Designing a Pattern: Handmade and Hand Grade!

Many times a month I am emailed or requested to create a specific design or modify a jacket to make some special edition for a customer. As much as I would like to be able to do this I find myself explaining the impossibility of it and the complexity of the process of developing a new design or pattern.  I thought I would take the time to explain the very unique process of coming up with jacket designs here at Himel Brothers and why our products are unique compared to large corporate fashion.

It is important to understand that we design our jackets and patterns by hand using pencil and paper.  The large corporate fashion companies have softwares that can take ideas from computer to finished product and 3-D animation in less then a day.  Gerber and Optitex allow for seamless production.  I believe however to truly capture the beautiful lines of original garments and the organic nature of the human body, it is required to hand draw, alter and finish patterns.  When I design a new jacket I start with original jackets for body shapes. I create an aged vintage mock up of the design in Photoshop to get an idea of what the finished product would look like. From there we draw up a pattern, often using the original jackets and a tape measure to get shapes just right.  From there measurements are altered to fit a modern body size and a cotton mock up is made.  The mock up is altered, the paper is altered and this goes back and forth until we can get just the perfect fit, shape, curves, strange lines and authenticity.  This can take weeks, and when it is finished a real leather version has to be made and tested on several different people of the sample size.  If the jacket works we send the pattern for grading, if not it starts all over again.  Grading is tricky itself.  To make all the different sizes you have to determine rules to adjust the size consistently, but on occasion change those rules as the sizes get to the far ends of the size range.  Every step of the way can lead to failure, especially when grading as any mistake is repeated on every single pattern size produced.  So you can imagine I can’t just whip up a new jacket on the fly! But I believe our handmade pattern process is superior to computerized system that smooths out lines and removes the organic nature of the design.

 


Under the Skin: What, Why and Quality

 

I seem to get a lot of questions regarding the “cost” of my jackets.  I have noticed a rather disturbing trend regarding the use of the  term “vintage” and worse, the use of the designs from the past.  I rarely focus on the negative regarding the emerging new brands that are either heritage brands, or heritage based brands but of late these brands have been appearing in somewhat of a “frenzy”.  Every week there seems to be a new clothing brand, or an old clothing brand, producing a replica vintage product.  It would almost appear that as long as a garment contains some tweed, oilskin or horsehide it is now “authentic”.

Last week a leather jacket company called me looking for horsehide leather.  They were quite frustrated that they could not purchase horsehide leather from Horween for 3 dollars a square foot.  This was a very very old original California leather jacket maker  and as I am an amicable fellow I offered up my expertise on available horsehide and design in the hopes that there would be a small exchange of history in trade.  I was rushed off the phone, the company in question taking my information and assurance that there is not a “cheap” supply of vintage horsehide, and has since ignored my requests for a historical inquiry.

Last week I also saw some very interesting knockoff 1960s hippy jackets that were near perfect replicas of some original jackets…the problem being that the sewing techniques and leather were not of the same quality and character of the originals.  Ok, here is my point.  I am sure there are cheaper ways to simulate “authenticity” and certainly anybody can put a D pocket on a jacket and call it vintage design.  The real art of making a perfect jacket is in spending the time and money to go back to the best of the best of handmade materials, cutting and techniques of manufacture.  These are not always easily discernible on the surface.  There is no shortcut or cheap way to imitate this kind of “authenticity”.  Often the slightest improvement in technique and materials can increase the labour and cost of a great jacket exponentially.  But isn’t that what one should strive for in an ‘authentic” jacket?  I will not knock others efforts, and I am sure that many will not see the value in my search for the best of the best.  But I think it is important to acknowledge the quest and be honest in the authenticity of what your selling not just what you are branding.  The best way to be sure is to ask questions, and from my perspective share the quest and the process. Every person deserves one good thing, inform yourself, ask questions, and spend your money with brands you can trust to be true to your own values.


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!