The Modern Tailors - Part 3: Russ Gater, Heritage Research, England

October 31, 2011 BY CAPSULESNEWS

UK-based Heritage Research makes clothes for men and women with an eye on the past, and a modern day aesthetic. With the goal of creating classic, well crafted clothing, as opposed to mass produced “generic slickness”, the designer’s goal is to create a collection with character, warmth and imperfection. All of the fabrics HR uses are specifically woven for Heritage Research in the UK or Japan using traditional methods and looms, and all HR garments are handmade in England, under one roof, by skilled craftsmen and women. There is no production line, the emphasis is on quality not quantity. Creative Director Russ Gater tells us more, and weighs in on the modern tailoring movement.

WATM: How do you explain the relatively recent emergence of neo-traditional menswear?

That’s a difficult question which I think can be best explained by Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point theory. I don't necessarily think there’s an abundance of men out there who suddenly started to care about the beauty of a certain cloth or whether they have shank cuffs on their jacket, I think there were a small number of guys 3 or 4 years ago who started to react against the disposable nature of contemporary fashion and looked to traditional garments, cloth and tailoring as an antidote to this. These outsiders were noticed by elements within the industry and their look was adopted by niche brands which in turn allowed brands that had been around doing this unnoticed for years to come back into focus, more people then became aware of this look and watered it down as their own look. As the fashion industry is increasingly transitory this 'look' took off quickly and now in the UK especially has almost reached saturation point already with high street retailers making cheap copies and versions of garments that fit into this neo traditionalist concept. I think the look is popular right now because men haven't had an opportunity to look smart for a long time. For the past 20 years style has been immersed in casual clothing, now looking smarter and sharp is cool so it offers men something that most haven't experienced before.

WATM: Please describe a bit about your production process.

RG: The collection is manufactured in a workshop in the north of England that has been owned by the same family for over 100 years. We employ what can only really be described as traditional English tailoring techniques. Basically this references an older process of making clothing that doesn’t generally exist anymore, in an age of production lines of machinists, conveyor belts and laser pattern cutting, a lot of the techniques employed on our garments have their origins in pre WWII English tailoring.

All of our patterns are cut by hand allowing for subtle adaptations as the garment is developed, the garments are ‘crafted’ rather than ‘produced’ as each team member is physically connected to each individual piece in the way that a traditional tailor works by hand and is connected to everything he makes. Each piece is generally assembled by one person from start to finish. Hand stitching is used on elements of each piece such as the bluff pocket on the Artillery Jacket which features an old bespoke method used on blazers where the stitch is invisible, we also use hand folded seams, authentic shank cuffs, elements you would usually only find on a made to measure garment. We use all cotton thread instead of synthetic and our cloth and wools are made to order by local mills or imported from Japan.

Our processes use only the simplest machinery to ensure the garments retain the feel of a bespoke piece and not the homogeneous output of a large factory. We like the fact that each piece is slightly different and not every stitched seam is exact to the millimeter.

WATM: Is local production important?

RG: I would say it’s the core of the brand. On a personal level we set out to create something that stood apart from the majority of what was being offered at that time and I think we've succeeded in doing that. We have a very hands-on approach through all stages of production, from developing our own cloth with local weavers and mills to working with RiRi in Switzerland on our brass zips. On a more important level, using local craftsmen and suppliers helps to keep knowledge, skills and traditions alive that have been around for hundreds of years and are albeit gone now.

WATM: Do you think the consumer cares about where something is made?

RG: I'm not sure anymore is the honest answer. We definitely have a core customer who buys H R because they really do care how their clothing is made, where the cloth came from combined with the care and attention put into the garment. However there seems to be a growing trend from both customers and store buyers that they don't care where a garment is made as long as the price is right and it looks good.

For me this argument falls down where you have certain brands who manufacture in China but sell a shirt for £120 + putting themselves on the same platform as H R, Cabourn, Yuketen etc. The fabric is generally awful but washed and treated to feel good and the shirt most likely costs the brand around £12 to buy in, so from my point of view the customers is being conned and is falling into the branding trap. I think people need to look more closely at what they're buying and past the PR. That said, if someone likes a product and doesn't care where its made or the price then that’s down to them.

WATM: What items do you consider to be iconic menswear classics and why?

RG: 1. A tubular plain white T-shirt.

2. The 'chino'. Original a military issue only garment that was integrated into mainstream style by post war GI's who were sponsored to attend University.

3. The A-2 Flight Jacket. Another military piece that was the origin of so many of today’s jacket styles.

4. The 2 button soft tailored jacket. Slim cut with a natural shoulder line as worn by JFK.

WATM: Who do you consider a style icon?

RG: There are plenty of these, all for different reasons. I think individuality is the root of great style, and often not caring what anyone else thinks, people should wear the clothes rather than them wearing you. My style icons in no particular order, Dennis Wilson, John Steinbeck, Robert Redford, Ralph Lauren, Phil Edwards, Yvon Chouinard, Jack Kennedy, Will Oldham, Bowie.