German brand Merz b Schwanen has changed quite a lot since it was taken over Peter Plotnicki (below), having been bought up, moved production and overhauled its product. But thankfully the changes have been in cut and design, rather than fabrication.
In some ways Merz’s story is similar to that of Sunspel, which was bought in 2005 by Nicholas Brooke and Dominic Hazlehurst, and re-launched with a modernised line of product that updated many great pieces from the Sunspel archive.
Fans of heritage are often sceptical of such re-launches, presuming that the buyers will play on the brand’s history without honouring any of its values. But it’s worth giving them the benefit of the doubt, to begin with, if only because without the new owners such companies would often have just ceased to exist.
Merz had ceased trading when it was taken over by Peter, but he has done a good job at reviving it. Although the Merz factories closed seven years ago, Peter found another manufacturer using the famous loopwheeler knitting machines in Germany, and started production there.
Interestingly, although some would emphasise the fact that Sunspel has its own factory, the loopwheeler production is much more unusual, and most of the Merz collection is centred around its distinctive seamless look – where Sunspel has branched out far more, into shirting for example.
For those that don’t know, loopwheeling is an old technique for knitting garments in a circle, creating a tube of fabric without any seams. It was patented in 1926 and died out in the 1950s. It produces a slightly irregular knit but also one that is very dense and soft.
That density is largely down the slowness of production, which means less tension is put on the cotton. Most loopwheelers can only produce around one metre of fabric every hour.
“We were so pleased to be able to keep that technique when we moved to the new factory,” Peter told us. “But the product still needed a lot of work.”
The traditional sweatshirts that were made with loopwheelers (most famous under American athletic brands like Champion) had a very wide body shape, and sleeves that were entirely straight – the same width all the way up. There would sometimes be a triangle insert under the arm as well, for extra movement.
“They were very baggy,” says Peter. “We had to slim them down rather, as well as reshape the sleeves.” Peter has also been working on new products and materials, such as versions using Sea Island cotton.
I’ve worn Merz button-facing (‘grandad’ style) shirts as undergarments for a few years now, and the loopwheeler technique does create a distinctive softness – yet with good body and stretch.
The weight makes most of them impractical under dress shirts, but I often wear them under a shawl-collar sweater or casual jacket. Personally I also think that is more flattering, as the low-scooped collar does not suit many men.
Merz and Loopwheeler in Japan are the two biggest companies selling loopwheeler products today – and Merz is stocked in Trunk and Son of a Stag among other places in London. It is also sold in a dozen or so stores in the US and No Man Walks Alone online.
Dicks in Stckbridge, Edinburgh also stock them for those in the UK but not in London.
I’ve tried on a couple of pieces but I find they don’t quite suite my body shape, which is a shame as they look to be wonderfully made.
I would like to have your opinion regarding trousers break.
I have a pair of loafers with a low vamp. I’m talking about loafers where the vamp is not immediately near the ankle but it starts more towards the toes.
All my trousers create a slight break with any shoes, but with these loafers the trousers sit on my foot and then you see the vamp of the shoe. I had people saying my trousers are too short, but I don’t agree.
The only way the trousers can touch the vamp of the shoes is having overly long trousers and a big break which is a look I don’t like.
Have you ever been in a similar situation? I hope I explained clearly.
I would like to show you an image, but I’m not comfortable with posting pictures of mine online. I might send you an email.
You can’t change the length of your trousers with the vamp of the shoe – loafers are always going to sit a little shorter and show a touch of sock perhaps, but that’s fine
Hi, Simon! Sorry for OT: Any chance you could share at some point your thoughts on the style of the royal family?
I think Princes Philip and Charles are the most interesting, but Wills and Harry could also be a good story, having grown and developed in specific circumstances with such powerful role models.
Charles has style!!!!
Do you normally wear undershirts Simon? Or just the dress shirts themselves?
Just dress shirts
thank you for your post about a German company! Are there more, which you can recommend?
Any advice on where to find zip up sweatshirts? I struggle to find them because most are hoodies and I don’t like hoods. I’ve only seen one by Belstaff called the Staplefield.
I generally only wear casual clothing.
Try Flat Head perhaps. They do a half zip
Hi Simon, i saw on your IG stories that Merz now do a zip sweatshirt; did you try it and, if so, what do you think? I tried the Real McCoys quarter zip you have, but did not get on well with the short length. Thanks!!
I think Merz have always done it, it’s just that Trunk now stock it.
I like that half-zip – the only thing I would say is, it does feel very sporty, certainly compared to the Real McCoys ones I’ve featured before. Primarily because the latter have a collar.
So the Merz one is great (for me) for going to the gym etc, but I wouldn’t necessarily wear it more casually. I prefer the Real McC ones for that
Thanks Simon, that’s very interesting.
Related to this – sweatshirts for men that are longer in the neck – have you tried Anglo Italian’s jersey polos? https://angloitalian.com/products/jersey-polo-heather-grey
They went out of stock within a day, so are obviously popular.
I haven’t I’m afraid, no