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By Robin Dutt

Few items in the male wardrobe describe the exactitude and elegance of choice, like the stick pin. Although often considered under general descriptions of tie pins and somewhat erroneously, tie clips, the sartorial stickler regards a stick pin as something far more rarefied and important.

First popularised in the early 19th century as decorative and functional devices to hold a cravat in perfect place, they still have more than a home on the gentleman’s dresser – even in the 21st century. Although it must be said that most may regard them as the finishing touch for a formal occasion such as a wedding or Ascot for example, to see a gentleman sporting one with divine insouciance as he saunters to and fro his clubs is a genuine delight.

Fortunately (although not made in the profusion of yesteryear) it is relatively easy to track them down in antique markets – Covent Garden on a Monday, the bijou square in front of the Wren church on Piccadilly on a Tuesday, of the many rambling stalls on Portobello Road on a Saturday. And certainly no hunt for a stick pin can be complete without a leisurely amble down Burlington Arcade or Gray’s Antique Market off Oxford Street. Julie Robinson once described stick pins as “tiny works of art” and indeed some of them can be veritable, wearable sculptures – intricate and composed of several elements.

The Victorian gentleman and even the counter jumping masher or swell would not be considered dressed, let alone well-dressed, without this final touch, and popular motifs included flowers, cameo portraits, insects (particularly butterflies and spiders), shields, stars, animal heads and sporting emblems such as horseshoes and horns all worked out as plainly or elaborately as the buyer’s wallet allowed. Most of the examples which hail from the 19th century are made out of nine or fifteen carat gold, often festooned with rose cut diamonds or semi-precious stones. And for some lesser gents, a panoply of base metal examples with glass instead of jewels are readily available too. But those unfortunates won’t be reading this!

The functionality of stick pins echoes that of other types of jewellery. Relatively rare memento mori examples featuring carved Whitby jet or often amethyst surrounded by pearls (to symbolise tears) and indeed, strands of the departed’s hair arranged in delicate shapes, locked in rock crystal can be unearthed but command high prices – especially the mid to late 18th century pieces. There are many examples which draw their inspiration from the hunt – horses, fox heads, running hares and the like. And just like the majority of jewellery they are relatively easy to date, echoing as they do, the stylistic details and changing fashions of the times from high Victorian through leafy-languid Art Nouveau to snappy Deco-jazz minimalism.

Recognising not only the demand for stick pins but a fascination with the unusual, many manufacturers began offering strikingly unusual forms – in many cases resolutely novelty pieces – which performed on the expanse of a cravat as a talking point.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has in its jewellery section a most compelling example of a skull stick pin, circa 1880s, not in itself a novel idea as skulls were very popular motifs as they are today if we consider the creations of contemporary designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Jeffrey-West. The difference with this skull pin is that it was connected to a battery worn on the inside which caused the jaw to open and close and the diamond eyes to dance.

Some pins concealed small lead pencils or tiny reservoirs for Poirot-style fresh blooms. Yet another model introduced in 1919 had a star motif disk-like head concealing a small drop of radioactive material. But of course for the gentleman who eschewed such novelty-fuss, a single discreet diamond, or Baroque or perfect pearl is stunning in its costly simplicity.

Then, if not so much today, wearing more than modicum of ‘essential’ jewellery was frowned upon. A pocket watch and chain, a signet or wedding ring were acceptable but multiple or stacking rings, heavy chains and brooches would have you down as a Brummagem, especially if they were composed of base materials masquerading as the real deal. This is alluded to in ‘The Gentleman’s Art of Dressing with Economy,’ published in 1876 by the enigmatically anonymous, ‘A Lounger at the Clubs’. He states somewhat sensoriously, “I should always mistrust the man who in cold blood goes in for mock jewellery,” before adding somewhat bizarrely, “nothing short of half rations or impending starvation would induce me to stretch my legs beneath his mahogany.“ Quite.

Several antique homemade examples have a discreet charm, many made from old coins whose dates celebrate some event, or fugitive Georgian orb Regency buttons in cut and polished steel rivets, paste or enamel surrounded by spangles. Indeed there is a panoply of materials which have been made into stick pins such as shell, crystal, horn, vegetable ivory, coral, mosaic, wood, tombac (turned zinc) and slices of bevelled mirror.

But do beware. If there isn’t a word to expressly describe the addiction to collecting stick pins there certainly should be. This writer knows only too well their pin point charm.

 

By Robin Dutt Few items in the male

Some might baulk at paying more for a pair of shoes than a suit but there’s a body of men around the world only too happy to belong to what is, admittedly, a pretty exclusive ‘club’

G.J.Cleverley is the maker of handmade shoes that counts these men as its customers – though managing director George Glasgow maintains that most of them are friends. From Fred Astaire’s twinkling toes to Charlie Watts drumbeat feet, Cleverley has shod the rich and the famous over the years, and continues to do so, using the same hand crafted methods as when George Cleverley first set up shop in 1958.

Since then, a steady stream of illustrious customers have stood in their stockings on a ledger while a line is hand drawn around each foot, and its vital proportions/peculiarities noted. This record forms the basis of what is a long and laborious process that can take up to a year before the final, exquisite, deliciously seductive pair of shoes is ready to be worn. “Do any of our customers actually need another pair of shoes?” asks George. “Of course not. But they can’t resist them.”

An affable, hail-fellow-well-met sort of chap, known to all as George, he is passionate about shoes and shoemaking. He was trained by George Cleverley, to whom he refers as the Don of Shoemakers, and is dedicated to maintaining the standards the Don set. So there are no short cuts, no scrimping on materials, no hurrying of craftsmen. Some may take a week to complete a particular task, which others may do in 2 or 3 days, but the individual decides how long it takes.

“Most of our team have been with us for years. They know what they are doing. This is concentrated hand work and there are not many who want to do the years of training and labour over a shoe all day. The tailors might not agree, but our bespoke task is more difficult than making a suit,” he says with a grin.

“As Mr Cleverley used to say, if your feet are not right, your head’s not right. A suit can’t hurt you, but shoes can.”

Not Cleverley shoes of course, made to fit to perfection, to be comfortable immediately, and to last if not for ever then certainly to provide many years of wear.

shoemaker_twoThe working environment for the Cleverley team is, to say the least, somewhat compact. Above a tiny shop in Old Bond Street’s Royal Arcade, a small room sees wooden lasts being honed, patterns made, skins cut, uppers formed, bottoms stitched, heels layered and finished shoes ‘resting’. Five craftsmen manage not to get in one another’s way, most of the time. Up another floor on the spiral stairway, George presides, but the major space here is taken by a treasure trove of lasts, the wooden shapes of each individual’s foot dimensions, which go back to the days when Hollywood stars came to Cleverley.

“We keep the famous ones, but in general, if we don’t hear from a customer in 10 years, we have to assume he may not be coming back or perhaps is having his shoes made upstairs!”

Styling is entirely up to the customer, who can dictate whatever odd embellishments he may desire. A signature detail of the Cleverley shoe is what its creator, George Cleverley, called “a suspiciously square toe,” a softly chiselled line that continues to be popular. In Mr Cleverley’s day, any customer who asked for a different toe shape was politely advised to go elsewhere, but “it’s a different world now,” says the present M.D.

He travels a lot visiting customers in Japan, Korea, Australia, Europe and America – “God bless the Americans, they really appreciate quality” – where his son, George Jnr, now runs an outpost in Beverley Hills. A new development is a small ready-made collection for Anderson & Sheppard, with whom he shares a lot of customers.

Outside of working hours, he says he goes to the gym, but don’t we all. He lives in Chelsea, hard by the Thames, and is a life long supporter of Chelsea Football Club, and may enjoy a session in the pub after a game.

But really his heart is in shoemaking. “I get here early, have a coffee and a little mooch around the workroom to see what’s on, what’s in process. And I’m the happiest man in the world!”

Looking at the passing cavalcade of male footwear on the average British High Street it might be easy to believe that we have become a nation of sporting enthusiasts. So ubiquitous has the dreaded trainer become that it is all too easy to see why so much of Britain’s once vaunted shoemaking industry has disappeared.

Yet there are still those dedicated to making fine shoes, both handmade bespoke and bench made. And new additions to their ranks indicate a continuing and even renewed appreciation of the importance of the bottom line. After all, traditionally, one could tell a man by his shoes.

shoeNew arrival upon Savile Row is the shoe shop of Gaziano & Girling, which opened in April. Tony Gaziano and Dean Girling, both bespoke shoemakers, established the company just eight years ago. It has rapidly become known for high quality shoes both in the classical mould and also for fresh designs, and the launch of the Row shop emphasises its bespoke credentials. There are also benchmade designs.

Newer is the collection from Justin FitzPatrick, launched at tailor Timothy Everest’s shop in Shoreditch earlier this year. This comes after his training around bespoke makers and combines traditional designs with some quirky details. He is responsible for the styles and then the shoes are benchmade in Spain.

Only available online at www.theshoesnob.com

Peerless bespoke shoe and boot maker is John Lobb Ltd. The company has been making them for around 150 years, over which time the great and the good have made their way to the fine, oak-panelled old building in St James’s that is its only shop. It is still run by the Lobb family. The John Lobb on Jermyn Street is a separate company.

Carreducker has a workshop on-site at Gieves & Hawkes, so that customers can go straight from ordering a new suit to ordering shoes to complement. The company doesn’t just make its own bespoke shoes and boots, but also helps others make theirs, running courses and offering supplies and consultancy on every aspect of shoe making.

Cheaney is a fine old English shoe brand, one of the few remaining in Northampton. By a quirk of fate, it is now again owned by the Church family, to which it was first sold nearly 50 years ago. Church, once great rivals of Cheaney, was subsequently acquired by Prada, and then the Church brothers, Jonathan and William, bought out Cheaney. They remain committed to handcrafted benchmade shoes in the factory where Cheaney has been based since 1886.

The latest shoe brand entry is Duggers, concentrating upon an online service at www.duggersoflondon.co.uk. Founded by a father and son team, the collection offers traditional British designs with quality benchmade production in Portugal, and at a reasonable price level.

Some might baulk at paying more for

By Robin Dutt

It might be thought that if there were to be a statue to the legendary dandy Beau Brummell anywhere, it would be in Savile Row. But not a bit of it. He holds court across Piccadilly from the Row, in Jermyn Street, where the Regency buck and his cronies were wont to parade, running up bills at shirt makers, strutting their style on the way to their clubs.

Jermyn Street rivals the Row in being an exclusive centre for gentlemanly style. The Row may have all the tailors, but Jermyn Street has the shirt makers, shoemakers, leather specialists, and sundry other purveyors of goods and services to the young – and not so young – men about town.

And with Brummell particularly noted for his fine linen and fastidious attention to style details, this seemed as appropriate a spot as any in which to position a fine figure of the Beau, dressed in his finery, as perceived by sculptor Irene Sedlecka, and erected in 2002.

The street retains its concentration of shirt shops, though only a few now provide the fully bespoke article. Ready-to-wear has moved in. Unlike Savile Row, Jermyn Street has always had a more open approach to developments and incomers that has certainly made it less exclusive but more varied and vibrant.

This willingness to embrace diversification is evident in the shirt shops themselves. Turnbull & Asser, for example, sells a variety of accessories, knitwear, and luggage, in addition to shirts and tailored lines. Hilditch & Key not only has ties, pyjamas and boxer shorts, but also sells many nightgowns and dressing gowns as well, and has its own hat shop, Bates.

Across Piccadilly in Sackville Street, Sean O’Flynn is one of the few entirely concerned with making bespoke shirts, within the bespoke atmosphere of a tailoring house. Just off Jermyn Street, in the Piccadilly Arcade, Budd also continues to concentrate upon shirts but the size of the shop doesn’t really allow for much else. However, its bespoke making facility is on-site.

Grosvenor Shirts is a new addition to the Jermyn Street hierarchy, with made-to-measure and ready mades, and stylish accessories. And lone woman shirt maker, Emma Willis, has injected considerable pizazz both with her bespoke and readymade shirts and in a high profile approach to marketing. Her ‘Style for Soldiers’ charity, taking bespoke shirts and walking sticks to disabled soldiers, has earned her considerable respect.

The only family owned shirtmaker remaining on Jermyn Street is Harvie & Hudson, with Masters Harvie and Hudson in charge, the third generations to run the company. The classic English style is favoured here, and they design their own cloth patterns; bespoke shirts cut on the premises.

Two other names are worthy of mention – Charles Tyrwhitt and Thomas Pink. Their shops provide good quality, readymade shirts, helping to inject much colour and fresh designs onto the street, and attracting a younger, style-conscious customer. They both also offer a made-to-measure service.

shirt_two

New Emporium

Grandaddy of this shirtmaking enclave is Turnbull & Asser, maker of shirts to the gentry since 1885, Royal Warrant holder to the Prince of Wales, and favoured by celebrities and style figures over the years.

The shop in Jermyn Street has been the centre of its international trade but now a new headquarters has been opened just across Piccadilly, in Mayfair, providing grand displays over four floors for its extending range of merchandise. But the Jermyn Street shop, steeped in its history, continues. For this autumn, the new collection comes from new Head of Design, Dean Gomilsek-Cole, who has taken inspiration from T & B’s penchant for bold use of colour and patterns. Brilliant stripes, influenced by the colours of medal ribbons, are designed to be teamed with brightly patterned ties, and differently patterned pocket squares. Some of the patterns are taken from 1930s archives, evidence that all was not doom and gloom then. White cutaway collars, to be worn with big knotted silk ties, are style pointers.

Bespoke test

Another grand old company, only slightly younger than Turnbull & Asser, Hilditch & Key continues to make bespoke shirts, in addition to having an extensive readymade selection. The minimum order for made-to-measure is six, and the first ‘sample’ shirt will take approximately six weeks from when measurements are taken. Customers are then asked to wear and launder this one for two or three times, so that if any adjustments are required, they will be made to the rest of the order, which takes a further eight weeks. During the dog days of August, when a quiet sales period might have been expected, the shop in Jermyn Street was overrun with customers, some tourists but many home trade gentlemen enjoying a shopping stroll on a warm summer’s day.

Showing how much the street has changed from its heyday as a bastion of male style, H & K attracts a steady flow of ladies. They come for the extensive collection of ladies shirts the company makes, well tailored, in cotton. “It stops them ‘borrowing’ their husband’s shirts maybe,” said Director Michael Booth.

“It stops them ‘borrowing’ their husband’s shirts maybe”

Bengal Special

For Budd, top shirt maker in the Piccadilly Arcade just off Jermyn Street, bespoke remains the cornerstone of business. Like other shirt shops in the area, they have long since moved into ready-to-wear shirts as well, but the bespoke service remains of paramount importance, backed up by having a bespoke cutting facility on-site.

“Our Mr Butcher is head of bespoke, and has been making shirts here for over 45 years,” said shop manager Andrew Rowley. “At one time, you couldn’t get any young people interested in learning the craft, but that’s all changed in recent years. We now have two young men that Mr Butcher is training, so our bespoke service and its quality are secure.”

The Budd special is a Bengal stripe that has a satin stripe with the addition of a fine black line, giving something of a 3D effect, available in a range of colours, always in stock. In response to the move to more casual styles, a new Irish linen shirt with soft collar and cuffs and square bottom is proving very popular, while West Indian Sea Island cotton is the top selling line, in all sorts of colours and patterns.

Collars & Cravats

shirt_threeWearing a navy spotted cravat with a zinging pink gingham shirt, Sean O’Flynn shows how a shirt can be worn open-necked and look smart as well as stylishly casual. “Yes, I ‘ve always worn cravats,” O’Flynn said. “A classic shirt style with the neckline open can look a bit untidy, and the cravat is slightly less formal than the tie. When I was a kid, Gerald Harper and Jason King were two TV stars who always wore cravats, so perhaps that influenced me! And now Jason King’s son is one of my customers.”

On a recent Today radio programme, the likelihood of the cravat making a comeback was discussed, with no less an exponent than Nicholas Parsons – though that might not be the ringing endorsement needed to win over a younger market. O’Flynn, bespoke shirtmaker who began learning his craft at the very centre of men’s style in the 1970s, Huntsman, and then later at New & Lingwood, started his own company in 2005. He is within the Meyer & Mortimer building in Sackville Street, sharing many of his customers with the various tailors in the bulding and with others in Savile Row.

“…the cravat is slightly less formal than the tie”

“Customers generally leave styling pretty much to me. We usually go for the West End cut, quite fitted. It varies of course. I help them choose the fabrics – and they are going for more colourful designs. Most do wear them with ties. For those who don’t want a tie, I make this design with a smaller, rounded collar, so that if it is buttoned up, it looks quite neat. Customers like shirts that are dual purpose – which can be worn with or without a tie and still look good.

Youngster Appeal

Grosvenor Shirts opened on Jermyn Street earlier this year, having first established itself in Mayfair. Jermyn Street has the advantage of providing a separate made-to-measure service in the basement, which has made a significant difference to sales.

“Customers really like it,” said Martin Kyran of Grosvenor. “It means they can take their time in selecting fabric and looking at style options, then having their measurements taken. There are literally hundreds of fabrics from which to choose. The shirt is then made up at our UK plant, usually a three week service from start to delivery.”

This is a young company that prides itself on a youthful outlook – so much so that it aims to catch customers young, making shirts for two-year-olds upwards. However, don’t expect a shirt for Junior at half the price of one for Dad. It is a popular misconception that because garments for children are smaller that the price will be proportionately smaller. However, production is fiddly and can take just as long as that for the adult version.

The Feminine Touch

Emma Willis, the lone female head of a Jermyn Street shirt shop, is not just a pretty face. She brings considerable experience that ranges from selling shirts door-to-door around city offices to setting up her own shirt making business and opening her shop on Jermyn Street some 15 years ago.

“Younger customers are going for a more tailored fit”

It offers bespoke and ready-to-wear shirts, in the shop and online, and the collection is also available on Mr Porter.

“Younger customers are going for a more tailored fit,” she reports, “with a firm collar line that keeps its place when worn unbuttoned.” The latest addition is a range of cashmere cotton shirts and cashmere polos for this autumn.

By Robin Dutt It might be thought that

Forget the frenzy of buying presents. Instead, approach the season of goodwill in a spirit of mild anticipation – anticipation of not only finding something that might suit a dear aunt or a difficult girlfriend but something that will delight you.

It is said that the best presents to give are those that one would like to keep oneself. So why not keep one, or two? Chancing upon a particularly delightful scarf, or a positively rare book and keeping it as a reward for all the rest of the shopping search is surely the best way of getting through what most men see as an operation akin to pulling teeth.

One of the great advantages of modern technology is the rise and rise of online shopping. But there are drawbacks to the simplicity of click and pay: the bracelet that looks delightful on screen may turn out to be a mere bauble lacking in quality and style on the flesh; a desired pretty pot plant turns out to be too big to house; the Christmas hamper is lost in the post. Click and pray might be the maxim. Though more and more of us are opting for online buys, the hardcore of last-minute, frantically-searching shoppers remains. And in truth, in the selection of really important gifts, it is difficult to replace the personal touch and sight of going into a shop and selecting.

Here is a mixture of on and offline options that are new or novel or just plain impressive. Good hunting.

Treat from royal fish

Can we indulge in caviar? It is increasingly worrying to decide what is and what is not ethical to buy, environmentally acceptable, cruelty free, healthily certified, politically sound. The study of labels printed in 6 point in the gloaming of a chic shop or supermarket aisle is evidence of widespread concerns about shopping wisely. With the mighty sturgeon but one of the many species at risk because of human demands, exports of Beluga caviar from the Black Sea are still restricted though no longer banned. Farmed caviar is available from a number of countries and very nice some of it is too, but with worries about methods and sustainabiliy in some quarters, perhaps better to opt for a homegrown product.

royal_fishBy special dispensation from the Queen, Exmoor Caviar is allowed to own sturgeon. It is not a well known fact that Edward ll was a great fan of caviar, and decreed early in the 14th century that any sturgeon found in the kingdom were Royal Fish, and therefore belonged to the Crown.

So prior to setting up his sturgeon farm in Devon, entrepeneur Ken Benning had to get the Queen’s approval. This was given in a letter from the Queen stating that she would not exercise the royal prerogative. And so Exmoor Caviar is the only producer of caviar farmed from sturgeon in the UK.

Caviar fans can not only enjoy its quality but know that it has the approval of top chefs, is ethically sourced, and the fish have a happy life. Swimming in fresh Exmoor Spring waters, its caviar eggs carefully extracted to ensure no pain (as, alas, in other regions of the world), and all of the fish used when finally cut up, the Exmoor Caviar sturgeon might be said to have the life of Riley.

So a few of these little pots, with a starting price of £19.99 for the 10g size, will make a good start to the present buying and present keeping. Ken Benning thinks the best way to eat it is “placing the eggs on the back of the hand with a mother of pearl spoon and then bringing directly to the mouth allowing the exquisite and subtle flavour to shine through.” To each, his own way.
Available from www.exmoor.com or at Selfridges.

“…it has the approval of top chefs, is ethically sourced, and the fish have a happy life.”

Best of new tech

In the grand setting of the St Pancras Hotel one summer’s day, the sound of a full orchestra filled the room. But though it sounded for all the world as if it was live, right there, it was in fact emanating from a dCS system.

new_techThe cognoscenti will know this British audio name, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Over a quarter of a century, it has progressed from developing advanced radar systems to providing units for recording and mastering studios around the world, including the BBC, Sony and the Emil Berliner Studios.
“…mastering studios around the world, including the BBC, Sony and the Emil Berliner Studios.”

Along the way, it has been responsible for a variety of groundbreaking innovations, all researched, designed and made in the UK. So for the man who really wants to hear the music, not just the melody, this is the name to look for. It may be a bit big for gift wrapping but the dCS flagship Vivaldi four-box system provides peerless sound and build quality in the most advanced technology. A snip at around £67,000 – without speakers.

The multi-tasker

multi_taskThis nifty little gadget is surely one for anyone’s stocking. It is a Bluetooth speaker, power bank, radio and torch all rolled into one. Measuring just 26cm x 11cm x 10cm, it has AUX input from any audio device with headphone connector, and it can be used to charge a phone or other device, thanks to its power facility. Called the Z1 Box Speaker, price £59.95, it is available from www.prezzybox.com, and there are a range of other neat ideas on this site.

Take to drink

Bottles are the answer. Perfume for women and alcohol for men used to be the thing but now it is just as likely to be containing scent for men and booze for women.

drinkOn the drinks trail, Johnny Walker was prescient enough to bring out a special limited edition Ryder Cup bottle this autumn ahead of the European win against the US. Each is individually numbered, with a fine Blue Label blend whisky inside, and would be treasured by any golf fan who receives such a gift. Price £225 from selected retailers and at TheWhiskyShop.com.
That fine whisky Glenfiddich has teamed up with top smoked salmon name H. Forman & Son to provide the sort of hamper destined to hit the spot for connoisseurs of both.

A bottle of Malt Master’s Edition Glenfiddich is packed with two and a half pounds of Forman’s smoked salmon in the “Double Scotch” gift hamper. This brings together two family owned businesses, the whisky backed by 125 years of family-run distilling in the Highlands, the smoked salmon from a slightly younger family enterprise, dating from 1905. Both have long been giving pleasure all around the world.
The hamper is available from Forman’s at www.formanandfield.com, price £124.95.

A favoured after-dinner drink around this time of year is port. There is port and then there is Taylor’s 1863 Single Harvest Port. That year is regarded as the last great port harvest before the blight of phylloxera devastated vineyards throughout Europe.

Aged in wood for over a century-and-a-half, it is a piece of wine history and a very rare treat for port connoisseurs. Presented in a bespoke crystal decanter in a sleek wooden casket, it is priced at £3,000, through Berry Bros.

Another rosé champagne joins the collection of fine pink ones now available. This one comes from the oldest champagne house Gosset, and is the Petite Douceur Rosé, an extra dry wine that comes in a pretty pink box and costs £60, exclusive to www.mckinleyvintners.co.uk.

drink_threeSomething of an acquired taste but once acquired very much appreciated, traditionally peated Highland single malt whisky has a very distinctive flavour, and a new one from the Ardmore distillery might just be the thing for someone wishing to extend their study of whiskies.
The Ardmore Legacy is lightly peated and available from October, price £29.99. Its pack shows a golden eagle, a rare bird which may be seen flying above this distillery on the edge of the Highlands. Ardmore works with the RSPB to support these birds of prey and the recently
re-introduced white tailed eagle.

Suitably festive is the cheery Grand Marnier liqueur. This year’s limited edition bottle takes inspiration from the striped Breton tops worn by French sailors, as in its striped banding. The rich orangey liqueur has been a favoured after-dinner drink since the early 1800s, taken up on the tables of royalty, and now popular as an important cocktail ingredient. It is the most widely exported of all French liqueurs, with a bottle sold every two seconds, the company reports, around the world. The limited edition bottle is available now from Harvey Nichols at £26.05.

In support of the environment

Drinkers are putting some of the world’s most important forests at risk. The widespread switch to screw tops for wine means cork forests are in danger of being destroyed – and with them the wide diversity of wildlife that lives in them. What is more, the cork industry has employed some 100,000 across the Mediterranean alone, and the cork itself is obviously more environmentally sound than metal or plastic screws.

So, demand corked bottles, or rather, a bottle with cork stopper, and enjoy the contents safe in the knowledge that you are helping the planet.

And to help the home grown wine industry, seek out English wines. Contrary to some belief, there are fine wines produced here, particularly whites, which have been winning international awards. But they are somewhat hamstrung by the UK tax that is added, making it hard to compete with bulk bought imports. Nevertheless, they continue to persevere, produced by people passionate about their vineyards.

For the festive season, find Bacchus, a white with less than 1g residual sugar – so might be seen as healthy – at £10.15 a bottle. This comes from Brightwell, a family owned winery in the Thames Valley that produces brandy as well as wines, from hand picked grapes. And for a good fizz, there’s Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvee 2011 at £29.99 or their Kings Cuvee 2010 at £65.

“…there are fine wines produced here, particularly whites, which have been winning international awards.”

drink_twoPeople are increasingly aware of trees and forests and what they do for us. On a recent Radio Four Today programme, the case for giving greater protection to trees in general and to ancient trees in particular was made by the wonderful Rob McBride. This veteran of many tree campaigns, and noted lecturer and photographer, is now campaigning to have protection for such amazing specimens as one oak that dates back to William the Conquerer. Too many are still being chopped down by developers.

A new book supports his cause, combining beautiful photographs with information on our ancient woodlands, and how we may preserve and develop them. ‘Irreplaceable Woodland’ by Charles Flower will delight anyone interested in the environment. It is published by Papadakis, ISBN 9781906506537, through GMC Distribution, at £25.

For girls who love to twirl

For a very special girl, this fairytale tutu will make any daddy the very best of Santas. Coming in its own striped gift box out of which the froufrou springs, it comes from Angel’s Face, priced from £35 up to £65, and available in 40 bright colours. Go to www.angels-face.co.uk for this and other great little girl ideas.

The bright, the bold, the best

Today’s businessmen need to be hip and this bright yellow briefcase should brighten the board room. By Ettinger, with a nifty iPad pocket in the lid, it costs £2,288, and may have personalised initials added. www.ettinger.co.uk

The timely status

Watches are the modern man’s status symbol, a symbol of taste and wealth, and increasingly bought to join a wardrobe of watches. So the gift of another rare or special timepiece is sure to be appreciated even by the man who has many.

Bremont is just such a watch, something of a rarity in being an English luxury level brand, and appropriately enough produced by a company run by brothers Giles and Nick English, in the beautiful English countryside of Henley on Thames. Established in 2002, it follows in the long tradition of great British horologists, from John Harrison in the 18th century through to George Daniels, who died in 2011 and was recognised as the world’s best watchmaker.

Latest development for this brand is a link with luxury whisky Chivas Regal that saw a charity auction of a special edition collection this autumn, in aid of The Prince’s Trust. Twelve watches were produced , incorporating the Chivas crest, and these will undoubtedly become collectors items. A gift tin containing a bottle of Chivas 12 year old blended Scotch whisky, and featuring elements of complex Bremont engineering on the tin, is available from Sainsbury’s at £27. One of the limited edition specials would cost rather more.

Evidence of the resurgence of British watch brands was apparent in the successful watch show that took place in London this summer, focused on British brands. One of these takes its inspiration from Savile Row – Savro by Kennett Timepieces, price £250. www.kennettonline.com

The key to success

Small boys love finding a Ferrari in their Christmas stocking. Big boys might love finding the keys to this super yacht as the ultimate indulgent present. Sales of luxury yachts are on the up again, so for a bespoke vessel like this one from Hunton Powerboats there may be a bit of a wait – but some symbolic keys with this picture should suffice for the time being. Hand built to order in Hampshire, the price starts from around the £600,000 mark, www.hunton.co.uk.

Forget the frenzy of buying presents. Instead,

By Marie Scott

Among the many events taking place this year to mark the centenary of the Great War, a small town in northern France that was the site of General Haig’s headquarters has been staging its own commemoration.

Montreuil sur Mer, within an ancient citadel that overlooks rolling countryside over which many battles have been fought, built up an impressive museum of artefacts, relating to the First World War. Very much a personal archive, it focused upon how local people and the military billeted here lived their lives during the height of the war, when Haig and his men were quartered within the walls of the citadel. A soundtrack of old songs the soldiers sang gave a poignant background.

Then one sunny weekend this September, the town marked its liberation in the Second World War by Canadian infantry – one of the first towns to be liberated following the D-Day invasion. Decked out with tricolours and some Canadian flags, it played host to a contingent from Canada and laid on a programme of parades and military displays.

These efforts emphasise the strong commitment to remembering and respecting the past by the French, all the more impressive considering the size of the town. With a population of just over 2,000, it has seen
many armies come and go in its long history, the battlements dating back to the 12th century, and has been rebuilt after successive conquests and destruction over the years.

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Now, it is a peaceful, charming little place, brimming with flowers, boasting not one but two restaurants that are Michelin-starred, and plenty of other inns and restaurants for visitors. Off the beaten track, served by a rural railway line to Etaples, it is a quiet backwater that yet manages to attract a constant flow of British visitors. Many come because this is where The Wine Society has its French headquarters.

The Society is a splendid organisation that is the world’s oldest wine club and one entirely owned by its members. For the princely sum of just £40, each member receives a life share in this cooperative, and may buy from the extensive range of wines and some spirits bought and stored on their behalf by the society’s knowledgeable team.

Established in 1874 at the Great Exhibition in London, it remains true to its original aim of buying quality wines to make available to members only at the best possible price.

And this is what brings a steady stream of buyers to the Montreuil centre, where Brits are to be seen loading up car boots with wine bought at the considerably more attractive rate of French duty tax. Here, at any one time, there is a wide variety of two to three hundred wines in stock, ranging from good drinking qualities to rather more exclusive vintages (with hundreds more online). The Society maintains that the saving on a case of wine is at least £20, considerably more on others.

What better excuse for a trip over to France? Taking the car on the Eurotunnel in the morning, you can be tucking into a nice meal at Froggy’s Tavern in the centre of Montreuil at lunch time, where you can even take in one of the bottles just bought from the society and not be charged corkage. Montreuil encourages members to come again, with complimentary aperitifs here and there, and special hotel rates.

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Eating and drinking aside, if you will, this is simply a delightful place to visit. Though no longer ser Mer, since the estuary silted up, there are still coastal walks nearby, and all too many historic battlefields to visit. Its cobbled streets provided the inspiration for the setting of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and a Son et Lumiere of the classic takes place within the castle grounds each summer.

There are some nice old hotels but particularly convenient for the Society shop is the Hotel Hermitage, a somewhat gaunt looking building that was a hospital run by nuns, dating back to 1200. Suitably plush and modernised now by owners Best Western, it has the society’s building just across its courtyard.

Tempting alternative might be the luxury Chateau de Montreuil, a lovely old manor house that benefits from having one of the Michelin-starred restaurants. After a pleasant day ambling around Montreuil, what better way to end it than with a gourmet meal and fine wines at this restaurant, safe in the knowledge that your indulgence may be followed by just a short toddle up the stairs to bed. Bonne nuit indeed.

What better excuse for a trip over to France?

By Marie Scott Among the many events taking