The Goods: Patagonia's Down Sweater

black-down-sweater It’s never been too great a problem that I bothered mentioning it to a doctor, but occasionally, down comforters cause me some congestion. That, compounded by the fact my entire family is allergic to feathers, lead to a down-free life; that is, until last year, when something was given me by a former employer.

The Patagonia Down Sweater has become a source of lifeblood. I wore it nearly every day last winter and never felt congested or sick. In fact, it was so warm, it may have prevented a cold or two. In a pinch, short on blankets, while company was in town, I slept in the thing. Then, spring came. Warmer was the weather, but at night I would still reach for the down sweater. Summer, too, I packed it in the convenient internal mesh pocket that doubles as a stuff sack and brought it to night games at Shea and Yankee Stadiums. desert-clay-down-sweater-interiorpirate-blue-down-sweater-ball1

Down breathes incredibly well. This 800-fill-power goose down, the highest quality Patagonia offers, we learned last week, carries with it a great warmth variance. That is, it reacts to body heat and compensates extremely well. You sweat? It breathes. You cold? It’ll warm ya.

I used to swear that puffer jackets made me look like the Michelin Man. Unlike some other down coats, at just under 2″ wide, the stitch-paneling isn’t so overwhelming. Now from time to time, as just happened not two minutes ago, two girls in thick white worsted wool pea coats and big pastel scarves will stop me on the street and ask about it. On the C train the other day, a guy drowning in a hulking black parka said, “Patagonia? Snap. That the Biz. Nuss.” I think there were other words in there.

The polyester rip-stop nylon, recycled from plastic bottles, treated with Deluge® Durable Water Resistance (DWR), will stand up to the splash of light rain, but I recommend tossing something hooded and waterproof over it if you’re caught in a downpour. pirate-blue-down-sweater-vest

As far as down and a suit goes, I have seen it and I manage the Down Sweater Vest beneath my suit coat on less formal occasions. A friend of mine marveled the other day, “Is that all you need to stay warm?” I told him the story of how after facing a frigid weekend morning otherwise shirtless (gross, I know) to pop ’round the corner to pick up the Sunday Times and coming away unscathed, I was completely sold.

Simply wash it once a year or as needed in cold water and tumble dry low with a couple clean tennis balls to renew the loft of the feathers, and you’re set.

Try it. Even if, like me, you think you look silly in puffy jackets, people will ask. It’s Patagonia’s best seller for a reason. That’s it for now, I’m all plaidout.

Marvin Gaye

Do you ever find yourself singing a song in your head or just under your breath as you walk or drive to work? In the last several years, I’ve kept an informal tally of the songs I sing to myself. Mid-verse this morning, I realized Marvin Gaye’s “Pride and Joy” must far and away top the list. In the video above, you can catch him lip synchronizing on an early 60s television program.

Notice Marvin’s matching pocket square and ascot. The cut of his jacket looks not unlike something you might find at Thom Browne’s showroom, and his back-up dancers are fab in their Beach Clown/ Saint James garb.

Concerning Formal Wear

tuxedo-at-saks“Fifty years ago, the one tuxedo that everybody wore, what they call in French a ‘smoking,’ was the one button with a peak lapel. The most popular tuxedo I sell today is the one button peak lapel.” – Michel Kramer-Metraux, Director of Men’s Formal Wear, Saks Fifth Avenue

michelScreen Captures and Quote c/o One in 8 Million, an excellent new multimedia series from The New York Times. Photo by Todd Heisler.

Ten to One: Plaidy of the Week, Laura Sessoms

laura-sessomsThe fine-feathered Little Rock, Arkansas native, Laura Sessoms, is an actress, writer, and designer living in Astoria, New York. Since opening her Etsy shop, The Red Bird, she’s found great success selling several vintage pieces and her famous, feather creations. Killing two, ahem, birds with one stone, our Plaidy of the Week sat down with all plaidout for a Ten to One.

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1. Write a haiku to describe The Red Bird.

tough times are still bright
so i said to my bright side
“spread your wings and fly”

2. Who is The Red Bird?

The Red Bird’s style falls on the playful, whimsical side of the spectrum.  It takes personality and a fair bit of courage to adorn yourself with brilliant plumage, and the people responding to the line all have that sort of flair about them.  The Red Bird is a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, too.  She’s theatrical.  She doesn’t want to blend in.  All of the pieces, feathers or not, have a certain sense of humor, which plays up that side of my personality.  You can’t take yourself or your situation too seriously, and the collection is a little nod to that notion.

3. Why feathers? Do you ever catch yourself sneezing?

Ever since playing dress-up as a little girl, feathers have always intrigued me.  There’s just something so beautiful and unique about each one.  They’re like snowflakes: you’ll never see two alike.  I love that about them.  They manage to be both incredibly simple and incredibly over the top – from Native American warrior to Can Can Dancer – and I appreciate the entire spectrum of possibilities.  No sneezing yet, but, unlike you, I don’t have a bird allergy.

4. How do you source your materials?

They truly come from all over the place.  I buy the majority of the feathers from various trim stores in Manhattan’s Garment District. I’m first drawn to color and then to texture.  I very rarely make duplicates of any item, with the exception of the items in my bridal line, so I look for unique feathers that really stand out.  The other materials are harder to pin down.  I deconstruct a lot of vintage jewelry and found items, I pick up quirky vintage buttons whenever inspiration strikes, I’ll buy a few yards of interesting prints when they cross my path, and when I travel I tend to scour flea markets and antique fairs for unexpected items like skeleton keys, beaded handbags, and religious relics to incorporate in the designs.  Honestly, the hunt for materials is half the fun!

5. How much time do you need to make a hair clip?

In a pinch, I can churn one out in about 3 minutes, but generally I spend at least half an hour with each one, trying different things until i come up with something I’m satisfied with.  The other items actually take longer.red-bird

6. For the moment, I know your piece goods are vintage or vintage-inspired finds from your shopping trips around the country. Somewhere down the road, do you have plans to design and/or produce your own pieces for the collection?

As my skills improve, I hope to be able to produce more of my own pieces, especially for the jewelry line, but I’m sticking with refurbishing vintage elements and presenting them in a new way for now.  I do have plans to include more hand knit and sewn items in coming collections.

7. At present, you offer a small line of women’s accessories. Do you aspire to expand beyond that? Might you offer a line of men’s accessories, a feathery pocket square à la Terron Schaefer? A feather in a cap? Clothes, footwear, or furniture?

Funny you should ask. I’ve been experimenting with a feathered pocket square for a little while now.  And actually, I added the Red Bird touch, a plume of black and yellow striped feathers, to a simple black fedora which garnered lots of compliments on my recent trip to the inauguration.  I’d like to incorporate my ideas into leather goods in the future. At this point, it’s all about experimentation for me. I am open to new ideas and suggestions.

8. There seem to be quite a few of you feather folk out there (Joanna Bean, ban.do). Why have feathers suddenly become so popular? What sets The Red Bird apart?

I have seen a great deal of feathers out there as well. It must have something to do with the flourishes of 1920s and ’30s showing up on runways and in stores today, not to mention that they’re a fairly inexpensive way to add a lot of character to any outfit.  There’s something sexy and suggestive about them; playful.  I’m really excited about where clothes are headed at the moment. People seem more willing to push the envelope than in recent memory, and feathers bring a bit of joy to that world.  Whoa, that sounded like a Christmas carol!

cover-me9. Which feather in particular are you most obsessed with right now? Which feather do you find the ugliest or most difficult to incorporate into a design?

Hmm.  I love working with pheasant almonds. They have this amazing blue-green color with sharply pointed chocolatey ends. I also love speckled guinea feathers, especially ones that have been dyed these shocking bursts of color.  I’m finding goose biots to be interesting but a little more difficult to work with.  They’re harder, edgier, almost like quills, but they still make for a unique effect.

Do you receive many requests for special orders? If I asked you to whip up something spectacular using the feathers of the ringneck pheasant, off the top of your head, what could you come up with?

Half of my sales are special orders.  More often than not, if I’m out and wearing one of the pieces I end up with a few requests by the end of the night.  My first instinct with those amazing pheasant feathers would be to pop them right onto a man’s hat, but for a woman I would probably use them in combination with black tulle to create a sort of cage veil to be worn over the face, obscuring one eye.  Keep it mysterious.

10. Fill in the blank, and don’t say “feathers”: It is not only fine ______________ that make fine birds.

Everything but “feathers” sounds like “why didn’t you just say feathers?” I’ll say “EGGS!”  Ha ha!

Very literal, Laura. Very… biological.

Photos by Belinda Rocco.

Don’t forget to check out The Red Bird!

Terron Schaefer’s pocket square is available at MoMA.

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Skiing with Guns

life-cover

A Restless Transport posted photos of the 10th Mountain Division from the LIFE Magazine archives, and it rustled up a memory. When I was very little, six or seven years old, on a family vacation in Breckenridge, Colorado, my uncle and I rode the chair lift with this kooky old guy wearing wooden skis and toting bamboo poles. I remember thinking his skis were long, twice-his-size long.

sgt-prager

When my uncle asked the guy about his skis, he told us they weren’t for everyday, but every once in a while, he’d wax up the ol’ wooden sticks he’d worn as a member of the 10th Mountain Division, “gunnin’ down Nazis in the snow.” If my memory serves me correctly, my uncle and I gave a collective sigh of “Cool!” And before we knew it, he was off.

ski-trooper

Until that time, the only connection I think I’d made to skiing with guns was the chase scene in The Spy Who Loved Me, where Roger Moore’s flipping, parachuting James Bond pelts one of Stromberg’s henchmen in the chest with the gun hidden in his ski pole. Q always seemed to place James exactly one step, or in this case, one ski ahead of the bad guys.

The Collaboration: Thom Browne et Moncler

moncler_vTaking things a step further, on Friday, Material Interest revealed a first look at Thom Browne’s collaboration with French outerwear company Moncler.

monclerThe name Moncler, short for Monastier de Clermont, a place near Grenoble, carries with it a considerable amount of weight in the world of outdoor exploration — considerable given the jackets are famously “weightless.”

The company was founded in 1933 by René Ramillon and André Vincent, metal merchants in Grenoble who originally produced tent frames, ski poles, and bindings. After providing the French Army with alpine gear during World War II, Ramillon and Vincent took to modifying the “blue boxes,” the doudoune — down-filled — jackets they’d seen their employees sporting around the factory floor.

k2-moncler

In 1954, Moncler helped Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni to become the first to summit Karakorum, K2, the world’s second highest peak.

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While Eddie Bauer is credited with patenting and inventing the down-filled jacket in 1940, many consider Moncler to be the first company to harness down’s lofting power and put it to use in the outdoor exploration and adventure markets. Loft is the feather’s ability to trap small pockets of air which provide a layer of thermal protection. Down feathers are rated by their fill power, or truly, fluffiness, compressibility, and weight. The more fluffy, the more compressible, and the lighter the down, the higher the rating, the easier and more quickly the feather will provide warmth. Without getting too technical, while most down comes from geese raised for food, the highest fill power comes from the older geese kept to breed. Their down feathers moult naturally, and with 700+ fill power, they are the largest and most lofty.

It’s important to recognize Mr. Browne’s appreciation for the classics. After speaking with Gabriel, a salesperson at Brooks Brothers’ Madison Ave. location, about the intense amount of research Mr. Browne did in collaborating with them, I’ve come to realize when he collaborates, as he has with Brooks Brothers, Tricker’s, and now Moncler, he does so with the standard-bearer. I can think of no better way of turning your brand into a classic than to ally with those already in existence.

As T.S. Eliot is famously misquoted, “good poets borrow, great poets steal.”

I think Mr. Browne would be more fond of what Eliot originally said:

One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.

While Thom Browne’s collaboration with Moncler may not be the first to offer a down blazer (Junya Watanabe’s F/W ’07 collection offered one as well), his is the first to do so with such aplomb. The gold crest buttons and his signature snug cut will make for quite the statement next fall. Whether skating in Rockefeller Center on your lunch break, climbing — on belay or off — to your 4oth floor office in the John Hancock Center, or skiing the snow-covered cliffs of Chamonix, you’ll set the precedence, a classic in the making.

More images of Gamme Bleu available c/o WWD (pass protected) or The Selvedge Yard.

The Uniform

tb-models-at-desks

Thom Browne’s show at Pitti Uomo, the Italian menswear trade show, has been the talk of the town this week. Held at the Istituto di Scienze Militari Aeronautiche in Florence, it was the designer’s first time to show in Europe. For anyone unfamiliar with Browne, the show made for an excellent primer.tb-leaning-against-a-desk1

“A lot of Europeans don’t know me,” Browne said. “So I wanted to do something very signature. This presentation shows where it all started and what I’m all about.” (WWD, pass protected)

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I was immediately thrilled to see his mantra of “beauty is uniformity” left intact, but upon closer inspection, I realize the show is really a languorous advertisement for vintage Steelcase office furniture, Smith Corona typewriters, and Samsonite briefcases. Accessories aside, the theatre of his show is what I found most attractive. His Orwellian approach with the desk bell keeping time, the honeycomb-like colonization of the desks, and the Thombots reminded me of many McCarthy-era plays, and one film of the time, Orson Welles’ The Trial based on Kafka’s novel (TCM, 1/27, 6pm EST).

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By taking the suit, the white collar uniform, and turning into an actual uniform, he does what few other designers are capable of: he celebrates the beauty of the uniform, of its quality, its sameness, while poking fun at its utter ridiculousness, poking fun at the even more ridiculous notion of mankind’s struggle for and against conformity.tb-alone1

This Land Was Made for You and Me

This weekend, American treasure, folk singer Pete Seeger alongside his grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, and Bruce Springsteen performed “This Land is Your Land” forgotten verses and all. If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Seeger, may I suggest his PBS American Masters documentary, The Power of Song. Takes a pair of brass ones to wear a handmade hat of the kind he sported in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and believe me, he’s got ’em. God Bless America!