Allen Edmonds Acheson

As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, my feet are different sizes (8E on the left and 9.5D on the right), the result of corrective action during childhood to correct a club foot.

As a consequence, loafers have long been out of reach. Any pair that fits the right foot will be too voluminous for the left.

In my middle age, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the resources, if not to pursue bespoke shoes, at least to contract made to order versions from various makers. Allen Edmonds, Oak Street Bootmakers and Rancourt have all graciously made me a pair of shoes, with the proper fit for each foot, assessing only a modest surcharge–far less than the cost of procuring two pair at retail.

Alas, Alden. They flat out refuse to play ball. With a cavalier brusqueness that is galling, they decline the opportunity to help customers in situations similar to mine get the right shoe for each foot. The only option is to purchase two pair (at double the cost), running the cost of a pair of non-bepspoke loafers up to $1,000, too dear a sum for yours truly.

Normally, I would let this slide. But Alden’s tassel loafer, American made that it is, has long been considered the ur-tassel.

So I have sulked and I have sulked.

Until this past December, when an elegant solution manifested itself.

While in New Orleans, between bouts of drinking to lamentable excess, I ventured into the Allen Edmonds store. There, I encountered a version of the tassel loafer I had not seen before: the Acheson. I knew of the Grayson, Allen Edmonds’ previous iteration of the tassel loafer. This newer version was a notch above, with a lower vamp that gave it a rakish, louche quality.

In fact, it was every bit the aesthetic equal of Alden’s version. With a sale to tempt me, I ordered a pair in dark olive suede and only had to pay a modest $40 surcharge to have the factory make them for me. About four weeks later, they appeared on my doorstep.

I’ve already deployed them twice–sockless, of course, given the virtual absence of winter weather in these precincts. And they are a true joy to wear, with a perfect fit and impeccable styling, filling one of the few remaining voids in my wardrobe.

Manready Mercantile/Richer Poorer Socks

Those of you who are regular visitors to this little corner of cyberspace know of my affection for Houston’s Manready Mercantile.

Travis and company are as fine a collection of individuals as I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I never fail to walk out of Manready with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step, rejuvenated by the solace that their are such wonderful places and such wonderful people in the world.

This past Saturday was no exception.

I visited Manready to pick up a bottle of one of the Bravado hot sauces. Bravado is a Houston maker of various idiosyncratic sauces; one of their products was recently added to the hot sauce lineup on First We Feast’s Hot Ones YouTube show.

Browsing around, a pair of socks caught my eye. Their color scheme and pattern were eerily reminiscent of the L.L. Bean Norwegian sweater. That classic navy and white combination always elicits a Pavlovian response in me, reminding me of the treasured Bean sweater I received as a Christmas gift in 1981.

I quickly discovered that the socks are a collaboration between Manready and Richer Poorer. The toes are emblazoned with Manready’s motto: “Work hard. Live well.”

Manready is primarily a retailer of American made goods, although Travis got his start making candles, which remain part of Manready’s product line to this day. But, through collaborations with the likes of American Trench, Brooklyn Circus, Ebbets Field Flannels, Knickerbocker Manufacturing and Richer Poorer, Manready has dipped its toe into the process of bringing interesting new goods to market.

Naturally, I picked up a pair of the socks. The next day, they received their first wearing. And such a joy it was to put them on. They’re made principally of a sturdy cotton and, being navy, they’re  a perfect addition to many varieties of outfit.

Claire Drennan

From time to time, I do a search on Instagram, looking for things that are made in certain U.S. states and cities. One such search, #madeinhouston, yielded some promising results.

I came across a series of scarves and toboggans, made in Houston by an enterprise known as Claire Drennan.

I remember being instantly captivated by her offerings. This was the stuff of pure whimsy, beautifully colored and textured knitwear that seemed as if it would be a perfect addition to a classic wardrobe.

I soon learned that Claire Drennan is the brainchild of one Claire Drennan Jarvis. She spent much of her 20s in South America, where she developed an affection for “the thick, hand spun sheep’s wool from the south and the luxurious and delicate alpaca yarns from the north.”

“I didn’t know how to knit or sew very well at the time,” Claire says, “so I worked with a friend’s mother to create beautiful custom sweaters for my own closet. Back in the states, I took knitting 101 at the Rhode Island School Design and fell in love with the Japanese punch card knitting machines that were produced in the 1970’s. I’ve been honing my skills ever since, learning their tremendous capabilities and innovating around their limitations.”

Her enterprise has only been a going concern since late last year.

She places an emphasis on slow, sustainable fashion, with a process that produces zero waste. “Slow fashion is a tough business model to crack,” she says. “People don’t realize that only a small percentage of the price of an item they buy at retail is allotted for materials and labor. Each piece I make has many hours or research and development, where both design and production are considered.”

In her own words: “The challenge is to make smart, elegant designs that can be produced efficiently and consistently.”

I purchased one of Claire’s scarves at the Launch pop-up in Houston. Sadly, Claire wasn’t there at the time.

Claire’s wares at the Launch popup

The scarf, made of a luxurious double knit merino wool, takes, under optimal conditions, about four hours to produce. A small glitch can add to that total.

“The beauty of this particular design is that the front and back are different, with stripes on ones side and circles on the other,” Claire says. “Not only this, but the center of the scarf is the inverse of the same design! This effect is achieved through the use of a very old computer that uses no electricity and reads punch cards. A knitting machine is like a 3-D printer, making layer after layer. Each row of knitting represents an instance when I manually moved the knitting carriage across a bed of latch-hook needles, changing colors as needed to create the desired effect.”

Claire’s first collection, called “carrots,” has an interesting aesthetic genesis, inspired by a children’s book her family used to read. “The book features animals snuggled in their homes against a snowy landscape,” she says. “I was inspired by the soft, warm color palette and the idea of little bubbles of warmth.”

I can’t say enough good things about this scarf. It is exceptional in every way.