My attention has recently been drawn to lightweight, technical outdoor Japanese brand Mont Bell. The brand was founded by climber Isarmu Tatsura in 1975 and they produce garments that focus on an incredible warmth-to-weight ratio. New menswear label and store Several have a small selection available and I’m particularly interested in the UL Down Tee which will make for a great layering piece in winter, especially with something like an E.G. wool Bedford jacket over the top. The tee is made from ballistic nylon ripstop which is lighter and stronger than your usual nylon. Perfect for those gruelling weather conditions of central London.
The Bal coat has easily been my favourite E.G. piece over the last couple of seasons. It’s a super versatile coat with a relaxed silhouette thanks to the raglan sleeves. I also love that the Spring / Summer version is quite a different option, presented in more modern fabrics and heavier on the details with a detachable hood, asymmetric collar, and hand warmer pockets. The winter version, seen here, is a seemingly simpler garment, but it is infact reversible, often offering a more eccentric alternative to a sober counterpart.
There’s a good overview of the FW jackets from Engineered Garments over at nepenthes.co.jp. Nice to see a focus on one particular type of garment. Re-presented here for viewing ease (the nepenthes site is quite slow).
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.
The March issue of Popeye Magazine landed on these shores recently and it focuses on street style snaps of ‘City Boys’ in their day-to-day gear. One such ‘City Boy’ is Engineered Garment’s Daiki Suzuki with a feature on his week in outfits. I’m always interested to see how a master of styling such as Daiki takes to actually dressing himself. There’s a couple of surprises in there; stone washed Levi’s (good), Ugg Boots (bad – not even Daiki can sway my mind on these!). I’d go Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday for my favourite looks here. Tuesday’s Truman Jacket teamed up with some sad old Dad jeans is an especially corking look. And Wednesday’s Over Parka with the adjustable skirt is a big favourite of mine. Great wardrobe inspiration…
I thought I’d start this year by making a post about a subject closest to the heart of this blog: enduring quality. Tried and tested clothing. The majority of the garments featured have been worn week in, week out in the autumn and winter months for the best part of six years.
The pieces here are what I’d regard as ‘timeless’; a term thrown around far too frequently in the menswear field in the last few years. It’s hard to find contemporary makers that will deliver on that word, but the brands featured here I feel have offered it over the course of their existence. For me, ‘timeless’ is about the right size of lapel. The right depth of collar. The right cut of shirt to suit the style of shirt. The right choice of materials to suit the piece. The fit that is fitted. Not skinny. Not baggy. The pattern that is always relevant. The right width of tie. Never too far in fashion, but never too far out. ‘Timeless’ walks the line.
Many of the items below are still made today in varying forms. Many have been developed and improved upon since I purchased mine. Which is another quality I love of the brands featured here. No dramatic changes or redevelopments, but incremental improvements and tinkering, each season, all in the pursuit of making something better; not more fashionable.
So I guess think of this as a tried and tested recommendation list. I’d love to know people out there are getting the same amount of joy out of this garb as I have over the years.
Engineered Garments Bedford Jacket
I purchased this on holiday in NYC in 2007 and it has scarcely been off my back since. I own two other Bedford jackets for Summer, but I’ve never bought another for Winter as this is so versatile. It can be dressed up or down: super casual and warm with a hoody underneath or nicely formal with a shirt and tie. With four patch pockets on the front, a single vent, and useful internal pockets, it’s one of Engineered Garments most practical, but simple jackets. The Melton wool on this version – a fabric Daiki Suzuki is always revisiting – is such a forgiving and durable cloth that it is yet to show any real signs of wear. This one is also special for me as he included leather elbow patches on this version, which to my mind, he hasn’t done since on this model of jacket. Daiki has produced some outstanding jackets for both Engineered Garments and Woolrich Woollen Mills, but I regard this as one of his finest moments. There are new versions every season and some are in the sales now.
Nigel Cabourn Authentic Four Pocket Vest
This is perhaps my most worn garment over Autumn and Winter. It was included in Nigel Cabourn’s first Limited Edition collection and has consistently reappeared in the authentic line since, although in many different materials and colours. Along with his Cameraman jacket I’d also say it’s one his most copied pieces. It’s an extremely useful layer that can look as good with a plaid Workshirt as it can with a BD Oxford shirt and tie. Superdenim currently have some of the latest versions on sale here.
Engineered Garments Workshirt
Arguably the cornerstone of Engineered Garments shirting and perhaps Daiki’s most referential piece, this shirt features every season in many different materials and patterns and always in a selection of chambray. The fit can change slightly depending on material and season, but it always features the same tough chain stitch construction, pockets based on a vintage Reliance Big Yank Cigarette Pocket shirt, and the iconic use of an odd cat’s eye button for the last fastening on the placket. Another nice detail is the choice of contrasting colour for the placket trim. This particular shirt was the first Engineered Garments piece I ever bought and it’s probably seen more wear than any other item in this list as its worn all year round. It has accompanied me on many hikes as well as day to day wear too. It’s robust and tough and after nearly six years it’s showing no signs of wear, tears, or fraying. It just gets comfier.
Engineered Garments Workaday 19th Century BD Shirt
The Engineered Garments 19th Century BD shirt is my absolute favourite shirt. It’s pattern is taken from a vintage Gitman shirt and is very similar in style to a modern Gitman shirt, but with the addition of large curved overlapping plackets; a detail that really sets it apart. Daiki exercises some of his more playful fabric choices on this piece from season to season in the main E.G. line. You can read in further detail about this shirt here. The one pictured here is from the Workaday line and is made in classic Oxford stripe. As with many items here it gets dressed up and down. Casually, it looks great untucked, showing off the odd plackets; formally, it looks great tucked in as the curved placket stops the shirt from splaying open at the waist line. It’s all about the details with this piece.
Engineered Garments Workaday Fatigue Pants
These are a pretty new addition to my wardrobe, but have already become a regular wear for me. These are fairly loose fitting and in a great colour. They’re always in the Workaday line and feature each season in the E.G. mainline, but in differing cuts and fabrics. The fabric here is reverse sateen and is nice and hard wearing. These are a great alternative to regular jeans, trousers, and chinos, but their simplicity also keeps them nicely away from the combat pant. I like to often wear these with a shirt and tie for that ‘business up top, but me legs are already in the weekend’ look.
Woolrich Woollen Mills Upland BD Shirt
Sadly, this is the only garment here that’s no longer readily available although a few keep popping up on Yoox at good prices. This was Daiki’s second attempt at this shirt; the first version (which I have, but don’t wear nearly as much) didn’t feature the iconic billowing chest pocket that this version has and was made in a heavier, but less appealing chambray. For me this shirt epitomised Daiki’s approach to his WWM collections: outdoor pursuits meets the classic and wearable. Reinforced shoulder detailing and elbows give this a hardy feel, while the button down collar makes it feels a touch more classic, striking a nice balance between casually smart and relaxed workwear. Along with the Workshirt here, this is my most heavily worn and washed shirt as it’s another great garment for all year round. It’s wearing nicely now with the chambray fading like denim around the collars and cuffs. I’d certainly recommend trying to get your hands on one as it will do you proud for many years.
Nigel Cabourn Mainline U.S. Clip Jacket (pictured right)
A constant in the Nigel Cabourn Mainline collection (made in Japan), I struggle to recommend this due to it’s absurd overpricing, but it’s worth hunting around for one in the sales and on eBay because it is an incredibly constructed super versatile piece. I managed to pick up a half price sample version in Present some years ago and it’s proved to be an indispensable layering piece ever since. Based on a U.S Gym/training jacket it features a breast pocket and two hand pockets. This simple and useful jacket is given that Cabourn twist with the addition of the metal clip fastenings that have become somewhat of a signature for Nigel. Versions have definitely improved since I purchased mine with a higher grade clip fastening now on the jacket (same as the Cameraman jacket). There’s many replicas of this jacket around (most notably Heritage Research’s USN clip jacket), but if you’re going to buy one, don’t get the poor man’s version, hunt around for Cabourn. It’s worth the time.
Nigel Cabourn Authentic Cameraman Jacket (pictured left)
I’m yet to see a parka I love more than Nigel Cabourn’s iconic and mighty Cameraman Jacket. I was first shown it in Oi Polloi years ago and I was utterly blown away by the details. The jacket features a marriage of two of Britain’s most celebrated and cherished fabrics – Mackintosh and Harris Tweed – and includes Nigel’s signature clip fastening on the upper portion. Appearing every season in the Authentic line since it was launched as part of the Limited Edition collection, this is quite possibly the most copied jacket of the last decade of menswear. Many have had a pop, but all have completely failed to understand what makes this jacket: the quality materials and the build. It doesn’t feel like you’re putting on a jacket; the Mackintosh makes it feel like you’re getting into a protective shell. It’s featured in other fabrics down the years including summer versions in Beeswax cotton and linen. If you’re going to get one, please don’t buy them at the extortionate full price. They always make it to the sales every season. You may have noted I have a problem with Nigel’s pricing. While his clothes are among some of the most exceptionally constructed I have seen, they are not worth the money – unless you’re having a completely bespoke suit made to your own specifications by a team of highly skilled individuals – no clothes are! Hit the sales for this stuff.
A.P.C. New (& Old) Standards
Like fine wine, you can go crazy with denim. But my own sensibilities do not carry me far enough into that world and I’m happy not to go there, because quite frankly; I can’t taste the difference. Denim is the work horse of the casual man’s wardrobe and in my opinion should be purchased, worn, and washed as such. I currently have four pairs of New Standards in rotation. Photographed here is my latest pair and my second pair, now a good five years old. All four still get regular wear. These jeans are decent denim, at a decent price. Simple and classic, they remain an amazing colour throughout their tenure; from their bluey grey beginnings to their stone washed end. And I can’t argue with half a decade (plus) of constant wear. All still going strong.
Steven Alan Woolrich Plaid Tie
I probably wouldn’t buy a Steven Alan tie anymore as I deem them a little too slim nowadays, but this purchase from a few years ago is just about my most worn tie and I still wear it with monotonous regularity. And it’s all down to the material. The Woolrich fabric used on this tie is just about the most versatile plaid I’ve seen as it seems to be able to slot into just about any outfit with ease. I buy ties from Engineered Garments and Drakes now as the quality and shape is perfect, but I wanted to include this piece as its just been so good down the years. Subtle pattern and texture is what I’ve looked for in a tie ever since I realised exactly why I like this one so much.
Trickers Stow Boots
The classic English country boot; Tricker’s Stow. This is a colour that goes with just about everything, a commando sole that will tackle just about anything, in a style that looks appropriate just about anywhere. The scotch grain adds an aesthetic hardiness to the already tough calfskin and does well to hide many creases that would be showing up a lot more prominently on smooth leather. Going on four years with a lot of wear these need a minimal amount of looking after as this colour and finish seems to hold its shine so well. If I had to reduce my shoe collection down to one choice for winter, this would be that choice. I’d always visit Richard at The Shoe Healer for my Tricker’s these days. Even at full price these are worth every penny.
Some of the awesome new Nigel Cabourn Limited Edition 2 (Scott’s Last Expedition) line is starting to show up in stores and Coggles have my two choice pieces in stock: the Frank Debenham Seaman Coat and the Henry R. Bowers Deck Jacket – the former in white being my favourite. The tonal oiled cotton details on the wool Deck Jacket are what set it apart for me, especially it’s continuation over the shoulders down the rear of the jacket. This is going to be perfect for winter when I take my Arctic Wolves on their early morning strolls around Blackheath.
These images are from Quit Mad Stop’s (x!.) SS11 and FW11 collections and although they’ve been knocking around a while I’ve not seen them do the rounds too much so I thought they were still worth a post. With a few surf specific themed brands emerging in the last few years (Saturdays, Batten Sportwear) it seems Quit Mad Stop seem to have the most mature approach of the crop.
The brand was started by Eric Scott and May Redding as a response to a lack of high end quality in the leisure clothing sector. They went to town creating super basic, beautifully crafted pieces all hand sewn in NYC’s garment district. Produced in small runs on a seemingly as and when basis, the brand doesn’t seem too seasonally focused – which I really like. A great board short is a great board short all year round I guess.
Above all, the thing I’ve enjoyed most about this brand is its excellent look book imagery – fantastic styling with a great model, and eccentric and humorous set ups without being too hipster.
The stand out pieces for me are the retro feeling board shorts with the tie up front adding a nice twist. The tailoring on these looks spot on. The bags also catch the eye and both the leather and duck canvas versions look as tough as old boots. There’s not a lot of stockists around, but Park and Bond carry a few pieces.
Oh, and the name; it’s from the last three lines of Jack Kerouac’s Bowery Blues apparently reflecting how both Eric and May felt at the point of the brand’s creation.
He’s quite possibly the inspiration for many of Daiki Suzuki’s key A/W looks and the prototype for the landscape of today’s menswear. Classic and relaxed plaid button downs are teamed with great cable knits, fatigue pants, monkey boots and traditional bobble hats. From waffle knit sweaters to Melton wool parkas, the kid nailed it all. I’ve been trying to dress as well as this dude since I was eight years old and am now only just finding my stride – he had it from the age of eight. The re-re-birth of the Americana/Preppy movement subconsciously began here. Merry Christmas (ya filthy animal) and a Happy New Year.