Here at last is the inaugural issue of Kennedy Magazine – a Biannual Journal of uriosities. Brought to the world by the brilliant minds of Mr. Chris Kontos and the late Mr. Angelo Pandelidis, it’s a voyage through the subjects of art, music, fashion, and culture delivered in a beautifully compact, travel friendly format. Features include interviews with artists Olaf Breuning, and Edwin Wurm, musicians Andrew Weatherall, and Eddie Ruscha, and film director Whit Stillman as well as style counselling from Trunk Clothiers London, and yours truly. It’s also beautifully designed with stunning photography throughout.
I feel very proud to have been involved in this wonderful project and that pride was only intensified after the recent news of joint Editor-in-Chief Angelo Pandelidis’ sudden and tragic death. Together with Chris he has created a truly special magazine that will resonate with many people. I only hope that this is just the beginning for Kennedy and that Angelo has helped lay the foundations for a long standing and continually entertaining publication.
I’d love to reveal more, but I’d like you to go out and purchase a copy to pore over and enjoy. Please visit kennedymagazine.com to find your stockist or purchase online, or alternatively (for UK folks only) purchase a copy over at noncollective.com.
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.
As the expected Spring Summer flush of on-trend floral patterns – both big and small – washes in to stores, one brand that continues to march to the beat of it’s own drum is Drakes of London. Yes, once again Drakes turns up to the party with a plethora of unexpected and unusual patterns; from the audaciously geometric to the eccentrically pictorial. Here’s a selection of my favourite patterned pocket squares they have on offer at the moment. I have a particular hankering (pun unashamedly intended) for both ‘Deco’ prints; they’re just swell. I urge you to cast surf culture aside this Summer and smash some left field patterning in to your breast pocket.
I’m a big fan of the blog A Suitable Wardrobe. Although my own sartorial interests lie on the casual side of menswear, I find Will Boehlke’s musings about classic and bespoke tailoring very inspiring. Many of his ideas and principals regarding colour, pattern and texture are applicable across every gentleman’s wardrobe.
One of my favourite regular posts from Will has been his Suit & Sock installments. I start pretty much everyday with an idea to wear one thing in particular and then dress the rest of the outfit around it. More often than not, that item is either shoes or socks. Socks often dictate an outfit as it can depend on what’s available on that day (i.e. not stuck in the laundry). I never don a pair to coordinate with anything else I’m wearing, but rather to compliment another garment (co-ordination being one of Will’s biggest no-nos. A man should look like he took care to look good, but didn’t try too hard).
You’ll notice there is a lot of Fair Isle in this particular collection of shots. It’s obviously a great winter pattern, adds a flash of visual interest to the ankle (make sure what’s going on up top isn’t too brash as well – don’t want to over cook your ‘look’!) and it often has plenty of colour to work with for the rest of the outfit.
So with this post – rather than a total rip of an idea – please think of it more as ‘Stitched & Stitched after A Suitable Wardrobe’. A casual man’s whimsical and light hearted homage to the serious business of classical menswear and colour matching. There’s more to come down the line – I’m already looking forward to Summer so I can break out some socks and sandals combos. Regardless of my missus wincing every time I mention it, I’m convinced they’re going to be the way forward.
Us Brits haven’t really had a lot of exposure to Cordovan compared to our friends over the pond. Many people over here still think it’s simply a colour of leather. I did a lot of research before purchasing my first pair of Cordovan shoes recently and I thought it would be good to share the information I compiled for those who are thinking about buying a pair. Below is what I regard as the essential knowledge for a first time buyer to be aware of. I’ll keep adding to this list anything further I find of interest and think might be useful as well as anything I experience with my own pair (especially in regards to the Comipel Cordovan). I’m happy to add anyone else’s comments, thoughts and experiences of Cordovan to this post in order to make a well rounded guide.
THE SHELL: Cordovan is horse leather cut from the horse’s hind. Three pieces known as ‘shells’ are taken from each horse suitable for making shoes, hence one of the reasons Cordovan shoes are so expensive: one horse equals one pair of shoes (well, one and a half technically).
CREATION AND COLOUR: The creation of Cordovan is a long, painstaking process over a period of six months. It’s a very difficult leather to colour as the dyeing is done by hand. A common complaint about Cordovan is often the poor colouration of the material, either from the outset (it may be uneven or patchy) or fading over time. The difficulty of the colouring however is no excuse for poor colouration upon purchase as Cordovan customers are charged a high premium for the material and should accept nothing less than perfect.
LIMITATIONS: Cordovan is a tough and resilient leather, but due to its thickness it’s difficult to stitch and sew by hand and limits the amount of styles available in the material. For example the ‘beefroll’ on a beefroll penny loafer would prove too difficult to bend and sew for most shoe makers, thus making the style too hard to create.
WEAR: Cordovan is softer, more pliable, and comfier than calfskin and it ripples rather than creases. Cordovan shoes require regular rotation and shouldn’t really be worn more than once before being given a rest. It’s worth keeping shoe trees in your Cordovan shoes in between wears.
THE SHINE: The natural oils, fats and greases ‘stuffed’ and ‘curried’ in to the leather during the tanning process (as well as its generally thicker, oilier make up compared to that of calfskin) means that Cordovan naturally remains glossy and shiny without adding any polishes or creams. In fact to use anything such as this may actually ruin the surface and cover up its beauty. Buffing with a soft cloth and brushing with a stiff horsehair brush is all that should be needed to maintain the shine. A little polish paste spread very thinly over the shoe may be needed every once in a while.
CLEANING: To clean, only a damp cloth should be used. I’ve heard rubbing Cordovan with a very slightly damp cloth and then buffing over and over (for 30 minutes or so) is also another great way to bring out the shine.
SPEWING: White marks can form on new Cordovan at creasing points. This is called ‘spewing’. This is totally normal and can be wiped and buffed away.
WATER: Despite being harder wearing and more water proof than calfskin, water can cause problems for the surface of Cordovan. Small ‘welts’ can appear where water has made contact. These are normal and should disappear when the leather is totally dry. If they don’t disappear the marks should come out with buffing and brushing. Persistent welts can be removed with the back of a teaspoon wrapped in a soft cloth.
PRODUCERS: As mentioned in my M.T.O post, Horween (based in Chicago) is widely regarded as the best manufacturer of Shell Cordovan. They supply many of the finest shoe manufacturers with Cordovan, Alden being perhaps the most famous maker of Cordovan shoes with the Horween product. Many English shoe brands use Horween Shell Cordovan for their M.T.O shoes (and some R.T.W models) such as Alfred Sargeants and Crockett & Jones. Brits and Europeans can expect to pay a large premium for Horween however, which may explain why Tricker’s use Italian manufacturer Comipel to supply their Cordovan. My own Cordovan boots are Comipel Cordovan and I’m very happy with how they’re wearing so far. I’ve seen complaints that the surface isn’t as splendid as Horween and that it has a metallic odour. In my short experience I have not found this to be the case at all. The Mogano colour material looks to be every bit as nice (if not nicer) than some Colour 8 Alden’s I’ve seen in person and when compared side by side with Horween’s Whiskey Cordovan I would take Comipel’s Mogano everytime (however it’s only really fair to compare similar colours). Comipel’s colour range is more extensive and unusual than Horween’s, but Horween has the iconic Colour 8 which I think is the finest Cordovan colour of all. To the best of my knowledge Tricker’s do not and will not produce shoes in Horween Shell Cordovan.
FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE: People have good and bad experiences with bench made shoes in any material. They are hand made products and are open to human inaccuracies. People are of course hyper critical when paying a higher price on rarer materials which is why Cordovan often comes under scrutiny. My advice would be to take as much as you can onboard from forums and blogs, but nothing beats handling the leathers in the flesh to decide for yourself if it’s worth the extra expense. Many people think not, but I fall on the other side and think it’s a leather with a shine like no other and worth having at least one pair of shoes in this special super-durable material.
RAIN REACTIONS: I’ve noticed that a complete soaking in a heavy downpour is actually better for the leather than a brief splashing in a light shower. The reason being that when individual droplets hit the material they cause it to ‘welt’ (as previously noted). However, when it’s evenly soaked it swells evenly and dries smooth. An even soaking from a downpour yesterday has somewhat ‘reset’ the material and has gotten rid of any previous persistent ‘welts’. Finding this has put my mind at rest about one of my biggest concerns over Cordovan. ***Added 06 01 2011***
COMIPEL VS HORWEEN: Now with a pair of shoes in Cordovan from both manufacturers I feel I can give a better comparison. Here’s some notes on the differences I’ve noticed between my pairs:
Comipel is thinner than Horween’s product and has a definite difference when creased. Comipel ‘ripples’ much more than Horween Cordovan which has a sharper crease (whilst still not a crease like calf skin).
The Comipel has an almost ‘satin’ finish to it whilst the Horween is pure gloss. The Horween leather on my particular pair far out shines the Comipel, although I think I’ve got a particularly shiny example of Alden Longwings. Some of the Color #8 Alden’s I tried on at Browns the other week had a pretty dull surface (duller than my Comipel’s infact). It goes to show it’s total swings and roundabouts. Choose wisely.
Whilst not the same, the Color #8 Cordovan creases a lot lighter than the Comipel Mogano Brown (probably Comipel’s closest match).
One thing I will say in favour of the Horween Cordovan is it’s much more evenly coloured. The Comipel Mogano Brown, although a slightly lighter colour is a little patchy.
There has been very little difference in wet weather performance. Both have ‘welted’ in exactly the same way and frequency. The only way I really got rid of the welting on my Comipel leather was when it got saturated in a storm. The material swelled evenly and dried evenly to a dull finish. They shined up with a cloth and some elbow grease right back to normal. I would say (from a few wet weather performances) that the Horween leather retains its shine much more effectively. I need to buff the Comipel back every few wears (regardless of whether they get wet or not).
In terms of the actual leather performance and wear I couldn’t make a clear decision between the two – for me it’s simply the iconic Color #8 that swings it in Horween’s direction in this comparison. ***Added 22 02 2011***
A NOTE ON TRICKER’S USING HORWEEN. A couple of weeks ago I made an enquiry at Tricker’s Jermyn Street regarding a pair of MTO Short (5 hole) Stow Boots made in Horween Cordovan Color #8. Tricker’s informed me the DO NOT use Horween Cordovan. The reason they told me they gave it up was because they were not satisfied with the supply coming from Horween as not every piece was suitable for making shoes. They would however make a pair if I supplied the Horween Cordovan myself. The exercise would have proved too expensive and too big a risk considering Tricker’s reluctance to touch the stuff, so I gave up the enquiry. For those who would be interested you can buy Horween Cordovan direct from their UK agent A&A Crack (based in Northampton). The price to supply enough Cordovan for a pair of boots was around £170 (two pieces of Grade II Cordovan). I still might buy a piece myself as I’m interested in perhaps making a wallet out of it at some point. ***Added 22 02 2012***
I found out an interesting fact about Color #8 during my visit to New York’s Leffot. Alden apparently stain their Color #8 a slightly ruddier colour than the original material Horween provide. Alden’s treatment also adds a glossier sheen to the leather. Having seen a few examples of the original Color #8 it is much closer to Comipel’s Mogano than I originally thought. This goes to explain some of the inconsistency I’ve witnessed between certain brands using this shade. ***Added 16 05 2012***