I made my first tailored jacket when I was sixteen. It wasn’t very good, but I remember staying up all night, hand-stitching every seam, because that was how couturiers did it, right? Early on I developed an obsession with Chanel suits and jackets, of the 1960s and 70s era. I had never owned one, had never even seen one in real life, but I had books, with detailed photographs of the handworked buttonholes, the carefully quilted silk linings, and chain adornment at the inner hem that helped the garment lie flat.
The ingenious details spoke to me.
As a self-taught seamstress and designer, I know intimately the pleasurable process of figuring out the best and most creative way to construct something. It is a form of soft engineering, of inventing solutions from ready materials, while drawing on the rich history of textiles and fashion for hints and inspirations.
One of the things I still make for myself, and couple times a year, is a skirt suit. It sounds so out of place, almost outlandish, as I sit in the woods in jeans and a wool shirt, getting ready to go rock climbing. But making these suits is some sort of a creative process that I need to go through. I wear them too, of course, in my city wardrobe, which is different from my life-outside wardrobe.
When I make jackets they are functional. They have real silk linings, because silk is warm and feels good. They are usually silk or wool tweed, but sometimes cotton on the outside. I used to make bound button holes, but since we got a buttonhole machine some years back, I stick to machine made. It saves about 5 hours.
But I love the details: internal chest pockets, patch pockets, bound pockets… trapunto collars. The jacket interior is just another opportunity for functional expression.
Last year I made a faux tuxedo out of navy silk twill, and used a strange strapping system on the inside to hold together all the facings.
This year I made a beautiful silk tweed piece, with bluff patch pockets, handsewn on to avoid a stitching line.
Designing and making one-off pieces for myself is a completely different process than designing and sampling for Brook There. There is a freedom that comes with knowing that the item doesn’t need to be reproduced ten thousand times- you can skip the tedious pattern work, you can skip figuring out the quickest way to make something. You can use hand stitching. You can source fabrics based on whim, not on the potential availability of thousands of yards two years from now.
But I fully appreciate both processes- both are necessary, but very different.