From the Autumn/Winter 2014 edition of Esquire's Big Black Book, available now.
Depending on your viewpoint, Bram Frankel is either a fool or a genius. His US brand, William Abraham, sells socks made to a quality and designed to a standard that seems to be without competition. And that’s a challenge, because how do you explain the inspiration, and pricing, of a unique set of products?
But let’s take a step back. Socks are an indulgence. Rational men, even those with a taste for the finer things, will be perfectly dressed in autumn, spring and summer if they own 10 pairs of fine Fil d'Ecosse cotton navy blue socks, and perfectly dressed in winter if they own 10 pairs of wool navy blue socks. That way, there will always be a clean pair to hand, even if the man goes travelling for a week, and, aside from the seasonal changeover, there will never be any problem pairing them up after they’ve been washed.
However, for more dandyish fellows, a solid navy blue pair of socks represents a failure of the imagination. Such men are likely to find the William Abraham range extremely tempting.
Now we must discuss the most divisive issue in hosiery, which is the almost sectarian divide between men who wear long socks and men who wear short ones. The long crowd believes that the appearance, when a man is seated, of hairy flesh between the tops of his socks and the hems of his trousers represents a solecism so grave that it negates any virtues accrued by the other aspects of his appearance. The short crowd, meanwhile, focuses on the mild discomfort caused by the fact that trousers get slightly hanked up on long socks (something exacerbated by today’s tight trousers), and the “weird” look of long socks when a man undresses. At risk of betraying my own prejudices, I merely mention that no well-dressed Italian man would ever consider wearing short socks; they even jog in long socks.
Despite this, long socks are often unimaginatively “old school” according to Frankel. He’s bored of the classic colours and patterns produced by all the quality sock manufacturers, and refers to their “commoditised aesthetic”. However, he enjoys a level of taste that soars above the low world of novelty socks, which is usually presented as the alternative. William Abraham socks exist at the diametric opposite end of the spectrum from short socks bearing novelty patterns like playing cards, parrots, or cartoon characters.
Frankel’s designs, which include vanisé knits with subtle marbled finishes and pin dots, vertically striped seersuckers in six different colours, beautiful self-coloured ribs, chalk stripes and some discreet diamond-shaped plaids, as well as classic plain weaves, are arguably unrivalled by anything else on the market. And not only are many of the patterns almost impossible to find elsewhere, but the materials used are just as rare. The principal difference is that many William Abraham socks are made wholly or partly from silk, which is otherwise only found in alarmingly sheer dress socks, and there are no artificial fibres used. The fabrics deployed, as much as the attractive designs, are what makes the socks special.
News that usable silk dress socks are available again is cause for celebration among men who are serious about dandyish hosiery, and they can choose whether to buy it unadulterated or mixed with cotton, cashmere or merino wool. Of course, unique products come with unique price tags and the socks start at $58 a pair. For men who are insensitive to such prices, Frankel has also had a few casual pairs woven from cervelt, which is made from New Zealand deer down and is softer than either cashmere or vicuña. The cervelt socks cost a remarkable $1,275 a pair.