Style / March 2018

The Eternal Appeal of Check Fabric

Subdued and sober suiting, as dependable a spouse as you are, please look away now: check fabric — as bold as one wishes but tastefully appointed — is the ultimate sartorial bit on the side…

Brown cashmere checked jacket, Rubinacci at The Rake; white cotton shirt, Budd Shirtmakers; navy square stitch wool tie, Orazio Luciano; navy La Madraza leather attaché case, Mark Giusti.

Among the many unsung heroes of menswear — and their number includes a range of figures, from needle-wielding artisans on Savile Row to the technical wizards who maintain giant decatising machines — are pattern designers who cast their esoteric spells in the corner offices of the world’s wool mills.

Dreaming up patterns is just the start of their remit: from here, they are responsible for coming up with dizzying mathematical formulas that direct the precise order in which weft and warp ends will interlace, then writing those formulas out by hand for machine operators to programme, then creating a peg plan (the principle of which calls to mind a self-playing fairground organ’s pinned barrel) that dictates the order in which each shaft on a loom should lift, and to what height, in order to make the pattern unfurl, in all its magical intricacy, from the loom.

It’s a sophisticated process that, once witnessed, will make the stoniest of atelier patrons flick through the swatch books with something approaching awe. The pattern designer’s task is a particularly baroque one when it comes to complex check fabric, but their sterling efforts have paid dividends over the years. In fact, it’s easy to forget how much the many genres and sub-genres of check — a word, incidentally, derived from the ancient Persian word ‘shah’, meaning king, which entered English via the French ‘échec’ in the 11th century — have contributed to the menswear canon.

Tartan passed into the cooler realms of menswear (having been a staple for dog baskets and lumberjacks for so long) when punks adopted it as an ironic counter-play to its aristocratic and military connotations in the Victorian era. Modern adopters include Rubinacci (whose tartan Belgian loafers make for true boldness from the ground up) and Chester Barrie, whose tartan dinner jacket is another head-turning Rake collaboration.

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