Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Men of the Cloth Documentary Film and my "Yodic" conclusion

Yesterday evening, I ventured out into the wet cold wilds of Manhattan to attend this event at FIT:


And wow, was it worth it.

The weather was indeed uncomfortable, but the theater was, by comparison, cozy...

Let's start with the film.  Within the first 20 minutes or so, I feared that it would make me cry, much like so many documentaries about disappearing (don't say "DYING"!) industries do, but I was actually able to appreciate the beauty in the stories of the men featured within it, their lives, and their chosen vocation/calling.



While the film focuses on men's custom tailored suits, and the artistry and specificity of the skill set required to do it well, the implications for the industry are much broader.  Interestingly, what the documentary seems to omit, are the significant social and cultural changes which necessitate the changes to the industry.  If there is no customer willing to patiently respect the time, skill, value and rarity of the skilled hands needed to achieve such beautiful garments, frankly... there is no future in it.

To my surprise, though, the film left me feeling hopeful, with a strong dose of healthy realism as well.  Much to my delight, the viewer sees the stages of custom suit production (best case scenarios), from measurements, to pattern-making, to cutting, to a "raw try on" fitting, to basted construction fitting and a completed garment.

When the Q&A portion began, the questions asked and information shared by the expert panelists were definitely thought-provoking.

Filmmaker

A film like this one can only be born of love for the subject and its characters.  During the Q&A, one of the panelists refers to the workroom as an old, dirty basement, to which she enthusiastically countered "I LOVED that basement!" I deeply admire the choice to pursue a topic that is so unique, and with, what I assume, is only a fanatically interested/dedicated niche audience appeal. The commitment this endeavor must have required alone is worthy of applause.

Master Tailor (essential main personality featured in the documentary)

Where do I even begin with this one?  You'll have to see the film to appreciate the level of commitment, skill and love he has shown to his vocation.  When I spoke with him briefly following the Q&A, he made a statement that spoke directly to my heart,  "To watch the film, you would think everything I make is perfect.  It is not. I aim to do the best, but it is not like all I ever do is perfection."  It thrills me to hear this,  and to know that despite many years of careful, diligent practice, it is indeed true, that, in his words "You are always learning." His dream?  To open a school of tailoring to teach people from a young age, to create custom suits.  Why young?  Because you need to start young to really have time to develop the skills.  But learning is a difficult, serious, and time-consuming pursuit.  How can a person do this without earning money?  Frankly, one cannot.  And it wouldn't be fair to them.  Serious investors are needed to make this work.

A subject that arose several times during the film and our discussion was the prospect of American made, hand-tailored, factory-made, beautiful suits, and American made materials with which to make them.  When Frank Stella (a client) refers to Corvato's work as art, we listen. And along with that, the recurring question of how to pay salaries commensurate with that effort, skill and experience.  How do we get there?  The question still hangs...


Rory Duffy 
Master Tailor

Full disclosure: the man has an accent to die for.  Side note: In a quick conversation with him after the Q&A concluded, he mentioned having taken elocution lessons here in the States since, before taking them, no one could understand him.  I tell you now, the man could read a phone book to me, and it would be mesmerizing. But that's not what we're talking about, is it?


His credentials are quite impressive, and include an invitation to the White House to applaud his contributions to education. A creator of bespoke suits for men and women, he invites us all to view to his YouTube videos on coat making.  Oh, did I mention his beautiful accent?




Obadiah Mazo (he is introduced later in the article linked to his name)
Pattern Maker

Head pattern maker at Martin Greenfield Clothiers, Obadiah is building his lifelong passion for pattern making and drafting - the less sexy (i.e. not design), but truly crucial parts of the industry. When describing the daily challenges of his role, he hit upon an issue I often tackle and see in my own professional life as well.  A design that has not taken into consideration all of the elements that make it a functioning garment (meaning BOTH the front AND the back, closures, fit elements) is not a DESIGN.  The "design" remains an idea until these things are fleshed out. There is a notion that the patternmaker will devise /create/invent the rest, which seems to pervade the industry, but, make no mistake, the designer must present a full design for his/her instructions to be carried out.

Menswear Blogger

One of the smartest comments of the evening, included his mention of "the endangered master/apprentice relationship", and its contribution to the disappearance of the serious pursuit of tailoring as a profession.  Perusing his blog this morning, I happened upon a lovely piece he wrote on the promise of an American woolen mill, a subject I happen to know a bit about, having once been an employee of one of the companies he mentions. 

Master Tailor

A pure passion for tailoring led him to an apprenticeship under master tailor Joseph Centofanti in Pennslyvania.  His story is beautifully portrayed in the film, as the viewer witnesses how BOTH natural ability and painstakingly pursued skill are shaping this young master tailor in his craft.

As the evening wrapped up...

During the Q&A, one voice in the audience asked, "This profession seems to be exclusively portrayed as one for men and boys.  Aren't there tailoring schools for girls?"  There were several answers to this, but I feel I know the answer in my experience.

When fitting a man for a suit, you need to be comfortable doing so.  You need to understand whether a man "dresses" left or right,  what that means, and have a basic understanding of anatomy, and what a man needs to be comfortable, moving around in his suit.  These requirements are different for men than they are for women. I think a person who has worked primarily with one sex and not the other, is not likely to have a firm understanding of this distinction. To be fair, this was not the answer offered by the panel.  The overall answer seemed to be that the profession was more often pursued by boys at a young age, when women are generally not likely to undertake it.


Also addressed during the film, was the importance and guidance anatomy lessons can provide a tailor when trying to understand and become acquainted with the human form. I feel strongly that anatomy lessons should be REQUIRED learning for tailors and designers who seek to create fitted/sculpted garments.


My takeaway?  


My favorite coat (my personal Yoda/Issey Miyake inspired coat), before buttons.  The dress form is not the best way for my coat to show herself, but I am simply not willing to do a coat selfie. 
All of this brings me to my point/Yoda quote, when it comes to tailoring: "Do (learn) or do not (learn).  There is no try."

Note: There is now a tailoring supplies map as well...











5 comments:

  1. Ooh, I want to see it.

    I married the son of a European tailor and he has some interesting observations.

    When he started working in the US, there was a vibrant network of European tailors. As they retired, Asian tailors took their place. Latin-American tailors then joined the ranks.

    I wish I could visit NYC and we can talk in depth about this.

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    1. But you can, you CAN! Everyone comes to NYC eventually, right?

      Yes, it is a lovely documentary. It isn't really a learning documentary, though. It is more the tale of a few tailors' lives. Yeah, one of the comments in the film was that tailors don't "retire", they just work until they can't anymore. And, I'll add, if you can't make a living at it, why do it if you have ANY other stable choices?

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  2. What a great read! Thank you. Loved hearing about the film and your observations about it and the panel. Excellent!

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    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed the read! I was pretty jazzed by it, and happy to have been able to convey it!

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