Monday, November 24, 2014

Classic Tailoring Techniques, 2nd Edition

Roberto Cabrera's book, Classic Tailoring Techniques is getting a revision!

Cabrera's textbook has long been one of the only references on tailoring, and certainly the best one available to novices. Stanley Hostek wrote a few exhaustive books but they weren't as accessible to learners and Cabrera's book. My one quibble about the Cabrera book was that some of the techniques were somewhat dated, and hopefully this revision will address those issues.

Copies can be pre-ordered, and as of this writing there are 171 days before the release date; I have requested a review copy so I will hopefully have something more useful to say about it soon.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Slim Suits Loosen Up- news from the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal posted an article this week on the loosening up of the slim suit.

One of the suit lines they mention is Todd Snyder White Label, something new to Nordstrom. I developed that fit for Todd (it's being made in Chicago by Hart Schaffner Marx, the company of which I was VP Design until recently) and long-time readers of this blog (and StyleForum) may find this interesting since it involves a personal journey that started online several years ago. (Hint- it involves DRAPE!)

Like many of my colleagues, I had been trained in the clean-lines school of tailoring, that a well-cut suit should look like polished marble, without rumples or wrinkles or fullness of any sort. The coat should be cut close to the body and be reinforced by canvas and interlining to maintain that cleanliness. I encountered a group of people online who challenged that notion by their adherence to a diametrically-opposed school of tailoring, known by its early-twentieth-century moniker The Drape Cut. A lot of ink has been spilled on the subject, but the reader's digest version of that story is that tailored clothing at the turn of the century was rather close-fitting and followed the natural contours of the male body, the downside to that being that the less ideally-proportioned among us would have those proportions revealed by their clothing. A dutchman named Frederick Scholte who was working on Savile Row at the time was inspired by military greatcoats whose broad shoulders and cinched, belted waists gave the illusion of a more athletic body so he gently extended the shoulder of the suits he cut, increased the fullness in the chest and the top of the sleeve and slimmed down the hip. The resulting sihouette became known os the Drape Cut, the London Drape, or the Blade Cut, and was widely copied around the world, perhaps most visibly by the tailors dressing 1930's Hollywood. Like any trend it became exaggerated to the ugly extremes of the zoot suit and fell out of fashion. Certain houses, such as Savile Row's Anderson and Sheppard, as well as a handful of other tailors like Rubinacci and Alan Flusser have kept the drape alive to a certain extent and we see influences in some of Ralph Lauren's clothing (certainly his own, broad-shouldered suits) and Tom Ford. Most of the examples of it that I had seen on people, however, just looked like sloppy, ill-fitting messes to me so I dismissed it.

Online discussions about the cut revealed a certain amount of passion on both side of the fence, and Nicholas Antongiavanni's riff on Machiavalli, a book titled simply "The Suit" but which extolled the superiority of the drape cut made me a little bit crazy.

Back then I was in the habit of tearing apart interesting clothing so see what I could learn about how they were cut and made (and which partially prompted this blog) and I came across a vintage drape-cut suit from Anderson and Sheppard. It was a pivotal moment for me because once I got past some of the glaring deficiencies in the sewing (a dark period in the history of clothing from which they seem to have recovered), I saw something interesting in the cut. From my post at the time-

"A&S has a possibly unwarranted reputation for cutting shapeless sacks. Certainly the ones I have seen were ugly things. But not this one; instead of wide, droopy shoulders, it has a moderately wide, softly padded shoulder which is in balance with the rest of the garment. And there is a shape. The most shapely garment I have ever examined. A huge drape allowance on the back, and bizarre sleeves. But shape- good shape. So, curious, I tried it on. It’s not my size, but I know about putting garments on my body which are not my size.

And then I paused again.

I think I stood looking in the mirror for a full fifteen minutes. Looking past the awful sewing, and some of the stylistic things that bug me, this silhouette did not look bad at all. I even caught myself thinking that if the cloth were not in such rough shape I could cut it down and wear it myself. Then I started moving around, and thought, damn, this thing IS comfortable. Then I had another look at the chest and the drape there. It was not the lumpy chest I was used to seeing, but a nicer fold, a real drape, not just bulk, and I can honestly say that at that moment I got it. I understood it."

I started rethinking my opposition to the principles behind the drape cut and started to do some more research.

Once I had located as much as had been written in tailoring journals dating to the period of the original Drape, I started to synthesize man of the ideas in my head and created an experiment. I would cut myself a draped coat using my own modern drafting style but the vintage pattern manipulations, and wrote about it. The result was far from perfect but I learned a lot if things in the process.

Shortly after that I took over at Hart Schaffner Marx, an old American clothing company, and got to work redoing all the silhouettes and patterns. The company had some boxy silhouettes and had attempted a slim-fit which was poorly received because people felt it was just too tight. I studied all the other garments on the market and found that the slim-cut clothing in general was tight all over. Fine for Hedi Slimane-esque skinny people, but certainly not fine for those with some extra meat on their bones. The other thing I found common in these suits was that the drop was wacky. The drop is the difference between chest size and pant size and the standard is about six inches. A seven inch drop is considered "athletic" so most slim suits carried a 7-inch drop. A size 40 suit would have a size 33 pant instead of a 34, assuming that these slim suit-wearing people had small waists. The thing is, though, that meant that the pant was smaller ALL OVER instead of just in the waist. I had other ideas about that, too.

Whereas slim coats would have a slim waist, but also a narrow shoulder, a small armhole, and a narrow sleeve, I created something with a slim waist, but a slightly extended shoulder, an armhole that was high but wide front to back to allow for a bigger bicep and added a little bit of the dreaded drape to the chest, both front and back. The sleeve was much fuller around the cap to allow for a fuller deltoid, but then slimmed it down at the wrist. In many respects, the description of those first drape models. My first iterations had a trim seat in the coat, but I realized that athletic figures generally had a more prominent seat and thighs, so I needed to give more room for that. And as for the trouser, instead of cutting the smaller size 33 instead of 34, I made a pant that had a smallish waist but had the room to allow for a full seat and thighs, inspired by alterations I was having to do to my jeans. The moderately slim cut we called the New York, and the slimmer, much shorter version we called the Los Angeles.

The Spring 2013 Los Angeles coat looked like this

compared to Dior's slim cut which was one of the biggest influences on slim tailoring-

So when Todd Snyder, who at J. Crew had created the Ludlow suit, came to us at HSM to create his White Label garments, I showed him what I had been doing with these silhouettes and he liked it. I softened up the shoulder of the LA model, he created a lapel shape for it and we developed a cool trim package for the line, and it's now in Norsdtrom stores. I'm now working on a new project and a few new lines of clothing that will appear in stores in Fall 2015 where I will continue to develop ideas about a modern drape cut. So I guess I have to thank Antongiavanni and the Drapists at StyleForum for pushing me in a direction I never would have taken without them. Somewhere, Réjinald Jérome deMans is yelling "I TOLD YOU SO!" at his computer screen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Of cutters, designers, stylists and patternmakers…

There is a discussion going on in another part of the internet and a question was asked which someone felt I may be able to answer. I would rather not wade in to that mess of a discussion, but the question still deserves a bit of an answer. For serious clothing nerds only.

The question revolves around job titles in men’s tailored clothing, a business which is, in some respects, stuck in a bit of a time warp. I know a person who was deeply insulted by another colleague who called him a “patternmaker”, despite the fact that he does, in fact, make patterns. “Paper cutter” and “calzolaio” (shoemaker) are other, similarly pointed, epithets in the tailoring trade. To understand, we have to back up about 150 years.

Ready-made clothing (and for the purposes of this article I will use the archaic meaning of the term “clothing” to refer exclusively to men’s tailored clothing, as opposed to sportswear) was virtually non-existent until the American civil war. A man would get his clothing from his tailor if he could afford one, or it was made in the home. The only things one could buy ready-made was cheap work-wear, made principally for miners, sailors, and slaves. The civil war created a demand for mass-produced uniforms which happened to coincide with the second industrial revolution and an industry was born (more on that another time).
The person at the tailor shop who was responsible for interpreting a person’s measurements into cut pieces of fabric to be sewn together was, logically, the cutter. Scores of books had been written at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century on what was known as the art of cutting gentlemen’s clothing but what we would today refer to as patternmaking. The early ready-made industry employed cutters to cut clothing according to these new systems which would typically be sent out for sewing. In 1910, a trade organization then known as the National Association of Clothing Designers was incorporated in New York City. From a 1917 report by the U.S. department of trade-

“Very conservative styles of men’s clothing are worn in England; the models do not change from one season to another as they do in this country. High-salaried designers are employed by the larger clothing factories in the United States who are constantly introducing attractive styles…”
The “designer” was what we would now call both “stylist” and “head patternmaker”. His job was not only to develop new styles but also to determine what he though was a statistical representation of the average human body and to clothe that body. He might study the library of measurements that the government collected when making uniforms for the soldiers in the civil war, or, later, either of the two world wars, and establish that the average American male was of a certain stature and chest size (these days, we are studying vastly larger sets of data provided by body scanners to determine averages and sizing) . A person whose own measurements resembled those averages would be sought to serve as a fit model and the designer would create his styles to fit that person in the same manner as a cutter would in a bespoke house. A first draft of a pattern would be subjected to a number of different trials and fittings until a satisfactory base pattern was produced. Junior designers, or assistants, would be tasked with taking that base pattern and increasing or decreasing the proportions of it to create a set of different sizes in a system known as grading. Those graded pieces had to be traced off on hard paper and individually cut out. Those junior people were often known as “paper cutters”.

The job of designer was eventually split in to two different jobs in the nascent sportswear industry, specifically those of stylist and the patternmaker who would interpret the stylist’s creations, a split so complete that, these days, a good stylist may have little real understanding of patternmaking and a patternmaker may be a good engineer though completely lacking in taste and creativity. The tailored clothing industry still clings to the nomenclature and job description that existed a hundred years ago so a suit designer is still a patternmaker who may also in some cases work with a stylist, while that stylist would be known as the designer in all other parts of the garment industry. So to call a suit designer a “patternmaker” is to imply that he lacks the necessary taste to execute the job in its entirety. To call a suit designer a “stylist” implies that, despite their good taste, they lack the technical understanding of drafting and tailoring to be capable of actually designing a garment. And to call a tailor or designer a “calzolaio” which, in Italian, means shoemaker, is to imply that their sewing is so crude as to be only suitable for stitching leather and not fine woolens.
Which is all to say that people who make clothing can be temperamental divas sometimes.
But back to the question which concerned the difference between a bespoke cutter and a Ready-to-Wear designer (or patternmaker). The cutter is fitting one specific person while the designer is fitting a hypothetical set of people but will probably employ one real person as representative so the end result , in terms of fit, should ideally be the same. That said, as in the bespoke world where some fitters are better than others, some designers are better than others so ill-fitting ready-to-wear may be the result of either a consumer whose body is very different from the chosen “standard” or it may be that the designer did a lousy job of fitting that standard in the first place. In that respect, the jobs are almost identical. The main difference is that the cutter will leave a lot of adjusting to the tailor so his pattern can be much less precise, and generally is. The tailor may have to baste, adjust, trim, and re-baste a sleeve two, three, four, or more times before they get it into the armhole correctly but once it is in, it is forgotten; in fact, I have heard from a number of different people on and around Savile Row that it is common practice for tailors to have their own sleeve templates to reshape the sleeve caps that are sent to them by the cutter. In a factory setting, the sleeve has to go in correctly on the first try so the designer spends a lot more time perfecting his pattern before it goes anywhere near a cutting table, which is no guarantee of a good sleeve- there are plenty of atrocious sleeves on both ready-to-wear and bespoke garments.

A great bespoke cutter may be a fantastic fitter and produce a perfectly-fitting garment using a pattern which would be an absolute disaster in a factory setting, and a RTW patternmaker could make a pattern which flows beautifully through the shop but which fits nobody. Having some experience on both sides of that cutting table generally produces the best results.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Good shears are very difficult to come by- they just don't make them anymore. One of the members of Styleforum has located a factory in Italy that still has the molds for 13" shears and is willing to make a batch if they get enough orders. If you're interested, check out the thread here and sign up.