Blogger Profile: Mel Hwang of Mel Inspired

Image via Mel Hwang Instagram
Image via Mel Hwang Instagram

Mel Hwang is a style and lifestyle blogger balancing her creative outlets with a full-time job in digital advertising. Based in Toronto, you can find her immersed in chic, monochrome outfits, striving to express her voice through media outlets on the online sphere through the language of style. A visit to her Instagram profile will leave you with inspiring thoughts, as she sculpts her visual diary with a childhood memory or a current inspiration in mind to share with her followers.

She led me through a timeline of her career beginning from her first step into the fashion industry when she started modelling and blogging at 14. Get to know Mel, the creative mind behind Mel Inspired.

“Mel Inspired embodies my philosophy that you should live life inspired, constantly chase what inspires you, always pursue your creativity, and never apologize for who you are.”

Jennifer Lee: How would you describe yourself in a nutshell?

Mel Hwang: I am a creative individual marrying creative and business together. Anything that I do, whether through my blog Mel Inspired, or my full-time job, everything is centred around merging those two aspects.

JL: How would you describe your personal style?

MH: It sounds cheesy, but my personal style reflects how I’m feeling each day. My overall style at the moment reflects where I am in life- mostly business casual, pretty minimalistic- it’s all a side effect of the life that I live. If I’m feeling down, a well put-together outfit definitely makes me feel better.

JL: What is your first fashion memory?

MH: My first time at LG Fashion Week (Toronto Fashion Week) back in the day. I wore a crazy hat and there are still some photos surfacing around online. It’s my first memory because it was the time I entered the fashion industry for the first time. Looking back now, it’s such a fashion crime that I committed.

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JL: Tell me about your blog, Mel Inspired. What is the main message you would like to put across to your followers?

MH: Mel Inspired came to life through my hopes of putting my learnings in life and style into a creative voice on a blog. The main message isn’t what to wear, or what products to use, but more surrounded by exploring the reasons on what we do and why we do. All my outfits have a life metaphor or childhood memory around it. I want to translate a message to my followers that every part of life is more meaningful than it looks like.

 

JL: You’ve also walked the runway for World Master Card Fashion Week in Toronto. Tell me about your experience on the runway and how you got started.

MH: My initial segway into fashion was when I started modelling at the age of 14, the same age I started blogging. I was scouted by an agent here in Toronto. I modelled throughout high school part-time, flying out to New York and Miami. When I hit puberty, my body stopped reflecting the image that the industry wanted. It was a struggle but a great experience. It’s always fantastic to see the vision of an artist on models down the runway. Modelling was a big part of my teenage life, and now I do it as an honour back to the art of fashion.

 

JL: What is it like to be directed by a brand as opposed to directing your own shoots for your own brand?

MH: I don’t miss modelling. I like the liberty of being able to choose my own creative vision to portray to the world. On the flip side, it’s always a positive experience being immersed in somebody else’s creative mind and understanding their brand to portray their vision. There’s so much value to be learned from it. As for directing my own shoots, it really gives me the ability to be genuine in sharing my thoughts. There is always the autonomy in me wanting to project what I really think.

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JL: What is your opinion on social media- How has it influenced your life, and are you ever overwhelmed by it?

MH: Social media is attached to my life from the moment I wake up each day. I work with it in my full-time job too, in media advertising. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be overwhelmed by it. It’s a reality of the interactions in our world today, and fighting it would be a losing battle. I think it’s important that we don’t define ourselves from the statistics of social media. It’s a platform for you to share your voice, so the number of followers, whether you have a thousand or a hundred thousand followers, should not define your self-worth. It’s a mindset I try to keep a good pulse on.

JL: What is the best thing about Instagram? What do you think will be the next biggest social platform?

MH: I think Instagram is an amazing platform because it allows you to express yourself through imagery and pushes people to pull out a creative part of themselves. It’s been an incredible journey building my brand via Instagram. I spend so much time curating my feed, it’s a little bit of an obsession. I think it’s a great community everyone should take part in. I think the next social platform will definitely be something centred around video, like where Snapchat is currently heading. Videos are such a raw and organic way to express yourself and it’s completely different from Instagram where everything is overly curated. Unedited content is the next thing.

JL: How do you balance blogging and your full-time job?

MH: That’s a hard question, because I don’t! my life is consumed by those two things. I’m lucky to have a great support system that shares the same love of blogging, and it’s become more of a social aspect of my life. Many of my friends blog, or are very supportive of the blogging environment. My boyfriend is also a huge supporter of my blog, so we do photo walks as our dates. I conduct my blog as a business at this point, so when I’m not at work, I’m blogging 30-35 hours a week. But at the end of the day, it’s what I enjoy doing, so I don’t look at it as work.  

JL: Where do you shop?

MH: It’s something I’m not incredibly proud of because I’d love to support more local brands, but admittedly, I get a lot of my shopping done via fast fashion, like Zara and H&M due to time constraints. I also love thrifting. It’s fun to put together a super affordable outfit and challenge myself to pull a luxe feeling out of it. Other than that, I do like to invest in more special pieces from a designer boutique to pick up a new purse from time to time.

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JL: What are you currently coveting?

MH: I’m coveting a lot. A new purse is on the horizon- the Celine Phantom, an M2Malletier, or the Mansur Gavriel Lady Bag. I like to mark my accomplishments and milestones with purses!

JL: What is your favourite and least favourite trend this season?

MH: I’m in love with the choker trend. It’s an homage to the generation in which I grew up in, and ties to my personal nostalgia. I’m actually starting a side business with chokers. I’ll keep you guys posted on that. There isn’t a trend this season that I dislike too much. Trends are like news, it’s not necessarily bad because it either speaks to you or it doesn’t. I was initially going to say bell bottoms, but I can’t say I dislike that because I styled them a few weeks ago after listening to September 99 by Earth Wind & Fire.

JL: You always have an “INSPIRATION” reference on your Instagram posts. Can you tell me the story behind it?

MH: The response to that on my Instagram has been so supportive. Everyone was telling me that I needed a short, sweet caption to go with my minimalist style. There is always so much more that I want to share with the image itself. Although the images speak a thousand words, I want to make sure that the message is conveyed to my followers. It’s definitely been a commitment coming up with 2 to 3 content ideas with a chunk of text to go with each of them, but I’ve committed to it because I love being able to sculpt a discussion around an image, rather than just saying “#OOTD.”

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JL: What else other than fashion are you passionate about?

MH: The online industry as a whole is something that I’m immensely passionate about, together with the arms that extend out of that, like coding, marketing evaluation, and young entrepreneurship built on the online sphere. I think the Internet is so beautiful in the way that it brings us all together. Another thing that I work towards in many aspects of my life is female empowerment. It’s incredible how much we’ve come as a gender and it’s something that I hope to continue supporting.  

JL: What are you most proud of?

MH: Unbinding myself from the fears of what people think has been a personal progress which allowed me to build my brand effectively. It was something that I struggled with, especially growing up modelling. The entire industry was based off of what people think, and in some regards, so is my career now. But at the end of the day, it’s better to be yourself and accept that others think what they may.


JL: What is the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?

MH: My choker project! It came out of an Instagram inspiration and when I started incorporating chokers into my outfit posts. I felt more attached to the images when I looked back and it reminded me of my childhood when life was more carefree. That lifestyle is so allusive and it’s something I’m inspired by. It will also have a charitable aspect going towards empowering women. The project will be launched around August to September this year. Also, my Youtube channel which I started a month ago. I wanted to share my voice in a raw and organic matter and took a leap of faith. I’m posting a new video every Saturday.

Screen shot 2016-06-13 at 3.19.53 PM JL: What is your take on Toronto’s style and culture, and how do you stay engaged in it?

MH: Toronto has a very North American style, and it comes from the life that we live, having 6 months of winter. The style and fashion industry is very collaborative and supportive. I try to stay involved as much as possible connecting with new people. If one of my followers ask to have coffee, I’ll make sure to make time for them. It’s not so much in regard to staying in the style industry but how I continuously connect with other individuals and learn from them.

JL: Fill in the blank “I could not live without___”

MH: My cellphone.

JL: How would you like to see your brand grow?

MH: I’d love to work on my brand full time, and share my positivity and learnings with the people that I love- all 21 thousand followers. Living my life with them would be awesome.

On Our Radar: Five Designers to Watch

1. Design Duo: Parris Gordon and Chloe Gordon

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Up-and-coming Toronto design duo Beaufille was founded by sisters Parris and Chloe Gordon in 2013 as a line of luxury artisanal womenswear and jewelry. The name Beaufille translates to “handsome girl” and symbolizes the contrast between masculine and feminine elements. With that combination of hard and soft, sisters Chloe and Parris seek to challenge the gender norms of todays society. The Gordon sisters are the recipients of the 2015 Canadian Art and Fashion Awards (CAFA), Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent, in the category of Accessories. http://www.beaufille.com

 2. Huishan Zhang

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Zhang was born and raised in Qingdao, China before moving to London to study at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. He has already worked for the iconic heritage brand The House of Dior, in the leather goods branch as well as Dior’s Haute Couture Atelier.

Huishan finds inspiration and direction through his personal identity embracing a sense of Eastern meets Western attempting to portray romanticism and sophistication with feminine details. In September 2014 Huishan was named by the Business of Fashion as one of 500 individuals that shape the Global Fashion Industry. Huishan Zhang debut at London Fashion Week in September 2012 and has continued to refer to LFW as his home base ever since. http://www.huishanzhang.com/about-1/

3. Design Duo: Piotrek Panszczyk and Beckett Fogg

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This design duo met while studying at Parsons School, pursuing their Master in Fashion Design and Society. Each of them had different backgrounds as Piotrek Panszczyk, Polish-born and raised in Holland, studied fashion at the Artez Institute of the Arts; and Beckett Fogg initially studied Architectural Design at The University of Virginia. On top of their differences, the duo found each other and was able to build a signature based on similar aesthetic vision. Piotrek has worked for names like Chloe and Calvin Klein but in 2013 reconnected with Fogg to create what is now their label, “Area”. http://area.nyc

4. Misha Nonoo

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The Misha Nonoo brand lives by no other motto than its philosophy of taking women from “day to play”. The idea behind is that women should be able to “embrace their femininity while pursuing their goals” and holds unyielding in Misha’s heart. Having experienced multiple different cultural episodes throughout her life – she was born in Bahrain and raised in London – Misha explains that her upbringing is the reason for her obsession with diversity. “Progressive yet classic silhouettes with smart yet sexy details” is how one describes the creations of Misha Nonoo. http://mishanonoo.com

5. Tim Coppens

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Graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium-born Tim Coppens now is a New Yorkbased designer who seeks to combine the components of craftsmanship, tailoring. and athleticism. Coppens inspiration derives from the energy that resides within the city lifestyle and street culture. That “pulse that feels the present and the future.”

In 2013 the Tim Coppens brand was recognized by Fashion Group International receiving the Rising Star of the Year award. One year later he took home the Council of Fashion Designers of America Swarovski Award for “Menswear Designer of the Year” and earlier this week announced that he will take on the role of Executive Creative Director for sportswear brand Under Armour. http://www.timcoppens.com

Art and emotions with Deana Nastic

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Photo Credit: Vai Yu Law Photography

She cried when she was in Paris looking at Van Gogh’s self-portrait for the first time and, now as a renowned artist her work is making other people cry too.

Coming from an artistic family, Deana Nastic doesn’t understand life without art. She lives for art and art lives in her.

After her latest breath-taking exhibition at Izzy GalleryInvisible Brush‘, we couldn’t help but ask her for a second in-depth interview to learn more about her life and career. ‘Why she decided to become an artist?’ ‘Are we all capable of understanding art?’ ‘What are her dreams?’ A lot of questions were still in the air.

For Deana, we can only appreciate art as long as we know the story behind the piece, and more importantly, the process that the artist went through to get to it. That is probably the reason why her best piece of advice for young artists is not only about having the talent but also about working hard and being able to build your signature, your story.

Celia Fernandez: Where does your love for art come from?

Deana Nastic: Well, I am from an artistic family. My dad was an architect, and he loved art. He said that he would have loved to be a painter if having the chance, but he had to support a family and architecture was a more secure career to do so. Also, I was exposed to great art at home because my dad collected art and after elementary school I decided to pursue art. For me, it was a very organic and natural process the way I got into art. 

C.F.: So, there is not a specific turning point when you decided ‘okay, I want to be an artist’?

D.N.: No, there are, maybe, a few beautiful moments that pushed me such as the first time I saw Van Gogh’s self-portrait in Paris and I cried. But again, I can’t say that was the only reason why I wanted to be an artist. I went to all the museums with my dad, so I’ve always been very exposed to the artistic industry, and I’ve been educated to appreciate art since I was little. Art surrounded me, everywhere.

C.F.: Do you need to go to University in order to become a good artist?

D.N.: No! Some artist didn’t go to University and they self taught everything they knew. However, I do think it is good to have a base when it comes to techniques as well as art history. Also, when you are at school, the professors are all the time criticizing what you do and from that you learn how to get constructive feedback and keep pushing yourself to become a better artist.

C.F.: You just said that you cried when you saw that Van Gogh’s painting. Is that what art is about, for you?

D.N.: Yes, art is about emotions. Art is very emotional but to feel that emotion you also need to know the story behind the piece.

C.F.: Is that artistic sensitivity or ability to understand art something that we can learn, or is this something that we are born with?

D.N.: I think everybody feels something so, for me, it’s a matter of being exposed to the right piece.

C.F.: What artistic movement you’ve always gravitated towards or have a particular sympathy with?

D.N.: Figurative art. Modigliani was my favorite artist for a very long time, and Giacometti is still one of my favorites.

C.F.: Do you thing the digital era is turning the artistic industry into something more artificial?

D.N.: Art is still art. I think you can produce art with Photoshop, and this could turn into a fantastic masterpiece, as long as it has a story behind. 

C.F.: Now modern art is freer than ever before and sometimes it ‘s hard to come up with an interpretation of the pieces showcased in museums and art galleries. Meaning that if the art is too abstract, how can we tell if it’s good art or it is just something random that the artist came up in five minutes?

D.N.: For everybody, conceptual art is difficult to understand if you don’t know the story behind the piece. You need first to know the story, and then you’ll be able to appreciate it.

C.F.: How does the process of setting up the price of a piece of art works?

D.N.: First of all, you need to know the story behind the piece and, more importantly, the story of the artist. How did the artist get to that? You need to know the evolution from the very beginning to be able to know how valuable is that piece. You are paying for the story and the meaning behind it, not just for a canvas with a brush stroke.

C.F.: So, being able to appreciate art is all about education? Can everybody understand art as long as they know the story and have the right information about the piece and the artist?

D.N.: I believe you can educate people. It’s about being exposed to art, and going to museums and exhibitions. It is probably more challenging to spread that genuine interest towards art, but once they are exposed they will be more willing to learn more, and the more you know about something, the more you love it.

C.F.: You have showcased your work in numerous exhibitions in Europe, Canada and in the U.S. Do you find any differences in how people approach and interact with art in these places?

D.N.: Personally, I haven’t seen that much of a difference as for me art is about emotions, and that is a universal language. I was lucky enough to attract the right people wherever I was showcasing my pieces, and their reaction was unbelievable. People told me they had goose bumps when looking at some of my work, and that has happened in entirely different places and continents. University brings you the opportunity to experiment with different techniques and after that, you can decide which one you want to go for. You need to find yourself as an artist and, to do so you need to have a base and try as many techniques as possible, and from there you take off.

C.F.: Do you also have that feeling when looking at your own pieces?

D.N.: Yes, you just need some time. When you are working, you are not aware because you are focused on the process and following your instinct. After two or three weeks, you put the art on the wall and, if it’s the right piece, you feel that ‘Oh, wow!’.

C.F.: Do you think you are critical with your work? Is it difficult to be objective with something that you create yourself?

D.N.: It is very difficult. You need to take some distance to be more objective with your own work because you are the one who is creating.

C.F.: Do you ask other people’s opinion before you select your pieces for your exhibitions?

D.N.: No, I usually know when I create a good piece. I just need some time to get that perspective and make sure that it feels right to me. Sometimes, even at that moment, you don’t like it and, after a few weeks, you look at it and realize that is amazing. As an artist, my expectations of myself are very high, so I always want to do more and better and, at some point, I just need to stop and be able to identify which pieces are the right ones.

C.F.: Your style has drastically evolved since you started making art. How do you feel when you look at some of the work you did at the beginning of your career?

D.N.: It is an amazing and beautiful feeling. It is really interesting seeing how you have evolved as an artist and how the different stages of your life are projected through your work.

C.F.: Have you ever got a negative feedback from your work? How did it feel? A piece of art that you create it’s almost like your kid so, do you get offended if the response is not the one you were expecting?

D.N.: No! I’ve been very lucky and that has never happened to me. I’ve always got amazing reactions.

C.F.: When you started experimenting with photography, did you know where were you going, or you just went with the flow?

D.N.: No, I think, in general, artist they don’t know where they are going. We start at one point but the process develops on its own. It is beautiful to see how things evolve but, from the artist side, it is more about going with the flow. There is no recipe for art so you can’t plan how the process is going to evolve and work.

C.F.: Would you like to share a piece of advice for up-and-coming artists?

D.N.: It is talent and a lot of hard work. You need so much time for art because it becomes your life. You give your whole life to that, you can’t do art while talking on the phone or looking for something in the Internet. You close yourself because you have to be in your own world so you create a bubble so nobody from the outside can touch you and distract you from your creative process. And also, if you believe in yourself, you have to follow that dream and never give up. Pursue your passion and if you work hard, it will come.

C.F.: What is your dream as an artist?

D.N.: Keep making people feel emotions when looking at my art. That is the biggest dream an artist can aim for. Seeing that sparkle in their eyes is the best reward ever.

Designer Profile: SachaGRACE

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Photo Courtesy of sachaGRACE

Toronto-based creatives Sacha Nizami and Grace Neal of sachaGRACE are two of the loveliest designers in the city. Their new jewelry collection, WEAR, is both the perfect reflection of their lightness, optimism and elegance and the spirit of the city that inspires them. I sat down with the pair at Le Gourmand to learn more about their story and vision.

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The Pendant Collection (L) and Constellation Mélange (R)  from the WEAR Collection | Photo Courtesy of sachaGRACE

For their collection of pendants and cuffs, Nizami and Neal drew their inspiration from the stars. Each piece is locally handcrafted using poured Lucite and embedded objects, giving the effect of glass jewelry but much lighter to wear and perfect for layering. The embedded objects range from metallic flakes in gold and silver to Swarovski crystal, in the Starry Morning and Starry Evening pieces, for added delicacy. The combination of the Lucite’s transparency and the metallics creates statement pieces that work for any occasion and all seasons, but always catching the light.

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Grace Neal (L) and Sacha Nizami (R) of sachaGRACE | Photo Courtesy of sachaGRACE

The two designers met in a work setting; Neal was Nizami’s interior design client. “She was the one client who wanted things that weren’t available, so we ended up doing everything custom. She thought outside of the box, and we connected on that original level,” Nizami explains.

Neal tells me that the concept of using Lucite came from a hunt for a coffee table. “Lucite is amazing because it is both retro and modern, which makes it timeless. And that’s what I was looking after.” From there they began sachaGRACE with their first collection ROOM, which features accent tables and vases.

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Photo Courtesy of sachaGRACE

The jewelry collection stemmed from their collaboration on the interior design pieces. “We both wanted architectural pieces you could wear,” Nizami tells me. “It was a natural transition.”

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Galaxy Mélange Pendant (L) and The Wishing Vase (R) | Photo Courtesy of sachaGRACE

The result is a collection of versatile pieces that capture the Toronto essence. “For us, metallics are neutral. And Toronto is very dull. Greys, taupe, white, black are all part of the “uniform” of Toronto styling.” The metallic flake not only makes the pieces more affordable, but also unique. Each piece is smashed and styled in a different way from the last and adorned with a small signature.

Toronto is more than inspiration for the duo; it is everything to sachaGRACE. Their “Lucite man” is Canadian and has been in the business for 35 years, while their studio and facilities are all in the GTA. “You can find some amazing artisans and designers in Toronto, and it’s nice to be a part of that now.”

The women of sachaGRACE have found the balance of timeless statement pieces that fit the diverse culture of Toronto. Their inaugural wearable collection makes me excited for what is to come from sachaGRACE, but one can tell that there is already something wonderful written in the stars for them.

The collection is available online and ships locally and worldwide.

 

Shop All Weekend: Casual Tailoring

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I feel like a broken record for constantly repeating this phrase in many of my posts, but there is no denying that menswear has strayed to a far more casual direction the past half decade. Sneakers and sportswear, have made their mark on how men dress themselves on a day to day basis.

The rise of casual men’s attire has even trickled down to the workplace dress code. These days, it is not uncommon to see men in jeans, hoodies and sneakers, walking into the office. With more and more men leaning towards comfort and casual, you would assume that the world of tailoring is on a steady decline.

While it’s true that less men are wearing the finer dandier things in men’s fashion, that doesn’t mean it’s extinct. The foundation of menswear will always be tailoring, there is no question about it. So while everyone is zigging towards being more casual, it is sometimes fun to switch things up a bit, and zag the opposite direction.

Opting for a casual blazer and or sport coat just cleans you right up so here are four easy to wear  casual tailoring options for this spring/summer.

Harris Wharf  Sartorial Jacket Waffle Navy

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When it comes to casual tailoring the key word is “soft.” Soft in tailoring essentially means the garment is stripped of any excess lining and shoulder pads, and you’re left with an easy wearing garment that does not look suity whatsoever. This Harris Wharf Blazer is a great starting point if you’re looking for an easy, effortless, casual blazer that you can just put on and go. The blazer features a waffle knit cotton, slim notch lapel, two button closure, and double patch pockets.

Oliver Spencer Theobald Jacket

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We are only a few months away from t-shirt and shorts weather but let’s be real, as much as we like to be comfortable in the summer heat, the summer uniform sometimes simply can’t be worn 24/7. When you need to step your sartorial game up for those summer nights, the Oliver Spencer Theobald Jacket is a great option. The jacket is made from a cotton linen blend, unlined, patch pockets,  and a loop button closure. This jacket was designed to be tailored,  yet comfortable, so this is the one to wear with either a plain t-shirt or polo.

Suitsupply Copenhagen Blazer

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Suitsupply has changed the tailoring game with their affordable prices and high quality suits and blazers. The Copenhagen Blazer is a staple in their collection as a casual easy piece, that can simply be dressed up or down. The blazer is unconstructed, made from a blend of cotton and linen, soft pleated shoulders, and three patch pockets.

wings + horns Washed Linen Utility Blazer

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For those that follow the menswear scene closely, you must know that wings + horns has become a go to for minimalist well made clothing. The made in Canada brand has a signature summer blazer that just hits all the right style notes for those looking for something that is versatile, and easy to wear. The Washed Linen Utility Blazer is made from triple washed Japanese linen, and features reinforced welt pockets, hidden placket, and hidden snap cuff closures.