20 January 2013

the little black jacket

This Christmas, I was given a long-awaited and much-lusted-after copy of Claire Shaeffer's Couture Sewing Techniques. Learning the 'couture' way is the obsession, or at least passion, for many of us home sewers and bloggers. Couture is a far-off, entrancing place burried in history and tradition where much skill and knowledge is hidden away in the atelier. The best couture is understated perfection: the fit, the silhouette, the drape all show that one has good taste and an excellent couturier. I don't know about you, but couture is not about the status and prestige for me. It's all about clothes made by someone who has an immense amount of skill and who really understands how to make clothes and make them look great. But of course, the closest most of us will get to couture is Vogue and the V&A museum. So, confronting my coutureless future life, I have decided even if you can't become rich enough to step foot inside Chanel, in time you can become skilled enough to make perfect and beautiful clothes. Therefore one of my projects for this year (I am giving myself an ample timescale, because you can't hurry perfection) will be to make every woman's Mecca: Chanel's little black jacket.

Where to start with the Holy Grail of couture? Well, here is some sewing erotica, a (very condensed) video of the making of a Chanel jacket.

I've been scrolling through the photos from Lagerfeld's The Little Black Jacket exhibition for inspiration. I started to look at the fit of each jacket and noticed that they were all quite different, which is exactly what you would expect of couture. Every jacket has been made to the client's preference and to flatter their shape. Little details like the height of the neck, the sleeve length or the placement of the pockets vary from jacket to jacket, yet on first inspection, the jackets are all the same. 

This is where I indulge my wannabe detective skills (all those hours watching Scandinavian crime drama finally find a use)! In terms of illustrating the silhouette, this is my favourite picture. It is slim, elegant, slightly boyish and boxy, halfway between a cardigan and a jacket. Notice that there is no obvious waistline. With the buttons undone, you can see in the video above that the jacket is a tube (who knew a tube could be so flattering?!). Done up, as above, it is a lightly tapered tube. Here are some details that seem to define the Chanel jacket:

Pattern pieces
  • the front is made of four pieces. It has a large centre front piece and a narrow side front piece. Other Chanel jackets have a princess seam running from the shoulder about an inch from the finished neckline in a straight line to the hem
  • the back is constructed of four pieces in similar fashion to the front

  • when buttoned up, the jacket neckline sits exactly around the base of the neck

  • there are always 5 buttons, equidistant from each other from the neckline to about 3-4 inches above the hem
  • the third button is about half an inch lower than the bust line (the widest part of the bust, usually where your nips are!)
  • the waistline is between the 4th and 5th buttons (if the top button is no. 1), slightly more towards the 4th button
  • the buttons are 1/2 to 3/4 inch from the centre front

  • sleeves are constructed of two pieces, like most tailored jackets
  • the vent is about 3 inches, with two buttons about 1 3/4 inches apart
  • the sleeves fall anywhere from just shy of the prominent part of the wristbone (note that they do not fall half way down the back of the hand like most tailored jackets) to mid forearm

the sleeve has been constructed and pressed so that the back is slight longer than the front

Bottom hem
  • the bottom hem sits at about the mid hip line (halfway between the waist and widest part of the hip); it just grazes the hipbone
  • not a detail you can see, but one that is known the world over: about half an inch above the hem on the inside is sewn a light chain the length of the hem which balances the way the jacket hangs

  • there are 4 pockets arranged in two rows. The bottom pockets are slightly taller and wider than the top ones
  • the pockets are slightly rectangular (i.e. not too far off square) with rounded edges at the bottom
  • the button is centred on the pocket and sits half on, half off the braid. The buttonhole is vertical, the top of the hole falling just short of the braid
  • the lower pockets are set just above the braid and the upper pockets just under half an inch above the top of the lower pocket. The top of the upper pocket sits about 1 inch under the underbust line
  • both sets of pockets are aligned about 2 1/2 inches from the centre front

That was a lot of pernickety detail, I know! But once you start looking carefully at the proportions of the garment you realise all those details which make the Chanel jacket instantly recognisable and make it look like a real Chanel.

Alix x

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