It’s so long since my last post, I’d almost forgotten how to use WordPress. It’s been a tumultuous few months for me which will culminate in something exciting very soon, but has meant clothing has been on the back burner for a while. Well, on the back burner until I saw this bobby dazzler of a shirt appear on Oi Polloi which has forced me out of my summer hibernation.
Daiki Suzuki continues his playful twists on preconceived seasonal patterns by adding some tropical fruit to this Fall/Winter’s proceedings. This is a truly special embroidered pattern and it finds it’s home on (in my opinion) Daiki’s finest hour: the 19th Century BD Shirt. He often uses this style as a playground to experiment with fabric and it’s good to see this coming FW13 season is no exception. And for those interested in the 19th Century shirt, I’ve written a piece about it in the newly launched Kennedy Magazine. Hit the link for stockist information.
On a crisp Thursday evening a (good) few weeks ago, I paid a long overdue visit to S.E.H Kelly’s Boundary St HQ. I was welcomed into a warm and cosy studio-cum-showroom complete with cosy lighting and some soothing jazz that perfectly matched the mood of the evening. Paul (one of the two partners) took the time to take me through the Autumn Winter 13 collection they were about to send off to Japan, while Sara (the other partner and the brand’s namesake) worked away upstairs on the mezzanine floor above.
Their studio is situated in Cleve Workshops; East London’s sort-of answer to a Mews terrace, albeit a lot more (charmingly) ramshackle.
If you asked me why it’s taken so long to write something proper about S.E.H Kelly here, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve been a big fan of their brand for some time, but for one reason or another I’ve never gotten around to checking out their clothing in person. Laziness plays a big part in that, but mainly because I’ve got stuck in my ways over the past few years and edited my clothing choices down to the offers of a handful of brands. It’s hard for a new brand to enter the stable as I get older as there are so many boxes I need to see ticked to kindle my interest. With age comes particularity!
Attention is first caught by an excellent product; a garment designed with a solid point of view and vision. A fetishistic love of detail is also a must. The cut needs to be spot on; classic and unaffected by trend; fitted, but comfortable. Materials need to be chosen with an inventive, but careful eye. A point of difference is great, but it needs to suit the garment seamlessly. Manufacturing should be of an exceptional standard; crafted with skill, experience and integrity. Where patterns are painstakingly cut, but corners not at all. Once that’s all in place the rest should follow: a great story, a solid and consistent voice, and a great visual stance; none of which are simple to achieve in their own right.
To satisfy all the above criteria would be to describe the output of S.E.H Kelly. Their garments have been quietly building up a fan base over the last few years with dedicated customers looking for a superior product from an outsider brand. Keeping a low profile in the UK and selling purely through their own showroom and online store has allowed them to a keep a Kung-Fu grip on production, keeping it small, but to an exceptional high quality. Sara and Paul hold these relationships with factories and producers close as its the key ingredient to creating the garments to the standard they demand. Factories also provide a collaborative role, providing crucial advice about production (“don’t use stitched eyelets, they’re rubbish; use metal ones!”) and years of experience from the makers gives great insight into the accurate use and function of many pockets and details (“that hand warmer pocket isn’t too shallow, it’s not for hands; it’s where you keep your cigs!”).
To find the right partner and being able to lean on their expertise is key to many successful creative partnerships. It’s telling that Sara used the word ‘family’ a number of times when talking about the factories as she spends as much of her time there as she does at the studio.
The production of garments is kept loosely seasonal, but many items arrive as and when. It’s clear the guys believe in garments that can be worn year round as new outerwear items are starting to feature Melton wool detachable liners that can be removed in warmer months or swapped with cotton liners.
Contentment in pricing
Playing by their own rules and sticking to the aforementioned points means that the pricing of the garments is also honest and fair. Their mac which is made from the magical, but notoriously expensive material Ventile is a good example of this. Ventile is a natural cotton cloth made from extra long fibres that’s difficult and time consuming to manufacture, but has incredible water repellency. It’s a natural cloth so it’s breathable, but it’s also warm, and incredibly comfortable with a soft hand. Their Ventile mac retails at a very reasonable £350. Expect that price to be £500+ were it any other brand operating with typical overheads and fighting against wholesale prices.
S.E.H Kelly also stand by their pricing year round; a rare and unexpected quality in today’s market place. If garments are offered at a fair price all year round then they don’t need to enter sales. If customers understand this, they feel comfortable paying a good price for a good garment and won’t hesitate to purchase worrying that the item may appear on sale next week; a mentality that is spreading through consumers these days as a side effect of menswear stores offering countless flash sales, mid season sales, free shipping etc.
Aside from the UK market S.E.H Kelly has been picked up by a clutch of key stores in Japan including Beams, Nanamica, etc. The Japanese menswear market has a feverishly nerdy interest in Britain and the hunger for quality is most certainly satisfied by S.E.H Kelly’s clothing. The level of careful curation those stores have and the close scrutiny that garments under go in that menswear sphere is intense, so it’s testament to S.E.H Kelly that their clothes have been selected and are out there flying the flag for British style, design, and manufacturing.
A key characteristic of S.E.H Kelly’s approach is details. Many of the garments are misleadingly simple on first appearance, but most are loaded with details – from construction to functional intricacies. Take their new Tour Jacket for example; a garment I feel epitomises their approach. It’s a seemingly simple and stylish jacket designed for cycling. The jacket is made from Ventile, so it’s waterproof, breathable and comfortable. Use of corduroy adds texture to the collar. Vents at the shoulders add movement and flexibility in the arms – a detail borrowed from hunting jackets.
It features warmer pockets, inside pockets, and cable loops to keep headphone wires in check. But the defining detail is a special strap that buttons internally just under the inside of the arms and over the coat loop, creating two carry straps to place your arms through. This allows the jacket to be shrugged off whilst riding and worn as an impromptu ‘backpack’. This level of innovation and practicality, but balanced through a traditional approach and execution, defines their approach throughout the collections. I’ve always been sceptical about ‘phone pockets’ and ‘cable loops’, but seeing the S.E.H Kelly approach has really changed my feelings about such things. Clothes have always been designed to deal with the practicalities of life at the time; from cigarette pockets to ticket pockets, so adding features to deal with modern items isn’t betraying tradition, but rather carrying on the same approach. Working it all up in fine and natural cloths helps keep it all rooted in class.
Which brings me finally on to S.E.H Kelly’s special relationship with cloth. One of their specialities is finding ‘outsider’ fabrics. Pea coats appear in a chunky and memorable Donegal Tweed wool, reminiscent of tweeds of old. Jumpers are made from some of the thickest wool I’ve ever seen – you won’t find a warmer material. Their ‘Tetris’ tweed (named by the guys after the blocks of the video game) gives standout to a classic sports coat. Things take a further obscure twist when you throw things like their deadstock cord into the mix salvaged from an abandoned Mill in Cottonopolis and used to great effect on their new shirting. Then come the bespoke materials they’re working on with weaver extraordinaire Daniel Harris. It’s this intrinsic connection to the fabric that sets S.E.H Kelly apart from many other brands and almost places them in a world that’s closer to Savile Row than it is to the casual menswear market. And one of the many reasons I’m going to have to start making some more space in my wardrobe.
A final note
This isn’t fashion. These aren’t clothes to titillate the fickle and trendy. These are clothes for the wearer’s joy and fulfilment. Designed, woven and stitched together with the man in mind for whom the garment is intended; the man who appreciates quality, design, style, comfort, and the very quietly extraordinary.
Here are three books I’ve been enjoying over the last few weeks and I wanted to share with you. The first is Alastair Morton & Edinburgh Weavers by Lesley Jackson, a book I spotted not long ago in Margaret Howell’s Wigmore St Store (but purchased at a realistic price from Amazon).
The book is a huge retrospective of the Edinburgh Weavers iconic textiles work drawing mainly from the V&A’s extensive archive and it features a vast collection of Alastair Morton’s artworks and textile designs as well as work from the artists he commissioned as Edinburgh Weavers art director including; Lucienne Day, Barbara Hepworth, Elisabeth Frink, and Ben Nicholson to name but a few.
As it’s well documented, Dennis was the only ‘real’ Beach Boy from the Beach Boys. While the rest of Brian’s troupe waxed lyrical about their boards and surfin’ safaris, Dennis was the only member putting the art of Surfing in to practise. Wave chasing aside he was also the only member to genuinely adopt the free wheeling beach lifestyle that defined much of The Beach Boys music.
The darker sides of Dennis – from his tragic involvement with the Manson Family, the heavy drinking and pot smoking (which damaged his voice to gravelly perfection – see/hear Pacific Ocean Blues), to the alcohol abuse that would lead to his premature death from drowning – all contribute to form a complex and intriguing super dude that is often overshadowed by the legacy and immense talent of his brother, Brian.
But rather than this being a mini-biopic of the man I’d of course like to focus on his inimitable relaxed style. There aren’t many gents that can get away with such high waisted pants and still look 110% cooled out with the situation. And not many people have donned Hawaiian shirts with the same degree of sincere causality before or since his Pacific Ocean reign. Team all that up with a Grizzly-Adams-Mountain-Man beard and you’ve got a winning combo on your hands that can even chill a tuxedo the-fuck-out.
So with many brands ‘reviving’ the Hawaiian shirt this season and some fine examples out there already, I thought it would be good to take a leaf from Dennis’ book to show how to wear ‘em loud whilst playing it cool. Here’s a variety of Dennis vs The Hawaiian Shirt images with some recently available latter day options from Stitched & Stitched favourites; Engineered Garments, Levi’s Vintage Clothing, Monitaly, Our Legacy, and Woolrich Woolen Mills.
After reading Mr. Ian Mouzer’s post about the Gansey, my good friend and master ceramicist Mr. Matthew Tyas contacted me with some fantastic images he took a couple of years ago of ‘The Filey Room’ in Filey Museum. There he had a very entertaining and enlightening chat with a lady called Margaret Taylor (who knitted the samples and jumpers in the images) who told him all about the Gansey, how they were made and how it’s unfortunately becoming a dying art as she has no one to pass her skills on to. I’m very much looking forward to visiting the museum next time I’m up that way and learning about these amazing jumpers first hand.
Last month the better half and I decided we needed a little rest so we headed up north to Whitby in North Yorkshire. While we were there we took note of some of the older fishermen in the bay. I have always admired the traditional working-man’s practical style and often look for inspiration for my own wardrobe (Lumberjack, Cowboy and Oil Prospector are already in there). I was especially drawn to the wool jumpers a lot of the gents were wearing so I endeavoured to find out where I could purchase an authentic fisherman’s jumper.
I found an old knitting shop and decided to look in and ask about the jumpers and I was politely informed by a delightful old woman that I wasn’t looking for a ‘Jumper’ but a ‘Gansey’. The term ‘Gansey’ is derived from Guernsey, the Channel Island in which this particular style of knit originated.
So what makes a Gansey? The Gansey is a unique type of jumper traditionally worn by fishermen. They are knitted with 5 ply worsted wool in one piece with no seams. Five small double ended needles or wires are used to knit in the round creating a really tight knit (or close knit) which creates a wind and somewhat waterproof protection against the elements. The intricate patterns often concentrate towards the upper part of the garment around the shoulders, arms and chest and are often made reversible so they can be worn either way around prolonging the wear of the Gansey before it needs repair.
As the bottom half of the Gansey suffered most wear and tear it was often left plain so the lower body, cuffs, and the plain of the sleeves could easily be pulled out and re-knitted. The sleeves were often rather short so that the cuffs didn’t get caught or stay permanently wet when the men were fishing. The traditional fisherman would wear a Gansey next to the skin with the addition of a pure silk scarf to stop chaffing around the neck. This would also create a seal to keep in heat. The Gansey would also come in to play when a Fisherman was out of work. To denote this he would turn up the bottom of his Gansey to let other Captains know he was approachable for hire. The turned up section also doubled as a handy pocket later adopted to keep their tobacco and matches.
There are many Gansey patterns, often depicting fishing related iconography such as anchors, cables, and diamonds (nets) and some included weather and land influences, from lightning strikes and hail to furrows and the harvest. Many fishing and port towns around the North East coast had their own unique styles (which often came in handy when identifying drowned seamen). The most popular styles still available include Staithes, Runswick Bay, Whitby, Robin Hoods Bay, Scarborough, Filey, Flamborough, Patrington, and Humber Keel.
I decided to go for the Whitby Gansey as I loved the ‘half and half’ design, which covers the chest and upper arms with patterning and leaves the lower half plain. I also plumped for a denim knit which is untraditional, but lighter and should see me in to the late spring/early summer without being too warm. The denim wool is naturally died with indigo and like a good pair of jeans will naturally wear lighter over time. Each Gansey is made to measure and takes 6 to 8 weeks to hand knit and you can pick and choose your own specifications. I went for a fully traditional crew neck and plain ribbed cuffs and hem. If possible, I would recommend going to get measured up and talk in person about your requirements, but if you can’t then the place I bought mine from (details below) do an excellent mail order service.
I can’t think of a garment that’s going to look better with this beard I’m growing. Next step: take up full time pipe smoking.
Autumn finally showed up last week during a short trip to N.Y. (North Yorkshire) and what better way to greet it than with a selection of Scottish fabrics. Adding to the Harris Tweed jacket I already had on, I picked up a really nice Barbour scarf in their blue Newmarket Plaid. I picked mine up from Orvis in Harrogate, but the scarf is also available from Oi Polloi at a very reasonable £25. The scarves are made in Scotland and are finely produced in a very soft Lambswool. I have another one in white from a few seasons back and it’s holding up really well with very little pilling after much use.
Adding to the Scottish theme of the trip was a book I picked up in Helmsley Antiquarian & Secondhand Bookstore called The Face of Scotland by Harry Batsford and Charles Fry. The stunning cover illustration is by classic British landscape artist Brian Cook who’s iconic work defined an era of travel across the UK from the 30′s through to the 50′s with his book jacket illustrations and railway posters. The cover is printed with a five colour letterpress process using water based inks and hand cut rubber plates. Intensified by Cook’s imagination the vivid illustration captures perfectly some of the amazing colours you actually see in the Scottish countryside.
The finishing Scottish touch to the break was a spiced pork Scotch egg (ok, not actually Scottish) at the Star Inn in Harome near Helmsley. Served up with two huge pieces of crackling on a bed of spiced apple sauce, Black Pudding bread, and costing a mere £6, it was the perfect end to a great couple of days away. I’m going to write more about The Star Inn soon, but in the meantime, here’s a snap of the most amazing Scotch Egg I’ve ever eaten.