Seven Handcrafted Men’s Pieces To Invest In
The best clothes and accessories from the brands that shun fast fashion in favour of an artisanal approach
We’re a sociable bunch, we humans. A dive into the human psyche reveals an evolutionary need for interaction with others almost as powerful as the fundamentals of food, sleep and sex. Which goes at least some way to explaining why we appreciate true craftsmanship; that is, things that have been made by skilled, non-automated hands. It could be the sweater your grandmother insists on knitting you every Christmas, or it could be some small sign of another’s physical presence. An artist signs his work, after all. Similarly, a hand-stitched monogram or logo serves as a stamp of authenticity. It tells us there’s a tale to be told.
There’s more to it than an emotional connection, though. Increased time spent on a garment by an actual human being equals better quality in our books, even though the industrial revolution equipped us with the means of near-perfect reproduction. But it’s because of those technical innovations that few hands-on manufacturing methods survive today; there’s less of these covetable things to go around and you’ll often pay a premium for the privilege of owning them. Yet, as we all become more conscious of our consumption, provenance has become paramount when we’re parting with our cash. It’s better, for both the environment and our wallets, to invest in a single pair of work shoes that have been cobbled to perfection than fork out for some new mass-produced ones every six months. Happily, you’ll find a number of brands among MR PORTER’s roster that take this artisanal approach quite seriously. Read on for some of our favourites.
MAKE A MARK
Bleu de Chauffe makes sturdy, everyday bags. The sort that go with you everywhere and, even if well-cared for, will naturally become marked with some bruises along the way – a shove on the Tube, a stumble on the street, a particularly boisterous baggage-handler, perhaps. These inevitable battle scars are part of the charm; an idealist (who, us?) would even romanticise that they tell the bag’s story, and by extension, tales of your travels. For Bleu de Chauffe, the small French maker named for the traditional Gallic workwear jackets of 19th-century engine drivers, that story starts with one person. From start to finish, each style is handmade by the same artisan who, upon finishing their work, signs their name and notes the date of completion on a small label within.
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A STITCH IN TIME
A handful of contemporary brands are reclaiming long-forgotten techniques and putting them to modern use. Kapital is one of them. Along with the treasured Japanese folk art of boro (a patchwork reparative technique dating to the 16th-century which translates to “ragged” or “tattered”), the label is producing pieces that utilise sashiko (literally “little stabs”) stitching – a form of decorative reinforcement first used during the Edo era. Here, it’s been employed with graphic effect on a knitted gilet to render an otherwise rather simple item more robust. Wear it under a classic denim jacket when you’re in need of an extra layer.
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Despite the storybook picture we painted earlier, most of us don’t actually have elderly relatives who knit us sweaters. You could always try your hand at it, although the first results will likely leave a lot to be desired. On to the next best thing, then? Pick a piece that’s been lovingly crafted by, well, a stranger. But lovingly crafted, nonetheless. RRL, the rugged Ralph Lauren offshoot, specialises in exactly this sort of homespun fare, inspired by vintage Americana. This cosy cardigan, for example, is hand-knitted using 15 different yarns of indigo-dyed cotton, linen, silk and wool in an intarsia pattern derived from early 20th-century trade blankets.
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LICK OF PAINT
There’s a certain breed of Italian clothes that could, quite conceivably, be confused with pyjamas. They’re soft, comfortable and elegantly rumpled, in the very best of ways. Mr Massimo Alba’s creations belong to this genus. The designer’s artisanal philosophy has been a constant throughout his career, from the helm of a storied cashmere brand to the head of his eponymous label. It’s a mindset that prioritises small-batch production and highly specialised manufacturing methods, like his signature watercolour-dyeing. A modification of garment-dyeing, the technique involves hand-painting (natural, chemical-free) pigments onto fine fabrics. In the case of this scarf, a gauzy wool and silk mélange, which, as well as being rather lovely to look at, achieves a one-of-a-kind, Mr Mark Rothko-like result.
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If you’re a regular reader, you’ll have no doubt noted that the business of making clothes has its own parlance, but perhaps no other field is as esoteric in this regard as shoemaking. There’s a dizzying array of terminology out there that it can turn investing in proper shoes into something of a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. It’s made more perplexing by the fact that these terms often mean different things to different shoe-makers. “Benchmade” is one such example. But to George Cleverley – the Mayfair-based cobbler whose client list features everyone from Sir Winston Churchill to Mr Tom Wolfe – it’s probably the closest you can get to a bespoke pair without commissioning your own last. Each pair, including these handsome loafers, is hand-cut before being hand-lasted with Goodyear-welted oak-bark soles.
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This LA-based brand’s grungy take on streetwear came about when founder Mr Mike Amiri decided to take a shotgun to cashmere. A detail-obsessed guy by nature, the designer then graduated to anatomising vintage Levi’s – he took pairs apart piece by piece to scrutinise and eventually replicate the ideal level of disrepair. The singular distressing method proved a hit with clients and the brand has now perfected the science. Wearing white coats, goggles and gloves, the technicians in Amiri’s lab-like atelier dissect each pair of jeans – including this Thrasher pair – with hand-placed rips, scuffs and frays to mimic years of wear.
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A SINGULAR SCENT
Is buying a fragrance before you’ve smelled it madness? Perhaps. But it’s probably a better way to understand what you’re actually getting. When you walk into a department store and spritz a scent, initially, you’ll only get a whiff of the heady top notes. These will quickly fade, in about 10 minutes or so, to be precise. It’s not until hours later that the true complexity of the base notes starts to emerge. The big names in the business have cottoned on to this and, in their rush to get scents to market, sometimes pack as much punch into the top notes without care for the rest of the olfactory equation. Artisanal perfumers such as Le Labo take a different, slower approach. The latest (and hotly anticipated) addition to its range, Tonka 25 for example, took three years of tweaking and tinkering to get just right. Characterised by co-founder Mr Edouard Roschi as a battle between tonka bean (the “nice guy”) and cedar atlas (the “bad boy”), each hand-blended bottle is filled with hand-picked ingredients including orange blossoms and styrax.