Royal Ascot & Top Hats

Royal Ascot: What you need to know about its hat rule.

Intro by Charlie. Article by Rupert

I have got so many things to write up about over the next few weeks, from morning suits we are making, to our trip to to Pitti in Italy and a piece about sounds from our workshop. It might not work, but I will publish the latter one in the next posting. In the meantime, it is always important for us to remember the why and where of the context of what we do. And so, there might not be any better time for these words, with Ascot approaching next week, than from our friend Rupert Watkins and his thoughts on hats and Royal Ascot.

The summer Season has kicked off and Royal Ascot’s on the horizon so as well as dusting off the Henry Herbert morning dress, there’s the annual requirement for the top hat. Whether you are lucky enough to own a vintage silk topper, trawling the internet for one or you are having to hire a modern felt hat, there’s certain points to consider when contemplating this elegant headgear.

Fit is beyond doubt critical. Even a vintage top hat in immaculate condition will look awful if it’s the wrong size, coming too far down over your eyes. A correctly fitted hat should rest comfortably half an inch above the ears, sitting completely straight. The hat should not tip back on the head or to one side. To measure your head, place a soft tape measure half an inch above your ears and ensure it is straight. Then cross reference your measurement with a hat size chart on somewhere such as Lock & Co Hatters’ website. The hat needs to be secure enough to not move or fall off when you’re walking but not so tight it leaves a mark when removed.

Most top hats will come in either black or grey; black is still regarded by some as the most formal of all. No hat should be accessorised, the only decoration allowable is the band of black.

Whilst many will hire a modern hat, made of 100 per cent felt, the king of top hats remains the vintage silk. The last silk plush workshop near Lyon closed in 1968 so today there is a finite supply of this elegant headgear and that is reflected in prices for the finest examples. Hat shops such as Lock and Bates carry small numbers of re-conditioned silk hats – often with a price point of well over £1,000 for examples from hatmakers across Europe dating back as far as 1860. Away from St James’s, there is a burgeoning online trade in these investment pieces, it’s worth keeping a beady eye on Ebay.

The shape and height of antique silk top hats evolved somewhat over the decades they were in production, with crowns gradually becoming taller in height and brims narrower. The most common shape of antique silk top hats is the ‘bell-shape’ which has slightly curved sides, but there are also examples such as the ‘stove-pipe’ which has straight sides and is particularly tall. The shape you opt for is a personal choice, for example if you have a smaller head you may decide on a crown that’s lower in height to keep everything in proportion. Should you opt to search and buy online it’s probably worthwhile to keep a budget in mind and essential have been measured correctly and know your size. Always be prepared to ask questions and request more images.

Once the owner of a top-notch top hat it needs to be cared for. Should it get wet, dry it in a warm and airy place and never near or over direct heat. Dust can be removed by lightly brushing it with a soft bristle brush and silk hats can be buffed to a glossy shine with a velvet pad – known as a mouse. When using a brush or the mouse always brush in the direction of the nap. When not in use store in a proper hat box to protect against light and moths. Whilst a cardboard hat box is ample a leather hat bucket is certainly an elegant and luxurious touch as well as being sought after in their own right.

The proper topper is the piece de resistance to your Henry Herbert morning dress. Elegant, timeless and – along with cufflinks – perhaps one of the few genuine investment items of clothing for a chap, it’s that time of the year to retrieve it from the wardrobe and buff it up for action.

 As always, please feel free to leave a comment below. 

 

 

He’s got the Blues….

A blue jacket is born

By Charlie. Tuesday 21st May 2019.

It has been a busy few weeks at Henry Herbert Tailors. One of our Apprentices, Lucy, is studying at Newham College. She spends three days a week with us, shadowing one of our Master Tailors and taking guidance from him for works that he asks her to complete. She wanted to buy her first pair of cutting shears and she asked us which would be most suitable for her. With shears, the sky is the limit when it comes to how much you want to spend and so we advised her to spend little and try a 12″ pair and see how she goes. In fact, we treated her to a new pair and hopefully, one day she will come along and tell us what her experience of the shears are and how they might be improved. Our main advice, from Francesco, one of our Master Tailors – was “go heavy!” And from Abdul, our other Master Tailor, “go easy” – i.e. ones that won’t ruin your thumb when holding them. We will see.

AMONGST all of this, we have been making a full bespoke blue herringbone wool jacket for a customer. The customer in fact lives in China and comes back occasionally when he can for the fittings. This is the story of his jacket, over a few weeks.

It is always handy to have a French curve and a few other tools at hand when starting out.

And the trimmings required – in the picture below the collar canvass and the body canvass from Bernstein & Banleys.

Once everything was prepared, a paper pattern was made – this is called ‘striking’.

 

Once the pattern was made, the pattern could be cut – below is a front body panel and a sleeve.

We then use some old fashioned weights to put the pattern on top of the fabric, to keep everything in place.

And you can see things taking shape….

The different parts of the jacket can then be cut.

 

Once the pattern has been transferred to the fabric, it can then be ‘basted’ together using basting cotton.

Thereby begins the very first pressing stage. We used a 5kg pressing iron. We would love to find something a bit heavier, but they are hard to find.

And below is the first part of the jacket coming together.

Several weeks later, we had the forward and last fitting below. I will make another post about these stages at a later date as it is a story in itself.

And straight away, we were on to starting the process all over again – this time with a blue cotton fabric from Loro Piana.

As always, if you have any questions or thoughts, just mention them below or email them to me at charlie@henryherbert.com.

 

 

 

Watches to Watch out For

Just in case you don’t always want to hear about the tailoring!

By Charlie. Tuesday 14th May 2019.

We are always busy at Henry Herbert – there is always something to do to keep us on our toes. A last minute customer request, organising fabrics and trimmings, serving customers both in our workshops or at their hotels and offices with our special Vespa scooter service, working with our two apprentices…and of course the making, tailoring and altering! But sometimes you might not always want to hear what I have to say! So, here to save the day every so often is Rupert Watkins and his thoughts around the rest of the luxury world – a kind of Gentleman Explorer! These are his thoughts on watches….

Watch collecting is a passion and for those bitten by the bug, tracking down the rarest of limited run editions and obtaining one off examples with impeccable and rare provenance becomes all consuming.

For many though, that realm of collecting is slightly beyond our reach. In a world that is dominated by high end Swiss watch brands, those seeking equally remarkable and slightly more under the radar watch firms should look to the German watch makers.

Germany has a long tradition of watch making stretching back to the beginning of the 19th Century. Many of the finest manufacturers are clustered in Glashütte in east Germany and there you will find illustrious brands such as A. Lange & Söhne, Mühle Glashütte and Nomos. At this rarefied end of the market, the prices can equal those of the top Swiss horology firms. So, for those seeking interesting and outstanding value we could first head to the German banking city of Frankfurt and Sinn watches.

The firm was founded by Helmut Sinn, a Luftwaffe pilot who was shot down in Russia, lost both his little fingers and saw out the war as an instructor. Sinn went on to have a 50-year long career in the watch industry. Though originally made in Switzerland, the success of the company soon meant production was moved to Germany and in 1979, Sinn had the means to procure a substantial amount of industrial assets being sold off by a then insolvent Breitling – which also explains the stylistic similarities between the brands. Sinn was an early exponent of selling direct to the customer cutting out the watch dealerships in order to keep costs reasonable.

Sinn produces a range of pilot’s chronographs, diving and dress watches. The pilot’s watches are indeed very similar to Breitling’s Navitimer and Cosmonaute models though a fair bit more reasonable and those seeking an elegant, dressier chronograph to wear with a suit could do far worse than look at Sinn’s 356 Flieger model. At £1,850 for a fully mechanical chronograph it is excellent value. Sinn’s ranges in recent years have slowly become more expensive but for the £4 – 6,000 price category this firm offers a lot of watch bang for your buck. Perhaps among the Swiss manufacturers only Oris offers similarly good value.

However, Sinn – known to be a forthright personality – was not done with the watch world yet. Having sold Sinn in 1994, after a break he acquired Guinard – a then defunct Swiss brand – in 1995 and continued to stay true to his roots producing excellent value, high quality watches with an aviation and military edge.

Again, there is a similar feel to Breitling in the company’s pilot chronographs but with a Serie 40 fully mechanical chronograph starting at under £1,500 this is another brand the budding watch connoisseur should be aware of. It also continues to operate a direct to consumer web-based business model.

Guinard itself traces its history back to 1865. Since the early 60s, it had been one of the manufacturers Sinn used before production was moved to Germany. Though Guinard continued to manufacture in Switzerland – often for other labels – until the 90s, in the early 2000s it moved to Frankfurt. Though Helmut Sinn died at 102 early in 2018, both Sinn and Guinard still bear his indelible stamp. At both firms Sinn’s motto was, “as perfect as possible, but only as expensive as necessary.” If you’re looking for two more unusual watches to discreetly protrude from under the cuff of your Henry Herbert jacket – firms with long and interesting backstories – these are two brands to know about.

As always, please feel free to leave a comment below.

The Tailor’s Ham

We have a great crew at Henry Herbert.

There is myself, Charlie, and I set up the company eleven years ago. However, it is everyone else who really makes the whole show work. The Front of House is Alexander; our Head Cutter, Francesco; our shirt maker and Alterations Manager, Abdul and our two apprentices, Lucy from Newham College and Finn from Amersham & Wycombe College. Just as importantly is our Administration – Agnes and Pat, who both make sure the wheels turn around.

This week, we completed a Nehru jacket – a beautiful looking, tall jacket which a customer asked us to make for his sister’s wedding. There are a variety of stories as to its origin and often with these stories it takes some deciding yourself which one to go with. I am comfortable with it being born and styled by Jawaharlal Nehru, a freedom fighter, the first Prime Minister of India and a central figure in Indian politics before and after independence.

Indeed it is often worn for traditional Indian festivities and ceremonies and has been the popular choice amongst villains too – including Dr. NoErnst Stavro BlofeldKarl Stromberg and Kamal Khan in the James Bond series as well as The Master, the arch-enemy of The Doctor in Doctor Who .

But how on earth is a freedom fighter from India associated with ham and Tailor’s Ham at that?! In order to complete the bespoke jacket for the customer, let’s call him Mr Bigfoot, we need to sit it on something that resembles his chest. A mannequin would not do and so we used what is called a Tailor’s Ham – a tightly stuffed pillow used as a curved mold.

Tailors Ham’s have become a respectable tool of the tailor’s trade, to the extent that people cover them in a variety of interesting fabrics and patterns.

In any case, our Tailor’s Ham saved the day and ‘he’ seemed very comfortable, and at home, giving a helping hand to the legendary Nehru jacket.

And we had a very happy customer at the end who has promised to send us photographs of the jacket in all its glory at the wedding of his sister. Until that moment, Mr BigFoot wishes to keep his jacket under close wraps and so in the meantime, my own jacket in all its glory is shown below. I love it.

As always, please feel free to leave comments and ideas below.

 

 

(Cheers!)

Handmade button holes

MY name is Charlie.

Henry Herbert Tailors is my small tailoring firm, which I set up in July 2009 – some eleven years ago. This is a new way that we will be writing on our Style Blog. I will be talking more about the actual work that we do at Henry Herbert.

We are a small workshop based in beautiful Bloomsbury in Holborn, central London. We made the deliberate choice to base ourselves in this part of town – away from Savile Row. We wanted to be close to our customers in both East, West, North and South London – as well as somewhere convenient to get to for our national and international customers – we are close to the major London train stations and we have a direct Tube line from Holborn to Heathrow.

Every day so many interesting pieces of work pass right before our very eyes and I think for many years we have taken it for granted – often with the pressures of meeting customer deadlines, means that we rarely take or have the chance, or time, to stop and appreciate the incredible craftsmanship that our tailors take in their stride every day of the week.

Faced with yet another pressing deadline to complete a jacket for the arrival of a customer, we set to work on finishing his hand made button holes – a feat in itself that takes years of practice. And so, below, is the photo story of how the story unfolded.

My introductions for each story will be short (as above), followed by a series of photos to show the work I am discussing. Above each photograph will be the text relevant to that photo. And I will open each story to comments (see the bottom of this story) – feel free to let us know what you think or you can always email me directly at charlie@henryherbert.com.

The jacket was part of a suit – a petrol blue wool single breasted two button suit. It was laid flat on a cutting table.

The breast button holes were marked out and prepared.

And then the lapel hole was prepared…three buttons in total that we would hand stitch.

We then had to choose the buttonhole thread and colour. The thread on the left we decided was too ‘electric’ – it would have been over powering for the rest of the suit.

For button holes we would normally choose the Gutermann brand of 100% silk buttonhole twist thread with a 30 Guage (the strength and thickness of the thread).

However, we were working with a heavy fabric and so we chose a different thread this time – one which would be robust and just as thick, but allow us to weave more easily through the thick cloth. And so we chose another variety of Gutermann – their dark Navy cotton thread, but still with a 30 guage.

The tailor, Francesco, set to work, firstly threading his needle with the new choice of thread.

And then he quickly set to work.

Each button hole takes about 20-30 minutes. An hour or so later, we were able to have the jacket finished ready to present to the customer.

I hope you have enjoyed this short story. I have enjoyed writing it, because I am proud to share the work we do, which we often take for granted. I am also glad to have written it, as it stops me in my footsteps to appreciate the wonderful craft that we have worked so hard for. These button holes will last the lifetime of the suit and very probably of the customer’s too.

If you have a moment, let me know what you think below.

With best wishes

Charlie

 

See also: .

The Blue Wool Suit

Images & Video

Beat the Blues

Tailor’s Notes
Here, one of our customers dons the blue suit as you’ve never seen it before. Traditionally, it’s the most conservative colour—but not when you’re riffing on it like this. Our favourite business look for spring is all about piling on the blues, from your suit to your socks and everything in between.

The Construction
This suit was made and cut in England, and as much of it as possible was hand-tailored. The jacket is canvassed. A suit such as this takes 8-9 weeks to make, unless you opt for our Express Service. We have a halfway baste fitting and then a forward baste fitting before the suit is finished and delivered.

Details
The cloth is an English-made wool. The jacket has working cuffs and the buttons are made out of horn.

Find out how to order a suit

Episode One: Hello!

Episode 1: Hello!

The first and maybe the last if it doesn’t receive many likes of a vlog by me – Charlie, of Henry Herbert Tailors in London. Just a little introductory vlog to tell you a little more about us. It is no Spielberg, but let’s see how it goes! Comment on our Instagram page with ideas for future episodes on our Instagram page.

See also: .

The Three Piece Suit

Images & Video

For the City and the Country

Tailor’s Notes
Three-piece suits are not just for high-powered attorneys and CEOs roaming the boardrooms anymore—they could be for you, too. This three-piece is a smart and finely-cut ensemble, consisting of a slim pair of trousers, double-breasted waistcoat and single-breasted two-button jacket.

The Construction
This suit was made and cut in England, and as much of it as possible was hand-tailored. The jacket is canvassed. A suit such as this takes 8-9 weeks to make, unless you opt for our Express Service. We have a halfway baste fitting and then a forward baste fitting before the suit is finished and delivered.

Details
The cloth is 100% wool from Holland & Sherry, and the lining from Dugdales in Huddersfield. The jacket has working cuffs.

Find out how to order a suit

Scotch Whisky: The Water of Life

In a movie, whenever a bottle of the ‘really good stuff’ is called for, it would likely be a bottle of whisky. Probably rare and exorbitantly expensive, and someone will probably remark on its age. Served up in a short tumbler glass with a few ice cubes, it might be downed in one go, prompting a grimace and then perhaps a remark on how fine it was. And then the action sequence can begin.

“It would be a sin to spill any.” A fine scotch whisky plays a part in this scene from the 2014 film Kingsman: The Secret Service. From www.scotchcinema.com

“It would be a sin to spill any.” A fine scotch whisky plays a part in this scene from the 2014 film Kingsman: The Secret Service. From www.scotchcinema.com.

The term ‘whisky’ can refer to quite a broad range of drinks. (In fact, the spelling of the word itself is a sticking point, depending exactly on where the drink comes from.) At its most general, a whisky is an alcoholic drink made by the distillation of a fermented grain mash.

The chances are, though, if one is talking about the ‘good stuff,’ one would be referring to a specific style of whisky made from malted barley and aged in oak barrels. It would also be made in Scotland: Scotch whisky, sometimes known simply as ‘scotch.’

Distillation, and the consumption of the alcoholic result, is an ancient practice of many civilizations. The Scottish relationship to whisky goes back hundreds of years, at least, with records from as early as the 15th century suggest that distilling was an established practice in the region. The next couple of centuries would also see taxation and legislation of the whisky industry, and a consequent rise of underground production. 1823 saw the passing of the Excise Act, which made fully above-board distilleries a more attractive option, and ushered in the whisky industry that we know today. Indeed, most of the distilleries that are operating today were founded in the 19th century (and are popular with and welcoming to tourists). Today, the production of whisky is codified in the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009, which is aimed at preserving its authenticity.

The Ardbeg distillery, founded in 1815. From Flickr.

The Ardbeg distillery, founded in 1815, and still operating today. From Flickr.

So, what goes into a whisky bottle? It starts at a distillery; a particular distillery will produce a whisky that is either a ‘single malt’ or a ‘single grain’—‘single’ because it comes from that distillery alone, and ‘malt’ or ‘grain’ denotes whether it was made with only malted barley or had other grains added to it. Single malt and single grain whiskies can be final products on their own, or two or more can be mixed to form a blended whisky.

Single malt whiskies are considered to be the flagship upper echelon of the whisky world. Their bottles invariably bear the names of their distilleries of origin and can be exotic appellations—Glenfiddich, Talisker, Glenmorangie, Ardbeg. The age of the whisky will also likely be prominently displayed.

To be clear, a single malt whisky is still a mixture. Whiskies are not generally taken straight from a cask and bottled (it does happen, but rarely, as a ‘single cask’) but are rather assembled—the technical term is ‘vatted’—from multiple casks from that distillery. The job of the Master Blender is to ensure that a particular whisky line stays consistent from year to year. This means that the age printed on the label is not the actual age of the whisky—instead, it refers to the minimum age of that particular combination, and in fact could consist of older whiskies.

The ‘good stuff’ is almost invariably a single malt, to be enjoyed neat, or perhaps with a splash of water. Anything further would be sacrilege. If you hear about a bottle of whisky being sold for over a hundred thousand pounds, it would probably be a single malt.

From Flickr.

From Flickr.

And then you have the blended whiskies. They consist of the majority of whisky sales by far (up to 80 or 90 percent, even), and include household names such as Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Ballantine’s.  The common perception is that these are inferior, attractive only because of their lower price point and usually end up mixed in a cocktail. This is not necessarily the case, however—after all, blends are made up of single malt and grain whiskies, and would only be as good (and as expensive) as its ingredients. It is a Master Blender who concocts this too, and with a blend he or she would have even more to work with. Great blends can be enjoyed the same as a single malt.

Single malts still maintain their air of superiority, however. Some of this is undoubtedly due to elitism and snobbery—which, we must concede, is an unavoidable aspect of a pastime such as this. Nothing says ‘I have more money than you’ than buying an obscenely expensive bottle off the shelf and draining it in a single night.

Of course, you could actually, you know, like drinking whisky. If you are up for a rich, complex, sophisticated drink rooted in history and tradition, and a palate that you are willing to mature, then perhaps scotch whisky is for you.

And besides, partaking in a little bit of snobbery can be fun. Perhaps one day you might find yourself unusually sharply dressed, in an establishment full of warm mahogany and rich leather. You could approach the bar, and confidently order a 30-year single malt. You could sip it, give a little half-smile of restrained appreciation and exhale: “I say, sir. That is damn good stuff.” Who wouldn’t want to be prepared for that?

Until next time,

Henry Signature
 

The Art of the Traditional Shave

 

FOR MANY modern men, shaving is a daily activity. While some would use an electric razor, most would reach for the archetypal modern shaving tool: the disposable or cartridge razor. It would be a lightweight plastic implement—a slender handle with a rectangular-shaped head fixed probably fitted with several blades. The entire thing could be disposable, or the head would be detachable and could be replaced.

The Gillette Mach 3, a typical modern cartridge razor. From Wikipedia Commons.
The Gillette Mach 3, a typical modern cartridge razor. From Wikipedia Commons.

 

While these particular razors are relatively recent abstractions, hair removal is not, and has been performed since antiquity. Ancient peoples had various (rather uncomfortable-sounding) methods of hair removal, including clam shells, shark teeth and sharpened flint. Razors made of copper and gold have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back thousands of years. Razors were introduced to the Roman Empire at around the 6th century BC, and were the fashion for a time. Alexander the Great demanded his soldiers shave, contrasting with the Greeks’ prior appreciation for beards.

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A bronze razor from Ancient Egypt.  From Wikipedia Commons.

 

The old-timey razor that most of us are (possibly vaguely) aware of, however, is the straight razor. Widespread and made in large numbers by the 17th century, the design and manufacturing of the straight razor originated in Sheffield, England—a town made famous by its steel industry. The straight razor is essentially a single-edged and extremely sharp blade that could be folded away when not in use. During their reign they were the shaving implement, and ranged from simple and functional tools to elegant and intricately decorated personal accessories.

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A collection of earth 20th century straight razors.  From Blade Gathering.

 

Compared to today’s conveniences, the straight razor is more demanding both in terms of maintenance and use. To ensure the absolute keenness of the edge, the razor needs to be stropped frequently, and honed once in a while. This necessary upkeep itself is a bit of an art-form, as is the actual wielding of a straight razor—navigating the contours of the face and jaw with a woefully sharp blade is definitely a learned skill, and one that need be learned well lest painful mishaps occur. That they are also known as cut-throat razors is perhaps unsurprising.

It would be easier, then, to let another more experienced pair of hands handle the blade, and indeed this is what the barber used to be known for. Along with styling the scalp hair, shaving used to be one of their core offerings, and the handling of a straight razor was the fundament of the barber’s trade. This is not so much the case for a barber today, though it is still quite possible to find a purveyor of the traditional wet shave.

Naturally, then, we would begin looking for easier and quicker solutions. By the mid-19th century, the idea was mooted of placing the blade perpendicular to the razor handle, and having some sort of guard to prevent the blade from slicing too deep. The idea did not really gain traction, however, until the turn of the century, when King Camp Gillette developed the disposable razor blade, eliminating the need for constant sharpening.

This, then are the two key points of the safety razor: because of the guard, it was much easier to use that the straight razor, and changeable blades meant it required practically no maintenance. On the strength of these traits (and Gillette’s adroit manufacturing, managing and marketing practices), the safety razor quickly rose to become the dominant shaving tool of the early 20th century.

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A classic model of safety razor with accompanying blade.  From Flickr.

 

The archetypal safety razor is an all-metal affair, chunky and heavy to our modern sensibilities. The head will disassemble in some way to facilitate the removal and installation of the razor blade, or it might open up with a twist mechanism. The typical razor blade itself is an iconic image that lives on today: a rectangular sliver of metal with the corners cut out, and a curious keyhole-like cutout along the midline which formed the anchor points. It is sharp on both sides of its length, allowing the user to flip to each side when it was convenient, and is the reason traditional safety razors are sometimes known as double-edged razors.

The demise of the safety razor, like the straight razor before it, came with even more convenience and ease of use. Disposable razors began appearing by the 1960s, cheap plastic things with fixes blades. Cartridge razors soon followed, improving on the aspects of the safety razor. With blades being embedded in plastic cartridges that made it even harder to cut oneself during handling or shaving, and being easier and faster to change. The following decades offered various additions (some outlandish, some less so) such as multiple blades, lubricating strips, pivoting heads and even vibrating handles.

So the cartridge razor may have relegated the straight and safety razors away from dominant use, but they live on in more than just memories. As with other anachronisms that have survived into the 21st century, traditional shaving tools have a small but enthusiastic following. In fact, sales have been increasing of late. Safety razors and supplies are easy enough to acquire through retailers such as Amazon, or any number of specialty sellers. Old names such as the venerable Merkur are still manufacturing quality razors, along with newer brands such as Edwin Jagger. Taylor of Old Bond Street still sell shaving supplies out of their store on Jermyn Street, London. There is also, of course, the thriving market for still-perfectly-usable vintage razors.

There are some practical reasons for adopting a more traditional shaving method. Proponents of the safety razor tend to find that it is kinder to their skin. Different brands of blades have different characters as well—some are sharper, some are smoother—as do different razors, which can be more aggressive or less so. Finding just the right combination for one’s particular skin and hair could just be the solution to razor bumps or burn.

Of course, hand-in-hand with old-style shaving is old-style skin preparation. Instead of foam or gel from a can, traditional shaving creams and soaps come in tubes or tubs. It is worked into a lather using a shaving brush, which is generally made with bristles of badger or boar hair. The ideal lather is thick and rich, not too dry and not too wet, and many find that it protects the skin better than a spray can alternative.

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Safety razor, shaving brush, and a tub of shaving soap.  From Flickr.

 

There is also the cost factor to consider. Cartridge razors may be cheaper to get started with, but the cost of each cartridge can add up quickly. Razor blades, by comparison, last for a comparative number of shaves, and are far cheaper—potentially by a factor of 10 or more. The environmental cost is also lower, as blades are easier to recycle than their plastic cartridge counterparts. The razors themselves are also hardy things that could last a lifetime (or even longer, as anyone using a vintage razor will attest to). Straight razors, of course, generate no waste by themselves, and can last just as long if maintained well.

And then, of course, some just like the idea of traditional shaving. A good safety razor is a solid and well-constructed thing, heavy and substantial. A good straight razor is a finely-crafted precision tool. The shaving process might take longer and demand more care and skill, but can turn a daily inconvenience into a thoughtful and enjoyable ritual. In the fast-paced modern world, sometimes it’s nice to slow down and stay in touch with a few of the elegant things of the past. Old-fashioned, maybe, but some things never go out of style.

With best wishes as always,

Henry Signature

See also: .

Ever wonder what Jack Dempsey carries in his coat pocket?

WHERE do fountain pens belong in today’s world? In the corners of department stores, dusted off only when buying a fancy gift? Or perhaps in the jacket pocket of a high-flying executive, until an expensive toy is needed to be shown off?

From The Fountain Pen Community

It wasn’t an incomprehensible time ago that fountain pens were ubiquitous. The late 19th century saw the start of the mass-produced fountain pen. Unlike its predecessors, it successfully mated the ink supply with the writing implement proper. It was a self-contained gestalt tool—the founding of the modern pen as we know it. By the early 20th century, it was indispensable in the workplace and the home.

The Sheaffer Snorkel: possibly the most complex fountain pen ever made. From The Fountain Pen Community.

The fountain pen’s base design principles have changed little. A reservoir of ink lead to the feed, on top of which sat the nib. Everything would be wrapped up in an ergonomic body of some sort—the earliest fountain pens were made of ebonite, a type of hard rubber, before plastics came to be.

It is the simple-yet-complex relationship of these three parts that gives the fountain pen its magic. The ink reservoir is be refillable; initially it was disassembled and ink dropped in with a pipette, but these quickly gave way to creative and sometimes amusingly complicated self-filling systems. The feed is perhaps the most complex part of a fountain pen, an arrangement of channels and fins that allow ink into the nib and air into the reservoir—this air-exchange mechanism is essential, and an incomplete understanding of the physics involved was one of the reasons the fountain pen was not developed earlier. The nib was historically cut from alloys of gold, necessary to resist corrosion from ink. The tip, the part that would touch the paper, was made from iridium—an ultra-hard metal that would not wear down. The slit would conduct the ink to the paper through capillary action—the ink is literally sucked into the paper upon the lightest of contact.

Being the part of the pen that touches the paper, it is the nib that is the defining characteristic of a fountain pen. The ideal nib glides smoothly across the paper while giving just a hint of feedback, and leaves a rich, wet line. The qualities of this line are endlessly variable, depending on the qualities of the nib. The tip can be ground to make a line as thin or thick as you like, or even one that varies. Italic- and stub-shaped nibs are popular with those looking to showcase their calligraphy, or simply to add flair to everyday handwriting. The tines can be as stiff as a nail, giving a constant line, or they can flex with pressure, allowing artful control of line width. A fountain pen user could potentially customise a pen to fit their exact needs. Some maintain that constant use over the years even morphs a nib to fit your own peculiar style.

Pelikan Souverän M600: Pen on Cap

It’s these sorts of traits that separate the fountain pen from its more contemporary successors—namely, the now-pervasive ballpoint pen. It was some time in the 1960s that ballpoint pens became practical and cheap enough to ensure their dominance. The fundamental difference between the two is that the former was made to be lasting; the ballpoint pen was not.

Yes, ballpoints can be refilled, but it’s just not the same when you’re discarding the entire mechanism each time—the equivalents of the reservoir, the feed and the nib all go in the bin. A fountain pen can be reused with zero waste—save for the ink bottle. A good pen might even last a lifetime.

Of course, there’s a reason fountain pens fell from favour. Practical reasons for using them over ballpoints are very few indeed. One such reason is that the lighter pressure and lower angle required from their use can benefit those with hand problems such as arthritis. Some think that using a fountain pen trains you out of bad writing habits. Beyond that…well, they’re more expensive, they’re easier to damage, the ink tends to be less permanent and more prone to feathering and bleeding, a poorly-set-up nib can render the writing experience horrendous, and there’s the ever-present fear of leaking (though for a quality pen, this is a rare occurrence).

In return, however, you get personality and character. Unlike a ballpoint or rollerball, a fountain pen requires a definite level of operation, of hands-on involvement. The interplay of the ink and the pen and the paper can be a quirky and sensitive relationship. Getting the combination of all three just right is a process that can be aggravating, but also appeal to the tinkerer. And then there are the ink colours, far more than just blue and black—or even red and green and purple. Ink specialists Diamine alone have over a hundred shades in their catalogue.

So, where does a fountain pen belong today? As with many anachronistic diversions, fountain pens today have a small but enthusiastic following—and not just collectors of antiques, but everyday users. There is an active second-hand market for vintage pens, the tough and workmanlike things they were created to be. As for manufacturers, many of the old names are gone, but fountain pens never stopped being produced.

Some of the great American companies that spearheaded the fountain pen revolution—Waterman, Parker and Sheaffer—are still around, though their offerings are a little tepid compared to their heyday; a time when they were trying to outdo each other with the most outlandish filling system. Montblanc, famous for their Meisterstück pens that were first released in 1924, are a well-known luxury brand. Pelikan, makers of one of the first piston-fillers in 1929, are known for their exquisite piston-fillers today.

Newer designs have also made an impact. Two of Lamy’s most well-known pens are the Lamy 2000 (released in 1966) and the Safari (released in 1980). Newer manufacturers such as TWSBI and Edison Pen Co were formed within the last decade. Nostalgia may not the only reason to get into fountain pens. In fact, over in recent times, sales of fountain pens have been increasing.

A modern fountain pen isn’t drastically different. Improvements in corrosion resistance means that steel nibs are now widespread. Cartridge/converter fillings systems are by far the most common—these accept either disposable pre-filled cartridges (which are largely shunned by enthusiasts) or a small detachable piston reservoir called a converter. Higher-end pens are more likely to have a gold nib and a more traditional pistol-filled setup.

They come in their own numerous options. If transparent blue is your thing, there’s a pen out there for you, as there is if you’re looking for vintage tortoiseshell with art deco inlays. They can be as cheap as a pound apiece, or you can spend hundreds on a handcrafted one-of-a-kind lacquer pen from Japan.

The fountain pen holds an attraction to someone looking for something a little less forgettable. There’s an elegance to be found in craftsmanship made to last. They’re a little old-fashioned, perhaps, but some things never go out of style.

Until next time,

Henry Signature

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London Hotels Series: Threadneedles Hotel

Dome at night

Here on the Henry Herbert Style Blog, we’ve written about hotel bars as recommended to us by friends and customers who have been kind enough to share their experience.  We felt it was a shame to limit our explorations to just the bar, when often the stylish establishment within which the bar was housed, typically had much more to offer than an excellent cocktail.

As such, this is the first in a series of our explorations of London hotels, London being the home base of Henry Herbert tailors and the Savile Row by Scooter service.  We’ll be asking all of our friends and customers, especially those passing through from other parts of the world to share with us their best, most memorable, or most unique hotel experiences and recommendations from the capital – and for those who are visiting Henry Herbert’s London headquarters, or  passing through the city, may this be a friendly guide for some of the capital’s most remarkable hotels.

The Threadneedles Hotel is one such that caught our eye for several reasons.  The location, in London’s Square Mile, is today a modern hotel but has a strong heritage – having revived a space that was formerly the head offices of the London, City and Midland bank from the 1880s, neighbouring the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange.

The revival of a historical name or location, as well as the blend of the traditional and contemporary sat well with us and reminded us a little of the history behind Henry Herbert tailors – resurrecting the name of the gentleman one master of the royal wardrobe to King Charles I and II, and intended to continue the tradition of fine English tailoring with a modern twist in the form of the Savile Row by Scooter service.  In fact, guests at Threadneedles Hotel can experience this service for themselves, by making an appointment with a Henry Herbert tailor to be measured up for bespoke suits and shirts made from the finest English and Scottish fabrics.  Our tailors will visit you at the hotel, bringing all required tools of the trade, and help guests navigate the 2,000+ fabric choices available.

We were also taken, we have to admit, by the tailoring reference in the hotel’s name, suggesting that the street after which the hotel is named, was the home of a needle work shop, or perhaps inspired by the Merchant Tailors’ coat of arms at the Guildhall which incorporates three needles.

With an afternoon tea inspired by great Britons, two of whom have featured on the Henry Herbert style blog – Winston Churchill and John Lennon –  we thought the Threadneedles was a fitting first addition to our series of London hotel profiles.

 

Threadneedles old -HSBC 2 Threadneedles old -HSBC 3
If you would like to share your favourite London hotel with us, drop us a line at henry@henryherbert.com
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