Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Grey Trouser Project with Cad & the Dandy IV: The Review

All good things must come to an end, and this column marks the end of my latest bespoke project, two pairs of grey mid-weight mixer trousers by my usual London tailors Cad & the Dandy. In embarking on this project, I wanted to continue to build a capsule wardrobe of affordable and durable staple tailored pieces, cut in honest, hardy cloths and fitted beautifully. I'm pleased to report that as with the double-breasted suit they cut for me most recently, Cad & the Dandy have not disappointed.


In terms of fit, these are not only the best trousers I own, but also pleasingly the best trousers that we've achieved together as tailor and client. As outlined in the posts on the first and second basted fittings, I have a difficult posture for fitting trousers, and getting the trousers to hang both cleanly across my front and around my rather rotund seat is a real challenge for a tailor. The addition of an extra basted fitting has ensured that both pairs sit fantastically cleanly around my seat - the sweeping line through the rear of the trousers is immensely pleasing. The pleats also fall and hang beautifully and the weight added by the two inch thick turn-ups on each pair helps the trousers to drape nicely through the thigh and calf.


The other great pleasure of these trousers is the sheer amount of hand-work that's gone into them; the lining to the waistband has been visibly inserted and stitched-in by hand, the pocket openings have been both tacked and top-stitched by hand and I love the way that the tops of each pleat have been very cleanly and tightly tacked in with a dense little bar of hand-stitching. 
Unusually, the fly of each trouser has not been hand-stitched but machine stitched, whereas my other bespoke trousers by Cad & the Dandy have a hand-stitched fly. I don't mind this however on trousers that are intended for heavy use, as the machine stitching is discreet, uniform and creates a stronger fly. Its also nice to sense those little idiosyncrasies of different trouser makers; although my other bespoke trousers have a hand-finished fly, they don't have any tacking keeping the pleats in place. These little differences in technique are a charming reminder that each bespoke commission is the work of a talented individual and not a soulless, mechanised process. The reinforcing tacks in these two new pairs of trousers are the ideal example of this individuality, and a reassuring as well as practical touch by the trouser maker.

I am also very pleased with the choice of cloths for this project. Initially I had a slight reservation about using a cavalry twill from the Holland & Sherry Dakota Plains bunch; I've often thought that it can look somewhat old fashioned, but I love the impressive weight, solidity and texture that it brings to these trousers. I have worn them day in day out for the last few days and they wear beautifully - they're the perfect workhorse trouser. Credit must also go to Holland & Sherry for producing a cloth with such sheen and variety of tone in the yarn, because the mixture of pale, mid and dark grey yarns makes the cloth look considerably more modern than it otherwise might. The light grey twill by Dugdale Bros. creases a little more than I was expecting, given that my two suits in Dugdale Bros. cloths are awesomely resistant to creasing and wear effortlessly. This cloth is slightly lighter however, weighing in at twelve ounces as opposed to fourteen, and it hasn't been double-milled (a process which provides a denser cloth with a light nap, as with my navy bespoke suit) and the slightly lighter weight is just what I was after to keep the trousers versatile. I also love the different mottled grey textures in the cloth - which again adds depth and visual texture.


All the boxes are ticked then. Its been a time consuming process with two fittings, but I am pleased to report that Cad & the Dandy have produced two pairs of quintessential grey worsted trousers which have not only satisfied my brief and arrived at the ideal time with autumn around just the corner, but which also on a personal note, have set a bench-mark in my working with them. These are the best fitting trousers they've made for me and they will set the standard for future commissions - they are a truly excellent shape and fit, sitting cleanly around my waist and hips both front and back; presenting the elegant, smooth lines that only bespoke tailoring can achieve. I feel very privileged to own them and the team at Cad & the Dandy should be proud of what they've created.


Fully handmade bespoke trousers start from £240.00 per pair (a distinctly affordable price for bespoke trousers) and take around seven weeks to produce, including a basted and forward fitting. Extra fittings are available if necessary but will of course increase the length of the process.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

What is it About Drake's?

I confess, I'm in love - and indeed I have increasingly been for sometime. And my love at this particular moment in time is for Drake's thirty six and fifty ounce silk foulard ties. Drake's first came to my attention around a year ago, when a friend treated me to a navy, cream and red abstract printed tie for my Birthday. Having never owned and always admired Drake's ties before, I became hooked as soon as I lifted it from the box, and even more so when I slipped it around my shirt collar for the first time. What is it that makes these delicate lengths of folded silk so enchanting? They're quite simply some of the best ties produced in the world today, and each and every one of them is handmade in London by highly experienced craftsmen. 


A relatively youthful company by the standards of the usual age-old luxury British menswear standards, the brand can claim a for itself a modern identity and progressive approach borne of its flexible and innovative take on British manufacturing. Founded in 1977, Drake's set-up shop in London - intent on producing the finest accessories (initially scarves - neck ties were to come later) with a real quality of manufacture and classically British flair. Some thirty years later under the direction of Mr. Michael Hill, the brand continues to do just that. 

Drake's has always prided itself on producing a quirky product, but one with integrity and British authenticity. Drake's ties and handkerchiefs are both designed and hand-printed in London and then produced (once more by hand) in the company's factory in the East End by a small, pride-filled and loyal complement of craftsmen. To produce its other accoutrements, Drake's partners with like-minded artisanal producers; creating knitwear, highly sought after limited runs of tailored pieces (this season's sky blue double-breasted linen blazer is particularly fine) and shirting. Particularly admirable the four ply Scottish cashmere shawl collar cardigans which offer the softest, yet most durable knits in the business.



In essence, nothing is allowed to compromise the quality of the product and Drake's ties are the ideal example the obsessive care taken to ensure that this is the case. Take for example the emphasis placed on construction. Drake's ties are hand-rolled for a fuller, softer shape, cut on the bias and hand-sewn using a perfectly honed slip-stitch through their full length (a technically demanding stitch, used especially for top-quality ties because it allows the product to stretch when tied and recover when untied). The great paradox of a Drake's tie is one of trust - this care and attention to detail produces a tie which feel extremely delicate, yet the quality of construction and cloth ensures that the tie is considerably more forgiveable and durable than many other similar products on the market - it takes a while to get your head around it and understand the durability of their ties. A Drake's tie feels light and comfortable on (even their fifty ounce foulards, which are really quite heavy for a modern neck tie), produces a lovely dimpled knot and recovers beautifully from a full day's wear, complete with regular tightening and knot-fiddling. They're the kind of accessory that comes to inspire an entire outfit, the quality of even something as understated as a plain navy grenadine shines through.



Ties come in different weights and with different linings (both tipped and untipped - again with a hand-rolled edge in the case of the latter) cut from beautiful silks, wools, linens and innovative cashmere blends but also using a combination of different blade widths and lengths. The different weights of silk cloths used are also emphasised and Drake's are (to my knowledge) the only company today who go to the lengths of routinely offering ties with different weights and linings off-the-peg. 

On personal note, as a lover of beautifully made clothing, and more specifically of bold vintage inspired prints and art deco geometric patterning - Drake's is pretty damned perfect. For example, I've just treated myself to a cotton and silk blended pocket square on which is emblazoned several scantily clad navy art-deco figures in bathing suits clutching orange and white beach-balls. The approach to such things is colourful, witty, dry and quintessentially British. Although there will be more to come on the new Autumn/Winter collection later in the season, the few pieces that have been released thus far are conventionally innovative and intriguing. Brushed silk diamond motif print ties in navy, purple, maroon and ochre set the standard.



There's not a lot more to say, because Drake's ties are one of those rare things that simply must be experienced in the flesh, and although an expensive luxury for many, I know of many menswear connoisseurs who simply will not wear anything else for having tried Drake's. I myself have been expanding my modest collection at every opportunity and would advise readers to indulge whenever and wherever they can. 

Drake's ties start at £95.00, bespoke ties start from £155 with no minimum order required.

www.drakes.com

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Bodiley's of Northampton: The London Collection

Any gentleman interested in sartorial style and the business of tailoring, will most likely possess an additional passion for classic, sartorial shoes. With this in mind, in an attempt to continue to offer an expanding variety of insights into luxury style on Thoughts of a 'Student Tailor', I will over the coming months be running a series of features on a number of hand-picked luxury British shoemakers. With this in mind, allow me to introduce Bodiley's of Northampton. There are many great shoemakers in Britain and across Europe, but special mention must go to those British shoemakers which have their roots in the unparalleled sartorial history of Northampton, a city which has acted as the hub for luxury British footwear producers for some nine hundred years. This shoemaking heritage makes for a promising foundation for those British shoemakers who continue to operate out of Northampton today, and Bodiley's is no exception.


Founded in 1919, with a past that includes the production of military boots for the armed services, and the creation of shoes in 1952 for Queen Elizabeth's II coronation, Bodiley's is about as classically British as a shoemaker can be. Of particular interest today are some of the more unusual correspondent or full-brogue models that Bodiley's produce, which set the brand apart from other Northampton-based brands. Their 'jazzier' models of course have their roots in the Jazz Age, when experimentation with intricate decorative punched broguing and with different leathers and dyes could be viably undertaken for the first time. Bodiley's was a brand which picked-up on these changes in the gentleman's footwear market and enjoyed a prosperous start catering to the wealthy dandies of the 20s and 30s. Take a look at the two-tone Wilton model displayed below - the side-brogue vamp contrasts beautifully against the chocolate suede uppers, making a distinctive modern statement with its roots nonetheless firmly in the correspondent shoes of the early twentieth century.


Another delight is of course the rare fact that the firm is family run. Sarah Dudley today is the fourth generation to manage the company which her grandfather founded. Under Dudley's leadership, the firm has not only retained an international reputation for the quality of its footwear, but also has benefitted from a modern, innovative approach; Bodiley's was not only one of the first traditional Northampton shoemakers to sell online, but also enhanced Northampton's reputation as a shoemaking hub by retailing other Northampton-based brands on their website, developing Bodiley's into one of the best online destinations for English made shoes.


The brand came to my attention last year with the launch of the London Collection, designed by renowned footwear designer John Garner (formally of Edward Green). Garner brought to the collection over fifty years of expertise in the luxury British footwear trade, assisting Bodiley's with everything from the designing of a new selection of timeless and beautifully balanced lasts, to the sourcing of superior materials. Naturally, all these shoes are made in Bodiley's Northampton factory, with a robust Goodyear welted sole - each pair taking over eighty hours to produce individually. Also striking is the suppleness of the leathers used (ensuring that the shoes will be forgiving and comfortable on) and the richness of the burnished brown finishes on show; which range from multi-tonal tan and antique chestnut to chocolate hues.


There are nine perfectly crisp and classic English shoes to choose from in the collection, (in addition to Bodiley's other usual models) ranging from the quintessential full-brogue in polished black calf, to a pair of sleek double-monkshoes in burnished chestnut. Its a cleverly conceived capsule collection which does everything it says on the tin, delivering 'the perfect shoe wardrobe for every gentleman'. I recommend readers in need of good English shoes to take a look; in shopping with Bodiley's, not only are you buying an English shoe of superior quality, you are also investing in a long-lasting piece of Northampton's shoemaking heritage. 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Science of the Bespoke Shirt, with Ede & Ravenscroft

Discovering Ede & Ravenscroft's beautiful Chancery Lane store last weekend was a real delight. Meeting with Mr. Roy Sarling, Ede & Ravenscroft's Bespoke Shirting Specialist to order my first bespoke shirt proved even more enjoyable. Having a bespoke shirt made is a similar rite of passage to a first bespoke suit - the level of attention to detail, precise measuring, the thousands of beautiful shirting cloths and superior craftsmanship makes a bespoke shirt a truly wonderful thing to commission and collaborate on with a shirt maker. I haven't experienced such a rush of excitement and anticipation when ordering clothes in quite some time.



In ordering a bespoke shirt I was hoping to create something that wouldn't be available off-the-peg, whilst also resisting the temptation to go for something so outlandish that would become completely impractical. Although overwhelmed by the vast variety of weaves, colours and cloths (it is hard to describe how much more variety is available for bespoke shirts than is offered off-the-peg), I think I managed it. Despite being tempted by a tangerine herringbone, as well as a superfine plain imperial purple and even a turquoise, the eventual choice was something fundamentally more subtle. Dusty coral pink is fast becoming one of my favourite colours for accessories, because its soft, subtle and believe it or not was a hugely popular colour during the early 20s. I originally suspected that finding a coral pink shirting fabric would prove difficult, but I need not have worried.



A superfine two-ply ninety gram cloth, with an extraordinarily fine, silken handle was the eventual choice (the top swatch pictured below). The cloth itself comes from one of the most technologically advanced shirting fabric producers in the world and was out of this world in terms of soft handle and precision of weave. Having had a good look through a number of bespoke shirting bunches for the first time, it has to be said that the quality of cloth available has to be one of the premier advantages of going bespoke when it comes to shirting.



The other great advantage of going bespoke, is the level of expertise and personalisation a shirt maker can bring to a commission. This shirt is littered with lots of little points of personalisation, care of Roy's expert eye. Given that I wanted a long pointed collar, akin to that on a typical spread-collar from the 30s, Roy has deepened the collar and band from that of my off-the-peg shirts to allow for a long, narrow point. A collar tab is also being added to allow for the collar to sit close around a tie knot and button underneath the tie, helping it to lift a little from the neck, sitting proud, just the way I like it to. To match the tab on the shirt collar, the shirt gauntlet buttons are also going to fasten with a tab - a lovely little stylistic touch that was again Roy's suggestion.



The collar itself is going to be fused - this is not traditional but it'll keep the collar looking neat and clean with no puckering when its bent around the tie-knot and tabbed in place; its the modern, innovatory equivalent of a stiff starched collar. Even the collar bone pockets are being made precisely to fit my own collar bones. The front bottom edge of the shirt cuffs are also going to be 'mitred' or cut away in a rounded diagonal shape, to prevent the bottom of the cuffs from wearing thin due to constant contact with a desk - a feature recommended for those who spend a good deal of their day sitting and either typing or writing in the office. The body and sleeves are being cut slim - all judged by Roy's expert eye. It was particularly fascinating to see him pluck at the cloth of the shirt I was wearing all around my chest and arms, to assess the 'depth' of the shirt, so he could decide upon the necessary sleeve and body proportions. Another delightful feature is that Ede & Ravenscroft insist on lining the front of every bespoke shirt with a superfine voile lining, to prevent any skin tone from showing through - a wonderfully thoughtful feature that allows the colour of the shirt the shirt to shine through true.

Roy is a third generation bespoke craftsman, and as you will have gathered by this point, he is something of a shirting maestro. With some thirty five years in the business, twenty one of them with Ede & Ravenscroft, his passion for shirting is infectious, his relationship with his workshop extremely close and his technical understanding is superlative - though he would put it differently. "Its not about what you know, its about what you don't know - in this business you never stop learning". I certainly learned an awful lot from him at the fitting.



Also refreshing, is Ede & Ravenscroft's approach. Roy emphasised to me up-front that the process is slow and careful and that I won't be leaving the shop with the shirt until he is happy with it - a reassuring thing to hear for a first commission. Also refreshing is the fact that Roy, unlike a lot of shirt makers, has no minimum order requirement. It doesn't matter whether customers come in for one shirt or six, its all about providing an old fashioned, uncompromising service. Indeed, the store is imbued with the most illustrious sense of old-world comfort, service and glamour - right down to the excellent selection of gentle jazz standards melodiously serenading in the background. I was highly impressed by the personal, relaxed and generous service in the shop. I say generous because the time and warmth that Roy and his team exude is truly delightful.

The bespoke shirt making service is available exclusively in Chancery Lane, by appointment. Shirts start at £295 and as we have heard, refreshingly there is no minimum order required.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

In Defence of Personal Taste

Another commentary piece this week, and one addressing a subject which is rather close to my heart, so please do forgive the incessant use of personal pronouns which are to follow. Having spent the last five weeks being fortunate enough to work in Mayfair and enjoy a stroll down Savile Row most lunchtimes, one thing that continues to impress is the sheer diversity of house cuts, styles of tailoring and particularly differences in the use of colour and pattern between tailors. 


For example, Norton & Sons will almost universally present in their window a clean and crisp silver-grey suit (possibly with a subtle worsted check) finished with a dark cashmere tie. Huntsman will offer a variety of loud tweeds, whilst Dege & Skinner may offer up a deeply traditional embroidered velvet smoking jacket, only a few doors down from Kilgour's daringly minimalistic grey sharkskin single breasted coat and black silk skinny tie. One of the great joys of Savile Row is this diversity; in the subtle differences in tradition and convention which mark each tailor apart. Different customers work with different tailors to suit their individual tastes. Without these differences, Savile Row would cease to exist and unremarkable boredom and homogeneity would reign supreme. Where would those who cared about their clothes go to?


 It is the caring individual's love of clothing that drives Savile Row as an entity, so in my humble view such things should be nurtured. I know for example that I'm a somewhat flamboyant dresser, but I enjoy being a flamboyant dresser and in my defence, everything that informs my dress sense is rooted in sartorial history and in a genuine appreciation and enjoyment of a maximalist approach to colour and pattern. So why gentlemen wandering up and down Savile Row in frankly unimaginative plain charcoal blazers and unremarkable white shirts feel the need to sneer (because certain parties have sneered) I do not know. It is important for those who engage with the world of tailoring to celebrate its individuality, without falling into the all too human pitfall of judging those who engage with their tailoring slightly differently - such divisions can easily do more harm than good and create tension and disunity, rather than a mutual respect for one another's style and clothes. Equally, those who have the luxury of bespoke suiting should not presume to judge those who cannot afford the same - I know many people who thoroughly enjoy wearing and feel good in considered and well thought through made-to-measure and off-the-peg outfits.


All fashion, like other forms of art (and I do like to think of tailoring as a kind of art-form in itself) is a deeply personal form of self-expression. That which is personal, is totally subjective and no one can be more right or wrong with respect to how fashion 'should be' for this reason. When writing, I often offer guidance as to the conventions of tailoring, or offer an insight into my own thought process - but I would never presume to critique or judge someone's personal taste in a negative fashion. If an individual feels more comfortable with the bottom button of his waistcoat done up, the world will not come to an end. In writing a blog offering style advice, I always aim to remember that such waffle is just that - advice. The joy of dressing is that rules can be retained, re-explored or even just down right rejected. If an individual looks and feels comfortable in their clothes - that is what matters and contrary to what some might think, it is that personal sense of comfort which brings with it an attractive and natural sense of style.


I sincerely hope that this offers some positive, rather than negative food for thought. Please rest assured that normal service will be resumed within the next few days, I have a fascinating insight into the world of bespoke shirt-making coming-up, so please stay tuned!

With kindest regards,

Aleks

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Back Seat Tailoring

Earlier this week I went for a drink with a good friend who is one of Savile Row's most talented up-and-coming young tailors. Whilst talking tailoring, the subject of the customer's relationship with his tailor was broached, and some interesting points were made.


It has been stated many times, by many writers, that when a customer finds the right tailor and places a number of orders, a very personal relationship can develop; whereby craftsman and client befriend one another to a degree - or at the very least come to know one another personally - understanding each others mentalities, tastes and attitudes towards many things, of which the subject of tailoring is often only just the start. There is no disputing this, forming a very human relationship with a tailor is just one of the many pleasures of the bespoke process, but I also have a cautionary tale for bespoke customers. I have it on good authority from a number of professionals, that there is nothing more irritating than a 'back-seat tailor' - a client who feels the need to nag and query their tailor consistently during fittings, questioning their judgement or constantly checking whether they're doing the right thing.

As you build a relationship with your tailor, an important and natural part of that process should be the flourishing of a mutual trust. Every client has to trust their tailor, and a tailor (if he's good at his job) should know after the first couple of commissions (if not sooner) what he has to pay extra attention to during fittings, and what his client will be most concerned with. For myself, I tend to become paranoid about getting the sleeve set right on bespoke coats; my forward stance requires an unusually low sleeve pitch and I often find myself at risk of wearing sleeves which furrow around the rear of my shoulder. My tailors have learned to pay extra attention to this as a result, and its reached the point where I trust them implicitly and keep quiet during fittings. I know that sooner or later, they'll mark the pitch and make sure the sleevehead is neat, but I do remember being thoroughly jumpy about it for the first few commissions.


When investing in something so expensive and so special, it is natural to want to make sure that everything is right, but its important to be patient and have faith in your tailor's abilities. To constantly question a tailor belittles his skills and training - remember, he's a professional - you wouldn't query your surgeon would you? This leads me to one final point for reflection; if you're still questioning your tailor three or four orders in, or if you have any nagging doubts that your concerns aren't being addressed, it is probably time to try a new house. Tailoring at the highest level relies on client and craftsman enjoying a mutual trust, respect and awareness of one another and it makes for a joyless and often nerve-racking process if these things are missing. Don't fall victim to poor service - bespoke tailoring is there to be enjoyed and the most valuable thing any bespoke customer can do, is to take the time to seek out the right tailor before committing to any long term relationships with a poor match.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Packing for a Sartorial Summer Getaway

This is the glorious season of the glamorous weekend getaway, a time when the weather is so fine that one cannot help but fall victim to idealised day dreams of strolling along the sea front in some chic European city, sitting sipping espressos in the balmy afternoon sun, and quaffing cocktails in stylish hotel bars - all whilst clad in a crisp summer suit and a soft linen shirt.


I'm hope that for at least some readers, there is an opportunity to make this wistful dream a reality, so with this in mind I thought I'd optimistically outline my recommendations for packing a weekend bag for an effortless quick summer getaway. The first thing to consider is a couple of luxurious summer tailored pieces which will travel well and ooze the requisite glamour to which such holidays aspire. A fine linen suit is perhaps the most iconic of those summer clothes we imagine throwing on during weekend getaways - but it will need looking after if you're going to travel in it. I'd suggest investing in an affordable linen two-piece in a soft pastel colour, or even white like the one above. Reserve it for summer occasionwear or elegant sojourns abroad and it'll wear considerably better than if its flogged-to-death on the Tube. Don't wear it to travel but pack it in a suit carrier and make the effort to transport it properly - otherwise it'll be a bundle of creases by the time it emerges out of the case and no one wants to waste their precious holiday time pressing linen trousers.


Alternatively, opt for something in a crisp and clean wool fresco - a navy or even French blue blazer works well - its timelessly elegant and versatile. The particularly tight weave, woven with an 'uptwist' to the yarn allows fresco to resist and recover from the creases inflicted during travelling with ease. It makes for a beautiful summer cloth, crafted with an open weave to allow air to circulate through the garment. It can be woven to an extremely light seven to nine ounces in weight, feels breezy on and yet retains some body. Pair your blazer with either soft grey or ivory trousers and a pale linen and silk blended tie if the evenings require it.

A couple of lightweight cotton poplin, or plainweave linen shirts will be all that's required to compliment your tailoring. Both fabrics are again light and airy, and there is something timeless about a crisp white poplin shirt. A couple of pale blue or pastel peach linen shirts are a less formal, but equally chic alternative. You can pack one of each and you'll find your weekend bag will go anywhere, do anything and keep you cool whilst you're at it.


The quintessential summer one-shoe-suits-all is of course the unlined penny loafer. The lack of lining keeps the shoe breathable and lightweight and if you buy a loafer which has some thought behind the design, the leather will be soft and supple enough to wear comfortably without socks - a choice which is gaining in popularity with the confident summer dresser and which was well established by the fashionable attendees of this season's Pitti Uomo last month. Wildsmith of London invented the unlined penny loafer; there is no better option for a breathable, lightweight shoe. Opt for their polished rosewood calf Bloomsbury Loafer for a durable investment that will allow you to drift effortlessly from the office to the Amalfi Coast. The warm, rich rosey colour will compliment light pastels, all shades of brown and blues, making it the ideal hue to match with your vacation tailoring. If a second pair is required for the weekend, search for a pair in navy suede for another ideal mix-and-match summer shoe. You might even consider opting for a tasselled pair if you'd like some variation in style.

Compliment your clothes with a beautifully made panama hat - the most luxurious of summer accessories and the ubiquitous option for the stylish gentleman seeking some shelter from the sun. Bates Hats on Jermyn Street offer some of best you'll find, with a beautiful shape to suit every crown, although cheaper options are available for the students amongst us. The hat above was a pleasant surprise found in Marks& Spencer, its entry level quality but has a good shape and it was woven in Ecuador. Don't forget your sunglasses either; tortoise shell is fast becoming a modern classic, but retains a retro edge - Oliver Peoples and Ray Ban offer a number of models which combine beautiful styling and precision craftsmanship.



That's it really, a one-stop shop for you all this week. I hope these thoughts are of some help to those in a seasonal sartorial conundrum. As ever, stick to the classics, invest in good quality pieces and they'll serve you well. 

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