Naturlaut: Thank you for a simple, straightforward list of questions. It will be my pleasure to answer.
Actually, as far as I know, Mr. Bernstein had his formal shirts made by someone else.
The only shirts I made for Leonard Bernstein were what you are referring to as 'formal' shirts. In the vernacular, they would be termed 'tuxedo' shirts, although a few 'full dress' shirts were amongst the group I made. Let me be quite explicit here: From the day I made the first formal shirt for him, until the day he died, I and nobody else provided his formal shirts. He didn't call them formal shirts; they were known as 'conducting' shirts. The routine was quite regular: Each shirt was quadruplicated. His normal conducting routine was a four song performance. Leonard perspired quite profusely. In-between each musical piece, he would briefly leave the podium and head backstage. There, a valet would walk behind him undoing the buttons of his rear-opening shirts. He would drop the shirt to the floor. A second person would be holding the successive shirt aloft. Bernstein would hold his arms forward and sort of 'walk into' the dry shirt, do an about-face, and head back towards the stage while his "valet", Charlie, did up the buttons and lowered the tie down over the new wing collar. Leonard wore two kinds of shirts: my 'conducting' shirts and T-shirts. I had the privilege of watching him practice that changing routine many times in his ecclectic, eastward-facing apartment in the Dakota. He was quite good at it and the usual 'pit-stop' was accomplished in under 30 seconds. Most unique about the shirt was that I built 'pockets' into the entire upright portions of the wing collar into which we inserted strips of styrene plastic, about three times the thickness of an average collar stay, to provide stiffness while wet even under the extreme motion of conducting. He had to leave early once for a German tour and needed me to supply a quad-set for that which I had to ship to Germany. In the early '80's pre-AlGoreNet, that was a difficult, fearful task for a small, struggling shirtmaker. All of the shirts were made with single link rather than folding French cuffs, the most proper formal cuff. I do have pictures somewhere of some of the 200 or so shirts I made for him and shall post those at a later date.
I would love to look at a bigger picture of the fusing machine, and maybe a short paragraph of how it works. I take it that your collars are fused on one side only. What exactly is the fabric fused with --- any differences between yours and, say, Charvet's (and Turnbull's and Kiton's)? Are the collars fused the same way as the cuffs (unlike, say, Hilditch)? Do you offer a completely non-fused collar/cuffs for your clients? As far as I know, collars used to be non-fused in the past, since when do we started fusing and why?
There is a larger picture at Fusing Press - Larger Picture
I'll explain how and why it works in my upcoming post on the shirtmaking process. The collar is fused - yes, on one side only - with a cotton interlining using a polyamide adhesive bond. I do not fuse cuffs unless a client stomps up and down and insists. The part of the collar which is fused (the leaf) does not touch the skin. Only the unfused collar band does. Folding French cuffs do touch the skin. Aside from the uncomfortable stiffness, fusing makes it quite difficult to remove soil. Therefore, one would not want to get a collar or cuff dirt ring on a fused fabric as cleaning would be impossible after a while. Why are collars fused? A unique, always flat and wrinkle-free appearance. Additionaly, I have engineered a number of design techniques which can only be accomplished with the polyamide bond. The majority of the collars I make are Not fused, to answer your final point. Regarding differences with other makers. Yes there are differences, some extreme. I do not comment specifically on the work of other makers.
A fabric question: I noticed you use plenty of Swiss and Italian, how about the English? Aside from the bigger mills of today (DJA, etc.) there used to be some excellent shirting fabrics from English mills that had since closed down. How are these English fabrics compared to the Swiss and Italian?
I have hundreds of pre-1988 English fabrics. About that time, English law was altered as follows: Any fabric, wheresoever made, which passed through England for any purpose, could thereafter be stamped Made In England. Soon, 45" wide fabrics were emanating from the UK, long famous for its 36" looms, which had many characteristics of the Japanese (long famous for their 45" looms) fabrics. A general comparison such as you request cannot be made. Firstly, DJA is made in Italy. Additionally, you have makers such as Acorn who are famous for using all of the larger mills 'downtime' to have their cloths produced. Some of Acorn's 160's broadcloths have been stunning. Others have been and continue to be good for fish-wrapping. Many original Horrockses and David & John Andersen cloths, of which I have a few pieces, are simply marvelous.
An extended fabric question: From my meager knowledge and experience, English fabrics shrink more than Italian and Swiss within the first 3 washes or so. I was under the assumption that some of the cotton is pre-washed. If so (or not), how do you adjust to the shrinkage --- I ask because since the collar and cuffs are fused, the fabric has to shrink together with the fusing, and whose cotton shrinks the most?
It is not the nationality of the maker which determines shrinkage. It is determined by the yarn used, the type of weave being done, and the degree of Sanforization or similar process during the finishing stages. Here, we have a simple method. Every, and I do mean every, time we begin to use a new fabric (no, not a different color of a previously used fabric), we cut a 36" x 36" piece and put it through a rigorous shrinkage process. The result is then obtained. If it varies from our standard (1% shrinkage allowed for in the clients' patterns), we shall then pre-shrink every remaining piece of that fabric using a variety of techniques until the requisite 1% shrinkage remains before cutting the shirt. Subsequent to the making, NO shirt ever leaves our premises without a full, complete, and somewhat tortuous laundering.
I have noticed this for a while, as stripe shirt fabrics are always 'coarser' than solid-coloured shirts. Why can't 200s be woven into stripes?
The 200's could be woven into stripes. Perhaps some are. Many 170's are. However, weavers don't like getting stuck with 'novelty' fabrics which is the category into which a 200's stripe would fall. Weavers really
don't like getting stuck with expensive novelty fabrics, which is what a 200's stripe would be. A mill is much more likely to have difficulty selling a stripe that an ageless solid color.
Refurbishing: As stated in your website, you have remnants of past patterns for refurbishing an old shirt. However, we cannot avoid washing the colours out a bit through the years, and if I were to bring a stripe shirt to you to put a new collar and cuffs, they are bound to look newer than the rest of the shirt. I'd usually order an extra set of collar and cuffs, and as advised by a Turnbull tailor, wash the extras together with the finished shirt every time, so the colour fading (however minute) would be consistent. Don't you have this problem?
Color fading can be prevented if proper laundering is done. Certain English makers are well-known for getting that extra few bucks out of a client by pre-selling the refurbishing parts. I don't believe in it. Why? 1]What do you do with those extra parts if the shirt gets a tear? 2]Those little water drain holes in your washer are part of the cause of the fraying of points. If you are laundering your replacement parts in with the shirts, they are wearing out with the shirts. 3] I have developed certain chemical techniques to accellerate fading when necessary to match a poorly laundered shirt.
An aesthetic question: how much customization would you do for a client? I ask this because we (among forum members) had a discussion earlier regarding house style. I personally prefer if a tailoring house has its own style that it insists, rather than obeying everything that the client asks; that way one house is distinguished from the other, and having suits/shirts/shoes made in different houses would invariably provide my wardrobe with varieties, not to mention coherent matching (an English shirt/suit/shoe ensemble, for example). You could pretty much spot a Neapolitan shirt or English shirt easily due to their stubborn-ness to their own style. Are there any stylistic details that you insist or that is noticeably different from other local shirtmakers?
I made earlier reference to that disingenuous coverup for lack of inventive or design ability widely referred to as 'the house style'. I start with a discussion and measurements, not a model. I begin the pattern-making process with a roll of 36" 60# manilla paper, a square, a pencil, and a hand-knife. My only axiom is, Custom Is What The Client Wants It To Be.
Will I suggest? Does a bear s--- in the woods? Will I tell a client that I don't think an Ultra-Wide Spread Collar looks good on a triple-chinned 5'6" 280 pound model for the meaning of corpulence? Absolutely, albeit gently. Do I have styles I personally prefer? Yes. Do I have styles that I hate? Yes. Button-down collars for non-acedemicians tops the list. Would I make a button-down collar for a client to wear with a Fioravanti A-list client's power-suit? Let me see. Does Lamborghini tell you not to drive their cars in Manhattan, or do they merely advise you that doing so would define stupidity? Would I tell a new client that he can call my personal shirt the "house style" if that makes him feel more comfortable? Does a bear ...? I don't make any custom shirt of which I am not proud of the quality and confident that it is the best I can make. That certainly does not
mean I would wear everything I have ever made. Wait until you see, in my upgraded website next Spring, photos of the last shirts I made for Angel Cordero. They are simply spectacular. The make Liberace look boring. I wouldn't be caught dead in them. I won't be going to H.K. any time in the foreseeable future but who knows ... in Hong Kong, the land of shirtmakers, you just may discover one who cares. It has been, as I said at the outset, a joy to answer such straightforward questions. Thank you for asking.