In today’s world of fast fashion, is there a place for a handcrafted $50,000 coat?
When journalist Meg Lukens Noonan learned of an unthinkably expensive, entirely handcrafted overcoat that a fourth-generation tailor had made for one of his longtime clients, she set off on an adventure to understand its provenance, and from that impulse unspooled rich and colorful stories about its components, the centuries-old bespoke industry and its traditions, and the master craftsmen whose trade is an art form.
In The Coat Route, Noonan pieces together the creation of the coat in question, tracing its elements to their far-flung sources, from the remote mountains of Peru, where villagers shear vicunas—whose soft fleece is more coveted and rare than the finest cashmere—to the fabulous Florentine headquarters of Stefano Ricci, the world’s greatest silk designer; from the family-owned French fabric house Dormeuil, founded in 1842, which drapes kings, presidents, and movie stars to the 150-year-old English button-making firm that creates the ne plus ultra of fasteners out of Indian water-buffalo horn and the workshop of the master hand engraver who makes the eighteen-karat gold plaque that hangs inside the coat’s collar. We meet the dapper son-in-law of an Australian wine baron who commissions the coat’s creation, and we come to know John Cutler, one of the top bespoke tailors in the world, who works his magic with scissors and thread out of his Sydney shop, redolent of cedar and English wool.
Featuring a cast of offbeat, obsessed, and wildly entertaining characters, The Coat Route presents a rich tapestry of local masters, individual artisans, and family-owned companies that have stood against the tide of mass consumerism. As Noonan comes to realize, these craftsmen, some of whom find themselves on the brink of retirement with no obvious successors, have increasing reason to believe that their way is the best way—best for their customers, best for the environment, and best for the quality of life of all involved. The Coat Route is a love song to things of lasting value.
Praise for The Coat Route
“A spirited tour of fashion history . . . The Coat Route compels us to remember that behind every garment is a deep history and a pair of human hands—whether those hands stitched the dress’s hem or pulled a lever that stringed together that $30 must-have jacket.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Delightful . . . The Coat Route celebrates those who work with their hands, creating something beautiful and lasting.”—The Seattle Times
“[Meg Lukens Noonan’s] exploration of the business of fashion is fascinating and thorough, and her examination of bespoke goods redefines the words luxury and obsession.”—The Daily Beast
“Traditions of bespoke tailoring (and other related crafts) are skirting the edge of extinction. Noonan’s delightful story makes us hope they endure.”—Publishers Weekly
“A fabulous story, brilliantly told . . . I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.”—Bill Bryson
“As captivating as any mystery or thriller, The Coat Route demystifies the rarefied universe of bespoke tailoring and provides a lens into the culture that covets it. It educates and inspires. I couldn’t put it down!”—Tim Gunn
From the Hardcover edition.