One of the things I love about Pitti Uomo, the menswear trade show held in Florence twice a year, is the exceptional quality from brands you’ve never heard of. I almost wish I had a shop to sell all these brands, but, disappointingly, you need a very tasteful and trusting customer to make it work, because many consumers are hooked on known brands.
It’s comforting to know that high-quality still exists and is to be found in small and, often, new companies.
Left - The Silk Shirt Company - White Luxury Silk Shirt - £800
One such company is The Silk Shirt Company. Doing exactly what it says on the label, it was incorporated in January 2016 in London ‘with the intention to produce the finest luxury silk shirts and to establish itself as a top tier luxury clothing brand’.
Left - Feel like a casino owner - Sam Rothstein, Robert De Niro’s character in Casino
You’ll probably already know about my obsession with silk shirts ATM - Read Trend The Return of 'The Sexy Shirt’ and these really do look the business.
Established by Ajay Valecha, of Indian decent and born and raised in Accra, Ghana, who moved to London in April 2014. The Silk Shirt Company’s shirts are made in Italy with the finest silk from Como.
There range is currently mostly block colours with a few patterned varieties. They had some beautiful baby blue and pink shorted sleeved shirts for the new SS19 season which are giving me pure Sam Rothstein, Robert De Niro’s character in Casino. They are expensive, but they look it.
Right - The Silk Shirt Company - Luxury Silk Shirt - £800
Snaffle loafers are one of the rare fashion items that can, legitimately, be called ‘timeless’. They bob along on the waves of shoe trends and come in and out when the time suits. They’re definitely something you should never throw away.
The most famous are Gucci, obvs, but it’s actually cooler and less basic to sniff out a cheaper alternative. Read more here
Russell & Bromley has this pair called ‘Mercury’. I really like the brown, orange and beige webbing underneath the snaffle. It gives them a vintage/70s edge. Made from calf leather in Tuscany, these aren’t the cheapest, but they’ll certainly authentically Italian.
You can wear these with anything, just don’t smother the shoe with trouser. Keep your ankles visible both socked and unsocked.
Left & Below - Russell & Bromley - Mercury - £235
When I started in this business summer shoe options consisted of cheap flimsy flip-flops or jelly-sandals for those pebbled British beaches. There was little or no choice and there certainly wasn’t any style - even though jelly sandals are kind of bad cool ATM FYI!
Anyway, let me introduce ‘CASABLANCA 1942’ who are making some of the nicest and most beautifully crafted hot weather shoes I’ve seen. Started in May 2014 by Gabriela Ligenza, and inspired by the classic film and the year it was released, the shtick is raffia.
Left - Cesare
The uppers are made from breathable natural raffia woven in Mogador, Morocco, and then construction takes place in Italy using the finest sustainable leather from French and Italian tanneries.
Right - The raffia comes from the raffia palm tree in Madagascar
The raffia fiber is obtained from the raffia palm tree, commonly found in Madagascar. The leaves of this little tree are cut into parallel lines resulting in the long fibers used in the weaving of the shoes. Unlike straw, raffia is stronger, hard-wearing and will mould to the feet when worn.
Polish-born Gabriela trained as an architect and interior designer at Fine Art Academy in Warsaw. She also designed hats before this venture. Based between London and her design studio south of Florence, Italy, she travels extensively for her inspirations and research. Gabriela has collaborated for the last 20 years with leading accessories and shoe designers for global brands like Salvatore Ferragamo, Bottega Veneta, Prada, Martin Margiela, Missoni, Paul Smith and Stella McCartney to develop hand woven raffia shoes produced using entirely traditional hand weaving techniques, but combining the craft with Italian know how and quality materials.
The idea for Casablanca 1942 was conceived whilst sitting on a beach under the stars watching the film, Casablanca, with the background sound of the Atlantic and thinking “what would Rick wear in this intense and sweltering city?”
Each pair takes at least a day to make so the shoes are made in limited editions. After all, "true luxury should be not about the price, but in the uniqueness of the product," she says.
Left - Lace Up Trainers £260
Gabriela believes that helping local cooperatives to incorporate external developments and training improves the marketability of the local skills and products, respecting its identity, distinctiveness and preserving sustainability on a grass roots level.
Gabriela says the shoe styles are inspired by “trying to design the perfect summer shoe for my husband so he can get inspired to go on holidays more!”
There are a few thing to know to get the best out of your pair. You may find that the shoes are a bit tight when you wear them the first time, but they will soon give as they moulds to your feet. You might want to wear them with socks for the first time for your own comfort, but they are designed to be worn bare foot in very hot weather.
Right - Woven Loafers - £228
If you feel that it rubs a bit too much on a certain area, it is recommended that you apply a wet cloth on this part of the shoe while it is on your foot, in order for the raffia to mould to your foot more quickly.
Raffia, being a natural fiber, will feel very comfortable without socks as the fiber will keep your feet fresh and naturally ventilated. As they become yours, “they are even more special even when they start wearing in and fraying a bit,” says Gabriela.
These are really elegant and artisanal summer shoes and I don't think the photographs do them enough justice after seeing them in person at the recent Pitti Uomo show in Florence.
Available at Harrods in the UK
Value and price are related, obviously. A high price can offer great value, and vice versa, but many designer brands are very far from this. See more here - Greedy Margins & Brand Blindness
We’re in an age where the arrogance of brands has caused many to push their prices up while lowering their quality. It’s not good enough. So, it was a nice surprise to go into the new Fiorucci store on London’s Brewer Street and see quality product at reasonable prices.
Left - Tired of shopping? Have a lie down
I’d been meaning to take a look since it opened in September. Now owned by Janie and Stephen Schaffer, who had founded the high street chain Knickerbox together in 1986, Fiorucci was one of the coolest fashion names of the 1970s. This is the first store in its rebirth.
Right - The spiral staircase up to the 1st floor in the Fiorucci store on London's Brewer Street
Founded by Elio Fiorucci in 1967, after being inspired by London’s Carnaby Street and King’s Road, the first Fiorucci store opened in Milan’s Galleria Passarella. More stores followed. In 1974, a second location in Milan, a year later in London. Then, in 1976, East 59th Street in New York. The Manhattan store becomes known as “the daytime Studio 54”. It laid down the blueprints for the concept store as we know it today.
Until recently it was just a name check in Sister Sledge’s “He’s The Greatest Dancer” song. But with Halston gone, Gucci overloaded, it’s, now, all about Fiorucci.
We’ve seen many brands from the 1970s try, and, generally, fail to make a comeback. Ossie Clark never quite made it and Biba stuttered and became an in-house brand at House of Fraser. Many brands make the mistake of trying to carbon copy what was then rather than taking the best bits and thinking about a contemporary shop or experience.
The new owners of Fiorruci have done this really well. The shop has that disco, playground feeling yet still feels sophisticated and the product all seemed to be Made in Italy of decent weighted fabric and excellently priced - £80 for a T-shirt and £140 for a sweatshirt.
Left & Right - More images of the first Fiorucci store as part of the brand's rebirth
While £80 is a lot for a T-shirt to many, when you compare it to £250 for a Gucci one that is so thin you can see your hand through it, it seems great value. I’m not sure who is doing their manufacturing, but it looked like the reason why you buy Italian-made clothes.
At these prices it’s something you can get involved and have fun with. Young consumers will be able to afford it or at least save up to it. They are positioning the brand for the long term, looking for repeat custom and offering their consumers something decent for their money. I know if I see a guy in a Fiorucci T-shirt I’ll want to go over and speak to him. It’s cool.
Go check it out next time you’re in Soho.
Daniel Todd, Buyer at MRPORTER.COM
“I am a huge fan of Prada’s knitwear for this fall with my favourite being this Shetland Wool Sweater; it's bang on trend as graphic knitwear is key for the season. Made entirely by hand in Italy, this loud and chunky piece is as much an art form as it is knitwear. An eye-catching jumper not for the faint hearted, I’ll be wearing mine with jeans or corduroy trousers.”
Left - Prada - Shetland Wool Sweater - £1375
“Wanting to purchase a plush pair of feel-good corduroy trousers immediately indicates that autumn is here, time for the shorts to be packed away! My choice is this black number from Our Legacy, made from exceptional fabrication of soft and durable cotton-corduroy, its minimal design is versatile enabling it to be worn with simple knitwear and shirting.”
Left - Our Legacy - Wide-Leg Cotton-Corduory Trousers - £225
“Slogan t-shirts and jerseys have been huge for a few seasons now and continuing into this winter. Featuring a quote from Mr Benjamin Franklin, “Lost time is never found again”, I’ll be sporting this jersey on cold winter days when needing that little extra motivation to get things done.”
Left - Takahiromiyashita Thesoloist. - Printed Cotton-Jersey T-Shirt - £270
“A padded overshirt is a genius alternative to a jacket this autumn from Balenciaga's Creative Director Mr Demna Gvasalia. Quilted and padded for insulation and volume, this piece has to be my favourite must have. Ticking the 90s sportswear trend box, I’ll be wearing mine layered over knitwear with retro sneakers.”
Left - Balenciaga - Oversized Padded Checked Cotton-Flannel Overshirt - £815
“A great coat is essential for winter, after all it’s the item of clothing that you will be seen most in the coming months. My pick of statement outerwear is this double breasted overcoat from Gucci. Crafted from pure cashmere in a timeless shade of tan, this really is one exceptional coat.”
Left - Gucci - Slim-Fit Double-Breasted Cashmere Overcoat - £2840
If you’re not overly familiar with the name ‘Miansai’, you’ve probably seen one of their most famous designs without knowing it. A coloured nautical cord bracelet with a metallic fish hook or anchor detailing was, a few years ago, as ubiquitous as Stan Smiths and skinny jeans.
It was one of the few jewellery designs and brands that managed to cut through to the mainstream while still being desirable for guys to wear on their wrists. It was a sweet spot of pricing and branding that made it something that wasn’t throwaway, yet was affordable enough to be worn carefree.
Left - Michael Saiger Founder & Creative Director of Miansai, TheChicGeek wears Harrington Jacket - Grenfell, Cardigan - Pretty Green X John Smedley, T-Shirt - Vintage Helmut Lang, Tracksuit Trousers - adidas from ASOS, Trainers - Diadora Made in Italy
I caught up with the founder, Michael Saiger, in London, to find out how he achieved something that is so difficult, today, and see what’s next for Miansai:
Originally from New York, Michael Andrew Saiger - it’s the MI-AN-SAI of his name that gives the brand its name, “All the domains were taken until I circled these parts of my name. Everybody thought it was asian, but it’s not”, he says, is dressed in a simple sweater and chinos and surrounded by the salon style hanging of the Berners Tavern restaurant.
Michael’s attention to detail can be seen by his perfectly manicured beard and not a hair out of place on his head. “I put my handprint on everything I do. I’m OCD, I’m obsessive”, he says.
How did he get started and where did his eye come from? “My mum has an antique store, she’s an interior decorator and I grew up around estate sales my whole life. So, then when I went to the University of Miami and I started making some bracelets. This was 2007,” says Michael.
“I was looking for a bracelet and there was nothing out there. So, I started making bracelets for myself and then I would take these World War II pendants and medallions that I would find at estate sales and make them into necklaces. All my friends really loved it and wanted them.
“I took them to the concept store, Base, in Miami. They were like, ‘oh yeah, we love this stuff’. This was right before I went on holiday for the summer, and when I went back after, they said they’d sold out in like a week or two,”
Right - This bracelet design has done the difficult thing of being common while still looking fresh and has become something of a men's classic - Miansai - Anchor Cord Silver-Plated Wrap Bracelet - £55 from MRPORTER
The company started officially in 2008 and, then, the product that catapulted Miansai onto the wrists of men worldwide was born. “I took all that money and bought various machines, equipment, everything, so, then me and one of my best friends had a 300 sq ft work studio and we started making everything and selling to some of the best boutiques around the US.
“After that and I graduated - the degree was in marketing - we were bursting out, so we found a 10,000 sq ft warehouse, and built it out and set up our whole manufacturing operation. Then, I started taking our nautical rope and, at the time, nobody used nautical rope for anything unless you went to a summer camp and had a little tie-on bracelet.
“We launched in 2009, in Barney’s & Bergdorf’s ,and then GQ featured one of our rope bracelets. I started using the rope in 2008, but the hook and anchor came in 2009. I didn't want to launch it until I knew I had manufacturing, as I knew it would be very popular. I didn't want to come out with a product and not be able to deliver it.
“We were the first to do anything like this with price points between $55 to $500. It had to be for a 15 year old, it had to be for a 70 year old, it had to be for a 20 year old: anyone and everyone.
Asked how many he thinks he’s sold of his signature product, we quickly discredit the hundreds of thousands and move into the millions. Next came his own retail outlets. “In 2012, we started a mobile retail unit, an old vintage airstream. In 2013, we opened a store in New York, Soho, and we've just opened another store in Venice Beach in LA".
Michael understands the future of retail and that traditional bricks and mortar US retail is suffering. “Retailers are hurting, especially in the US, with everybody shopping online. We have our food delivered, we, literally, don't got to the store, at all. The industry is changing”.
How do you see your stores then? “It’s more about experiential retail. I built our two stores to be galleries. I didn’t want jewellery fixtures, I designed furniture to house jewellery. It feels like a furniture store inside. That’s the future of retail,”.
Left - Miansai - Harbour Rucksack Tobacco Leather - £506.35 This was the bag Michael was carrying in London. He says the bags are made in the same factories as Prada, using the same leather as Louis Vuitton
He cites Aesop as a brand he admires. He’s coy about naming anybody that touches on his accessorises world, but he’s clearly an admire of good design.
He knows that he needs to go to where the consumers are, so he’s launching 5 more mobile units of classically restored Airstreams, Piaggio's and a Fiat at various locations such as JFK, LAX, Soho House Malibu and Newport, Rhode Island. He says it’s all about, “High traffic in an authentic way without selling out,”.
The brand has just expanded into leather bags and fine jewellery. “We launched leather bags: Italian leather, all cut and sewn in Turkey. We use some of the same factories as Prada and the some of the same leather as Louis Vuitton. I always collected bags from my estate sale days and knew what I wanted in a bag”.
As for the fine jewellery. It’s not currently available in the UK, but how does that fit in? “It’s marketed to women, but anyone can wear it,” he says, “For first 5 year’s of the brand, I never said whether it was men’s or women’s,". Is it made by your? "We do make some of the solid gold jewellery ourselves and some of the fine jewellery with the Pavé diamonds, we also work with a very high end factory in Thailand”.
Right - Arduin Cuff Bracelet, 14K Gold/Pave - £2978.54
What advice can he give to men with regards to wearing jewellery? “Keep it simple. Keep it to two pieces, unless you have a thin bracelet. For me, personally, I never wear more that two bracelets and a watch”.
So, what’s next for Miansai? “I definitely want to stay in the accessories realm, I don't want to go into ready-to-wear. We have a very good niche and I’d like to stay there”.
Michael currently has 55 employees, he doesn’t disclose his turnover, but if he’s shifting £60 bracelets by the million, then it’s going to be pretty high. He obviously knows his market and exactly how to expose his brand without it feeling like it is everywear, devaluing it and worst of all, millennials I'm looking at you here, boredom kicks in.
To sell millions of the same bracelet yet retain its desirability is a skill many retailers or brands would love to know. I don’t think it’ll be long before we see a converted vintage van - how about a Morris Traveller? That’s very British - at Wilderness or one of those more monied festivals emblazoned with ‘Miansai’ on the side.
With everything turning towards vintage sportswear, it was perfectly timed and serendipity to receive an invitation to the Diadora museum. Located near Treviso, around 40km from Venice, Diadora, the Italian sportswear brand and manufacturer, is having a renaissance and riding the wave of the revival of 80s sports classics and men’s terrace wear.
Left - Diadora HQ is near Treviso, a town in the Veneto region of north-east Italy
Unfortunately not open to the general public, the museum is located at the head office and factory. Since July 2009, Diadora has been controlled by L.I.R. the holding company owned by the Moretti Polegato family, who also own Geox. They have re-established the Diadora brand and the museum is there to remind and explain to visitors and employees the brand’s history and sporting heritage.
Right - The timeline of Diadora's history in the museum
Diadora is from the Greek, dia-dorea, which means, ‘to share gifts and honours’, and was established in 1948 by Marcello Danieli to make mountain boots. Treviso is situated near the mountains and the Italian mountain police required special boots for their duties and this is why many of these types of manufacturers and companies sprang up in this area after the war.
In 1960 Diadora shifted its production to sports and during its heyday in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, it was worn by some of the biggest sports stars of the time including Ayrton Senna, Sebastian Coe, Bjorn Borg and the Italia ’90 Italian football team.
Left - One of many of the famous sports shoes in Diadora's hall of fame - Here is Boris Becker's
In 2009, Enrico Moretti Polegato, a member of the controlling family, became the new president of the company with the aim of enhancing the brand’s worldwide reputation and production. A background as a lawyer, and softly spoken, he kindly gave us the tour of the museum.
Right - Inside the factory where 10% of Diadora's shoes are #madeinitaly
The museum starts with an overview of nearly 70 years of history with a few of the original machines and processes it takes to make the shoes. An enviable collection of signed football shirts illustrates the depth of names who have worn Diadora.
The next part is where Geox’s expertise comes in. Masters in sole innovation and construction, they are regarded by some as the best, producing comfortable and practical footwear. A new concept, centred in the room, illustrates the breathability of their soles and how they are bringing this technology into Diadora’s new footwear.
Left - Diadora's sporting greats on the outside of the headquarters
The final part is Diadora’s greatest hits: a display of all the sports people who have worn Diadora over the years including Boris Becker, Roberto Baggio and Francesco Totti pictured alongside their shoes.
Diadora’s collections are a good mix of heritage with modern finishes and techniques centred around the sports shoes and their current collection of 'Heritage' casual wear has the strong branding people are currently looking for. They do pure sports shoes, casual shoes and vintage inspired shoes, for many different sports, and they also produce utility shoes. Around 10% of their shoes are, now, made in Italy, and around 30% is made in neighbouring countries in Europe.
When I visited they were making utility shoes in the factory adjacent to the museum. The small production space is connected to the design department so they can prototype and produce in limited runs and in tighter time frames. Diadora has recently specialised in producing special collaborations for brands and retailers.
It feels that being part of a bigger group, Diadora, has more stability and the expertise and investment you need in order to be able to keep up in this very competitive market. As people grow tired of the sports mega brands and a return to those with real heritage, Diadora is in the perfect position to reap the benefits with quality products that are well made and define this new era of retro sports that has hit the current fashion scene.
Right - Diadora's current SS17 campaign which references its 80s archive
More images below
I don’t often write about new retail, it’s usually pretty boring and cookie-cutter the world over, but when something’s good, it’s good, and on a recent trip to Venice with Diadora, we were taken to the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi, the first retail store in Europe by LVMH’s travel retail arm, DFS.
Left - Inside the main atrium space of the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi
Looking out onto the Rialto Bridge, across from the fish market, stands the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi. First constructed in 1228, it was once home to the German merchants - Tedeschi means German in Italian - who traded with those wealthy Venetians, taking spices and the like to Northern Europe. It became a customs house under Napoleon, and a post office under Mussolini, then lay empty. Until now.
Right - The Venetian red escalators and special Venice-inspired product graces the entrance
Thanks to LVMH’s deep pockets and Dutch architecture practise, OMA, it been transformed into a sympathetic, luxury with a small L shopping space that feels more like a cross between a boutique hotel and museum that sells things, rather than a boring collection of luxury concessions all jostling for customers and attention.
Left - On the top floor is this exhibition space with a lit floor that just needs a disco soundtrack
It’s one of the best retail spaces I’ve seen recently. The escalators are Venetian red, like moving red carpets, they take you up to the floors of men’s and women's fashion and beauty.
On the top floor is an exhibition space and on the roof is a viewing deck looking out over the glorious city that is Venice.
Right - Head to the top floor for one of the best views of Venice.
Opened in October, the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi has been updated, without losing any of its charm, by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas – who was in charge of the exterior renovation – and architect Jamie Fobert – who handled the interior design.
Everywhere there is attention to detail. Every inch has been thought about: the floors, handrails, furniture, lights and the space has been designed for brands to flow, and in our ever fickle times, be replaced.
The brands are the same old: Gucci, Bally, Bottega Veneta etc., but because it’s such a nice building and environment it makes you want to explore regardless of it being the same tired things. To be fair, the brands have done a few special pieces with the colours of the Italian flag. Also, on the ground floor, they sell wine, souvenirs and other more affordable items.
The only negative was that it was so discreet, the name ‘ Fondaco Dei Tedeschi’, which doesn't exactly slip off the tongue, was only at the front door and you wanted to know/learn the name in order to tell other people how good it was. If you’re in Venice, definitely take a look.