|Douglas Fairbanks cozy in his well tailored suit.|
Frustration drove me to custom. I wanted the suit Connery wore in Goldfinger; one in which you can throw punches unencumbered. I wanted the suit Cary Grant wore in Holiday which allowed him do a back flip with ease. I wanted that jacket Eddie Schmitt made for Gable in It Happened One Night, a jacket that let him throw his hands behind his head as a pillow without having the collar climb up his neck...try that in a Penny’s Stafford or some Lauren-by-Ralph Lauren suit. One need only click to TCM to see what’s been lost when it comes to fit and style. Not just the fits on the stars, but what once fit the public.
|Clark Gable in that wondrous Eddie Schmitt confection with nipped waist wide shoulder and high waisted draping trousers.|
|Cary Grant flipping back.|
Granted it may be just my perspective, but when I’m subjected to Oswald Boateng in his peach suits or Thom Browne in his Eddie Munster recreations of the Rat Pack I see how fashion has stolen quality and style from men’s apparel—pushing thinner fabrics, and putting outfits on models two sizes too small and selling them to a public with a sales force pushing the idea that men’s clothes are meant to be worn 2 sizes too big in order to be comfortable. The biggest sin (and you can read about it in my earlier Savile Row article) is the gross negligence when it comes to tailors making a good armhole. And not just the tailors, off-the-rack makers have brought down standards as well. I wear a lot of vintage and when it comes to the past…somehow they understood the human body does not have droopy armpits.
Back when I was roughly the size of Stubby Kaye I wondered where I could get a suit, or a jacket, or anything that looked as comfortable as he had. It wasn’t just guys of his girth who had the luxury of armholes with the seam close to their armpit where it belonged; it was skinny guys like The Duke of Windsor (yes I invoke his name though it gets used too often). Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello…it became apparent the degeneration of armhole size had nothing to do with size; big and small alike wore jackets that gave them the freedom to stick a newspaper under their armpits and feel it right under their armpits and not four or five inches away.
|Connery showing off his battle skills in Gold Finger|
And what’s the benefit? Well just watch Connery in Goldfinger and see that fight seen on the train or how he looks when sitting on the ground eating a meal in his suit. Then watch the Brosnan films and you’ll witness the difference. I could go on longer though I already wrote it elsewhere. Now I’ll get to the point.
When I go custom I get what I want. I have a closet full of wrong things and after getting several made-to-measure mistakes and a couple of bespoke suits, which turned out to be more what the tailor wanted than my vision, I at last decided to head out and find someone who gave a damn about my opinion and understood clothing history...someone who made clothes and liked clothes. A tailor who didn’t shout the praises of the super 200s fabrics, and knew that stripes can be matched on shoulders and lapels as long as you have an accommodating stripe. A tailor who knew jacket, trousers and vest were intended to harmonize with one another (I see too many modern three-piece suits that look like a mish mash—long vests, oversized jackets and to top off the look, waistbands showing below that long vest).
I tired of the low-waisted trouser dictatorship that made a man with a belly like myself feel so uncomfortable…pull up your pants and end up with no space, so you have to let the waistband hover at a point that logically defies the sensibilities of fit and comfort. Below the waist and above the hips. If the trousers are at the waist you have a shelf of wool in front of you when you sit. It looks a hell of a lot better than the cotton slide that disappears into the crevice where a waistband somewhere lies. So number one, I wanted a tailor unafraid to take the pants “too high”—Gary Cooper Clark Gable Cary Grant Edward G. Fucking Robinson high. High to the point that the center button of the suit rested right in front of the trouser waistband (it’s called comfort).
I wanted a tailor who would give me not just the belt in the back à la the one on Harrison Ford’s Raiders tweed suit, but that could make the half-belt look as though it was not just a floating affectation as one sees on modern Brooks Brothers pieces (can they really not check their archives to see how it’s supposed to be done?); to construct something like a lynch pin at the crux of the waist giving it meaning, an accentuation to the ensemble and not a piece of sewn on cloth with no purpose. I wasn’t looking for a custom-fitted two button politician’s suit like those Penny’s and Oxxford mastered over the past thrity years, I was looking for that suit that made you take center stage when you entered the room. Something that owned the room without demanding the room as the esteemed Jack Newcastle would say.
After egregious trial and error, I finally settled on one man in Long Beach. He didn’t question what I liked. He didn’t scoff when I mentioned requiring dense heavy wool, unheard of these days, the kind that’d take the punishment of riding horseback through Yellowstone and then sitting in on a UN Security Council meeting. He did object that it would be hot, and I replied that were I to get hot I’d take off the jacket, same as I do with my vintage suits. Queried if I liked top stitching and I said it looked ugly (it is, you’ll admit, just too all over the place). Brought in several findings from the past and also showed him where the other tailors got it wrong. Where they had cut the gorge of the vests too high, and those tailors who’d made the pleated trousers look diaperish because of their pleated low waists and narrow cut. Not to mention the jackets with their damnable low-slung armholes. I showed him vintage goods, even the everyday vintage Sears Roebuck job with the high-slung armholes that made all the difference in the world. I showed him the belted backs and the pinched waists and the fit of the chests and the length of the skirts, I showed him the skeleton linings and the dynamically curved lapels…you can get anything with a custom suit and he recognized that I knew what I wanted, and I knew I had finally found the tailor that wasn’t bluster. I found the tailor with open ears.
Thus I began laying groundwork. First off the trousers. Forward pleats; look at this style’s offerings today you’ll note men look terrible in them…but again, those are the offerings of today. I needed high waisted full cut with forward pleats. I asked for flat felled seams down the sides and a watch pocket under the waistband set right in the seam. Nothing too fancy, other than a waistband that was in front but not in back. Suspender buttons on the outside in back and inside in front.
We went over the vest next. I made clear in no uncertain terms that the vest be fitted. A glove to hold one in, not a drape of extra fabric that swayed under a jacket. They wore them fitted back in the day and I watch in agony as tailors make them loose or too long now—fitted, it must be fitted. For this task I gave him a vintage vest from one of my 1930s suits. It had 5 functional buttons down the front and a cutaway one at the bottom. Four pockets, one split for a pen, and one inside pocket big enough to slide in a passport.
The jacket ends up most difficult to describe because it harbors all the details. To make it easy I drew the suit with measurements for certain pieces so there would be no question of how it would look on my body. A three-button front with no cutaway so I may button all three should I wish (King Edward is dead and I don’t need to follow rules that some still attribute to him). Peak lapels a bit wider than today’s standards (like those you see in Hitchcock’s Rope) with little to no curve. Machine top stitching on the lapels, skirt of the jacket and the pocket flaps, not right on the edge as one sees done by hand, but a quarter inch in from the edges. A ticket pocket was the final front detail. The shoulders were to skim my shoulders without giving that aircraft carrier look of cardboard holding them up and the end of the shoulders were to have a little roping…just so it didn’t look like the shoulder slopes had no end. He discussed with me my body shape and what he saw, which shoulder was higher, which way I dressed, which limb was bigger where…that’s his job and he knew the human body well.
The back I’d decided upon was an old design I’d seen resurrected by Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren a few times, though they had done so in a Frankenstein Monster sort of way. In theory, it was a belted back with a yoke and a center pleat that disappeared when your arms were relaxed. Vintage example are a mechanical feat in which you must reach really far before the pleat opens (watch accompanying video to see one in action). Modern reproductions of this look have been failures, the reasons being a) (and I will say it again) the armholes are cut too low, but primarily b) moderns are made with a full lining. When you make an action-back jacket fully lined your movement is limited by the amount of lining. And since they added no extra lining to accommodate for the pleats, you end up with an inaction action-back. And then there is c) they put darts under the belt instead of pleats (as seen on last summer’s Brooks Bros line). Great ideas brought back with awful research and worse execution. For my suit I went with a ¾ lining, satin on the chest and shoulders and nothing between my shirt and the sky but wool. Along with the action pleat in the center, I asked for four ¼ inch deep pleats facing outward that were to be above the belt and below the yolk. More than a quarter inch and you have a mess. The four shallow pleats added just enough detail to give that Hollywood appeal of the 30s.
Due consideration was given to the fabric. I cogitated over stripes, and plaid, and came near choosing a solid brown; I always suggest to my friends that they have a good grey suit as it will prove their most versatile. Grey works with black and navy and proves less boring than any other starter suit. But I wasn’t concocting a starter, I was designing my suit down to a tee. For that suit I chose black. It looked good on Lincoln, and who’s going to question that? Best to have sedate fabric and exquisite tailoring, especially on a first go.
Since having that suit made, I’ve spoken with many a stylist and fashion writer and designer and while there are alternately many in those columns who both know vintage and the way it should fit, those who simply throw on what’s made today without regard to the history of costume, consistently, I’m happy to say, when they see the suit their initial assertation is to remark how good it looks. Then they ask if it’s vintage. I think this suit has captured that feeling of the days when you wore the suit and not the other way around, and that’s the whole point. It’s my suit. Not clothes I wear but clothes in which I live. And because he’s a tailor without an ego and goes along with the style even if at times he thinks it looks bad, he’s my tailor.
Joe Hemrajani has his own style though he’s not here to oppress me with it…Joe’s here to help me develop mine and to make my visions come to life, and when you visit, you better know what you want. I've been taking clients to him for years, clients that want to get a specific look crafted to exact specifications.
His company has been working with me to make suits for clients, suits that in every detail are exact replicas of those made in years gone by. We aren't a chop shop that takes your measurements online then sends you ill-fitting sewn-together pieces of material pretending to be a suit. Joe and his brother are custom tailors that travel the US going city to city taking measurements and photos and keeping track of the little details like wrist sizes, hip tilts, and arm curves that make all the difference when you see yourself in a mirror. The suits are not cut from altered made-to-measure patterns, they are true bespoke…even if it’s via satellite. Joe sends his data to Hong Kong the moment you are through with your request. The curve of the lapels, the depth of the gorge and the stance of the buttons… all to spec with my decisions. Of course if you want that Standard political blue suit with that too big look, they can do that too…but this is not the company to go to for that suit. With details from full canvassing, great looking shoulders (turn them inside out and compare the closeness of the hand stitching to what you get in the high end Italian suits), back buttons and functional sleeve buttons (I like ’em), it’s got all the bells and whistles other bespoke tailors give, but without their style influences getting in the way of what you want. When I go custom I get what I want. And for tailors, that seems to be a hard thing to find. When you decide to go custom, and have had trouble getting what you want, contact me. As with many others that have come before, Joe and I will work together to make you the suit of your dreams.
|Yoke backed pleated jacket with half belt. Made to spec fallowing Raiders design... had to pattern this one out so it sat correctly and closed correctly. Exacting measurements have to be done with every client for the action back to work properly.|
|The back design of the world's greatest trousers.|
|The latest tweed.|