Monday, December 24, 2007

It's hip to be square at work

Suitable has just returned from a quick dash across the pond where haberdashers are a dime a dozen.

So well turned-out are gents in London that I could not help but wonder why dressing nicely is a point of pride for them and a sticking point for blokes here at home.

Savile Row (and let's not forget Jermyn Street) may be the gold standard, yet most men get by without buying bespoke suits or spending exorbitant amounts of money. What they're doing right is caring about the details.

Consider the pocket square, also known as the handkerchief. If you've never worn one before, it is not nearly as foppish as you perceive it to be.

First, let's agree that calling it a puff or a hankie devalues its sartorial value. And according to purists, pocket squares and handkerchiefs serve different purposes - decorative compared with practical.

"One is for blowing and one is for showing," a genial sales associate named Jonathan explained to me as I browsed the Turnbull & Asser shop in London. (Incidentally, Jonathan had a cold and was using a tissue.)

They can further be distinguished by fabric; cotton for the handkerchief and silk for the pocket square. And unless you want to brag about ultra high-end Sea Island cotton handkerchiefs, silk will always be more expensive. At Turnbull's, for instance, cotton ranges from £3.50 to £30 (approximately double in Canadian dollars) whereas silk costs £35.

Silk, however, makes the bolder statement. It's what Toronto-based money manager Theo Caldwell prefers, and he's got a collection of nearly 30 (a combination of classic white and lively prints), which he says is "embarrassingly too few."

The approach of the 34-year-old son of Thomas Caldwell (as in Caldwell Asset Management) is an exception to the boring suits on Bay Street. But in his opinion, "you look somehow unprepared if you don't have [one] sticking up in the top left corner of your jacket."

To this extent, he folds the fabric and chooses his colours with great care. For formal occasions, he prefers the straight fold or precise peaks. Otherwise, he is less exact: "I turn it upside down, poke my finger in and then shove it in," Mr. Caldwell says.

As for matching his collection with his outfit, he says, "It ought to go with the tie but it ought not to be perfectly identical.

"You need just the right sort of shade; the rest of the day might not be as good as it should be if you don't have just the right play between the tie and the handkerchief."

Granted, regular pocket square wearers may not be nearly as affected by such perfect imperfection. To them, says Damon Allan of Alexander Steel Image Consulting, what matters is a subtle way to convey confidence and style savvy.

"It can be worn all year round and it's a wonderful piece to incorporate into a wardrobe since it can truly define a man's personal style," he says, noting that cashmere is a luxe option for the winter.

And echoing Mr. Caldwell, Mr. Allan says the biggest faux pas that men can make is to be matchy-matchy. His two recommendations: "The colours should pick up the colours in the tie, shirt or suit," and "if you are wearing a paisley tie, elect for a solid, or if you want to get racy then try a stripe."

Racy (and fun) is how I would describe a white cotton handkerchief from Paul Smith at Heathrow airport that boasted an old-fashioned pinup girl in the centre.

But my favourite pocket square of the moment comes from Green Shag Clothier, which has a "stordio" (a portmanteau of store and studio) in downtown Toronto. Founder Neil McPhedran's "pocket poof" combines a neoprene pocket protector for your BlackBerry or iPhone with a permanently folded silk top.

"Part of the problem is pocket square creep," he says of the tendency to slide downward. "We wondered if there was a way to get it to stay up. We'd seen permanent poofs but we wanted to put that together with a great receptacle."

He notes, however, that they are not intended as a handkerchief. "I don't think the notion of carrying a hankie will come back with full vengeance, especially now that people are more germ-sensitive."

Currently, he offers four solid colours and one print option ($35 at with more designs to come. And you've got to love a Canadian company whose motto - a good shag will always get you noticed - resonates with any British chap.

From Monday's Globe and Mail
December 24, 2007 at 10:52 AM EDT

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Actor, banker and Irish mythmaker

He's used to high finance, but Theo Caldwell is now ready to embark on a more epic task

The son of one of the giants of Canadian business is taking on one of the giants of Irish legend and, in the process, putting a little jig into Bay Street.

Theo Caldwell, rich by most definitions, dashing by almost all -- and single, too! -- has a secret project he's been working on in his spare time. When he's not working as an investment advisor for clients in Toronto and New York or buying up stocking exchanges around the world, that is.

The chap who calls Thomas Caldwell dad -- the chairman of Caldwell Financial and a flotilla of related subsidiary companies -- has a vanquishing Irish hero in his sights. "He's written a book called Finn the Half-Great," a source told me recently.

"It's a novel about the legends of Finn McCool, and it's meant as the first instalment of a fivepart series that will recount tales of giants, monsters and magic."

Finn McCool, who was a semimythical character long before he was a bar, is said to have been the greatest leader of the Fianna, the military elite of ancient Ireland responsible for guarding the High King. He also helped to implement a code of honour upon what was an unruly band, challenging them to become models of chivalry and justice. It's even been suggested that the tales of the Fianna are the basis of the legends of the Knights of the Round Table.

His friends, Theo tells me, are impressed that he can write a 150,000-word novel while managing a business, but he says that every Caldwell man has a hobby.

"My dad rides Harleys," he says, "my brother plants trees and I write about giants."

The fair-haired lad, who hasn't yet secured a publisher for his Irish scorcher but is working on it, apparently believes in diversification when it comes to both his portfolio and his pursuits. Besides scribbling prose, the thirty-something also spent a spell in Los Angeles pursuing an acting career, and at one time also tried to buy the muddy Frank magazine. To make it into, as he then put it, a "kinder, gentler magazine." Then, not long back, he also appeared as a contestant on TV's Jeopardy!.

But, it's not all UCC reunions and Spoke Club wine-tastings for our man. He's also been playing a hand in the bonanza that the family firm has been experiencing of late due to holding in various securities exchanges around the world. According to Investment Executive, the Caldwell Growth Opportunities Trust, introduced in September, 2005, has bagged a one-year return of 28% as of March 31.

And the spirit of Finn? It remains a steady guide. "Finn the half-Great is a fairly large fellow, but his friends and enemies are larger still," Theo tells me. "Our business is replete with awesome allies and formidable foes.

Size and strength are not always enough. Finn is clever and pleasant, too."

Shinan Govani, National Post
Published: Wednesday, May 02, 2007