Seeking the Perfect Shirt
“Every man has a favourite shirt.” From Michael is bringing a little bit of 21st Century flair and panache to this fundamental item of clothing
Article by Rupert Watkins
Careers in law and advertising do not sound at first to be likely breeding grounds for the shirt making world. However, a long-time shared love of elegance and good men’s clothes has seen Richard Pearey and Simon Small launch From Michael in April 2018, “I’d never been quite able to find that shirt I really liked,” recalls Simon, “all too often they seemed very conventional – straight down the line.” “Though a crowded marketplace, we just felt the Jermyn Street shirt needed to make the jump into the 21st Century” Richard adds.
Over differing careers, they’d both seen how dress conventions and work wear has evolved, especially in the last few years. The office environment – even the corporate one – witness the recent (March 2019) and much discussed change in Goldman Sach’s dress code – has evolved but there remains a need to be smart. “There’s also the fundamental appeal of having a shirt you like – that you know you look good in” Simon explains, “whether in a meeting or out having drinks it’s that underlying confidence that comes with looking and therefore feeling right – that’s the appeal of our shirts.”
With that in mind From Michael shirts have a slightly higher collar designed to be worn without a tie and much though has been put into creating a stylishly shaped collar that also works with and sets off a tie well. “We wanted to make the collars sit up so they didn’t collapse without a tie or get rumpled up under a jacket” remarks Simon, disclosing, “we spent about nine months on prototype collars before we found the right proportions that framed the face and just looked spot on.” The shirts are tailored; both the slim fit (Original Slim) and classic (All Grown Up, described as “The Original Slim after a good lunch”) are cut on the thinner side and the tails are lightly shorter than a conventional Jermyn Street example, because people might wear jeans. So far Richard and Simon’s shirts all have no plackets giving the shirts a more relaxed and continental feel that sits rather nicely against the still very English collars. The pair plan to introduce the traditional placket to one or two shirts in the future.
We then come to the From Michael cuffs. The trend to personalisation is evident in many areas of retail and our shirt making pair thought there could be an opportunity to do more than merely add a contrasting fabric inside the cuff. After much investigation they found a workshop in Leicestershire who use a unique Japanese printer and could print high quality images on fabric. Six months of testing proved they could reproduce photographs on cotton. which would not fade or run in a normal wash. Any smartphone shot of family, pets or any treasured occasion can now be discreetly placed onto the inside of the cuff. “Our double cuffs can also be reversable” Richards says, “during the day only the normal cuff is visible but, in the evening, it can be turned around to display a flash of colour and individuality.” However, even with the fun and quirky selling point, both are very clear From Michael’s focus is on the quality and feel of the shirts, “people have always start by liking our fit, construction and shape” explains Simon, “they then become inspired by what we can do with the cuffs. We want to be known for the style of the shirts first and foremost.
The route to From Michael – Simon & Richard got their love of shirts from their fathers who were both called Michael – started at Cambridge where the pair first met. Simon had always had an interest in men’s style and clothing, “my father was keen on his clothes, patronising various Savile Row tailors and Jermyn Street shops” he recalls. Simon’s mother was a notable beauty and had modelled in Vogue. Richard remembers meeting Simon’s parents and being impressed by their dress sense. “They just seemed so very cool. From there Simon got me interested in style.”
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Heading to their respective professions, the pair stayed in touch; rather tongue in cheek they both agreed that, “one day we must make shirts.” Having pursued successful careers, they came back to this idea. “In many ways it was bringing together our passion and setting ourselves a challenge” recounts Richard. “We both bring differing skills; Simon is a self-confessed product obsessive. He will enter a room and take in what everyone’s wearing and whether it looks good on them. Whilst he bought his eye and design skills, I was able to bring together everything I’d learn in marketing and advertising.”
The pair soon got to know a very experienced Jermyn Street cutter who’d worked at several of the street’s most illustrious shirt makers. “He taught us a lot, we spent a long time with him experimenting with the collar and pattern of the shirt.” This learning curve continued as Simon and Richard begun to research shirtings, “talking with various Italian cotton weavers we found ourselves immersed in the behaviour of shirting; the differing weaves and how they react to being washed, treated, cut and so on” Richard describes. “We also found we gravitated towards very similar colours and designs.” There was then the requirement to find a workshop capable of producing to the exacting standards the From Michael team had in their heads. “We already bought shirts from the better makers on Jermyn Street. We needed top quality.” After much research, they found a small European family owned workshop. Like many start-ups British luxury arena, they would have preferred to make in the UK, but they found that the necessary skills and material had dwindled away over the past couple of decades. “We know there are a couple of firms attempting to revive English shirting” Richard says, “but given the nature and quality of our shirts we need small quantities of unusual cloth and Italian producers are wonderful at that.”
From Michael launched in Spring last year with a range of ready-made shirts for business and shirts for play; but also the ability to create made to order for those wanting personalised cuffs or with particular requirements in size or material. They have seen a pleasing stream of regular customers with some ordering over a dozen examples. Perhaps unsurprisingly white poplin has been the most popular seller, “a good white shirt is the building block of a man’s wardrobe” maintains Simon. Even in a more relaxed age, corporate Americana still exerts its influence. Blues are good sellers but they do a number of limited editions of unusual materials that particularly appeal to them. Their shimmering navy Gilles Satin sold quickly to those who like a night out, and their linen and cotton cashmere blend shirts have also found a ready audience. Unusually within their ready to wear range they offer one of their white shirts with a cocktail cuff. Like many, Simon was first drawn to these through watching the early Sean Connery Bond films, “they just allow a subtle flash of colour.” Their latest addition is in grey linen, “whilst it’s a less usual colour” admits Richard “it’s actually quite a subtle palette and so goes with a very wide range of colours and clothing.”
Simon and Richard have seen From Michael shirts to be popular with women as presents – they love to personalise a shirt as a gift. This has quickly led to requests for women’s blouses and their first examples are in the process of being designed. Though accepting we live in an increasingly tieless world, the pair are developing From Michael ties. “We’re incredibly proud of our shirts, worn with or without a tie, so when a tie is required it seems the logical next step to offer something we’re equally proud of.” Like many other British firms, they are aware of the allure of UK brands in the US and Japanese markets, “I can imagine a Beau Brummell – esque inspired cuff appealing to Japanese shirt fans” enthuses Richard.
As Simon puts it, “every man has a favourite shirt.” That shirt is just right, it looks and feels good – the one thing you reach for first in the wardrobe. From Michael is bringing a little bit of 21st Century flair and panache to this fundamental item of clothing.