Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Flying High - Eastman Leather Clothing

Interview with ELC founder, Gary Eastman.

One of ELC's Elite Unit jackets - The "Hells Angels" 303rd Bombardment Group A2.
The A2 flight jacket is something of a style icon. Issued to American flyers from 1931, after WW2, as with many other items of military clothing, its stylish yet rugged utility meant that surplus stocks were rapidly adopted by civilians. The nostalgia factor has ensured that the A2's popularity has endured. A modified version is still in service with the US Air Force today.

Vintage examples are now as rare as hen's teeth, prohibitively expensive and too fragile to wear. So reproductions are your best bet. There are several companies out there to choose from, but one of the best is Eastman Leather Clothing (ELC).

I recently caught up with ELC's founder, Gary Eastman, who started the brand 30 years ago from a stable in Devon with only £300 in his pocket, a 1930’s Singer sewing machine and a passion for WW2 militaria.

He began making flight jackets owing to their scarcity. “They were essentially collectibles. It was hard to really wear them with conviction as one was afraid of damaging them. A jacket style like that looks best if you wear it the way it was intended - as a utility garment, in the rain or fixing your bike and not worrying. You just couldn't do that with an original - not if you valued its antiquity.”

Repro vs Original
Another reason was his dissatisfaction with the quality of reproductions available at the time - a key point that would go on to define ELC as it is known today. The reproduction companies that sprang up in the 1970’s weren’t getting it right. “They didn't really pay enough attention to detail, and the materials were modern versions of what was originally used. I felt it needed to be taken down a route where the essence of a true vintage garment was better represented - to do this would mean finding original sources of raw materials.”

This meant sourcing traditionally tanned Horsehide, instead of off-the-shelf commercial hides. He had to bin nylon or polyester linings in favour of cotton, and use the correct colour 100% wool plain-weave knit for the cuffs and waistband. On top of this there was finding the correct model zips, press studs and other fasteners. 

Meticulous detailing as standard - a 1940 Pattern RAF Flight Jacket
Achieving all this was not easy - especially back in 1984 when such information couldn't be found at the click of a mouse. That year, after completing a pattern cutting and grading course, Gary made his first five jackets. They sold within a week and he hasn’t stopped making them since.

Today ELC is one of the biggest suppliers of reproduction flight jackets, with an extensive range of A2’s. The line up is divided between the Original Maker / Elite Unit Jackets, painstakingly researched stitch for stitch recreations jackets made by the different US War Department contractors, and Eastman’s own jackets. Gary characterises the latter as jackets done in his own house style, “if we had been a war-time contractor, this is how our jackets would have looked.”

Eastman "House Style" A2 in Havana Brown Horsehide

Passion Over Profit

So exacting is the research, development and production of the Original Maker jackets that profit isn’t the top priority. "It really isn't - I will spend whatever it takes to get a detail right, because I know our customers will appreciate it. I want to see the end product come out like I’d like to find it in shop if I were the customer. I want to go, 'wow! I want one of those!’ ”

All of the jackets are bench-made locally in Devon, the hides hand-cut then sewn by a single machinist. For Gary this is crucial. "A tremendous amount of credibility is placed upon the fact these garments are made at our very own factory - the production of which is completely overseen and orchestrated by us. I think customers love to know these are proper bench-made products, by a company they can feel in-touch with because it is traditional, and not mass-produced. Heritage products like this have to carry honesty, because the customers are as passionate about owning them, as we are making them - it goes hand in glove.”

The fact Eastman supplies Buzz Rickson is indicative of the level of detailing that goes into these garments. The pair have been collaborating since 2003, something Gary is rightly proud of.

On top of all this, Eastman also offers a small range of British and German flight jackets, accessories and civilian jackets.

A Thunderbird Field - essentially a civilianised version of the earlier A1 that was popular with flight instructors of the time.

A New Direction

Devon didn't know what hit it....
This expansion led Gary to recently launch the sub-brand ELMC - Eastman Leather Motorcycle Club, which takes inspiration from the iconic the mid-20th century American West Coast motorcycle club culture.

Again, these jackets are bench-made in Devon to the same exacting standards using veg tanned horsehide, mostly custom produced for Eastman by tanneries in Italy.

ELMC Roadster in Walnut Brown
Also available is an extensive range of other apparel and accessories, including T-shirts, footwear and sweatshirts. All the fabric garments are produced exclusively for Eastman in Japan - “ the best place on earth to get true vintage-quality products produced. These are all made through the eminent John Lofgren workshops, to precise detail: body-size tube construction, specialist yarn cottons, all made on old vintage loop-wheel looms.”

Flying The Flag

The tan Californian (I'm talking about the jacket.) Beard optional.
It is exciting to see a British brand be daring enough to expand like this. Clearly, Eastman’s pedigree is in flight jackets, but given the production expertise and passion with which they are made ELMC is bound to meet with similar success. 

So how does Gary see Eastman as a whole evolving over the few years? He's charmingly relaxed about it. “I am happy with how it is - we have been busy from the first day we started, so I want to keep it like that. If the demand is there, we will follow it up as closely as we can. ELMC is a new pasture, so who knows where that will go - onwards and upwards is certainly the trend.”

Which jacket is he most proud of? Hands down, it's the ultra rare A1, only in service from 1927 to 1931. “The grandaddy of all American flight jackets.” In 30 years of collecting he has only seen three of them, and the one Gary managed to snag for himself was totally original. So Eastman was able to match every detail for the very first time. So much so that other manufacturers use the pictures on Eastman’s website for historical reference. 

As far a Gary is aware it's the only reproduction A1 that is 100% accurate.

ELC's finest moment? The reproduction of an ultra rare A1.
Now that’s dedication. If you’re looking for meticulously researched and produced flight jacket you can do no better than an Eastman. I speak from experience. I’ve had my own A2 for eight years now. It’s broken in beautifully and, unlike me, is only getting better with age. 
Gary says we shouldn’t be precious about wearing his jackets. “Wear it like it was intended - a utility garment. Wear it in the rain; down the pub; driving; walking the dog…falling over walking back from the pub. The more you wear it, the more it will become you.”

I don’t have a dog, but I can vouch for the rest.

If you’re interested do have a look at ELC here. More on Eastman Leather Motorcycle Club soon, but you can have a look at the range here.

(With thanks to Gary for taking the time to answer all my questions. All images courtesy of ELC.)

Friday, 21 February 2014

Weekend Man Food - Pot Roast Ox Cheeks With Red Lentils

On a recent trip to England I was excited to see ox cheeks in an excellent local farm butchers, Brogdale Farm in Faversham.

Until relatively recently ox cheeks have been unavailable. Classed as offal and obviously part of the head, they were binned because of the BSE scare. Traditionally most butchers have chucked them in the mincer, but with the growing popularity of slow cooking ox cheeks are making something of a comeback.

Rightly so. After a long slow cook they yield some of the most tender meat I've ever thrown down my gullet - so tender in fact that I could have eaten them with a spoon.

Anyway, a mere £4.50 later I emerged smiling from the butchers armed with two large cheeks and set about researching how to best cook them. Clearly a slow cook was a given, but what spices and ingredients to use?

It's here that I have to admit to actually reading what one friend has referred to as "that organ of wrongness," The Guardian. Assuming this is not enough to put you off slow cooking forever I found a Tom Kerridge recipe online under the title "10 Best Slow Cooked Recipes" in the Life & Style section.

After I recovered from a bit of a middle class existential crisis, I realised that, context aside, the recipe looked fantastic. I love using spices in my cooking, this dish being the bastard child of a curry and a traditional pot roast. Or is it technically braising? 
I won't lose any sleep over it and neither should you. All I've done is tweak it to my tastes slightly.

The great thing about this type of cooking is that you can add what you like.
Ginger Braised Ox Cheeks
Raw meat marinating in beer. That equals a weekend win in my book.

Amass the following:

(Serves 4)
2 large ox cheeks, about 400g each, cut in half
300ml stout
4 star anise
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground ginger
Rapeseed oil
2 onions, finely chopped4 garlic cloves, grated
150g fresh root ginger, finely chopped
600ml beef stock

For the spiced red lentils:

250g red lentils
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
2 tsp turmeric
1 chilli, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
800ml chicken stock
Freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes 
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the parsley yoghurt: 

Slack handful parsley, finely chopped
200g plain yoghurt
1 tsp black pepper

Proceed as follows:

  1. A day before you plan to serve this, mix the stout, star anise, coriander and cumin seeds, chilli flakes and ground ginger together in a large bowl. Add the ox cheeks, cover and marinate in the fridge for 24 hours. (I left the cheeks untrimmed.)
  2. The next day remove the ox cheeks from the marinade and pat dry with a tea towel. Reserve the marinade. Heat 4 tbsp rapeseed oil in a flameproof casserole over a medium heat. Add the ox cheeks and sear on both sides until browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add the onions to the fat in the pot, reduce to low and fry, stirring occasionally, for at least 5 minutes until softened, but not coloured. Add a little extra oil to the pot if necessary, then add the ginger and garlic and fry, stirring, for 4–5 minutes until they are browned, but not burnt.
  4. Return the meat to the pot, pour in the stout marinade and the beef stock and bring to the boil. Cover the pot and simmer low on the stove for a minimum 3½ hours until the beef is very tender.
  5. Take pot off the hob and leave on one side for at least 1 hour. (Or leave it to sit its own juices for 24 hours. It is supposed to taste better, but I was too impatient.)
  6. Meanwhile, make the spiced red lentils. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and place the lentils, in a roasting tray, in the oven. Toast for 10–15 minutes until lightly tinged. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  7. Heat oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onion, chilli and garlic and fry, stirring occasionally, for at least 5 minutes until softened, but not coloured. Stir in turmeric and keep stirring for a further 1–2 minutes. Add the lentils and the cinnamon stick, then pour in the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer the lentils, uncovered and stirring occasionally to make sure they don't catch on the base of the pan , for about 40 minutes until they fall apart and you have purée in the pan. Add lime juice and season.
  8. Just before serving, mix the parsley, yoghurt and black pepper together. Reheat the ox cheeks and their cooking juices. Serve the cheeks with a little of the cooking juices, the red lentil purée and a good dollop of the yoghurt.
In combination with the zesty red lentil side dish, the ginger and star anise cut through the gelatinous meat perfectly. If you have any left over cooking liquor you can recycle it as a soup - we simply added the left over lentils and some diced boiled potatoes.

Hopefully ox cheeks don't become so trendy as to rocket in price. That would be a shame. They are a true thrift cut of meat, but more importantly taste fantastic.

I've no idea if I'll be able to find ox cheeks now I'm stranded back in Denmark, I guess I'll just have to smuggle some more back next time I fly over.

I urge you to visit the butchers at Brogdale Farm if you're in the Faversham area - it is nothing short of meat Valhalla - more recipes to follow soon using their wares.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Institute for Alcoholic Experimentation: Hernö: like gin, but more so

An interesting article re-blogged from a chum at The Institute For Alcoholic Experimentation on Swedish gin. I didn't realise they made it either.

Clearly generations of experience making industrial strength home-brew in their cellars is paying dividends.

Now I just need to get my hands on a bottle. Click on the link below to have a read:

The Institute for Alcoholic Experimentation: Hernö: like gin, but more so: A rare bottle of Hernö Juniper Cask Gin, with a cask in the background (the real ones are much bigger) I went to the launch of a new g...

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Bar Review - The Black Dog

Whitstable's Newest Micro Pub

Shepherd Neame Brewery is now one of the big boys of brewing, and on the company's Kentish home turf you can't throw a stick without hitting one of their pubs.
Don't get me wrong, I've always liked Shepherd Neame ale. It's far preferable to the horse p*ss passed off as beer made by some of the multi nationals.

The Black Dog Pub

It's just that, in the south eastern corner of England, there could perhaps be more variety - particularly in a county as famous as Kent is for its hops.

Whitstable's newest pub, The Black Dog, goes to some lengths to redress this, with a small, carefully chosen, revolving selection of ales and a quirky character all of its own.

Whitstable has, or at least had, a tradition for small one-room pubs. At one time there was a small bar on almost every corner. Virtually all are now closed, but The Black Dog is very much in this vein. 
The premises, still owned by Mike McWilliam, whose venture The Black Dog is, were at one time a small gallery, and more recently a café.

There is one small bar at the end of the room, with a few taps. That's pretty much it. And the taps are just for show. Giving our order to the barman he promptly ducked behind a partition to pour the pints direct form the barrel. 

I've not seen that in a boozer for about 20 years.

We tried a slightly flowery pale ale - Dark Star's Hophead, and a really rather excellent dry hopped fruity brown ale, Altered States from Kent Brewery - not an outfit I'd heard of before.

One of the most appealing aspects of enjoying real ale is the opportunity it affords to always try interesting beers that otherwise you would not have been aware of.

There was also a ginger infused cider on tap, but I was called back to HQ to attend to the roast before we could order our 3rd round!

The Black Dog Pub

Led Zeppelin fans amongst you will have clocked the name - on a trip to the gents I noticed that the room had been christened "The Jimmy Page Suite." Excellent.

The pub also had a "Monty" Toby jug behind the bar, what more could you ask for in a battleship cruiser?

I'm actually looking forward to seeing my parents again (they live down the road) just so I can nip back in to The Black Dog to see what they have on.

The Black Dog Pub
No pub is complete without a bust of Monty...
As my chum Ollie quipped, "this is the perfect bar for a lost weekend." Well it would be impolite not to work your way through The Black Dog's ale selection.

There's no website, but you can stay abreast of the pub's latest news on Facebook.

Better yet, if you're in Whitstable pop in. The address is:

66, The High Street

As Black Dog have commented on their FB page, "Drink local - easy said, easy done." Pubs only stay open if people frequent them. Luckily that's easy to do in this part of the world.

It makes a refreshing change to see a pub like this again. The next time I'm there I'll raise a glass to the renaissance of the Whitstable small pub. I wish Mike and his team every success.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Cocktail Hour - The Kentucky Mule

I know, my obsession with ginger and bourbon continues...

Kentucky Mule highball
They weren't both for me. Honest.
A Moscow Mule is made with ginger ale and vodka, so unsurprisingly the Kentucky variant is a mix of bourbon and ginger ale. This is often confused with a Mark n' Stormy, made with ginger beer. The clue is in the name...

Just to further cloud the issue, I've heard this cocktail called a Kentucky Gentleman, however I'm reliably informed that this moniker should apply only to brandy based versions.

I used Makers Mark again for this, which is a trifle sweet, so to lift things a bit I fell back on Angostura Bitters.
In addition I opted a large twist of lemon rind, squeezed/rubbed and thrown in - the natural oils in the rind combine with the ginger and bitters to give a spicy counterpoint to the sweet vanilla notes of the bourbon.
For a bit of extra freshness a mint garnish finishes things off nicely, but is not essential.

What you'll need:

  • 60ml Makers Mark
  • Ginger Ale
  • Twist, lemon rind.
  • Liberal dash, Angostura Bitters
  • Ice
  • Highball glass
  • Mint, to garnish


  • Throw a few ice cubes in to a highball glass
  • Add a dash of bitters and then the bourbon
  • Rub the lemon rind over the glass and put in
  • Top with ginger ale
  • Finish things off with a couple of mint leaves.

I don't really go in for this Valentine's Day stuff & nonsense, particularly when it comes to making pink frothy cocktails. However, I'm sure your dearly beloved / civil life partner will appreciate a Kentucky Mule or two before dinner this evening.

Failing that it ought to help numb the pain of seeing lots of nauseating couples swanning about like lovestruck teenagers.

With thanks to Hanna and Cathrine for acting as tasters. Much like the mint, female Scandinavian scientists are not strictly essential, but they're entertaining and do make proceedings look good.
(Despite slightly questionable big cat themed sock / jumper combinations.)


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

North Sea Clothing - Whatever Weather

Interview with Neil Starr.

Shackleton Epic Team
Ed Wardle, Tim Jarvis and Paul Larsen of The Shackleton Epic Team sporting NSC clobber outside the RGS last summer. (On one of the hottest days of the 2014!)
Further to my recent article on North Sea Clothing's Intrepid sweater, I caught up with the brand's founder, Neil Starr, for an interview. 

Neil has had a long standing interest in vintage and military clothing. Having run a vintage stall in London’s Portabello Road Market for years, he decided to start NSC 15 years ago.

Surplus supply of the original WW1 & WW2 Submariner sweaters dried up in the 1990's. It was partly this scarcity that led to the birth of NSC, “they actually became very hard to find… so we developed it ourselves. Initially it was just the Submariner in ecru. We changed the shape slightly, because some of them were designed to go over your jacket, sort of like a big sack. We changed it to something more suitable for modern guys.”

NSC Victory roll-neck
A heavy knit Victory roll neck.
So these are not stitch for stitch recreations. Such attention to detail has its place, but is perhaps irrelevant here. NSC’s jumpers are not too dissimilar to the originals and, as Neil argues, these would have varied anyway, “the spec was sent out and the originals were made in different factories. Like most military clothing they just had to meet certain criteria. We just try to focus on the quality in everything we do.”

There are several other reproductions out there, but it is this quality that sets North Sea Clothing apart. In fact, NSC are so good that apparently other brands have tried to copy them.

Archive image of an RN sailor
Bet there's a tot of rum in that cocoa...
Neil is charmingly sanguine about it all, saying, “I don't want to disrespect the other brands, we've had a lot of people see what we're doing and produce their own Submariner, but it's usually only for one season. A couple of companies have been very naughty who've knocked off the label, almost making a facsimile. I look at it as  a compliment in a way, instead of getting wound up about it. It's great to think that you're doing something that's worth copying.”

All NSC jumpers are made from 100% English wool by family firms in the UK. The untreated wool retains its natural lanolin, so will keep its insulating qualities even when wet. Construction is robust, with reassuringly heavy knits. 
North Sea Clothing - Submariner
Robust construction - reinforced seams and shoulder gussets on a Submariner. These pullovers will last you.
Production is labour intensive, just to get the yarn on the bobbin is quite an involved process, with the wool having to be sheared and scoured first, “it has to travel all over the place. There are not many people who can do that in the UK any more. There are only a couple of scourers left.”
However, British wool is making a comeback. After being at such a low ebb where there was almost no point taking it to market, a few years ago the price doubled.

With people as passionate as Neil behind the British wool revival, things can only get better.
Ed Wardle looking suitably rugged in an Intrepid.
The Submariner may be their staple, but NSC have a growing range of other sweaters and accessories. Neil tests all the pieces himself before they go to production.

Future plans include the introduction of a deck jacket, based on a vintage French Marine National example Neil has in his collection, “anything I produce is something I'd like to wear myself. We took one to the shows last year, it wasn't ready… I wasn't happy with it. But I was wearing it and someone said, ‘that's really nice, why don't you put it out on the stand?’” Feedback was so positive that Neil is planning to release the jacket for Spring / Summer 2014.
North Sea Clothing - Marine Nationale Deck Jacket
A sneak preview of the new deck jacket. (Review to hopefully follow soon.)
North Sea Clothing’s motto is “Whatever Weather.” Having worn an Intrepid (a Norwegian pattern Submariner) over two Scandinavian winters I can testify that this is no idle boast. 
I've said this already in a previous post and make no apology for repeating it here - the fact that NSC supplied the Shackleton Epic Team in their recent recreation of the original 1916 expedition to the South Pole should tell you all you need to know on how good these sweaters are.

No gents winter wardrobe is complete without one. You can purchase them online here.
Perfect for jaunts to The South Pole. Or a summer camping holiday in England.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Selvedge & Sustainability

Denim is arguably today's most ubiquitous fabric, with examples in virtually every wardrobe. However, it started life as workwear - the rugged shuttle loomed indigo dyed cotton twill having been worn in Europe since the 1700's.
Selvedge edge on a pair of Pike Brothers jeans
Normally the hallmark of decent denim - the selvedge edge on the outer seam of a pair of jeans.
This tough fabric unsurprisingly found popularity in the rough milieu of 19th century America. Famously in 1873 Levi Strauss began production of his riveted overalls, with the first 501 jeans (waist overalls) appearing in 1890.

After WWII denim made the leap from work to casual wear, experiencing a boom in popularity.

Unable to keep pace with demand, by the early 1980's the Big Three - Levi's, Lee & Wrangler - had all switched to wide loom production, selling their old shuttle looms for scrap. (Not sending them to Japan as denim folklore has it.)

Today almost all denim is produced this way -  on wide looms, capable of churning out enough cheap fabric to keep pace with demand, but giving an end result of vastly inferior quality.

The rise in the popularity of selvedge denim - driven by early Japanese brands like Evisu in the 90's - has gone some way to countering this. Today there are a plethora of selvedge denim brands out there, from Japan to America & Europe.

The American brands caught on rather late. In fact Levi's unleashed a raft of lawsuits in the 90's preventing Japanese labels from using their branding and arcuate.
As a company Levis realised their mistake - with their jeans filling bargain bins at $30 a pop customers must have got wind that quality and craftsmanship had somewhat fallen off.
This is where Levi's Vintage Clothing stepped in to redress the balance. Luckily they had kept a few of the old shuttle looms in a dusty corner of Cone Mills and today produce some of the nicest selvedge denim out there. (And being Levi's so they should.)

Lee and Wrangler also caught on and still produce high quality selvedge denim under Lee 101 & Wrangler Bluebell.

Hardly a month goes buy without a new brand launching. And the quality does vary. To say that all selvedge denim is good is misleading, just as not all non selvedge is bad. Just look at brands like Old Town as a case for the latter.

One of the most appealing aspects of decently made selvedge denim is that it will last for years. In short it's more sustainable - you don't have to repeatedly spend money on inferior jeans, putting yet more burden on cotton production, and exploiting low paid workers in some far flung sweat-shop churning out umpteen garments a day.

If you buy raw (which you should) you're doing the environment a favour too - some poor bloke then does not have to blast your jeans with a load of chemicals just to pre distress them. When did people get so lazy that they couldn't be bothered to break in their own clothing?

An indicator of selvedge denim's current popularity is that the big brands are getting in on the act. At the fashion trade show Bread & Butter in Berlin last month, several commercial labels were launching lines of selvedge denim for Spring / Summer '14. Whether the lines will last more than a few seasons I'm not sure.

Nudie have just launched a selvedge denim line for kids. As a brand they make a point of stressing sustainability and, to Nudie's immense credit, are very open about their production processes.

So the launch of a selvedge range for ankle biters came as something of a surprise.

I am reliably informed that children grow. There's no stopping them. Perhaps I'm being cynical, but all that beautiful selvedge denim, bought by wealthy parents with more money than sense, will probably get binned once the little blighters have out grown it. It might end up in a charity shop, or the most positive outcome - be passed down to a younger sibling. At 900DKK for a pair I hope the latter prevails.
To be fair to Nudie they have designed the jeans with waist tabs so the things can be let in and out as offspring grow.

Is that sustainable? In fact, with the explosion in popularity of selvedge denim as a whole I wonder if the mills still using old narrow looms can keep pace. After all, is that not why manufacturers switched to wide loom production in the first place?

I'm all for selvedge denim, in fact I love the stuff and would like to see more people wear it. Put simply it's higher quality and better for our planet. You don't need loads of pairs cluttering your wardrobe, just rotate a couple of jeans and they will last years.

Perhaps I'm generalising, but most folk tend to buy too many clothes and are nowhere near discerning enough in their purchases.
Selvedge denim may have a higher price point, but you'll buy less of it and be buying ethically - a principle it would do no harm to extend across your entire wardrobe.

For a brand like Nudie, the launch of children's selvedge denim line rather goes against this idea and against the sustainable principles they profess.

Then again in days of yore kids always wore selvedge denim and I'm sure ageing 30 something denim-heads will be tickled pink to clothe their spawn in selvedge denim.
Looking at the positives it might instil a love of the fabric in to a whole new generation and encourage parents to recycle their kids clothing, but this relies on said parents doing the right thing.

As an industry I suspect this might be the wrong way forward. I hope I'm wrong.

Have a look at Nudie's new kids range here.