Hey guys. Hopefully you learned a little bit about ISAIA yesterday and enjoyed hearing about one of the best tailored clothing companies in the world. Today we conclude our conversation with Agyesh on the extremely technical topics of fabric and construction. It's wordy, fascinating and, in a perfect world, you will learn a bunch of stuff you did not know when you woke up this morning.
L: In regards to S/S 2011, what is ISAIA most excited about offering their customer?
A: At the risk of sounding like a fan-boy, all I request everyone to do is just go and look at some the fabrics on offer. Run your hand through them, try the jacket or trouser on, walk around on the sales floor with it and just experience it. And then maybe take out your wallet, swipe the credit card, sign the bill, go home and welcome this new member of your family. Repeat.
L: It's clear, just based on your last answer alone that, ISAIA prides itself on giving its customers some of the most beautiful, natural fabrics in the world. Would you mind bragging about ISAIA's fabrics in detail?
I'll try. Well, there are three sets of fabrics that I am personally very excited about.
The Aquaspider Series: The most prevalent series in our collections and exclusive to us, this set of fabrics is something we at ISAIA are really proud of.
Woven from the finest 100 percent Australian merino wool, Aquaspider moves and stretches naturally with the wearer’s body for an ease of use and extreme comfort. The secret to Aquaspider’s natural stretch is in the very weave of the cloth. It is woven both longer and wider than usual; the cloth is then finished with a specially developed “shrinking” treatment. This allows the fabric the resiliency to maintain its “memory” and to bounce back to the wearer’s frame time after time. The entire process is carried out with 100 percent natural elements and without the addition of anything synthetic.
Aquaspider’s unique qualities spring from the fabric’s treatment with a natural water and stain-repellant coating. Unlike most water-repellant coatings, we add this treatment to the yarn before it is woven, thus adding longer lasting wrinkle, stain and water resistant qualities without the bright sheen and rough hand of similar fabrics.
This unique weaving process allows ISAIA to create the most premium of fabrics in its AQUA range and in the finest of weights: Super 110s, 130s, 160s, 180s and luxurious cashmere. It also enables a 14 to 20 percent natural stretch in both the warp and weft, providing unparalleled comfort in all-natural fabrics.
The Natural Blacksheep Series: Most fabric today is woven from dyed yarn that is spun from the fibers obtained from the natural white strands of sheep hair. Now, for this range of fabrics we used yarn that is spun from fibers obtained not only from the white strands, but also the shades of cream and brown sheep hair. This has allowed us to create a set of natural, completely un-dyed fabric in beautiful natural shades of cream, beige and browns in houndstooth, solids, nailhead, stripes, windowpanes and many more patterns. Clothing the way nature intended it to be.
The Natural Blueberry Series: Using the concept of Vegetable Dyeing, ISAIA has created a completely natural extra-fine merino wool fabric. Titled the "The Natural Blueberry", this set of fabric is dyed using extracts from blueberries and an evergreen plant called "Logwood" found only in Guatemala, Mexico and Belis. The product of a completely natural dyeing process, each batch of these fabrics has its own unique nuances and shades making for a remarkable garment.
L: Okay, let's get insanely technical for a second. Would you mind breaking down "Neapolitan tailoring"? I feel like people are throwing that term around, myself included, without properly understanding what it entails. Let's educate the people on ISAIA's best in class construction.
A: I am a geek when it comes the history of clothing, so I am going to start with sharing some interesting findings.
During the first half of the 14th century, Italy's oldest existing tailoring association, Confraternita dell’arte dei Giubbonai e Cositori, or the Brotherhood of the Jacket Makers and of the Tailors, was born in Naples. This institution gave way to the establishment of the region's wool and silk weaving trades. During the renaissance, the brotherhood's innovations sparked the inception of the great Neapolitan artisan tradition of tailoring. Neapolitan tailors were the first to commercially produce luxury garments fulfilling the requests of European royalty and aristocracy alike.
Building on that tradition, Enrico ISAIA opened small draper's shop in Naples in 1920, where he sold fabric for the production of men's garments. Each fabric was carefully selected from the best Italian and English mills for the Neapolitan tailors to use in their clothing production.
In the 1957, in an effort to fully immerse himself in the Neapolitan tailoring tradition, ISAIA relocated his business to the storied tailoring town of Casalnuovo, just outside of Naples. There was no other town like it in Italy, where more than half of its 15,000 inhabitants listed their profession as tailors. Along with sons Enrico, Corrado and Rosario, ISAIA started a small workshop next to his draper's store, employing a few of the town's very skilled, hand-selected artisans. And thus, a tailoring company was born, ISAIA, one that would bring the craft of Neapolitan sartorial across all seas.
Combining old world artisan care in tailoring with simple yet groundbreaking technologies, ISAIA began to manufacture beautiful made-to-measure suits. During the 1950s and 1960s, ISAIA grew to become one of the most respected tailoring companies in Naples and the rest as they don’t say is what you see right now.
Staying true to this Neapolitan craft, over the years ISAIA has developed a very thorough process of constructing its garments focusing on the following key elements.
CAD (Computer Aided Design)- Every ISAIA suit or sport coat model production starts in the design office. For all garments, whether a suit, sport coat or trouser, prototypes are created to guide production, and alterations through to the final design. The approved schematics are entered into the computer to calculate the most efficient use of fabric, thereby minimizing waste. The CAD office stores each of ISAIA’s suit models and clothes by name, size, and code in a database. This systematic start helps the craftsmen visualize the garment and provides a set course of action to follow.
Cutting of the fabric- Every patterned cloth (stripes, checks, Prince of Whales, etc) is cut by hand to ensure that all elements line up perfectly in the final product. The continuity of the stripes and patterns give the garment a more refined and luxurious look. This balancing of patterns is one attribute of a hand tailored garment. Linings and all solid fabrics are cut by machine.
Jacket construction - All parts of the jacket are produced separately: collar, inner and outer pockets, canvas, buttons, sleeves, and linings.
Front of jacket – All ISAIA suit jackets and sport coats have a full canvas construction, unless otherwise specified. The canvas, which starts at the top of the jacket and extends the full length of the garment, sits between the fabric and the lining, giving the jacket substance. The canvas is hand stitched to the fabric with a loose blind stitch, allowing the canvas to float freely with the body. The canvas is trimmed by hand to match the pattern of the cloth providing smoother, more custom fit. The fabric tape that runs along the edge of the lapel is stitched by hand, offering a clean, crisp lay of the garment against the body. If this were done by machine, the jacket would kick open and not lay straight in front when the jacket is unbuttoned. The chest and shoulders if padded are in Sea Island cotton (the finest and lightest cotton available.) Using these almost weightless natural materials ensures that the jacket remains as lightweight as possible allowing the garment to mold to the body creating a second skin for the wearer.
Breast Pocket – All ISAIA jackets have a welted outer breast pocket. This welt or slight curve is an attribute that can only be achieved through hand tailoring and is therefore a sign of great craftsmanship. This also allows for a perfect alignment of the pattern when the jacket is worn.
Back - The center seam of the jacket is created using of a sewing machine called a “Puller,” which adds strength to seams and stitches. This pulls the fabric taught while it sews, to prevent any wrinkling or puckering. The half back of the jacket is cut wider than the waist to provide maximum movement and comfort across the blades and shoulders. For all loosely woven fabrics (cashmere, wool, silk, etc.) a cotton lining (Silesia) is applied to the backside of the fabric seam to strengthen the stitching. This process is called “Ancoraggio,’ meaning encouragement or strengthening of the fabric. Additionally, this helps to reduce stretching of the fabric.
Silhouette and Shape - The upper chest portion of the jacket has a somewhat rounded expression, accentuated by the seam of the shoulder being slightly further back on the garment. This gives the appearance of a fuller chest, which in turn creates the illusion of a slimmer waist. The rounded chest is achieved by hundreds of stitches applied to the floating chest piece attaching it to the garment. This process gives a better contour to the jacket, enhancing the natural shape of the body’s curve. All ISAIA jackets have a very high armhole, a classic Neapolitan tailoring trait. This raised armhole allows for greater range of motion and a more natural fit, while elongating the appearance of the torso.
Sleeves – The traditional Neapolitan technique of “Grinze,” (small creases or small pleats) is incorporated to the sleeve-head of all ISAIA garments, creating an easier and more comfortable fit. Since the diameter of the armhole is smaller than the diameter of the sleeve-head, it is up to the skill of the tailor to handset the sleeve-head’s extra fabric into the armhole. This extra fabric allows for greater range of movement and comfort. Traditionally these pleats appear at the sleeve-head, but as Americans often misinterpret this handwork for a tailoring error; ISAIA produces its garments with the grinze on the inside of the garment. The grinze is a sign that the garment has been constructed by hand.
Internal Details - Each jacket is made with a blackberry or phone pocket, a pen pocket, and two breast pockets. They are hand sewn and anchored to the canvas of the garment.
Linings – ISAIA employs the use of beautiful yarn-dyed silk for lining. Yarn-dyed linings not only provide a richer hue, but they do not bleed when in contact with perspiration, which can occur with piece-dyed linings. The cutting and sewing of the lining is a crucial step in the construction process. Each lining is cut and sewn separately and has to fit perfectly to the inside of the jacket. If the lining is cut too generously, it will alter the shape of the silhouette, if too tight, the jacket will not have the flexibility or natural movement it requires.
Canvas - Canvassing is what differentiates an extraordinary suit from a mediocre one. Because the canvas is made from natural horsehair or boar hair, it forms to the body of wearer over time resulting in a more personal suit, fitting better with each wear. And because the canvas and the outer material of the jacket are not glued together, they move independently and hence more naturally. Each canvas is soaked and dried for a full day. This process is a traditional sartorial step before the canvas is cut and applied to the garment. The purpose of this step is to simultaneously soften and strengthen the canvas. The employment of 100% natural materials not only allows the garment to breath, but also it allows the canvas to mold to the body giving a more custom fit.
Collar - The collar is one of the most complicated and important pieces of the jacket. It is the “hinge” of the jacket that supports weight and balance of the coat. The collar is cut at a 60° angle, which allows the jacket to caress the neck reducing any gaps that can appear along the collar line.
Ironing and Pressing - All ISAIA garments endure a one and a half hour ironing and pressing regiment. After any handwork is finished, the garment is pressed manually, and then reinforced hand ironing takes places after total construction is completed. These two processes (mechanical and hand pressing) utilize a total of 18 different separate operations to ensure that every fraction of the jacket is pressed. This specified ironing is crucial in achieving the unique ISAIA body.
Mechanical Ironing – All machine ironing is completed by vintage Neapolitan presses, each in the shape of human body parts. Temperatures up to 248ºF (120ºC) and pressure up to 3.5 or 4 mmHg soften and shape the garments to achieve optimal fit.
Hand Pressing – For over 50 years, ISAIA has been hand pressing its garments as a method of reinforcing the mechanical pressing process. With handheld irons weighing roughly 10 lbs. (5 kilos) and distilled water, master pressers spend upwards of one hour perfecting the curves of every garment through this ironing process. As this requires tremendous human power and energy, one person can only iron a maximum of 8 jackets in a single day.
Quality Control – There are 5 separate points at which a garment is checked for quality. Prior to any production, ISAIA has all fabrics inspected by an independent, third party organization to ensure that they are off the utmost quality. The first point is called intermediate – this is where each of the separate parts of the garment is ready to be attached to form the final product. The second section of control is before the garment is sent to be hand stitched. The third and final control point is before the garment is sent for ironing and pressing. The controller decides which garments can move forward to be pressed and which need to be altered. This enables to keep the quality of each garment always at its highest level.
The final quality control – There are several criteria that a garment must pass before being sent to the end-user. These are: proportional measurements, characteristic of the original model and the quality points* of a finished garment. All of these criteria may vary according to the demands of clients. If a garment matches all quality references, it is packed in a waterproof bag with rounded shoulder shaped hangers, put in special boxes and shipped out.
That's all for now. We shall talk about trouser construction another day!
L: And, finally, when the NYC ISAIA showroom gets robbed do me a favor and don't alert the proper authorities. I'm too young to go to jail. Thanks so much, bud.
A: Now, for you it would go, try the jacket on, act like you own it, and sneak out of the front door. You are always welcome, my man!
Thanks again to Agyesh, for taking the time to answer these questions and share some of his unrivaled knowledge of both Neapolitan tailoring and, arguably, the finest Neapolitan brand in the world, ISAIA.