After 14 years living in North America I have now returned to the UK and live in Ipswich in Suffolk. Ipswich is a small town of 150,000 people, yet the oldest occupied town in England, dating its roots back to the 7th and 8th Century. I was born and raised here but left on my many worldly travels in 1987. One of the reasons for returning is the beautiful countryside (endless opportunities to wear tweed at the weekends!) and Ipswich is now only 1 hour 10 minutes from the city of London by train, which allows me to comfortably commute to my London office each day. It is also convenient for an enjoyable day out from London!
Ipswich was never what you would describe as ‘cutting edge’ in terms of style, shops, stores and fashion when I grew up. Frankly it is not really now (it is more like a comfortable pair of old slippers!), so imagine my surprise when my lifelong friend (and lifelong Ipswich resident) Terry Baxter (Chair of the Board of Ipswich Central and CEO of the wonderful charity Inspire Suffolk, and one of the most stylish men in Ipswich) told me of a new menswear shop in the Town selling high quality Italian Shirts. I headed down to make a visit!
It is rather unimaginatively called ‘The Italian Shirt Shop’! Hardly original, but in a Town with a somewhat provincial outlook it probably pays to be very descriptive in shop signs!
I met Antonio Bellini the owner, a most interesting and engaging man. He used to design his own line of Italian clothing but due to the challenging profit margins in such a venture changed his business model to look for, and stock, unusual and distinctive Italian shirts (and some very Austin Powers looking jackets!).
The shirts are classically Italian. They have a generous size of shirt collar designed to be worn without a tie and unusual design features such as double collars and fun colours and patterns. It is quite possible to pick up a shirt here and know you are very unlikely to see anyone else wearing one the same. You must be careful though as some of his shirts could make you look distinctly like the wretched and sartorially challenged James May from the BBC TV Show ‘Top Gear’!
Antonio focuses very strongly on customer service and has a keen eye for which of his shirts will work with each individual customer. He took me outside my comfort zone in a careful and considerate way and I left the store with a blue patterned shirt, which I did not go in looking for!
Here are some pictures of the wonderful blue shirt I purchased.
One of his catch phrases is ‘No shirt here costs more than £45’, and this helps dispel the perception that his shop is ‘high-end’ and expensive (he even has a sign in the shop window stating his phrase).
If you spend too much time shopping in department stores you can quickly forget how pleasurable shopping can be when you meet someone who genuinely cares about you and your intended purchase.
Do though allow yourself sometime if you visit Antonio’s shop. My two visits have lasted over 30-45 minutes each! It is quite the experience, and frankly the way shopping should be.
Antonio visits Milan every few months to re-stock, so if you stagger your visits to him you can always be assured of a fresh selection of shirts to select from. I am sure he can even find what you are looking for before you can even describe it yourself!
Antonio admits to having a limited approach to social media and only has a Facebook page – the link is here – and a website http://www.antoniobellini.com/
With train times from London to Ipswich only 1 hour 10 minutes why not consider a visit to this historic town. The days of being a Premiere League football team may be over (for a while!) but the Town does host a fabulous waterfront, excellent dining, wonderful history and architecture and now apparently leads in male Italian style!