(Update at the bottom – 3rd Sept 2014)
I know what you’re thinking.
The Weejun must have really lost the plot this time. What has the movie Casablanca and the nobel prize winning race to crack the human genome code got to do with the Ivy Look?
Well, I found some kind of ivy holy grail for sale online, bought it, thought I’d write a post about it and in digging up some of the story of the company that made the shirt, I came across more than the usual background information.
The shirt in question is from one of the legendary Ivy League makers, Lion of Troy. Not to be confused with the later incarnation as Troy Shirtmakers Guild, Lion of Troy was the trademark of M. Nirenberg & Sons, a New York based shirtmakers.
The older Nirenberg came from Odessa and went to work in a New York shirt factory – the shirt makers of the Non Pareil brand who featured a prancing lion as their company crest. Later he came to buy the company and manufacturing some of their product in the town of Troy, New York the step to call the new shirts Lion of Troy seems an obvious one. Lion of Troy were much sought after on the London Ivy scene in the 1960s and John Simons and co were stockists and purveyors to discerning button down shirt lovers this side of the Atlantic.
The shirt I tracked down is not only a rare Lion of Troy oxford button down, but also deadstock with it’s original makers tag and WPL number, but also that rocking horse doodoo rarity, a popover!
Strangely this shirt had been listed online for sale online for the last three months along with the others below, a couple of tab collars, including a Beau Brummell brand and another Lion of Troy and Troy button down with regular placket. The regular placket was a poly mix but the popover is 100% cotton and in a classic boom years ivy colour of mauve. Probably the fact that the seller didn’t provide the brand details in her description helped keep this a secret, who knows?
According to my research about the brand, Nirenburg’s daughter in law was one Joan Alison, co-author of the unfinished play ‘Everbody Comes To Rick’s’, subject of one of the most famous behind the scenes stories in Hollywood legend, that eventually became the screenplay for Casablanca.
If, along with a cult shirt brand in the family, that wasn’t enough the founder’s grandson, Marshall Nirenberg Jr., became the first US Government scientist to win a Nobel Prize for his work on ‘deciphering the human genetic code’ in 1968.
Also found in my search was this wonderful example of a trade correspondence from 1937 between the Nirenberg factory and the Michigan based outfitters Springer Rose regarding a missing carton of shirts.
The current trend for hugely expensive vintage popovers on eBay thankfully passed over this example which I picked up for a very modest fee from one of those middle of nowheresville sellers who specialise in strange trinkets and jewellery. Just as well, as the correct description would have pushed this deadstock button down stratospheric.
The history behind Lion of Troy is also the history of families that built America in the 20th Century. It is endlessly fascinating how the trail left behind online really does form it’s own ‘web’ of interconnections that otherwise would remain only known to a small group of disconnected people.
A post script to this entry comes from reader Woolster in Finland (who comments below). Well known to readers of FNB as someone that digs up some choice items, he found this very cool popover in ‘Authentic Power Loomed Hopsack’ with ‘Raglan Sleeves’. And I thought Gant Rugger were stretching it with some of their repro names on shirts…
Speaking with John Simons on Tuesday, he also remembered how he used to visit the firm two or three times a year in the Empire State Building. ‘Whaddyawant? Close Outs?’, they’d ask.
One day in around 1972 Lion of Troy were closing down and John bought all their remaining madras shirts for $6 a dozen – 50c each, and had to get a special covering letter to avoid being hammered by British customs thinking it was a dummy billing scam. However, in the 70s, there was much less demand for madras shirts in London and they still had stock on them by the end of the decade, and were giving them away to regular customers. To think of that now…
The Troy shirt arrived yesterday and looks like something that came from a store yesterday. Incredible condition for a deadstock shirt and no signs of the usual discolouring along the folds. A 30 min dip in Vanish and a quick wash in the machine and it should come out perfectly.
John Simons was correct is suggesting it would be a slim fit. After all this would have been a fashion shirt in the mid 60s, especially in this mauve colour. This would have been a button down popover for college kids to wear with tight highwater levis and weejuns or desert boots, not fusty professors or trad J Press dressers of the day. It’s easy to lump all ivy style into the one field.
As a vintage 16-16.5 the collar is slightly big on me, but it’s a sport shirt so no issues there, and the sleeves are slim and not quite half arm length – again a nod to fashion of the day. Also it features a third collar button but not a locker loop – with the long point collar it’s similar to some Lands End shirts I picked up three years ago (that were remarkably good – unlined collars, back button, pocket flap etc). It fits pretty much the same as The Woolster’s version above.
An Update September 2014
I’ve just received this beauty from the US for the princely sum of USD$9.00, actually $2.50 less than it’s original price tag. Surely a bargain. It’s a dark pink lightweight oxford with a reddish hue to it and the colour is stamped ‘Rhododenron’ on the tail (and best shown in the top photo). A perfect description.
1960s, Made for The Claymore Shop
I would imagine late 60s early 70s, unlined long point collar made for The Claymore Shop and featuring a Claymore Shop original price sticker on it. Also in the bag was a contemporary Hathaway white oxford retailing at $9.50, also pinned and in it’s original bag (photo on Tumblr).
The Claymore Shop still exists in Birmingham, Michigan although their website shows Euro stylings these days.
Interestingly, although the Lion of Troy brand references the city of Troy, NY, the seller shipped from a Troy, Michigan. He also had a couple of other shirts presumably from the same source as they were all a similar size. A Huntington blue oxford, a Sero made rebranded blue end on end polycotton and a more modern blue oxford pinpoint, from the price tag probably 1980s and made by Gitman as it features their unfortunate double stitched collar edge. I was tempted by the Sero as my favourite shirt is a Sero cotton end on end but I can’t deal with poly really. I have tried, but 65/35 in favour of the poly – it’s just so hot to wear.
John Gall says
Bravo! A great find, you lucky bugger, and the usual impeccable research to clue us all in on the background detail. Thanks.
The Weejun says
You’re welcome John. Wish I could find the time to do more. I’ve got literally thousands of images culled from old magazines and newspapers to post at some point, but they need even some basic context.
A fantastic find Mr Weejun! And thanks for yet another wonderful and informative piece. Incidentally I myself recently picked up two deadstock Lion of Troy popovers in a light blue ’power loomed hopsack’ with raglan sleeves and a flap chest pocket. A bit overkill on Ivy detailing, I know, but I just love ’em. Great shirts.
The Weejun says
I already know you to be one of those who finds the good bits Woolster! Very nice your popover – if it’s OK I’d like to add those photos you sent me to the article? Let me know if that’s OK!
Raglan sleeve is a great feature, and the shirt looks reasonably slim fit? John Simons said they were often really slim, but that works for me.
By all means yes. The shirt is quite slim fitting, and to tell you the truth, I think I would benefit from a size larger, but the raglan sleeve design allows just enough mobility for it not to be really uncomfortable.
From my experience the only Lion of Troy shirts that regularly pop up on eBay are those ruffled 70s tuxedo shirts, but I guess good things eventually come to those who wait.
The Weejun says
Yes, those ruffle shirts are everywhere!
I’ve added the photos of your popover, thanks for sending them over.
Great post. Lion of Troy shirts, did indeed, enjoy a high profile in the U.K. during the 60s. In the mid 60s Wren did some fabulous short sleeve, Madras plaid shirts similar style to Woolster’s, also with raglan sleeves and the pocket flap (but not pop-over) I bought a Lion of Troy, tab collar shirt from Austins just before they closed down, around 1970. The high trend for Ivy having run out of steam by ’69, and it would appear from Lion of Troy’s demise, also in the States.
what kinda price are vintage popovers going for on ebay?
i just found a gant shortsleeve pop-over thats slightly big for me (the stamp label at bottom says 16) ( http://30.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lx1yhpSrpb1qbvm9bo1_500.jpg ) . I don’t have a ebay or etsy account, so i’m wondering if its worth going through the hassle. i just stumbled across your site tonight and don’t really know my way around this stuff, is there a forum i should post this on?
Michael Nirenberg says
My father, Kenneth Nirenberg is the last Nirenberg son alive from this family. Maxwell Nirenberg, my father’s grandfather was the owner referred to as “M. Nirenberg”. I believe the Nirenberg’s sold their ownership in the business in 1962 or 1963. My father worked in the factory and helped manage the business. Some of the interesting memorabilia include my father going on a business trip and meeting Elvis Presley and William Faulkner, while attending a dinner party at Colonel Tom Parker’s house in Tupelo Mississippi. Lion of Troy also made formal wear for the inaugural ceremonies of Senator Rober F. Kennedy and President Lyndon Bains Johnson. My father worked with his father, Bertram Nirenberg, his cousin Walter Nirenberg (now deceased) and Walter’s father Arthur Nirenberg. Bertram Nirenberg was also an electrical engineer, who taught some classes at Cornell University. Marshall Nirenberg’s father, Harry was the brother of Bertram and Arthur. Marshall’s father Harry also worked with his brothers for Lion of Troy, but he had to relocate to Florida, after Marshall became ill with rheumatic fever.
The Weejun says
Hi Michael, thanks for getting in touch with this info and great story about Elvis and William Faulkner! My friend John Simons used to travel from London in the 1960s and early 70s to buy direct from the factory to import for the aficionados of ivy league style shirts.
walter nirenberg says
I am Walter NIrenberg Jr, son of Walter your father’s cousin. I just spoke to your father a few weeks ago, and my sister, Mary, visited with your parents a few months ago in Fla. Also, my gardener, in Napa CA, swears that she was a favorite waitress of your parents for many years at an Italian restaurant in Florida, her name is Kristin. Where are you these days??
Myrna weissman says
Kenneth. I am myrna. Marshall widow. We spent a day with you and your wife when marshall and I were visiting Naples Frank Portugal is writing a biography of marshall and it would be good to fill out the pieces if he could talk to you.
Do you come to ny or dc. Would love to see you again I can be reached at [email protected]
walter nirenberg says
Great find! My father was the last president of Lion of Troy, sold to Munsingwear, I think. I still find old formal Lion of Troy shirts in used clothing shops here in San Francisco. If he hadnt sold the company I would likely be in the shirt business!
The Weejun says
Thanks for getting in touch Michael. Interesting story behind Troy. My good friend John Simons used to travel to NY to buy old stock shirts from Troy on Fifth Avenue and bring them back to London. ‘Underground’ commerce!
Andrew Scharf says
Great article and well researched. Dead stock and reasonable prices is always hard to find. Bravo!
The Weejun says
Thanks Andrew. Only happens when you’re not looking for something in particular.
It’s great to see some of those connected to the story chatting here in the comments too.