Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Enzo Caruso: An Ulster-style overcoat

The idea of clothing as a uniform is a historically rooted one and quite appealing. Comfort through conformity has worked for men for ages. Nothing wrong with adhering to a reliable formula for dressing. It's worked in a military setting for centuries and has crossed over repeatedly into the business/civilian sector.

However, I've always have been dissatisfied with the relatively uniformity of modern overcoats, especially RTW. Modern coats often come in a sedate navy blue or charcoal grey. Moreover, in my experience the overall proportions seem hard to get right in a RTW overcoat (especially the length and shoulders).

This past winter I began to think about developing an overcoat, specifically for travel and all the requirements that imply, as well as something distinct, even interesting. In my case, this meant wearability in temperatures above freezing and below and versatile enough to wear on formal business and sportier occasions. I also wanted an overcoat style that would be highly functional in terms of coverage and warmth.

I felt an Ulster-style overcoat would be my best bet. In particular, I went with a double-breasted Ulster-style overcoat with six on three buttoning, a large "storm" collar, a martingale (half-belt) back. darted back, kick pleat, slash pockets, wrist tabs and three interior pockets (two chest pockets and one large scarf pocket on the lower left). Below are photos of the coat just prior to completion at Enzo Caruso's shop (the back of the overcoat is still missing the half-belt piece at this stage).

Caruso Ulster DB 02

Caruso Ulster DB 03

Caruso Ulster DB 06

Regarding my choices, I probably violated a few discussion forum rules. First, I selected a midweight fabric (16oz) in a distinctive blue/gray herringbone with a touch of cashmere (10%) rather than a heavier weight cloth. The cloth is from the Drapers Tessuti Pregiati overcoating book if you're curious. A midweight made sense for me given my criteria and the offsetting weight of the lining. Paired with a 13-14oz three-piece suit, the overcoat should provide sufficient warmth in colder weather.

The overcoat lining differs from the norm in terms of construction and look. Instead of a single interior lining in one color or pattern, I went with a dual lining with an underlayer and overlayer. The base layer of lining is a lightweight seasonal wool plaid by Butterworth & Roberts (250/280g). In addition, for the upper body and arm sleeves, we used an overlayer of Lear Brown Dunsford viscose satin lining in cornflower blue.

Caruso Ulster DB lining

The dual layer lining was the result of some fairly extensive collaboration and back and forth between Enzo and me as well as several conversations with a contact in the cloth trade. After I laid out my initial thoughts with Enzo, he suggested improvements addressing issues that I had not considered. So all in all it was a very productive bespoke "dialogue" rather than a "monologue". Both Enzo and I greatly enjoyed the process and the end result.

I like this Ulster-style overcoat so much that I'm thinking of getting a similar version for next winter, made up in whipcord or covert cloth for cold, wet weather conditions.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on overcoat ideas - Excellent ideas and pictures
- SavileRowStyle article on winter 2008-9 overcoats in Savile Row
- London Lounge thread on demystifying the paddock coat and the historical frock overcoat
- Styleforum thread on overcoat linings

2 comments:

Rob said...

The few pictures you've shown of the Caruso stuff are very enticing - though the pieces haven't been completed I find myself admiring the lovely lapel rolls. I would love to see pictures of the gun club jacket if it's done. I recently acquired some suiting cloth and I'm hoping to pay Enzo a visit soon.

sleevehead said...

The photo of the gunclub jacket currently on my blog is pretty much the same as what the finished jacket looks like. Just imagine adding the 3 buttons (roll to 2) and you've got the finished product.

Having said that, I will try to remember to take photos of the finished jacket as I'm wearing it.

Some thoughts on approaching Enzo with customer supplied cloth. First, I'm not sure what his policy is for new customers and customer-supplied fabric. If he does allow it, I suspect he'll want it to be a high quality cloth.

Generally speaking, I wouldn't recommend going to him (or any quality tailor) to make up garments using cheaper cloth. The labor cost would be disproportionate to the quality of the cloth.

In other words, if I had a low-cost cloth for a jacket or suit, I would probably use a less expensive tailor.