Monday, October 25, 2010

W. Shanhouse and Sons: Another Lost History

So here's where history, experience, the INTERNET and time limitations meet.  One of my curiosities over the last 20 years stems from the appearance of various companies in my vintage repertoire that constantly produce amaaazing jackets.  I am always at a loss when I see consistently beautiful jackets from a particular company especially in the early days of branded manufacturing.  Really this is a sad story in a way because there are very few people who feel its important enough to document this recent lost past. 

One company that appears over and over again in my collection is W. Shanhouse and Sons.  I have seen so many gorgeous well made jackets by this company from the 1900-1930 period that it has spiked my curiosity.  Given that I might buy or trade 10 jackets a year from this period, I can tell you I had 4 from Shanhouse in my hands this year alone.  That tells me a couple of things.  Either they were massive producers of leather jackets in this period, or they were very popular ....or they were so well made and well loved that they lasted a long long time.

The leather and cuts on these jackets is always spectacular.  So of course, being the nerd that I am, I spent a couple of late evenings looking for information about the family that made this lasting legacy of beautiful garments.  That process of research is really quite limited as I can't really leave my living-room and visit Rockford, Ill. or visit their archives.  I use a more intuitive process that involves conjecture, obituaries and an understanding of the Schmata business from back in the day.

I looked up the name Shanhouse on the Jewish archives and several immigration archives indicated that most of the Shanhouses in the US came from Russia.  Always a good start.  That being said the number one search that showed up was a landmark legal case brought against W. Shanhouse regarding compensating an injured employee of the company!

The second largest search item to come up was the early list of the United Garment Workers of America, and all their unionized shops of which a couple were right here in Toronto and W. Shanhouse was on that list.  I know that many many of the Polish and Russian Jews immigrating to North American were followers of Trotsky, my grandfather included.  This made a very easy transition for a lot of workers and owners as their companies grew to run fully unionized shops.  As an added benefit, the major markets for garments in the period were the massively growing force of factory workers and many would only buy garments with union labels.  Small shops sewing would quickly grow and unionization was often the sign or cost of success.  I tracked down this obit of William Shanhouse who must have been a descendant of W. Shanhouses sons (Jacob) That infers to me that the W. in W. Shanhouse might be William as a family name!

 Now William would not be a typical Jewish name.  So either it was another name or an Anglicized Jewish name.  There is a strong chance that W. Shanhouse may have immigrated from England.  England was very friendly to Jews from the rest of Europe and was often launch point to the more desired location of North America.  Many anglicized Jews learned their trade tailoring in London before arriving in the US and Canada.   Brimaco Leathers started as British Manufacturing Ltd in Montreal after G. Schriber's uncle left England to migrate to Canada.  Anglicizing was a good way to "fit" in and face less consumer discrimination.                                                                             

Now this is mostly conjecture, but I found early adverts advertising W. Shanhouse and Sons motor suits.  One has to assume the Shanhouse family rose to success parallelling the rise of the Great Lakes automobile industry.  Clearly the car industry provided massive opportunities for creative tailors to make work clothing that became job specific.

As the obituaries state below, Louis Jacob (likely one of the sons of W.) was running a successful overall company producing some kind of workwear.  Of course there is no guarantee that the leather side of the business was connected to the workwear side.   As was often the case family members split up business into different components either for efficiencies or just plain old personal differences.

The last piece I could find in this mystery was an obituary from Raymond Morris.  Now Raymond married a daughter of Shanhouse. Which one I cannot tell, she was likely from the dates a granddaughter of the founder.  So this company spanned many many generations of Americans.  Morris became the paymaster for the Manhattan project (building the bomb) and eventually married a Shirl Shanhouse.  Morris moved to Shreveport, Louisiana to run W. Shanhouse and Sons huge wartime production facility there.  Obviously W. Shanhouse's little leather shop grew into a massive enterprise.

How ironic that the likely immigrant from Eastern European Socialism ends up connected to both the Manhattan project and huge wartime uniform production.  On a side note; many times as Schmata factories grew they would often have to move and spread to several cities to keep up with the demand for sewers.  Often a large company might find no more available skilled trades to meet the rapidly growing industry.  This is especially the case today where there are fewer and fewer people willing to do 
skilled labour.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fashion Shows: Benefits of Design

One of the bonus' of my job is that I get to attend fashion shows.  There are practically no shows relating to leather and motorcycling however it is very very hard to turn down invites to these parties.  I do occassionally get inspired by some young designers and at the very least I get to reach out and meet people who are the ground floor of future design.  During Nuit Blanche this year I had a very nice opener!  It was an excellent escape from the pressures of getting back to building jackets and flogging vintage. Nance is wearing a classic 60s Bates cafe racer.  These jackets in teenage sizes look incredible on the fairer sex!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Agricultural Fairs: Slow Food, Slow Jackets and Community

One of the interesting offshoots of my discovery process to recreate perfect leather jackets from the 1940s was the joy of connecting to my agricultural community.  For those of us old enough to remember the times before cable television, remote controls and the Internet, the biggest time of the year was the end of summer and fall fairs.  These events would bring farmers and Carneys together to huck stuffed animals, gambling and farm produce in one giant denouement to the summer growing season.  Young men would sneak beers into their coats, and young women would
dress up in spandex tube tops and pocketless jeans and we would all head down to ride the rides.  I remember the shock of seeing the prize winning chickens that looked more eccentric and bizarre than peacocks with all their varietal splendour (more shocked when I visited a chicken farm and saw the weird rats with wings they sell at KFC).  This visit to the fair was the rare connection that city people would have to the "farm".

Now that I work with tanners who help me come up with the perfect leather for my jackets I have learned how important the natural processes of responsible farming, and ethical treatment of animals is and what its impact is on the quality of both food, and the quality of the leather I make.  I now have the privilege to visit and get to know farmers and ranchers who produce fine animals both for work, wool and food.  As you connect with these groups an amazing transformation happens that helps to see a new perspective on what and how you
choose to shop at your local grocery.  Animals become more important and significant that as slices of steak or happy little pets.

I started my journey visiting my friend Mike who works in an Auto plant by day and grows elk as a side business.  His elk are happy, well treated and organic.  Nance and I got the call from Mike who had just slaughtered 3 young elk and he suggested I come up and see him to stock the freezer.  We bought some elk, bison, and wild boar! 
After the journey to see mike and drop in to visit some of my was off to the fair!  The Erin Agricultural Fair has been operating since 1850.  Really it was an amazing journey back to my childhood going to the Canadian National Exhibition and the horse and live stock shows.  I had an amazing sense of nostalgia.  These fairs are far more relevant today then ever.  While as a child I marvelled at the candy and the these fairs are a way for farmers, growers, and producers of local products to get together and celebrate their hard work.  It struck

me while meeting and greeting with farmers how out of touch the protesters I had met the week earlier  were with the farming community.  It seems to me that so many people seem so disconnected from what farming, manufacturing, tanning, sewing and the other basics that we are so used to buying from China and beyond.  It becomes very easy to separate and isolate and judge these process' while you are not a part of the socio-economic tapestry that is dependent on farming, ranching and producing for your income.

Country people get to share their experiences and good work from growing huge pumpkins to quilting and jamming.  This connection to quality produce and production of agricultural goods is a catalyst for the local food movement and the beginnings of a European style pride in food production here in Ontario.  It is a one hour drive out of Toronto to go visit your local farmers....and see where my leather and produce come from!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Grizzy Jackets: Laskin Lamb and Horsehide Make Music Together

 Some of my personal favorite jackets are the super tough flamboyant productions of the 1930s and 1940s.  Jackets appealed to both the male sensibilities of masculinity, pomp and utility.  There is no other way to explain the incredible concoctions of early horsehide jackets and grizzly jackets.  Now before we get concerned with the endangered grizzly...this is more of a nom-de-plume.  The grizzly refers to jackets with fur on front.  These jackets are often  harking back to the rough and tumble pioneer period in North America.  Early settlers, natives and traders would wear leather garments that were often simply tanned with bark or brain tanning and had basic robe like construction.  Fur was rarely removed and often worn on the outside of the jacket.  Heck, if it can keep a buffalo warm why not a man.  Many of the seriously  tough men and  motorcyclists of the 1930s could often be seen photographed in fur on grizzly jackets while riding dirt roads of the back country.

The other interesting component of this decorative display  of different leathers is the two tone jacket.  Check out this beauty that just sold on Ebay.  Nice inverted D pocket and tobacco pocket as it would have been advertised.  Very practical and yet very impractical with the two tone leather and extra care and effort to put the jacket together!  Looks like a Kit Carson!

 This jacket is currently  on ebay.  The pictures came courtesy of Punk Rock Max .  One of the things that perplexes me about this jacket is the texturization of the leather.  I have seen this in dozens of jackets that I have owned over the years  I figured it was either to soften the horsehide or to create a fake pigskin effect?  If you have any answers for me feel free to send them along!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Horse Slaughter and Bill C-544

So I normally try and avoid politics and controversial subjects in my blog.  But a funny thing happened on my way home from the office tonight.  I stopped by my friends French bistro for a glass of wine and outside was a large group of loud, angry protesters with megaphones protesting the slaughter of horses.  You see my friend owns a restaurant that serves horse on the menu.  Now...before I continue it needs to be understood that I eat meat.  Like most of the world I enjoy the consumption of flesh.  I like my meat healthy, organic and well treated...but not simulated nor replaced with soy.  That being said I eat soy too!  I also hunt and fish and believe in the practices of ethical farming, local food, and ethical slaughter. I believe in these things because I know that the flesh of well treated animals tastes better, is better for me and harms the world and the well being of the animals less.  I can say this because I have killed animals and understand the seriousness of such a task.  My friend's restaurant believes pretty much the same thing.  He goes out of his way to find local farmers who grow their own livestock, treat them well and slaughter them ethically.  Apparently the "horse" crazies have attempted to adopt the wave of politics around ethical farming to promote their crazy horse freedom agenda. 
These groups feel that horses are "pets" . Subjugation for human use, and as pets is fine but no.  As such they have gone out of their way pressure the U.S. government to pass laws banning horse slaughter for food.  This has resulted in the inhumane treatment of horses in the U.S. where Americans are shipping their "pets" long distances for slaughter in Mexico and Canada. In Mexico they dont exactly regulate horse slaughter.   By severly limiting the commercial use of horses these groups are creating stressed economics for the sale and processing of horses.  Rather then encouraging investment in the industry and improvement of  conditions, they are pushing the slaughter of horses to unregulated markets and substandard conditions.   For some reason these anti meat groups feel that rather than making sure that animals are well treated and slaughtered humanely...they prefer to  ban horse slaughter entirely.  Last year in Canada 93000 horses were slaughtered for consumption in the  European and Asian markets.  The anti horse people present this industry as though it is some exotic meat industry like eating monitor lizard or raw monkey brains.   90000 horses....that is a lot of wasted agricultural resources.  You can trust me that from the perspective of both history and the leather industry, horses have been a valuable agricultural commodity in North America for centuries.  Horses were not pets, they were work animals.  Yes,  hopefully they are loved and cared for by their owners, but at the end of their lives they had been a valuable historic resource for leather and meat.  All the vegan ism in the world cannot change this.  There are many many people whose jobs and industries depend on agriculture and agricultural products, and horses are part of that process.  Horse leather was, and is the best leather in the world for garments and shoes.  Mistreated horses make for bad hides.  Nobody in the world wants to eat mistreated animals, or make leather from abused horses, abused horses have scarred skin which is useless.  Unfortunately the people behind Bills to ban slaughter are not interested in horse well being, they are interested in horses as pets, and people as vegans.They will come after you for your beef and chicken next!