Grey and lilac: Ralph Lauren style, in Cifonelli

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Wednesday, February 26th 2020
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I’ve been looking at a lot of old Ralph Lauren imagery in recent months. Because of the 50th anniversary, but also because of the Ivy Style talk we did in New York, where everyone admitted some kind of debt to Ralph, and reading In His Own Fashion - Alan’s official biography. 

I’ve realised that Ralph Lauren is the only designer brand I feel any kind of continuing loyalty towards. 

There are many things I’d change about the product. The pretend logos always feel tacky (‘RL rowing club’ etc); I wish Polo was made better; and I wish Purple Label hadn’t gone up almost 50% in price in recent years. 

But at the same time, through my entire adult life Ralph Lauren has been a source of style inspiration, and still is. I walk through the Bond Street store every month because there’s always some aspect of the styling that appeals. 

Ralph was also largely responsible for reinvigorating classic menswear in the 1970s, saving it from dying with an older generation. And he has been its staunchest champion in the 50 years since. Whether you like the product or not, he is a guardian of our style. 

I mention this only as a preamble to this outfit, as it was inspired by looking back over old Purple Label imagery. 

Ralph always liked tonal combinations like grey-on-grey, but usually with something unusual thrown in - like a bright purple or pink, or an unexpected accessory. 

One of my favourite images of him is in a chalk-stripe grey suit, with matching grey roll neck. I did try that, but it turns out you need suit and roll neck to be very similar shades of grey, and none of mine are. 

So I turned to another old tonal combination, this time with grey tie under grey suit, and pink or purple-striped shirt underneath.

I’m sure I learnt from Ralph Lauren at a young age how much pink and purple complement grey.

And it’s something I now do instinctively, whether it’s a purple sock between a grey trouser and black shoe, or a pink handkerchief with a grey suit. 

Here, I wore my grey-flannel suit from Panico with a grey knitted tie from Hermes (a nice fine wool, though I wish it wasn’t double-sided - I never wear the lighter grey on the other side, and it always finds a way to show itself). 

Beneath that is a lilac-striped shirt from D'Avino, in a pattern that's sometimes called a shadow stripe, or reverse stripe.

As a pattern it's useful because it’s broad enough (and faint enough) to not interfere with most tie patterns. They are of sufficiently different density. Only a chalk-stripe suit or a club-stripe tie might start to clash. 

It’s also a linen shirt, which is a little breezy in the Florentine winter. But I remind myself everyone used to wear linens, all year long - and it’s never cold if the jacket stays on. It makes for nice texture too. 

Over that is a Cifonelli overcoat in muted-brown Tengri yak, a cloth we'll cover in more detail on Friday this week. 

The coat is a copy of my first coat from Cifonelli, in navy cashmere.

That piece has had more wear and love than anything else I’ve ever commissioned, so it was nice to remake it in a different material. 

The only changes we made were the turn-back cuff, which curves into the seam now, rather than looping under itself. And the pockets, which I switched from a postbox style to normal patches. 

The cuff is certainly nicer this way, though I’m unsure on the pockets. Both are nice, but perhaps the postbox style is a tiny bit smarter and in keeping with the overall formality of the coat. 

The Cifonelli workroom also made a small error with the coat, using a running stitch around the edges rather than the double pick stitches I had on my previous coat and asked to be replicated.

But I’ll give it back at the end of the winter and they’ll correct it. 

The only issue with wearing this coat over the grey flannel is that they’re rather similar in tone, being both matte and muted. I therefore added the white-linen handkerchief to the coat to create a little more contrast. 

I wouldn’t normally wear a handkerchief in the pocket of a coat, but I don’t think it looks odd, and it does help create a focal point.

The bag and shoes are similarly tonal, but in leathers with some real shine, which helps set them apart. 

The bag is my old (and again, much loved) unlined tote from Frank Clegg

Its heavy wear is due to it being regularly used to heft piles of clothes around, but also because it has proved to be the only bag in our house big enough to get the whole family’s things to the swimming pool.

I rarely put the bag over my shoulder, by the way, as pictured.

Not because it looks like I’m going to a building site (as one reader once affectionately commented) but because if done frequently it will wear at the fabric of the coat. A good reason never to wear a backpack with tailoring. 

With something that is less likely to wear, like a tweed or cotton, for instance, I’m happy to sling the bag. It contributes to perhaps the most important thing about elegant clothing, to appear relaxed. (And hopefully, over time, actually be relaxed - which achieves the same thing but is also, relaxing.)

Some nice touches from the Cifonelli coat are shown above and below. 

The team have now taken to embroidering a large ‘C’ in the upper back of coats; they use nice nut buttons on the inside, to reinforce those in the outside; and the hand-sewn triangles - known as sprat’s heads in English tailoring - are done in tonal thread both at the top of the pleats on the back, and at the meeting point of the cuff. 

I have no idea whether Ralph would approve of my grey-and-lilac colour combination. 

But I do know (according to Lorenzo) that he’s a fan of the Cifonelli details. And when done tonally like this, they're pretty subtle. 

Photography, Jamie Ferguson

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Anonymous

Hi Simon, love the tote. Do you remember if it was their medium or large?

Thanks

I.T.

That’s an amazing outfit, Simon! Thanks for mentioning that the shirt is linen. I’ve always thought that linen can only be used for casual shirts, but it turns out I was wrong. Will buy some linen dress shirts to be worn with ties and jackets in the summer.

Robin

Nice article . Appeals to all despite the price point of items mentioned.

Question … is the cost of purple label justified as clearly it’s RTW at bespoke prices.

P.S. great photography.

Fatih

What’s the price point of the coat Robin? I couldn’t see any price mentioned in the article.

Michael

That coat is absolutely stunning. Congratulations!

Stephen

An excellent look. This is one of the reasons I read PS, as great source of inspiration. Agree with your approach to buying RTW at this price point.
There are sometimes a few Ralph Lauren Purple pieces at Bicester Village, if you are lucky enough to find something you like in your size. I never have been though!

Prince Florizel of Bohemia

Dear Simon, it’s a beautiful coat and very interesting article. May I ask you to elaborate or refer to some materials I could read concerning the line “I remind myself everyone used to wear linens all year long.“ I love linen shirts and sometime wear them in winter under jumpers, but I allways toguht it’s somehow clashing, but I wore them anyway.

Prince Forizel of Bohemia

Thank you very much. I find this most interesting.

Bob

That would have been before the 17th century, when cotton started to replace linen. By the 19th century, cotton had overtaken linen as the most popular textile in Britain.

Both linen and cotton were mostly imported.

Bob

Cotton cloth was being exported from India to Europe and Britain well before that, starting round about 1680. By the 1790s, France was importing 21 million lbs of Indian cotton cloth. What changed in the 19th century was the shift from the importation of cloth to raw cotton, which was then turned into textile, in Britain mostly, but also in other European countries. Thus fuelling the industrial revolution and transforming the economy etc etc.

Britain’s cotton manufacturing was overtaken by Japan by 1900, causing yet another economic revolution with the birth of the first Asian tiger economy. Then, India itself started manufacturing cloth on an industrial scale, and exporting it to Britain. By the 1930s, the British cotton industry was doomed.

Fascinating link between menswear and the global economy, what?

The thing about cotton is it doesn’t grow well in a European climate, whereas flax does. Which is why linen was the staple yarn for fabric, alongside wool (which was more expensive), when production was trade was intra-European, up until the point where shipping the raw material or cloth from Egypt or India became profitable. In the middle ages, cotton was a luxury fabric almost as expensive as silk.

So why not turn back to linen? For a start, linen fibres are shorter than cotton, so it’s harder to weave, making it more expensive. Secondly, most of the good agricultural land has been turned over to other crops.

Tricky business.

Alex

I believe that until the 1930s upper class men only wore shirts made of linen or silk. Before then cotton was considered inappropriate for a well made shirt.

Fatih Pekbas

This is so tasty put together. Absolutely lovely. And that coat is a masterpiece. One little request, though. I know you’re loving wearing the collars of your coats up. But would you mind showing at least some pictures with the collar down. All these beautiful coats look otherwise so Inspector Clouseau’ish 😉

jamiemcp

Love the outfit.

A question on bags, and tailoring. it’s something I struggle with. I work in a tech sales role which means I am often out all day and lugging about a lap top, iPad, second screen and associated paraphernalia. I used to use a very nice and expensive Italian brief case. But I have bust the stitching on it with the weight. Not to mention feeling the wrath from my yoga instructor from being lob sided.

I’ve just taken delivery of a Troubadour rucksack which will hopefully do the job and save my shoulder. But have you any other ideas?

Also do you know of anyone who could fix the bag? It needs stitching back up at the seems. I’d also like to get it relined at the same time.

Ps I was in Dicks of Edinburgh today and can confirm it is still amazing.

Peter K

Are you mostly moving over smooth surfaces? maybe a rolling briefcase or rolling laptop bag would work.

James

Hi Simon, do you allow extra room in your linen shirts to allow for shrinkage? I’d like to wear mine with a tie (like this article) but the collar has shrunk far too much

Rik

That coat is FABULOUS

Sonny

Fred Astair in Bandwagon(1953) for tone on tone and great socks. Especially opening sequence.

R Abbott

Nice article, although the pictures have a slight color cast which initially threw me off. Based on the pictures, both the suit and tie have a greenish teal-like tinge (rather than looking pure grey), and the shirt in some of the photos looks off white rather than lilac.

Scott

Love the coat! I think would be even better with a longer length, at least mid calf.

Paul

I dream of having a coat that color. I hope you talk about that particular shade of brown, and why that works so well, in how it maintains itself so well as a neutral.

I have a color-corrected monitor and your suit/tie is coming out a bit green in the pics. Maybe I need to calibrate again.

Anlnymlus

Thoughtful homage to Ralph, Simon. Could not agreed more with the white linen handkerchief in the overcoat breast pocket to add contrast. Adopted the same trick myself more decades ago that I care to admit. My parents had kindly given me a classic Brooks Brothers, heavy, charcoal herringbone, fly-front overcoat to withstand the cold winters just outside of Chicago where I was in graduate school. Very elegant, but slightly plain so I eventually added a white linen handkerchief of a certain weight and minimal pattern and that brightened everything up. I haven’t looked at that coat in several years (it is indestructible), but my guess is a handkerchief is still there.

Anthony Y.

I remember walking by Ralph Lauren stores when I was a child, without much sartorial sense then nor any knowledge of much else, but the stores themselves just emanated an impressionate and unforgettable easeness and warmth, of which I did later learn it can be described as Ivy style.

I think the essence of the Ralph Lauren has not changed much, walking into its stores around the world today, or indeed just seeing its flagship store fronts in Shanghai or Hong Kong just remind passers by of its timeless trinity of Americana, Hollywood and England.

As a business itself, it is trying rather hard to enter the younger adult market where for good or for ill, big logos, sponsorship and flash colors still catches both the eye and the bottom line, as the company needs to please its shareholders, but I have found that its quality is still far above Brooks Brothers.

I did had an opportunity to purchase a Purple Label Lambskin Biker jacket on discount, it is a piece that I will be keeping and wearing for a very long time.

Thanks Simon again for your noted observation of Ralph Lauren and the excellent moderation of the Ivy Style talk featuring Alan Flusser.

rubyliam

I have been looking at your coats and have fallen in love with the edward sexton greatcoat but, I don’t know enough about coats to know if it is formal enough to be my only coat or if I need one like this cifonelli coat above to cover formal events. I would also like to ask what colors I should get in both coats considering I will only be wearing different shades of grey and navy suits.

Donna Richards

Love the suit and overcoat but I’m writing about another product. The product is Lauren by Ralph Lauren. I love this perfume and would love it if Mr Lauren would please please please bring back this fragrance with the original formula. There are many women out here wanting this lovely scent to make a comeback. I realize the article was about men’s clothing. Just had to comment about Lauren

Anonymous

What would you call your belt? A belted back with pleats? Is there an actual belt extend forwards to the front? Or is this belt merely decorative?

Anonymous

What’s the difference between a vent and a pleat on an overcoat? Do you necessarily need either of them on a bespoke overcoat?

I’m trying to decide what style looks best on a short figure and it seems like a half belt works nicely. But I I don’t know about vents or pleats… might look too busy. Maybe some 3ish subtle pleats coming from the half belt?

Jay2

Exquisite, Simon. Love the entire outfit.

Pardon the basic question, but what is the appropriate length for a double breasted polo coat like this one? At least knee length? Below the knees? I’m thinking of having my first made this year.

As always, looking forward to the next article.

Nick

Hi Simon, 

What do you think of camelhair/cashmere blazers in a sandy/camel colour? Would it be a good alternative/addition to a navy blazer in terms of versatility of function? I think it’s a very RL look and was wondering if you think it’s something worth considering.

Nick