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Warmest regards and thanks again for being here~ Michael Cress

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Feature: The Routes of Savile Row

The Routes of Savile Row

"The Routes of Savile Row" has been a labor of love over a number of months and remains an ongoing endeavor. This original "condensed" version was recently published in Life With Style magazine. Although not a short piece, this fascinating subject could cover much more and inevitably will in the future. The "Routes of Savile Row" could easily have delved deeper in the various subjects; whether in (many) multiple articles or together in (gasp!) book form. I hope you'll find it entertaining and perhaps come across a few new gems.

The article is most interactive as has been laid out for print with the maps and images (kudos to my editor Birri O'Dea and the wonderful team at LWS for their great work!). By clicking on each page, then clicking again to magnify- hopefully it will be readable without too much strain. Alternatively, the full text is below the pages. Look forward to hearing your thoughts and hope you enjoy!

The Routes of Savile Row

For over 200 years, London’s Savile Row has set the standard for men’s fashion and quality. The Golden Mile of Tailoring is the birthplace of innumerable innovations and styles we still enjoy today; modern suits, morning suits, dinner jackets (tuxedos) and trousers - to name a few. Rich in history, the tailors of Savile Row have colourful heritages and iconic customers. To merely focus on ‘the Row’ as the Mecca of men’s fashion would be a mistake, because within this small area, where style and innovation are concentrated like no other area, there also lays a richness of history.

The bespoke nature of Savile Row is synonymous with custom-made tailoring and is also the reason for widespread advancement in men’s fashion over the past two centuries. Notable customers in both world and sartorial history are too numerous to count; from Napoleon III to Churchill, Mick Jagger to The Beatles, and Beau Brummel to Tom Ford; they have enhanced not only the legacy of the Row, but are indicative of its importance.

As influential as it has been on the West, its significance goes further for Japan, with the rough translation of the Japanese word for suit being ‘Savile Row’. After visiting Savile Row in 1921and having bespoke suits made, Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito returned home in great English sartorial style and a fashion unfamiliar to those he ruled, but even today, the emulation is evident on the throngs of Japanese businessmen bustling down the sidewalks in Tokyo. 

To narrowly view Savile Row as one road would be a mistake. Originally, the cobweb of streets surrounding it - Cork, Swallow, Clifford, Conduit, Sackville and Honover - were known for being areas in which the well heeled were outfitted. Long before the days of ready-to-wear clothing, gentlemen had their garments personally made, so a large number of tailors migrated to the area. But today, the once tailor-rich Cork Street that parallels the Row is lined with art galleries and there is not a tailor in sight. 

The link between Savile Row and the military is entrenched in history as most tailors of that period received the majority of their business from military tailoring. Established in 1806, Henry Pool & Company is the oldest surviving tailor on the Row and is remembered for furnishing a great many officers during the Battle of Waterloo. Military influences on clothing designs are evident even to this day, from double-breasted blazers (the naval reefer jacket) to the use of the khaki colour that originated when the British military served in India. Design influences were not solely for the benefit of civilian-wear; in 1914 James Gieve patented the ‘life saving waist coat’, incorporating an inflatable device and a pocket for brandy, to provide additional support. 

While successful tailors had chiefly relied on military orders for business, a groundswell of new custom-made clothes began to take hold in the early 1800’s. The timing wasn’t random; the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799 had the effect of flushing out the aristocratic court dress that permeated throughout not only France, but also Western Europe. Once dead, the decadent dress of the French was slowly replaced by a new influence from English country riding attire that was adapted over time for high society and royalty. 

Enter the greatest dandy of them all: Beau Brummell. To many, ‘dandy’ has a connotation of frivolous excessiveness in dress. Contrarily, judging by many of Brummell’s sartorial inventions, facilitated by Savile Row area tailors, he could also be described as a minimalist. His greatest influence was in transitioning from the French excesses to the more conservative aesthetic that lives on today. While gaudy silk court costumes, buckled satin shoes and lace neckwear were the previous norm, Brummell bridged the two periods by introducing the trouser (a variation on riding pants), wool tailcoats, fine linen cravats and riding boots. His friendship and influence with The Prince Regent at the time - who later became King George IV - gave the right man, at the right time, the ability to almost single-handedly usher in a new sartorial era. As a result, Brummell is known today as the ‘Grandfather of Savile Row’ and his name lives on as one of the great standard bearers of excellence in men’s fashion. 

The majority of tailors on Savile Row are dripping with history. Henry Poole created a short evening (smoking jacket) for the Prince of Wales in 1860 to wear at informal parties. In 1886 James Potter, an American from Tuxedo Park, New York, was invited by the Prince to spend a weekend at his country retreat and told he could have a smoking jacket made by Poole & Company.  Upon his return to the United States, Mr. Potter proudly wore his new jacket to the Tuxedo Park Club. Impressed, fellow members copied the jacket and it became the informal uniform for the club. What had been known as the dinner jacket has since became universally known as the tuxedo.

Walking up and down the Row you’ll find understated shop-fronts. It wasn’t until 1969 when one of the newest tailoring companies on the scene, Nutters, broke with tradition by having open windows. Since then, tailors have slowly introduced conservative frontage to display their designs. If one did not know what street they were on, it would be easy to walk through the Golden Mile of Tailoring with no realisation that it was, and still is, the greatest concentration of tailors in the world.

Savile Row runs north south and is located between Old Bond Street to the west and Regency Street to the north - one block north of Piccadilly Street, not far from Piccadilly Circus. Typically, the first encounter with Savile Row is Gieves & Hawkes at the southernmost end of the Row, at the intersection of Burlington Gardens.

#1 Gieves & Hawkes
The stately building that houses Gieves & Hawkes at #1 Savile Row is the most picturesque and well known of all the buildings on the Row. Originally the residence of Lord George Cavendish, the building was sold to the Royal Geographic Society in 1871. However, in 1912 Hawkes & Company purchased it and has remained in residence ever since; now operating as Gieves & Hawkes, following the merger of the two historic tailoring firms in 1974.

As two of the oldest tailors still in existence, Hawkes began business in 1771, while Gieves was founded in 1785. James Gieve developed a large business supplying uniforms for the Navy and invented what was to later become the nautical ‘life preserver’. Not to be outdone, Thomas Hawkes discovered the technique of jacking leather, which created a hard finish that could deflect a sword blade. The great military supplier became the official producer of headdress for the British regiments (think hard safari helmet-like headgear), as well as a traditional military outfitter.

With the onset of World War II, Gieves was approached in 1940 to make special apparatus for British espionage agents. Like Q in the James Bond movies, Gieves made compass buttons; cavity buttons for holding explosives; poison pellets; maps that were printed on silk; and Gili saws - serrated wire on ring pulls that were hidden in cap badges.  Agents wore the Gieves suits behind the lines in Germany and in enemy territory, although there is no word on how many suits were responsible for enemy deaths.

Notable customers, past and present, are too numerous to list in full but include Winston Churchill, Admiral Nelson, Charlie Chaplin, Mikhail Gorbechev, U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, as well as the late Princess Diana and her sons William and Harry.

#3 Former Office of The Beatles
Moving up the Row, if you take a look at the doorway of #3 Savile Row, you’re likely to see random, spontaneous scribbling from passers-by paying homage to the legendary Beatles who maintained their office and recording studio in the basement. Their last live performance was held on the roof in 1969 and concludes the documentary film Let It Be.

#8 Kilgour
Kilgour dates back to 1882 but was previously known as Kilgour, French & Stanbury. During the Jazz Age in 1925, the Stanbury brothers created Fred Astaire’s iconic white tie and tails worn in the movie Top Hat. The favourite firm of Hollywood at the time, they became MGM boss Louis B. Meyer’s tailor of choice in 1939. Against the backdrop of films like The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind’s success, Meyer was followed by other Hollywood stars such as Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Rex Harrison, David Niven and even Ava Gardner for couturier designs.

In 1959, Cary Grant’s gray suit in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest was made by Kilgour and holds an iconic status to this day as the epitome of sartorial excellence in bespoke tailoring. That timeless suit would still be relevant 52-years later, illustrating how great style and tailoring are ageless.

#11 Huntsman
Huntsman has remained in this location since the firm was established in 1849. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were early customers and other European Royal families followed. Known for having the most expensive suits on the Row, the entry price is well over £3,000 (roughly AUD$5,000). The Huntsman reputation for over 50-years has been a silhouette of firm shoulders and a nipped waist.

#12 Chittleborough & Morgan at Nutters
Nutters of Savile Row was established in swinging 1969 and, as previously mentioned, they were the first to use open windows, much to the dismay of other old guard Savile Row tailors. This firm only makes bespoke suits with no made-to-measure or ready-to-wear offered.

Notable customers cross the social spectrum and have included Dukes, Lords, The Beatles (three of the suits on the Abbey Road album), San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, as well as Mick Jagger. Interestingly, they made Bianca Jagger’s wedding suit and the costumes for the 1989 Batman movie, including those worn by Jack Nicholson.

#14 Hardy Amies
Hardy Amies was opened in this location in 1945, after repairing the building that had taken a direct hit during the Blitz of World War II.  Hardy Amies has designed costumes for a number of films, including 2001: A Space Odyssey. In Britan, he is best known for his couturier work with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, including the gown designed for her in 1977 for Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee portrait.  While the couturier business is well known, it is not as profitable as the men’s tailoring.

#15 Henry Poole & Company
The ‘Founder of Savile Row’ and the creator of the dinner suit (tuxedo) is still a family-owned business. Henry Poole with Baron de Rothschild advanced £10,000 to stage a coup in France to establish the second empire; as a result, his customer was Napoleon III. To memorialise the accession of Emperor Napoleon, Poole erected a gas illuminated eagle and coronet light above the façade of #36 (where he was then located).

When Henry Poole died in 1876, he left the company to his sister and first cousin, Samuel Cundey. They found the firm to be on the brink of insolvency, mainly as a result of extending unlimited credit to its regal customers. Fortunately, the company was brought back from the brink of extinction. They made suits for Crown Prince Hirohito of Japan, which created a new fashion in the Far East. A loyal customer, Winston Churchill, made his first order from Poole’s in 1905 and other customers have included Charles Dickens (1865) and Charles de Gaul (1940).

#19 Chester Barrie
The origins of Chester Barrie greatly differ from the other tailors of Savile Row. An Englishman, Simon Ackerman, left England for New York City in the early 1900’s and built a lucrative tailoring business there. In 1935, Ackerman decided he wanted to import high quality, Savile Row suits to America so he dispatched his son Myron to begin manufacturing in England and ultimately open a shop on the Row in 1937. Feeling his name was not ‘English’ enough he named the store Chester Barrie. Colourfully, in choosing a name he opted for Chester, short for Chestnut Grove where his factory was; as a surname, Barrie was chosen with Peter Pan author, J.M. Barrie in mind.

With the help of his time and influence in the United States, Ackerman and Chester Barrie gained a contract from the U.S. military to produce uniforms in England for servicemen fighting during World War II.  Following the war, Ackerman showed deftness in promotion and marketing by gaining clients (and notoriety) such as Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Sir Winston Churchill. In film, Chester Barrie clothed the iconic Steve McQueen in the sartorially notable The Thomas Crown Affair as well as Sean Connery in the James Bond films Dr. No and Thunderball. In 1998, Chester Barrie began making the suits for the high-end Ralph Lauren Purple Label line.

#29 Richard James
Crossing the street and reversing direction back toward Burlington Garden and #1 Savile Row, the street numbers continue to climb. Richard James is opposite Chester Barrie at the corner of Clifford Street, which dead-ends at the Row. The first of the ‘new generation’ of Row tailors was established in 1992. Richard James was the first to introduce Saturday openings.

#30 Ozwald Boateng
Established on Savile Row in 1996, Ozwald Boateng is the most well known of the ‘new generation’ Row tailors. The new generation of customers is an impressive, if not unusual list for a tailor on the Row; contemporary names such as Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Russell Crowe, Keanu Reeves, Chris Rock, Lawrence Fishburn, Jude Law and Hugh Jackman are some of the notables Boateng designs for.

#38 Davies & Son
Originally opening on Hanover Street in 1804, Davies & Son is one of the longest established tailors currently residing on Savile Row, where they moved in 1986 and are the only remaining ‘old school’ bespoke tailoring firm on the west side of the Row.

Steeped in naval tradition, Davies has attracted notable and stylish civilian customers over the years such as Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Clarke Gable as well as the Prince of Wales (and as King George VIII).

Moving outside the bounds of Savile Row, neighbouring streets were a convenient locale for makers of other men’s furnishings such as shoe and boot-makers, millinery, accessories and other fineries. Jermyn Street has become synonymous with made-to-measure men’s shirts. The convenience for customers to quickly move from their suit-makers on Savile Row to nearby Jermyn Street for shirts was not lost on anyone. 

Passing through Burlington Arcade, crossing Piccadilly Street and walking through the Piccadilly Arcade, makes for a short walk from Savile Row to Jermyn Street. Burlington and Piccadilly Arcades are sartorially rich with unique boutiques that sell a wide variety of luxury items for the wellgroomed. Burlington Arcade is the longest covered shopping street in London, roughly 200 yards in length with just over 40 upscale shops. The feel is discreet luxury in a heralded architectural masterpiece.

Burlington Arcade is filled with a rich, fascinating history. Built by Lord George Cavendish, the enclosed arched two-story pedestrian walk was constructed in 1819 with glass ceilings to allow natural light through. There are different stories as to why Lord Cavendish had the arcade built; the most entertaining was he wanted a structure to prevent commoners from throwing oyster shells (a popular cheap eat during the period) and other rubbish over the wall that bordered his home. Cavendish, former leader of the 10th Hussars, hired Hussar military men to police the arcade. These small police forces, known as Beadles, still roam the arcade to this day.

Currently numbering five, the traditionally Edwardian uniformed Beadles don frockcoats and gold braided top hats. They also hold the distinction of being the oldest police force in London, as well as the smallest. To this day, the Beadles maintain police jurisdiction over the arcade, as recognised by the London Metropolitan Police. Historically, a requirement to become a Beadle was a military background but in the 1950s this requirement was broadened to those with a police background; most recently, a Beadle was hired who had neither.

The Beadles enforce special rules for visitors, including no running, whistling, humming, singing, playing musical instruments, open umbrellas or baby prams. Also, historically, anyone carrying large parcels was not allowed entry. Legend has it that the large parcel rule was directed toward women, as the feeling was that any women who did not have the means to have someone carry the large parcels for them were not considered ‘ladies’, thus had no place in the arcade. Upon asking the Beadles about these rules, the large parcels rule is no longer enforced but, they do in fact have to ask the merry and musically inclined to stop humming, whistling and singing occasionally - always to the guilty party’s dismay and amusement.

Upon exiting Burlington Arcade coming from Savile Row, you cross the busy Piccadilly Street; directly adjacent is Piccadilly Arcade - a smaller younger version of Burlington Arcade, with 16 luxury shops.

After enjoying the unique boutiques of Piccadilly Arcade, you exit on famous Jermyn Street to the splendor of stores known around the world. To emphasise the sartorial standards of Jermyn Street, you’re welcomed with a statue of Beau Brummell - standing with significant notice that you have found yourself in the confines of sartorial richness and to take heed accordingly. In a relatively small stretch, you’ll find shirt-makers Turnbull & Asser, Charles Tyrwhitt, Thomas Pink, T.M Lewin, Duchamp and Hawes & Curtis. Offerings for shirts can range from bespoke, made-to-measure or ready-to-wear, depending on your taste and time.

Aside from the homes of famous shirt-makers, there are a variety of other stores for gentleman, including: cigar shops such as Dunhill and Davidoff; boot-makers and shoe shops John Lobb and Foster & Son; barbers and skin-care by Geo. F. Trumper; Taylors of Old Bond Street; and outfitters Harvie & Hudson and Hackett. Adjacent to Jermyn Street, at the corner of St. James, is the infamous gun-maker Beretta.  Dating back to 1526, Beretta make competition and hunting guns, and also offer upscale clothing and accessories.

Making it to Jermyn Street and St. James, if you like hats, a brief walk down to 6 St. James will bring you to the oldest and arguably best hatter in the world. For centuries, Lock & Company has been where royalty, aristocrats, politicians, businessmen, entertainers and anyone who takes their hats seriously have gone. After 90-years in existence, Lock & Co. moved to their present location - over a decade before the creation of the United States. Lock’s history could fill volumes; a highlight includes the creation of the Bowler hat, commissioned by customer William Coke. Who can think of Charlie Chaplin without his hat? Chaplin had all his hats made by Lock & Co. and in a frame tucked away in the shop is an original hand-written letter thanking Lock & Co. for sending Chaplin his latest acquisitions to Paris.

On the wall is a frame with a number of index-sized cards. Upon closer inspection are silhouettes of different head-shapes made with pinholes and the names of the customers for whom these measurements were taken. Included in that frame are Charlie Chaplin, Laurence Olivier, the Duke of Windsor, Charles de Gaul and Field Marshal Montgomery to name a few. 

The device used to make these custom measurements was a French invention called a conformateur, developed in the mid-1800’s. As expected, Lock & Co still has one of their original devices - perhaps the same one that took many of the custom measurements of those previously mentioned. While being shown the device I had read of but never seen, my faithful Lock & Co. guide asked if I would like to try it. Dutifully clamping an index-sized card in, it was explained, ‘this is going to feel a little strange’. Once realised that this heavy metal contraption with hundreds of metal bars vertically fixed was intended to go down into the crown and surround the head, thoughts of medieval torture devices came to mind. It felt a little strange but not uncomfortable. The card was removed with my head measurement ready for the bespoke hatters to custom make the perfect hat. If you’re serious about hats, or even just interested in touching history, Lock & Co. is an experience like no other. 

For the dandy in you or the men in your life, the routes stemming from Savile Row are the Disneyland of upscale men’s products; many of the finest tailors and shops in the world. Next time in London, step off the beaten path, explore the sartorial splendor and take in the rich history this small area has to offer.

-Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Life With Style Magazine~ "On The Street ~ New York"

Life With Style Magazine~ "On The Street ~ New York"

Click image to enlarge (click again to enlarge for readability)
Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist ~ Life With Style Magazine ~ On The Street

~Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist ~ Life With Style Magazine

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lost Generations ~ "La Note Finale" in Life With Style Magazine

"La Note Finale", published in the most recent edition of Life With Style Magazine.

Life With Style Magazine~ "Lost Generations"

Click image to enlarge (click again to enlarge for readability)

We are living in an age in which fewer people fully understand and appreciate what is appropriate, across the spectrum; how to act in public; eat at the dinner table; treat the opposite sex; as well as buy, pick out and put together outfits. Are we now living in a time where children are not being taught the basics…a parentless era?

In doing research on London’s Lock & Co., the oldest and arguably best hat-makers in the world, I was once again struck with the importance of what we learn from our parents growing up. While doing a walk-through and asking questions, the Lock & Co. PR person, Nicolas Payne-Baader said, “Most people these days have no idea how to choose a hat, nor what styles and proportions are best for them. It used to be common knowledge how to choose a hat to appropriately compliment one’s physique but people now aren’t taught by their parents because their parents didn’t wear hats either.” Admittedly, my father didn’t wear hats and I learned nothing of them growing up. I have however, always loved classic hats and I have a handful of heavy-felt Fedoras to wear during winter, as well as a lighter Panama for spring and summer. I chose them by looking in the mirror and determining if they ‘worked’. Whether they were the right choice for me or not is debatable. I can talk in great detail about most articles of men’s fashion: cut, drape, fit, colour, pattern and proportion. For hats, I’m lost. I can rely on my sartorial senses derived from other clothing items in choosing a hat, but I learned things at Lock & Co. that I wasn’t even aware I didn’t know. Fortunately for hats, they are quite utilitarian in preventing loss of body heat through the head when it’s cold and providing shade when it’s sunny, so hats will always be with us in one form or another.

This snippet of conversation at Lock & Co. got me thinking: how many other things, sartorial or otherwise, are and will fall by the wayside as parents who don’t know better and fail to teach their children? Personally, I’m in a minority category of people who love and appreciate style and am eager to learn and teach myself more. Most others don’t have the time, inclination or idea of how much there is to learn. Where I can skip over my parent’s generation and learn lessons in style from previous ones, most other people understandably won’t. Aside from dress, how many other things have not been passed down? I realise that every generation looks at newer generations and shakes their collective heads in disgust at what they’re witnessing. To varying degrees they’ve been right to think that. Some cultural generational changes have been for the worst, but some have been for the better as well. That said, there is still a real problem. Previous generations had their parents to look to as examples for appropriateness. At least when that generation had their own children, they could teach them the same lessons they were taught, regardless of whether they were living examples. We are living in a time of lost generations having children, creating a generation even more lost. 

In my formative years, I saw my father put a suit and tie on everyday to go to work. There was a pride he took in how he dressed, presented himself and conducted himself in public. He taught me what was appropriate behaviour when I was a child; how to tie a tie as a teenager; and took me shopping for suits when I landed my first job, as well as sharing the accompanying do’s and don’ts. He said words I will never forget: “Right or wrong, people will size you up and judge you immediately by the way you look, so it’s important to always look your best so you make a good first impression. That first impression won’t win you business but it can certainly lose it.” These core lessons were his legacy. That said, I wouldn’t nominate my father as the ideal role model - far from it. He didn’t need to be the ideal to teach the basics; these were social norms passing down just as countless others had passed down before. 

What happens when a clueless generation doesn’t have appropriate norms to pass down? We have now ventured into unknown slovenly territory; behaviour and manners are terrible and only worsening. Simple ideas such as holding doors for people, saying ‘thank-you’ and general respect for others is being thrown out the window. Symptomatically, walking down the street, its apparent people don’t know how to dress. Just as these people didn’t learn from their parents, they will continue to pass on what they know to their children. Is there any turning back? I pray there is.

~Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist ~ Life With Style Magazine

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is This the Death Knell of Salvatore Ferragamo?

Salvatore Ferragamo

Following years of discussion and rumors, Salvatore Ferragamo SpA announced they are selling 25% of the company in an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the Milan Stock Exchange. The company planned to sell 48% in an IPO in 2006 but due to market and economic conditions the company shelved the idea.

Why is Ferragamo going public? The coming prospectus will give a number of reasons why but the real pressure is coming from within the Ferragamo family. Salvatore, who started the company in the 1920's to serve the booming Hollywood movie industry passed away in 1960. His wife, Wanda still serves as Honorary Chairwoman to the company. Aside from his wife, stakeholders in the company include his 5 children, over 20 grandchildren and other various descendents. There's an arbitrary rule in place that only 3 family members can work for the company at the same time. The limited spots for interested family members has created competition within the family and the inevitable desire of some family members to cash out of their Ferragamo stock has created a tremendous internal riff.

What was the obvious solution for Ferragamo's troubles? To go public and allow family members who wanted to sell stock the chance to do so, once and for all.  In 2010, the company reportedly had revenues of €780 million Euros ($1.1 Billion) and a net profit of €61 million Euros ($88 million). That's a net profit margin of 7.8%. For an 80-year old fashion industry company, that's extraordinary performance. There is a lot of profit available for expansion and/or dividends for shareholders (the family). Based on last year alone in a stagnant global economy, it's safe to say Salvatore Ferragamo SpA has no financial need to go from private to public. Typically companies raise money through public offerings to fund expansion and growth; Ferragamo has already been expanding and has plenty of cash to do more if they wished. The IPO decision comes back to the family pressures.

So why do we care if Salvatore Ferragamo goes public or remains private? There is a risk, a strong one at that, that the Ferragamo quality we enjoy in their superior shoes, garments, bags and accessories will vanish. Loyal Ferragamo customers know, for example, they can order a pair of shoes, the size will fit, be comfortable and last for ages with proper care. Those who count on Ferragamo for this high-quality consistency will lose confidence in a favoured brand.

In the 1920's, a talented young Salvatore Ferragamo of Florence was producing shoes in Hollywood and became known as the "Shoemaker To The Stars". His shoes were beautiful and highly sought-after. The Italian craftsman took great pride in the loved aesthetic of his shoes but young Salvatore wasn't satisfied  as they were painful to wear. Ferragamo did what was necessary to become better at his trade- even at the height of tremendous notoriety and success in Hollywood; he enrolled at the University of Southern California (USC) to study anatomy to learn how to make an attractive shoe that truly fit the foot and was comfortable to wear. His combination of art and science led to innovations in shoe-making that are still used today, including the wedge heel, shell-shaped soles and the gloved arch shoe. He took shoes to new heights with the steel reinforced stiletto (and hated for it to this day by sore-footed woman everywhere). For many years Ferragamo made arguably the most confortable woman's shoe available and exemplified Italian quality, craftsmanship and innovation.

When companies go public, the entire corporate dynamic changes. This change will ultimately effect the corporate family culture that has taken 80 years to establish. Although the Ferragamo culture may be strained internally at times, they do have a reputation of upholding Salvatore's values of superior Italian craftsmanship. With their growth, quality may have suffered a little due to higher demand but that's inevitable with growth in a quality-based business. Generally speaking, the quality is still intact. Now, there will be a block of public shareholders that own 25% of the company who care more about returns than the corporate culture of quality. This has the makings to be a textbook study in how big business is competing against quality and ultimately, the art of fashion.

The primary concern of shareholders is return on investment. These intentions are clear and understandable. They're investing to make money, period. Not if- but when, Salvatore Ferragamo goes through a period when returns are not up to shareholder expectations, investors will call for changes to be more profitable. The equation is simple: lower costs and maximized revenue. To lower costs, investors look at the cost of making goods. If the product can be made at a lower cost (and they can in this case), the new investors will call for change. Italian production will be difficult to make considerable changes to. It's evident the Ferragamo's have ensured efficient production of their core products in Italy while still maintaining qualityLabor costs of what an Italian craftsman demands compared to a worker in an emerging growth country such as China or India will easily point to moving production to these other countries. Labor costs in emerging markets is far less expensive. There's a reason so many other items- clothing and otherwise have the label "Made in China" (or India, Taiwan, Malasia, etc). A cheap labor force is appealing to shareholders to maximize returns- at least in the short term. 

Craftsmanship, quality and pride in Italy is generational and second-to-none. If an item is made in Italy, its typically very high quality. In comparison, emerging countries with large pools of unskilled workers can make that item far cheaper but don't have the experience and know-how compared the Italian culture of generational craftsmen. Moving production out of Italy will cause quality to suffer. It's not that workers in emerging markets are inept, they just don't have the experience, pride and culture that Italians have developed. When the shift from quality to lower cost takes place, the products and ultimately the brand slowly erodes. When value erodes enough, the product becomes a commodity; there is no brand premium in the pricing any longer because buyers no longer view the brand as anything more than average. A commodity can't be differentiated any longer. An average handbag is an average handbag- retail stores and discounters are full of them and the brand that produced it is irrelevant. 

It's logical that non-family involvement of shareholders will eventually demand the lowest cost solution. If and when that happens, for a period of time the Ferragamo brand would remain significant and continue to call for premium luxury pricing but erode over time due to lower quality and a loss or exclusivity. Additionally, shareholder pressure will call for capitalizing on the Ferragamo name by introducing additional royalty revenue sources through a proliferation of licensing agreements. Allowing other manufacturers to use the Ferragamo brand on a wide variety of products through licensing is an easy way for a brand to greatly enhance profitability with little effort, at least short-term. However, unless tightly controlled, a premium brand can lose its allure when everything from bedsheets to cigarette lighters flood the marketplace at lower quality than the company's core business. A primary example of this happened with Pierre Cardin. Cardin capitalized on the brand name by issuing 100's of licensing agreements for virtually every type of product conceivable. The company even had to settle a lawsuit for issuing two license agreements to make the same product- not realizing while issuing the second license they already had a licensee that made the same product. Pierre Cardin's top line haute couture remains highly regarded but the Cardin name lost its seductiveness and ability to demand premium pricing. For most, Pierre Cardin is just an average brand who's original designer used to be highly regarded.

With quality suffering and a marketplace flooded with the Ferragamo name, luxury and upscale market buyers will eventually stop buying the brand. The immediate surge of buyers of licensed products or who previously were priced out of buying the Ferragamo brand would bring higher sales while the brand erodes. Following in the footsteps of the former luxury clientele, these newer aspirational buyers will eventually no longer find value in either the product or brand. Increased licensing and moving production of the core brand out of Italy would have short term economic benefits for the shareholders but kill the Golden Goose in the long term.

Can ultimate demise be averted now the decision has been made to sell a 25% stake in a public offering? Perhaps. Selling 25% to investors has opened pandora's box. Short term, maintaining brand quality depends on the fractured Ferragamo family who still owns 75%. If they can vote in a collective majority to maintain quality in spite of investor pressure, the brand will remain intact for now. Fifty years after Salvatore Ferragamo's passing, the brand is still associated with the high quality Italian craftsmanship and care that Salvatore exemplified. The family has done a good job of sticking with their roots and demanding quality but public investor pressure will never let up. It's a matter of time before investor pressure wins and the brand suffers. When the time comes that a fractured Ferragamo family can no longer vote in plurality to maintain quality over even greater profits, the death march will begin for Ferragamo.

Michael Cress ~ The New York Sartorialist

Saturday, May 28, 2011

New York Sartorialist column, "La Note Finale" in "Life With Style" Magazine

The Column in a readable size:

As I write this, we are on the eve of the fashion extravaganza known as New York Fashion Week. As soon as the designers wrap up the shows here, London, Milan and Paris will be hosting their own fashion weeks in quick succession to exhibit Autumn/Winter 2011 collections for their designers. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with Fashion Week. I love seeing my fashion industry friends, meeting new people and the pure spectacle of it all. I enjoy the non-stop events and work that goes into it, but at a certain point I can’t help but ask: “Now why are we doing this again already?” 

The true answer dates back to Paris earlier in the 20th century. Haute couture (“high fashion”) was a term being thrown around much too loosely for the French’s liking. To maintain quality control and their recognition as the fashion capital of the world, the French made haute couture a legally protected designation that had to  be earned annually by each fashion house. Among other requirements to gain this status, each house must present their collections twice a year for the press to review. Over time, haute couture lost a great deal of fashion market share to prêt-à-porter designs, French for ‘ready-to-wear’. However, precedence was established and to this day, haute couture remains a protected name and the requirement for two shows a year for the press remains in effect. 

 Never a city to miss a potential business opportunity, New York started its own ‘Press Week’ in 1943. Following French precedent, New York ‘Press Week’ became a bi-annual event and eventually became known simply as ‘Fashion Week’. Over time, New York Fashion Week gave opportunities to designers that previously would have been overlooked in favour of the French and helped establish New York as a fashion capital. In time, taking the lead from the French and Americans, Milan and London followed suit to gain and preserve their foothold in the global fashion industry.  

By not having a singularly dominating country as the fashion capital of the world, opportunities for many designers have been presented. On one hand this is extremely positive; however, on the other, many would argue that there have been some detrimental unintended consequences. Looking back in a romantic view, it would be wonderful to have well-crafted garments that upheld the luxury and sophistication from the age of haute couture (roughly through the 1950s). Ready-to-wear became the standard and, as a result, clothing became a commodity instead of a work of wearable art. Once entered into an age of commoditisation, quality became less important and the lowest cost provider became darlings for consumer buyers, as long as there was some minimal level of quality. Once again we see that commerce and art are not only strange bedfellows but seem to need a divorce if the art is to survive.  

Over time, factories and mills in the United States with the machinery and technology to produce the highest-quality fabrics and finished garments slowly began to disappear as textiles and finishing were moved to other countries with cheaper labour forces. From a business sense, perhaps it was necessary to adequately compete, though inevitably the quality suffers. Even Italy, the last bastion of artisans who are doing everything possible to maintain the highest quality, are being forced into some hard decisions that run counter to their fundamental desire to create the finest fabrics and finished garments available. For many years now, the rest of the world has outsourced to Italy to produce finer and more complex goods with premium fabrics that only Italy is still equipped to manufacture. Unfortunately, the number of factories and mills has been dwindling. Where do quality-based designers around the world look to when they disappear?

Can luxurious and quality fashion survive and perhaps regain some of its lost footing? As the new season’s looks are unveiled from the four major Fashion Weeks and then available in stores, let’s ask ourselves- beyond pure aesthetics of a new garment, is it made of the highest quality? Is it a good investment that will do more than take up closet-space? Of the array of trends we may choose from, will our choices survive into following seasons and prove to be wardrobe staples? Personally, I shop by feel. I can walk down a rack of clothing simply by touching the fabrics; when a certain feel grabs my attention, only then will I examine further. If I prefer different cuts or colours, I then can search out different variations of the design that have the same feel. Inevitably, the fabrics are of the highest quality and as a secondary benefit, I am supporting the designers, mills and finishers who demand the highest quality in their work. Everyone is different in what is most important to making buying decisions; however, if we collectively demand quality craftsmanship we can ensure it will be there in future. 

The French had the right idea in demanding haute couture meet certain standards. My wish is more would be required of designers for the various Fashion Weeks to ensure quality is paramount. Perhaps ready-to-wear makes the French haute couture model difficult to apply for the dominant ready-to-wear market. Our only personal influence is with our buying patterns. When the industry sees that we as consumers demand greater craftsmanship and quality, only then will they rise to our expectations.

Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

StyleWeek Providence ~ Day 7

The closing evening of StyleWeek Providence featured the designers Jonathan Joseph Peters, Joseph Aaron Segal and fan-favorite, Daniella Corte. Below are the looks from the shows closing the week.

Daniella Corte

Daniella Corte - Images by Michael Cress Photography


Jonathan Joseph Peters

Jonathan Joseph Peters - Images by Michael Cress Photography

Joseph Aaron Segal

Joseph Aaron Segal - Images by Michael Cress Photography

Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist

StyleWeek Providence ~ Day 6

Day six of StyleWeek Providence featured Andrea Valentini, Jessica Abernathy and Philip Sawyer. Below are all the looks from the three designers.

Andrea Valentini

Andrea Valentini - Images by Michael Cress Photography


Jessica Abernethy

Jessica Abernathy - Images by Michael Cress Photography

Philip Sawyer

Philip Sawyer - Images by Michael Cress Photography

Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist

Friday, January 21, 2011

StyleWeek Providence ~ Day 5~ Jen Greeke & Kelly Eident

I really enjoyed Jen Greeke's show last night at StyleWeek Providence. There are some really fun looks and the styling by Christina Pierce was spot-on. Hope everyone enjoys!

Jen Greeke

Jen Greeke - Images by Michael Cress Photography


Kelly Eident

Kelly Eident - Images by Michael Cress Photography

Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

StyleWeek Providence ~ Day 3

The looks on Tuesday's StyleWeek Providence were a little different for day three. Designers Karen Beebe and Samuel Vartan showed their latest collections. Hope you enjoy taking a look.

Karen Beebe

Karen Beebe - Images by Michael Cress Photography


Samuel Vartan

Samuel Vartan - Images by Michael Cress Photography

Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

StyleWeek Providence ~ Day 2

StyleWeek Providence kicked off day 2 with a standing-room only crowd for the Kara Wickman runway show which ended in a standing ovation and was pleasingly followed up by Maria Del Carmen Mercado. Below are all the looks from both designers. I hope you enjoy!

Kara Wickman

Kara Wickman - Images by Michael Cress Photography

Maria Del Carmen Mercado

Maria Del Carmen Mercado - Images by Michael Cress Photography

Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist

Monday, January 17, 2011

StyleWeek Providence ~ Day 1 ~ Avni

Yesterday, New England's premier fashion week- StyleWeek Providence kicked off with three designers, Sam Mendoza, Anvi and Sarah Prost for Yellow Clover.

If you couldn't make it to the Providence Biltmore- now worries, here are the looks by Avni.

Avni - Images by Michael Cress Photography

Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist

StyleWeek Providence ~ Day 1 ~ Sam Mendoza

Yesterday, New England's premier fashion week- StyleWeek Providence kicked off with three designers, Sam Mendoza, Anvi and Sarah Prost for Yellow Clover.

If you couldn't make it to the Providence Biltmore- now worries, here are the looks by Sam Mendoza.

Sam Mendoza - Images by Michael Cress Photography

Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist