Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Postscript to Knize

A week after I had posted my "definitive" (ahem) introduction to Knize below, I came across this excellent Welt am Sonntag article on former imperial luxury goods purveyors including Knize. Some fascinating tidbits from the article and elsewhere:

Knize trivia
  • Knize is pronounced "Knische" (apparently arising from the pronunciation of the family name Kníže in Czech).
  • Thomas Bernhard, the controversial Austrian novelist, apparently made the house of Knize a recurring mise en scène in his books.
  • Billy Wilder, the Hollywood emigre director, was a devoted, lifelong customer of Knize. On his last visit to the store before his death he didn't want to leave, trying on this and that, all to get a final whiff of the place.
    Billy Wilder & Jack Lemmon, 1959

    Billy Wilder
    I found two photos of Wilder wearing what appears to be the same houndstooth wool sportcoat circa the late 1950s - the soft loose fit and the slight hint of front drape seem to point to Knize.
  • Knize tailored some of the costumes in the 1960 film A Breath of Scandal starring Sophia Loren and Maurice Chevalier.
The aesthetics of Knize
Unlike perhaps any other tailoring house in the other world, Knize brings together a striking architectural design, a renowned bespoke tailoring tradition and a long history of couture accomplishments (e.g. Knize fragrances). Any visitor will sense this immediately upon the entering the store. "The entryway is a bit of a narrow squeeze for walk-in customers but nobly furnished with cherry wood and polished mirrored glass.
Knize entryway Knize entryway
The showroom is on the first floor and is an "atmospheric alpine trek between representative openness and elegant privacy" as described by the architectural critic Friedrich Achleitner. [Das Entree für die Laufkundschaft ist ein schmaler Schlurf, wie die Wiener sagen, wenngleich edel ausgestattet mit Kirschholz und geschliffenem Spiegelglas. Der Schauraum liegt im ersten Stock und ist eine "atmosphärische Gratwanderung zwischen repräsentativer Öffentlichkeit und nobler Privatheit", wie Architekturkritiker Friedrich Achleitner schrieb.]

A customer's testimonial
"When I put on a Knize suit, I grow a second skin," says Georg Waldstein, the 60-year old publisher of the Austrian business magazine Profit. "That goes so far as forgetting what I'm wearing during the day. The trousers sit just so, the jacket doesn't make any unsightly creases. I've been a bespoke customer of Knize for 20 years. Before I wore ready-to-wear but now I simply can't imagine doing that." ["Wenn mich Knize einkleidet, bekomme ich eine zweite Haut", sagt Georg Waldstein, 60, Herausgeber des österreichischen Wirtschaftsmagazins "Gewinn". "Das geht so weit, dass ich tagsüber vergesse, was ich anhabe. Die Hose sitzt, das Jackett schlägt keine hässlichen Falten. Seit 20 Jahren bin ich Maßkunde beim Knize, vorher trug ich Konfektionsware. Das kann ich mir heute nicht mehr vorstellen."]

The "return" of Knize to Prague
I also came across the website of Adam Steiner, a men's haberdashery in Prague. The founders or backers of this store appear to have some connection with the founding of the Prague branch of Knize back in 1935. This is outlined with some nice historical pictures on his website. Unfortunately, that is all I'm able to decipher since my knowledge of Czech is somewhat limited (apart from bits of survival Czech I picked up such as "pivo", "ne vim", "rozumim").

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Viennese tailors: A definitive web introduction to Knize

Despite living in the age of Google with ostensibly ubiquitous access to information, I have been often surprised by the lack of information regarding bespoke tailors - specifically, by the lack of a visual record on the cut and silhouette of the major tailoring houses that survive today in England, Italy, Austria and elsewhere. When searching for a particular tailor on MSN, Yahoo and Google, one will often find a surprising lack of both text and visual information on the look and shape of a tailor's house style.
Knize storefront
This is especially true of the venerable atelier of Knize & Comp in Vienna. Established in 1858 by a Czech family, Knize currently is situated at Graben 13 in the original premises designed by the influential Viennese architect Adolf Loos. As a modern architect and designer, Loos famously equated architectural ornament with crime (not surprisingly he was philosophically opposed to Art Nouveau or Jugendstil). The store design is notable for its black Swedish granite edifice and the use of soft cherry and oak woods in the interior (link to interior and exterior pictures). Loos also designed the Knize stores in Berlin (1924) and Paris (1927).

Knize today carries high quality men and women's ready-to-wear (Konfektionsware) but it is most well-known for its bespoke suits (Maßanzüge). In Style and the Man, Alan Flusser praises the "three-button, side-vented, soft-shouldered house style" of the Knize suit jacket (or Anzug) with its "rounded-off shape".
Knize gray pinstripe 3 button
Flusser notes that Knize is similar to Anderson & Sheppard and Caraceni in its emphasis on a soft shoulder. Notice the very slight waist suppression in the photo of the gray pinstripe three-piece, three-button suit.

As Rudolf Niedersüß, Knize's owner, elaborated in a recent interview in Bank Privat Magazin, the Knize cut (Schnitt) is more comfortable and doesn't conform as closely to the body as perhaps some of the Savile Row silhouettes do ("nicht so knapp sitzen wie bei den Briten" und "vielmehr bequemer"). As a practical matter, this enables the Viennese gentleman to store more things in his jacket pockets.
Knize tan 3 button jacket Knize shop display
Another observer remarks that the Knize shoulder falls more naturally with the top part flaring down a bit (referring to the concavity of the shoulder and sleevehead I believe), the waist sits a little higher and the trouser legs are longer ("Die Schultern fallen natürlicher, das Oberteil ist nach unten hin ein wenig ausgestellt. Beim Maßfrack sitzt die Taille etwas höher, und die Hosenbeine sind extra lang."). Another unusual feature is a double-row waistcoat or vest as opposed to the more conventional single row.

Knize is also known for its men's and women's toiletries, specifically the Knize Ten fragrance released in 1924. If you're planning to visit Vienna or Central Europe, there is a very informative AskAndy post on recommended restaurants and shops (including a Viennese glovemaker and a former Imperial court jeweller). You might also find that this NY Times Style Magazine interactive map of Vienna may whet your appetite to plan a trip to Mitteleuropa. Lastly, Fodor's has a nice destination guide listing fine shops, restaurants and sights.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Practical tip: fixing a loose or pulled thread

Like death and taxes, pulled threads are inevitable and should be dealt with quickly and proficiently. This is especially important on woolens such as flannel. I had a pulled thread on a Brioni suit and was rather ignorant of the best way to proceed. Whatever you do, DO NOT cut the pulled thread loop. That could be the beginning of the end of the suit or garment in question.

Here's the link to the StyleForum thread I created on this issue. There are a few ways to deal with this. Basically, you'll need to thread another needle through the offending loop and "pull" it through to the underside of the fabric. Good luck!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Two sides of a coin: being and choosing a tailor

A rather heated topic on AskAndy and StyleForum has led me to post this entry, which I also posted on the Ask Andy thread. The issue at hand: a tailor and his dissatisfied customer. What are some of the lessons learned on both sides of the sartorial aisle?

If I were a customer, I would draw out a few lessons learned:

(1) Do not order bespoke garments until you are knowledgeable about the fit and features of said garments. When you are ready to order, put your wishlist into writing and review each item with your tailor. Keep a copy for yourself. Here the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Do not "leave everything" in the hands of the tailor unless you have developed an extensive history with him.

(2) Measure and guard your expectations. Less is "more". Avoid the utopian misfortune of expecting perfection each and every step of this human, all too human process. To wit,

(3) Be alert and vigilant during the entire process of fitting. At a minimum, check the garment at different angles while standing in front a three-way mirror. This is what manton, an AskAndy member experienced in bespoke, does at his first fittings. First, he checks the balance from side-to-side and front-to-back, then rotates his shoulders several times and lets the coat settle where it may. He also walks around the room, sits down, stands up, and checks the coat again. Another prudent measure is to inspect the sewing/stitching from inside prior to the attachment of the lining and check whether the fabric patterns match at the seams.

(4) Order only one initial garment. As you wait for your initial order, accumulate knowledge about your tailor, his workshop and his way of doing things. Develop confidence in the strengths of your tailor and be knowledgeable about his weaknesses before placing multiple orders.

Conversely, if I were an independent tailor, I take away these lessons:

(1) Satisfy your existing customers and ensure they remain satisfied. It is much more costly to take on new customers than it is to satisfy existing ones. Furthermore, losing customers is terribly costly both directly and indirectly since dissatisfied customers are more likely to raise a hue and cry than satisfied ones. For them, the pen (or keyboard) is also mightier than the sword.

(2) Be alert and vigilant with the entire process of production. You must set into place a process to ensure consistent workmanship of garments in your supply chain. It is human nature to discern the imbalance and asymmetry of physical things, especially if one is wearing them.

(3) Resist the considerable temptation to take multiple orders with a new customer. You and the new customer will be making your first acquaintance and, more critically, an initial order. With this first order, you must satisfy the whims and desires of the customer so that he may be inclined to order again (see first lesson). How is this achieved? Suffice to say, it is easier to create one impressive garment than it is to create many such garments. Likewise, one is less likely to make mistakes with one garment than with many. Hence, focus your energies on making one good garment initially. Less is more.