At the moment I am obsessed by the Oxford cotton shirts made by Drake’s.
Drake’s is an example of how a split personality can sometimes be a good thing. I like to think of the brand as an Italian trapped within the body and the wardrobe of an Englishman.
When you consider its tie factory in Clerkenwell, its shirt factory in the West Country and the tweeds galore it sources everywhere from the Borders to Shetland, Drake’s should be about as British as consuming a samovar of Earl Grey and a parcel of fish and chips while watching Dad’s Army. However, the delightful shop on Clifford Street tells a different story. It is a temple to il look inglese – an Italian idea of what British clothes should look like. In practice, this means all the sort of stuff I Iike: tweeds, striped ties and so on, but executed with an addictive softness. This winter’s tweed sports jackets (£1,095) are in, and while – alas – they do not suit me, I salute the almost complete absence of canvas, padding, lining and so on. The look might be that of a tweed, but with the feel of shirt.
Similar in concept is the raglan-sleeved buggy-backed (unlined) tweed overcoat (£1,095). Raglan sleeves are easy to shrug on and off, while the minimalist construction means that if it gets too warm, you can walk with it draped over your arm without getting tired. Even some of the shoes sold by Drake’s, from US brand Alden (£545), are unlined.
Ties too are minimally lined, which means that when knotting, it is the fabric of the tie you feel rather than an artificially plump interlining. As well as being less heavy around the neck, this construction means that you can get a nice small four-in-hand knot should you wish to, which looks great with the long-pointed collars of this year’s Drake’s shirts (from £125), among which the Oxford cotton is a must.
This shirt is an Italian-like Oxford, which means it keeps its softness while also being robust; and – best of all – the cuffs and collars are minimally lined. Having grown up during the 1980s and seen too many poorly fused shirt collars, I have a horror of what many people regard as the perfect collar, a flawless but (to me) artificial-looking surface. Far better the relaxed insouciance of a Drake’s Oxford.
The other day I rang Drake’s co-owner and creative director Michael Hill to congratulate him and urge him to make a shirt that was completely unlined, an audacious but – I believe – necessary step towards ultimate comfort. Talk of such an important garment led us into a spirited 20-minute discussion on the right way to iron a collar (from the ends towards the middle) and our hatred of the little fold at the end of the collar that betrays an incorrectly ironed and therefore less comfortable shirt.
Such was the strength of feeling on this matter that it struck me that as well as making soft-collared shirts, Drake’s ought to consider opening a laundry to ensure they are properly ironed.