Monday, 28 May 2012

A (pocket) square world

Older readers will notice the Michael Bentine reference in that title. That's irrelevant - today I've been considering the pocket square. For a young relative's birthday recently I was dragged screaming - sorry, taken around Liberty's, and in the menswear department I noticed the patterned pocket square is making a comeback. There are some nice ones available from Richard James of Savile Row as well.

While I was growing up the pocket square - or "handkerchief" - was pretty much out of fashion, for the dandy only. I'm quite pleased to see them back. There are a number of ways of wearing them; folded flat and seen only as a line above the breast pocket in the so-called Presidential Fold works well in formal settings, as does the triangular folded-to-a-point and the three point (peak in the middle and two peaks either side). The latter two look a bit waiterish for my tastes - every respect to actual waiters but if I'm dining in a restaurant I'd rather not be asked for the wine list.

My own preference is illustrated in the picture, with thanks to A Suit That Fits for thje picture. Fold in half, bring the corners to the middle, fold the top down a bit, fold that bit down a little on either side, stick in pocket and squish. A Suit That Fits also has the good sense to offer matching squares with the linings of its suits, so you hardly notice you're spending money when you buy one. The other tailor I use, King and Allen, doesn't offer this but it designs its breast pockets so that they can be turned inside out and made to look like pocket squares; I tried this once with my pale grey suit on television and it looked exactly as if I'd turned my pocket inside out.

So - do readers wear these squares? And if so, how?

Declaration: The above links are completely without affiliation except for A Suit That Fits; if you buy a suit through this link you will get a £25 discount and I get £25 cash. This has not prejudiced their inclusion in this blog entry.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Seacret skin care

One of the things about being a male lifestyle blogger is that you get sent quite a lot of skin care products and a load of men end up wondering why you're bothering. Growing up as I did in the 1970s when using deodorant was a bit girly you can start to see why the idea of skin care ranges seem a bit odd to the male of the species - we're used to looking and feeling a bit rough.

This view always surprises me a bit, though. By all means we're used to it but we're also used to dragging naked razors over our skin on a daily basis. So I'm quite pleased with two of the products I've been sent; Seacret after-shave balm is soothing and odour-free and yes I think I look a bit less spotty for using it. ProActiv Solutions' day treatment has a similar effect; Seacret seems to work better on my skin and you can make what you want of that.

Seacret also sent me some shampoo (which works well enough, pictured) ands mineral-rich peeling gel (it says here) to get rid of dead skin buildup on your face, which would also give you a shaving rash. It's a brand I'll be watching with interest - women still tend to be more interested in this stuff than men, which is odd as they tend not to shave their faces.

If you do have difficulty with your skin after shaving here are some basic tips:

1. Face should be clean - this doesn't mean a quick rinse, it means a wash, preferably with a non-soap cleanser as soap can gunge up your pores. A scrub with bits in (or 'scruffing lotion' or whatever your supplier calls it) once a week will get some extra gunge out.
2. Hair should be softened - water is very good at this, I find a dab of shaving oil or my favourite Proraso shaving preparation helps too - this isn't obligatory.
3. Decent shaving cream - ask a good barber. I use Coates and sometimes The Bluebeards. Apply with a brush as this will raise your facial hair and make it more accessible to the razor.
4. Decent razor with a sharp blade, washed frequently. OK, I'm fussy so I've gone for the Merkur Futur which isn't going to be to everyone's taste let alone budget (although replacement blades cost pennies so over a couple of years you do save money). Very gently, aim to reduce rather than eradicate hair - then repeat from step 3. Change the blade frequently.
5. Rinse excess soap off in cold water, this closes the pores up
6. Moisturiser or after shave balm like the Seacret stuff above or the many other products I've reviewed here from time to time. This helps your skin recover from the razor being dragged across it.
7. Scent if you like but top of the neck/chest (unless it's very sunny, you can burn yourself) and maybe back of the neck. So many people put a scent on newly-shaved skin, it stings like hell and they wonder why they go red afterwards. Your face needs about five hours to recover completely before you start splashing smellies onto it.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Summer scents 4: Kouros EDT Tonique

On the scent of more scents (see what I did there?), and on to Kouros Eau De Toilette Tonique. This is a summer edition of the perennial lemony Kouros and if I had one issue with it then it would be that the original ain't broke, doesn't need fixing. I find this often with seasonal variants; last year Armani made a summer version of Diamonds and Code as well as a Sport version of Code, and for me the originals of both remained preferable.

Kouros EDT Tonique is a bit like that. It's certainly one of the better purpose-built summer scents and of the review samples I've been sent this season it's one of those I've used more than a few times to try. I do like this one but I wonder, other than for financial reasons, why it needed tampering with.

The opening aroma is familiar enough - you get a lot of lemons. This is what perfumiers call 'top notes' - the first scent that hits you. It's sharp, citrussy and of course this calms down eventually. This fades away to something a little more leathery; you wouldn't want the sharp lemons all day and you don't get them. They're in the background and this is an overall pleasant scent to use. It lasts a while, unlike certain  other bottles I've tried - there are a lot out there which are perfectly OK for an hour or so and then you realise they've disappeared.

It's been out almost a month according to the publicity and if I were looking to buy a new aftershave at the moment it would certainly be on my list of possibles. I just suspect I'd end up giving in and getting a bottle of ordinary Kouros if I wanted that particular niff.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Summer scents 3: Classics from Jo Malone

Today's summer scent isn't actually one that's been sent to me, just something I'm rather fond of. Jo Malone is a perfumier in London and this Lime, Basil and Mandarin Cologne is quite stunning. Intended as unisex it's a lot less sweet and artificial-smelling than a lot of the more traditional scents on offer in the dedicatedly male market just at the moment.

You're hit by a sharpness from the limes, offset by the distinctive sweetness of the basil and mandarin - one thing I like about Jo Malone's stuff is that there's no pretentious naming, no silly descriptions, the bottle tells you what it smells like and it's really as easy as that.

Equally good is the same company's Grapefruit cologne (below) - again, it does what it says on the bottle. Long lasting and yes it's costly but seriously, just use a tiny squirt and you're set for the day. Better yet, put a little of the Lime, Basil and Mandarin on and then follow withj a tiny bit of the Grapefruit - it's a really good refreshing combination (guess who bought a multi-pack in Duty Free last year).

These aren't review samples, they're things I've bought and would certainly buy again.

Declaration: The links lead to Amazon through my affiliates scheme, I get a tiny cut of any purchases anyone makes through them - this has not biased my writing at all.

Second declaration: Amazon provides the pictures so when it says "No image available" it's no use blaming me!


Thursday, 10 May 2012

TV Tees from Layer Eight

Father's Day is coming and our kids will be expecting us to drop hints about what we'd like. This is tricky as clothing manufacturer Layer Eight has already sent me a sample of the best tee-shirt in the world; not only has it got silhouettes of Morecambe and Wise on it (see picture) and a few lyrics from "Bring Me Sunshine" inside the neck, but it's made from good quality cotton and the stitching is tight, unlike you find in so many 'character' (read 'gimmick') tee-shirts. They cost £25, which for a decent tee isn't bad (you can of course get poorly made tat for under a tenner).

I fit into a size XL from Fat Face and the cut on this XL shirt reminded me that I'm about due to go on a diet and back to the gym. They also offer XXL, which is possibly a little baggy- and would be admitting defeat.

For weird people who aren't into Eric and Ernie the same company offers designs based around slogans from Fawlty Towers (remember the sign outside the hotel getting sabotaged every week - this tee has a "Fatty Owls" sign on it, your kids will like getting something for daddy with "fatty" inscribed on it), Only Fools and Horses (just the "London, New York, Peckham" slogan), Porridge, The Two Ronnies, Life of Brian and Citizen Smith.

I've seen a lot of gimmicky tees in my time but the thought that's gone into these is just great. The designs are reasonably subtle while most character clothing is garish and 'in your face' - I shall wear my Eric and Ernie tee with pride. If people are very unlucky I might start a long one-sided conversation about how I saw them perform once at Wimbledon Theatre - but I'll leave that for another blog entry when nothing else whatsoever is happening!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Summer Scents 2: Boss Bottled Sport

It's still raining so I'm writing about summer scents again - come on, it's May, it'll start soon. This time it's the turn of Boss Bottled Sport as it says on the release, or Hugo Boss Sport as it says on the bottle. It's been around for a few weeks and the press blurb is full of how the man who uses it is focused, sporting and stuff like that. You've got to put something in a press release I suppose. I'm a lot more interested in how it smells.

The top notes - in other words the bits that hit you first - are lemony and zesty with a touch of pink peppercorn. These fade and give way to lavender with a bit of spice, and eventually when those fade you're left with vetyver and patchouli by the end of the day. I can confirm it's long lasting. One or two scents I've tried lately are great for about an hour then they're gone; this isn't one of them.

It's a bit spicy and sweet for my tastes. You know how sometimes you understand something's well made but it's just not for you? That's unfortunately how I am with a lot of the Boss scents I've tried. They seem a little sweetened and suited to younger men than me; that said. I felt the same about the Yves St. Laurent I tried a few days ago - it could be that I'm just out of tune with what's in demand at the moment. My wife thought this one was 'powdery'. Nonetheless when I gave the unwanted Boss EDTs to my brother in law, also over 40, he clearly thought they were great. It was as if Christmas had arrived with reinforcements.

So this one's well made and long lasting, just not necessarily for me. I'm still a bit bewildered that so many scents are now calling themselves "sport".

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Power to your i's

First a bit of crowing. Last week I mentioned that I'd scooped the Times men's fashion pages in its Saturday Magazine two weeks in a row. OK, so last Friday I wrote about "A Suit That Fits" in John Lewis retail stores and then a day later - you've guessed it, they wrote about it too. Of course they come out on Saturdays and I can blog when I like so I'm working with an advantage here. And deadlines mean there's literally no chance I wrote my piece before they did. Nonetheless, you saw it here first.

So, we haven't looked at gadgets here for a while and it's time to set that right. One of the biggest drawbacks of a smartphone or tablet is that they're even thirstier than a people-carrier (other CR-V drivers will know exactly what I mean by that). They don't so much use power as inhale it. One possible answer is the smart cover; I've been using a Mophie Juice Pack Air Case for my iPhone 4, it fits snugly around it and I now find I get two or three days' charge out of the phone with normal use. Obviously if I'm driving and using it as a satnav while it's Bluetoothing music to the car stereo it uses a bit more, but it tends not to run out of juice by the end of the day which has to be a good thing.

The other gadget I've been playing with is the Mophie PowerStand for iPad + iPad 2 (pictured) from the same company. It charges, it allows you to tilt your iPad for comfort and adjust it for landscape as well as portrait viewing. This is actually more useful than I'd assumed it would be at first. Being able to look at a second screen whilst working is old news to many; I could see this replacing paper notes-holders for many typists. Better yet it makes the iPad more usable in the kitchen - as long as you have WiFi you just connect, set it up and suddenly you don't have to get the iPad greasy (or oniony or sugary or whatever else you were going to do to damage it) by constantly picking it up and putting it down when you need to use it. Add a Bluetooth keyboard and many people will be able to use the stand and the keyboard as their main computer as long as they're happy storing all of their media in the cloud (at 64 gigs even the largest of the Apple tablets isn't a particularly grand computer).

It's costly for what it is but for the transformation in the way I can now work it's worth it. Others may disagree and I freely admit I wouldn't have gone for it if I didn't write about gadgets and have the need to try the latest and best - but I'd be reluctant to let mine go now I've got it.

Declaration: the links in this story go to the products listed on Amazon, through the writer's affiliate agreement - I will get a small cut from any purchases made as a result. This has not prejudiced the writing in any way.

Friday, 4 May 2012

A Suit that Fits hits John Lewis

I've written in the past about a few tailors - I went and visited my current supplier, King and Allen, only yesterday. My introduction to having stuff made to measure, though, was with A Suit That Fits (order a suit through that link and I get a voucher - I mention this in the interests of full declaration). And they've done something interesting by getting a concession area in John Lewis in London's Oxford Street.

If I'm honest, this is a slightly odd one in my opinion. If I go into a shop to buy something I tend to want to walk out with my purchase. This clearly isn't the way the operation works. Also if I'm in most retail premises I tend not to want to need to make an appointment. The model from A Suit That Fits, however, remains appointment only - mostly because they expect to take an hour measuring you up and going through the various fabric and style options with you. I can see how you wouldn't want passing trade with a business like that.

This is why I find it's an odd fit within a busy department store, particularly when the business has a permanent office just down the road off Regent Street. Nevertheless the branding's a bit of a coup for the company and will no doubt confound several of the competition. The publicity says you'll get a bespoke suit for prices from £299; technically this is true but the limitations on style and fabric will be pretty severe at that price, I'd expect to pay around £500 for something better, and wait around 6-8 weeks before it's wearable unless you're an awkward shape in which case you may need more than one fitting.

There's no reason not to wish them well - but I'd welcome readers' comments on whether you'd be comfortable making an hour-long appointment in a busy department store in London.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Summer scents 1: Yves St. Laurent La Nuit de L'Homme

I've been sniffing around - quite literally - new scents for men for the summer season. It feels a bit of a joke to be talking about summer scents when it's so miserable outside but they're in the shops - including this one, Yves St. Lauren't La Nuit De L'Homme Frozen. It gets the prize for 'daftest name of the week' if nothing else.

This one's quite pleasant, albeit not the better of the two the company sent over for trial (more on the other one and some more I've been testing over the coming days and weeks). The company says it's passionate and seductive; fortunately it also calms down a bit and says it has lemons, bergamot and mandarin as well as a splash of black pepper to make it a bit invogorating.

I get the black pepper bit and was reminded slightly of Molton Brown's Black Pepper Recharge products, if they'd added a load of other sweeter bits into the mix. And here we have my beef with the thing; it could have been sharper, it's as if someone had decided to hit the market with something a bit different then backed off at the last minute adding all the usual oversweetened notes common to a lot of male scents at  the moment. Presumably it's me rather than the mainstream; any long term readers might remember I reviewed six Boss scents a year ago and found they were all a bit on the sickly side for my tastes.

So, pleasant as long as you don't want something with much of a kick; would probably be good for an evening rather than the day time, and frankly I suspect it would suit a younger man better than an older one. It's been out a couple of weeks and depending on the deal you can find, it will cost you around £38.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Why is toothpaste minty?

Courtesy of my friends at The Valet Male Grooming in Addiscombe I've been trying a new toothpaste. It's always struck me as a bit peculiar that toothpaste should taste minty. Yes by all means your breath should smell a bit fresher after brushing and mint certainly 'feels' clean, although that may be my conditioning shining through rather than any sort of actual logic.

So when The Valet gave me a tube of Marvis Liquorice Mint toothpaste to try I was intrigued. I mean, look, there's a link above to the product so you can buy it through my Amazon link (I get a few pennies but not much) so you can see it's OVER A FIVER FOR A TUBE OF TOOTHPASTE, if I hadn't been given a tube I doubt I'd have spent the money.

But it's rather nice. You get a vague liquorice overtone rather than a massive hit, and the overall impression is of refreshment rather than a trip to the confectioner.

But I'd be intrigued to hear just how much of this stuff actually gets sold. A fiver for a tube of toothpaste. Call me old fashioned, but you need to be pretty rich and indulgent to be able to justify that.