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The 50,000$ Coat

By Di, Jun 14 2016 03:38PM

I’ve just had a couple of weeks away from home and as well as some sewing I took some books with me. I have to mention the latest novel, “Death Us Do Part” by Steven Dunne, an ex-colleague who writes murder mysteries set in my home town of Derby. A great read if you enjoy this genre.

However; I also took two other books, The Dressmaker and The Coat Route. The Dressmaker, now made into a film, was a lovely read. What I really enjoyed about it was the brilliant descriptions of clothes of the period. Especially as I chatted to my friend in France, her husband’s step-mother had been a seamstress for Paris couture houses including Balmain! Throughout the book there are descriptions of fabrics taken from “Fabrics For Textiles”by Rosalind Giles. I realised that this had been the text book that had taken me through GCE O Level Dress, I should have a copy, but I guess it went into school when I was teaching ……

The Coat Route by Meg Lukens Noonan asks ‘In today’s world of fast fashion, is there a place for a handcrafted $50,000 coat?”

Meg is not a professional dressmaker; however she came across the website belonging to John H Cutler, an Australian tailor. The site was devoted to an overcoat that Cutler had made for a long time client. Of the coat, Cutler said it was “the ultimate expression of the bespoke tailor’s art”.

Meg Noonan had noticed that the word “bespoke” was being used increasingly in descriptions of many items and services. She took it to mean “customised”. “Bespoke” is a word that’s origins is in English 17th century tailoring. When a customer went to a tailor he first chose and reserved a piece of cloth, it was said “to be spoken for” … Bespoke became synonymous with clothing made from a specific cloth, to fit the precise measurements of the client. Hence tailors, especially those of Savile Row, consider “bespoke” as their word.

Meg Noonan decided to investigate how a custom made overcoat could possibly cost $50,000.

The journey, starting in the studio of John Cutler in Sydney, took her to the highest plateau of the Andes in Peru where she met conservationists and indigenous people who are responsible for the protection of Vicuna. This rare animal that is related to the camel and Alpaca lives at high altitude and its fleece is extremely fine. Almost hunted to extinction the Vicuna population is now strong and has strict regulation regarding the collection of its fleece.

The second stage of the journey took Meg to Florence to meet Stefano Ricci. John Cutler had pullled off a coupe by persuading the designer to sell him a length of the silk cloth that was created exclusively for Hermes scarves. Meg visited the spinning and weaving mills that turned Brazilian wild silk into this most luxurious cloth. John now had his lining.

John Cutler had kept the piece of Vicuna for over 20 years. On the centenary of the family tailoring business in 1984 John had the opportunity to ask Ashley Dormeuil if the company still had Vicuna locked away in it's vaults. A few weeks later three pieces of cloth arrived in his Sydney atalier, each worth $6,000 a metre. So it was to Paris that Meg went next. Dormeuil are luxury cloth merchants and menswear designers. Most of their cloth is woven in west Yorkshire. Here, Meg saw some of the most luxurious cloths in the world. Dormeuil offer a cutting service to tailors who often only require a 4yards of cloth or even less for a jacket. There website is wonderful, including the Vicuna in their natural environment.

Off to Huddersfield for Megs next stage of her journey. Here she met up with one of Dormeuil's fabric designers and consultants who took her on his rounds from spinner to weaver to finisher. HIs family had all worked in the mills and he gives a great insight into life in Yorkshire's mills. I'm sure many people believe that Britain doesn't make things any more, but look at and , you'll find fabric production that is used by the finest tailors in the world. It is here that the vicuna cloth was created. The book also give an intersting insight into how the Chinese still aren't able to recreat some of these processes as they are too labour intensive.

For the buttonsJohn wanted only the best so he turned to who he knew would have the buttons made by James Grove and Sons in Halesowen.So Meg headed to the West Midlands where sadly she found a business in decline. This is an interesting read. I knew buttons could be made from animal horn, however i didn't realise that the horn is powdered and made into a paste that is pressed to form the button. There follows an account of the button collectors .................

By this stage of the book Meg has seen where all the visible parts of the coat were made. Many tailors don't include a label in their clothes, it's almost considered too vulgar, the wearer knowing that owning the clothes is sufficient. Bespoke is not about labels. For this special coat John decided to commission two pieces from gold engraver John Thompson. A small gold plaque to go above the inside breast pocket and a slim gold bar engraved on oneside with the tailors name and the other with that of the coats owner. These two pieces added $4000 to the cost of the coat.

Meg now returns to the shop and workshops of John Cutler, the tailor. All the way through this book there is a great balance of between meeting the craftsmen (they were almost all men), anecdotal accounts of why some people spend so much money on quality items and the history of the various elements. Finally Meg flew to Vancouver to meet the owner of the coat and to actually see it in person. Here she discovered that this unassuming gentlemean had order a secong vicuna coat to be made out of one of the other pieces of cloth thst arrived in Sydney in 1984. This one was lined with Hermes scarves ........

The Epilogue brings us back to Savile Row and the difficulties they are having in trying to keep the exclusivity of their address. The success of Downton Abbey has bought the Americans calling and many Savile Row tailors have seen their order books swell. It also updates us on how usiness was for the varying contributors in 2012.

Meg says she is now far more aware of where her clothes come from and has realised that very few of her own clothes really fit her correctly and like me, she has started to notice who is wearing a handcrafted suit .....................

Nov 29 2016 04:02PM by Marie-Noëlle Lafosse

Thank you for the review. I must read this book

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