Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Tribute to Paul Poiret

I, Roman Magnus, reserve a special place in my grotto of idolized designers for Paul Poiret, a belle époque figure whose influence had been surpassed by Coco Chanel, but who deserves a starting tailor’s wistful homage then.

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I have such sentimentality over this figure for several reasons. He had grown up with cloth in his hands, as his father was a cloth merchant. He was of the mercantile classes who had artisanal wits about them, and he had been given to an umbrella maker as apprentice. Romantically speaking, Poiret had been placed in the natural milieu for cultivating one of France’s earliest, most striking designers.

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The comparisons with Chanel are a trifle unfair, albeit understandable. They intersected eras, but it was Coco who would, eventually, triumph in terms of the consistent quality with which her modern designs were rendered. Meanwhile, Poiret was no less a visionary. The kimono cut, undeniably attributed to him and his earliest sketches, was initially an aristocratic befuddlement. As with all great artists, he suffered rejection for ideas that outpaced acceptance.

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But if he had been born today he would have held all contemporary designers in line with his range of ideas. House of McQueen had a collection that seemed to harken back to the Poiret red cape. Raf Simons of Dior wouldn’t have wasted a thought adopting the Poiret silhouette --- and no doubt even the house of Chanel would, in a lingering flashback.

Read more about arts, history, and fashion at this website.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Roman Magnus: Diolacton

I couldn’t have bothered with the word, though it’s made its way through the Roman Magnus vocabulary pretty easily. Some books give you a sense of knowing and accepting ideas with an easy slide. Mine’s The Quiet American by Graham Greene, possibly the most un-spy novel of all time. I’ve worked out how much I love the book: it’s been translated to French, is backdropped by the French-Communist war in Vietnam, been turned into a film with Michael Cain in the lead role, and condemns American foreign policy.

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Few historians are forthcoming about America’s real role in French-conquered Indochina. The quiet American is Alden Pyle, an eye doctor deployed in Vietnam on a mission of economic and medical aid. If this spoiler is worth anything, he was also sent out on a fatal bombing mission in Hanoi, aided by a chemical called Diolacton.

My Roman Magnus vocabulary usually precludes the scientific, but it’s easy to succumb to the recall. The novel’s hero, an aging expatriate reporter named Fowler, makes a discovery of it and unravels the real identity of Alden Pyle. The man had the subterranean work of stirring chaos in an Asian country like a common mercenary.

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My travels to Vietnam have taken me far and wide in perspective about Western interventionism and imperialism. During my last visit to Con Dao Island, the official concentration camp during the French occupation, I walked into the horrors of the torture chambers where prisoners were bound to each other and repeatedly threatened to be fed to tigers.

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I also took time to stroll Rue Catinat in Saigon, passing through the modernized version of the Hotel Continental, where the bombing in the novel took place. I sometimes fear Vietnam’s industrial transitions cast the morbid shades of history away from local people’s consciousness.

See more of the Roman Magnus book list on his Facebook page.

Friday, October 12, 2012

In his spare time, Roman Magnus shoots darts into fabric

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I, Roman Magnus, am not limited to the masculine plane for clothing drafts. A number of female friends have given me the challenge to create clothes for them, and I have obliged them the way Paul Smith has adopted his retail lines to the fairer sex.

The task is more technical, because the topography of the female body demands a more circuitous manner of creating clothes. As it is, men are already sensitive to fittings. The female form is even more delicate. But even amateur tailors could learn from the textbooks, and even instructional blogs.

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The key here is working with non-stretch fabric, which, for today’s more informal cuts, could get away with skipping modeling. I, Roman Magnus, recommend modeling for starting tailors to allow them to get creative with patterns. Modeling is molding the fabric into the actual form to generate a pattern. It’s not as simple as it looks. Representing the cuts and folds of fabric on flat paper requires precise geometry and measurements.

For feminine form-fitting dresses, curves are accommodated through “darts,” or those triangular grooves embedded in a pattern that represent the fold of the fabric. These darts are usually cut out from the bust area, or the part of the waist where the body starts to slope.

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Darts are magically powerful because they determine the manner the fabric falls or encloses the body. A straight, A-line skirt could be transformed into a serpentine one with multiple dart insertions, and it’s a bit of a mathematical and design challenge for the tailor to figure out their angles and points of origin.  

 Roman Magnus is a tailor residing in San Francisco, California. For more updates about him, visit his Facebook page.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Roman Magnus does not knit

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Knitwear is noble clothing, but the Roman Magnus atelier has yet to admit that, with the passing of brocade as a fall and winter fixture, low-key knits have ruled the gray months since. The yarns spun by threadfolk about the benefits of knitting in the hibernation months are interesting, and so are the fireplace tales that go along with them, though the resulting sweaters with reindeer patterns are no better served by the hobby’s cozy features.

Tailoring is mainly leaning into a forge of fairy dust. Much like in blacksmithing, the sweaty brow and the set jaw are further strained by trade scruples like unwieldy material. Cloth and metal are malleable goods, but they are not always obedient. Tailoring the Roman Magnus way is plotted in a sweltering toolshed, amid a somber, studious mood, which, by all accounts, is not a pleasant atmosphere for chitchat. Knitting’s place in this setting cannot hold.

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The other sorry aspects of knitwear are proportional to the stocks, that is, the forgotten, woolly crumple at the bottom of the closet that doesn’t even charm its owner. Outside, the aesthetic and functional value of knitwear does not rise with the pile of snow or the length of sleet. I would suggest a fully-armored coat for the occasion of freezing one’s limbs off for a trip to the baker.

I say this because I get some orders for knit scarves, and with the forthcoming nature I flatter myself having, it always breaks my heart to refuse potential clients.

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Roman Magnus fancies himself the gritty clothesmith. His blog talks at length about this hobby-turned-profession. Read his workshop thoughts in this Facebook page.