Saturday, 12 May 2012

Desert Boots

Welcome again to what we must all understand by now is an occasional blog.

OK. McQueen wore M-43 boots in The Great Escape. He wore playboy boots on plenty of occasions.

Desert boots. Clarks says they've "been worn by Hollywood legends like Steve McQueen". The operative word presumably being "like". I wondered once, briefly once, which "Hollywood legends like Steve McQueen" wore them.

Desert boots do have Steve McQueen style, though. Clarks especially of course knows they're the kind of thing you'd associate with Steve McQueen regardless of whether he wore them. They're close to the playboy style (which incidentally predates the desert boot). It's little wonder people think he wore them.

Ancient Romans wore practical, ankle-high laced leather boots. If you had some kind of machine to take you across 17th century Europe, say, you'd see similar things on the end of many commoners' legs. But don't lie, because I know perfectly well that you have no such machine. I'd be a fool to fall for that again. Anyway these commoners' boots, called startups, were the template for the first industrially manufactured work boots.

Schier Hyena Veldskoen

Somebody who seemed odd (that's a compliment far as I'm concerned) once posted a comment on this blog about the history of the desert boot. He said that the Hottentots, the native people of southwest Africa, wore similar things on the end of their legs. He mentioned veldskoen, southern African footwear that descends from the Hottentot design.

Veldskoen certainly look like desert boots. Rather, desert boots look like veldskoen. The huge Dutch East India Company made the first veldskoen in the 17th century. A company called Schier has made veldskoen in southwest Africa, in Namibia, since 1938. Eight tribesmen make 20 pairs of veldskoen by hand each afternoon in the Herbert Schier workshop. The footwear is vegetable dyed leather, mainly from culled antelope. Hyena is most traditional apparently, and it's also similar to the tobacco colour of our man's Bullitt boot.

Clarks Desert Boot in sand

Clarks began in a Somerset village in 1825, a tanning and wool stapling business run by a Quaker, Cyrus Clark. Three years later the business began to sell footwear, thanks to brother James Clark. He'd had the idea to make slippers from sheepskin off-cuts.

Nathan Clark, great-grandson of James, volunteered to help the goodies in the Spanish Civil War. He noticed the espadrilles – the light comfortable shoes with jute rope soles – that the local peasants wore.

Nathan served in World War II and went to Burma. He served with allied officers sent east when operations were over in the deserts of North Africa. Nathan noticed the practical, ankle-high boots these officers wore when they were off duty. They were made of rough suede, were light and comfortable with crepe soles. It'd started with the South African officers, who'd had replacements of their veldskoen made in a Cairo souk. Clark copied the design in good old Somerset and launched the result in Chicago in 1950. Most of Britain only became interested in them in the 1960s. (Nathan Clark died last year, aged 94.)

I've become something of a Clarks Desert Boot fundamentalist. I've put several colours on this blog but I now believe only in one. Clarks' website says its desert boot "now comes in a neutral sand shade". That's the colour, with the orange stitching, they've always sold. If you're afeared that they're too light, be not afeared. They're about the same shade as the "wolf" colour they sell by the time you've sprayed on protector and walked a few miles.

Perhaps the "cola" colour is still acceptable to me, especially as it's close to the Bullitt snuff colour. Hmm. I admit that I like the look of the "ebony vintage" leather ones too. Trickier than it looks, this fundamentalism lark.

The Schier boot looks great. If I ever get some money again, I'll try them. The Clarks boot is great. I love the crepe soles. Natural and sustainable. I love the whole boot. It's too much for a few people that Clarks makes its desert boot in Asia. These people usually give me the impression that the root problem is racism rather than any sound ethical consideration. It's also too much for a few that Clarks are relatively common, but it's rare to be that pathetic. Most of us understand that the Clarks Desert Boot is great: now you understand even more than most.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Barbour Clifton cardigan in brown

Somebody told me that last week was fashion week. It seems fitting for me to begin to post again after the fact. Yeah, you heard right! I'm back!

Barbour has had its Steve McQueen collection for a while. It was around even when I last posted. Some wondered why I'd failed to write much on it. Well, I have plenty of things I'm yet to go into in depth, but I doubt I'll write much more on the Barbour Steve McQueen collection. I get too angry sometimes. I at least want to try to focus on positive stuff, and I only see the negative in that collection.

While I'm on the subject, for a similar reason I'm unlikely to write much more about Dockers. I intimated that chinos were a thorny issue the last time I tried to tackle them. More than anything, I recommended Dockers for want of better alternatives. I had little else to offer, but even given that it was something of a mistake.

All the usual designers of the moment seemed to have a chino or two in the collection then. These other chinos were more money and all told about as good as the Dockers. It was only just over a year ago, and the situation is much the same. Those Toys McCoy still look great, mind.

I have another couple of chino recommendations to make in time. That's quite an achievement when you look at the choice. That's the least of it, though. I've learned much more about the Levi's Sta-Prest type of option and boy, do I have the mother of all posts on Steve McQueen trousers to come?! Yes. Yes, I do. I've done an incredible amount of research and joined many dots in a unique way. I honestly am a genius of Steve McQueen style. You'll just have to wait… 

I hope, now I've said that, the trouser post will live up to your expectations.

Anyway. I'm similarly unlikely to recommend anything from Grand Prix Legends and sister site The King Of Cool, as I did initially. The umbrella company name is Lylebarn. Close readers (there are some!) will have watched my misgivings for the company's "Frank Bullitt jacket" grow. (Things are always complicated: I'll defend the version of the jacket when I next write about Bullitt and natural shoulders and all that.) It's obvious to anybody that Lylebarn goes for a broad market. That's incidental insomuch as if something turns up for me to recommend then I will.

Take that company's cardigan, for instance. People fail to achieve anything like Steve McQueen style if they're simply in Steve McQueen fancy dress. It's fun, but just fun is something other than Steve McQueen cool. I've said this kind of thing again and again, but it'll always bear repetition: Steve McQueen style is about being as stylish as the man, more than dressing as much like him as possible. (This blog relies on the idea you can pay homage and get away with some items that are exact or thereabouts, of course.) I like the idea that the Lylebarn cardigan, despite the blurb, is something other than "a very close replica" of one worn by McQueen. The problem is that, except in the crudest sense, it hardly looks like any kind of cardigan. OK, I exaggerate. A bit. Ho ho.

It makes me feel a bit bad to say any of this, because I can't help but feel a connection. The Lylebarn guy is obviously a genuine McQueen fan. That kind of thing sounds silly to anybody who isn't a fan but I take it you understand, as you're reading a blog called Steve McQueen Style. Apparently tenuous to some, it's a connection that counts. I suppose it's odds-on this Lylebarn guy cares little in the overall scheme of things, though. Perhaps he started out rich. Regardless, odds-on that company's made him a good deal richer. The real bottom line is, he owes his customers more.

One final tiny stab-wound in this Greek tragedy. Lylebarn peddles imitations of the Bullitt roll-neck. I thought the blurb for these jumpers said the original was French Navy. Well, it does. They mean the colour, though. They confusingly capitalized navy. Ho ho. That's right. It's a rare example of a tiny mistake that causes genuine confusion and justifies grammatical pedantry.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Barbour. Must stay positive. I can recommend a couple of things outside the Steve McQueen collection. I'll do another cardigan post at some point, but I'd like to recommend a great example now. I found the Barbour Clifton chunky shawl collar cardigan early. I know others have found it too.

Here's the bad news. It's taken me a long time to get round to this post. The Barbour Clifton cardigan is somewhat difficult to find. Since you began to read this mother of a post, it's doubtless even more difficult. Barbour is at fault, of course. They've discontinued it.

The Clifton cardigan comes in four colours: brown, blue, green and barley. The barley colour strikes me as ridiculous for some reason, but that's almost certainly just me. The blue is just like the Big Sur one McQueen wears, at least in that it's difficult to determine the exact shade. It's a mid-blue in about half the photographs, but I believe it's navy. They call it navy and that's how it looks in other photographs. Sage or seaweed is a classic green for a shawl cardigan and the seaweed Barbour Clifton looks great on paper and screen. I've seen this one in real life, though. It's in fact something slightly more hideous than a classic sage or seaweed. The brown is great. Darker than a Cincinnati Kid or Bullitt brown, mind.

The Barbour Clifton is a quality ribbed cardy. It's big, as uh big cardigans tend to be. Five-gauge 100% lambswool. Leather knot buttons including collar button. Two patch pockets. Remember, all the cool kids leave the bottom button of their cardigans undone.

You might be able to find the odd colour to interest you in your size if you're fast. Barbour By Mail, "Barbour's official online partner", has a few Clifton chunky shawl collar cardigans left for £110. Shop around if you have time.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Steve McQueen: The Actor And His Films

Steve McQueen: The Actor And His Films

The ever-greater number of McQueen books in the world just makes it easier to overlook the invaluable. Steve McQueen: The Actor And His Films adds weight to the expression lavishly illustrated and brings more to the party besides.

The book gives more space to say, The Sand Pebbles than Never Love A Stranger, as you'd expect, but it devotes a full chapter to each of McQueen's films: twenty-eight in chronological order from Somebody Up There Likes Me to The Hunter. It's a practical arrangement that lets you make your way easily through the man's life as well as his work. Yes, the book includes On Any Sunday. It's TV but it makes sense for Wanted: Dead Or Alive to have a chapter as well, and it does. Other chapters give an overview of his life and deal with further television appearances, his legacy and more. (Yes, Dixie Dynamite gets a mention.)

The Actor And His Films has more than a thousand photographs. More than a thousand rare, candid and promotional stills, vintage international posters and memorabilia. It also has more text than is usual for these lavishly illustrated affairs.

Each chapter gives film details such as cast, crew, release date and location. A summary follows and an "analysis of a key scene" ends the chapter. What's between the summary and scene analysis takes up most space, though. Here's where you'll learn about any deleted sequences and such, but moreover where you'll find the real-life backstory, and it's studded with previously unpublished nuggets.

You've probably concluded this is a big book. Let me tell you: it's about 500 pages, a seriously heavy fucker and thicker physically than David Beckham is mentally.

The authors hold sound credentials beyond extensive collections of McQueen memorabilia. Andrew Antoniades worked on Steve McQueen: The Life And Legend Of A Hollywood Icon, a book by Marshall Terrill, McQueen's best biographer. Mike Siegel is a film historian and director of Poetry & Passion, a documentary on Sam Peckinpah. The Actor And His Films is the work of natural fans rather than contrived academics, yet you get even-handed insight, a raw and fair evaluation of the man and his films.

The publisher, Dalton Watson, has been around for more than 40 years. The heart of the business is motor-related titles, but the company is responsible for a couple of other books directly relevant to us: composite biography Steve McQueen: A Tribute To The King Of Cool, compiled by Marshall Terrill, and Barbara's photo memoir The Last Mile.

Rare photographs, of course, mean rare perspectives on style. My intention was to make a shortlist of images, and then pick one from it to put in this post in addition to the cover. It was a long shortlist. I had rare colour photographs of McQueen in his jeans and Wrangler shirt from the set of Baby, The Rain Must Fall. McQueen in Louisiana for Nevada Smith, in a brown shawl collar cardigan. I had pictures with Playboy boots, I had one Bullitt shot in particular. I had more. However, my all-in-one printer refuses to do anything, even scan, until I satisfy it with an ink cartridge, so I'm afraid copyright law will remain intact.

You can buy from the Dalton Watson website (they deliver from the US and the UK), which is where you'll also find sample pages and further information including a book launch on 29 November, 1830-2030, at the McQueen bar in glittering London's Shoreditch. The book is £39/$69 from the publisher, but it's just available on Amazon and the price is currently £28. If you're in the US, your Amazon currently has it for $42. The release date says 15 December, but it seems in stock now.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Steve McQueen and Jacqueline Bisset on the set of Bullitt

Americans are likely to call them turtlenecks. A mock turtleneck is different: that's where the collar is high enough to cover the neck but not fold. Roll-necks are the same thing as polo necks. Say polo in relation to tops, though, and the possibility only increases that an image of what people used to call a tennis shirt comes to mind, since Lacoste first marketed his and Ralph Lauren subsequently did his bit.

Roll-necks have long been synonymous with sailors, which entirely befits ex-Marine McQueen. Ideas of the classic roll-neck jumper tend to centre on World War II, when the government issued Royal Navy deck sweaters, more commonly known as submariner sweaters. This is often the kind of thing people mean when they think of an RAF sweater. Motorcyclists in the 1950s and 1960s wore surplus deck jumpers in winter under their leather or wax jackets (Barbour or Belstaff, naturally). The motorbike association suits our man as much as the naval, of course.

Steve McQueen wore a roll-neck most famously in Bullitt. It's something other than a submariner sweater. Despite the claim of Grand Prix Legends, it's something other than a French Navy roll-neck too. The book The Ivy Look, by Graham Marsh and JP Gaul, says it's made of cashmere.

Hollywood And The Ivy Look

I have another Graham Marsh and JP Gaul book to recommend, by the way. Hollywood And The Ivy Look, also by Tony Nourmand, is due for release in the first week of November by Reel Art Press (RAP), which publishes deluxe art entertainment books. (Gaul's name is left off the cover, although RAP's website credits the text to he and Marsh.) Nourmand is the author of many film books. He's also co-owner of the internationally acclaimed Reel Poster Gallery in London - which deals with original vintage film posters - as well as editor for, and co-founder of, RAP. The blurb Nourmand sent me calls Hollywood And The Ivy Look "a pictorial celebration of the look and attitude of 'Ivy'". It deals with the Hollywood embrace of Ivy style, as the title suggests, and features previously unpublished photographs of McQueen. You can currently order the book from RAP at a pre-launch price of £35. It's £45 otherwise.

Where was I? Somewhere other than here, but a comment on this blog recently pointed me towards the Bullitt DVD commentary. That was the second prompt I'd had to listen to it. I finally did.

"Most of his clothes were in fact from Dougie Hayward," director Peter Yates says, as McQueen puts on his roll-neck. "He loved English clothes."

I'll talk about Hayward, and McQueen's love of English clothes, in another post. The only thing I have to say here in relation to that comment is Doug Hayward was a great, and greatly expensive, tailor. If he supplied the roll-neck, it's easy to see how it'd be a decent chunk of cashmere goat. If you know of an equivalent, get in touch.

Perhaps Ballantyne Cashmere supplied the roll-neck. It's a high-end company that began in Scotland in 1921. It's been Italian-owned since 2004. Steve McQueen wore Ballantyne, and Daniel Craig, our favourite modern-day McQueen, wears it.

Neil Starr of North Sea Clothing in the Submariner sweater in navy.
One cool, as they say, dude. Photograph from Concrete Editions

It's rare enough to see a roll-neck in an office and, when you do, odds are it's a fine black material. A thick blue wool roll-neck is one man along from that, and that's why Steve McQueen Style recommends a submariner sweater. Yes, the Bullitt roll-neck is more refined than a submariner. However, on the other hand it's certainly more than some flimsy number. It's best, in this case, to err on the side of chunky.

Neil Starr is a collector and trader of vintage clothes, musical instruments and other items. He supplies designers, and he deals especially with military and motorcycle clothes and accessories. Neil Starr has two ropy websites where you'll find a selection of vintage Barbour and Belstaff motorcycle clothes. They appear to be identical:

Mr Starr also runs North Sea Clothing, a project to produce a small selection of clothes and accessories made to meticulous specifications. It's successful enough that demand tends to outstrip supply. The website is almost as ropy as the other two, but here you'll find the ultimate version of the deck jumper. It's £125. It's a tenner less from a men's style website called The Mandon Store, though.

Mr Starr deviated from his vintage roll-neck template only on the couple of points where it was too eccentric for anything like modern tastes. He took the arms beyond the original mid-forearm finish. The body was especially long, conversely, so he shortened that.

The North Sea Clothing Submariner sweater is made in Nottinghamshire from English wool: poor quality subs are susceptible to shrinking and bobbling (or pilling). It's made in the same heavy five-gauge knit as the original, which supports the tough, warm, resistant-to-rain aspect. (The more gauge, or tension, to a yarn, the thinner the garment. John Smedley clothes, for instance, are fine: the company's Pembroke roll-neck is extra-fine 30 gauge.)

The unwashed ecru North Sea Clothing sweaters come with quite a lanolin smell. What is lanolin? A wax found naturally on sheep's wool that helps make it resistant to the weather. Lanolin also helps give wool the authentic smell of sheep. The less brave of you interested in ecru should be able to wash the bulk of it away easily enough.

The closest alternative I see to the North Sea Clothing sub is by designer Nigel Cabourn, who takes inspiration from vintage work, military and exploration clothes. The navy 4 Way Roll Neck is based on that worn in 1953 by Tom Bourdillon, part of the same expedition when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people known to reach the summit of Mount Everest. You can wear it back to front and, as Tom did, inside out, hence name. It's made in Scotland from Shetland wool. It's five gauge as with the North Sea Clothing jumper. £199 from Oi Polloi. (The first size on the Oi Polloi website says 48". That's a mistake, but the website provides further size information: 48 is a small, a 40" chest.)

I must say I've discounted a host of others I've seen, but let me know if you can come up with another suitable deck jumper.