I met with Bijan Sheikhlary for the first time a couple of weeks ago. At that meeting we spoke briefly about a lightweight sport-coat I had wanted to commission. I gave him the broad context of what I had in mind and he seemed pleased at the thought of it. So we arranged to get back together in a couple of weeks to put a plan in place for what we were going to make.
It could seem an odd time of year to have a coat like this made, taking into account the lead time for bespoke (often a couple of months) would leave me with a light-weight, warm weather coat on the run in to winter, but two things made this a non-issue for me. Firstly, my honey-moon is coming up in August. We’ll be in Italy, Dubai and Greece for a month, in the middle of the European summer. Secondly, I hope to have the coat hanging in my wardrobe for the better part of a lifetime, so if it doesn’t see much day-light until August, it’s not too much of a concern.
The concept was simple – A navy or mid blue, lightweight linen summer coat. But like anything to do with bespoke (and style more broadly) getting details right is what makes something come together seamlessly. A good tailor will work with a customer in a way that suits that individual; some prefer to leave it all to the tailor and only want an end product which fits and is acceptable for purpose. Others are detail obsessed and want to talk through how many stitches will be in the collar (if this is you, calm down, life’s short, it doesn’t matter). I think that most of us who are interested enough in our clothes to consider having them made, fall somewhere between the two; caring about the details, happy to defer to the tailors’ expertise on several points and not worry over every stitch. I fall into the latter category.
Two points which I saw as benchmarks for the coat to work well were the shoulders and lining. Given the informal nature of this jacket, I wanted a soft shoulder, preferably without padding. Padded shoulders give a more formal feel and, to me, are more appropriate in a business suit (although a good tailor should be able to give the shoulders structure and shape without the need to resort to padding but there are few tailors skilled enough to make this work consistently without the need to fall back on padding). In this coat, a relaxed, summery feel was the priority, so Bijan will make the make the jacket with “soft shoulders” made famous by, but not exclusive to, Neapolitan tailors. The soft shoulder uses no padding and simply the cloth, or cloth and canvas, to create the shoulder. It’s lighter, softer and less structured than a padded shoulder.
The second point was the lining. I was hoping to defer to Bijan on this and take his guidance as to what he felt would look best. Unlined jackets are incredibly light and airy – ideal for hot days, but Bijan felt that the jacket would hang more cleanly if we used lining and a light canvas through the chest, but still stay true to the main goal of being cool and light. As a result, we’ll be using a thin canvas, made with a mixture of camel and horsehair, backed by a lining of 100% Bemberg (highly breathable and moisture-wicking processed cotton, making it preferable over silk).
The overall cut would be slim and close to the body, with notch lapels, patch pockets and working button holes, also known as surgeon’s cuffs. Surgeons cuffs came in to being when doctors, who often had premises on Savile Row in its earlier days, would request that their tailors (also on the Row) make the sleeves with working buttons, to allow them to roll their sleeves up when attending to patients. To this day it remains one way to easily identify a bespoke suit. Although some ready-to-wear and made-to-measure manufacturers have picked up on this, and have started making working buttons on their suits as well.
On the topic of cuffs, I made one virtually invisible but important request. My father died a few years ago and for almost every day of his adult life he wore a small fish symbol, pinned to his shirt collar. To Christians, the symbol holds a great deal of meaning and whilst I’m thoroughly agnostic, I asked Bijan that if, instead of making a standard button hole for the first button of each sleeve, could he sew in the symbol of the fish. He was more than happy to do this. It will remain almost completely unseen to anyone else, but I’ll know it’s there and that’s all that matters. I plan to have this done on all commissions in the future.
Once the details had been agreed upon, we needed to decide on the cloth. Bijan was kind enough to have prepared some fabric swatches before I arrived and he had laid out several options which were all along the lines of what I had in mind. There was a nice light hopsack swatch (a wool with a more coarse, less formal weave) but in the end we decided on a light-weight Italian linen. Linen often gets overlooked, due to its proclivity for creasing and fading, but this is part of its beauty. If I wanted perfectly crease free clothes, I’d mount them on a mannequin and stare at them all day. Clothes should be worn, enjoyed and, when the occasion calls for it – beaten up a bit. Few things are less appealing than someone who’s too stuffy and obsessed with appearing perfect at all times. So, if the jacket gets creased and occasionally spends the night tossed over the arm of a couch, then that’s fine with me.
Finally, my measurements were taken and to help give Bijan a better idea of my proportions, I tried on his jacket. Our torso’s are differently shaped, but we fit similarly through the shoulders, which helped.
With the details sorted out and my measurements taken, that was all that was needed. The first (or basted) fitting will be in around 6 weeks, at which point I’ll be able to try on what is effectively the first draft of the coat.
The price for the coat will be $4,000AUD.