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Autumn, lambswool and corduroy

The season for dressing in proper cosy-wear is finally upon us. Autumn is here. More or less. There is hardly anything I enjoy more than to open my wardrobe and get all the corduroy trousers and lambswool sweaters out. To be able to wear the garments of autumn, thick high quality fabrics in bright colours, is as wonderful as enjoying a really good vintage Bordeaux. At least to me. For some reason it is as if the world becomes more alive, the weather becomes almost tactile. You can almost drink the air, taste the wind. Magnificent feelings.

Someone asked me the other day where one buys the best corduroy and sweaters. He also asked about tweed jackets, though that is a different kettle of fish entirely. That’s a topic for another day. But when it comes to proper cords and lambswool, nowhere is as good as Cordings of Piccadilly in London. imageI have searched for other brands all over the world, but no one can compete. In my opinion. When other, however great, brands try making cords they seem to misunderstand what a corduroy trouser is. What the fabric is all about. You simply can’t make a regular trouser, choose a nice looking corduroy fabric and apply the same idea you use for a regular trouser. The result is always a hybrid of weird fashion mixed with classic style but none of the two makes any sense put together. A bit like these Levi’s 511 made in a rather garish corduroy quality…

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You need a certain width in a cord trouser, but not too much. If too much is used, they will look like an old mans trousers on a young mans body. If you happen to be a young man, that is. That is a look no one wants. Absolutely not the designer, and least of all you. You need an exact balance between width over thigh and calf, a proper cord trouser needs to be comfortable (that is, after all, the whole point of the garment), and the fall of the fabric that is decided by the weight of the cloth. That perfectly balanced effect you can get either by going to your tailor and have a pair made, or you can buy them at Cordings. In my view, the latter is to prefer. It will save you some money, better used for your next bespoke suit.

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The range of colours to choose from is great too. There are all the bright yellow, red, pink, puce etc. that I love. But there are also the more discreet moss green, brown and so on. If one happens to prefer slightly more discreet nuances. A wonderful detail that makes the trouser sit perfectly on your hip is the extra strengthened waist lining plus the adjustable waist band, corrected with two buttons on each side on the outside as seen above. Details that has taken decades to perfect, and which we as customers can now enjoy.

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After a post like this, I guess I should write about just Cordings too. Their range of jackets, shirts, ties, socks and cuff links are worthy of their own blog post. But that’s for another day. And I forgot about their lambswool sweaters that are the best in the world, too. Well, well… Now, go hunting for a proper pair of cords gentlemen!

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Bespoke, British Fashion, Gents Fashion, London, Uncategorized, Vintage, Young generation

How she mastered the Art of French Cooking

When I grew up there was always a weighty tome, a two volume cookbook that stood in the bottom cupboard in the service room among other cookbooks and foodie magazines. It was always consulted on special occasions, but more often than not it was put away again because of the vast, expansive, almost encyclopaedic length of the recipes. But when there was time and effort put in and one of the recipes were used, we could be sure of the astounding result of the meal that awaited us. Those of you who have any knowledge of French cooking, and cookbooks on French cuisine bourgeois in particular, know exactly what I’m talking about by now. And, more importantly, whom I talk about. This is a tribute to the marvellous Julia Child and her little gem of a book My life in France.

I guess I really should write about Julia Child’s cookbooks, and in particular Mastering the Art of French Cooking. However, so much needs to go into a post like that that I simply don’t have the time right now. Maybe another day, but not today. If you’re a serious foodie I’m sure you know enough on the subject anyway.

My life in France is a sweet little gem of a book co-written with her husband Paul’s nephew Alex Prud’homme in 2004/2005. It was finished in the year after her death with the help of all the letters she and Paul had written from the 1940s through to his death in the early 1990s, and hours of taped and written down conversations between Alex Prud’homme and Julia in her house in Montecito, California. What’s so wonderful about the book is the honesty to life and the serious love of food and France she manages to convey between the carefully handled lines written by Alex Prud’homme. If you saw the movie Julie & Julia earlier this year you will recognise a lot of the content since this is the book that is the background to the biographical parts of the film where Meryl Streep plays Julia Child. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching the movie for her unsurpassed characterisation alone.

Something else that is striking about the book is that it isn’t just on Julia Child and her way to greatness. It is more concerned with telling the story about how she and her husband Paul enjoyed, discovered and loved in their adopted new home country, how they struggled finding decent places to live in Paris and around France just after the Second World War. How it was damp, cold, hard to find anywhere that was insulated enough, had working gas heaters, running water inside etc. Paul Child’s photos describe this beautifully. He was a truly talented artist with an avid interest in photography. Not just pictures of Julia and her cookery-bookery (as she called it) life is included, there are also a fair amount of beautiful pictures from Paris, Marseille and the trips they did together around La Belle France. One is also taken on the journey of the struggles she and her colleagues Simone Beck (affectionately called Simca after a cheap, tiny and not very reliable Renault car she drove) and Louisette Bertholle had with getting their masterpiece of a cookbook published at all. Numerous publishers said no and others wanted it to be shortened and abbreviated into virtual nothingness. Luckily for us today they were proud and said no to silly suggestions like that and waited until they found someone who wanted to publish it in its entirety.  If they hadn’t carried on with their quest to educate the American housewife in cooking proper food, we would have lost an all-important link to the greatest food tradition in Europe, if not in the World.

The courses Julia Child took at Le Cordon Bleu in the 1950s’ might not haven been worth much, but the chefs she met there, and who recognised her enthusiasm and took her under their culinary wings, was the last living links to the great tradition of the French cuisine bourgeois. The chapters where she describes how chef Max Bugnard takes her to his favourite butchers, fish mongers and vegetable stalls in Les Halles and teaches her to recognise this, that and the other are just amazingly inspiring! They also make me furious that I will never be able to visit Les Halles, this mysterious, today unreachable food Mecca with its weird personalities and fascinating stall holders. And most importantly, what wouldn’t I give to have had the opportunity to taste the famous soupe a l’oignon first hand.

Maybe, though, this is part of the mystery and beauty that surrounds the French cuisine and its reputation that makes it so alluring. The lost connection with the chefs and the now partly lost tradition of manual cooking and how to recognize good produce thanks to the enormous supermarkets that have turned the village markets into a novelty too expensive to be frequented by anyone else than tourists. Would it be better to be back to how it was? Probably not. I’m a romantic born and bred, but even I can see the advantages of a society that have advanced from privies, no running water inside and rats in the kitchen. Still, if you want a touch of La Vieille France, Julia Child’s book is a must. If you’re a serious French foodie, you can’t live without having read it.

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Coffee in London: part 4

White Cross Street, EC1. Pitch 42. This, ladies and gentlemen, is where I realized for the first time that there was amazing coffee to be had in London. Well, it might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. I clearly remember that crisp February morning a couple of years ago. I spent quite a lot of time in the area at the time and when another place I used to frequent was closed I thought I might as well try this newish place. It didn’t look much to the world, but I remembered some Aussie colleagues of mine having raved about it, so what’s the harm in trying, eh? After that it’s all blank. I remember thinking “what the f*** is this amazing brew? Why haven’t I tried it before toda…” And, yeah, then it’s a blur, followed by a mist and then – blank.

Already then had I slowly started to see the pattern amongst baristas in London; the two camps either favouring Square Mile Coffee Roasters or Monmouth Coffee. To be perfectly honest I can’t remember which sort they used back then, but I know that today it’s Square Mile Coffee that is favoured. Surprising, wouldn’t you say, with a location like that…

This stall has become almost a cult among City workers and artists alike. It doesn’t matter if you come from one of the biggest law firms in England, a bank (which maybe, but just maybe, should have collapsed 18 months ago), from the nearby Barbican or a rather famous music conservatoire on nearby Silk Street. Everyone is queuing like brothers and sisters eagerly awaiting their shot of the thick, brown and perfect nectar on offer by Gwilym Davies or one of his splendidly dexterous baristas. That Gwilym was the World Champion Barista 2009 isn’t a secret to anyone, but that he chooses to keep on promoting this simple stall is a grace to humanity in general and caffeine addicted City dwellers in particular.

Quite obviously I can’t rant about an interior when it comes to Pitch 42, but what is so funny with this place is that White Cross Market is one of the busiest little streets in London around lunchtime. I’m not going to write too much about the surrounding stalls, at least not in this blogg entry, but let me just say that to find a perfect croissant to go with your coffee of choice is not hard. Not hard at all in fact. There is a buzz and an almost electric vibe to White Cross Street around 12.30 that will make any taste buds go wild. All the Worlds kitchens are represented here and most of them are simply outstanding compared to any lunch restaurant in London. Mind you, not all, but most. And the croissant, you wonder? Well, there are so many artisan bakers offering goods from the world of Ceres that I can’t even begin to describe them all. You just have to do what I do when it comes to these things; go there and explore. Don’t be there much later than 1.30pm though since many of the stalls tend to run out of food. In particular in good weather. And if you go, please give my love to Gwilym et. al.

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GANT by Michael Bastian

For this year’s autumn collection GANT, the East Coast preppy clothes brand, invited Michael Bastian to design a special range of mainly sports inspired clothing. And what a success it is. It looks stylish, arrogant in the right way and as always the fabrics chosen are of highest quality.  A joy to look at and to wear! Michael Bastian is a New York City based designer who’s worked for the absolute best in the fashion industry, Tiffany & Co. and Polo Ralph Lauren to mention but a few. With that in mind one can see why his own brand, as well as his designs for GANT, looks like leisure-wear-meets-haute-couture. For this collection he has taken influence from lacrosse which, for most Northern Europeans, is a sport we might have heard of but not many have played. I know that it got sticks with net at the end involved, but that’s about it really…

I realized what a great collection this was when I walked past the GANT flagship store on Regent Street and, having done just that (i.e. walked past) I had to turn around and walk in to watch the Michael Bastian collection. Cleverly placed just inside the doors it was impossible to miss. In particular the tweed jacket, called Guncheck Blazer in the collection, spoke to me. Regardless of the elbow patches, or maybe because of them, it’s one of the nicest jackets I’ve seen in any autumn collection this season. The orange elbow patches, rather big compared to what’s normal in classic gents tailoring, are the greatest feature. Catches your eye immediately. The Oxford shirts as well, such nice quality and looks great with the aforementioned jacket. I’m not entirely convinced about the breast pocket though. That is an invention that should be banned from shirts entirely. Why have a feature that no one in his right mind would ever consider using? It’s a big mystery to me.

If you like the GANT by Michael Bastian collection it might also be worth checking out his own brand, simply called Michael Bastian. One can clearly see similarities in both cut and choice of patterns in the fabrics. But mind you, tartan seem to be all over the place this season. And who would mind? Isn’t it great that it’s not just earth colours on their own? Warm earth tones and a cool tartan can’t go wrong. At least not this autumn. However, my better half would probably mind if I used my kilt all the time. But if worn traditionally it has its advantages, that must be said.

Maybe it wouldn’t be that much of a disaster after all.



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Filed under Art, Bespoke, GANT, Gents Fashion, London, Tartan, Uncategorized

The first lesson growing up on the coast teaches you is how to be alone

The American author, journalist and intellectual-in-waiting Jonathan Franzen once wrote “the first lesson reading teaches you is how to be alone”. I agree fully. But growing up by the sea has the same profound effect. At least on me. Wherever I am in the world I always long to the sea. I need the openness offered, the varying landscape created by hundreds of thousands of years of erosion. Nowhere else can I feel like one with nature as when I’m sat alone by the sea. The power of the North Sea, The English Channel, the Mediterranean seems to be boiling in my blood. I can also feel within me the complete calm the sea can create. When looking out over a completely still sea it is like nothing has happened since the Dawn of Man. As if no one ever tread the Earth or invented the car. Or the complicated banking system for that matter.

This was something I was reminded of when I stopped the car and wandered along a completely silent pebble beach in East Sussex. If you drive between Hastings and Eastbourne, like one does from time to time, try to get off the A269 and find the small B roads that will take you closer to the English Channel.  All the Napoleonic Martello towers are interesting along the way as well, yes, but instead of concentrating on them try to get off the road and wander down to the sea.
Hardly anyone knows about these hidden gems that the beaches here are, so, you will probably be alone. Walk over the little ridge which often divides the road and the beach and you will be surprised. If it’s a low tide it’s even better.

Sit down and smell the fresh air that carries with it the promise of freedom and a life without stress. If so for just a second; try to believe in that promise. It will make the rest of your journey so much easier and much more pleasant. That for me is the power of the sea.

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It’s a first for everything…

So, here we are. After having traveled Europe for work for many years, and having planned to write a blog for even longer, it’s now happening. Like everyone who travels a lot in work knows, it can be fairly lonely and rather boring. To say the least. It’s just so far books and the cinema can relieve you of the tristesse of the hotel room or the temporary apartment. Regardless if it’s in a small town you never been to in a country in a hidden corner of Europe or a metropolis you know well, you need to find things to pass the time. I quickly figured out that for me, botanical gardens (or gardens in general), museums and just strolling the streets looking at architecture was the way forward. Quite literally. Sometimes a visit to a concert or a visit to the theater was the only thing I wanted, and if so, I followed my whim. In general though, I’m more happy visiting a museum, an art gallery, looking for interesting bulbs at Bloemenmarkt in Amsterdam or looking at the fascinating architecture at Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. With the odd exception, that is what I will write about.

Now, enjoy the warm weather which is covering Europe until I see you next time. Don’t forget to bring a bottle of water with you at all times, as they say on the London Underground.

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