H. Lesser and Sons
`Ahem!’ said the Mouse with an important air, `are you all ready? This is the driest thing I know. Silence all round, if you please! “William the Conqueror, whose cause was favoured by the pope, was soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders, and had been of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest. Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria- -”’
What should you know about H. Lesser and Sons and why should you care?
You should know that H. Lesser and Sons (H. Lesser) are fabric merchants who are known for specifying from the weaving mills cloth that combines luxury with both durability and a sense of nostalgia. The cloth is definitely retro; think parliament circa 1968 or the Kennedy administration. It has zero sex appeal but it gives off the fumes of the British Empire and 1930s-60s patrician reserve, both American and English.
And why should you care? If you get made to measure or custom clothing, which more frequently seems to be the case with American men these days, you might want to take a look at H. Lesser cloths. Oh, I admit that most American men, even those who love clothes might never bump into H. Lesser fabric and still lead a very happy life, but for them, perhaps, if nothing else, there is something entertaining to read here.
I have always been fascinated with H. Lesser fabrics because they evoke a world that is now gone but the memory of which still excites me. A world before designer labels, a world of diplomacy, and a world before the late 1960s made the suit choices of men forever influenced by women and sexuality. H. Lesser represents power among and over a world of men. This fabric was never designed to be fawned over by women, nor anyone for that matter. It was designed to tell the entire world that you have more intelligence, wealth, style and social clout than it does; you are superior and fearless.
To make a comparison, H. Lesser cloth has a very different look from that of Harrisons of Edinburgh but both are quintessentially English. Each of these two cloth merchants are as different as the soft, roomy Anderson & Sheppard cut is to the built-up and fitted Huntsman or Dege and Skinner suit silhouette. Harrisons represents the contemporary1, the easy, and the era of consumption and luxury made sensible, while H. Lesser makes no contemporary sense at all. They offer unparalleled quality from the past along with the same retro mindset.
The fabrics are the driest I have ever seen and they are unique for that reason2. Additionally, the optical sense of depth and quality is compelling, even for those who know little about fabrics. Shades of what should be ordinary navy blue and charcoal seem different from any other merchant and evoke a sense of the old-world. Not old looking, but old-world as if only the most enterprising of men would wear them; the sort of officers and statesmen whose portraits your candle would illuminate along the walls of a manor’s staircase during a late night thunder storm. Each one of them created from some great master’s palette and each wearing a suit fit to triumph over the surrounding darkness.
In many ways H. Lesser cloth is the fabric equivalent of the Triumph of Death as painted by Brueghel the Elder which in spite of the macabre subject matter is both rich and vibrant. Not the decrepit, wormy death of the mausoleum but the crippling fear of the unknown which only the most self assured can vanquish. This is corporate raider death and the must of money so old it’s brittle. Wearing H. Lesser, one has the imperturbability of having become one with death without having succumbed to its whispers. Wearing H. Lesser cloth, you will never make friends with the living, you will never woo the maiden (except as Hans Baldung-Grien depicts it), but the Bull and the Bear will watch in listless awe at the man returned victorious from the market’s moral void.
And this is why until recently the fabrics have only been popular with the English and a handful of American dandies who appreciate the look and the superb quality. Getting this cloth tailored is like toying with the occult, a grimoire; what one doesn’t know can hurt one considerably. And if you don’t know how to handle the potential that H. Lesser cloth has to offer, the gravitas, the look that suggests you are from somewhere beyond and inaccessible to ordinary folk, then you should abstain.
It is useful for a dandy because a dandy does not want to be accessible, does not want to be touched; he stands apart and wants to send the message that he has better tastes both stylistically and qualitatively, that he has no end and no beginning and that he emanates from a place so high that no one dare inquire. For what is a dandy but a man who trumps all through the use of clothes and personal style? And like the jester who is often the cleverest and most philosophical of all, the superficial sartorial façade conceals the deeper more puissant thoughts that stream beneath.
Now there is a real reason to rejoice, because H. Lesser has re-launched a book of cloth in super 120s and 1% cashmere. The shift, even in England, towards lighter weights in cloth made them feel it was time to reintroduce this bunch with some updated patterns.
This cloth bridges the gap between old and new, between finesse and sturdiness. It was originally introduced in the late 1980s, and when so many other merchants decided to introduce a 120s range too, it was replaced with an “upgraded” 120s and 10% cashmere bunch. That extra cashmere content increased the price but not the luxury or the performance and arguably even interfered with the longevity of the cloth. Fortunately, the original 120s range is back in circulation.
The 11-11.5 oz superfine book also offers a handsome suit cloth; just about the heaviest weight an American man would choose for a work suit. This cloth is the proverbial workhorse of suit cloths. I can personally attest that the cloth can endure a beating. Unfortunately, central heating and global warming combined with an ever increasing American body mass demands that I relate the fact that there is no give in the cloth. Thus, if you get hot and perspire easily or expand due to good living or weight lifting, this may not be the cloth for you.
H. Lesser’s cloths are all twofold for both warp and weft which means all yarns used have a double helix like twist going both vertically and horizontally. The way the cloths are constructed, most tailors will tell you that they are easier and more dependable to tailor. Their cloths are tighter, denser, more packed with fibers than those of the others and the cloth’s surface is all finished in a paper-dry manner that practically draws the moisture out of the observer’s eyeball. The extra yarns and the tighter weave mean that, after a wearing, the fabrics will spring back into shape more quickly. Cloth constructed more carefully will outlast cloth made using a few shortcuts. Short stubby yarns do not allow the sort of fiber blending possible with longer yarns used by H. Lesser. Therefore, cloth made with the longer strands will be more compact and longer wearing without sacrificing refinement.
Because they refuse to skimp on quality, H. Lesser prefer cloth made in the old manner. Apparently, rather like the idyllic calm before the guns of August, H. Lesser lament the loss of the world as it should be for what it has become. The modern age continues to take its toll and every year it is increasingly difficult to maintain the same high quality for a variety of reasons. One of them is that the British wool trade is becoming more mass produced and the smaller mills H. Lesser deals with cannot always afford to get the high grade yarns in the smaller amounts required by their clients without assessing a considerable surcharge which would make the cost of the cloth prohibitive.
England is still H. Lesser’s largest market still but the U.S. is catching up.
As mentioned above, H. Lesser has the driest finish imaginable, and this is actually much harder to produce than smoother finished cloths. It has to be specially requested and it must be inspected using a laborious process. It is not uncommon for cloth to be sent back to the mill to be refinished.
It would be a shame for a firm like H. lesser, with their talents, to turn into a run-of-the-mill cloth maker like everyone else. They are proof that merchants are value-added and not merely resellers from the weaving mills. Without their direction and attention to both detail and English tradition, the art itself might disappear entirely, though I do get a sense from the owners, with regards to quality, that they will not go gently. For now, H. Lesser will continue to maintain the standards of a more exclusive age.
And I think Winston Churchill would approve while running his thumbs under the charcoal chalk striped lapels of a suit made from their cloth and rallying parliament by declaring something along the lines of “Millions for defense, not one penny for tribute.” His fellow MPs stand to acclaim his triumphal exit from the chamber and he descends the marble steps outside to a menacing thrum overhead. This is his finest hour and his H. Lesser finery frames him, an outward reference to the man of resolve within.
1 Although, ironically, Harrisons carries traditional tweeds that Lesser does not.
2 The dry effect refers to a ‘natural finish’ as opposed to the ‘gloss’ on a cloth that you see so often in tailoring bunches. There must be a finishing process to any cloth -if you could see the cloth in a loom or after scouring you would not think it was the same article that you see in a bunch. The dryer look is thus a result of the skillful non application of finish during the finishing process. Sometimes less is more. In this case a less modern but more manly cloth.