The Journey Towards the Only Coat in the World
Our first post in our series about Bespoke Fashion by contributing writer Anita Clarke - her new love is a coat made just for her by designer extraordinaire Philip Sparks.
For the clothing-obsessed, bespoke is the ultimate prize. The bespoke process differs from made to measure efforts because the garment is hand-made from scratch using a brand new pattern based on the individual's measurements. Made to measure uses an existing pattern.
In 2016, I took my first bespoke journey with Philip Sparks of Philip Sparks Tailored Goods. Philip and I are old friends, and I've always loved his designs. I joked that I wanted him to make me a suit one day, but it was a few yards of vintage green plaid fabric and my utter distaste for down parkas that sparked my decision to get a winter coat made. I'd never spent so much on a piece of clothing before, so I was worried that it wouldn't live up to the cost. I was so wrong and knew then that I caught the bespoke bug. In November, 2017, I decided that I needed to treat myself again with a long winter coat.
The bespoke process works something like this:
1. We decide on the style, features, fabric and cost. After that, Philip creates a pattern and makes a muslin for me to try on. A muslin is a test garment that allows you to get all the parts of the pattern correct before cutting the fabric and building the real thing.
2. I return for the first fitting. I'll try on the muslin Philip's created and we'll make any adjustments needed. If the changes are significant, we'll do another muslin fitting. If not, Philip finishes the pattern and moves on to the construction process.
3. I return for another fitting. Here, I'm trying on parts of an incomplete garment so that there is still an opportunity to make small adjustments. Philip takes these adjustments and incorporates them into the final product.
4. I return for the final fitting where I'll try on the final garment while weeping for joy and my bank account.
For my second winter coat, I wanted it to be longer and use some crazy Malhia Kent fabric. Malhia Kent is a fabric manufacturer based in France. Fashion houses like Chanel and Isabel Marant are some of the major brands that work with this mill. They are amazing at collaborating with small producers because they have reasonable minimum orders. Philip has a great selection of fabric swatches at his studio to browse through. Malhia Kent fabrics are so luxurious.
Philip knows me so well that he can take my simple ideas or notions and mould it into reality. We started with fabric selection and I made a pile of my favourite swatches. Then we thought about the style and features of the coat. I had four functional requirements. It needs to be like a men's overcoat so that I can wear my large sweaters or a blazer. It needs to be long and cover my legs. Finally, it needs a removable vest and fur collar for extra warmth. Philip listened carefully, got up and took a photo from his mood board and placed it in front of me. It was an illustration of two men wearing gorgeous vintage town coats. It's like he could see directly into my brain.
We both agreed that the grey town coat on the left was the correct silhouette and shape. Adding a fur collar and length would be trivial. In hindsight, selecting the fabrics before the coat style was a bit of a waste of time and once we knew the coat's shape, the fabric choices I made didn't work at all. Some fabrics weren't warm enough for a winter coat, and for others, the pattern just wouldn't work with the design.
Ultimately, the fabric I decided on was in the discard pile. I loved it but thought it wasn't what I wanted. It's incredible how much the style and silhouette of the coat influences fabric. You need to be open to change during these meetings and trust your tailor's knowledge. We selected a vibrant blue fox fur for the collar perfectly complementing the fabric choice.
Philip placed orders for the fabric and fur, and I was expecting an 8 to 10-week wait. Maliha Kent gave me the biggest Christmas miracle; the fabric arrived just in time for my first fitting two weeks later. When I saw the roll of fabric for the first time it brought tears to my eyes. This coat is going to be one for the record books.
Philip and I are just getting started on my coat. I look forward to sharing part two of the journey where I'll talk about what happens during the fittings and reveal the final product.