I just stopped by to visit our old friend Mike Hodis at his new Rising Sun store in Eagle Rock, here in Northeast Los Angeles. They’re having a sample sale today, and I grabbed some of his beautiful jeans for my wife, along with some Christmas gifts for the family. Mike and company will be there until five, and by appointment thereafter, so drop them a line. Their number is 323-982-9798.
How much do I want to buy this taxidermied kudu off of Craigslist?
Very, very much.
Partly, I love the kudu. Partly, I just think this dude deserves my support.
A Visit to Don Ville
Plenty of readers probably remember our friend Raul Ojeda from our episode about shoes. When we shot the piece, Raul was manager of Willie’s Shoe Service in Hollywood, having accepted the mantel from Willie, who decided to spend his 90s mostly in his native Puebla, in Southern Mexico.
We didn’t tell all of Raul’s story in the video. He fell in love with shoes as a young man, and got into the shoe-shine business out of school. He built up his shine stand into a chain of shine stands which serviced, among other clients, the LAPD, but he wanted to go further. He heard about Willie, the only custom shoe maker in LA, and started showing up at his door, asking to apprentice. Willie had turned down innumerable apprentices in the past, but Raul’s sincerity (and that fact that both had roots in Puebla) convinced him. Willie, by then in his late 80s, wasn’t able to do the quality of work that he wanted to do, and the shop had become mostly a repair and alteration outlet.
Raul worked double time - at the shine stand during the day, and with Willie, nights and weekends - for years. Willie would show Raul a techique, Raul would practice, they’d head off to lunch, they’d come back. Meanwhile, Raul was researching the world of bespoke shoes online - learning about the techniques used by the finest European makers.
Raul’s goal was to open a store that didn’t just make custom shoes, but made real bespoke shoes, that could compete with the fine European makers, but made in Los Angeles for a price that was dramatically less than the firms who cater to people so rich they don’t even look at the numbers on the list.
A few months ago, Raul was offered a spot in a prime block on La Brea in Los Angeles, and he went for it. Believe it or not, Julie Newmar (best known as Catwoman) is his landlord. Within six weeks, he had opened Don Ville, named after his mentor Willie. In front, a showroom and salon. In back, an atelier where the shoes are made by Raul and his small staff. There, he’s making everything from the most conservative black cap-toes to custom metallic-leather spectators.
Raul and I had become pals through the shooting, and he offered me a trade: if I wrote copy for his website (the copy’s not up yet, btw), he’d make me a pair of shoes. English is his second language, after all, and I certainly don’t know how to make shoes for myself. We had complimentary skills.
You can guess what I said to that.
So with some folks from GQ tagging along, I headed over to Don Ville for my first fitting.
Raul and I talked about what kind of shoe I wanted. I’ve been looking for a great black shoe for serious occasions - performances, weddings, business conferences. I decided on an austerity brogue. It’s an unusual style that I find elegant and distinctive, but also sober enough for Serious Stuff. Imagine a wingtip, then remove all of the broguing and edging and other superfluous decoration - that’s an austerity brogue.
Raul started by showing me some lasts. He’ll actually be making a last to the shape of my foot, but he wanted a sense of what shape I wanted the shoe to be. He went back to the workshop and grabbed some scrap leather, and pulled it over his example lasts to give me an idea of what the shoes’ shape would look like when made up. After considering some chisel-toed and pointier shapes, I chose a sleek round-toe model, in the interest of conservatism.
Then Raul set me up to be measured. He first had me stand on an art pad, and traced carefully the shape of my foot. Then he started taking key measurements - the height of my heel, the circumference of my ankle, that sort of thing.
I shared with him some pictures of austerity brogues I like, and he said he’d get to work on some sketches of his own in the style. (Because Don Ville has just opened, Raul is still building up their selection of standard designs.) After a few minutes more chatting with Raul and his staff, we were ready to go.
I’ll return in a couple of weeks to try on a dummy shoe, made of scrap leather on my new last, so we can adjust before the real deal is manufactured. I saw a couple examples - they look like real shoes, frankly. I’ll be send home with one, and instructed to wear it around the house to get a good sense of how it fits. Raul’s even threatening that he’ll make me the guinea pig for a new idea he’s working on, a “glass slipper” - a dummy shoe made of transparent vinyl so he can quite literally see the fit before the “real” shoe is made. Then a few weeks after that, I’ll have my shoes.
Raul’s running a pretty remarkable operation at Don Ville. I’m pretty sure it’s the only storefront dedicated to custom shoes here in the US, and certainly the only one that also makes everything on-premises. Prices are about half of what you’d pay for a traveling European maker - from $750 or so for ready-to-wear to about $2000 for bespoke (including the cost of making a custom last and design). They’re even making some gorgeous women’s shoes, both ready-to-wear and custom.
I left the shop inspired by the possibilities, and by Raul’s passion for footwear. I may not be ready for Raul’s patinated bronze oxfords, but he’s really offering something special. Whether or not you’re thinking about buying custom shoes, the shop’s worth a visit - say hi to Raul for me.
113 N. La Brea, Los Angeles
All photos courtesy of Gordon de los Santos
Yesterday, I made a trip out to the Pasadena City College flea market here in Southern California. Above: the spoils from the trip. A small hand-held megaphone advertising the deco-era Los Angeles department store Desmond’s ($10), a silk paisley scarf ($15) and a tiny 1940s silver airplane lapel pin ($5). Not bad for a morning’s idyll.
We had such a blast at the PTO / Don Ville launch party on Saturday night. None other than the legendary Julie Newmar graced us with her presence, along with all kinds of fascinating creative people from across SoCal (and beyond). Lots of PTO readers in attendance as well. More photos by Kaz Oyakawa in our Facebook group.
While Derek’s been busy writing up a storm here on the site, I’ve been busy myself. I spent the weekend at my annual conference, MaxFunCon. Today, I was out shooting my very last segment for season one of Put This On. I took some phone shots of Ben Harrison, our shooter, and Mr. Ryu, my tailor, while I was off camera. Look forward to Episode 6: Body and Episode 7: Personal Style soon!
My mother is a part-time antiques dealer, and one of her specialties is textiles. That usually means dress fabric, but she happened upon some beautiful woolens in an estate sale and was thoughtful enough to buy them for me. She bought four lengths, and gave them to me the last time I was visiting her in San Francisco.
Of course, the question was: what to do with them?
The reality is that even when you have the fabric, the CMT (cut, measure, tailoring) cost is quite high for a suit. Most of the cost comes not from the fabric but from the labor-intensive process of actually putting that jacket together. Things like creating chestpieces and setting sleeves are difficult, time-consuming and thus expensive. Even an affordable Hong Kong tailor like say Peter Lee will generally charge around a thousand dollars.
That wasn’t really in the cards for me, but I did have a little bit of wardrobe budget from my television program, so I decided to have some pants made. My tailor, Mr. Yoo at Pro Tailor in Los Angeles is primarily an alterationist, but I knew he was capable of making clothes, so I asked him how much he would charge. He gave me what I think was a bit of a friends-and-family rate, $125, and I decided to go for it.
I had Mr. Yoo base the pants on a pair of old Oxxford for Abercombie & Fitch pants I had on hand. I like Oxxford’s half-waistband (which you can see in the photos). He did some of the work Oxxford does by hand by machine (though he gave me the option of doing it by hand if I wanted him to), but the result is wonderful. Nice to have a high-waisted pant with a narrower leg.
I figured that as long as I was buying bespoke trousers, I might as well leave off the belt loops. Mr. Yoo didn’t have any waist adjusters on hand, so I made a trip to B. Black & Sons in downtown LA to buy some for him.
I’m absolutely delighted with the three pairs I had made, and I’m going to see if I’ve got the scratch to have a fourth put together, in a light gray flannel. Mr. Yoo was delighted to have the opportunity to work on the pants, and I was excited I could support a local craftsman. (Not to mention excited about my new trousers.)
If you live in Southern California, you should visit a store called “& Etc.” in South Pasadena. It’s one of the most beautiful shops I’ve ever visited, filled with tiny, charming, wonderful things. There is a gift there for anyone you know, and the owner, Yvonne, is an exceptionally pleasant woman with exquisite taste. Besides all that, it isn’t particularly expensive. An amazing place. Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons, 1110 Mission Street.
Q and Answer: What Rules Do You Break?
Kevin writes: I enjoy your posts on PTO, especially those that have to do with the rules and conventions of style, many of which I wasn’t aware or just hadn’t considered. I’d be curious to see a post at some point regarding those conventions with which you don’t necessarily agree (or just don’t care to follow).
Great question, Kevin!
I get the feeling from emails to PTO that some of our readers presume that the rules and conventions of men’s style are abitrary. They rarely are. Typically, they’re grounded in practical considerations, and serve as a shorthand for a complex web of reasoning.
There was a time when these rules were generally known, at least among the affluent (those with more than one or two sets of clothes). At the time, breaking those rules was a genuine act of rebellion. (Or a genuine act of ignorance.)
These days, few know the rules. Alec Baldwin plays a business executive obsessed with status on 30 Rock, but buttons the bottom button of his coat. Men wear flip-flops in nice restaurants. Steve Harvey exists.
For that reason, I think there is much more currency in knowing and following the rules than there is in breaking them. If I see a man walking down the street wearing loafers with his suit, I don’t assume he’s a rebel. I assume he’s a doofus.
If appearing to be a rebel is your goal, your mastery of the rules must be complete and consistent. In order for the point of difference to resonate, you must establish a perfect baseline of skill. It’s a bit like sprezzatura - if you’re Gianni Agnelli, and your watch is on your cuff, it’s sprezzatura. If you’re Jack Welch, you’re a slob or a weirdo. Few are the men I see who can break rules effectively, particularly in more formal dress.
That said, some rules are more relevant than others.
One rule that I break pretty regularly is the distinction between country and city clothing. This grew out of an aristocracy in England who kept country estates and city businesses - watch Jeeves & Wooster (set in the 30s) or the wonderful parlor drama Downton Abbey (set in the teens, and now airing in the US on PBS’ Masterpiece) for a glimpse of this. Country clothing was (at least outdoors) geared toward sport: tweeds, checks, twill trousers, brogues and boots. City clothing toward business: dark lounge suits or morning dress, black shoes.
I live in Los Angeles. Not only is it about as rural as a city can get - just the other day a giant coyote was doing stretches on my deck - it’s also a place where the distinction between country homes and city homes is pretty much irrelevant. I don’t even own one house, much less two. My career as a public radio and television host doesn’t require sober business dress. So: brown shoes and tweeds it is for me, at least in winter.
Also, I never wear pants after 2PM.
One question we get frequently here at Put This On is: “what tailor should I go to in XXXX,” where “XXXX” is a place where we don’t live. Because we don’t live in XXXX, we honestly don’t really know what tailor you should go to there. I can tell you that I go to Pro Tailor on 8th Street in Los Angeles, and I’ve heard great things about Wilshire Tailors if you’re looking for something a little ritzier, but that’s only useful if, like me, you live in central LA. Since Los Angeles is the only city where I live, you’re going to need a different strategy if you live somewhere else.
So: what to do?
Go to Style Forum or Ask Andy, and use the search boxes. Search for tailor and XXXX. If you live near a city of any kind, it’s likely that someone has asked for tailor recommendations in that city. If they haven’t, you can ask.
Don’t trust Yelp on this one - Yelp tailor reviews tend to be from women looking for a seamstress and people whose sole criterion is the cost to hem a pair of pants. Trust people who actually care about good tailoring.