Thursday, October 28, 2010

A nice visit

I had a visitor at the office today. Someone else who enjoys buying expensive clothes and taking them apart; she may be familiar to some readers.


Claire Shaeffer is the author of a number of books on couture sewing techniques, and whose book "Behind The Seams- Chanel" I reviewed in this post. There were a number of interesting details in her book that I wanted to have a closer look at so when she told me she was coming I asked her to bring a few garments along. Fortunately for me she had room in her suitcase!

I have talked about the shaping that can be done in a tailored suit by stretching and shrinking using heat and steam on wool cloth, instead of using darts and seams, and that this shaping can be sensitive to humidity. We see inside this Chanel jacket that the craftsperson made provisions for this; the back was shaped as described, without the use of a dart, and to preserve the shape, a darted piece of organza has been carefully pad stitched to the shell fabric. Brilliant. The gold lines are bits of lining left over from when the lining was removed without removing the quilting- Chanel quilted the linings to the shell fabric, which was the inspiration for the quilt-pattern handbags that are now so famous. Another design element of those handbags is the gold chain- Chanel would sew chains onto the hems of jackets to give them weight so they wouldn't flop all over the place.

Chanel back

Another brilliant little couture detail can be seen on the belt of another Chanel jacket she brought. It's not immediately obvious, but the blue edging around the belt is really just the stripe in the tweed- when the belt was cut, an additional length of just the blue stripe was cut, and this was worked around the ends of the belt and slip stitched by hand to give the impression of a braid trim.

Chanel belt

Then there was this jacket from Yves Saint Laurent, one of my favorite couturiers.

YSL label

It was interesting to find that the canvas had been laid in on the bias, and that every single panel was canvassed from top to bottom. This jacket would be just beautiful when worn.

YSL canvas

And, of course, my favorite shoulder treatment.

YSL pagoda

That pagoda shape is probably the most difficult of all to achieve- there are a series of cuts in the canvas, similar to what I do in mine, but whereas I put one cut in the shoulder, this tailor has put two. Then the cloth has to stretched and shaped properly to fit over the canvas.

Just a brief taste of what we looked at this morning- my camera has been acting up- but these are garments that have been fully and beautifully documented in her books which can all be found on Amazon and which I heartily recommend.

Oh, and I almost forgot.

This label looks familiar.

Where have I seen something like it before? :)

Chanel label

ford label

Friday, October 22, 2010


I must be out of my mind.


I've seen a few Tom Ford suits around which made me curious. We've seen them on celebrities, whom I assume had been fitted by people who knew what they were doing. But then I started seeing them on "regular" people and the shape had me intrigued. I noticed a shape and a cleanliness to the chest that I'm not used to seeing in RTW. IN fact, a degree of shaping in the whole garment that I'm not used to seeing in RTW. I was in Milan a few weeks ago so I stopped in to the shop there are tried some stuff on. First I tried their Base A, which is quite fitted, but I was told it was the larger of the two basic fits. ORLY? Then they showed me the Base B which, if you're not built like Cristiano Ronaldo, you can just forget. But then, if you are built like Ronaldo, I don't know of another suit being offered off-the-rack which is shaped quite like this.

Some people like their tailoring to look a little rumpled. I prefer mine to look clean. I like Brioni because it is a clean garment. Others prefer Kiton because it looks a little soft, a little easy. Well, these garments definitely fall into the clean category. Very clean. Made by the Zegna Couture factory, whose work we examined in a previous post there are some similarities and some differences. And for those who think that TF is just rebranded mainline Zegna, you are quite wrong. I see nothing inspiring in mainline Zegna. I was, however, moved to want to get my hands on one of these TF suits to have a better look.

A SF poster announced that there were some TF suits at Century 21 so I asked him to give me a call if he went back to the store. Which he promptly did. His instructions were this- get me a suit in a check so I can study how they shape it. Got it. And he did. So there I was Paypaling far more money than I had ever imagined I would spend on something I was about to tear apart and I wondered if maybe this habit of mine was getting out of hand. Oh well. So a few days later a parcel came, and then out came the scissors. And thanks to Angelicboris for making the trip to C21.

Before I started cutting, I wanted to get the draft down. I measured the check in the cloth and then drew a grid on paper in the same dimensions. Panel by panel I used the grid to reproduce the pattern pieces as they were before sewing; if I were merely to measure the dimensions of the seams and the panels, I would not get an accurate representation because of the stretching and shrinking going on during the shaping of the garment. By getting an accurate draft down, I can then measure seams and compare them to the paper- the shoulder seam, for example, measured 6 5/8" on paper but the garment was 7", telling me that they stretched the shoulder 3/8" to hinge it forward. Stuff like that. Do I hear snoring? Sorry.

The cloth is a fantastic wool/cashmere blend which has the stoutness of an English cloth and the refined finish of an Italian cloth. I would be happy to spend my life sewing cloth like this.

Some of the cosmetics that stand out.

These "milanese" buttonholes baffle me. They are worked, by hand, around a length of gimp with no visible knot on top. A real work of art which I haven't the first clue how to reproduce. Next time I am in Italy I will find someone to teach me. Unless someone reading would care to enlighten me?


The barchetta breast pocket is not only curved and blunted, as in the southern Italian style, but the corner is rounded right off.


It is also distinctly Italian, the only such detail in a garment which otherwise looks very much inspired by Savile Row.

The undercollar is made from self-cloth, and has been felled and finished by hand.


The trouser has side adjusters rather than belt loops (though the loops are included in the pocket)

And this kind of waistband finishing is very reminiscent of Savile Row tailoring


The shoulder on a TF is usually pretty imposing so I was surprised to find a very thin amount of wadding in the sleeve and a pad which is not very thick.


No surprises here- pad stitching by automated machine.

pad stitching

Then I got into the coat front itself- the layers of canvas down the front and in the chest and shoulder. It's a rather complex configuration which I will get into more detail about later. Of particular interest, though, was that the main haircloth piece extends right down to the waist level, and a second piece stops four inches above, with a rather deep chest dart. This is what is giving the polished-marble appearance to the chest. A number of other pieces of different types of canvas are staggered through the chest and shoulder and are going to require further study. Another point of interest to tailors is that the haircloth is trimmed out of the seam allowance in the top 4 or 5 inches of the shoulder so rather than supporting the rope, it is soft and collapses a little. The whole top of the sleeve, though clean, is very soft to the touch.

My one quibble about this suit is that despite all the work that went into it, and despite the magnificent hand-made buttonhole on the lapel, the buttonholes on the front are done by machine! Not saying that machine buttonholes are bad, but it's just so in comprehensible when the one on the lapel is so lovely! And Zegna Couture makes one of the nicest hand-made buttonholes on the RTW market on their own production so why not on the TF? I think everyone else at this price point has hand-made buttonholes so why these machine-made ones? I remember hearing something about problems with capacity- they didn't have enough skilled people to make enough buttonholes, but come on. Train them. Go get a few in the south, where they are all over the place. I don't know. Anything other than these machine-made ones!

Breathe, Jeffery.

What is it about buttonholes that makes me hyperventilate?

Tom Ford's styling is not for everyone. His fit even less so. But if you like the bold styling, are looking for a suit with gobs of shaping (and are slim enough to fit into it) without going bespoke, there is nothing else, that I know of, on the market like it so go try one on. But be prepared. They are not cheap.


I just noticed this is post number 100. Cool.


I am reposting a comment left in the comments section:

Daniel said:
I could not tell from the photo, but I have a question about the trousers. I am a theatrical tailor, and worked on an opera Tom Ford designed a year or so ago. One detail he had us do is to bring the side seam forward on the back part, into what would be the pocket facing on a slightly slanted pocket. At the hip, the side seam would appear below the pocket, but would be flat through the pocket. He claimed it made a better line when sitting around that part of the hip. Did you notice this on his trousers in the store, or do other makers use this detail as well?

Well, as a matter of fact, I did notice this, and my first thought about it was that it was, indeed a way to get the pocket to lie more flat, but I thought it was more to do with standing than sitting. You can see a pronounced forward slant here

This is not to say that the theory actually works.

The shoulder seam is also slanted backward, like A&S and many Neapolitan tailors do. My (partially unsubstantiated) opinion is that this does not, actually, help, and I do feel some pressure on the shoulder points when wearing the coat, however I can not definitively state that this pressure is due to the slant of the shoulder seam and not some other element.

But back to the trousers. It is an intriguing idea, one which has the consequence of skewing the plaid matching toward the top, but if it works,I would be willing to forgive it. I'm not sure if anybody else does this, though I saw a few trousers in Italy which make me suspect that they are not alone, but I did not look close enough to say for sure. I will definitely be paying more attention in the future; anyone with pictures of the side seam on checked trousers from Mabitex or Incotex would be kind to point them out.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The importance of hangers

Bear with me while I rant a little bit.

Nothing makes me crazier than those stupid little wishbone hangers that some stores use to hang their garments. I really, really hate them. The way that you store your garment has such an impact on it, the same way a shoe tree is so important to the life of a good shoe. Two of the most delicate parts of a coat are the top of the sleeve and the collar, and they are shaped to contour your body; it would make sense, then, to hang a garment on something that closely resembles the body, no? Then why do department stores insist on those skinny little wishbone hangers which in no way resemble the body, are usually too wide so they poke out the sleeves, do not support the top of the sleeve so the sleeve buckles, and do not support the collar?

Take a look at the way this coat sits on this hanger. The ends are poking into the sleeve and the sop of the sleeve buckles; there is a piece of canvas in the sleeve head which is meant to support it because, over time, the rippling you see can become semi-permanent, requiring a skilled pressing to remove. If the garments are stored too closely together on these hangers, the creasing can actually become very difficult to get out, even by an experienced hand. Worse, if you expose the garment to humidity while on this hanger, like hanging it in a steamy bathroom to remove other creases (not something I recommend doing, by the way), the damage can be even worse. Maybe you've never observed this before but I hope now you will.


See how the collar sits away from the hanger with nothing to support it? It can get crushed or stretched out like this, again requiring a good pressing to fix.


Better makers know that hangers are important so the garments are placed on hangers with a very wide shoulder that supports the sleeve and collar. Not only are these hangers, themselves, much more expensive than standard EQ14-type hangers, but they are also more expensive for shipping. But we consider it important to the garment. Some stores choose to switch these hangers at their distribution center for the smaller ones, others don't. The ones who don't, I thank you. The ones who do, well, grrr.

Why do the stores use these awful little hangers, then, if they are so bad? Well, space. And space is money. Space in the distribution center, space in the trucks which ship the product to the stores, and space on the selling floors. They can cram more garments into less space using these little hangers, which saves them money. Grrr.

You probably know where I'm going with this.

I got a message from Kirby Allison, asking if I would mind putting an ad for his products on my blog.

He offered to send me some hangers for review, but accusations of shilling are rife on the internet, and not having seen his hangers yet, I wanted to feel free to say they were not up to par, if that were the case. So let me be clear here- I did not accept any free hangers, I paid for them, though he gave me free shipping. This is not a review in exchange for free stuff. This is me ranting about something I feel very strongly about.

Here is the same coat again, on the wishbone hanger, and then on one of Kirby's hangers. See the difference in the sleeves and collar? The hanger is the proper width, since he offers 4 widths, and it supports the shoulder and the collar. For me, it's a no-brainer.



I am fortunate to have access to good hangers at work, otherwise I would have to buy them somewhere. I guess Kirby was faced with the same dilemma when he started his hanger project- I'm not sure where else you can get good suit hangers. They're not cheap, but then, compared to the price of a good suit, it's a worthwhile investment. And compared to the price of a lasted shoe tree (I pay $160 for mine- ouch!) they're a bargain! So if you are currently hanging good quality suits on crappy little hangers, I strongly recommend thinking about investing in a few better ones.

Your clothes will thank you for it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Mother Lode


The granddaughter of a tailor was selling vintage bolts of cloth and buttons on the internet recently and I noticed she had some thread. Regular readers are familiar with the difficulty I sometimes have in getting silk buttonhole twist, particularly good stuff, so I told her I would take everything she had. And she had a fair amount. Some of it is from Belding Corticelli, who used to make a really excellent silk buttonhole twist. But not anymore- the spools are stamped State Tailors 1950.

Am I really getting excited over some old thread?


Well, yes.

I need to get out more.