As lovers of classic menswear, we feel there is a need to address what this very general term encompasses. Although the first image that comes to mind is most likely a gentleman wearing a lounge suit and this is certainly not incorrect, there are other options beyond the ubiquitous formal garment that has now become the de facto icon of the menswear revolution. Rightfully a foundational piece with its versatility and propriety, the suit has enjoyed much-deserved growing popularity due to the proliferation from bloggers and specialty menswear stores, as well as exposure in popular culture from franchises such as James Bond and Kingsman. That being said, classic menswear extends beyond dressing men for the work week and formal affairs. One primary consideration of menswear is the occasion or context for dressing, which defines a dress code and boundaries that one is allowed to experiment within in order to express themselves appropriately.
Due to the surge of interest in bespoke tailoring in recent years along with the countless stories of first bespoke experiences being less than optimal, I set out to meet with Messrs. Patrick Chu and Arnold Wong from W. W. Chan to find out from a purveyor’s perspective what a customer should look out for. Fortunately, they graciously agreed to this interview and we sincerely hope the following discourse will be of great benefit to prospective customers.
On the outskirts of Tokyo resides a cordwaining school known as “Benchwork” which strictly speaking is not a vocational education institution. Graduates do not earn diplomas nor job offers post-school. Gracing their social media accounts are not glamourised photographs of the artisan’s hands and creations but rather of her students at work. More valuable than any accreditation however, is the genuine pride and sense of accomplishment her students experience when they craft a pair of shoes from scratch. At the head of Benchmade is shoemaker Miss Yukiko-Bassett Okawa.
This trip to Naples brought us back to Sartoria Panico where we were greeted by the maestro Antonio as well as his son Luigi Panico on a lovely Tuesday morning. As is customary in Napoli, we were beckoned into the salotto and offered caffè over small talk as our fitting garments were taken into the fitting room for our convenience. Fortunately for us, our friend Francesco also happened to be at the sartoria at the time and we had the opportunity to find out more about Panico’s story along with his collection of shears on the coffee table. One interesting anecdote is that the oldest shears in the sartoria are the ones the maestro still uses today, now more than 60 years old!
Each shoemaker and artisan has his or her own various reasons for deciding to pick up a craft. Whether that is giving up promising careers to pursue a dream or following a legacy of craftsmen, these are all valid and beautiful reasons to embark on a journey for the sake of art that is wrought with hardship. Perhaps the stereotype of the struggling artist is a prerequisite stage all artisans must persevere through in order to reach their full potential. For one shoemaker to shine amongst a sea of talent found on Instagram today is like finding a needle in a haystack. Tomoyuki Watanabe is one such shoemaker, whose work caught my eye around two years ago. Unlike most shoemakers however, his entrance into the world of bespoke shoemaking can only be said to be a fateful encounter if not a calling.
To discuss this time is an interesting tailor, who rather than simply a tailor is more like a friend, please let me explain. Strongly opinionated in sartorial matters and in some ways verging on strange, Yusuche Ono has some radical views I may not entirely agree with. That being said, like with a good friend, these disagreements do not hinder our relationship with each other and this piece is only a brief record of our exchange.
The world of bespoke shoemaking is a relatively complicated one, with each shoemaker employing his or her own aesthetic and pair of hands in the creating what they consider beautiful. Among shoemakers, I particularly admire the Japanese artisans who travel the world to pick up the technical craft and to develop their own aesthetic, along with their trademark fastidious attention to detail.
At the suggestion of many friends, our second day in Naples found us at 29 Via Carducci where Sartoria Panico is situated one flight of marble stairs above the street. On this warm Napoli afternoon, we were greeted at the door by the maestro himself, welcoming us inside his atelier with its crimson walls and lovely décor. Clearly a gentleman of exquisite taste, Sig. Panico looked to be comfortable in a pale blue dobby weave shirt, striped silk knit tie and pleated trousers as he beckoned in his signature deep voice for us to sit down in his salotto while he lit up a cigarette.
From the small city of Florence surges an unassuming creative energy that courses through the hands of many artisans from the region who are all masters in their own right – one such Florentine shoemaker is Roberto Ugolini whose work we will be discussing today.
Although it is usually sage advice not to skip interim fittings for bespoke garments (particularly for the first commission with a new tailor), I recently succumbed to the temptation and ordered a BnTailor DB on a short trip to Korea.