A shirt’s collar, cuff and semiotics

Next time you’re choosing a shirt color and collar, beware of the rules of fashion as well as the power of semantics. «Luxury is misunderstood in this country,» says Giorgos Tsilolias, president and CEO of shirt-maker Oxford Company. «There should be a shirt for every hour of the day: from a stroll, to the office, to a meeting; a shirt has everything to do with semiotics.» Tracing the garment’s life to the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Etruscans and the Romans, among others, for Tsiolias the art of making and wearing a shirt comes down to a dress code which determines the hour, the time and the activity of the person wearing it. Taking its name from the cotton cloth Oxford, the company concept is all about the traditional principles of shirt-making, while covering the morning-to-evening needs of its target group, which includes 25- to 45-year-old men, without discarding younger 20-year-olds who are keen on the clean-cut college look. Focusing on detail – such as double cuffs on jean shirts, as well as encouraging initials on shirts – Oxford Company merchandise and outlets offer the convergence of two schools of fashion thought, namely a mix of British and Italian style (also evident in the shops’ decoration); this is really is a reflection of the company’s overall flair, which combines a notion of British tradition with a sense of Italian passion for fashion. In keeping in touch with world fashion and retail developments, however, the Oxford Company keeps a keen eye on trends, which it subsequently translates into its own shirt language of wearable and accessible garments. It was while studying to become a chemist in Italy that Tsiolias became friends with a vintage garment collector and began looking at clothes in a different, often sociological way (at the same time he was also working for various clothing companies). When he returned to Greece, he decided that pharmaceuticals was not a career he wanted to follow, and that his mission was more creative. Clothes were one clear answer. Established in 1991, the Oxford Company is currently producing 250,000 shirts per year, ranging from classic to sporty lines, as well as 20,000 ties, which are then sold in 27 outlets in Greece and Cyprus. Shirts are manufactured in both Greece and Italy (the sport collection made locally, while the more complicated techniques, such as those for evening wear, are executed in technologically savvy Italy), while the top-quality fabrics’ provenance is divided between Italy (80 percent) and France (20 percent). «It is very important that we produce locally, and I’m actually proud to be producing in Greece, and even more proud that locally, we employ 110 people in both production and retail,» says Tsiolias. In a country where the made-in-any-other-country-than-Greece syndrome is still going strong, Tsiolias remains down-to-earth. Following extensive market research, he was confronted with results pointing to the fact that Greek clients were not necessarily aware that Oxford Company is a Greek brand. «People out there did not give Oxford Company a definitive home country,» he says. «So we don’t say anything anymore; We just let the client decide for himself.» Together with a group of Greek assistant designers, Tsiolias comes up with two basic collections a year, while throwing in two flash collections, smaller collections to renew stock at the shops. Taking its queue from international trends, with colors ranging from black and white, earthy and indigo, the Autumn-Winter 2002-2003 collection is divided into four categories: Inspired by the late racing champion Graham Hill and colorful French fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, the Light line is a tribute to Italian elegance and British luxury, resulting in a kind of relaxed elegance which is ideal for elite sports; black is the leading color of the Anarchy line, where a notion of the underground music scene is represented and inspired by Bob Dylan or Morissey; military chic through the development of the uniform is the theme of the Sincerity line, which was inspired by seemingly diverse personalities ranging from Mao Tse-tung, to the legendary French actor Jean Gabin, but also Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers; and finally, a touch of the ethnic element is evident in the Myths line, where the world of music and fashion come together, through the personalities of Stevie Wonder and James Brown, but also Eminem. Working with feel-good colors such as white and beige – while also throwing in fashionable, seasonal shades of pink and lilac, for instance – Tsiolias is also quick to point out the importance of quality fabrics. In an industry where textile innovation is increasingly evident and exciting, Tsiolias is not the one to pick «loud» fabrics, such as creased fabrics, but prefers to work on his basic core of cotton. But there still room for some high-tech: These days, for instance, Oxford Company shirts are made of Compact, a new cotton thread which lasts longer. There is also quite a bit of linen, but don’t expect silk, says Tsiolias. «It comes down to aesthetics,» he says. «Essentially, a shirt collar is a man’s extension; if a man has a round face he should not be wearing a rex collar, but a classic one. Alternatively, a narrow-faced man wearing a classic collar, can look aggressive.» Contemplating the future, Tsiolias does not rule out collaborating in other countries, such as in Eastern Europe, for instance, while he is increasingly approached by Italian companies who would like to have an inside look into the Greek firm’s impressive know-how in shirt-making retail. For the time being, however, he would rather concentrate on training the local clientele to find the right shirt – which also means that men should be doing their own shopping rather than answering size questions over the phone. «You don’t wear patent leather shoes in the morning,» says Tsiolias. «People live in a contradiction in this country: Luxury is all about color harmony, excellent fabrics and good timing; you simply don’t go skiing in a tux.»