Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ivy League in Islington

The sun’s out, temperatures are inching up to a level of acceptability and the stout boots, heavy denims and thick coats that have waged war against the recent Siberian winter have been given a well earned lie-down in the Bloke and Coke smoking room.

In the old days, despite my joy at the coming of summer, I’d be in a bit of a state about this. I luxuriated in the comfort of my Crombie, no matter how hot it was, and strode about in Adidas trainers, lightly steaming my feet in the process. Not now.

Forget Birkentsocks. Discard those combat shorts and anything that looks as though it’s come from an army surplus store. The only solution to looking good in summer is to go Ivy League – or at least a European approximation of it. Which is what I’ve done here.

At the core of the outfit is a blue and white-striped T-shirt from the brilliant Banana Republic on Regent Street. I’ve then coupled it with a chunky, cotton-knit cardie from CP Company, a pair of Gap ‘1969’ slim-fit chinos and some battered Sebago boat shoes. Think ‘nautical townie’ or ‘Don Draper watching Liverpool FC abroad in 1982’ and you’ll be close to the spirit of the look.

If you want to make it a little smarter, swap the T-shirt for a blue Oxford button-down shirt. The one pictured here is from Brooks Brothers – the firm who invented the button-down – but you can pick up an approximation from Gap, M&S or if you’re flush, the highly favoured Gitman Brothers.

All you need now it a boat. Or at least a friend who looks like they might own one. Happy sailing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Power dressing: The world’s most stylish international football managers

Terry Venables, England

Part east London gangster/ part timeshare rep, Terry Venables’s style was every bit as wide-boy as his personality. From appearing on the pitch at Barcelona in perhaps the world’s shortest shorts to patrolling the line as England manager in a tan-enhancing white polo, Venables brought a bit of sun(bed) to whatever touchline he was patrolling. Away from the stadium things were stepped up another level. Black shirts with grey suits, slip-on shoes and hair blow-dried to Shredded Wheat level, “El Tel” was old-school London flash personified. While other managers spent their spare time with their families, Venables ran Kensington drinking club Scribes West, wrote a TV series (Hazell) and got involved in so many “colourful” business deals, he was banned from being a company director for seven years. Geezer.

Ally McLeod, Scotland

“We’re on the march with Ally’s Army/We’re going tae the Argentine/And we’ll really shake them up, when we win the World Cup/’Cos Scotland are the greatest football team”. So sang the Scottish squad, as they paraded victoriously around Hampden Park in an open-top bus before the Argentina World Cup of 1978, led by talismanic manager Ally MacLeod. A man who wore his emotion on the cuffs of his polyester shirt, MacLeod was the absolute zenith of ’70s Glaswegian bookie chic. No tie too wide, no flares quite man-made enough, the Scottish boss looked like a regular from Rab C Nesbitt – especially when his team were humiliated by Iran and Peru, returning home in disgrace and without an open-top bus in sight.

César Luis Menotti, Argentina

His country may have been governed by a of murderous fascist generals, but the man who took Argentina to World Cup victory in 1978, would have looked more at home on in the VIP room of a cocaine-fuelled New York nightclub than square-bashing at some army school in Buenos Aires. Cultivating a left-wing image at odds with the rulers of Argentina, the cultured Menotti was never without a cigarette at his mouth, accessorising his cancer sticks with unkempt, long hair, flashy porno suits (often in white) and a permanent scowl – usually reserved for other managers or his ultimate masters in the military government.

Helmut Schön, West Germany

If ever a football manager was linked with one brand then it was World Cup-winning boss Schön and Adidas, a partnership made in retro sportswear heaven. Never without his trademark flat cap, Schön was seemingly given unlimited access to the Adidas catalogue of the 1970s, sporting a colourful array of leisure suits, all of them distinguished by the trefoil and three stripes. Occasionally coupling his trackies with roll-neck jumpers and patterened shirts, Helmut was a casual long before the first Scouser turned up at the Adidas shop in Munich with a suspiciously big bag.

Enzo Bearzot, Italy

Rarely pictured without his trademark pipe, the wiry Bearzot not only took Italy to sportswear known to man. Looking like he’d just come back from an exclusive Milanese tennis club, his España ’82 Ellesse tracksuit was absolutely on-trend for the pastel-coloured early ’80s. Even today, Bearzot still looks the part, turning up for public events in a buttoned-up polo shirt, sports jacket and slacks – a bit like Don Logan in Sexy Beast, but without the swearing and insatiable blood-lust.

Joachim Löw, Germany

A German manager should either look like he runs a bank or owns a sausage factory. Löw, with his dark, floppy, indie-boy hair, girly features and penchant for wearing suits minus a tie, resembles a flamboyant architect who occasionally directs pop videos. His team reflects his openness, getting to the final of the European Championships in 2008 with a distinctly un-German brand of attacking football. The fact that he spent much of the tournament in looking like a Jil Sander model in white shirt and black trousers just made him more appealing.

Fabio Capello, England

Managers of the England side have a record as sorry in the fashion stakes as the team does in tournaments. Graham Taylor made shellsuit-wearing an Olympic sport, while Steve MacLaren will always be remembered for his crunchy hair and someone-gave-this-to-me-at-a-golf-tournament umbrella. The present boss is a different proposition altogether. Despite the fact that he’s in his 60s, Signore Capello is the absolute model of classic, understated Italian style. Particularly fond of the light blue shirt/dark blue tie combination, when he barks his orders from the touchline in his perfectly fitted blazer and slacks, the millionaire brats on the pitch soon come to heel. And those glasses… bellissimo!

Diego Maradona, Argentina

He was, without doubt, the greatest football player the world has ever seen, a street-child from the slums of Buenos Aires with a talent unsurpassed in the history of the game. And, true to his roots, Maradona has swerved formal wear in favour of a rainbow-coloured assortment of man-of-the-people leisurewear. Looking like one of Tony Soprano’s “button men”, Maradoo occupies the Argentine bench in tracksuits, garish vest tops, body warmers and chunky, shopping mall trainers. If he wasn’t in charge of one of the world’s greatest football teams he’d be selling you cigarettes in the forecourt of a Buenos Aires train station.

Ottmar Hitzfeld, Switzerland

If you saw Hitzfeld on the street you’d either think he was on his way to fit a platinum cap to a banker’s molar or lead a buyout of Mercedes Benz, such is his adherence to the philosophy of Germanic power-dressing. For the former Bayern Munich boss, big-shouldered overcoats, formal shoes and boxy suits are the order of the day – a stuffy look absolutely in tune with mentality of that most functional of nations, Switzerland. No wonder he never smiles.

Jose Mourinho, Internazionale

While Mourinho may not be an international boss, he’s included here simply because he has single-handedly changed the way football managers’ clothes are judged. In the old days there were two schools of managerial fashion: either the “I reckon I could come on at half-time” look or the “regional manager of a photocopier firm”. But Mourinho has made the touchline a catwalk. From the beautiful Armani overcoats and loop-knotted scarves to his penchant for exquisite cut suits and shirts, the former Chelsea boss has set the standard in the Mondial of menswear. No wonder he makes his living in the capital of fashion, Milan.

Originally written for FHM

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

FC St Pauli of Hamburg – football for the people

Excellent report from Trans World Sports on the anarchists’ fave football club, St Pauli. There’s an element of “middle class trendies slumming it” here, but ultimately this is how a football club should be run, no matter how successful (or not) it is.

And with Bayern Munich progressing to the semi-finals of the European Cup, it shows that the affordable ticket prices and realistic wages of German soccer are not necessarily an obstacle to success. We in England have so much to learn.

Though we could probably swerve the earrings and biker jackets.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Off its high horse: everything you need to know about polo shirts

Something has changed in the British male’s summer wardrobe. For around a decade and a half, young men have spent the warmer months in T-shirts, jeans or scruffy combat shorts, all pockets, flaps and camouflage patterns. But over the last couple of years there’s been a definite smartening-up. And that’s largely due to the adoption of the polo shirt by vast swathes of the male population. No longer a minority item worn by the clued-up, the polo has become the keystone in a more classic, fitted summer outfit. Whether it’s the influence of the preppy look famously sported by bands like Vampire Weekend or the increasing influence of ’80s football casual, British men, polo shirts in hand, have finally summer dressing. And this season, the manufacturers are taking note.

The “polo” bit of polo shirt is a bit of a misnomer. The honeycombed-cotton collared top we see today was actually invented by French tennis champion Rene Lacoste in 1933 as a garment for players who’d previously had to compete in “whites” – long, flannel trousers and formal shirts, both of which were more suited to the ballroom than the tennis court. Lacoste, nicknamed “the aligator”, changed all that. Teaming up with a French clothing manufacturer, he designed a revolutionary shirt that was short-sleeved, flat-collared, had a longer back (to keep it tucked in) and made from “cotton pique”, a material that wicked sweat away from the body. He then put an alligator logo on the left breast and slapped on a hefty price tag, thus inventing expensive designer sportswear and label worship in one fell swoop.

So why “polo” then? Up until Lacoste’s tennis clothing revolution, the players of this most highly elevated of games sported button-down shirts, themselves specially designed by august US brand Brooks Brothers to prevent collars flapping about while riding on horseback. But as the tennis shirt replaced the button-down on the backs of glamourous (and rich) polo players in the 1930s, so the garment started to be referred to as a “polo shirt”.

But it took the launch of one American label in the early 1970s to seal its place as a menswear staple.

Quite simply, Ralph Lauren Polo the polo shirt. Ever since they first surfaced in 1972, RL’s two-button, perfectly fitted, collared tees have set the standard for others to follow. While the Lauren polo shirt was readily embraced by the privileged classes on America’s east coast, it was its adoption by hip-hop crews in New York in the early 1990s that took it from weekend country house to streetwear staple. In Britain, the “Polo geezers” of 1992-97 added a distinctly Anglocentric twist, coupling pastel-coloured RL polos with blouson jackets, stonewash jeans and Reebok Classics. Along with Ben Sherman shirts and Patrick Cox loafers, the Polo, er, polo was one of defining garments of that decade.

Of course it’s not just Ralph Lauren polos that have made an impact. Since the 1980s, a Lacoste tennis tee has been an indispensable item for many a football casual, particularly in the north-west, while trendy architects and their ilk think nothing of slipping a John Smedley polo under a Prada suit for a fitted-yet-informal twist on office wear. Meanwhile, indie kids have taken Fred Perry to their hearts and Lyle & Scott is now more famous for its yellow polos than the signature lambswool jumpers that made its reputation in the 1980s.

One store that places great emphasis on the quality of its polos is Manchester’s Oi Polloi, as Richard Harris, who works at the shop, explains.

“Polos always sell well here, with Lacoste and Ralph Lauren the favourties, but APC and Robe Di Kappa do some nice ones too. In terms of outfit, a perfect polo shirt can go with a blouson jacket like a Harrington, jeans and a pair of nice pumps from Spring Court or some Clarks shoes.”

While the polo is itself a simple piece of clothing, how it’s worn says an awful lot about the person who’s wearing it. On Sunday mornings in cafés and pubs near universities, you’ll see hordes of our future leaders holding court over Sunday lunch with the collars of their polos standing proudly upward from beneath their varsity sports tops. For clothes-conscious football fans, polos are at the very centre of their wardrobe, collars ironed down, the hem hanging loosely over jeans. Mods, meanwhile, go for buttoned-up John Smedleys, usually long-sleeved and worn with a three-button suit jacket or Harrington. And that’s not even mentioning the legions of people who wear polos every day as part of their work or school uniform.

This season, the manufacturers have really upped the ante. As usual, Ralph Lauren leads the way with a vast amount of colour combinations and an expansion into competitive polo shirts (ie, for playing in). With both regular and custom fit to choose from, no matter what your body shape you should find a model to suit you. Richard Harris again:

“I wear my jeans quite low, so the long back on Ralph Lauren polos really works. The custom fit has a nice collar and a good fit. Even if you’re a larger build, just buy the bigger size, it’ll look great.”

While Ralph is content to tweak its classic, over at Nike, a more scientific approach has been taken in pursuit of one goal – the construction of ultimate polo. Using the same approach the brand normally takes to designing its footwear, Nike has studied all the best polo shirts out there and come out with the Grand Slam Polo. The shirt is made from cotton pique, but the interior is flat-knitted on the inside to make it feel smoother, while its vented collar and specially designed buttons complete the picture. Massimo Osti Studio’s MA.Strum label has taken this approach even further, with reports that it’s been working on a polo inlaid with silver thread that actually self-cleans. For now, however, this particular treasure remains on the drawing board.

If you’re on the budget, there are still plenty of options. Both Gap and Japanese brand Uniqlo do decent polos for little money in a limited range of colours, but on the high street it’s hard to beat Benetton. Not only do its polos have enough structure for them to look smart, but the logo still carries the cachet that its adoption by European super-rich in the ’80s gave it. This is a good thing.

For those who really want to immerse themselves in the culture of the privileged global elite, search out collared tees by Argentine brand La Martina (a company immersed in the culture of the sport of polo) or maritime-influenced shirts by Paul & Shark and Mediterranean favourites Façonnable.

Finally, if you’re a bit older or more inclined to take the formal path of dressing, John Smedley’s exquisite long- and short-sleeved three-button polos add instant mod-ish flair to whatever you’re wearing, as the branbd’s menswear designer Nick Thomas explains.

“The polo shirt has been a staple of the John Smedley collection since the ’50s, but it really came into its own during the ’60s with the dawn of the American sportswear trend. The key component of our polo shirts is the fully-fashioned collar that’s got a unique shape that no-one else has been able to replicate.”

With literally hundreds of different styles of polo out there, it seems that this humble shirt’s march from niche sporting garment to summer essential is unlikely to stop any time soon. As the days get lighter and warmer, it’s only fitting that our clothing reflects the weather, and nothing says “summer” more clearly than a neatly pressed polo, coupled with a pair of smart shorts and some pristine boat shoes. Now, where’s that horse?

This piece originally appeared in the April issue of FHM.