Bijan – Cashmere Overcoat. Part 1 – Design and Cloth

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Months behind schedule to organise this coat for this winter, the plan is to commission an overcoat that will be warm enough to handle the cold of American and European winters’ for the years ahead. It would have been nice to have the coat ready for the start of winter in Australia (2 months ago), a coat like this will become a staple in my wardrobe for the rest of my life, assuming I stay in shape. So the fact that it took me longer to organise this than I had planned, doesn’t really matter, compared to the lifespan of the coat. As with everything I have made, I try to focus on commissions which will be timeless, making the initial pain of their cost much more manageable by the longevity of the product. This is an investment piece being worn for several months of the year, every year, for decades.

The Cloth:

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Cashmere was the obvious choice, due to its superior warmth (compared to wool) and softness. With the long term in mind, cloth selection is important. Cost doesn’t always equate to value, but in regards to Loro Piana’s cashmere, it often does. Loro Piana cashmere generally costs a lot more than most of their competitors, but the quality of the weave and finished product is noticeably superior to almost any other option, making them the preferred product in my eyes, at least for a coat like this. The extra cost of Loro Piana cashmere will add something in the vicinity of $750-$1,100USD to the price of the finished coat, compared to other cashmere. I can see the value in the decision, though, and coming back to the point of longevity, it’s a small price to pay for something which will see so much use over the years. I didn’t think to ask Bijan about the cost of this coat, so I’ll include that in the next article.

As far as colour is concerned, for a long time I’ve wanted a camel coloured overcoat, but for practical reasons we chose navy blue. It works with more colours than camel (see article on the benefits of navy and grey as the two main colours for men). Camel will be on the list for the next overcoat, but for now it was a case of making the practical decision to maximise use. Ideally, I would have liked a more rich and brighter French blue. But manufacturers tend to produce these types of cloth in conservative colours to maximise yield. With such a high production cost, few makers will choose bolder colours, due to the fact that if it doesn’t sell well it’s a significant sunken cost.

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We had three choices in weight 370grams (per metre), 480grams or 510grams. Given that the purpose for the coat is to keep out very cold weather, I chose the 510gram option (edit: I later went back and changed to the 480gram weight, in the hope the coat would be better able to be worn on the shoulder months of Winter, without being too hot). There’s always a trade off and in this instance it means the coat will be too warm to wear in spring or very mild winter days, but once the temperature drops or the wind picks up it will be the best possible choice.

Design:

Overcoats (and outerwear in general) allow much more choice when it comes to detail. There are options for belts, cuffs, epaulets, extra pockets, box pleats, unique collars and other features. It’s a highly creative process, which lends itself well to bespoke.

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Before choosing specific design details, fit needs to be the first priority. I’ve never liked the traditional overcoat which is worn, unsurprisingly, over a coat. It’s obviously practical but the added bulk created to allow it to sit comfortably on top of a jacket is too cumbersome for me. I prefer to wear an overcoat over a shirt and knitwear (see article on the versatility of a lightweight cardigan) allowing it to take the place of a jacket and fit close to the body. It’s more elegant and more comfortable. This was part of the reason for the heavier cashmere as the extra thickness, complemented by a knit, will partially compensate for the lack of a jacket underneath.

As always, the goal was to add subtle details to classic design. Broadly speaking, the coat will be double breasted with something of a hybrid lapel (somewhere between a notch and a peak lapel), so that when the collar is raised on the coldest days, it will wrap around my face to block out any cold. We’ll likely add a button closure to the collar too, but we’ll work that out as the fittings progress.

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The back will be cut with a large pleat to allow free movement, secured by a half belt (a belt which literally goes around only half of the body, anchored at each side of the back).

We’ll be avoiding extra details like epaulets (running across the tops of the shoulders) and cuffs. I like these as details, but this particular coat would be better suited to a more refined look, achieved by reducing the additional visual disturbance which these would create.

Buttons will be brown horn similar to those on my bespoke linen sport coat.

Bijan, Josh and I spent the next 10 minutes in a debate over the potentially dangerous and existential consequences which are raised when deciding on the position of pockets. Serious stuff. As mentioned earlier, outerwear has more options to consider and when options show up, debate does too.

Playing charades to establish the right pocket position and angle

Playing charades to establish the right pocket position and angle

There were several options for pockets. I like angled chest pockets on outerwear. Hands can rest comfortably on the chest and, keeping them warm (imagine resting your hands just below your chest – that position), but the concern raised was that the pockets may eventually sag from the pressure of hands on the edges (often a concern with cashmere as it doesn’t have the strength of wool) so we left that idea on the shelf for the time being. Then the option of similarly angled pockets in a more traditional position came up (where your pockets would usually sit on your suit), but none of us felt it would look right. Patch pockets with box pleats came up, but we felt that it would add to the coat looking slightly more bulky and it’s already going to be a clean look which we didn’t want to interrupt. We also thought of a box pleat with entrance from the side, but it seemed fiddly and pointless. In the end we decided to go with flapped pockets on either side and a flapped ticket pocket above the right pocket.

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With all the details finalised, Bijan just needed to measure me again for measurements specific for an overcoat (where the back pleat would need to start and finish etc). That’s when I got the bad news I already knew was coming. After measuring my waist Bijan paused, shook his head and told me I’d put on 5cm in my waist since the last jacket we made (about 15 months ago). I blame that on the first year of marriage to a great cook and several holidays overseas. If anything, I’m the victim.

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In the few weeks since that fitting, the weight has now gone, which should now frustrate Bijan at the first fitting, when he has to take things in at the waist more than he thought.

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More to come in the weeks ahead.

 

Andrew is an Australian born writer, covering the world's leading bespoke tailors and craftspeople in menswear, with a focus on authentic quality, over branding. He spends most of his days running his successful (god knows how) consulting company and travels frequently to Europe for work and writing. He's a passionate cyclist, former trainee professional golfer and lover of all things Cocker Spaniel. He's married to his best friend and significantly better half, Mehri.

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