Broke and Bespoke

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Camillo Love of Red Cotton Denim was featured in an interview on the blog Denim Hunters yesterday. Check out the link here. Also, in the story you’ll find a link for a Denim Hunter readers’ deal on a pair of Red Cotton Denim jeans for $125. They’re made out of the green cast 12.5 oz. Cone Mills raw selvedge denim seen in the photos above.

I can say from experience that this batch of denim is a nice departure from the straight indigo blues you often find. The green cast is quite subtle, but certainly noticeable. I imagine this would result in some interesting fading over time. The denim also has an interesting hand, or finish, that feels like a light coating of some sort. It’s almost like it’s a little waxed. And $125 is certainly a great deal on some jeans made by hand in the U.S.A.  

Camillo Love, Red Cotton Denim, and some $125 Hand-made Cone Mills Selvedge Jeans

True story. I graduated from high school eighteen years ago in the same class as a guy named Camillo Love. We weren’t friends per se, but certainly knew each other well enough to nod at one another when passing in the hallways of Berkeley High School, or when crossing paths at a weekend house party. Though I’ve forgotten the names and faces of a couple hundred people with whom I was similarly acquainted, Camillo Love’s always stuck. I’m sure it’s not too hard to guess why—what a great ‘effing name.

It was for this reason that when, a couple of months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that he’d just run into Camillo, images of a misspent youth in Berkeley rushed back into my head. To be fair, I’d actually already been taking a short walk down memory lane. I was packing up my apartment for my recent move, and had just flipped through an old high school yearbook. In fact, it was because I’d shared a picture from that yearbook that my friend brought Camillo up in the first place.

My friend said that Camillo was now making jeans in Oakland (where I live), and that he’d passed along my contact info since Camillo was looking for a little publicity for his small business. A few days later Camillo contacted me, and invited me to try out a pair of his jeans and to visit his workshop.

Camillo’s path to becoming a producer of handmade artisanal denim was a long and interesting one, and bears some repeating here. After high school, Camillo joined the navy. He worked as a boiler engineer on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk and spent some time stationed in Japan. This was the early-aughts, and he noticed that there was a real demand for and fascination with vintage American workwear among certain people in Japan. At the time, it looked to Camillo like these Japanese denim enthusiasts just liked old American jeans. Armed with an entrepreneurial spirit, Camillo thought it might be profitable to use his connections to the U.S. to sell some jeans in Japan. He had a friend ship about a thousand pairs of old jeans to Japan, and from that load Camillo sold about two pairs. It was a tough lesson in learning about the small details (like the use of selvedge denim woven on narrow shuttle looms) and American craftsmanship (I’ve no doubt that for some of those jeans their journey to Japan from the U.S. was their second trip across the Pacific) that went into the jeans so highly coveted by Japanese collectors.

After leaving the navy and a short stint in the Merchant Marine, Camillo returned to the Bay Area and began doing some carpentry and construction work. This confirmed two things: that he wanted to own his own business, and that he wanted to make things with his own hands. As serendipity would have it, it was about this time that Camillo came into contact with a couple of important people in the Bay Area (and global) denim scene and it all clicked. The fiasco in Japan, a nascent business idea, and the possibility that making jeans himself might fulfill his passion for handcraft led to the slow evolution of Red Cotton Denim.

Camillo dove into the work. He’d never sewn before, so he took classes on pattern making and garment construction. He started by making jeans for women—girlfriends and their friends. Then his guy friends started asking for jeans, and he developed the pattern that is now Red Cotton Denim’s first cut. After lots of trial and error, Camillo had a jean that was ready for market.

Though a visit to Camillo’s Oakland workshop shows a business in its nascent stages, you can’t help but feel the passion he has for what he does. One of the first things he confided to me was that he was not particularly good at promoting his brand. His energy is directed at mastering the art and craft of making great jeans. When I was there he showed me a pair of nearly finished jeans that he’d stopped working on because they didn’t meet his standards—a single chainstitch on the vertical seam connecting the two sides of the seat had skipped, and was held together by only one thread for about 1/16”. I certainly wouldn’t ever have noticed it, but I was impressed by his quality control.

I also understood when he told me the stakes were so much higher when the brand was just him—he couldn’t afford to have a bad pair of jeans out there. Red Cotton Denim isn’t the brainchild of apparel veterans looking to ride the Americana/workwear wave to the bank. Camillo doesn’t have an MBA, and there is no marketing or PR budget for the brand. In fact, the entirety of the brand is Camillo sitting in his workshop sewing jeans while friends have donated their talents when and where they can. A friend made the website. Another friend helped realize the labels and printed them out. And yet another friend shot some pictures for the website. Red Cotton Denim is the fruit of one dude’s labor and passion, and it’s very refreshing.

You may have noticed that I’ve been wearing jeans a lot lately with sport coats and ties, and that’s thanks in large part to how much I love wearing my Red Cotton Denim jeans (seen here and here). Initially priced at $198, Camillo has some exciting moves on the horizon (including limited runs of jeans with various Japanese and American denim, and a slim tapered fit) for which he needs some additional funds, and so he’s sellling his current stock of jeans for $125. You will not find a better deal on some hand-made raw selvedge denim jeans, and by buying a pair now at deep discount you’re also helping to realize the future of the brand which I know has great things in store for denim enthusiasts. 

I was just at Camillo’s workshop yesterday and know he has a wide array of sizes in stock too, including 28’s for you skinny guys, 33’s for you dudes who are in between sizes, and even some 36’s and maybe some 38’s as well. The more standard 32’s and 34’s are in stock too. 

NYT: “U.S. Textile Plants Return, With Floors Largely Empty of People”

An interesting and provocative article in the New York Times about the return of textile manufacturing to the U.S., and the impact that has on labor in the U.S. It turns out, in some sectors, not so much. Excellent food for thought for those who believe the label “Made in the USA” necessarily connotes some kind of revival of American manufacturing reminiscent of the early postwar decades.

It’s a long read, but a worthwhile one. Link here.

Red Cotton Denim

I’ve hands-down got a new favorite pair of jeans. They’re from Red Cotton Denim. Each pair is made by hand from start to finish in Oakland, CA out of 12 oz. Cone Mills selvedge denim by Camillo Love, a former naval engineer, at a rate of about 3-4 pairs per day.

Camillo currently only offers a Slim Straight Cut, but it’s a versatile fit that looks good on both a tall skinny guy (Camillo is 6’5” and probably 200 lbs. or so) and a shorter fat guy (I’m 5’11” and my weight shall remain unmentioned…). It was truly inspiring to see the passion that he puts into his craft. More to come…  

Review: J. Lawrence Khaki’s MTM Shirting

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I’ve reviewed quite a few online MTM shirting companies. The results have, overall, I’d say been rather excellent. Only once was a shirt’s fit really off, and that one was remade promptly with zero fuss.

MTM shirting is an excellent entre into the wacky world of more personalized tailored clothing, and today—luckily for us—online outfits abound for getting such things done to high quality specifications and with little to no need for actual interfacing with another human being. 

For me, as an introvert, that’s generally a good thing. As someone who’s never really had a ‘real’ bespoke garment made (I’m thinking Savile Row or Rubinacci, Liverano, Napoli Su Misura, Orazio Luciano, etc.), I find the notion of submitting myself to what appears to be the sometimes gruff oversight of these tailoring titans more than a little intimidating and certainly deeply anxiety producing. Though I take utter delight in the picture-heavy stories that emerge from blogs like Simon Crompton’s excellent PermanentStyle, or on StyleForvm, I enjoy the process of thinking about my clothes in relative solitude, and perhaps I enjoy that best either by myself in the thrift shop, or through the artificial interface of a website and subsequent emails with a customer service representative.

I am sure I am the worse for it (having just skimmed Douglas Rushkoff’s prescient read of our contemporary wired culture as emblematic of a kind of endless ‘present shock’), but there it is anyways…

I was, however, recently treated to a pleasurable experience that has at least thrown a small wrench into my fear of actual face-to-face contact around the creation of garments. Last time I was down in Carmel visiting Jim and Connie Ockert’s lovely sartorial wonderland, J. Lawrence Khaki’s, Jim insisted that he put me in one of his private label MTM shirtings. Who was I to refuse such a kindness!?

In any case, what was so great about the process was precisely the personalized attention that I am generally quick to avoid. Jim first sat me down with binders and books full of a dizzying array of fabrics—over 700, and mostly from Thomas Mason, with new fabrics added every few weeks—and told me to take my time choosing one, and to ask him for any color advice if necessary. I was then left alone to pore over the overwhelming number of choices.

Ultimately I settled on a very simple bluish purple striped cotton from Thomas Mason. I’m becoming one of those people who would love to have 90% of his shirts be some form of blue, and I thought this a lovely way to inject at least some character into what is becoming a slightly dowdy shirt wardrobe.

After I settled on my fabric, Jim took out the MTM shirting form and proceeded to take all manner of measurements, and ask me questions I’d never thought about with regard to a shirt—e.g., there are over 100 different collar choices alone. I was finding that I actually liked this kind of personalized service, and that the humanity of the interaction was allowing for some very real-time resolutions to issues that a computer could never have provided. 

After we went back and forth a bit about collar shape and construction, cuff width, and so on, our work was done. Rather than it being a fuss and a potentially awkward encounter, I’d found that I had actually really enjoyed the process, and could imagine myself—heavens no!!—doing it again of my own free will. I am sure, however, this was in no small part due to Jim Ockert’s charming personality and uncanny ability to put people at ease despite his 6’5” or so frame. At this level of MTM service is key, and I have no doubt that Jim Ockert is among the best in the business.

I headed home that afternoon eager to receive the shirt several weeks hence. About 4 weeks later the package arrived for me at work, and the shirt inside was gorgeous. I posted some pics of it then here. I’ve been a bit late in the review, because the shirt came with a tag that said it would fully shrink to the appropriate size after 6 washes. I haven’t quite washed it that many times yet, but it’s true that each wash brings it a little closer to a perfect fit, and I have no doubt that it will end up so.

The construction of the shirt is without flaws; single needle stitching, a beautiful unfused collar, solid pearlescent plastic buttons (I will generally opt for MOP if they’re available, but Jim prefers plastic because they hold up much better in the wash, which is absolutely true as I’ve seen many a cracked MOP button in the thrift shops), single yoke with side pleats, and best of all, a fit that is neither too tight nor blousey. I’m not gonna lie, Khaki’s MTM shirting program is not cheap, with a base price of $245. But if that’s the kind of coin you trade in I highly recommend both visiting Khaki’s if you’re into menswear and ever within a 100 mile radius of the place (this goes for everyone), and to take advantage of Jim’s decades of experience in the menswear industry and have some shirts made up from a program that has been meticulously and methodically perfected over 20+ years. You’ll definitely feel the difference.

Frequent readers of this blog may know that I like belts quite a bit. I don’t own many dress belts, but I am easily intrigued by something a little off-the-beaten-path in the casual belt department. So far, my go-to belts have mostly been from Narragansett Leathers.

I came across this Everlane belt some time ago and filed it away in my memory as a pretty cool looking design, but soon forgot about it. But when I was recently offered $50 credit from Everlane to give some of their products a try, and to write about them if I felt like it, my wife immediately said, “what about that belt from there you really liked?” Needless to say, I ordered it, and a white t-shirt as well.

I quite like the belt, and especially enjoy its rather minimalist look. The belt looks like it only has one hole, which gives it a nice pared down look when you’ve got your shirt tucked in, and also allows one to gain or lose weight without it showing on the belt. The actual adjustable holes are hidden from view on the section of the belt that underlaps (is that a word?? If not, it should be…) with the section that is openly visible.

While this is most certainly not a dress belt I’d personally feel comfortable wearing it with a pretty casual suit, and would definitely wear it with chinos and a sport coat.

The belt itself is made of Italian leather which appears to be of good quality. Certainly not as nice as the American tanned bridle leather on the Narragansett belts, but comparable to any belt you’d find at J. Crew, Club Monaco, etc. The buckle is a nice patinated brass.

As an added bonus, the belt is made in the USA, manufactured as it is in San Francisco. At $40 I think it’s a pretty good price, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a belt that stands out a little from the crowd.

Everlane requires you to sign up to purchase anything, and if you’re not already a member please feel free to use my referral link here.

Review: Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase

I’ve been coming across Topo Designs bags with some frequency over the last year or so on my tumblr dashboard and through various internet rabbit holes, but didn’t really know that that was what I was seeing. There are a number of companies (many of them out of Japan) that are reinterpreting the American mountaineering aesthetic of the 60s and 70s, but a quick look through Topo Designs offerings suggests that they may be one of the most innovative in terms of the breadth of their designs and the overwhelming functionality of their product line. And, they’re all made right here in the U.S.A. in Colorado.

When the opportunity recently arose to review a Topo Designs bag, I jumped at the chance to give the Mountain Briefcase a try. I suspect that my reasons for choosing this particular bag might resonate with a lot of you who are either students, or work in a pretty casual environment.

I teach, and my school has a fairly informal work environment. Though leather briefcases are always nice, that kind of formality isn’t a necessity at my job. Sometimes carrying something a bit more casual helps to tone down the fact that I am already the only one wearing a shirt, tie, and sport coat on most days. I guess a sportier looking work or school bag is another way of doing the whole high/low aesthetic, but bringing in accessories as a part of the overall mix. Enter the Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase. 

The bag is clearly very stylized, but it is also incredibly practical and functional. The first thing that surprised me when I opened up the box containing the bag was its relatively small size (16”w x 11”h x4”d). It’s not too small, but is very much true in size to a traditional briefcase, which is to say it handily carries a laptop (it has a padded laptop compartment that has a velcro closure), several books, files/papers, and a light sweater or sweatshirt. The interior has a small zip pocket, several pen slots, and a miscellaneous pocket where I’ve stowed a pocketable notebook. The outer zip pocket is great for storing things you might access more frequently on your way to or from work or school, i.e., magazines, a tablet, sunglasses, etc. 

Another great design element of this bag is its 3-way carry function. It can be carried by the two carry straps (like a traditional briefcase); it can be worn like a backpack by hooking some very cool looking anodized metal hooks through the reinforced hook loops (as in the last picture—the straps can also be easily stowed when not in use); and it can be worn like a messenger bag either over the shoulder or across the chest using the provided nylon strap. I will say this, however, about the backpack function. The backpack straps are adjustable, but they don’t get very long. I’m not a particularly tall person (5’ 11” or so) and the backpack at its longest sits pretty high on my back, which I’m totally fine with and find quite comfortable. Those of you who are taller, or like to wear your backpacks lower on your back, may beg to differ. 

I’ve been using this bag every day since receiving it, and have carried it all three ways depending on the situation. If I’m carrying several bags of groceries, the messenger and or backpack functionality of the bag is great, but if I’m just walking from my car to a cafe, the briefcase function is definitely the least fussy. Though I haven’t had cause to put them to use yet, the bag also has some leather lash tabs and several loops and rings from which you can attach additional gear if necessary.

I think what I like most about this bag though are its aesthetics. Even though it’s made out of incredibly tough 1000d Invista CORDURA, it has a vintage inspired appearance to it, and does not scream ‘technical.’ That’s a great look for a work or school bag if your style is a little dressier than most, as mine is. It allows me to inject a little whimsy into outfits that might otherwise look a bit stuffy without having to carry something that looks like I’m getting ready to go rock climbing, or snow camping. I might feel weird carrying an incredibly technical looking bag or backpack whilst wearing a tweed jacket, OCBD, and rep tie, but I’d feel totally fine carrying the Mountain Briefcase in such an outfit.

The Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase isn’t exactly a cheap bag at $149, but it’s a high quality bag that is made in the U.S.A. where the labor costs tend to be higher than much of the rest of the world. It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than some of the Japanese companies making similar bags. Topo Designs bags are available at a number of retailers domestically and internationally, but can also be purchased directly through their website. I’ve really taken to this bag, and can easily see myself using it for many years to come.

Sorry for the random pic, but I’m currently sitting around my apartment in boxers and a coffee-stained t-shirt from Uniqlo. What can I say…my summer break has begun in earnest.
I took the picture several months ago when I’d just purchased some new glasses from my favorite frame maker, Kala Eyewear, which is a local outfit. I’ve been meaning to post about the ‘new’ glasses, but today’s lack of a sartorial photo opportunity has forced me to write a few words about them.
Kala has been handmaking frames in the SF Bay Area for over a decade (long before Made in USA became a trend and a rallying cry for those with disposable income, a conscience around their consumption practices, and a simplified view of how to combat the seedier dimensions of globalization) and price them very competitively (frames are ~$200).
These are the ‘Madison’ model in Grey Horn. I highly recommend checking Kala out over more expensive brands like Oliver Peoples, Paul Smith, Cutler & Gross, Alain Mikli, Moscot, etc. 

Sorry for the random pic, but I’m currently sitting around my apartment in boxers and a coffee-stained t-shirt from Uniqlo. What can I say…my summer break has begun in earnest.

I took the picture several months ago when I’d just purchased some new glasses from my favorite frame maker, Kala Eyewear, which is a local outfit. I’ve been meaning to post about the ‘new’ glasses, but today’s lack of a sartorial photo opportunity has forced me to write a few words about them.

Kala has been handmaking frames in the SF Bay Area for over a decade (long before Made in USA became a trend and a rallying cry for those with disposable income, a conscience around their consumption practices, and a simplified view of how to combat the seedier dimensions of globalization) and price them very competitively (frames are ~$200).

These are the ‘Madison’ model in Grey Horn. I highly recommend checking Kala out over more expensive brands like Oliver Peoples, Paul Smith, Cutler & Gross, Alain Mikli, Moscot, etc. 

#Pre-Americana

This is the only footwear I brought with me on my trip—Chippewa ‘Katahdin Iron Works’ boots from L.L. Bean. My father-in-law is a builder, and he and my mother-in-law built their own house, including the stone wall on which the shoes perch here in the photographs. The stones used to pave the old part of town, and are said to have been laid by Cornwallis’ soldiers during the Revolutionary War. The town was preparing to toss the stones when they put more modern paved roads in, and my father-in-law grabbed a bunch with which to pave the front walk, and to build a nice wall. Pretty cool for a history nerd.

L.L. Bean Katahdin Iron Works Boot by Chippewa.

L.L. Bean Katahdin Iron Works Boot by Chippewa.