A Linen Odyssey - Part II
Read Part 1 here.
From the outset a number of obstacles emerged, whether it was finding the right factory to partner with or sourcing the precise details and trim. Ultimately, however, there were two key challenges that came to define this story. The first was the linen. Put simply, no one was making it and it was proving impossible to find somebody who could. Where could the team find the 15.5 oz linen needed for the suits?
Over time, linen had come to be considered as a true summer cloth. This may not seem surprising, but when we think of cotton, wool, rayon or any of the modern synthetic fibres, all are produced in a variety of weights and used to manufacture garments for all seasons.
By British weather standards, it is assumed that linen garments can only be worn during the (ever fortuitous) summer heatwave or if on holiday abroad. Very few natural fibres have been relegated this way in the popular perception of sartorialism and being subjected to such a narrow sub-seasonal window of wear. Lead by Simon, the objective of this mission was to break this mindset.
After lengthy investigation and exploration, the team finally found a linen mill who showed an interest in the project. Based in Ireland, they were renowned for their quality heavy tweeds using locally sourced yarns and had all the machinery required to develop a luxuriously slubby, heavy linen in three colours.
Everything seemed to be moving along smoothly for a while. However, disaster struck when it was revealed that the volume of cloth required to make a run of suits would not be possible to send to the factory based in Hong Kong without incurring crippling customs fees, such as to make the suits unreasonably costly to the buyers, not to mention the increased carbon footprint this would incur. The dismay amongst Simon and the team was palpable. It was then that the decision was made to find a new mill, local to the factory that would provide the linen so essential to this project.
As samples of cloth from mill to mill were coming in, all-the-while failing to deliver the right warp, weft, marl and slub that would satisfy our fellowship of sartorial aficionados, the second challenge would present itself - the design of the suits. It is never easy to design a suit, but to design two from scratch, bringing new styles to a market? In this was our fellowship’s second source of careful planning - anxiously waiting for samples to arrive as they painstakingly developed the styles and fits.
Such would be the case for many months, and the two designs would be rigorously tested over the course of two years. After much technical design, Summer 2018 would see the release of two suits - the King Cole, inspired by ultimate 1930s swagger and cool, and the Vanderbilt, a reminder of the stoic refinement and resolve found in the years preceding the Great War. Initially available in a cotton-linen blend and later in a charcoal grey flannel, both were luxurious in their own right and enabled the team to test the patterns and style in preparation for what was coming.
The challenge with searching for mills in China is primarily one of volume. It was relatively straight-forward to contact mills who could do it in theory, but near impossible if you wanted to create a small run of exclusive suits at a sensible price-point.
It was at the end of 2018 that the good news finally came. A mill, indeed acceptably near to the factory, had been found. After months and months of preparation and researching, and with a clear brief and common understanding, production of the linen was finally commissioned.
This of course would not be the end of the struggle… The factory, who had been accustomed to tailoring suits using contemporary (thus, lighter) weight cloth would complain about having to use stitching and fusing techniques required for constructing raincoats and outerwear. They would insist on including details such as American, outward-facing pleats on the trousers which (as we all know) undermine the natural silhouette of the garment unlike their British, inward-facing counterpart.
Things were reaching a critical point. If the suits were to be made in time for SJC’s upcoming Summer ‘19 collection, then the suits themselves would have to be commissioned as soon as the linen had been completed. What was once just a idea discussed among friends was about to become a reality - things just had to move forward without another hitch...