Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

Little French Jacket #2: Finished in Time for New Year’s!

happy-new-year

 

And so 2017 begins! And it seems as if everyone who designs and makes self-styled wardrobes whose blogs I follow is writing about what every news outlet does at this time of year: a look back at the year that has just ended. Looking back isn’t my style: I’d rather look ahead. It’s not so much that 2016 was a bad year – it most assuredly was a good one in our corner of the world: no one we know was killed or maimed in a terrorist attack, we live in a beautiful city where [most] people still have manners, we have plenty to eat and a comfortable home, the stock markets are on the rise and we don’t live in the UK or US where uncertainty seems to reign these days. So looking ahead is easy! That’s the end of my political diatribe – now on to what I’ve been up to in the creative wardrobe development realm…

I received a few wonderful sewing/designing/creating related presents for Christmas and I’d love to share what I have planned, but before I can get to that, it’s time to tie up a few loose ends. Of course I refer to my LFJ #2. Yes, I finished my second little French jacket in time to wear it to dinner on New Year’s Eve.

img_0942When last we talked, I had completed adding the two trims to the front, neck, hem, sleeve and pocket edges and was ready to give it a bit of a steam before moving onto the final step: sewing on the chain at the bottom of the hem.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with this style of Chanel-type jacket, please note that this finishing touch is de rigeur. Designed to help the jacket maintain its shape and drape on a moving body, depending on the fabric of the particular jacket these days, this chain might be decorative only, but even as an embellishment, it lends an air of luxury that can’t be duplicated if you leave it out. I would never omit this important finishing touch in a jacket like this, and especially in the case of my latest creation. The bouclé even quilted to its lining is so lightweight that this trim piece is actually functional: it helps the jacket fronts to hang straight.

When I was looking for this chain to finish off the jacket I thought I might look for a silver-toned one to compliment the silver and black external trim. It’s difficult to find silver-toned chain (unless you go to Canadian Tire!), but what I found in any case when researching insides of authentic Chanel jackets was that the chain is almost always gold regardless of the tone of the embellishment on the outside. I have occasionally seen a photo of one with a silver chain, but it’s rare. So I opted to continue with the gold one.

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There’s something very beautiful about having this gold chain in the hem.

 

What I like to do is pin a few inches at a time, ensuring that the chain sits just below the lining. The pinning helps to ensure that the chain doesn’t twist as I sew. Then I sew it on with a double strand of silk thread using one stitch in each link – yes, you heard that right. One stitch per link. And if you use a stitch that goes slightly back on every move forward, the thread will be completely hidden by the next link. I also sew it in short sections; this really helps if the chain happens to come loose at some point in the future. Only a small section will be affected and fixing it is a breeze.

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LFJ #2 Finished and on Gloria Jr.

I also don’t cut the chain to length until I’m about three or four links from the end. This way I can be sure I haven’t measured incorrectly. Imagine doing all that hand-stitching only to get to the end and find that your chain is too short! Anyway, when I get there I usually ask my dear husband to get his needle-nose pliers out to remove the unneeded links. Then he knows I’m well and truly finished the project!

 

 

I wore the jacket to dinner on New Year’s as I mentioned. On this occasion it topped a dress which is a real occasion for me since I so rarely wear a dress. It’s such a versatile style, though. I’ll wear it with leggings and boots and with jeans. I also think it might look good with a pair of white jeans on a cool, early summer evening.

I’m delighted with the fit and finish of the piece and look forward to LFJ #3. Oh yes, I already have the tweed. I’m still on the hunt for printed silk charmeuse for the lining, though. I’m going to try to get to Mood Fabrics when we get to LA next month! That being said, I have a few other things up my sleeve for next projects before I get to that one. Have a good one!! ~GG

Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, sewing

Following Coco’s Advice: Making the inside of the Little French Jacket as beautiful as the outside

according-to-cocoCoco Chanel knew a thing or two about elegance. Most of us have an innate sense of what it means to be elegant (whether or not we aspire to it – I do), but if pressed to define the term—well, that’s a bit more elusive. Since one of my objectives in paying homage to Chanel’s aesthetic by reproducing a few pieces inspired by her approach to design is to create elegantly wearable pieces, I thought it might be informative to look it up.

Most definitions of elegant use words like, graceful, stylish tasteful, luxurious, sophisticated and chic, all of which I like the sound of, but my favourite definition is this: “…someone or something luxurious in a restrained manner or something that is very well-thought through yet simple.”[1] Oh how I wish every piece of clothing in my closet held to this standard. And how I aspire to be elegant as I age. Anyway, what does this have to do with my current sewing project? Well, lots.

As I painstakingly complete the internal workings of the Little French Jacket, I’m always bearing in mind that Chanel truly believed that the inside of finished clothing (she wasn’t just referring to the more esoteric internal beauty of individuals if that was even a part of her thought process), ought to be as beautiful as the outside. And that means that taking particular care to get it right even in the parts that no one will see is important. Whenever I wear my first LFJ it makes me feel elegant just to know that the inside is beautifully finished. It doesn’t hurt that this type of construction is sublimely comfortable either (if you choose your fabrics carefully).

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The inside of my first LFJ.

 

I’ve stabilized all of the edges of the bouclé by hand-sewing twill tape as I did before. Many expert sewers who teach about this type of construction will tell you to put selvedge from silk organza. That’s terrific, but I felt that the edges of this bouclé which has quite a bit of give to it and is floppy, required a bit more stability. Now that I have the basic construction completed, I know that I was right in my selection. You can’t be too wedded to rules, I think.

Quilting the lining to the jacket body pieces was a bit trickier this time around. The last time I made one of these jackets I had a kind of plaid design in the tweed which gave me straight lines on the outside of the jacket to follow when machine quilting. Since it does have to be quilted from the outside, it occurred to me that this might be tricky. To be fair, it would be tricky even on the inside since the lining has no lines either. So, I decided to take a page out of Claire Schaeffer’s instructions and thread baste the pieces together as well as adding a straight line of basting down the centre of each piece to follow for the first line of quilting on each piece then use that line as the basis for straight lines for the rest of the stitching (always using a 3.0 mm stitch length and a walking foot).

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Basting the lining to the fabric – and using a ruler to get the centre line straight. It will guide the first line of quilting done by machine from the outside.

 

After quilting the pieces, I started on the side and shoulder seams. The pressing of the seams is critical. In my view, pressing (or lack thereof) is one of the sure signs of an amateurish, home-made piece of clothing (notwithstanding some of the new designs on runways that look like they were done in old home economics sewing classes without benefit of a steam iron). Pressing technique is so important.

I now know to press the seam flat in its closed position before attempting to press it open. I used to do that all the time. I also know to then press with only the tip of the iron on the outside to finish. So three passes at the ironing board.

I also know not to trim the seam before pressing. No wonder it was so difficult to open them! Anyway, I also now know to use small scissors to trim the seams after – I have so much more control this way.

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I used grey thread in the spool and black in the bobbin so that the quilting would blend in to the different colours of the outside versus the inside. I also knew to leave very long threads at the end this time since they have to be pulled inside and knotted – backstitching here!

 

The next step is the sleeves which are always a treat since there are so many layers that have to be carefully put in their correct location. I never have trouble setting in sleeves, but making sure that I haven’t caught up a piece of lining where lining ought not to be caught is the real challenge for me. But once they’re completed and the lining is hand-sewn inside, it looks like a real jacket whose simple exterior belies the work done on the inside. I love knowing that!

I’m very happy with the progress so far. Christmas is just about upon us and I do hope to have the jacket ready for New Year’s Eve. Here’s hoping!

[1] http://www.yourdictionary.com/elegant#IoW3DtTDrD0Tklhy.99

Posted in sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Shaping my closet – one sewing & design project at a time

img_1523A few years ago I stumbled on a book that I found so useful (and entertainingly written) that I bought it in hardcover and have actually read at least three times (something I almost never do). It even survived the great purge of 2014 when we sold our large property and moved to a downtown condo!

The book is called What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life – and I’m rereading it yet again. Written by former fashion editor Kim Johnson Gross, it’s unlike most other books out there purporting to be the final word on what we should appropriate fashion style for women of a certain age. Instead of trying to tell us what we should be wearing, Kim commiserates with us about the kinds of changes in our lives that necessitate a bit of a re-think about our closets, then uses her considerable experience to help the rest of us see how to move forward. There are no all-encompassing platitudes that suggest, “Women over a certain age should never wear…” No, none of that. She does, however, believe that we are influenced by our closets!

Early on in the book she says, “Closets are powerful. They contain the power to make us feel fat, fit, frumpy, or fabulous.”

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She also reminds us that our closets hold memories, dreams, frustrations etc. They tell the story of our lives. Sometimes I wonder what story mine tells – I do a complete clean out twice a year. Anyway, last week when I was learning dart manipulation and discovered that I owned very few pieces of clothing with darts, it occurred to me that I had been shaping my closet for a while now. My sewing and design projects reflect this.

img_1427Along with learning to design, I’ve been playing around with various types of knit fabric since my reshaping suggests that these will continue to play a large part in my wardrobe life. To that end, I finished a tunic that I’d been eyeing in my pattern “stash” (I really hate that word – going to find a new one!), so when I found some lightweight knit I liked, I thought I’d embark on this “fast & easy” project. As anyone who has been reading along with my musings knows, I don’t seem to know how to do “fast & easy.” [See my last fast & easy project.]

This cutout-then-whip-up tunic took hours and hours of pinning, sewing unpicking, seam stabilizing, and yes, even hand-basting. Oh, and let us not forget that I cut out the sleeves for the view I selected only to discover (after hand-basting them in) that I hated their floppy bell-like shape and had to remove them and re-cut the narrower one!

Along the way I also learned how to use the double needle in my sewing machine! I know everyone else probably already uses this on a regular basis, but it was a new experience for me and I think I got it!

Anyway, the style and fabrication are two parts of what I’ve been thinking about in terms of what’s in my own closet. Neither of these elements – no matter how right they seem to me – can exist independently. The right style constructed from the right fabric for that style is an absolute requirement for my clothes. Add onto that the element of fit, and what I have are the three essential components to having a closet full of clothes that make me feel wonderful. Although Kim Gross doesn’t offer all-or-nothing rules for our evolving closets, she does give us a couple of guidelines that I think are especially important:

  • “Fit is critical to looking your best.” This is why I wanted a personal bodice sloper – and why creating a persona pants sloper is on my to-do list.
  • “Don’t follow fashion trends. Wear what looks good on your body.” This is why I’m learning to design my own clothes!

Well, I’m going to take these guidelines to heart as I move onto my next project – which is a new Chanel-style Little French Jacket! I have found some new bouclé that I love, and already have a well-fitting muslin of the pattern – so off I go!

 

Details on Kim Johnson Gross’s book: What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life: Ageless Secrets of Style. New York: Springboard Press, 2010.

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Learning to manipulate darts

I’ve been thinking a lot about darts this week. That’s likely because now that I have a well-fitting bodice sloper, I need to start learning what to do with it if I want to design a few of my own creations. I could just do a bit of online research and plunge in head first, using trial-and-error to guide me, but I prefer to begin with another course from an instructor who knows what she’s doing and is willing to answer questions: I signed up for Suzy Furrer’s course on dart manipulation. So, I started the course and sewed up a few of the mock-ups for practice (I’ll get to that in a bit). As they sat there on Gloria junior (my dress form), I stared at them and began to wonder if darts were actually a part of my life. To find out, I rummaged through my closet.

What I discovered was quite eye-opening for me. Darts and I hardly ever co-exist! Try as I might, I could find very few items in my closet that have darts. I seem to be a no-dart-knit-wearing woman. What I found was that I had a few tailored jackets with darts and little else.

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One of the few pieces in my closet that actually has darts: front French darts, back neck and waist darts. Fits like a glove!

Over the years I have always thought that if I had to describe my personal style in a single word it would be “tailored.” My go-to work clothes ran to tailored suits with structured jackets in the early years when we were much more formal in our work attire, to more recent years when those jackets gave way to crisp white shirts from Brooks Brothers with jacket-style sweaters. So, would I actually use these dart manipulations I’ve been learning? First, a history lesson, since the evolution of textiles and style have played a part in my own personal style evolution – and my use of darted clothing (is darted a word?).

As we all know, we think of darts as those funny little triangles on patterns that are sewn into garments as a kind of pleat to make flat fabrics bend to fit round bodies. Darts were, in fact, one of the first sewing lessons that I can remember in home economics classes back in the day. They were crucial to getting a bodice (and later skirts and pants) to fit. The technical skill required to sew a really fabulous dart cannot be overemphasized – although it has to be said anyone can learn it! The truth is that poorly sewn darts are a dead giveaway to a home sewn garment that looks amateurish. Anyway, back to the general history. Who actually realized that these little darts would be needed?

Who actually invented the “dart” is a mystery, but it seems clear that by the Regency period (which began in 1811) garments worn by people in the western world had darts. It does seem to be a western thing as far as I can figure out. For example, consider the Japanese kimono – no darts. The Indian sari – no darts. But the modern Chinese cheongsam? Well, this little piece of fabulous clothing is the real reason I want to learn to manipulate darts – so that I can design a well-fitting cheongsam for myself. So, I take the course.

The technique I’m learning is what is referred to as the slash-and-spread method. From the bodice sloper that fits me, I can manipulate out the various darts into design lines. I mean – who wants a dart in the armhole?? Well, maybe someone does, but I don’t. So I learn to decide where I do want the dart or seam, then cut that dart or line, then cut a leg of each of the darts I don’t want and slide them closed. As the unwanted darts slide closed, another space opens and voila! A seam or BIG dart (or two) where I do want it. What fun!

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Three of the manipulated dart patterns: (l to r) French, armhole 9!), and neckline.

Anyway, I decide to do a few of the mock-ups (BTW if you do this, you’ll want a bolt of muslin fabric!), and find that I need to further manipulate them for them for a really good fit.

For example, as it turns out I really like the look of the front neckline darts (the shoulder, armhole and waist darts were all closed to open up these style lines radiating from the neck – and I could do 2 on each side if I want. Such fun!), but because I’m a bit concave in the upper body, I need to bow out the darts 1/8 inch at about the 4-inch down mark to get the proper fit. As I stand back and look at this ugly little toile, I can see various iterations of it in dresses, tunics and tops. I can see a cheongsam-inspired top for example.

So I guess that on balance, I will, indeed be using these dart manipulations at least on woven fabrics, but also on stable knits. I just need to learn how to draft collars and sleeves.

I have a long way to go in this journey to learn to design a few pieces for myself!

Some resources I found useful:

Pattern Making Fundamentals: Dart manipulation and pivot points. Isn’t that sew? Blog. http://isntthatsew.org/dart-manipulation/

Dart manipulation slide show. http://www.slideshare.net/thyrine/dart-manupulation

Posted in Fashion, Style

Wardrobe (& sewing) Inspiration: Canadian design for the rest of us

 

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The lovely Victorian gardens in Halifax on our road trip

My husband and I have just returned from an almost-two-week road trip. We started here in Toronto, headed down through northern New York state, through New Hampshire, into New Brunswick and then relaxed for five days in Halifax, Nova Scotia with friends and family. We then turned around and headed back on a different route out of Nova Scotia, through New Brunswick (as one must), into Maine, onto New Hampshire (this time on the coast), then spent our last night in Lake Placid, New York. Along the way I found myself browsing in a plethora of quirky boutiques in a variety of small towns and cities where I encountered a few ideas. And two of the best ones were from Canadian designers.

 

I’ve long been a fan of veteran Canadian designs by Comrags, although I do have to scratch my head every year about some of their pieces. I mean – what were they thinking about this one? It looks like a burlap bag with embroidery – neither of which I find personally flattering on me.

comrags-dress-1
Really? who looks good in a burlap sack? [photo from Comrags web site]

I have also liked Simpli, a design firm out of Vancouver. They also seem to be able to source flattering fabrics – and again, I have been scratching my head this year about the designs. Why are they all so full of so much material? They say they flatter every body – but really, who looks good in this? (The jersey fabric is great, though. Again, I want some.)

simpli
Simpli – yecch. [photo from the Simpli web site]

Lucky for me I discovered two new Canadian designers to put on my list of fabulous fabric usage as well as wearable design.

img_1381In Halifax I stumbled into Lisa Draeder-Murphy’s shop in Historic Properties where she stocks her Turbine Designs. As luck would have it, the designer herself was in the shop that day although she tells me that this is a rare event.

I did not by any stretch of the imagination need a new dress, but again I was smitten by her fabrications and could not resist. For me it’s the feel of the fabric and god knows I’ve made enough mistakes in selecting fabrics for sewing projects. They often look fantastic, but the feel? Not so much. Damn, when will I learn?

st-andrews-boutiqueWhen I was in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, I strolled into Toose’s Bijoux and found myself touching and rubbing the fabric of a series of lovely T’s. Turns out that they are the designs of a firm called “Leave Nothing But Footprints” (LNBF), and yes, they are a group of “socially-conscious” millennials. This means that their fabrics are soft and natural, ethically-produced and organic. Most of their fabrics are viscose from bamboo which if you have never tried it, is one of the softest fabrics around. I bought a wonderful, long-sleeved, well-priced ($49 CDN) T with a banded V-neck – I can’t wait for the weather to be cool enough to wear it. However, I’m now on a mission to find some of this fabric to sew with. Wish me luck!

Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing, Style

How to Turn a Fast & Easy Sewing Pattern into a Challenging & Time-Consuming Project!

vogue V9184
As soon as I saw this Vogue pattern #V9184 I knew I had to have this dress. High collar, cut-in armholes, fitted silhouette and side slits. what’s not to like?

I think it takes a certain kind of perverse talent to be able to take a project that is designed to be easy and make it difficult. Or maybe I’m just missing the endless fiddly hand work that my “Little French Jacket” required. Nevertheless, I decided that I needed a linen dress for the summer, so being unable to find anything I like on the ready-to-wear racks, I take a trip to the fashion design district on Queen Street West here in Toronto, visit my favourite fabric purveyor (Affordable Textiles) and come home with all the material and notions I need to whip up a pattern I fell in love with.

 

Early in the season I was browsing through the Vogue Patterns magazine and fell in love with a new pattern – Very Easy Vogue V9184 – which they described as “a shapely sheath with cut-in armholes and raised collar band” that is, according to them, “stunning in stripes.” I was in.

As soon as the pattern came on sale at Vogue patterns online for $5.99, I had jumped on it (regular price in Canada is $33.00…in the USA $22.50 yikes!), so when I finished my bouclé jacket I was ready for a new project while I search for the perfect bouclé for a second LBJ.

I really love the shape of the dress, and I’ve observed that women of “a certain age” who have managed to stave off much mid-life weight gain – and yet have noticed that it ‘stuff’ has rearranged itself – still have lovely shoulders. This kind of cut-in armhole is very flattering. So is the fitted shape. For me, a casual summer dress that isn’t a tent yet isn’t skin-tight is worth considering.V9184 pattern package

I decide to make it in a linen-cotton blend. So I begin the process.

Well, my foray into couture sewing indicates to me that in spite of it being a “fast and easy” pattern, I will have to take the time to make a muslin. So I first fit the pattern to me (and Gloria junior) and mark the changes. I will have to move the under-arm dart and lengthen the bodice slightly. That means I will have to move the waist dart, too. So it begins.

I do the pattern changes, cut the toile and sew it together. Geesh. All those darts look – well, they look a bit old-fashioned. I’m going to have to alter the darts to make a more flattering, contemporary princess seam. I’ve never done this before, but it occurs to me that if I can get it to fit well, I may just have myself a pattern that I might use again and again. So I search online for instructions.

V9184 pattern package modifications
This is the view I’m doing, and those darts really do look quite prominent, no?

Every time I have to find a sewing or fitting answer I am so grateful for the web and everyone who has posted before me. I find a plethora of sites with information, but one is better than all the others. I find that the blog post on the Craftsy web site is terrific (see below in the resources). I want the princess seams to come from the armhole rather than the shoulder, so I get to work.

So, I redraft the pattern and cut a SECOND muslin. Fast and easy? Not so much. The second toile is a much better fit. So I cut apart the second toile and cut yet another pattern. I think this is the third and this is a simple summer dress.

I finally prepare my fabric and lay it out to cut. Maybe next week I’ll have a new dress! Or maybe not. The challenges of the “very easy Vogue” aren’t over yet, I’m afraid!

Am I the only one who can make such an easy project so challenging?

 

 

 

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Resources (these are the online sites I referred to):

Tutorial: Lowering (or raising) a bust dart http://curvysewingcollective.com/

Fashion Design 101: How to Manipulate Darts on a Bodice for Princess Seams http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2014/09/how-to-manipulate-darts-on-a-bodice/

How to Create a Princess Seam for Flattering Fit [these are from the shoulder] http://www.clothingpatterns101.com/princess-seam.html

Posted in Couture Sewing

LBJ*: Finding My Mentors

[*LBJ: Little Black Jacket sometimes known as LFJ or Little French Jacket]

luxury quote coco

I’m beginning to get anxious to really dig into this project: select or create an appropriate pattern, find just the right fabric and lining, start to cut and sew. But I have to hold myself back; I’m not ready yet. If I want to do this right, I’m going to have to figure out where to get some guidance.

Much to my surprise, there’s something of a cottage industry that has developed online of sewing enthusiasts who have already gone on this journey – for better or for worse. I do know that there is a lot to be learned from these experiences, but because the internet and its social media offerings tend to support what author Andrew Keene once called the “cult of the amateur” I have to figure out who the professionals really are. They have the most to teach me.

One of the first online sources I discover with really useful and credible information is called Emma One Sock Designer Fashion Fabrics. Yes, they are retailers, but they have posted a fantastic grouping of online sewing tutorials on topics such as sewing with leather and brocade, making shirts and, yes, working with tweed and boucle to create the Chanel-style cardigan jacket. These lessons are divided up logically providing photos and instruction for everything from selecting a pattern through prepping the fabric, then on to construction and finishing. This site has a particularly good lesson on the various hand-stitching techniques that are used in the finishing of the inside of the jacket. I’ll be referring back to these two pages for sure.

So I absorb all the information this site has to offer me, bookmark it and carry on to see what other sewing experts have to say.

Far less detailed, but with useful tips, is a piece on the Burda pattern site called A Classic French Jacket: 70 Hours to the Dream! This piece does a terrific job of emphasizing fit – and how to get it – and the length of time one might expect to spend creating this piece. Okay, I see that I’m going to have to spend some time on this!

Then I discover that sewing expert Susan Khalje has written an article in an old issue of Threads magazine that provides me with lots of tips and inspiration. The issue is November 2005 and is certainly worth chasing down. I was able to find it on ISSU and have my own copy in my electronic files now. In fact, I also discover that Susan, a contributing editor to Threads magazine, teaches an online course on creating this jacket. So, in my books, this is a truly credible source for information. Her video course, The Classic French Jacket looks extraordinary. For $195.00 (USD) the course provides three years of access to the full-length instructional videos and a custom-designed pattern.  Her face-to-face course offered in Baltimore costs $1600 and includes a shopping trip to New York! Now that would be terrific. Alas, I live in Toronto. But my search isn’t over yet.

Last year I stumbled on a web site called Craftsy which I wasn’t familiar with before. After pushing my way through a plethora of quilting and crafting courses that didn’t really interest me, I discovered a whole series of online/video classes for serious garment sewers. When it was on sale, I was able to purchase the course “The Iconic Tweed Jacket” for about $35.00 (CDN!) which gives me lifetime streaming and downloading access to the series of videos hosted by sewing instructor Lorna Knight. The Craftsy online platform permits me to download the videos for off-line watching, ask the instructor questions (which she actually answers), post photos, read other students’ questions and the answers which are extremely useful. Craftsy sent me the McCall’s pattern that Lorna uses in the course and they provide online material lists. Oh yes, I can also make video notes on my own platform as I watch the videos. I have found my main mentor!

So, off I go to watch the ENTIRE course before I buy any materials or wield the sewing shears. Next up: learning to fit a muslin!

craftsy class
This is the course I’ve enrolled in. Wish me luck! Or just come along with me…
Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: Researching the real deal

*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket

jackets on displaySo my obsession with Chanel and her Little Black (French) Jacket runs deep. If I am going to re-create it, I need to know more about it. So I begin my research by trying to figure out the details of the real deal.

I need to begin my journey with a bit of philosophizing about the importance of this iconic piece of clothing. My research leads me first to blogger Tina Craig’s piece “Secrets of the Chanel Jacket Revealed” where she says quite unequivocally that in her opinion (as the owner of the real deal several times over), “…there is no other piece of clothing that transcends time, style and age as gracefully.”[1] And later, “My CHANEL jackets are my secret weapons, the pull-it-out-and-be-fabulous no matter how much I weigh or feel at the moment kind.” That is precisely the kind of feeling I’m going for. But I need to find out what’s really under the boucle. Next stop, an online retailer specializing in authenticating their luxury resale items.

I stumble upon The RealReal in my search for the facts about an authentic Chanel LBJ. Their video on How to Authenticate Chanel Jackets has proven itself to be particularly useful in helping me to understand what might need to be a part of the inside of the jacket: anyone can reproduce the external look, but it’s the interior hand-finishing and machine quilting that are the key to an authentic Chanel. Just to be clear: I have no intention of trying to pass mine off as the real deal: what I want to do is create one that contains as many of the quality finishes as a Chanel as I can. I want to learn from the artisans who even today work in the Chanel atelier.

 

 

In a very good piece Vintage Chanel Tweed Suit: How to know if it is real or not? the author lists the elements that need to be considered when determining authenticity. Of the elements she includes I believe the following ones are going to be important aspects of my learning process and the eventual outcome of this project:

  • Paneling of the jacket body;
  • Quilting of the interior lining directly to the outside fabric;
  • Silk charmeuse lining; and
  • A chain sewn at the jacket hem.

The label and logo aren’t important to me, although issue of the quality of the buttons might be: I have yet to decide if there will be any button trim on this jacket of mine.

The Vintage Chanel Jacket: What sets it apart on the Vintage Fashion Guide also provides me with further useful information on the elements of the jacket that will be important to me.

  • The pockets (originally four of them) were all real pockets. Mlle. Chanel did not believe in faux pockets it seems.
  • There was almost always contrasting, braided trim of one sort or another.
  • Tweed and boucle are the fabrics of choice. The fabrics are described this way: “…where tweed is an unfinished wool, boucle (which can be wool) is made in such a way that the different strands of yarn are plied at different tensions, creating a textured, sort of nubbly appearance.”[2]

Since I started this journey, I have found out that Chanel originally obtained all of her tweed and boucle from a UK mill called Linton Tweeds. With over 100 years of experience behind them, these fabric experts still produce Chanel-worthy materials. You can visit them at World of Linton Tweeds and even order online. I had a look. Their fabrics are fantastic, but none of the ones available when I looked bowled me over so I’m going to have to find my fabric in the fashion design district of Toronto. I think that will be part of the process – and a lot of fun.

So I now have a better idea about what the real deal is like. My objective is to create a Chanel-type jacket that pays homage to the workmanship and style of the authentic item. Next up: finding my teachers & mentors.

[1] http://www.snobessentials.com/2007/11/secrets_of_the_chanel_jacket_r.html

[2] http://www.vintagefashionguide.com/2014/10/vintage-chanel-jacket-sets-apart/

Posted in Fashion, Style, Style Influencers

Edith Head:Style lessons from a costume designer

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[Above, the extraordinary Grace Kelly in an Edith Head gown.]

It’s really an understatement to call the legendary Edith Head simply a ‘costume designer.’ She certainly was that, and a whole lot more. Even as a junior-high-school nerd, I knew who she was. To me her name conjured up stylish women in sophisticated suits, coats, gowns and even hats (although to tell you the truth I’ve never really been a hat woman myself – look terrible in them!). And did you know that she has won more Oscars than any other woman? Not an actress, but a designer!

This week I stumbled on a piece about her and it made me think about how her movie costumes might have influenced the way I see fashion for those of us of a certain age – and all other women who care about themselves.

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Her day dress for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951)

Edith Head designed costumes for so many movies that not only captured a film era, but also a style era. When I look back on many of the pieces she created I see timeless classics that work for young women and for women of a certain age. When you’re in your 50’s and beyond you can carry off a whole lot of sophistication and elegance that in today’s fabrics would also offer comfort. I mean, who really wouldn’t like to have a great suit like Audrey is wearing in Funny Face? (in spite of the fact that my suit wearing days are thankfully behind me as I navigate a whole new life after work!)

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7th July 1956: Belgian-born actress Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) films a scene for the Paramount musical ‘Funny Face’. Costumes by Givenchy. Original Publication: Picture Post – 8540 – Audrey Dances With Astaire – pub. 1957 (Photo by Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Getty Images)

Five lessons I have learned from Edith Head about style at a certain age:

  • Sexy doesn’t equal skin exposure. It was true in her time, and it is true now.
  • Alluring is better than sexy anyway – at any age.
  • Fit is everything. If a piece fits to perfection it doesn’t matter if it’s from TJ Maxx or Chanel.
  • Most of the time, less really is more. A great piece of clothing doesn’t need huge jewelry despite what the fashion magazines might say. Big accessories are trying to distract you from something nasty usually!
  • Quality beats quantity every time. Wonderful fabrics make everything better – for me it’s better to have one fantastic, well-crafted sweater that I love to wear than three that are just meh.

Edith Head is one of my fashion influencers. But there are others! Til next time!