I’ve just finished reading The Coat Route: Craft, Luxury, and Obsession on the Trail of a $50,000 Coat by Meg Lukens Noonan. In the book Noonan learns about a coat that cost it’s owner $50,000, so she set out to discover what would make this garment so expensive.
Plainly put, the coat was bespoke, made by a world-class tailor using the finest materials available. In the book we are taken to see the production of these fine materials: Peru for vicuña, Italy for silk, England for weaving and buttons, and Australia for the tailoring. At each stage we see how the best is procured and how it is manufactured. It becomes obvious quite quickly that this coat is not from J. Crew, or even Burberry. This is “slow” fashion and luxury at the highest level.
I loved reading about the history behind each material that made up the coat. Noonan tells how the vicuña was brought back from the brink of extinction, and how it is carefully managed to provide a decent living for the people who gather the fleece. We read about the button industry in England, and how plastics have replaced the quality materials used in the past. She goes to the Italian silk factory of Stefano Ricci, where the lining fabric was made. And even though the coat was made by tailor John Cutler in Australia, we get a good view of Savile Row in London.
The book also looks toward the future. Many of the crafts that are involved in the production of luxury materials are in danger of being lost. There is an Abercrombie & Fitch store at the end of Savile Row. John Cutler is the fourth and last generation of Cutlers who took up the tailoring trade. Traditional wool mills all over Great Britain have closed down. It’s not an optimistic picture.
Many today are calling for more transparency in the manufacturing of our clothing. This is a perfect example of being able to see the source of every ingredient in a garment. In a $50,000 coat there are no sweatshops and no child labor. There is very little waste.
Unfortunately, not many of us can afford vicuña fabric at $6000 a yard. But the lesson is not lost on Noonan. People who buy $50,000 coats buy very little. They choose their clothing very wisely, and they treat them with kindness. It’s an example we can all follow.
I read this book on my Kindle, and the few photos were very tiny. I have not seen a print version, but color photos of the materials would have added greatly to the reading experience. If you want to see photos of the coat, Cutler has a great little website devoted to his work in vicuña. The book is available at Amazon for the obscene price of $5.14. I can’t see how authors make a living.
The Coat Route: Craft, Luxury, and Obsession on the Trail of a $50,000 Coat by Meg Lukens Noonan, published by Spiegel & Grau, 2013.