Friday, October 4, 2013

The Making Of A Coat

Traditionally, stylistic evolutions have been driven, for the most part, by attitude. As Beau Brummell’s dandyism was a masculine rejection of ancien regime powdered foppery, so were Boomer blue jeans proclamations of disdain for gray-flanneled conformity. The current revival of interest in tailored menswear owes much to a similar need for generational re-invention, with bow-tied millennials banishing their fathers’ casual Fridays to the underachieving provinces. Their new traditionalism, however, isn’t trading on Attitude so much as a new currency of cool, utterly of its time: Information.

With respect to Luca and Lapo, the quintessential style avatar of this movement isn’t some playboy actor, musician, and other celebrity, but the common iGent: the faceless menswear blogger, the furtive forumite, the Instagramming man-about-town who runs the gauntlet of sidewalk opprobrium in pursuit of internet glory. They’ve succeeded in returning mainstream acceptance to fine male dress by adopting the modes of that most red-blooded persona: the fanboy. Like sports buffs combing player stats to assemble fantasy league teams, or gearheads poking around under the hoods of the latest model, the iGent is a fetishist of detail, description, and lore, to be compiled, compared, and endlessly rehashed on the internet.

This can, of course, get pretty tedious. G. Bruce Boyer has observed that many iGents appear to know everything about clothes except how to enjoy them, and I agree that the ostensible end of dressing well - i.e. looking good - is for many #menswear devotees less engaging than the esoterica of its means: the who (Scholte!), what (drape!), when (1923?), and where (A&S and Rubinacci these days if you’re a Big Timer). In short, #menswear is driven by dorks. So be it. I’m one of them. It’s a term I personally embrace, the better to distinguish myself from those who have come to the mansion of fine tailoring as tourists, lemmings, or - worst of all - to be “dressed for success,” either achieved or aspirational. The best among us are Promethean scholar monks of menswear, sifting through talmudic volumes of Apparel Arts for forgotten Fellows plates, or another cracking story about the origins of tweed, and offering it up for lunchtime cubicle consumption by the more casually interested masses (with, perhaps, better things to do).

The problem is that increasingly, there are no more forgotten Fellows plates. Like so much over-chewed gum, those once delicious morsels of sartorial lore from Boyer and Flusser have lost their flavor. For the initiated, the very bywords of cloth are still savory - drape, belly, spalla camicia - but being nothing new, they’re empty calories. There is simply very little new information, and in its place, we’re gorging ourselves with endlessly tumbled selfies, addicted to rack-focus tog porn of voluptuously rolled lapels and tightly handsewn buttonholes. This is what Réginald-Jérôme de Mans meant when he recently predicted “that #menswear will eat itself.” At the very least, if we’re not careful, #menswear will end up looking like the plain old menswear flogged by lifestyle glossies. I’m not ready to write us off just yet, however.

In the often breathtakingly catty world of online clothes dorkery, a respectful deference is generally granted to actual tailors. Few and far between, and generally too busy to care much about the pontifications of the iGentry, they are the remotely exalted mediums of the cloth, mandarins of cut whose informed explanations can help clarify, redeem, or mercifully end discussions that so often otherwise descend into slugfests of taste or opinion. The first tailor to fully appreciate this new role was Anderson & Sheppard “expatriate” Thomas Mahon, who in 2005 launched his blog English Cut, offering an unprecedented glimpse behind the famously drawn curtains of Savile Row. It was (and remains, in attenuated form) a simple, unpretentious blog, lacking the spit-polish we’ve come to expect from luxury internet marketing, and this was exactly the point. Mahon wasn’t selling crass luxury, or even the stiff upper lip of the old Row - he was selling the unique romance of his craft in all its dorky detail. To call it catnip for the then-burgeoning menswear blogosphere (which it undoubtedly was) is to do Mahon an injustice; his posts were an education, and remain essential reading.

As exploded Mahon’s business, he’s had less time to devote to it, but other tailors have stepped forward to carry on professionally informed yet accessible menswear discussions for the iGentry. Foremost among them is Jeffery Diduch, whose excellent blog Made By Hand literally dissects the work of top tailors and makers--a potentially obnoxious enterprise rendered wholesome by Diduch’s personal decency and professional forbearance. Sadly for us, Diduch’s own rising star in the industry (and a nasty injury) have reduced his posts to a trickle.

I have long wanted to make my own contribution to this somewhat lapsed discussion, but I am not a tailor, and as a documentary filmmaker my work is only as good as my subject; I needed to find a bespoke tailor with both the time and confidence to lay bare his craft - and ideally one able to articulate it engagingly. It was a tall order, but one perfectly met by Rory Duffy.

I’d first heard of Duffy in 2009, when, as the first Irish apprentice of Henry Poole & Co, he won the coveted Golden Shears Award in London. Duffy has since completed his training and moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he’s hung his shingle offering “handcraft” bespoke, which he describes as a pre-war Savile Row standard of construction, made wholly by himself on premises. The term “bespoke” has, of course, been hijacked to flog everything from investment portfolios to hardwood floors, and the antiquarian decor and heritage marketing so common among ateliers today too often masks the absence of a true bespoke process. For Duffy - often found sweeping up biscuit crumbs before greeting clients in his home workshop - the clothes have to be everything.

Duffy is young - thirty years old - in a trade where youth can be judged a liability, but his age belies the seven years of training he completed, and the four generations of tailors from which he descends. Most importantly for our purposes, Duffy’s youth makes him hungry to establish his name and credentials in New York City. To that end, he agreed to be the subject of a series of a web series: “The Making of a Coat.” Each installment will follow one step in the construction of a single-breasted, three-button, patch-pocketed, RAF blue flannel suit coat, allowing Duffy to play an “open hand” -- explaining in detail not just the hows of bespoke tailoring, but the whys.

For a variety of reasons ranging from honest trade secrecy to the mildly fraudulent, the actual processes of clothing production are often closely guarded or gently obfuscated. Duffy has nothing to hide. On the contrary, having come up in an old-world apprenticeship, he is committed to teaching others; his own former apprentice at Poole, Emily Squires, went on to win this year’s Golden Shears Award, and since moving to New York, Duffy has been a lecturer at the Parsons School of Design. He is a natural raconteur, leavening his demonstrations with recollections of his own past masters in Ireland and on the Row, and whenever possible I have left these in the videos to give the viewer a sense of being, as I have been, a very keen fly on his wall as he works.

I sincerely hope that The Making Of A Coat will account for countless lost hours on company clocks and endless rounds of more or less civil online discussion.

Words and video by Andrew Yamato


oldsarj said...

Oh, this it going to be FUN!!

mack11211 said...

This could be a very useful and interesting series; I look forward to future installments.

Duffy looks like someone who knows his stuff.

Still, if there is any promotional arrangement between or among the tailor, the filmmaker and Will, it might be good to disclose it now.

Will said...

Without promotional arrangements little would be accomplished in life however there is nothing about this project that we felt a need to disclose. The jacket is made to fit Mr. Yamato who Will pays for his work (all ASW contributors are paid). Mr. Duffy has some fun while getting a little exposure and you dear reader have a video series to enjoy while you peruse the advertisements on the site.

Carmen Bouchard said...

Thank you!