The Rake's Editor-in-Chief learns to live a little in Loro Piana’s genius Sunset fabric, which exhibits strength, comfort, structure and grace all at once. Can he finally pass muster?
Jersey is a misjudged fabric. It is a cultural misunderstanding: we have designated its name to a sweatshirt and have almost forgotten its medieval origins from the eponymous island. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a garment without sartorial merit — as Gene Kelly showed when he wore one in those wonderful pictures in Life magazine — but the jersey has never broken free of the shackles of leisurewear, and the fabric has been under similar scrutiny. Coco Chanel, in her trailblazing way, upset everyone by wearing jersey, as it had hitherto been considered only appropriate for undergarments. Comfort in tailoring is not essential. Any kind of couture is looking to produce something sculptured and fantastical, the angles taking conventional tailoring tropes (shoulders, lapels) and creating a form that is extraordinary to behold. Yet the wearer also has to take on the responsibility of wearing it for show rather than relaxation. This is not to say one is better or purer than the other. The point is that it is about choice, and when you choose comfort, there is a well-trodden path worth exploring.
I am not someone who oscillates between styles of tailoring — I stick to a traditional British military cut that suits my frame and, frankly, remains my preferred way of presenting myself to the world. Jersey, therefore, has never been a go-to fabric for me. I am shallow enough to equate sharpness with how people judge my level of style, and I am fearful of anything that tampers with this. I cannot be criticised, however, for being coaxed out of my heavy-tweed shell by the geniuses at Loro Piana. To my house, and to much excitement, arrived a branded box containing a bolt of their Sunset jersey, which is a Jacquard brown-and-grey houndstooth in 92 per cent cashmere. The handle is loyal to Loro Piana’s delicate strength — the stretch has to be there to be classified as jersey, but it’s not elastic, and it feels structured despite the supple deliciousness of the cashmere. Despite its irresistible comfort, there remained the challenge of making it into a jacket that matched my personal style and aesthetic. So I took the bolt to Terry Haste on Sackville Street and sketched out the design that would best straddle all criteria. “I have always liked working with Loro Piana fabrics, as they inevitably produce such striking results,” Terry says. “I have a client whose first order was a wildly checked cashmere, and he’s ordered a suit per month ever since, so I think he liked how it turned out. The fabric was crucial in how he felt when walking out of here.” He added that it was fortunate the client didn’t notice the missing lapels, but that was merely the sort of self-deprecation you expect at Kent, Haste & Lachter.
The first design quirk I want to highlight is that the jacket has no vents. We took this decision so as to create more structure at the back, where my broad shoulders and droopy nape will always be a danger zone for stretching. This keeps things nice and tight, almost like a military tunic, though I am not sure it would pass muster on the Wellington Barracks parade square. One thing I did not expect to feel from the first fitting was quite how comfortable it was. I knew it felt nice when I pinched at it, but fiercely underestimated the effect one enjoys when draped in it. The cut was superb, with perhaps a small amount of room to be added on the front quarters, for my shoulders, but it was a testament to the benefits of having worked with the same tailor for many years; Terry knows my physical peccadilloes and how to obscure them. The back was clean and sweeping, with a half-belt to be added later and an extra half an inch to be added to the lapels. One addition to the back was a yolk that travels across the top, bridging my shoulder blades, which gives more structure and helps avoid overstretching. Fit and design are certainly great USPs of bespoke, but over the years I have discovered that the real stomping ground for sartorial derring-do is fabrics, and the throng from which you can choose. This felt unusual to slip on, as the softness suggested it might be a cardigan, but the juxtaposition between comfort and sharp tailoring was distinct and very exciting.
When the final fitting came, the small adjustment to the shoulder had made all the difference. The one thing I have learned about these kinds of fabrics is that they are unforgiving, though that is a challenge for the tailor to take on. And, boy, did it come out beautifully. The brown and charcoal houndstooth are muted colours and very traditional, but the whole thing feels striking and modern. The mitred pocket flaps on the patch pockets nod to the popular revival of the safari jacket but ensures it doesn’t look like a double-breasted iteration. The handle is luxurious but also precious, and I have always been of the opinion that anything precious can be formal and can’t be rolled up with my sweaters like my cardigans. There are many great privileges conferred by working for The Rake; if I listed them I would overstep my self-assigned word count. One that stands out is being able to witness the journey fabric makes to fully fledged garment. Given that the Loro Piana package was sent to my house (with the luscious bolt rolled around a board), I got to know the fabric before first fitting, which is an experience usually limited to a rectangular sample in a swatch book. Now that life has been injected into it, where to wear it? Cashmere’s insulating properties must always be respected, and so picking this up in November means that I have plenty of time to wear it before spring comes around. Which means Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas lunches, carols, and office parties (hurrah, they are back). Frankly, any excuse to show off this jacket to my friends, I shall take. You can also view this feature in Issue 79 of The Rake - on newsstands now. Available to buy immediately now on TheRake.com as single issue, 12 month subscription or 24 month subscription. Subscribers, please allow up to 3 weeks to receive your magazine.