Fit, Design and the Subtleties of Pattern Making

So one of the stranger components of developing authentic vintage style jackets is fit and pattern design. Pattern making is really a lost art  One of the saddest realities of modern clothing lines, lost on the average consumer is the utter lack of quality well fitted patterns.  In reality most clothing is designed for cost saving and efficiency. That means  most brands and clothing lines are designed on a computer  The pattern or silhouette is created via a standard set of patterns for jackets and pants using Gerber software or related design software.  Pattern making software is very efficient.  Every design can be worked out in advance in virtual reality.  The lines are rationalized and created to fit the most average builds and changes can be input into the software and new patterns changed and printed out in a matter of seconds all over the world.  Needless to say this is not how Himel Brothers Jackets are designed.  When my mother saw this picture of me she said “that jacket looks like it was made for a shorter guy”.  Well Mom, this post is for you!

Why is it important not to use software to build patterns?  I believe for authenticity one must walk in the shoes of those that came before.  Every jacket comes from a context and a period in history.  If jackets were made in the earliest days of manufacturing, patterns were non existent and many tailors learned their trade on the fly.  In order to recreate those patterns authentically and capture the look and fit you must make the pattern using the same techniques.  Computers even out lines, straighten curves and reshape patterns using a digital algorithm.  I believe that this changes the nature of the look of a jacket.  Each one of my jackets is hand drawn and has the organic curves and shapes that were designed to fit the human body.  Every jacket I make is designed from scratch and this is a time consuming and costly process.

 

Every jacket starts from either a vintage original or a drawing of the concept or both.  We try to faithfully replicate the kind of pattern making and panel styles of whatever period jacket we are building.  Every design is hand drawn, then hand cut out of paper.  After using a series of french curves and rulers we take the pattern and faithfully make a cotton sample.  After trying out the cotton sample on several people of that size, alterations are made to the paper pattern and if things seem correct and leather sample is made.  Often that leather sample translates differently then cotton.  Often errors in the pattern or certain looks or silhouettes are not apparent right from the first sample.  If they are not caught before grading, all the sizing is done for the patterns and all the mistakes are repeated for all the sizes.  This is a very costly process.  As I will show you I have actually regraded several of my patterns including the Avro and the Kensington several times.  Every time a decision is made to taper a cuff or change a body panel just slightly for a better fit, the entire set of pieces for a pattern have to be either fixed or redrawn and cut.

Quite honestly it is a very expensive way to do things.  I do it this way to honour the true fit for various styles of jackets.  I am not foolish.  If someone wants a jacket modified for a better, more modern fit I will do it.  But I like to get my jackets to the true honest fit of originals before I start modernizing them.  The Kensington in the photo is a good example.  This jacket started from a very rare Buco custom racing jacket made sometime soon after the war.  The details on the jacket all have a sense of purpose.  To the common eye, the jacket seems short and somewhat awkward.  In reality is is actually quite a long cut.  The body panels taper at the waist and there is no bi-swing back.  In order to make the jacket fit so that a rider could move there is extra leather at the shoulder line.  The armpit is cut high and tight for good arm movement and the cuff is tapered tight to not allow the sleeve to ride up in the forward position.  The high zipper at the front makes the front of the jacket appear short.  In fact is is reflective of the fact that in the early days of racing, motorcyclists wore high waisted pants that would ride higher than the bottom of that zipper.  The triangle shaped split allows the jacket to spread over the hips providing good movement and additional protection over the hip area.  Not short, well designed.  Check out the cotton prototypes and the gradual transition of my Avro jacket as I developed and tweaked it through 3 models.  The two tone brown was the first model, the pigment brown jacket is the final pattern which appears almost perfect and true to the original cut of one model of a Leathertogs jacket.  Each pattern required slight changes to be more honest and make the look better.  I added curve to the front zipper, tapered the ammunition pocket, narrowed the sleeve, and altered the panels for fit.  Some of the results from these hours of work you can see, some you can’t but I try to remain true to the spirit of the originals and their designers.

 


Where Did I Come From: Designing Herons

 

I sometimes loath to write blogs.  I feel tired, run down, exhausted and weird about sharing.  I am trying to win people over, get fans, find followers and mostly explain the things I think about all day long.  Sometimes I just don’t feel like sharing.  Today is the opposite.  I was photographing jackets that I made over the last 3 months and thought “how do I describe what goes into these jackets.”.  I think about price and brand all the time.  I definitely do not want to “go off brand” or make a “bad image” for myself. Sometimes I worry and even get hatemail and nasty commentary.

I guess part of the benefit of hanging it out in the world is the great feedback that you get.  Part of the cost is the bad feedback and the naysayers that try and knock you down.  This project is expensive and hard, and tough, and demoralizing at times.  It is also new and invigorating and a journey into my past, family life and reviving history and making beautiful things.  Hopefully I will turn it into making a living one day too.  This post is about how I came up with my first design.  I thought it might help to understand what I am trying to create over here at HBL.

I have been very very proud of my heritage.  Not just my culture, not my family but everybody and everything that went into creating the great North American brands.  Yes many many of the creators were Jewish, or American, or Canadian, but these histories were also built by immigrants of Irish, Italian and European descent, great Empire brands of the colonial period and the roots of North American settlement and the interaction with indigenous peoples here.  I am trying to assemble all these threads into my jackets.  My first design was the Heron.  I drew rough sketches on a canoe trip into the wilderness of Ontario.  I realized that my brand needed to bring back the genius of many Canadian brands that had been lost.  In the vintage business there is often a belief that all the good brands only came from the U.S.A. with a little room for English brands and others.   In my opinion  Canada and the U.S. were an integrated immigrant community and I don’t think this concept that good brands were strictly American holds up historically.  I celebrate Canadian names and some Canadian jacket motifs, mostly I celebrate the history of beautiful jackets and am trying to recreate the spirit of that past in my jackets.  There were so many connections between manufacturers and companies and families and there is a history gap between vintage lovers and the makers of great vintage brands.

I saw a Heron on that trip and the majestic fisher was going to be my first jacket.  I knew I wanted to make an A-1 style jacket.  I had 20 years of experience looking and and selling vintage jackets but I know nothing of design and making a jacket reality.  The sketch is the first step.  I assembled a silhouette of the Heron and started to try and imagine the perfect parts to make it.  Here are the pictures from the early designs. I wanted to try and crawl into the headspace of a 1920s jacket maker and come up with the most authentic purpose built design possible!

 


Vaughan Road Academy, Dad and Heritage

My friends often seemed confused by the name Himel Brothers Leather.  There is always a raised eyebrow asking me about my “brother” or who are these “brothers” in leather.  My story is long and leads back to my philosophy of life and fashion.  You see, I started out in Cultural Studies and Film History in university.  I came to fashion via my professors in film who had a running competition to see who could find cooler vintage suits and ties from the 1940s in the local Salvation Army.  This started my path into the rediscovery of the Schmata business.  But the truth is clothing skipped a generation in my family.  If you look at the history of the modern brands of clothing you would discover far and away that the North American clothing brands were dominated by immigrant Jews.  This may seem obvious for those that are in the business but perhaps not so obvious to the worldwide audience that has come to adore all the North American brands of clothing and their history.  My grandfather had a clothing factory and my great uncles worked in the clothing business almost exclusively.  All the original “brothers” and lundtsmen that immigrated from Poland and the Ukraine worked in some way in fringe business and clothing.  I will certainly write more about those “Himel brothers” at a later date.

Today I am telling stories about the second generation of Himels, specifically my father.  He grew up on top of a clothing store.  He had two brothers, my uncles Max and Butch.  They lived in a small apartment on Queen St. here in Toronto, and before my grandfather had his factory he worked gruelling days as a “presser” for a large factory.  My bubby mended dresses and sold them in their store below.  My dad was never going to be in the sewing business unless it included surgery in the definition. My dad started out downtown at another high school.  Though as my grandfathers business grew they migrated northward to better digs and my dad changed schools.  He moved away from his previous school which as he told me, was riddled with antisemitism and gang fights between Jews, Italians and Ukrainians.  He found his home at Vaughan Road Academy.  Today was their 85th anniversary which I attended.

It has been almost a year since my dad’s death.  There have been many many revelations since his passing, some of them good, some of them bad.  I am building this brand as an homage to my ancestors.  Making clothing and having a heritage is more than just specifics about my family’s  clothing business, the heritage is in the blood.  You cannot remove bits and pieces out of the past.  As I grow older I realize  that clothing and the past make up the core being of my present.  One of my dad’s teammates called me up a couple of months back and asked to get together.  He shared with me some stories about my dad.  He  told me my dad was one of the few people who played on three sports teams, Rugby, Football and Basketball and that two of those teams were championship teams in the City of Toronto. I thought I would share one of the lost stories from my dad’s youth…I think it really describes the toughness of growing up in war time Canada….

 

“Your dad was one of seven  “Two Time Champs” having played on both winning clubs!
The most interesting incident arose a few years back. We were talking about sports injuries and Cal mentioned
that he had hidden his broken nose from his father , since his dad would have killed  him…..
>>
I held my breath and recounted MY side of the story. It was a practice …in 1950 ..when Barry Kasman ran into
your dad and the smash could be heard all over. I was closest to him and ran to him …now lying, bleeding on
the ground and asked him if he was OK:
>>
” Yeh ..he said …but my dad will kill me!”
>>
I thought that was strange …since our parents all knew that we endangered our limbs playing  rugby. So over
55 years later….I found out why he said it, lying there!”

 

Part of learning to love vintage was listening to my dad’s stories of growing up on Queen St.  Part of my love of vintage was wearing his University of Toronto Melton Medical School varsity jacket.  Its hard to encapsulate a lifetime of stories and experiences and share them.  Needless to say my dad came from tough roots and made a great career out of his life.  His High School Moto was:  In Medium Quaesita Reponunt or They lay up in store for common use whatever they have gained:  The motto suggests students at Vaughan Road C.I. are there to learn skills to go out and benefit their communities…my dad became a doctor and from his humble schmata roots benefited his community bringing thousands of children into the world!

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