The name of Steed may be new to you. Currently run by Edwin De Boise, it was originally a partnership between two men. Edwin, who comes from a family of tailors and who had worked under the legendary Edward Sexton, met Thomas Mahon when he worked at Savile Row's Anderson and Sheppard as a cutter. The two of them struck off on their own to start Steed, and when Mahon left to pursue other things, including, eventually, his own firm and blog, English Cut, Edwin stayed on and is now training his son, Matthew, in the craft. The dinner suit which comes to me from London dates from the year 2000, a time when the two cutters were still together.
I'm not sure what I was expecting to find on opening the parcel, but given that I have been underwhelmed at best by what I have been looking at lately, my expectations were not high. Granted, the Steed garments I have seen in photos on the internet appear to fit well, however, photos of any sort are not always the best indicator of either fit or quality. In any case, we are starting to have an interesting sampling of garments- we have looked at a moderately-priced dinner suit from Samuelsohn, a more expensive dinner jacket from Brioni, and now a Dinner suit from a Savile Row craftsman. We also have garments from the 3 biggest names on Savile Row and now one of the smaller guys.
This suit is a one-button, peak lapel with grosgrain facing and side vents, and a double-pleated trouser with side adjusters. There is no separate side body, no front dart, and only a small underarm dart. Despite this, there is a decent amount of shape. The lining colour is actually the purple shown in the scan of the label- my lights turn the lining a pinkish shade when photographing. The trouser and the coat were let out by an alteration tailor who did a crummy job, so a few details will have to be ignored- I think it's safe to assume that, instead of sending the suit back to Cumbria for alterations, the owner had someone local do it.
One of the first thing I noticed (and have noticed on Steed's suits before) was the buttonholes. Not only are they individually well-executed, but getting them all lined up evenly is sometimes a challenge. Readers may recall the Huntsman suit which was nowhere near as well done. Upon closer inspection I noticed that the buttonholes had been sealed with some sort of gummy substance; it is common to seal them after cutting and before working them with beeswax- this helps prevent fraying and gives a more solid edge to work with, though it doesn't always work. Instead of using wax, it appears some sort of rubber cement has been used; whatever the case, if this is the result, I am all for it.
Another thing that is immediately apparent is the neatness of the trousers. Remember these, from legendary Anderson & Sheppard?
How much neater are Steed's trousers....
There is no knee lining in the trouser, like the A&S suit; the finishing of the inside is much neater. The pocketing could stop bullets, but if you lived in a high-crime area that might be a good thing. On the whole, I am impressed wit the trousers, the alteration job notwithstanding.
Oddly, the jacket seems to have taken more wear than the trousers; the cloth is showing some signs of pilling, which is one of the hazards of milled-finish cloths (the ones with a slightly fuzzy texture). While softer to wear and more resistant to shine from pressing than clear-finished cloth. I don't think it would be noticeable to any but the most observant or anal (are you reading this, Louche?) but it's something to consider when selecting cloth if you intend to get many years of wear out of your suit.
The interior pockets are constructed differently than the ones we are used to seeing from Row tailors, and they are neater. They are not anchored on a cloth extension, but this is to be expected when using grosgrain, which is too bulky for it. It's also the first time I have seen a tab closure on an inside pocket from Row tailors.
I won't bore you with all the details of it, but the facing construction is clever. Flannel is required on dinner suits to prevent the interior construction leaving impressions on the delicate silk and there are several ways to attach it. In this case, the flannel was assembled with the lining and machined onto the front as though it were a facing, which can make for a smoother edge, the flannel was basted onto the canvas with a few rows of stitches so it wouldn't shift, and then the silk was felled by hand over top of the flannel.
The finishing of the inside of the jacket is generally as neat as the trouser; comparable, I would say, to the Poole coat, and far better than the A&S.
The canvas, of course, is constructed by hand, using a fine hair canvas. The chest has a full piece of haircloth, but a softer one than we often find in more constructed garments. Since both cutters were A&S alumni, I expected a chest construction like the A&S, in which the haircloth was cut away from the armhole, allowing the draped fold to form, but the canvas goes right into the armhole. With Edwin's varied experience, one can imagine he is able to give his customers what they want whether it is very soft and drapy or slightly more structured. The proportions of the garment do not suggest any great amount of drape either.
The sleeve has two layers of the same flannel as is used on the chest and to face the grosgrain (readers will remember than Huntsman uses four layers) and the shoulder has one small layer of wadding finished with lining, in the same manner as A&S, giving a very soft shoulder.
On the hand-sewing debate, the shoulder seam and sleeve setting were done by machine. Not that I think this is a minus, in fact, recent experiments have debunked some of the claims about hand-sewn seams. One thing I think we are mostly in agreement about, though, is that the armhole should be hand-finished, if not hand-sewn. This means the wadding, canvas and lining are all affixed by hand. In this case, however, the sleeve lining was affixed to the body lining by machine and was loose in the armhole; not only is this very curious, it is also not typical- the photos of recent Steed garments clearly show hand-finished armholes.
Though we might reasonably expect the general quality level to be lower from smaller firms than from the big Savile Row names, especially given the lower prices, this, clearly, is not the case. Maybe they feel they have to work that much harder in order to gain respect and recognition.
Whatever the reason is, it's good.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Thanks to an impassioned entreaty from Natalie (of the CTDA, I am guessing), I managed to track down the elusive source of the Perkins Tailoring Devices.
The concept behind these devices are not new- this shoulder incline device dates to 1934
and this one was developed in Russia in the 70s
These, however, only measure the slope of the shoulder. The full; kit of Perkins devices also include in incline device to measure the prominence of the shoulder blades, a rise device to measure for trouser rise, a sleeve device to measure from the pit of the arm to the wrist or the tip of the thumb, a device known as a trouser length/low shoulder device which is intended to also capture the estimated 15-20% of people whose shoulder is low at the collar edge and not merely at the shoulder point.
I haven't used most of the devices so I can't say much about them other than that they could make standardization simpler, particularly where stores are communicating measurements to factories for MTM programs.
Philip Perkins admits to not using computers at all so he can not be contacted by email; this also explains why there is precious little information about these devices on the internet. If you are interested in learning more about them (he will fax you a 3 page instruction document) contact Philip Perkins at 210-684-6233 (Texas so Central Time Zone)
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Dropping the name Anderson and Sheppard into any serious sartorial conversation is like dropping a bomb; in the words of their former managing director, “You either swear by our coats or you swear at them”. For some reason, they inspire a lot of swearing.
Founded in 1906 by Frederick Scholte’s undercutter, Per Anderson, the house has been fairly faithful to their house cut of a soft, draped coat. Depending on which sources you consult, this can mean all sorts of things. I admit that I am not a fan of what I have seen from them, namely overly wide, droopy shoulders and lumpy, messy chests, not to mention the backs and the sleeves which I think could be improved a lot. I also admit that their managing director, while credited with having brought them back from the brink, will occasionally say the darndest things which make my head spin and I immediately shut off and dismiss him. I suppose that is human, but it is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, perhaps. But there is so much mystique and lore surrounding them that I was, of course, insanely curious about their garment. So when a reader offered to donate a garment to science, I was thrilled.
Thank you, Simon.
They have a beautiful web page which is worth visiting, and an SF member blogs about the A&S's visit to New York here.
This coat was made in 1987 but the trouser in 1992- we can assume that the owner wore out the first pair and was fortunate enough that they had the cloth to make another pair five years later. The only information (other than the client name and date) on the label is an order number and the initial C. Often this represents the cutter’s name but we can’t assume anything yet (anyone know anything that they care to share?)
I have to say that this was a tough one. A very tough one. I try to be as objective as I can when examining a garment, especially one from which I can learn things. But his garment is a mess. Not just because of its age, which is showing. In fact, we can lay to rest another myth, namely that bespoke lasts a lifetime. It can, if well cared for. But it is not the rule; this garment has been repaired a number of times, and not well at all. It is also falling apart at the (hand-sewn) seams. Looking past the age and the repairs, the sewing is a mess. It is truly not worthy of any decent tailoring house, much less one that claims to be one of the best. I was having a very hard time preparing an objective, fair and balanced look when all I was tempted to do was tear it to shreds, literally and figuratively, and launch into a tirade, even though the garment is over 20 years and one can assume they have cleaned up their act since otherwise they would surely be out of business by now.
But then I put it on a dummy.
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 ugly, 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 also understood the bias canvas business, I think, but we’ll get to that.
The thing is, though, I suspect this is the work of Colin Harvey. The skirt has a flare that reminds me of the Prince of Wales’ garments, which were cut by Mr. Harvey. The C on the label would bear it out. So either there was once a maverick cutter at A&S whose work I can appreciate, or there was once a house style infinitely more palatable than what is being done now, which is possibly lost in time. Whatever the case is, keep in mind that the following is, after all, a review of a 20-year old garment and can’t be taken for a reflection of the house today since there have been a number of changes of staff. We hope there were changes in the level of quality as well.
A DB three by two and a single forward pleated trouser with side tab closures; I understand that it is unusual that this coat had a front dart and a separate side body which helps to give it shape.
Here we see the massive back drape
And a sleeve which I find atrocious but which I have actually concluded will give you more movement than a cleaner one. More on that in another post.
I won’t bore you with all the gory details, just some of them. And you may think I’m being nitpicky about silly things like pattern matching. But pattern matching is a sort of signpost. There are so many details in a garment that you can’t see, that we pay special attention to certain details like pattern matching as a sign of the level of attention to detail. If the things you can see are not done well, you can assume that the things that you CAN’T see are also not done well. So while I can see the rest and judge it, you may not be able to. That’s why pattern matching and things like that are important.
A&S is one of the few that bother to match the pocket jets, as a sign of their attention to detail. It is sad, then to see one pocket so madly mismatched.
The other pocket is much better; maybe it was the tailor’s excitement in doing a much better job on this pocket that led him to forget to pick stitch it. I am joking in part, but not about the forgetting to finish it part.
The collar is another spot- the collar should match the back. Like the pockets, they got one side right, just not both.
Their much-vaunted hand-sewn armhole seam is coming apart
as is the gorge.
The tab closures are sloppy
And the breast welt has sagged so much that the facing seam shows.
In a previous post I remarked that, while scrounging on ebay I was surprised by the lining, thinking that they had taken the step of cutting the inside pockets directly onto the lining, which is not only weak, but makes lining changes difficult. When I put my hands on the Huntsman and Poole garments I found I was wrong and they had been carefully crafted by hand to resemble the cheaper way of doing it, but the pocket was actually mounted on concealed cloth and in a way which made changing the lining easy when it wore out.
Imagine my surprise to find that not only has the lining been inserted by machine, but the pockets are cut directly onto it, the way I initially feared they would be. And they are absolutely sloppy pockets.
And this is what happens over time when we make sloppy pockets, only now it is a big job to change the lining because of the way it was initially made.
The hem is sloppy
And the neck is worse
The trouser finishing is no better, and to add insult to injury, they have used black thread on red lining. In several spots of the trouser and the coat.
Then things get more interesting. The linen canvas, which was expected, is cut on the straight grain, which was not. They are known for cutting their canvas on the bias.
Their MD has explained that bias-cut canvas has the benefit of stretching in the length, to which I say “So what?” The coat does not stretch so why should the canvas stretch? There is no vertical tension on the coat, it does not button up under your crotch or get hooked onto your plus-fours, so why the need to stretch? It makes no sense at all.
BUT the merits of bias-cut cloth have long been known because of its unique ability drape. Ah. Vionnet was a genius with bias-cut cloth and was a huge influence on my dress-making days. Aside from stretching, the bias allows cloth to roll in a way that the straight grain does not. So if the drape in the chest were allowed to roll, a bias-cut canvas would help it. THIS would make total sense. So maybe old John is ad-libbing instead of sticking to the script. In any case, it will only roll if it is not impeded by the chest canvas which usually extends into the armhole.
We see here that the chest canvas is cut well clear of the armhole; this will allow the excess cloth cut for the drape style to fold near the scye instead of puffing out like a swelled chest would do. Taking off the domette we can see that there is haircloth underneath, just a smaller, carefully positioned piece.
Unfortunately, the haircloth is of a very bad quality and is migrating- you can see the hairs jutting into the armhole
And the fact that I can pull it out easily shows there is no crimp to the hair which would have prevent this migration. It would also have prevent the vee from coming apart at the shoulder as it did. When you feel prickly, plastic-like things poking your chest, it is probably bad haircloth that is migrating like this one.
The shoulder has one little piece of wadding supported by a piece of linen and covered by a layer of lining. Just a whisper, but it is enough since the shoulders are not exaggeratedly wide. The shoulders they cut today need much more support to keep them up, and yet they sag.
What do I conclude from this? Well, I know a few things about drape that I didn't before and see what I did wrong on my previous drape experiment. I also know that it's worth a second look. So stay tuned, as we will be making some more drape.
(I hear the sound of Sator weeping....)
Some comments from Mr. Seitelman which are valid and deserve a response (thank you, Mark)
Dissection is an interesting exercise, and I have followed your blog.
Indeed, Mike Cohen, former president of Oxxford, used to dissect competitors' suits. he knew how to do it so as to put the suit back together.
We follow in Domenico Caraceni's great tradition of examining other people's clothes.
the examination of the this suit is not necessarily a fair example of A & S workmanship either back in 1987 or today.
I was quite clear that it is not a reflection of their work today.
1. It is a 22 year old suit which has been worn to death in probably rain, snow, etc.
I have taken this into consideration and not shown the parts which have worn out due to age and been repaired; the repair work is truly disgraceful and while it would be normal for A&S to do their own repair work it is not a given. What has been shown is, in my opinion, the result of sloppy work or faulty trimmings (with one exception).
MS-2. Due to its age, it is to be expected that a much of the hand sewing would be coming apart especially if it were worn regularly. Similarly, the canvases would age. Does not a brick building require repointing every 20 years? I would say that if the suit had been relined, some of the issues with the canvas would have been corrected.
I agree with you, however one of the arguments that many use as a justification for hand sewing is that it is supposed to be stronger and last longer, which is often not the case, just the opposite. I merely intend to illustrate that point. The canvas would have to be replaced to correct the hair migration and I doubt they would have done that in the course of a reline. It's a problem with the material they used which caused it to fall apart.
3. Due to age and perhaps poor maintainence there would be sagging of certain parts, such as the outside chest pocket.
The breast welt is usually made in such a manner such as the facing seam will never show, even if the pocket should sag. This pocket was badly made.
4. We do not know if this suit were made for a customer or for one of the cutters or tailors. If it were made for an A & S employee, then certain shortcuts might have been taken to get the suit done quickly.
This suit was not made for an employee, it was made for a person who is known to the public. I have obscured his name on the label for privacy.
Friday, January 8, 2010
A busy post box this week. A parcel came yesterday and today a notice that the post office is holding one; I'm hoping it's the A&S I've been waiting for. In the meantime, I give you Saint Andrews. Thanks to HRoi for getting it here so quickly!
Also known as Saint Andrews, Sartoria Santandrea produces garments for a number of better doors but is not so well known in North America except perhaps by fans of Ralph Lauren's Purple Label, as Santandrea produces some of their tailored clothing (perhaps all? at one point Cantarelli also did some).
There's not a lot to learn from this garment but for the sake of those who are trying themselves who makes a better garment, let's have a look at some of the details.
The buttonholes are very nice (naturally, they are done by hand) and the top buttonhole (the one that is meant to be buttoned, not the boutonniere) has been worked on both sides.
The back of the buttonhole
If you go to their site and go to "lavorazione", then "asole" you see someone making a buttonhole by hand. If you look closely you can see that the buttonhole has been whip stitched before making it (which is typical), but the stitches are very close together, which raised a flag. I have mentioned before that certain well-known Neapolitan makers make their buttonholes by machine with fine thread first then work them again by hand. A friend of mine who worked for a company which does it told me about this, saying it was much easier to get consistency in the cutting of the hole, and because it was all stitched up first, which is stronger than a hand stitch. It made the buttonholes much easier to make. We were talking about this because I was looking for gimp alternatives and he told me that by doing this, no gimp is necessary. As open-minded as I like to think I am about machines, this was one line I was not willing to cross.
Anyway, back to Santandrea. Having seen that photo on their site I got curious so I ripped one of the (admittedly beautiful) buttonholes and found one little strand of silk twist, which is usually not nearly enough to gimp a buttonhole. Under my big magnifying glass, though, I could just make out an extremely fine thread and a distinct machine stitch (a tiny zig-zag which maybe you can make out in the photo). They had been worked and cut by machine before being remade by hand over top. My mind still rebels, but it does make sense for the longevity (no slippage in loose cloth, which is sometimes a problem) and it does make a nice buttonhole. Something to think about......
Anyway, back to the garment.
Shamholes done by hand on the sleeve
However the inside of the sleeve has been finished for functional buttonholes.
The underside of the flap shows that the pick stitching was done by hand in a slightly heavier silk thread than the English use- the English use a very fine thread so that it is very discreet whereas the Italians like it to be a little more showy. But not much. The little prick marks about 1/4" form the edge are from an edge baster- instead os basting edges by hand which is actually a little uneven and can produce a slightly wobbly looking edge, we use a single-thread chainstitch machine to baste the edges during production. The chainstitch is very easy to remove before final pressing.
The neck has all been finished by hand and the top collar has been drawn on completely by hand.
The collar itself has been constructed by hand (though padded by machine) note that there is no turnback at the end of the collar.
The breast pocket is the curved "barchetta" type and is done by hand, the same way I learned to do them, as opposed to the way I recently learned to do them thanks to Huntsman and Jukes.
Notice there is no exposed seam allowance inside the breast pocket and it has been felled by hand, not by machine.
A moderate amount of wadding in the sleeve head and a moderate pad- more than Poole, about the same as Huntsman, a little less than Brioni.
The canvas holds no surprises, though it has been made with a zig-zag machine as opposed to the twin-needle jumpstitch machine that I prefer.
Removing the felt, we can see that instead of haircloth, which is firm and expensive, there is another piece of the same type of canvas as is used on the front. It's been machine padded to within an inch of its life, which makes it a bit firmer but still softer than haircloth, so I'm not going to bother ripping the stitches to open it up.
Instead, I hold it up to a strong light to see what's inside. There is a haircloth shoulder reinforcement and you can see the series of vees, or cuts, to give the shoulder some shape.
Finally, a look at the shoulder seam, which is machine-sewn and stayed with a piece of bias-cut silesia. If you read the Poole dissection you will remember that Poole stayed the shoulder with a straight-cut piece of lining which had no give- this silesia will stabilize the shoulder but still give. I will soon be conducting some experiments concerning elasticity in the shoulder so stay tuned......
In response to Jordan's questions and comments about the curved barchetta pocket, I agree, when well done it can be quite nice, though sometimes it is overdone and looks affected. It is the default shape in southern Italy and is catching on in the North too, so I doubt any of them would think it would clash with a straight-cut lower pocket, so long as it was subtle.
The pocket welt itself is curved, not straight cut and bent into shape, and therein lies a bit of the difficulty in making the pocket (and why some curve it a lot more in order to show off a bit) so it's not an issue where stripes and plaids are concerned.