Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Power of the New: To Design or to Copy

Over the last 8 weeks I have met with 20 or so elder statesmen of the schmata trade. These guys are serious old school players in the game of "cut and sew" Every single one was over the age of 65 and every single one was successful in the trade! These guys have more combined wisdom then all the jacket nerds like me combined. I meet with these wise old men to try and discover the secrets of how to make the perfect jacket. The more I meet, the more I am beginning to realize there is no one "right" way to make the perfect jacket. Every single company had their favorite tanneries, favorite seams, favorite threads and favorite designs. Many winged it based on deals on materials, or just hit the nail on the head when a finicky customer came in and demanded a particular design feature. Some just altered their designs to be different then Joe Schmoe down the road. We have the wind proof flap...he doesn't, lol. But when push comes to shove, old jackets were about functionality, fit and beautiful cuts. Look how shiny this dead stock Beck cafe racer is. You wouldn't think it would be that shiny when you found an old vintage one. And yet other finishes on jackets are matte or semi gloss. Wax finishes, aniline, oil...dye...urethane...choices, choices choices...oh and fear the jacket nerds!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Layers of History: Where we live!

The magic of where I live is Spadina. This is one of the earliest streets made and named in my city of Toronto. Many here do not realize how much history past and present lives on this street. The neighborhood went from a wealthy stately residential street to a working class factory street in the early days of Toronto. By the early 20th century stately houses were torn down to build multistory brick "Schmata" factories where scores of Jewish, Irish and Italian immigrants sewed many of the "ready wear" garments that clothed the Eastern Seaboard. My neighborhood became known as the Jewish Market, but today is now Chinatown. Many of the remnants of the heyday of the garment industry still linger under the signs and floorboards of mostly original buildings.

The name originates from the Ojibwa word ishpadinaa meaning "be a high hill or sudden rise in the land. This native history created a street which housed garment factories, booze cans, bookmakers, and underground economies. The famous Jewish American anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman died in a building across the street from me. Amelia Earhart discovered her love of flying on the south end of the street, and contracted her lifelong ear infection that eventually may have contributed to her death during WW1 working at the Spadina hospital for veterans of the war. My good friend at Grants Wholesale not only lent Mr. Kraft money to help start his famous farming and food business, but turned down Levis Strauss for exclusive rights to sell the famed denim in Canada back in the 50's. Sometimes I forget the history when I walk up and down my street, looking in on the Rotman's Haberdashery selling hats since before the war. And every once and a while a sign is ripped out revealing the generations of business' behind it. Moishe's tavern..or a famous theater or rooming house. This place bleeds history and schmata.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Curves, Bumps and Designs

One of the amazing things that happens as I progress through this project is a journey of self discovery. I am blessed here in Toronto with many many elderly Jewish folk who are still actively in the clothing business. With many many years in the "schmata" business these guys are treasure troves of parts, and more importantly, knowledge about the "real" story of fashion. There are so many people just waiting to bust open stories and secret vaults of old stuff to help me along the way to completing my project. I'm just shocked and amazed. Today I spoke with a fellow who used to do business with my Grandfather who died in 1966, the year I was born. He remembered him and his company from over 40 years ago. I am discovering my own lost past. These guys have real stories about the "real" business when clothing and more importantly workwear was growing and peaking in North America.

On a second note, one of the great difficulties I have encountered in making historically accurate jackets has been the patterns. Modern patterns are often modeled with generic dimensions with the aid of CAD software. This software intervenes with the organic nature of "original" designs. Part of the great and strange process of learning about old patterns was the way these patterns were so organically curvy and hand drawn. Each pattern was adjusted on real people and perfected year after year until the strange interlock of all the curved fitted pieces formed the perfect shape and body that would stand the test of time. Then that body was transformed and built with the organic curvy wrinkly skin of beautiful well-treated animals, adding protection for human beings to go out into the world. Part of creating a lost jacket is recreating the lost art of the curve! Beautiful natural organic curves!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Native Themes, Tradition and America

Indian themes and indeed Native cultural knowledge is essential order to understand the North American leather jacket. Culture is viral. Europeans arrived in North America and would have not established a foothold without the help and cross fertilization of Native cultural know how and European ingenuity. Sadly the payback was territorial stealing, disease and in some cases genocide. Natives influenced dress styles of the European settlers and blended technology and design into the mix. This influence stretches back to the roots of American settlement and its strong influence can be seen today in the idealization of "nativism" in the design of jackets, branding and labeling. I pointed out that it was the Indian wives of early fur traders that invented the Mackinaw, and certainly the ergonomic designs and beading of early traditional Native garb influenced the Europeans in the design of their own clothing for survival. By the time of the industrial age in the Americas, Nativism came to symbolize the warrior, the sportsman, and the athletic hero. That positive image was overshadowed by the dismal treament by settlers of their indigenous "enemies".

Sunday, May 3, 2009

How I spend my Summer Vacations: The future

As part of my strange personality I often ponder how I've gotten to where am at. I try to perceive the future and am always considering where Im trying to go. Im old enough that I have seen many of my friends rise to the heights of power and money and some fall to the streets and the abyss. This kind of stuff never really was on my smorgasbord of consideration as a youth. My vision of my life was about spending time in the wilderness, being unconventional and trying to make beautiful things. Realizing this vision and melding it with real social forces is a long and hard task. While my photos seem rather unconnected, I would say that in fact they all are parts of a cohesive puzzle. The question is: where do you find satisfaction and self worth, get compensated and leave a world that is better off then when you started. Im a nouveau Luddite. I want wilderness that I can run around in and show my friends and family, that is the Canadian way. I want to make an impact on peoples lives and leave some sort of legacy. I want people to consume better and learn to appreciate and pay for things that will benefit their lives. One avenue is my hope to restore the knowledge and history behind North American apparel industry and its great history of quality, production and beauty. As I watch many of my friends become powerful members of society I hope that they have similar goals, not just the desire for constant and ever growing financial gain. We have already seen the disastrous results of the morally bankrupt on Wall Street and here is hoping for a new breed of men and women who will make our world a more healthy, beautiful, smart and equitable place.