John Boultbee Criterion Jacket by Timothy Everest for Brooks

by Chikashi

I have been testing a prototype of the John Boultbee Criterion Jacket designed by Timothy Everest for Brooks England.  The John Boultbee apparel collection is the latest strategic endeavour by Brooks to diversify beyond their most illustrious perineal realm.  My shameless bias for Brooks saddles (I don’t let any other brand of saddle to caress my precious bottom) and the involvement of Timothy Everest’s talented design team had already set my expectations rather high at the outset.  When expectations run high, disappointment is almost inevitable, but the Criterion exceeded my expectations.

I had not actually seen the Criterion in the flesh before actually receiving one, so my impression of the jacket was based on the video above and some photos available on the web.  When one actually sees, touches and feels the Criterion, there are 3 elements that finally come to life.

MATERIALS

The shell is made of Ventile, an all cotton weatherproof and windproof cloth used in some of the most demanding missions. When I hear ‘technical fabric’, I imagine synthetic, often petroleum-based, material, which does not get me excited at all, but Ventile existed long before the term ‘technical fabric’ was introduced into the apparel vernacular.  There is no shiny, plasticky appearance.  Instead, it has a very handsome matte appearance and, being cotton, it has a pleasing texture.  Ventile makes me wonder why one does not see it being used in more casual apparel pieces outside of technical fields.  It looks good, feels good and performs — it seems like a no-brainer.

The body lining is a lightweight tweed from Fox Brothers.  Prior to receiving the Criterion, I was a bit apprehensive about the lining being tweed. I have had Scotch and Irish tweed pieces over the years, and they tend to be scratchy with their longer, coarse naps.  They tend not to be the sort of material one would want on the interior unless one is really hardcore or have worn them in through more than 10 years of regular sporting use.  My Timothy Everest tweed breeches are lined in the front.  I readily admit that I am not hardcore; I am a towny, so there.  And then, given that Fox are famous for their woollen flannels rather than tweed, the notion of tweed-from-Fox was slightly unexpected.  In reality, the cloth feels more like a worsted flannel.  It is a lightweight tweed that is soft to the touch, that is, tweed for townies and Italians, the sort of cloth that the hardcore would not be caught dead wearing.  However, it is perfect for this purpose.

The striped sleeve lining borrowed from use in tailored garments provides a refined finishing touch to the interior of the garment.

The copper-plated fittings upgrade the exterior appearance in a subtle but distinctive way.  Details such as these separate the extraordinary from the common.

CONSTRUCTION

Timothy discusses the various features of the Criterion in the video above, but they were somewhat abstract to me until I actually handled the jacket. A cursory examination of the exterior and the interior reveals complex construction, from the collar to pockets and knitted wool storm cuffs as well as the shoulder enforcements to the action back behind the sleeveheads.  In the trade, this is what is described as having an extremely high ‘labour content’.  To be clear, I am not referring to the fact that the Criterion is made in North London rather than Bangladesh.

All the bits are where one expects or wishes them to be (without even knowing that one wished for it).  Timothy does not mention an outside breast pocket that hides under the fly front.  The Little Brunette tells me that it is a standard feature in snowboarding jackets, but I am still delighted by the feature as it essentially provides an inside breast pocket that allows access without unzipping the front.  Perfect for something like a mobile phone.

Because the Criterion is not constructed using elastic cloth, the ease of movement is provided by the way it is constructed, that is, it is entirely in the block pattern, not in the material.  The most obvious element is the action back that allows natural movement when riding in a forward position typical of road bikes.  It is quite fitting that the background music for the video is ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’, as the Irving Berlin tune was best performed in Blue Skies by Fred Astaire who would have appreciated the way Criterion was constructed.

Nothing about the Criterion was left to chance.  The amount and quality of thought put into the piece is nothing short of impressive.  It also betrays the fact that it was designed by a London bespoke tailor, not some half-baked ready-to-wear fashion house.  Everything about the Criterion was done deliberately.  If you take away just one thing from this post, then it should be the preceding sentence.

PERFORMANCE

Ventile does what it says on the tin:  showerproof, windproof and breathable.

I went for a ride in light rain one evening and went through a muddy route.  The rain just rolled off the Criterion.  The back and the bum flap were covered in a fair amount of mud splatter all the way up to the collar.  (Mudguards?  What mudguards?)  All it took was a few strokes of the clothing brush to rid the Criterion of the muddy evidence.  Easy peasy.  The seams are not taped, so I would not rely on it to keep you completely dry in a heavy downpour, but it will do the job in most instances.

The Criterion is warm, but because it is breathable, there is no risk of one turning into a piece of steamed dumplingeven when one is riding relatively hard.  Of course, when one gets going, one cannot avoid a bit of perspiration.  If it gets unbearably warm, the Criterion does have a built-in strap so that it can be taken off and carried like a rucksack.

The other day I ventured out to the burbs on a familiar 55km route.  I like the Tour de Burbs route for several reasons.  It has varied road surface, including tarmac, hard packed soil, gravel and a bit of cobblestones.  Because I am familiar with the route, I do not have to worry about where I am going.  Instead, I can zone out completely, observe how the bike is performing, think about something, think about someone, anything other than which way I need to turn at which junction.  It was 7°C on a partly cloudy day with hardly any wind.  My extremities were covered adequately.  Little Package worsted merino cycling cap with knitted merino earflaps covered my head.  Rapha winter gloves kept my hands warm.  My feet were under Rapha merino socks and Endura shoe covers with Dromarti shoes in-between.  Under the Criterion I was wearing John Smedley’s Brigadier merino long sleeve base layer, an Oregon Cyclewear medium gauge merino short sleeve jersey and a Rapha 3/4 bib shorts.  I was riding fixed gear (46×17 for you cycling geeks) and was pedalling at an average speed of 24kph.  Therefore, it was not a mad sprint but enough of an effort to get one’s heart rate up a bit.  I was perspiring a fair amount as one would expect.  The Criterion kept me warm without cooking me alive or even making me feel uncomfortable.  I do not know what ‘ideal’ is, but it certainly felt like a reasonable approximation.

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

The copper-plated D-ring-that’s-not-a-D-ring (‘DRTNADR’) next to the left outside breast pocket is actually quite useful to hang one’s eyewear when dismounting from the bike and perhaps entering a place of nourishment.  I always find it a bit awkward trying to put my sunglasses somewhere when I take them off.  I have not figured out what to do with the DRTNADR next to the left inside breast pocket.  Another option for my sunglasses?

When I am in the saddle, I do not listen to music.  Therefore, the earphone loops are not really relevant for me.  I do listen to music out of the saddle, but I would not need to tuck the cable away so neatly.  That said, for the sake of completeness, I tried to put my Audio Technica earphone cable through the loops, but with a plug head diameter of almost 8mm, the loops on the prototype Criterion are too small for the intended use.

The detachable belt is purely decorative, and with the copper-plated buckle, it is indeed attractive.  However, the belt position works if one has a relatively short torso like Timothy but will not look so flattering if, like me, one has a longer torso.  I just leave the belt at home.  The belt loop at the back is cleverly done so that it does not look like a belt loop.  In fact, the Criterion has a cleaner line without the belt, so I prefer it without in any case.

VALUE

A discussion about the Criterion would be incomplete without touching on the price.  Yes, it is outside of the usual range of pricepoints seen amongst cycling apparel.  However, this is not a usual piece of cycling apparel.  The Criterion defies mundane definition, stereotyping or pigeon-holing.  Therein lies the difficulty in effectively communicating what the beast is in order to make it easier for people to understand its true nature.

Presentation on the web must show adequate number of images, accompanied by informative copy, that illustrate the details of the Criterion which is sadly unavailable today.  When presented in a brick-and-mortar shop, it cannot be tossed in with the rest of the cycling apparel assortment.  To be frank, most cycle shops do not have a suitable environment for the Criterion to be shown properly.  The underlying fact is that the Criterion is not a typical cycling kit.  It is actually a very stylish blouson that incorporates useful elements that are conducive to cycling.

It is stylish both in the saddle and out of the saddle.  Even if one leaves the bum flap down, it still looks cool out of the saddle rather than looking dorky as one would with any other cycling jacket.  It is therefore versatile like no other jacket.

The quality of the materials, the complexity and intelligence of construction and the stylish versatility defy any straightforward categorisation and underpin what is an excellent value proposition.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The complete lack of exterior logos has an enormous appeal to me because it contributes to making the garment utterly unfashionable and devilishly stylish.  It is the coolest tactical garment on the market.  A riff in ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ observes people ‘tryin’ hard to look like Gary Cooper’, and I am convinced that if Cooper were around today to ride a bike, then he would be wearing a Criterion.

I actually find it bemusing that black is not a colour option.  The fact that copper fittings complement black equipment is well demonstrated in the history of Brooks.  Perhaps the Criterion Mk II will be available in black.

The latest Timothy Everest / Brooks collaboration that was recently announced is the Elder Street Jacket.  It looks rather fetching too…

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