Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Custom (MTM) Shirt; Part 1

homas Pink used to be my main source for shirts. Classic British styling, amazing fabrics, and a pretty decent fit. Over the years, their prices have increased and while their styles (cuts) have also increased, their number of offered fabrics has diminished some. Their prices have increased so much that I began to hunt for other options, and eventually it dawned on me that I could get a custom made shirt (Made to Measure - MTM) for nearly the same price. There's a host of options for that out there, but Ascot Chang came highly recommended thru a number of reputable sources. It was time to give it a try.

So I walked in late one afternoon to their store on 59th Street. There were stacks of off the rack shirts, some ties, some suits. The salesperson was friendly, and I asked about their custom shirts. The scoop is that you have to buy four of them in a clip, period. Ok. I was led to the back where there was a table and a shelf with some 30 or 40 books of least that's what they had out. I was introduced to Albert Chang, who was working on talking the arm off of a shirt. I was asked what types of fabrics I was looking for, and three books were presented.

Imagine that each book has some 80 fabrics or so.....whoa! Flipping thru them was amazing. On each there was a sticker with a price ranging from $480 to about $550. After a lot of time and agonizing, I asked how they priced their shirts; thinking that sticker represented price per bolt of fabric or something. Nope. That's the price per shirt for that fabric. So I interrupted Mr. Chang from his task and informed him that my budget was perhaps somewhat less than he may have anticipated. No problem - three new books appeared, and I was back down to Thomas Pink range. And the quality difference was not significant.... After a lot of hemming and hawing, I picked two plain white shirts (a good thing to have) and two other with bold stripes. And that's when the real fun began....


Saturday, May 14, 2011

If it's good enough for "The Football" ...

f my plane every goes down, the NTSB is likely to find two things: the ubiquitous "black box" and my luggage.  Having carried around the crappy nylon luggage that everyone else uses for years, I decided it was time for an upgrade.  It needed to meet international carry-on bag standards.  It needed to have a "suiter" (folding compartment to carry a suit and/or shirts), it needed to look nice and be easily identified, and it needed to withstand significant airline abuse.

Zeroller ZR21T by Zero Halliburton
The first challenge was to decide on a material.  Leather, canvas, carbon fiber, aluminum, and polycarbonate (not polycarbonate composite) were all in the mix.  Leather was nice and would develop a nice patina with all the mis-handling, but was also likely to get stolen.  Canvas was too crushable.  Carbon fiber was nice but $2,760.  That left aluminum and polycarbonate.  Aluminum could take more abuse, and polycarbonate was also strong and lighter.  Eligible brands included Titan, Tumi, Zero Halliburton, and Rimowa.

In the end, I chose the aluminum Zeroller ZR21T by Zero Halliburton.  With 6 wheels, an aircraft aluminum exterior, metal handles, nice lining, and a TSA lock built-in, it also is able to fit in the overhead.  Steel locks keep it closed.  You can sit on it when you run into places with no seats.  The light color/reflective nature of the aluminum keeps it cool in the summer sun.  Interior straps keep everything in place.  The interior lining is the best I've seen.  Removable suiter when it's a pleasure trip and not business.
Oodles of room, and even the Champagne is protected.

Zero Halliburton began it's life in 1946 as Zierold Company, a metal fabricator.  They later became the Zero Corporation and in 1952 acquired the Halliburton travel case division started by Earle Halliburton in 1938.  He had commissioned a team of aircraft engineers to build some cases that could withstand his frequent international adventures.  Since then, the materials haven't changed much (still uses aircraft aluminum) but the methods have.   Zero Halliburton's site best describes the incredible production process:
  • Every ZERO Halliburton aluminum Case starts with a two-ton coil of aircraft-grade aluminum. 
  • After being cut into individual pieces, the aluminum is “deep-drawn” over special steel dies using 440 tons of pressure. As the shape is formed, the molecular structure of the aluminum actually changes, resulting in a shell that's free of wrinkling, distortion and manufacturing inconsistencies. 
  • Following the deep-draw process, the shell is heated to more than 1000 degrees Fahrenheit and then quickly cooled, making the aluminum even stronger and more durable. 
  • Each shell is then buffed and electro-chemically anodized to add color and prevent corrosion.
 If that's not enough of a selling point, consider that a Zero Halliburton case was used in the Apollo Mission to bring rock samples back to earth.  Today it's still the interior case for "The Football" - the case that a presidential aide carries with our nuclear launch codes.  Should do just fine for my luggage...