Original Madras Trading Company was founded by current owner Prasan Shah’s grandfather in the early 1970s when he arrived in New York from Madras with a trunk full of checks and other woven Indian textiles. He established an office on 38th Street in the New York garment district, and where they still trade from today.
While they continue to supply fabrics and garments to well-known other brands, this is the first season with their own eponymous range.
A little history lesson. The weaving of cotton cloth in South India was renowned for centuries prior to the British building a harbour in Madras - now called Chennai - in the 18th century, but it was this port and the British East India Company that led to textiles from Madras being traded throughout the modern world. That is the origin of the Madras check.
Originally and to this day the best Madras is woven by hand. This is a process that takes each individual weaver several hours per metre and results in no two lengths of cloth being identical. OMTC is a 3rd generation family business who have been weaving and producing Madras for 50 years in factories owned and operated by the family.
TheChicGeek says, "Who doesn't like checks? These feel distinctively authentic and I particularly like the Indian influence in the styles, like the longer shirt lengths and hooded kaftan styles. For AW20, which I saw at January's Pitti Uomo, OMTC have the cutest checked quilted trousers. The brand is currently available at Trunk Clothiers in London."
Left - Original Madras Trading Company Cotton Madras Button Down Shirt - £125 from Trunk Clothiers
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This preppy patchwork classic is seeing a resurgence this summer. The story goes that on a visit to one of his company’s shirt factories in the 1970s, Ash Wall, the vice president and great-great-great-grandson of Brooks Brothers founder Henry Sand Brooks, picked up a "training shirt:" a shirt made by factory trainees using mismatched scraps of fabric. Wall reportedly tried one on and commented: "These are some fun shirts.”
Here is the picks of the best of SS20: The French brand, De Fursac, calls it, ‘La Fun Shirt’, while the American brand, Rowing Blazers, continues to reinvent preppy with their stripey number, and our homegrown Drake’s is proudly handcrafted in Somerset, UK.
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The Berlin trade shows are a decent barometer of Northern Europe’s fashion direction. While not known for being particularly experimental or distinctive markets, it’s a good point to see what is selling in more mainstream menswear, post Pitti Uomo, from larger and smaller brands alike. Here are the menswear trends, brands and collabs. to take note of for SS20 from Berlin:
The Branded Utility Sandal
Lead by Teva, with touches of the Japanese, Suicoke, the activity, utility or trekking sandal - take your pick - is replacing the slide as the cool summer men’s footwear of choice. This geeky style was championed by many brands including Hunter, Slydes and Hi-Tec; all showing their own versions of these sandals which require some serious foot game in the pedicure/foot maintenance department.
Far Left - Hunter
Left - Slydes
Right - Hi-Tec
This was a trend first seen at Pitti Uomo. Transparent ripstop nylon used in the main body of the shoe allowing see-through and visible sections throughout. Not sure whether you’re supposed to wear with or without socks?
Right - D.A.T.E.
The Ukrainian capital, Kiev, is fast becoming a hot spot of creativity. Brands such as ‘Deep Naked Denim’ with their hoodies with additional arms to tie around the waist and revealing jeans and ‘Keep’, an accessorise brand using paper-like materials which you can self graffiti and customise are drawing attention to this part of Eastern Europe.
Left - Deep Naked Denim
Right - Keep
Baggy Trousers (Jeans)
We’ve been waiting with baited breath for a new style of jean that will resonate with the mass men’s audience. Enter the baggy 90s jean last seen on Marky Mark.
Lead by Pelle Pelle, an american brand founded in 1978 and now being designed and handled in Denmark, who prides themselves with having been the first urban brand to intentionally design and release the baggy denim pant worn by the stars of 90s hip-hop.
Unfeigned, a Spanish menswear brand, featured higher waisted denim with deep side pockets following this looser aesthetic.
Left - Pelle Pelle
Right - Unfeigned
You’ve got to give this Korean brand credit - pardon the pun! - APRVD says it “secures a wearable aesthetic that combines the utilitarian energy of street style with an artistic spirit upholding the highly qualified production experiences over the decades.” No, me neither, but its play on credit card design is priceless! Soz.
Following on from the Paris Trade Shows - see more here the linen shirt continues to segue itself back into fashion. These colourful shirts, some with matching scarves, are made in Italy by Destin and retail for around €90.
A private label manufacturer and a Portuguese take on a helvetica shoe brand, Perks’ parent company Evereste is 75 years old. This family business is branching out with this, their own label, showcasing their quality sports shoes and smarter leather shoes all proudly made in Portugal.
A young Danish menswear label, ISNURH is a Copenhagen-based menswear brand with a detail-driven approach. The founders, Kasper and Oliver, have created not only a ready-to-wear label collections, but also collaborations with different artists, and bespoke garments made in a tunnel located in Silkegade, Copenhagen.
This Swiss skiwear brand returns with its luxe and loud take on 80s style. Originally founded in St. Moritz in 1969, and now under the creative direction of Michael Michalsky, JET SET’s new logo is comprised of letters in a dynamic contemporary font set against an angular orange-and-black placard and references the label’s Swiss-German heritage in a bold and confident colourway.
LION BRAND SPORTSWEAR
Move over preppy Polo Bear, the abbreviated LBSW, founded in the USA in 1954 by Antonio Rosenbaum, is inspired by ‘Ivy League’ sporting competitions. The original LionBrandSportsWear supplied not only casual wear but also sports equipment for these Ivy League athletes.
After more than 65 years, and now owned by Bastiaan Roessen and based in the Netherlands, LBSW is being relaunched by introducing “'The 1954 Polo Shirt’. This authentic slim fitted polo shirt from 1954 is made from 100% piqué cotton and signed with their embroidered Lion logo.
LEE 101 X TIMBERLAND
While both originally part of the giant VF Corporation group of brands, though Lee has been spun out with its other denim cousin, Wrangler, into the Kontoor Brands group, it doesn’t mean they still can’t work together. Timberland’s outdoor, active and environmental credentials has been mixed with Lee’s denim heritage. The result is something fit for the American Frontier both visually and practically.
YMC X FARAH
YMC has worked their usually quirky aesthetic into Farah’s reliable menswear to celebrate the latter's centenary. Lots of colour and things like appliqué stars play with Farah’s American roots. Founded in 1920 in El Paso, Texas, they originally produced chambray work shirts for the cost of 35 cents. Inflation allowing, these fun pieces will still be at Farah’s successfully affordable price points.
See Paris Menswear Trade Shows SS20 - Here
Garbstore’s newest label is 'Drop Out Sports'. Spotted at the men’s trade shows in Paris, last summer, I was first taken with the name, we're all a dropout somewhere along the line, and then their collection of handsome and modern rugby shirts, all authentically English.
Billed as 'The Authentic Rugby Collection for the Unconventional Sportsman' , Drop Out Sports centres on an original turn-of-the-century rugby shirt. Made using 100% organic yarns and sustainable textiles woven in England whilst retaining the authentic weight and feel of the original. Real men play in pink.
TheChicGeek says, "Preppy sportswear is returning and nothing is as easy as a white collared rugby shirt to make you look handsome. Go up a size because you'll want to wear this fuller and looser."
Left & Below - Drop Out Sports - Stripe Rugby - £150
The two main Berlin men’s trade shows, relevant to the UK market, SEEK and Premium, had a switch up for the AW19 season. SEEK, the younger, more streetwear and sportswear focused show pushed its separate area for skate fashion, Bright, into the main show space. What this did was make the show feel more outerwear heavy and technical and showed a definite turning away from branded sportswear for AW19.
Premium on the other hand made the correct decision to reorder their show spaces: mixing the brands and giving the feeling of discovery rather than uniform looking halls. Premium is, just that, more premium, targeting an older demographic with the deeper pockets to buy more expensive clothes and finishes.
Left - Inside the main hall at Premium, Berlin
Here are the big AW19 trends coming out from Berlin and the labels worth making a note of:
Post Sportswear Preppy
The sportswear juggernaut was bound to slow at some point and we’re seeing the beginnings of it for AW19. The overall feeling was of less branding and colour and the idea that sportswear to segue-waying itself into new areas. Retro sportswear is going out the door and morphing into either more technical or preppy product. A perfect example of this is Champion doing branded rugby shirts. It’s still sportswear, but it’s moving back into the preppy area of menswear. This will be how preppy returns to fashion.
Left - Lacoste 80s college jacket
Right - Champion showing the segue way from sports into preppy with rugby shirts
The Recycled Renaissance of Denim
Always eco-conscious and sustainably minded, the German shows have always been home to brands trying to change the system and limit fashion’s impact. Denim, one of the world’s most destructive fabrics in terms of pesticides, water and dyeing, needs a way back into fashion.
Two Dutch brands, Butcher of Blue and Mud Jeans are pioneering reusing and recycling denim. Butcher of Blue reworks vintage and Mud Jeans asks for its old jeans to be returned to be completely taken back to the raw fibre and remade. They also offer a leasing service - €7.50 a month, €29 sign up - for those who don’t want to own. Around 40% of the new jeans are from old jean fibres.
HNST, a new German jeans brand, claims to include 56% of reused denim fibres in its new jeans with the rest being Tencel. People donate their old jeans and electrolytes are used to fix the indigo to the fabric and make the dye soluble. Expect more of this from the bigger denim brands.
Left - HNST denim recycling old jeans into new
Corduroy has been making inroads back into menswear over the last few winters. Biscuit and forest green are the main colours, here, as it spreads from coats and trousers into accessories and footwear. Related to the remerging preppy trend, corduroy offers a fresh collegiate take in warm team colours.
Clockwise from left - Superga, Kangol, Far Afield, Averse
For those men wanting colour and pattern, tartan is the fabric of the AW19 season. First seen on the catwalks of London, tartan is a masculine way of putting interest safely into a any man’s wardrobe. Portuguese brand, Averse, had classic Black Watch, and Schneiders offered something more appropriate for those Rupert The Bear wannabes.
From Left - Schneiders, Averse
Long-Line Arctic Parkas
This is a trend that needs another winter to build, but get in early. Expect many more of these for AW20. In a saturated coat market and the oversized trend blowing up - pardon the pun - the arctic parka is getting longer and more cocoon like.
The American, but Italian run and owned, Refridgwear, has done a collection with a German designer, (they wouldn’t name just yet), where the bottom foot of the jacket can be simply added and taken away. All for around €500. There were a few more brands, such as Woolrich, doing similar long-line styles at Pitti Uomo.
Left - Refridgwear collab with a yet unnamed German designer, the bottom section is detachable
A father a son team, Tom & Adam, from Riga in Latvia, feature wearing their own product on the website and in imagery. Made in Latvia, designed in Paris, this new underwear and swimwear brand is trying to get us off our cheap addiction and slipping into something with more quality.
Trunks - €35, Swimshorts - €150
A Design Collective
A new British casual shoe brand offering value in the luxury, minimal cup-sole market. Made from Italian leather in Portugal, the people behind A Design Collective currently do private label and are now launching with the Common Projects customer in mind with this £130 sports shoe. Launches July.
Barcelona based, Brava Fabrics, manages to tread that fine line between fun and immature. Their Spanish made fabrics feature yellow submarines, llamas - the new unicorn? - and the ever nostalgic cassette tapes. The fun side of hipster.
This type of padded outdoor slipper could be the new slider. New British brand, Coma Toes, certainly hopes that’s true with their collection of padded sports slip-ons. I’ve seen something similar from The North Face before, but there’s always room for a new, well-priced and casual footwear trend. Watch this space...
Offering great value and made in London outerwear, Wax London is a husband and wife design team. They aim to bring the manufacturing of traditional British outerwear back to the UK. These are complimented with staple essentials of jerseys, knits and shirts crafted in Portugal and Italy.
Salzburg based, Schneiders, is a quality outerwear producer with traditional alpine shaped and loden type fabrics. In the upper price points, the product is made in Romania, but from premium fabric and fur finishes. For the modern Cecil Beatons.
Thei-Sprint began in 1935 with Heinz Theisen, a man who dedicated his life to professional cycling. Born in the textile district of Moenchengladbach, after World War II he began making his own equipment, jerseys and gear.
In 1965 he returned to his roots and began designing cycling equipment again. With his own knitting machines, he made jerseys and beanies for local teams together with his wife in their basement. The “Thei-Sprint“ brand was born.
By 1985 Theisen had joined the renowned Telekom and Coast cycling teams as a mechanic. His final triumph came in the 1988 Seoul Olympics where Theisen won gold as a chief mechanic with the West German track cycling team. He is famous for his red beanie which they continue to make proudly in Germany.
Fashion doesn’t happen in isolation. Large corporations can influence fashion and push their aesthetic through with the help of wads of cash. This, sometimes, makes the companies bigger and more money and so the cycle continues. But, a shift can often beach the whale and sportswear has thrown the preppy baby out with the bath water. Apologises.
I’ve written about the troubles with preppy before, Read more here, usually focussing on Ralph Lauren as the flag bearer, quite literally, of the look and its reluctance to change or evolve to suit the current taste in comfort and dress down.
Left - Brooks Brothers' 200th Anniversary Show at Pitti Uomo 93
That was a while ago, and with people soon to get bored of looking like a charity shop reject or a retro sportsperson, it’s inevitable that it will return.
So, we move to Florence for the 93rd edition of Pitti Uomo. Brooks Brothers is one of the chosen brands to show and they are celebrating their 200th year. Which, for any retailer, let alone an American one, is something to be very proud of.
Under the painted ceiling of the Palazzo Vecchio, a deep presidential blue curtain pulled back to reveal an orchestra playing ‘Empire State Of Mind’. So far, so good. Out came the models in various guises of preppy, yet it had been styled to mute their greatest hits. Cable knits over jackets and suit jackets tucked into trousers, it looked like a collection embarrassed to brushed with the preppy magic.
Brooks Brothers can lay claim to dressing presidents and charting the evolution of American style over the last 200 years. This should have been preppy so good that you’d bounce out of the show and be googling ‘John F Kennedy Jnr’ before you hit the cobbles of Florence’s Piazza della Signoria.
Unfortunately, this wasn't the case. This should have been a celebration of America’s 20th century power and the handsome, dashing evolution of that dressed style into preppy and the history of American fashion.
Brands like Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren need to push in order to return to fashion favour. There’s no point in sitting back and waiting for the tide to come back in on your style. Push preppy, push suiting, push people looking like they give a shit. There was was no fight here.
Preppy isn’t fully dead, it just needs to be really good. There are new American brands like Rowing Blazers, and British brand, Drake’s, is a perfect example. They manage to make preppy feel artistic, creative and beautiful. It’s the colours, the prints and the detail that makes you want to explore the fun and exaggerated side of preppy and, shock horror, put a tie on! Maybe.
The sport of rowing is dominated by the stereotypes of posh athletic giants called ‘Constantine’ or ‘Toby’. Their arrogance only surpassed by their prowess with a couple of oars and the Lycra in their rowing suits. But, off-duty they stick to tradition and continue to wear their team colours. The blazer was invented to be part of the rowing fraternity's uniform and as part of British culture, and our continual love affair with uniforms, it often takes an outsider to see and appreciate what we have and repackage and present something that has always existed.
Just when we thought ‘preppy’ was dead and wasn’t coming back for a while, we see green shoots appearing, and a new label like ‘Rowing Blazers’, reinventing and adding more fun to this seasonal British style.
Founded by Jack Carlson, a three-time member of the United States national rowing team, Rowing Blazers’ aim is to reintroduce one of the originals in men’s sportswear. The days when ‘sportswear’ still meant you wore a tie. He won a bronze medal for the U.S.A. at the 2015 World Championships and has also won the Head of the Charles Regatta, Henley Royal Regatta, and Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. Jack earned his doctorate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is the author of the book Rowing Blazers (Thames & Hudson, 2014).
Left - Jack Carlson, founder of the American rowing blazer specialists, Rowing Blazers
Impressed the brand’s website and his passion for reintroducing this loud heritage style, I sent him a few ChicGeek questions to find out more:
CG: Why the fixation on rowing blazers?
JC: I spent a long time in the sport of rowing: nearly two decades, including three years on the US national team, so I've been immersed in this world for a while. But I've also been very interested in heraldry and in the visual and sartorial trappings of status and hierarchy for a long time as well. And I think the blazers that are traditional in the sport of rowing bring together all of those interests: menswear, heraldry, and the sport of rowing.
CG: When did you start? And what was the Eureka moment?
JC: I first competed at Henley Royal Regatta in 2004. My crew was knocked out in the first round, which was pretty disappointing. But it meant I had a great deal of time to spend in the spectator enclosures for the rest of the week, where I began chatting with other current and former rowers about their jackets and the stories and traditions behind them. I thought: someone should study these things, write a book about them. Six or seven years later, I realised I should be the guy to do it. The book came out in 2014, and the company - making blazers by hand, and incorporating a lot of details, traditions and construction techniques I came across while creating the book - launched this year.
CG: How have you found the reception to them?
JC: People from all sorts of different backgrounds love what we're doing. Menswear nerds love the research that has gone into everything we do and the quality of the construction and materials. The rowing community respect the authenticity and pedigree of what we're doing. The Japanese - we have a significant following in Asia - love the fact that our pieces are handmade in America. We've even had a positive response from many streetwear fanatics, who like the irreverent spirit, the cryptic Latin graffiti, and the graphics on our caps and badges.
Right - Rowing Blazers - Croquet Stripe Blazer - $995
CG: What would you say to those people who say that preppy is dead or is out of fashion?
JC: Preppy is dead. Long live preppy. I hate much of what that word has come to signify, and I think much of what it's come to signify is pretty dead for now. I think the consumer - at least the higher end menswear consumer - wants something with authenticity, with a story, a sense of meaning behind it. This consumer wants to know where, how, why, and from a product was made. Our pieces have tremendous depth to them; from the 3-roll-2 silhouette of our blazers, to the small embroidered faucet motif on our ties, there's a story and a reason behind every decision; and our pieces are all handmade in the US. So our collection is very different from much of what is usually considered to be "preppy" nowadays; but blue Oxford cloth button downs; flannel blazers - in navy or more outrageous colours; and webbing belts will never go out of style.
CG: Do you mostly concentrate on rowing teams and clubs or are you targeting a fashion consumer?
JC: We are a menswear brand first and foremost, but we are also proud to make blazers for a wide range of rowing teams and clubs, including Britain's most prestigious rowing club, Leander Club in Henley-on-Thames. We've also created blazers for rowing clubs in China - which is pretty cool considering we make everything in Manhattan; Oxford Brookes; the University of Texas - for whom we made blazer-cowboy jacket hybrids; and many other clubs, schools and universities.
CG: I’ve always loved the British Army blazer that I saw at Henley, would you make one of those?
JC: We might do something in camo, but we are always very careful to be respectful of existing club blazers, and would never "knock off' any institution's blazer.
CG: What’s your favourite style & why?
JC: My favourite piece in our collection is the 8x3 double breasted blazer, which is inspired by a blazer Prince Charles always wears. One never sees an 8x3 double breasted blazer on the market, so we had to make one. With five cuff buttons, an oversized front button from a vintage die, and a perfect fit, it came out brilliantly.
Left - Rowing Blazers - 8X3 Double Breasted Blazer ‘Prince Charlie’ $1095
CG: Do you ship to the UK? Isn't this a bit like taking coals to Newcastle?!
JC: We ship worldwide. Although the UK is the land of the blazer, no one is doing what we are doing: it's our commitment to quality and traditional techniques that's enabled us to become the official blazer supplier to Leander Club, Oxford Brookes University Boat Club and many other British institutions while making everything in New York. We are chatting with several British menswear retailers about going into their stores as well, and they understand that we are a high end brand with a unique product; they wouldn't be looking at us if they viewed us as a school uniform supplier!
CG: What would you say to those people who say rowing is elitist?
JC: Rowing has its roots in Oxbridge, but also the far more blue collar world of professional sculling. It developed not only through public schools and the Putney clubs, but also through many working man's clubs around England. Today many still associate the sport with Oxbridge because of the prominence of the Oxford-Cambridge race, but the truth is the sport is becoming more accessible and more universal all the time. British Rowing has done a great job bringing the sport into many new communities in the UK. I'm part of an organisation in the US, here in New York, called Row New York, which is a highly competitive rowing program for kids from the city's underserved communities. They've just qualified a boat for the national championships for the first time, which is fantastic to see.
CG: What’s the future for Rowing Blazers?
JC: We’ll be expanding into a few other categories and also expanding our retail footprint; we have a lot of pop-ups planned, including at Henley and Goodwood Revival; and we'll be going into a number of stores in Japan, Taiwan and China in the next few months. We have some cool collaborations planned with Merz b. Schwanen, a very cool and historic German knitwear manufacturer, and a few other exciting brands. We are really just getting started.
CG: You don’t just sell blazers? What else do you sell?
JC: We also make shirts in a few different styles. They are pretty unique because they are hand-distressed - here in the US! - and come with or without busted seams. They've been a hit with the more street-oriented customer actually. We also do hats, belts, ties -- many featuring satin-stitch embroidery, or hand-embroidered wire bullion motifs - and a wide range of rare, funky and quirky vintage product.