of GQ, in their "Best Stuff 2009" feature their Alden collaboration Roy Boots made the list. Check them out:

These shoes are on their third pre-order, and this was before the national exposure.

Context was also featured in the December/January issue of Monocle; a magazine I've just discovered, and can't say enough good things about. Good journalism, a nice blend of content, and a great layout. Check out the "Local Heroes" on page 154. Hopefully this is just a sign of things to come.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Selvage on the Cheap

Many of us who enjoy looking under every rock for the "perfect" pair of jeans know the special torture that comes from having to decide what pair have fallen from grace to chore status. I am bad at those decisions, personally. I seemingly cannot consign hard worn jeans to yard, painting, or moving duty.

Instead, my solution has been to look around for "cheap" selvage jeans. I was able grab a pair of these - GAP Selvage Authentic fit jeans. At $88 - I got them for $66, on sale - I don't care if they get destroyed from painting, moving, car repairs, what have you. Here are some pictures direct from the GAP's website. They look bootcut in these pictures, but they aren't. They are a straight cut, which fit me fairly slim in the leg all the way down. I am not built like the model, so as they say, "your mileage may vary".

They've only been rinsed, so I can wear them and personalize them over time like I would other raw denim (because I always do a soak first to get the shrinking over with first anyway). Mind you, there are details I don't love on them - the slanted side belt loops are gimmicky, and the coin pocket is mounted too high - it sits behind any belt you wear. But they are comfortable, fit me well, and I won't be worried about them doing messy stuff around the house, and that's all I ask of them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thank you for standing by

Sorry I haven't posted in a month, but the world outside my computer demanded attention - moving. But now that's all behind me, so coming soon - new posts!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ryan in Context

I recently had the opportunity to ask Ryan Huber, co-founder of Madison's Context a few questions. In my opinion, Context is one of the best men's shops in the United States. Few stores have such a breadth of high quality menswear and accessories. Read below to find out what makes Ryan, and Context, tick.

Q: Let’s start with the inevitable, obvious question: I’ve found that most store owners arrived where they are largely by accident. How did you and Sam get to where you are now? What was the inspiration for Context?

Ryan: I would not say Context was an accident, but I can say that we had no prior experience in retail. The business plan was one of a few. Sam and I also thought about opening a neighborhood bar/restaurant that would have looked a lot like our clothing shop-- very masculine with the staff wearing heritage lines. When we opened Context, there were no dry denim specialty shops in the US, or at least none that were openly available to the public. I wanted to put a shop together that felt more like something you'd find in Japan than the US.

Q: Where do you see the store in 5 years?

Ryan: The shop progress is based largely on success shared with our vendors. For example, we meet with Apolis, Gitman, KMW, Alden, The Hill-Side, Nudie, et. al to discuss what works and what we'd like to see them do. They trust us, we know our clients very well.

Q: Has the current economic climate affected plans for the store? Has it limited in any way the addition of new lines to the stores repertoire?

Ryan: I see no indication of us slowing down. I work hard and plan on keeping things rolling. We buy what we like, and we get behind it 100%.

Q: How can you separate what you like from what is “right” for the store?

Ryan: There is very little in the store that I would not wear. I own one of the APC jumpsuits we had last season-- not for everyone. There are pieces in each collection that we do not choose. Most of it is based on how it will appear in the shop. My goal is to create a unique experience within the shop. I want people to remember their trip to Context. The only way to be effective is to have a distinct focus. Otherwise you are like all the rest.

Q: As a follow up to the above question, do you have a process for determining what particular clothing lines you’d like to add to the store, or is it unstructured?

Ryan: You have to have a level of confidence in your shop and yourself to pick up certain lines. Getting behind a collection means presenting it to your clients in a manner that matches the designer's intentions. I spend a lot of time thinking through how our lines will be shown online and in the shop. I'd say we have cultivated a fascination for authentic fabrics among our clients. Quality production is also an attraction. Our guys won't buy it if it feels cheap or if it reeks of trend. I pay little attention to which lines are receiving press. Press awareness comes after we pick up a line. We are quite often the first to buy our lines (e.g. Apolis Activism, Imperial, The Hill-Side). I like launching collections.

Q: Self Edge and Blue in Green are comparatively more Japan-heavy, carrying several Japan lines each (Samurai, Flathead, Iron Heart, SDA and so on), whereas your lines seem to be from everywhere. Sure, Kicking Mule is Japanese denim, but you carry ALD and Nudie, Apolis Activism and so on. Do you think that the Context consumer is different from a consumer at Self Edge or BiG?

Ryan: I've been to Blue in Green and Gordon runs an amazing shop. His focus is very different than ours, but we share a fascination and love for what we sell. There is nothing traditional about our shops. Landing Momotaro or Somet is not easy and we don't make big bucks selling them. We carry these lines because they are some of the best. Gordon is very denim heavy because he can be, he has stuff no one else has. Our location allows us to carry nearly anything we want-- there are no shops like ours in the Midwest. Gordon would have a hard time carrying say APC, Engineered Garments, and Band of Outsiders because others in Soho do. I can say with confidence that he would not want those lines anyway, they don't fit his shop.

Q: Do regional differences play a part in determining which lines you carry? I.e – Midwest versus left or right coasts.

Ryan: Our location plays less a role in determining the lines we carry than most people would think. There are people all over the world who respond to what we carry, Midwesterners are no exception. Sam and I have brought some pretty unique lines to the US market... we are both native Wisco boys.

Q: Do you feel any pressure to seek out American companies for your store? I notice you have quite a few – Russell Moccasin, Alden, Gitman Bros, for instance.

Ryan: If everything in the shop was American made, I'd be very happy. I'm not saying American made is always the best, but it does make things easier from a business standpoint. I can visit the Gitman factory, the Alden factory and discuss collaborations. A visit to Japan is not out of the question, just much more difficult. We will never fall out of love with Japanese production, their dyeing and weaving techniques are exceptional.

Q: Name a designer or clothing line that you do not carry, but that is one you really like. Who “gets it”?

Ryan: A friend of ours opened a shop in Atalanta called Sid Mashburn. Sid has amazing style and is an encyclopedia of apparel knowledge. His shop is Southern Gentleman, but has a very distinct personality. He has a list of amazing lines that just wouldn't work in our shop, but each is spot on.

Q: Last question – if you could only have one of the items you sell. What would it be?

Ryan: This is an insane question, like choosing which child you love most.

Thanks to Ryan, for taking the time to answer my questions.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

M-422a - The Jacket that started it all for me

In the winter of 2001, a strange compulsion washed over me. Though I had always been interested in World War 2 aviation and planes in general, I had never sought out a flight jacket. Sure, I had owned "bomber" jackets; mostly hand-me-down leather jackets from my Dad which were too big on me, but nothing authentic by any means.

As this interest took shape, I began reading everything I could get my hands on about World War 2 fliers, and despite my own Grandfather's affiliation with the Army Air Force as a B-24 Co-Pilot, I became fascinated with the Flying Tigers, who it just so happened, mostly wore naval flight gear. The Naval Flight jacket, called the M-422 at first, then the M-422a and finally the G-1 is largely unchanged in design since it's inception at the beginning of Naval aviation in the 20th century. When I became convinced I needed a M-422a, I contacted Mark Weinshenker of the Acme Depot, a repository for all things A-2 flight jacket in those early years. As his main love was the A-2 flight jacket (the leather flight jacket that the Army Air Force wore during World War 2), he directed me to John Chapman, who is now the proprietor of the Goodwear Leather Coat Company (more on him in future posts). John was quite eager to nerd out on all details of flight jackets; my obsession had found a like minded friend.

After much discussion, I settled on a reproduction M-422a from the Real McCoy's New Zealand. Working with Real McCoy's on all the details regarding the sizing of the coat, my money was sent, and so began...the wait. It may have taken a month to arrive, newly constructed, from Christchurch, NZ, but in the years since, I don't think of that, I think of the years of service it's provided as jacket, pillow, iPod and cell phone holder and blanket. Over the course of the years I've sold it off, and bought it back - interestingly enough to John Chapman - but the effect owning it has had on me is immense. I probably wouldn't have gotten denim obsessed without this jacket (the two worlds have a great deal of overlap in terms of fans).

The photos below show the jacket in it's current state, note the quality of the leather and the well-worn knit cuffs.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

1980, In Review

For the fourth of July weekend this year, some friends and I rented a cabin in the woods in Wisconsin. The route to the cabin just happened, with only a 5 minute detour, to run right by Madison, where I could visit Context, one of the few places anywhere near Chicago that I could look at a variety of Japanese denim and other denim nerdery in person. Stopping in the store, my fiancee and I did the usual tour of the premises, and and thanks to the great crew at Context, spent too much. I walked out, in particular, with a pair of Kicking Mule Workshop jeans, the 1980 Japanese Edition model. Described, quite aptly I think, on Context's website as "a jean for the refined denim enthusiast. Each step in the production was chosen on the basis of supreme quality. Made of Zimbabwean cotton, rope dyed in Natural Indigo, fabric produced and tailored in Okayama Prefecture Japan. The 1980 is a straight leg jean proportionally cut for a number of different body types.", I was very pleased with my jeans. I've been wearing them since mid July, and I figure, sometime this winter, they might be ready for their first wash. Bring on the fades! I've had my hands on many a pair of Japanese jeans, and the feel and finish of these jeans in particular is really a cut above to me.

While looking through the pictures below, make sure to keep an eye out for these features:

  • Red & Blue selvage line
  • Selvage Coin Pocket
  • Back pocket Hidden Rivets
  • Doughnut Button fly
  • Real Leather Patch

  • Monday, August 3, 2009

    Diamond Dave!

    No, not that Diamond Dave; no early Van Halen here (although that would be fine with me, 1984 and earlier Van Halen are a good time). I'm talking about Dave, the president of Diamond Cap Company. If you are in the market for a "crusher" - a stunning reproduction of the caps pilots wore during World War 2 - look no further than the Diamond Cap Co.

    Another World War 2 era item that Dave makes is reproductions of 1940's style Army Air Force t-shirts, often worn during physical training. Similar styled shirts can be seen in the first episode of Band of Brothers, when the paratroopers are in training running up Currahee. Dave's t-shirts are made on "American made and 100% "ring-spun" cotton, by a USA company that specializes in Wholesale manufacturing." - as you can see from the pictures below, the shirts used are American Apparel, which when laundered have a very vintage, trim shape, much like the original t-shirts. Also, the ink is direct printed to the shirt, not screened on, so as the shirt ages, the images age much like originals. All Dave needs to know is what field you want, and where it was (here is a good website that shows the locations of WW2 era fields. I chose to have the standard winged prop as with my Grandfather's advanced training field. Dave can also print front and back, so on the back is my Grandfather's name, serial number and flight school class. Enough talk; it's time to let the pictures do the talking:

    Detail Shots of the direct printed ink:

    Another item Dave is developing is a "Wild Ones" cap for motorcycle fans, or just fans of Marlon Brando. They're being worked up in black and taupe, and others colors later. Check out the photos below:

    Anyone interested in any of the goodies above should reach out to Dave at info@diamondcapco.com.