One of the things I find most satisfying about tailoring is the opportunity to create practical but aesthetic garments. The perfect combination of usefulness and artistry! And of course these days we all benefit from hi-tech scientific developments both in the processing of fabrics and in the development of new materials.
These thoughts occurred to me as I came across a whole flurry of articles linking fashion and sustainable development: ‘green’ fashion, fashion and the environment, ‘organic’ fashion even. But wait a minute, I thought…
traditionally tailored clothing has always been about as eco-friendly as it’s possible to be.
Although science has brought us a host of hi-tech fabrics with which to fashion new garments, we shouldn’t forget that traditional materials work because they’ve had the benefit of thousands of years of evolution to perfect themselves, usually on the back of a non-human animal or attached to an inoffensive tropical plant, or indeed an otherwise unremarkable worm.
At last, science seems to be catching up with the extraordinary properties of wool for example, one of the most common materials found in the mammal kingdom. Our classic Merino friend (pictured) got me thinking. I’m familiar of course with different types of wool and how we can describe its texture, feel, colour and lustre, comfort, breathability, robustness, and absorbency of colour dyes. But I was amazed to discover that there were over 1000 different breeds of sheep alone, not to mention all the other wool-bearing creatures. In fact sheep are the most varied of all livestock animals. Many of these have been specially bred by human intervention, but of course the starting point has always been slow but clever evolutionary adaptation.
Tailoring is also a craft which has evolved slowly and carefully. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first reference to the word ‘tailor’ as 1297. And it seems that by then professional tailoring guilds were already established across Europe. It took perhaps two centuries to establish the basic principles of cutting and sewing cloth – principles which have not changed much to this day.
Oscar de la Renta, designer, brand founder says ‘Sustainable fashion implies a commitment to the traditional techniques, and not just the art, of making clothes. I work today in the same way that I first learnt in the ateliers of Balenciaga and Lanvin fifty years ago. We need to ensure that the next generation of seamstresses and tailors have the skills necessary to develop clothes that are not only beautiful but extremely well made’.
I came across his comment in a recent article by Vanessa Friedman, Fashion editor of the Financial Times, trying to fathom just what people mean by eco-fashion. And so, while she skilfully attempts to tease out the various implications of ethical, eco-, green, organic or sustainable fashion, I couldn’t help but think that we tailors have always been there.