Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Lacoste puts a new scent out

Lacoste, primarily known for its sports shirts, has put three new fragrances out there under the "Eau de Lacoste" banner. Pulling off the same trick as Polo, there are three editions with different coloured bottles. The marketing says they've recreated the classic polo shirt with the scents; I couldn't disagree more, the bottles are far too small to wear and made of glass.

OK, that's probably a bit literal.

The one they sent me was "Bleu", which is the refreshing aquatic version of the range. There's peppermint, fern and a bit of sage in there.

It's pleasant enough and available in smaller than usual quantities - 30ml for £25 is a fair price for someone like me who never gets to the end of a bottle of cologne without getting bored with it.

It might, though, be better for a younger person; there were a lot of scents like this with very floral overtones some 20 years ago; those of us who remember them from the first time around (and who look old enough) might end up looking a bit mid-life-crisis-ish as if we're trying to recapture our youth if we indulge it too much.

P. S. It's also a good one for wearing very sparingly. I tried it out with two or three squirts, and although it would be an exaggeration to say my wife almost threw herself out of the window it was so overpowering, for a moment I thought she came close. One quick squirt will be ample and will last you for ages.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

New range of body products from Organic Blue

Men tend not to buy a lot of body products as such. Most of us understand the value of soap and deodorants and that's a step up from our predecessors who were in their forties in 1971.

Things have changed and I've been sent a couple of samples from a range by Organic Blue. I didn't think it was promising; people who've had a look at the aftershaves I normally cover in here will be aware that I have a bit of a taste for the "ouch that costs a lot" school of products. This £7.99 (price on Amazon) body lotion is one of the costliest items in the range. I also tried the shower gel.

The gel, which washes hair and body alike, is pleasant enough. There's a citrussy lemongrass scent which is refreshing first thing in the morning and like all shower gels it got me clean.

I'm not usually a body lotion person but I dutifully put some on. Again the same rush of lemongrass, but the revelation was later in the day. After putting this on my feet some of my dry skin started to clear up (sorry for the mental image, you will read middle aged blokes' style blogs). This was with only one application. I've used it a few times since and without boring or repulsing you with details I'm more comfortable moving about in the heat, when I didn't think I was suffering particularly before.

Maybe all body lotions do this for you, although I did try one once before from the considerably-costlier Molton Brown and it didn't suit me quite as well nor smell as refreshing. You get quite a big bottle for your money; I shall certainly be replacing it when it eventually runs out.

I was so taken with it that I asked the PR whether there was a matching cologne. Apparently she's been urging them to do something like that for ages and I can't say I blame her. Until they do, the (pricey) Hermes Orange Vert is a reasonable match.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Anything but common scents

Readers of this blog will know I've got a thing about decent aftershaves, colognes, eaux de toilette (see that correct plural folks, who are you calling flash...) - so the first thing I'm going to do is recommend a book about them.  Called "Artisan Perfumery or Being Led By The Nose" it's by Alec Lawless, self-published and it's a rattling read.

Lawless takes you through the history of perfumery then looks at sourcing natural ingredients like sandalwood (exploding the popular myth that the sandalwood tree is an endangered species, which is only true in India), notes on the quality and storage of key ingredients and oils, how we process scents in our brains, how culture has affected tastes. A former wine dealer he's been aware of the importance of the olfactory sense long before he became a perfumier himself. My Amazon link to the book is below and I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in the subject - it's a thoroughly engaging read on the subject of perfume by all means, but also offers insights into history, culture and psychology.

He's more interesting than that, though - Lawless runs Essentially Me, a service in which he makes bespoke perfume for people. You get a consultation, the chance to smell loads of individual scents from a wooden box of basic oils he carries around, then he blends based on your likes and dislikes. He's not interested in your partner's tastes yet, it has to come from you - and a particular element might work best as a base note/background scent or a binding rather than the leading smell anyway, so your initial consultation will only hint at what you're going to get.

He then sends two samples through and asks you to experiment wearing them, and asks you which you prefer. It's possible to arrive at a compromise answer; if it's overpowering for half an hour then settles to something you like, he can probably adjust the blend so that it settles faster.

You end up with a fully tailored, bespoke perfume - and yes, he describes it all as perfume and pretty much rubbishes the idea that one element is definitely for women and another for men. If you like it that's fine with him, and he'll keep the formula on record so he can provide it again - with the proviso that like a good wine, oils can develop in the bottle and with different crops over the years so something which appears identical on paper may vary a little once it's blended, bottled and delivered. It's not an impulse buy; £245 covers the whole process including your bottle. Divided by the chunks of his time you get and the average cost of perfume (the strong stuff, not the eau de toilette weaker versions many of us are used to) it's good value for what it is.

I spent a very pleasant lunch hour discussing it with him a few weeks ago. He's one of these interesting, engaged people who communicates his enthusiasm completely. If you were thinking of doing anything like this he'd be an excellent person to talk to.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Is expensive tailoring doomed?

I saw in the Times over the weekend - which had published the men's style page in its Magazine, we often get chopped - that yet another low-budget tailor had opened up. I say "low budget"; if you fit a Marks and Sparks suit for £120 you're going to think these others are very costly.

But they're proliferating. The handful I know of include:

A Suit that Fits
King and Allen
Cad and the Dandy

(Usual routine, the first of those links is my usual people and I get loyalty points if anyone clicks through - I mention this purely in the interests of full disclosure).

You can now add October House, the newest and perhaps understandably the one with the least informative website as yet. No doubt these guys will all debate the merits and demerits of their ranges and methods, but what you get is a well fitted suit (which may take more than one go to get right), in the material and cut of your own choosing, made by hand in most cases. You'll usually get change from (or can opt to get change from) £500 - if you go for something with polyester in it you can get it for less than £300 from some of them, although why you'd go out of your way to have tailored polyester is beyond me.

Or you can go to Savile Row and spend thousands.

I had to ask: why would anyone do so when the alternative is to less? So I mailed four Savile Row tailors yesterday and asked why it was worth spending all that cash.

I should stress that they've only had a day to respond. So the fact that only one of them has done so is no reflection on the others. Nonetheless I'm grateful to Tom Mahon of English Cut: Bespoke Savile Row who is no longer based on the Row full time but he's experienced there, for taking the time to reply.

He's not down on the cheaper stuff. He's quick to state that if you spend around £800 with some of the budget people you'll get a pretty decent suit. "True bespoke is at least twice that and although our prices are pretty reasonable you'll have very little change out of £3000," he adds. He suggests that many of the lower cost items use basically the same factory production methods as High Street ready to wear clothes (in my experience they're more likely to offshore the cutting and making, which is what brings the cost down). The extra range of fabrics can make it worth doing, he's keen to stress, but the experience is different.

"I can't put into words the difference of true bespoke," he says. There are a couple of things that suggest his clients, at least, are happy with it at the price. First he's about to blog that he's not taking on any new clients for a few months. "The reason is because of my existing clients re-ordering which is what is keeping us so busy.

"Bearing in mind these are successful, educated people I very much doubt that they'd be prepared to pay three times as much, wait three times as long for something that wasn't really in a class of its own. I'd love to say that it was down to my sparkling personality but in reality it's the artisans who make these that create something special."

Returning customers are a compelling argument and I'm grateful for the response but still no wiser as to what makes a Savile Row suit worth several times the price of the competition. Some of the answers are in my entry on floating canvases last month - but not all.

I'll update this entry with comments from the other tailors as and when they respond. And of course I'd be delighted to hear on the comments section from anyone who's used an upmarket service and can shed any light.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Armani Code: Theming your scents for Father's Day

Regular readers will be aware I'm very fond of Armani Code eau de toilette for men (below, linking to my Amazon store).

Also known as Black Code and still listed as such in some websites, it suits me because I like the citrus, bergamot and the underpinnings of warmth - there's a bit of leather and tobacco in there too. There are clearly people who hate scents and I do share a certain bewilderment when people turn up whiffing of the stuff for a business meeting (if I do so for a meeting with you, you can assume I'm testing it for this blog).

Recently Armani has issued a couple of new versions of Code for men. The first is Armani Code Summer.

Season-specific scents are commonplace in the female market. The male of the species is catching up - or the marketing departments are doing so, anyway. Armani Code Summer is a lighter version of theoriginal. The heavier undertones are gone and there's more citrus - overall a more floral feel. It's very refreshing as it goes on - does the job nicely and there's enough of the original left so it's still familiar if that's your regular eau de toilette. My thanks to Debenhams' Beauty Club for arranging the sample. The bottle matches the original - as indeed does the other new one, out next month, Armani Sport (so new it's not yet on the Amazon site).

This one, again designed so the packaging matches the others, has a mint zing as you put it on which gives way to a more gingery version of the other two. There's a lot of citrus in this too, probably more orangey than lemon/limey compared to the others. It's certainly another excellent offering in the range.

My only query is whether anyone's actually going to buy all three - or whether this is just clever marketing; there are a lot of blokes like me who get a bit obsessive, we collect box sets of DVDs rather than individual titles, we like to drive the same brand of car for years on end - and now we have themed scents. No-one should take this as a criticism - L'Oreal, which owns the brand, is in business to be in business and if they can persuade me to buy three bottles of cologne instead of one they're probably doing a good job for their shareholders.

Luckily for the buyer, the scents themselves are pretty good. Oh, and if my daughter's reading, bearing in mind Father's Day is now only weeks away, I like Armani Diamonds too but haven't got any (you see what I mean about brands? Hadn't even occurred to me it was another Armani before I typed that last bit).

During this coming week I'll be looking at something different in terms of scent - a bloke who makes his own.

Friday, 6 May 2011

What to do with a swatch

Flickr: My Love For You
Getting your clothes tailored should be a pleasure but so often it gets confusing if you don't know exactly what you're doing. I made a mistake with my first suit I had tailored a couple of years ago, for example - and if I'd known a bit more about swatches of fabric I probably wouldn't have done the same thing.

I was looking through the various offerings and was very pleased to see there was a linen available, in the summer this seemed a very good idea. The colour seemed just about dark enough - they had a near white, a blue and a beige. I went for the beige.

Mistake. This was where I learned my first big lesson about swatches. The material always looks lighter en masse. The suit was perfectly fitted and exactly what I'd ordered - and it wasn't flattering. For the second one I ordered I opted for what I thought was a dark grey. It turned out to be mid grey for the same reason. It looks good on me but it was luck rather than judgment.

So what do you look for in a swatch? First, get a sample at home if you can. My usual tailors at A Suit That Fits (sponsored link, I get loyalty points for click-throughs and that's the only payment I get for this blog) will send up to three, no problem at all. Others, like King and Allen who I met recently (not a sponsored link) will prefer to sit you down and talk you through the fabrics. Remember they'll look lighter; compare them to your shirts, think about the lining and what's going to work and what isn't.

Feel it. If you think it's too rough, it's too rough - only buy something you like. Then screw it up. Go ahead - you're looking to see whether it creases. Then pour flour on it, or toothpaste - see how easily it brushes clean. Don't expect miracles, it's a suit after all, not a raincoat, but it should be relatively cleanable. After that you're ready to order - unless you can actually get to visit the tailor. If you can do that, ask them if they've got any suits made up in the fabric you're thinking of. You're spending the money, they'll fall over themselves to show you.

If you don't get the suit right after that, you're not trying...

P. S. A warm welcome to any new readers who saw the piece on the BBC's webwise site. I hope you'll find something of interest in here.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Smart casual and the eye of the beholder

Lunch today with fellow author Heather Townsend, whose book the FT Guide to Business Networking is coming out in a couple of months. My lightweight linen jacket is off to the cleaners so I was wearing a Marks and Sparks blazer, which we agreed was ridging terribly across my back so I'm more determined than ever to keep buying tailored stuff (you reach a certain shape it's just better, and not always as expensive as people think).

But we got to talking about the dreaded smart/casual conundrum so many blokes go through. What does it mean? She knew one guy who had loads of jeans for knocking about in and being really casual and some pretty decent suits, but he was a bit bewildered by what should come in the middle.

My instinct - non-denim jeans or chinos, blazer or some sort of smart-ish jacket but keeping to separates anyway, tends to keep me out of trouble. And I avoid cutaway shirts when I'm going for the open necked look - cutaways always look like they're missing a tie, as that's how they're designed.

I'm a little concerned, though, that the jeans-and-jacket combo makes me look like a fat Jeremy Clarkson. What's everyone else do?

Tailoring links:

A Suit that Fits (sponsored link)
King and Allen (not a sponsored link at all, I get nothing whether you click or not)

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The dreaded tie-in-soup disaster

Flickr: BuyAlex
You're at a dinner, you're somewhere formal, and you lean forward to enjoy your soup. And everybody's staring at you - because your tie is now in the bowl with the spoon.
Most of us can avoid this sort of embarrassment, but how to stop a tie flapping about in the wind is no simple matter. I've always avoided tie clips like the one on the right, I like to leave my ties unfettered - but recently I've given up and worn one, first because it looks pretty good but second because it does hold the tie in place.

A tie pin can be as good, not as effective on patterned ties as plain ones because they tend to get a bit lost. My big preference - and I've only just discovered these - is the invisible version. It's a little bit of material that matches your shirt and has a buttonhole in each end. You put one end on a shirt button, thread the other through the tie bar (the loop of material at the back) and do the other button up and unless someone's looking really carefully they won't see you're wearing it, they'll just see a tie held mysteriously in place.

Tailors often do them with shirts - my regular supplier, A Suit That Fits (sponsored link which as always costs you nothing) issues them as standard with every shirt.

If only I'd realised what they were earlier I wouldn't have thrown so many of the blasted things away...

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The man bag and the laptop

I've been told off before now for bringing up Man Bags - so I thought I'd do it again. This time I've been looking at some laptop bags.

The one I'm using at the moment is the Be.Ez LE Reporter bag, this one specifically for the Macbook Air 11in. Waterproof, bump proof, a few compartments and pockets and very slimline, very chic, it's the smaller one on the left in the picture. All this and change from £50 (albeit only 50p). Nicely made, in canvas, so where's the catch? I suppose it's in that it does what it says on the tin. It's a thin bag for a thin laptop and you needn't think you're going to get much more than that into it - a notebook probably, a magazine if you're lucky and it's going to start looking full. The Macbook's own power supply makes it look a bit bulked out. In the hotter months I like to carry a bottle of water and this, frankly, isn't going to take it. I may be discovering why women have so many bags for different occasions (he stereotyped) - when I'm off to a couple of meetings and want to work somewhere there's WiFi but don't want to dislocate my shoulder or carry anything else at all, this is ideal. I could have done with a pouch or slot for a pen or two.

Less flexible is the Tucano Second Skin from the Apple online store. It's pretty much a protective pouch for your laptop - it stops it being damaged if it's in another bag. For that reason I bought it and it works, but once again don't even think of carrying anything other than the computer in it.

If I were considerably richer I'd have something like this item from Mulberry. From the company's Henry range, it's elegant, lots of pockets for stuff,  designed for comfort, durability, leather trimmings, zip on the outside and padding (although you can get that from a lot of other bags too).

I can't see myself going for this one in a hurry, though, as it kind of costs £715. I suppose if you want to make a massive impact and your audience knows what it's looking at then it's a damned good choice, and it does look well designed. Thing is, we hired a holiday cottage last week and had a great time - and that only cost us £750. So if I had the choice between the bag and another holiday...sorry Mulberry, I suspect I'm just not your audience!

Later in the week I'll be looking at themed scents (I kid you not) and what to look for in swatches when you're buying a suit.