Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour
This is the beginning of the Prologue of the Canterbury Tales, a medieval collection of stories written by the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, which forms a central part of our surviving corpus of Middle English: the evocative and rough-edged language written and spoken in England following the Norman Conquest in 1066, a composite language still bearing the heavy Norse and Germanic vocabulary of Old English, combined with the Latinate forms of Norman French.
Chaucer’s poem begins in that moment we find ourselves in once more: April’s ‘shoures soote’ (sweet showers) are breaking up the soil that was dry and frozen, stirring dull roots with fresh rain, and bringing life to each suspended ‘flour’ (flower).
It’s a time of renewal: the rain driving into the ground signals new growth in plants, but also in the minds of men and women, as they contemplate their actions, relations and ‘vertu’ (virtue). The rain that had pierced ‘to the roote’ symbolise not only the life of the natural world but the dense and earthy connections between people.
As in art, so in life. These are the final weeks of the year for tweed in England, after one of the coldest winters of the millennium. What beckons is mixed weeks and months of alternating clear, cold sun and mild days of rain. And the winds of spring blow through wardrobes and coat racks across the land. I’ve been packing up flannel suits and jackets, woollen ties, and heavy gabardine trousers to make space for linen tailoring, cotton chinos, polo shirts and loafers.
The changing temperature and erratic weather has also provided an opportunity to try some spring accessories, which I offer here as a brief round up of interesting new products.
H.N. White, whose woollen ties we discussed in a previous article, has just released a series of spring ties in an exclusive raw silk, developed in collaboration with a mill in Suffolk. Silk is normally boiled to remove the gummy outer casing of the thread before being spun. This unprocessed, raw silk has an unusual uneven texture and casual character. Like woollen tweed or combed cashmere, it’s a rougher, more relaxed cloth, but being silk, it’s crisp and light rather than warm and fluffy.
Mr. White’s raw silk ties are handmade in England and offered in block stripes in five colourways, as well as a solid blue, in both classic 9cm width and a modern 8cm model. As with other quality makers, the interlining is pure wool, and the tipping is unlined and hand-rolled. I have the blue and yellow block stripe and can report that the colours are deep and uniform and the finishing is exceptionally fine, which is no small achievement considering the rough, complex cloth.
As we reach for winter boots less and loafers more frequently throughout the week, it’s also been a pleasure to try some new socks, from Paris-based Andrea Di Carlo, who produces luxury cotton socks in Mantua, Italy for prestigious brands as well as under his own marque. The Fil d’écosse socks are fine, lightweight and silky. They are available in a range of sizes and colours, both subtle and striking. They’re perfectly suited to lighter, summer suits and shoes.
British customers are now able to buy them with the same ease as those on the continent thanks to a new vendor, The Venetian Trader, who also supplies Bresciani socks in linen and Nicky Milano ties and pocket squares. Rather than re-branding these Italian products for the British market, Anvit, the director, aims to raise the profile of these European brands in Britain, a country notorious for its preference for short, thick ankle socks.
Finally, it would be remiss of me, in this country, not to mention accessories for the rain. Shibumi, the Florentine accessories brand founded by Benedikt Fries, has recently restocked his collection of fine Italian umbrellas. Made in Naples by Mario Talarico, these umbrellas are constructed with a solid one-piece wooden shaft and handle, which is hand-shaped and unique.
The umbrellas are available in a variety of subtle yet interesting patterns (as you might expect from a quality tie vendor): navy and beige stripes, olive and orange dots, forest green self-stripe. The shafts are available in a range of materials: bamboo, chestnut and hickory.