Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pardon The Interruption

Dear readers, please excuse the paucity in posts. Especially the sudden break in the Quality week series. I don't think that once I'm back online I will continue with it because the break has definitely slowed my momentum. My laptop battery charger decided to pack up and stop working. Thus rendering the tool 'useless'. I hope to be back online by the 1st November. Until then please check the PG network for more great reads.

And as always...

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Quality Week Pt 2: Watchmaking; Le Locle

How do you preserve a centuries old craft? You teach it to a group of young, enthusiastic students, who espouse and hold dear the history and legacy behind the craft. The future is in safe hands if these very students aspire to preserve the craft themselves, for posterity. This statement is none more truer than the tradition of watchmaking in a small town nestled in the Swiss Alps; Le Locle. A school in the town teaches the craft and students are discovering the intricacies and wonders of mechanical watchmaking.

A custodian of such a complex and intricate craft is a gentleman, who is also a teacher at the technical college in Le Locle, Yves Antoniotti. "Some of the technology has evolved, but the basic techniques remain unchanged." Techniques like hand-polishing screwheads until they gleam like mirrors, or grinding axle-ends down to a 10th of a millimetre using miniature lathes.

A four year course at the Le Locle technical college is grueling and arduous. As much as it is a test of one's patience (a cardinal virtue of a watchmaker), the process is also a test of a student's willpower, resilience and composure. In 1999 the class started with 17 students. Seven were left by 2001. The school year being a culmination of hand-tooling and assembling 92 miniscule components that make up a Zenith Marine Chronometer - a complex and intricate piece of micro-engineering. The paradox in this process is that the hand-tooling and assembling are considered obsolete, yet it is this very obsolescence that produces watches that fetch premium prices. In the words of Antoniotti, "The boom today is in complicated mechanical watches for the luxury market." 

The history and preservation of watchmaking in Le Locle can be attributed to Daniel Jeanrichard. In the early 1700s Jeanrichard opened the region's first watchmaking workshop, sharing his skills with his seven children and a handful apprentices. Jeanrichard is legendary because he was a self-taught watchmaker who invented the first specialised watchmaking machinery.

Le Locle's school of watchmaking first opened its doors in 1886 and moved to its current premises in 1995. The traditional techniques of watchmaking are still applied. At the end of the course students will have mastered the history of watchmaking from the 15th century to the present day, in both theory and practice. This is a fact many of the teachers can attest to. The practical side of the course also entails: antiques and clocks in varying states of disassembly. The idea is to restore a clock or watch to its original state, thus tackling the problem of missing components. Research into where the timepiece was made and what tools were used is also conducted. Computer-assisted design programs to reconceptualise missing parts is juxtaposed next to a separate workshop with lathes and machine tools to produce them. The reward: when they leave the college, they should be able to do anything a professional watchmaker is ever called upon to do.

One of the student's, Tobias Schenkel, concedes that there's something absurd about his chosen profession. He concludes rather poignantly that, "watchmaking is like an island in the modern era. Amid all these new technologies, it's one old technology that's exactly the same today as it was 100 years ago."

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Quality Week Pt 1: Shoemaking; Berluti, Paris

The beautiful thing about keeping things in the family is the fact that you attach sentimental meaning to everything. This was no different with Olga Berluti when she fashioned her first bovine effigy from the finest leather; she named the irresistable beast Torella, after her grandfather Torello Berluti. She was, at a young age, roped into the custom-made shoes family business to tame her somewhat intractible nature. What she was able to do over the years, especially at the helm, was introduce new innovations into the custom process "such as novel, deeply burnished patinas, unheard-of new colours of terra-cotta, viridescent sable, musty mulberry or pinot-noir purple; decorative "warrior" ridges, sometimes assymetrical, inspired by African tribal scarification; small pinch pleats and punch-hole "tattoos"; and a leather-strip "lasso" threaded along the side of a shoe like silk ribbon might have been at the court of Versailles."

The article takes a closer look at the Berluti custom shoemaking process and how Olga takes a hands-on approach, especially taking into consideration her high profile clientele; something she terms "four hands". Her approach to comfort and fit is quasi-medical because of her own consultations on foot physiology. A process she engaged with her physician and surgeon clients. Incisively articulated: she refuses to make the wrong shoe for a client's foot or lifestyle.

Olga Berluti refuses to call herself an artist; she prefers "workman, like the workers of the Renaissance"- or like her great-grandfather Alessandro Berluti, born in Senigallia on Italy's Adriatic coast. Somewhat of a dilettante in carpentry, he trekked to Paris in 1895 staying 10 years, in the process honing his shoemaking skills and establishing his reputation for custom-made shoes during the Universal Exhibition of 1900. This, however, did not signal the end of the family's work back in Senigallia. Torello, his son, learnt the craft in this workshop and then also made his way to Paris in 1928. Speak of young blood injecting new ideas and innovation, Torello made his fortune with a model called the "Pope's shoe" - a variation of his father's original seamless three-eyelet Oxford - along with the "Renaissance Prince's shoe" (a seamless moccasin) and the "Napoleon III," a high top model with the first ever elastic side gussets. In the early 1950s he moved into the wood paneled shop on the rue Marbeuf, near the Champs-Elysees, that is still the Berluti flagship.

In the 1960s and 70s Torello's son, Talbinio, took over the reins and added a line of luxury ready-to-wear shoes, making the label available to an ever-larger international clientele with somewhat less money. There is some serious exclusivity to Berluti clientele, by the time Olga took over the reins from Talbinio, the client list read like a Who's Who of 20th century arts, letters, science and industry: James de Rothschild, Gaston and Claude Gallimand, Cursio Malaparte, Alberto Moravia, Robert F. Kennedy, Edith Piaf, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Marcel Dassault, Francois Truffaut, Sergio Leone and Andy Warhol.

Some of the processes involved in the construction of a Berluti shoe are rather idiosyncratic and unique, a patented tanning process called Venetia, which produces an unusually supple leather. Others include, washing the hides in the lagoons of Venice, burying them in the Alpine snow at Cortina, and bleaching the finished leather by moonlight "for transparence." The discovery of jumbled piles of her grandfather's handmade wooden lasts, which traced the history of Berluti's clients, led Olga to a decision to preserve them. This entailed cleaning and polishing them, and dressing them up in fantasy coverings of feathers, brocades and lace. The collection is displayed all over her atelier apartment. A signature of Olga's innovations was the reinstatement of an ancient Italian shoemaker's tradition: the insertion of a thin piece of leather under the sole of every shoe. This was meant to provide extra support but also to carry the signature of the shoemaker and to represent the soul of the shoe - just as Olga is the soul of the house of Berluti.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Quality Week: The Quest For Quality; Time Magazine Throwback

When I was at university I was a history major. I've lionized the subject ever since my primary school days. This week I delve, posit and discourse on history. History steeped in european traditions, family legacies and the art of craftsmanship. This is an issue of Time magazine that was published in August 2001, and inside is somewhat of a screed on why europeans strive for quality and craftsmanship. For this week I have seclected articles that have a bearing on the ethos of this blog. At the same time, I hope that as educational and enlightening as it was to me, it will be to you as well. I don't remember reading and consuming it back then as I have done in the past few weeks. What appeals to me is the fact that each article is specific and articulates the story of one particular craftsman. It is also geographic in nature, pinpointing, with the aid of a map, each region or place where a particular product is manufactured.

In this series of posts, which will be week long, I have selected topics such: shoes made in France, watches from Switzerland, embroidery from France and, textiles made in Austria. Stay tuned because the stories, legacies, and provenances behind these craftsmen will make for riveting reading.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Mr Price Espadrilles

A few posts ago I posited on Mr Price espadrilles. I got a chance to witness a few, sometime this week, and I was satisfied with what I saw. A variety of colours and textures which would interest any gent with a stylish disposition. The only one I didn't get to see is the multicoloured, kaleidoscopic one; which is a firm favourite. Espadrilles are, no frills and no fuss. You needn't overthink the process when you desire to wear them. I like them with shorts, above the knee of course, and a shirt with rolled sleeves. Accessorise with reckless abandon, if you're brave enough, because the season allows for it. As for me I took particular interest in a red pair, and yellow. The best part about these shoes is the price. See for yourself.


Blue and white stripe; perfect with a dose of seersucker.



Stonewash denim

Camo (my least favourite)

Claret ( my favourite, along with turquoise and yellow)

Olive green

PG: Man to man, generation to generation,

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Did I Do That?"

This lady, June Ambrose, is responsible for making over Jaleel White in autumn threads. And a mighty fine job she did. In an episode of "Styled by June" she took on the assignment of refining White's autumn wardrobe.

The wardrobe supplied by a vaunted and much talked about Paul Stuart. I think I need to do some research into this company to deduce what it's really about.

These shots evince a strong autumn presence and how to counter the change in a stylish and very pragmatic way.

Wool necktie, brown shoes, suede olive green shirt; the stuff autumn is all about.

Even though the jacket and trousers here are not of a rich and heavy texture the outfit signals slight changes to one's wardrobe when season's change. The tie and shirt do this marvelously.

If anyone remembers Steve Urkel's attire, brightly coloured pants with rolled cuffs, multi-coloured patch shirts, braces and saddle shoes. With an accordion not too far behind; I'd say this is one fine transition from TV to real life.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bad Dynamics...

...Insipid thin stripes worn together. Anything that causes your eyes to cross when you look in the mirror.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Autumn Rocks

If you're looking for a casual aesthetic to ease or endure a transitional season like autumn then this is it. I've lionized this combination of garments for quite some time. It's effortless and, evidently, amiable. It also doesn't require much thinking. You just pair trousers and a polo neck jersey. Footwear could be anything from formal boots, loafers, chukka boots, wingtips or even plain oxfords.

This post is out of season for southern hemisphere dwellers I concede, however, it's never too early or late to start preparing for the cold months ahead. The aesthetic on Lenny Kravitz redounds even more because it is a combination of fabrics and textures. The trousers appear to be tweed donegal in a brown shade. The polo neck jersey is slim fitting, fine gauge (in all probability), in a dark navy blue shade. An injection of creativity is evinced in the belt, which appears to be a slim, woven piece, in an even darker brown than the trousers. The hat, to me, is an affectation, which I would be averse to trying. However, it pulls the look together and lends it an even more casual/ laidback mien. I love it and I'm defintely going to try it next year.

I know you see how in shape Lenny Kravitz is. I'm even more convinced that you saw Chris Evans in the pages of the U.S. version of GQ in July; the fine gauge polo neck jersey cannot be executed with any semblance of a potbelly. That would ruin the aesthetic. So get in shape, it'll do you a world of good.

                              PG: Man to man, generation to generation.