Jacket interior–hidden luxury

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Here’s a closer look at the interior of the jacket, before it was fully lined with silk crepe de chine. The blue/gray fabric is the exterior “fashion” fabric, and the colorful fabric is the silk lining front facing. The beige fabric is the hidden luxury of this method. Rather than using modern fusible interfacing, the jacket is underlined and quilted with silk organza, a soft, sturdy secret weapon that gives the jacket shape without stiffness. The white crescents on the top of the sleeves are a soft wool “sleevehead” that give the sleevecap that “couture pop” without shoulder pads. (Although in this 60s version, the sleeve fits pretty tightly in the armhole, without the modern “poof” I’m not that into.)

To avoid having any topstitching visible on the exterior, which to me looks mass-market, I catch-stitched all of the hems and seam allowances down by hand. This highly-tedious process is tempting to skip, and yet I believe it’s the most important thing you can do to give it that haute couture je ne sais quoi. It’s hard to describe, but this secure and highly elastic stitch gives the jacket a soft movement, making it look like it’s held together without thread. Yet it controls the interior, so the seams never roll or unravel.

Traditionally, haute couture Chanel jackets have the colorful silk lining quilted directly onto the fashion fabric, without an underlining, but not all of them were made that way over the years. Personally I prefer this method because the organza underlining gives you a stronger jacket that’s still soft and light. And your last step, which is to tightly fell-stitch the colorful lining all around the interior edge of the jacket, completely covers the organza, the quilting, the seam finishes, and a multitude of sins.

Choosing the fabric for the Chanel/Spadea

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Chanel/Spadea Jacket materials

Chanel/Spadea Jacket materials

I’ll admit that finding the elements for a Chanel-style jacket is the most fun part, because you’re still living in a dream. While still stitching away on my second Chanel jacket during a holiday trip to Paris, I had the bad fortune to visit Janssens et Janssens fabric shop (janssensparis.com). The fact that it is a block down from Louis Vuitton should have tipped me off that the neatly arrayed bolts of fabric shelved floor to ceiling would start at 200 Euros a yard and go up from there. The slogan on their website loosely translates to “In the heart of Faubourg Saint Honore, the boutique for creative and elegant women who understand the price of fashion.” Talk about French understatement.

Nevertheless, the women who worked there were unfailing pleasant and helpful as I woefully eyeballed the bespoke tweeds, beaded confections and artfully printed cashmere challis. Just when I’d convinced myself that I couldn’t justify the yardage price vs. husband will kill me cost ratio, I saw an unmarked table of half-price remnants, which included the blue/gray boucle above. The fabric is a wool herringbone weave, with slubs of beige woven throughout, jazzed up with shiny silver threads. With a meter and a third left, the woman assured me that I had enough for a “jacket” (said with a knowing look). Sold.

There were a number of other people in the shop at that time, one of whom was an elfin French male dressmaker, who proudly told an Asian couple there, in English, that his jacket was “‘omemade”. He said he had once worked for Chanel, and as I was selecting trim for the jacket from the equally pricey yet out of control trim rack, he decided in that very French way to stop me from making any grievous aesthetic errors. The trim I’d picked, with the black gimp edges and beige velvet ribbon, was “too taupe” and just wouldn’t do. The saleswoman, seeing a large sale go out the window, insisted that my choice was a good one. “Ah” he said, in that French tone that means, “I’m going to compromise but still pretend you’re doing it my way,” “Here’s how you do.” He then told me to pull several strands from the fabric, two or three at a time, put them in a darning needle, and weave them in and out of the trim over the velvet ribbon. As a well-behaved non-confrontational American in Paris, I nodded my head and thanked him, thinking, “I’m not doing that.”

As my items were rung up, I heard him gossiping in French with the saleswoman, and was able to catch the following…that made-to-measure haute couture Chanel suits were starting at 40,000 Euros ($55,000 depending on the day) and the one for Madame So-and-So cost 50,000 Euros. Having made several of the jackets now using the haute couture method, I can just about understand how a hand-made suit could be as complex and costly as an Audi. And as an Audi owner, I can attest that the jackets last longer.

When my jacket was constructed, and it came time to trim it, I looked at the trim and realized that indeed it was “too taupe.” So I got out my darning needle and wove in those threads from the fabric. My French friend, you were so right.

Pattern by Chanel

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Here’s what inspired me to give another tedious, labor intensive Chanel Jacket a go:

1962 Chanel pattern released by Spadea

1962 Chanel pattern released by Spadea (photo (c) Julie Eilber, 2013)

It’s a 1962 Chanel jacket pattern released by the Spadea pattern company. Spadea was a mail-order company that sold sewing patterns, via articles in local newspapers across the country, from 1950 through the 1970s. What made Spadea unique was that the patterns were drafted directly from designer garments currently retailing in U.S. stores. So a housewife in rural Ohio or Salt Lake City could use their patterns to recreate replicas of garments by American Look designers such as Claire McCardell, Ceil Chapman, Tina Leser, Joset Walker, Clare Potter, or international designers such as Biki of Milan, Pierre Cardin, a young Lagerfeld (designing for Tiziani) and the Queen’s couturier, Norman Hartnell. The range of designers fashions represented in the Spadea line is astonishing. In recent years these patterns have become highly collectible in the vintage sewing world, some going for hundreds of dollars.

Look closely, and you’ll see that this particular pattern says “Chanel design reproduced by Suzy Perette.” In those days before off-shore manufacturing, U.S. fashion companies would license designs from French companies and manufacture replicas of the garments in the U.S. for the domestic market. One of those companies was Suzy Perette, who created U.S.-manufactured garments by Euro designers such as Givenchy and Chanel.

This jacket pattern has the hallmarks of Chanel jackets of that era: the high, tight armholes, the bracelet-length sleeves with vents, the center front panels that hang in parallel lines from the neckline, the small Mandarin collar that stands up just so, the slightly boxy, cropped “Jackie” fit.

Even though I was sick to death of making jackets, when I found this pattern online late last summer I just couldn’t resist.

 

Chanel Jacket #4

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I’ll start at the end and work backwards. Here’s my 4th, best, and hopefully final Chanel jacket all made in the past 18 months. It was constructed using what appears to be the only officially licensed Chanel jacket pattern to ever be released–a 1962 pattern by the Spadea company. (More on the pattern in the next post).

The whole thing took me at least 100 hours.

Curse you, Coco.

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coco_chanel_14_V_16jul09_chanel_pr_b_426x639Chanel best look

Here’s our Coco, dressed in an early version of her revolutionary suit in the 20s, then again in the classic 60s version. Love her or hate her, she set the tone for how powerful women dressed for a century. Her basic jacket, top and skirt became a high class, comfortable signifier for every upscale woman who needed to walk into a room with confidence, long before women were supposed to do that.
For people who sew, making a Chanel jacket has become something of a Holy Grail. Traditionally, the jackets are make from a loosely-woven boucle or tweed that unravels with the slightest touch. Rather than traditional padded tailoring, the jackets are made by quilting the wool directly to a silk lining, making them maleable and light, like a sweater, yet more structured. The high, tight armholes allow freedom of movement but require numerous fittings. Much of the jacket is hand-sewn to give it a mysterious haute couture simplicity. Tacking on the famous chain weight at the bottom can take hours. The trim can take days. To buy an haute couture (made-to-measure) version can cost upwards of 40,000 Euros–more than $50,000. Making one of these jackets, which take 70 to 100 hours of labor, is tedious and maddening.
So how did I end up making four different Chanel jackets, in a variety of vintage styles, using four different construction methods, in less than 18 months?
Curse you, Coco.