A small batch of yuzen silk bow ties have been placed on the website. If you want to see them, please contact me directly on Whatsapp on +61413140994 and I will give you the code to access the website.
Bow Ties Sydney, Australia - Le Noeud Papillon - Specialists In Self Tying Bow Ties
With over 1.7 million page views, Le Noeud Papillon's blog continues to provide lovers of bow ties with unique stories and content relating to menswear through interviews with industry icons and vignettes into topics relating to suits, shirts, shoes, ties, designers, weavers and much more.
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Thursday, June 7, 2018
For years now I have only ever worn slipper styled shoes for formal evening wear. Slippers have a wide and varied ambit as to what constitutes a slipper. By my reckoning it is a shoe that has no laces and a small and less pronounced heel. Slippers can come in a variety of forms, from 'at home' velvet slippers, which have become very fashionable in recent years, then there are regular leather slippers which are also called loafers but effectively they are of a similar format to a slipper, and finally you have evening wear slippers, which are effectively patent leather loafers, but at other times they can be referred to as pumps.
Of course this is just my opinion - there will be shoe specialists that will tell you that I don't know what I am talking about - but across the internet and from my interviewing shoe makers I will say there is a fair bit of ambiguity in terminology. For example, an Italian loafer for evening wear is usually constructed in the blake-rapid methodology whereby the sole is attached directly to the upper with no Goodyear welting. These are made more like 'at home' English slippers but for Italians they edge more towards loafers. Some, especially the English, consider this an under-constructed shoe, but the results can be very sleek and in fact my staple evening wear shoes for the last decade have been blake-rapid evening patent slippers by YSL.
But over time I have wanted to replace these slippers because they were getting old and my style had evolved. I used to love a more pointed shoe for evening wear but as my style changed I had wanted a more rounded and classic toe box. I also wanted what I considered a more robust English construction.
In my search for shoes in Sydney's CBD I found that there were few companies that offered luxury patent leather shoes for evening wear and still fewer that offered that kind of Northampton English construction that was famed by makers such as Foster & Son, Gaziano & Girling, Edward Green and George Cleverley. Although I am sure that you could find them at Double Monk in Sydney's Strand Arcade, it's not often that they hold a deep amount of stock because the price of such shoes is prohibitive and because they often offer bespoke and made to measure services for such shoes.
Recently I settled on my evening footwear. Gaziano & Girling make wonderful evening shoes and whilst my preference would have been to get them to make a custom made pair of their Sinatra model shoes for me, I was not in the least bit worried about compromising with their Forsyth model of shoe. Sleek but classically elegant, the top line and quarter of the shoe are edged with grosgrain whilst the throat is met with only two eyelets on the quarter. And whilst my favourite toe box in the world remains George Cleverley, I am actually quite glad that these shoes are less bulbous on the toe box and relatively understated (they are still patent leather shoes).
Friday, June 1, 2018
Getting Peter Overton to wear a bow tie on the news is a lifelong pursuit of mine. He is adamant he has his style down pat and won't accept any of my flamboyant ideas. To be honest, I just want to Corky St. Clair him in a pink suit and bright emerald bow tie, just for a night, take a picture and then tag it and bag it. But I will have to wait. He prefers solid power ties which won't strobe on television and so recently, as he walked past the Studio, I invited him in to choose one of the new silks and he chose a brilliant one. This is a sharp royal blue mogador satin silk, finished here with a pink slip stitch and rose gold medallion hand sewn in. I had attached a how to tie instruction card for an Old Bertie and Double Four In Hand knot, but Peter, sticking to his guns as usual, only wears a four in hand knot. Again, I will have to wait.
If you need a custom made luxury silk neck tie made in a jiffy and you would like to rummage through our new and old silks, come and visit us at Le Noeud Papillon or Whatsapp me personally on +61413140994.
The Beauty Of A Beautifully Woven Jacquard Silk Turned Into A Bow Tie Or Tie By Le Noeud Papillon Of Sydney
One of the most peculiarly enjoyable things to do in Como is to stand around a factory lined with roaring warps and wefts busily ratt-tat-tatting silks until they come out the other side as fabric that you instantly recognise as your tie silks that you've come to love. Each machine has roughly 15,000 needles which sit on top of the warp threads to stop the machine should one warp thread break. They go 24 hours a day from my understanding, weaving silk at roughly the rate of one metre per hour. I do love seeing the machinations of the fashion industry. It is so far removed from the catwalks of London and Paris. It's so real, so visceral and the people are so genuinely passionate about creating the best of silks.
Lately I finally took on an SEO expert to try and fight back against the huge corporations like Westfield and the companies offering Chinese bow ties they pick up up for two dollars and sell for twenty. So of course they have the budget to knock off someone like myself who spent a decade making Australian made bow ties from seriously the best silk looms of Italy and the United Kingdom. They offer rubbish, we offer luxury silk bow ties. If you catch my drift, I am writing every ridiculous search criteria for "bow ties Sydney" just so that some gigantic super computer can hopefully spot the real thing from the stuffed websites and SEO programmes of my competitors.
Of course, we not just about bow ties and luxury silk neck ties and custom and bespoke programmes which deliver our products in Australia, the United States and Canada, but we in fact service the whole wide world. Isn't this just a delight to read. It's extremely contrived but that is what the world does to us, it forced us to bend to it's whim, being overshadowed by the bigger predators and forcing me to be like the Vietcong and fight my own battle with guerilla warfare. And in fact, that's exactly what the corporation is, it is almost like an Imperial Army out of Star Wars - of course - this last sentence won't exactly help my SEO.
But in saying all of this and in trying to get the message across, I hope our readers realise that there is a difference and they can spot it and appreciate it. I could have sold out a long time ago. I could stop cutting my own silks and focus purely on marketing. I could cut corners on fabric and fabrication, but then what would we be? We'd just be another marketing company without a drop of artisan in our DNA. My fight is continue to make our products in Australia and to eventually be THE bow tie company of Australia. Will we get there, ridiculously, depends on how often people click on the images below and share this passage - well, it certainly affects it.
Thank you for listening. Please share if you found this humorous. And shop our website if you wish to support us. www.lenoeudpapillon.com
|Andy Poupar wearing our Majestic Diamond bow tie in Northern California|
|Brian Secawa, New York bloger, wearing a custom made black grosgrain silk bow tie by Le Noeud Papillon|
|Chuck Pollard, the king of ties on Instagram, wearing a custom made Le Noeud Papillon silk neck tie in purple mogador satin silk.|
|Peter Overton wearing a Royal blue silk neck tie custom made by Le Noeud Papillon with pink slip stitch details.|
When it comes to bow ties, though I am tired of tooting my own horn, we are pretty much from my understanding the only place in Sydney where you can get a bespoke bow tie and have it turned around in 24 hours. We we make bow ties in Australia for all walks of life and all occasions, holding a large cache of woven jacquard silks from Italy, the United Kingdom and Japan. And all our silks and all our bow ties for sale are made in Australia. So if you are looking for luxury bow ties or a formal bow ties, both men's bow ties in Australia, and for that matter, women too, if you want to know where to buy bow ties. Bow ties online in Australia, bow ties Sydney, if you just need a bow tie, come and see us. We also offer tailored formal shirts in Sydney, tailored shirts to fit all bodies, custom made from the finest shirting cloth.
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
One thing I recall when reading Tolstoy's biography was that when he wrote War & Peace he intended it to be able to be read by children and adults alike. He was obsessed with the subject of pedagogy and in fact built a school on his estate at Yasnaya Polyana. If any of this is incorrect spelling I apologise but I am writing on the fly.
But somehow, because War and Peace is so long and with so many characters, somehow people feel that they won't be able to tackle it. The same could possibly be said for The Brothers Karmazov by Dostoyevsky, which I myself had to tackle by audio book because I no longer had the time nor patience as I did in my university days.
But the other night, and potentially it will be the first book in my newly formed book club with local Vaucluse residents, I began reading Turgenev's 'First Love' and I managed to knock it over in two sessions of reading. And it reminded me that you don't need to fear the Russians. They write eloquently, convey story well, and in the case of First Love, you get in and out rather quickly.
And, as is often the case, and perhaps the title was sub consciously what got me to pick it up from my book shelf, the topic was most relevant.
As I approach forty next month I am looking back on both the bliss and carnage I created out of my thirties. It started with a wham at the Closerie De Lilas in Montparnasse one night in Paris and it will conclude, well, I don't yet quite know how it will conclude, but it will be concluded if all goes to plan, with a roasting from my good friends at an all male dinner. My closest cousin will moderate with a gong in case anyone gets out of hand.
But looking back on the last decade has been a difficult process, notwithstanding that I have had some, what I consider, minor mental health issues to have to deal with concurrently. I am wired to swing sometimes like a pendulum, from either an all out assault on designing and cutting silks, to great lethargy and a malaise of 'what's it all about'. And certainly in that regard, I must consider the women that have played their part in the last decade and I assume this is why I picked up Turgenev's First Love.
In the final pages Turgenev writes a wonderful passage between father and son.
On the morning of the very day on which he had his stroke, he had begun a letter to me, written in French.
'My son he wrote' , 'beware of the love of women; beware of that ecstasy - that slow poison' . My mother, after his death, sent a considerable sum of money to Moscow.
The son had been jilted after finding out his father had been conducting a clandestine affair with the daughter of a financially desperate aristocratic woman who had rented the house next door, that his own son had fallen in love with.
And so, there I lay in bed, crooked neck, sore back, wondering about my own lot and where it had all seemed to go so wrong. I had a wonderful life, so much to be grateful for, but on the subject of women I felt not too dissimilar in sentiment to the father's last thoughts. It is an ecstasy, but it is also a slow poison.
It reminded me of another wonderful moment I had when running the sands of Bondi one morning some months ago and listening to the beautiful lyrics of Tim Buckley, the folk singer and father of Jeff Buckley. In his song 'Once I Was' he says that he once was a soldier, once a hunter and then he goes on to say more poignantly, 'once I was a lover, and I searched behind your eyes for you, and soon there will be another, to tell you I was just a lie' .
And about that I feel a certain nostalgia mixed with gratitude, joy, ecstasy, terror, pain, suffering and vulnerability all assembled in one ball, with each feeling inseparable to the other. One ball.
If you are feeling like you have time up your sleeve or a free night to yourself, might I recommend First Love and may it conjure up in you the same emotions I felt.
Monday, May 14, 2018
The article I wrote on Martin Greenfield for Robb Report Australia & New Zealand is now on the shelves at most good newsagents and I must say, I am indebted to the editor, Michael Stahl, for polishing a rough diamond for me. The article reads well and covers the values of Greenfields, their suite of services to film, as makers for New York fashion companies and as a direct seller of bespoke and made to measure suits.
It is a story that resembles the American Dream, a penniless Holocaust survivor who makes his way to America and ends up making suits for many a POTUS.
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Our Japanese yuzen silk bow ties are carefully selected for their colour and tonality and then we harvest no more than two bow ties per sheet, placing the pattern directly over the most unique parts of the silk design. We then reverse the bow tie with one of our own silks to give additional body and balance to the bow tie. The result is something very unique, limited, and, as if often the case, highly sought after when we release new silks. Come and see for yourself. www.lenoeudpapillon.com
Monday, April 16, 2018
It is a joy to find a new scent to spray our packs with. I never grow tired of hunting for a new scent which I think will adequately convey a message to our customers when they open up our bubble bags or take home a carry bag from the Studio.
Last week I went through the Creed scents again, specifically looking for a small vial I'd been given as a tester in a Como perfumerie. The scent I had was Creed Vetiver but it took me about ten minutes to recognise it. I am not one to know how to associate words with smells in an exacting manner but I felt there was orange, ginger, shallots and herbs in there mixed with cucumber. That's what I felt anyway.
At Christmas someone had given me a vetiver root deodorant from Aesops and the scent had stood out.
What an amazing thing scent is. I can still recall there was a scent in the late 90's which was by Donna Karan. I think it was called Petrol or Diesel. And for years after the smell lingered in a cabinet where the last of the bottle remained. After a period of time I got a whiff and it immediately took me to Hong Kong where I'd received the bottle in 1997. One whiff and a flood of memories.
I do hope that over time, long after the customer has bought his first bow tie from us, years from now, that they will get a small trace of that scent on someone walking past them in the street and fondly remember opening a parcel and pulling out a piece of silk.
A bottle of Creed in Australia costs $370. It's not cheap. But its a small price to pay if I can capture your attention in years to come.
The latest 12mm silk pochettes are online. They are spectacular. Consider getting one before they sell out.
One of the problems faced by a groom who goes to get a lovely dinner suit either off the rack or from a tailor or made-to-measure programme is that often the store that sells them the suit has a range of dicky looking pre-tied bow ties in one to two fabrics sitting on the shelf. Half of them dusty from not having been sold.
By contrast we keep on file a huge range of black silks in a wide range of weaves and textures to and in colours other than black to ensure that no matter what you choose to get married in, chances are, we have a silk to match. So whether or not you choose a satin, grosgrain, barathea, twill, ottoman, polka dot, basket weave, pin head, marcella or any other weave for that matter, there is a strong chance we have it in stock.
And unlike most other companies out there in the world today, we can literally cut the silk the same day and have it ready for you the following day (for a surcharge) .
So if you are stuck for what to wear to your wedding, if you are unsure as to what shape of bow tie will suit your face, if you just want the opportunity to run your hand and eyes over a number of options, book and appointment with us and you won't be disappointed.
Call +61280016684 or for international customers try Whatsapp on +61413140994 . Otherwise, shop our range online at www.lenoeudpapillon.com
Saturday, March 31, 2018
The most recent silks that arrived into Sydney are quite simply some of the most beautiful silks we've ever made - but I am not entirely sure that this statement is true since I've said it before a number of times and my great fear is that I'll eventually have as much shill as Tim Cook announcing the latest iPhone.
But assuming that we are always improving on what we do, then it is quite possible that these are in fact the best silks and best bow ties that we've ever produced. The only way for us to really feel comfortable though is to hear the same thoughts expressed by our customers. And boy, what a great feeling it is when you get a great bit of feedback come through like the message below in relation to a customer who was recently gifted two of our bow ties.
At times when it gets lonely in the online sphere - which is to say, if you are not booked for appointments at the Studio then you are waiting to hear from customers on social media or your website - it can become rather lonely. I don't have anyone to bounce ideas off in my business. I can't afford a personal assistant and I don't have the meanness of spirit to get an unpaid intern. So when you get a whatsapp like the one I got below at 6am this morning, well you beam ear to ear.
Please, come see the new silks and please, drop us a line any time you like. Unlike most other companies in the world today, you will hear back from me directly.
Last Friday night I had a message from someone with a sense of urgency requesting either my time on the telephone or else for me to drop everything that I was doing in order to immediately satisfy her whim.
I was disturbed by the capricious nature of it all. I am disturbed by people who don't consider other people's feelings. To add insult to injury, when I said I might be able to meet her later but on mutually favourable terms she responded "oh, you'll probably get all weird and want to write poetry".
I am not a poet but I do love words. And her insult only reminded me of how much I do love good poetry and how many men and women have suffered and sculpted that suffering into written or spoken verse. How wonderful then that You Tube had brought to life what were once dusty jacketed books in Dewey system school libraries. Now at my finger tips I could have T S Eliot read Prufrock or Yeats on Yeats. Now I could hear Walt Whitman come to life.
That insult will not be forgotten. It was in fact a huge blessing and a reminder that yes, probably I will get weird, and probably, as a human, I will turn to poetry.
It also happens to turn out that these great poets also had a wonderful sense of style and loved their bow ties.
And about my friend who would belittle me for something so enjoyable as these written or spoken words - perhaps I might let Pablo Neruda sum up my feelings:
I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.
|Dylan Thomas in a diamond point polka dot silk printed bow tie|
|Pablo Neruda in a chalk stripe suit and neck tie|
|William Butler Yeats in his oversized bow ties.|
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
What Happens To An Australian Bale Of Wool When It Gets To Italy? Inside The Italian Factories That Turn Wool Into Suit Fabric
|Giovanni Schneider checks a wool top at the factory of Schneider Group in Biella, Italy|
The drive from Milan to Biella was a fast one that as an Australian I am unaccustomed to. We are doing more than 160 kilometres an hour and in that bandwidth of speed where in my country you instantly lose your license for a year. I am finding it hard to concentrate and recognising this, Giovanni slows down.
I have come to Biella in search of what happened to an Australian bale of wool once it left the farm gate. We Australians see it either as a greasy wool fleece laid on a classing table or as a finished suit. For those of us that are more sartorially inclined perhaps we have seen and touched a bolt of fabric at our tailor’s workshop. But for the vast majority of us, myself included, it seemed shrouded in mystery and often illogical. Why don’t we process wool in Australia? What exactly is it that the Italians do? And why are the Italians still at the height of their game when it comes to making beautiful tailored clothes for men? And so my story starts with Giovanni’s family.
At the beginning of the 20th century his great grandfather was a mechanic who built textile weaving machines for the Marzotto fabric family amongst others. He was a technical specialist. His son, at the conclusion of the first world war had become a pacifist and wanted nothing to do with war or Europe’s problems. But his father did not want him to leave the business and would not fund his move to Australia. So instead, his son, Giovanni, came up with another solution – he took money from the surrounding cloth families and promised to secure them their wool in Australia and promised to sail it back to them in Italy. This was the origins of the G Schneider Wool Group which, today, still owns the majority shares in one of Europe’s last wool processing plants that produces wool tops ready for spinners.
What does this mean for our Australian bale of wool? In its most basic function, the factory is one of three facilities in Europe that can take a bale of wool, open it up, wash it, scour it, blend it, card it and comb it until all the fibres are lined up into lovely slivers of wool that become wool tops that are ready to be sent on to the dye house before being spun into thread. The company was once predominantly a wool sourcing company but in the 1990’s it began to ramp up the processing of wool as many other companies began to wind down their operations concurrently with the rise of China.
Today, about 75% of the world’s wool production goes straight to lower cost producing counties like China. The remaining two processing plants in Italy tend to concentrate on higher grade fibres that tend to go into weaving suit cloths and luxury knits. It is for this reason that the remaining luxury brands such as Brunello Cucinelli, Marzotti, Zegna and Loro Piana all have shares in this facility. Their only local competitor is in a similar ownership, a partnership between Reda and one of the biggest and oldest fabric companies in Europe, Vitale Barberis Canonico.
Vitale Barberis Canonico is one of the oldest companies in Italy with records of transactions dating back to 1663, although many of their detractors say this has been contrived to create lineage. There is a great deal of snobbery in these parts of Italy where lineage and prestige matter. My contact, Giovanni Schneider, great grandson of the original Giovanni Schneider, is on a whatsapp call on my phone speaking in Italian trying to orchestrate a drop off for me on the side of the road at the exit for Biella. There I am to wait for a car before I head to Trivero, in the hills of Biella.
Two African women in unusual short red jump suits are in the car park where I wait. Giovanni tells me they are working girls from Milan who live in these parts to save on money. They appear foreign in this landscape which looks more Switzerland than Italy. A few minutes later I am picked up by Silvio in a sharp window pane check suit in a black BMW station wagon. He hurtles the car towards the base of the mountains ducking and weaving between cars on a two-way road. I am trying to take notes on my phone about the landscape but with each corner I am starting to get queasy. At the base of the mountains we start a windy ascent and I open the window to get fresh country air. The landscape is stunningly beautiful, verdant, somewhat manicured, definitely organised, and with a hint of The Sound Of Music. The buildings are Italian but there is something unusual I can’t quite put my finger on. We arrive in Trivero and the driver stops and tells me to enter through the glass doors. My contact, whom I had met in Sydney for their inaugural Wool Excellence Awards, was a sophisticated man in his early thirties, Simone Umbertino Rosso. However, he had been held up in another part of the country on business and so I was introduced to Valentina Berti, his offsider, who chaperoned me around the facilities.
Vitale Barberis Canonico, receiving their wool tops from their own processing facility, begin dyeing wool tops in large bullet like chambers by robotic machines that retrieve the wool top and plonk it into vats that heat the wool up to 70 degrees, varying temperatures over the course of three hours to ensure the dye penetrates. Once this has been done, the wool tops are sent to the spinners who prepare the fibres and twist and turn them into threads. This is itself another art form in which fibres become like grapes from a vineyard, they can be blended and mixed between varieties (think merino, cotton, mohair, cashmere, silk and linen) and colour, to make different qualities you often see on the inside label of your jacket. This complex process all happens within this enormous facility running over multiple buildings, each comprised of many levels. It uses a mixture of machines, robots and humans to produce over 10 million metres of wool fabric every year. As Valentina explains, if you laid the wool out straight it would reach from Biella to Japan.
As we tour the factory I announce that I have an allergic reaction to sulphur, something which I had as a child. It sends me into shock. Some phone calls are made and I am told we won’t be able to see some of the systems, though I am assured that very few chemicals are employed in the processing of wool. However, a lot of water is used and dye, and in the past, much of this was just sent down river. Today, Vitale Barberis Canonico has a large and extensive water treatment centre adjacent to the factory and there is a big pond of thriving coy fish at the end of this process to assure visitors that they are running a sustainable and environmentally friendly factory, despite the numbers that are being produced inside. And it’s needed. Those millions of metres of fabrics require more than 60 litres per metre to produce from start to finish from the washing of the wool to its finishing treatments. The water required explains in part why Biella became a hub of wool textiles. It has plentiful access to high quality soft water which is perpetually melting from snow on the Italian Alps. Its called soft water because of the lack of mineral content which is in part owing to the types of rocks the water cascades over as it falls. If Biella was an Australian town it might be best described as Tumbarumba or Batlow – at the foot hills of mountains, close to snowy Alps that bring a consistent water supply of ideal quality water.
Back inside the factory I am told I cannot take unapproved photos. The company likes to keep the names of the manufacturers of their machines to themselves along with their robotic processes and some of their weaving methods. It is understandable, Biella was once home to 500,000 people . That population has dropped by 150,000 in the last twenty years. Businesses are boarded up, other companies have moved offshore. In order to stay alive VBC and others have had to increasingly on machines and automation and less on human input. Though they pride themselves on inspecting all cloth with their own eyes at every stage, over time it is foreseeable that those eyes might be digital.
Inside the design room I meet Michele Papouzzo, head of the cloth design team. He and his offsiders Stefano and Andreas are impeccably dressed for a room that is over 100 kilometres from Milan and with very little around it. Michele is dressed in navy melange pants, belt, white shirt, double four in hand knotted tie on an sky blue Garza weave. Stefano is in a French navy suit with Bengal striped shirt and silk grenadine tie. Andreas is in an unusual spotted weave wool suit with Oxford weave shirt, spread collar and floral tie. This is Italy, of course. I ask questions and we exchange ideas about wool. I am told that I have many misconceptions about weaving looms. They explain to me that the types of designs you can weave in wool are much less complex than those of a jacquard loom for silk. More importantly, most of those ten million metres are done in simple dark blues and greys varying in weaves and weights. The market for more vibrant wools is minimal and the mustard yellow wool I photograph is very rare indeed.
Before I am picked up by Giovanni for lunch I am seated on a soft chocolate brown leather sofa and explained the process of wool again. I am reminded of something that I once heard which I later see first-hand – that when wool is washed initially, the lanolin is extracted from Australian merino. It is then on-sold to the cosmetics industry giving an additional revenue stream from the processing.
As I get up to leave, I am graced with the presence of Francesco Barberis, creative director of VBC. He is has become somewhat of an internet icon – as often menswear bloggers on hunt to unpick a suit and talk about its construction, will often be lead back to the cloth makers such as Vitale Barberis Canonico. He is after all the man behind the many millions of metres that go into the suit you are likely to be wearing from your favourite Italian designer – be it Armani, Versace, Prada, Gucci, Ralph Lauren or your local tailor – chances are your wool came from his factory. I managed to get him for a photograph and we spoke briefly about a common person we both knew. “It’s a shame you are going now. Stop past again if you come in this direction”.
I looked around the room, it had, well, a 'hint of fascism' look about it. Perhaps it was the inter-war period model cars that were on the side board or the way the factory was nestled into the mountains like some sort of heavy water treatment facility. I did not know exactly why, but it didn’t feel like I would be ever able to drop in unannounced.
|Francesco Barberis And Valentina Berti of Vitale Barberis Canonico|
Giovanni Schneider picks me up and we ascend the mountain further, dropping in on his maternal great grandfather’s house, Casa Zegna. Ermenigildo Zegna is legendary in these parts. He was one of those fastidious types that not only built a business but a town and a culture around the production of both wool and finished garments. His house, which is mostly boarded up, is maintained by a family foundation. A small walk way connected Zegna to his weaving and making factory which ran adjacent and which still operates today in the exact same manner, save for the roof which has been converted to solar power.
Giovanni explains that for the original Zegna it was very much about community, and like aristocrats of the past, he tried to improve the quality of life for all with hospitals, retirement homes, residential buildings, shops and even a mini ski resort at the top of the mountain.
We stopped for lunch at the ski resort. One restaurant was still open. We had cheese and cured meats for anti pasti, gnocchi for pasta, followed by some beef in gravy. As I mopped up the sauce with bread I looked up and saw the timber seemed to be need a sanding back and varnish on the awning. All I see is maintenance expenses and headaches for the descendants of these early pioneers of textiles. Even the forests the early Zegnas planted, the gardens, the roads – all need to be maintained. Only the vista of the Italian and Swiss Alps seems to be free of charge.
It doesn’t help that the Italian authorities now keep a very close eye on all these companies. Based on austerity measures there are far more people working for the tax department and regulatory authorities making it harder and harder for Italians to do business in their own country. It is no wonder that companies like VBC will increasingly try to reduce labour costs in their facilities.
After lunch we go to look at the processing facility of the G Schneider Group. We walk around the offices. One room is sealed off as tax department experts investigate with a fine tooth comb the interactions between the Biella plant and the parent company in Switzerland, just a short drive away. As a foreigner I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t use the proximity to Switzerland to their advantage, but as Giovanni explains, Italian sentiment has changed. And though the Schneider Group also has factories in Egypt, Mongolia and Iran, it is the Italian factory which gets scrutinised.
|Australian Bales Of Wool Acclimatising For Processing|
|Wool on the factory floor|
As Giovanni opens the factory floor door, I am filled with a sense of alarm like waking up from a bad dream on an aircraft and not being able to get your bearings. There is this mad rush of the Australian countryside, as though I were in the shearing shed with the shearers and wool classers. But no, I am still in Italy. There in front of me are rows upon rows of hyper-compressed wool bales all stacked factory ceiling-high and waiting to be processed. They bear familiar marks like maps of Australia and stencils like “Pomanara Mudgee AusFine” and I am filled with a pride that almost brings a tear to my eye, just like a Qantas commercial. The tightly held together wool bales are opened up using a special machine because if you opened them by hand they could kill someone as they expand. Once the bales are open, the fibres are allowed to sit for a few days to expand and acclimatise. I stick my hand into a mound of wool and am met with that familiar greasy feel from my University days when I drenched sheep in the summer time. I am reminded of the gruelling intensity of work that farmers undertake every year to get those sheep to fill these bales.
Giovanni pressed another six digits into another door and we move from the storage facility into the washing room, a bath that looks like something out of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory takes merino wool and begins washing all of the Australiana out of it, forks dipping and lifting the wool in and out of varying temperatures , the process repeating until it comes out the other side all white and fluffy. The sooty brown water which emerges is siphoned off to another treatment facility that extracts the lanolin into a blue drums.
|Bathing and washing wool|
|Lanolin extraction of the wool and distillation|
The wools, now white and fluffy, are sent through a machine which mixes them all together. This ensures that there is a uniform average staple amongst the fibres and to ensure that the spinners have the best possible chance of weaving an even thread. Next the wool is carded and combed, allowing all the fibres to be straightened and aligned and that all vegetable matter is now removed from the original wool fleece. These machines keep running the wool until it begins to look and feel like a lovely mane of hair that has been turned into a kind of rope. It is then cabled into big drums before being compressed into a wool top.
This process is done for wool, mohair, cashmere and for the four million euros worth of vicuna wool that has recently been delivered to the factory floor by air freight for insurance purposes. The factory runs 6 days a week, 24 hours a day.
|Vicuna on the factory floor|
|South African mohair on the factory floor|
When we leave the main facility I am shown the power plant, a natural gas operated engine room that creates steam and electricity used by the facility. The water, soft from the Italian Alps behind us, is drawn from soft water aquifers beneath the ground. It could be in Australia – it really could, but it took Italians over 100 years to develop this system of processing and it was now processing fibres from all around the world.
That smell of the wool had made be yearn for my own country, for the heat of an Australian summer. I could hear Dorothy Mackellar saying:
I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains
We drove back into Milan and contrary to what I had been told, Uber was available. I booked a ride back to Lago Como where I was staying by the lake’s edge. I had a lot to think about and I was left with a complex feeling that the path forward for Italians was not straight.
|Vitale Barberis Canonico Swatch Library|
|Weaving Machines, Vitale Barberis Canonico|
|Michele Papuzzo, head of design at Vitale Barberis Canonico|
|A swatch book from the late 1800's|
|A roll of finished wool|
|Casa Zegna in the hills of Biella|
Monday, March 19, 2018
When I arrived in Park City, Utah recently I was on the hunt for things that might be particular to that part of the world. I thought I'd find cowboy boots or unusual ornamental neck wear. I was looking for the obscure to write about, something that had a different story and provenance behind it.
On the sloping retail strip of Main Street I did find one particular shop that stuck out. It was called Alaska Fur Gallery - and in the window was a bra and a jock strap both finished with fur which was causing a great deal of amusement for passers by.
"Oh, they have that every year in the window" said one, letting the other know she was a Park City regular. It was a very ordinary looking bit of jock strap but the fur seemed very nice.
As I wandered in I was reminded that the rich still like to run around in exotic stuff and the more obscure and expensive it is, the more likelihood they will indulge. I saw rugs of wolverines and wolves, taxidermy delights where the eyes and fangs were glistening with realism. Then there were mink coats, some of them in vibrant purples and blues, others in soft silky whites. All of them were more expensive than a brand new small car. It was astounding to say the least. It didn't take long to understand who was buying them. A chairlift ride up the ski slopes revealed mansions that looked like sprawling castles with car parks big enough to fit a fleet of luxury cars. I was told some of them had their own basketball courts and bowling alleys. The wealth that was just in this one area of the USA ski fields served to remind me of the size and the scale of the US economy.
As I circumnavigated the shop I asked one of the shop managers, Sarkes Solomon III , if he had anything really different to show me that was out of their ordinary work.
He came back with something that looks like it might have been in film The Revenant or perhaps Mad Max. It was as though a mad hunter had assembled all his greatest kills and put them into one big overcoat for the hardest and longest of winters.
The shawl was made of a soft coyote fur, flanked on either side by beaver fur. The pockets were made of buffalo leather whilst the cream leather was in fact beaver suede, with the fur forming the lining of the coat.
On the back, running down the centre was the back of a small alligator, flanked on either side of the shoulder by further alligator trim.
At 14990 USD it was not for the average Joe trying to keep warm. Perhaps once upon a time it might have been picked up by one of the more aggressive Hollywood producers heading to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival. But in a world of #metoo I envisaged that there were not enough macho men left to buy this particular jacket. In fact, I was quite puzzled as to who eventually would purchase this particular piece.
It was certainly very warm. It was certainly unique and I did love it for it's manly assertions. It just happened to be a jacket out of sync with the current political and social climate in terms of it's use of skins and furs and in a world where being manly was being frowned upon universally. And, that made me sad. Because, there was still an artisan nature of the making of this jacket, the 40 odd hours that went into producing it at the company's Anchorage factory in Alaska. There was still the artfulness in selecting complimenting materials and making sure they could all work together in the one piece. It still held the functional role of being an extremely warm jacket for the depth of a winter in Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado .... So what was the problem?
There was no shortage of women buying Australian crocodile skin handbags from Hermes. There was not shortage of fur still being sold by Versace and others. What was the issue if a man should want to own such a jacket?
A few nights later in Los Angeles I was watching a stand-up comedy act and a woman described her genitalia in the crudest form and made all sorts of references as to what her privates did with certain types of men. It was followed by a male comedian who began to say that he felt hemmed in by the #metoo movement and as a comedian he felt compelled to watch everything he said now. Even as he tried to make this arrangement sound funny, you could tell his routine felt very staccato, in stops and starts, as he tried to gauge the audience response as he went along.
It left me with a sort of melancholy and I was reminded of the jacket. We are in a funny place in the world right now. Nobody wants to see fur on jackets but nobody blinks an eyelid to driving a car with leather seats. You can hear a woman talk about her vagina in a manner which would make even Ron Jeremy blush but a man who dwells on whether men are being unfairly treated in a post #metoo world will be shut down and bullied off social media.
And to my mind, this jacket, this exceptional jacket of rare and hard to find skins and furs, embodies what seems to be unacceptable for men these days. And about that I feel a certain hypocrisy and a certain sadness.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
There were two videos recently that jolted me out of my seat and made me sit up and think about my existence, causing me to really wonder about what direction I wish to take in business and in my private life. I have been making bow ties for almost a decade now and whilst I have never lost the enjoyment of that process, sometimes the nature of staying focused on one thing can make you blinded to changes that are going on around you.
There was a question that was raised in the SLOMO video by John Kitchin about the percentage by which his work promoted him spiritually versus financially. He noted that when he commenced his vocation he thought that balance was 90% spiritual and 10% financial, but that towards the end of his old career that relationship had inverted. And so, he decided that he did not want to become an 'asshole' like everyone else and he threw in the towel so that he could skate out the remainder of his life. He said he had been inspired to do this twenty years earlier by a 90 year old man in a canteen queue that turned to him and said 'DO WHAT YOU WANT TO!' .
And so I spent a great deal of time on my recent trip figuring out between John Kitchin and Alan Watts what exactly was the meaning of existence and what was my purpose moving forward.
I will let you in on a little secret, it doesn't have a single answer and to be frank, I am more confused than when I started my search. Suffice to say, one thing that has always been enjoyable in my life and which I turn to time and time again, is the writing of this blog. Regardless of who has read it, it has always been a great process that I have enjoyed sharing with others. More importantly, when I began writing it it was never about financial gain, it was about sharing information I learned about menswear with others as we continued to refine our products and services.
Do what you want to! What a simple thing to say and yet so effective. The only trouble is, there is not always a clear cut answer as to exactly what that might be.
If I had to choose one shape of bow tie to keep for life then, although our modified butterfly is highly prized, I would choose a diamond point for sheer practicality. It stows easily in the pocket, still gives a great deal of presence when tied well and is quite possibly the easiest shape of bow tie to tie. Well, it's up there with the skinny batwing.
So when I was in a jam and running late for the airport and knowing that I had an interview scheduled in Los Angeles, I chose to pack more diamond points than our modified butterflies when putting together my travel pouch of silk. As for neck ties, I do love them, but if you are in and out of Ubers, if you are changing your setting during the day, a bow tie is still the smallest bit of neck wear with the biggest impact.
Shop the latest new diamond point silks on www.lenoeudpapillon.com