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Geoffrey B. Small

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  • hobo
    Senior Member
    • Jul 2009
    • 301

    Originally posted by underdog View Post
    Can someone with experience with this brand shed some light on his sizing for those of us considering online purchases? True to size, bit smaller, bit larger? Thanks in advance!
    It really depends on the garment. Some pieces are designed to be snugger than others depending on the cut. You also have to take into account that some of Geoffrey's garments utilise original 18th and 19th century patterns and the cuts were very different back then, often tight across the shoulders and looser on the waist. He also uses patterns which he has modified to fit into modern tailoring, which fit more as you would expect.

    Personally I wear the clothes as they were designed to be worn but sometimes that can entail them being snug in places that you are not used to. For this reason, many of my clients like to size up.

    The other thing that must be taken into account is the handmade/dyed aspect of Geoffrey’s work. Even though he is an absolute master in his field, the very nature of the kind of work that he undertakes is not an exact science and there are many, many variables which can affect the shrinkage of piece. These include the kind of dye used, the temperature of the water carrying the dye, whether the garment is hung or laid flat to dry, whether it is in the sun or the shade, and even if there is a breeze when it is drying! All of these things mean that one style can vary slightly in size from another.

    As you can see it can be fairly complicated, so the best solution would probably be get in touch when you've got a specific piece in mind and we'll do our best to give some advice.
    "I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying." — Oscar Wilde


    • Geoffrey B. Small
      Senior Member
      • Nov 2007
      • 618

      Dear Underdog,

      Yes, Hobo has done a very good job in explaining some of the important factors here. I would also add that we have many different fitting bases in our patterns and our collections that affect the fit as well. For example, we have developed very different fits and bases for our customers in Japan and Italy many of which run smaller and tighter in general. And we have some larger ones for USA, UK, Germany and northern Europe. You need to deal with the exact model and piece you are considering and make sure you are dealing directly with one of our authorized exclusive worldwide dealers. Our authorized dealers get full backup services from our workrooms including alterations, components and repair services, and have access to direct technical information on all our pieces.

      Again, do not buy from anyone who claims to have our work and is not one of our authorized dealers, especially Yoox as stated in earlier posts. For SZ'ers I would highly recommend Pollyanna or Sartorialoft at the moment. Remember, ours is a very advanced, personal hand made product and should be treated and handled respectfully by both clients and dealers who can understand and appreciate this level of work.

      Hope this helps, best wishes, Geoffrey


      • Geoffrey B. Small
        Senior Member
        • Nov 2007
        • 618


        • Geoffrey B. Small
          Senior Member
          • Nov 2007
          • 618

          Geoffrey B. Small on Fabrics Part 1: “Why Fabric is first”

          Geoffrey B. Small on fabrics

          Part 1 of a series: “Why fabric is first"

          exclusively for StyleZeitgeist

          I CAN remember vividly the first time I walked into a great clothing store of its time in the 1970’s when I was a teenager. The store was named Louis Boston, and its buyer at that time was a legend named Murray Pearlstein. Above all, I remembered touching and seeing beautiful, understated fabrics and fabric combinations everywhere. Things to wear that I had never seen or thought about before. Some of it was French, some English, some German, some amazingly even from the USA, but the largest variety and invariably the best and most interesting were all from Italy. Pearlstein was one of the first in the US to be bringing in well-made European clothing and upcoming new designers of the time such as Ralph Lauren who was designing a then-spectacular new tie collection called Polo, and Walter Morton, an offshoot collection made by the Hickey-Freeman people in Rochester, New York.

          A few years later, I had been bitten by the bug, and decided that come what may, I would dedicate myself very seriously to trying to make a career somehow, in possibly designing and creating clothes like this. You see I had fallen in love…with clothes.

          Great clothes, that is.

          By that time, an upstart new fashion movement in Milan was setting the new standards of cutting-edge design in the world and I was working hard at studying all of the best players working there way before most anyone in the US had ever heard of them. At the heart of the new Milan movement was the ability for ambitious designers to have access to an extensive Italian textile industry capable of making the most beautiful and innovative fabrics for them to work with in their new collections.

          And perhaps the importance of fabric was best exemplified to me by two examples then who would later become mega-names and household words in fashion: Giorgio Armani and Missoni.

          For me, fabric lesson number one in design came from the Missonis

          Missoni was being designed and run back then by its founders Tai and Rosita Missoni, and their work during the 70’s was legendary. They were specialists in textiles and knitwear, and they were popping off the most amazing patterns, colors and textures on machines in Sumirago near Varese, and then rockin’em during the then early-fledgling industry fashion weeks being held in Milan. Their fabric was their knits, and they were beautiful different from what Missoni is doing today). Each one was a masterpiece, and that was the key to their whole story. The fabric. You could make anything with that stuff, even underwear, and sell it at any price. You had to be a design idiot to blow it. Whatever you decided to make out of those materials, would be beautiful…and sellable. So they were doing simple classic shapes, cardigans, V-neck and crew-necks, some dresses etc. The garment designs themselves were basically nothing new or special...classic maybe the best word. The fabric was everything. With the Missonis, I learned fabric lesson Number One in design: fabric is 90 percent of a garment design. Start with a great fabric and combine it even with a mediocre no-brainer design, and it will still work. You’ll end up with a piece that can be sold for a very high price in small quantities without a problem or for a lower price in large quantities—what we call a “hit” or a “winner” in the industry. But try and do the reverse, and you will very likely not get the same results. A spectacular design no matter how great and original, done in a mediocre or cheap fabric will almost always remain a mediocre or cheap garment, and remain just as difficult to sell and get people to like. And that goes double once you actually put on the garment and feel it on you and your skin.

          The key concept is that the fabric is more important than the “design,” --if you view the “design” as your sketch or shape and proportion alone. This is a common mistake among a lot of designers, they think the sketch is the thing. But a sketch cannot be worn by anyone, and the sketch can only represent what can actually be executed in the cloth. So masters always work with the cloth in mind first. Even if they are great sketchers. They will draw their designs with the cloth already in their mind.

          Christian Dior: get the fabrics first, then draw your collection

          The late Christian Dior’s method is a fine example. Dior was as good a sketcher as any designer that has ever lived. But to believe that his drawings were not totally based first on his fabric decisions is a great mistake. After finishing a collection, he would start very early on the next collection, going over fabric offers and ordering sample bolts of fabric from the fabric houses. The bolts would arrive within a few weeks, and Dior would take a good look at all of them and then “go on vacation.” Actually, he would disappear for weeks on end, somewhere in France. Nobody in the entire company could, find him and as they had more and more millions of dollars at stake on him alone each season, many would begin to worry and panic that he was dead or something. I believe he facing enormous stresses and trying to escape so he could clarify his mind and think. Created and backed by the giant French textile magnate Marcel Boussac, he was the world’s first industrial fashion designer. Before any of us even walked. he was having to deal with the intense growing pressures of a new post-war industrial fashion system where a single designer's ideas and decisions could either continue to provide work to thousands of people or leave them suddenly jobless each time he had to decide which design to do with what fabric…and face the myriad of hundreds of visual and technical decisions that go into making a real designer collection.

          The pace and scale of this industrial cycle are both very intense and unnatural, and if you don’t watch out it can kill you. And that’s what happened to Dior.

          He died at 50, only 10 years after the house was founded in 1947. The “escapes” were very likely his nervous breakdowns, and his attempts to save himself and think clearly enough to form the framework of the next collection while there was still time. He would be drawing both during this time in secrecy and upon his re-appearance in Paris---all after he had that very good look at the new fabrics before his escape. The fabrics were imprinted in his mind, and at the right moment, away from the madness in Paris and the Avenue Montaigne headquarters bearing his name, he could begin to draw the concepts of the garments knowing exactly which fabrics were going to be used for which designs.

          Like all great masters, Christian Dior put fabric first as the foundation of his design work.

          BALENCIAGA: “ down to the last centimeter--no more, no less.”

          1950's supermodel Dovima shot by Richard Avedon in 1955 in Paris wearing Balenciaga. So ingrained was fabric in the mind of the great master, that he was able to order his fabrics in one look from the samples, down to the precise centimeter for an entire season, knowing exactly what pieces he would make and how many he would sell, before the collection itself was even created.

          For masters, the master of masters is Balenciaga. Not to be mistaken with what is being called Balenciaga today (I have already made a statement on the Balenciaga SZ thread separately about this). The real Balenciaga was a real human being named Cristobal Balenciaga, and he founded and ran the greatest couture house in the history of the métier. When he was still alive, the great Christian Dior himself called him “The Master of us all.” I do too. He was a contemporary of Dior when he was alive and he ruled the Paris fashion weeks so much, that he created his own; and showed consistently a full month after all the other designers had finished… forcing international clients and buyers to make an entirely separate trip to Paris every season just to see his new work.

          And for them, it was more than worth it. Unlike Dior, Balenciaga could not draw well, and had to employ someone else to sketch, but boy could he make clothes. And just like Dior, he started first with his fabric houses before deciding anything. He was legendary among the fabric companies for knowing exactly how many meters to order of each fabric as soon as he looked over them. No more, no less. As a master craftsman, he was the only major couturier in Paris who could sew and make his own garments himself, as such, he knew the exact fabric usage lengths in his head for every design he made. So, when he told the great Swiss silk maker Abraham for example, an exact length to send him of a fabric as he was looking at their collection, he knew exactly what design he was going to make with that fabric….in his head. Fabric came first, then (continued on next page)


          • Geoffrey B. Small
            Senior Member
            • Nov 2007
            • 618

            (continued from previous page)

            the design it would be executed in. And with a watchmaker’s efficiency, he was able to immediately order the exact length of cloth needed to make the prototype and the pieces for his exact couture clients he knew would buy the design once they saw it. No more, no less. Not a centimeter of waste. Unlike almost all of the great Paris couture houses, Balenciaga did not lose money in his couture operations, and as a result did not need to license and sell the name to all sorts of product lines and deals. Instead, he made a fortune just making and selling some of the greatest pieces of clothing ever made. He never licensed, closed and retired voluntarily, and never intended his name to be used again for anything else except for the work done in his lifetime. Work which set the standard for all other clothing designers to follow.

            Balenciaga was no accident, he came to Paris in his forties from Spain after personally starting up and running an operation involving 3 successful couture houses over 20 years in San Sebastian, Barcelona and Madrid. Technically, operationally, financially, and artistically, he was perhaps the best prepared couturier to ever attempt to found a Paris couture house, bar none. And his success is a testament to such preparation.

            above: 3 portraits of Balenciaga (courtesy La Fondacion Balenciaga).
            Lisa Fonsagrieves in 1950 in Balenciaga shot by Irving Penn.


            A few years after Balenciaga retired, another great master was just beginning one of the greatest careers in the history of the field. But unlike Balenciaga, he was of a new age and era that had nothing to do with couture, but had grown out of the licensing and ready to wear industries pioneered by the Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin, and Yves Saint Laurent businesses. He was by far, the most prepared industrial-style designer to ever enter the field and like Balenciaga, he would eventually dominate the industry for several decades.

            His preparation was flawless, and involved 20 years of work prior to starting his own label. Dropping out of medical school in his twenties, he started working in retail at La Rinascente, Italy’s 2nd largest department store chain. He worked there for years, climbing up to buyer and then eventually becoming fashion director of the chain. Like Ralph Lauren who began his career with Brooks Brothers, his intimate knowledge of corporate retail and how it worked would play a key role in building a massive and unprecedented distribution for a designer brand in the years ahead.

            And like all great masters, he knew his fabrics very, very, well. Spurred by his close friend and eventual partner, an architect named Sergio Galleotti, in the mid-1960’s, he answered a help wanted notice in a Milanese newspaper for a design job at a growing new collection called Hitman that had been created by Nino Cerruti. Nino Cerruti was the grandson of the founder one the great Biella fabric-weaving houses. Founded in 1881, the Cerruti's had grown from copying the best English wools and providing them to tailors in every Italian town and city, to supplying the growing new ready to wear factory-made clothing industry that was rebuilding Italy into one of the new European boom economies after the war. Cerruti was ambitious, and had risked the entire family fortune on not only supplying the fabrics, but buying the garment factories, and making the clothes too. And something in Paris had caught his attention.

            An ex-assistant at Christian Dior who had witnessed the first licensing deal in history there had set off on his own to make his own couture house and fortune in the mid 1950’s. But by this time, couture houses were many and business was not easy for the new startup. After several years of struggle, the young couturier, changed course, and changed fashion forever. Rather than only pursue haute couture for women, he literally invented the concept of men’s designer fashion, and it would be based in a new growth industry of ready to wear and licensing instead of artisanal couture. By the mid 1960’s Pierre Cardin was one of the biggest stars in global fashion and at the head of a whole new exploding market: men’s designer label fashion. He parlayed his accounting background with the first licensing deals he saw at Dior and was focused on becoming the king of licensing. By the mid 1960’s the cutting-edge "new french designer menswear" was the coolest look on the planet, and no less than four out of every five neckties sold in France had Pierre Cardin’s name on it. Cardin would go on to build a billion dollar brand with over 900 licensees in 90 countries and become one of the richest men in France.

            Pierre Cardin photographed by Mark Shaw in the late 1950’s.
            Cardin literally invented the concept of designer fashion for men
            and paved the way for other future giants like Ralph Lauren and
            Giorgio Armani who were able to start their careers as men's
            designers--a discipline that before Cardin, didn't exist.

            None of this went unnoticed in Italy by the young and ambitious Nino Cerruti. The concept of ‘designer’ and ‘Paris’ was the key for his next big move. In 1966, Valentino Garavani had broken the barrier for an Italian to show in Paris with his immensely successful “White collection” during the women’s Couture week. So Cerruti had vision and bet everything in 1967 on his first men’s show and a new shop on the Place Madeleine named Cerruti 1881. Several years earlier as Cerruti himself had to be 100 percent focused on the new Paris venture, he had needed someone else to manage the existing ready to wear collections that he had created that were already being produced in Cerruti-run factories using Cerutti woven cloth, and sold in the Italian market under the label “Hitman”. And so the help wanted notice was run in the newspapers in Milan looking for that person.

            The legend is that the job interview lasted only a few minutes. The young fashion director of La Rinascente, Giorgio Armani, was escorted into Nino Cerruti’s office and stood in front of him as Cerruti was seated behind his desk. Cerruti was said to have looked at him up and down, head to toe, paused a moment, and said “well, you look alright.” Then, he reached into a folder and pulled out 10 different samples of fabric, put them on the desk, and instructed the applicant to select which fabrics he liked and which fabrics he did not like. After looking over the pieces briefly, Armani made his selections and stood back waiting for a response. “You’re hired,” Cerruti said, “you will be responsible for designing our Hitman collections.”

            The entire decision was based upon fabric knowledge and taste.

            Once again, fabric came first. And Cerruti was making history during this time. His Paris launch was a landmark success, and suddenly men’s designer fashion was not just coming out of French houses like Pierre Cardin, Daniel Hechter, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Lanvin and Ted Lapidus…but now the first Italian had entered the fray very successfully and Nino Cerruti would become a household name in men’s fashion, even in America, by the early 1970’s.

            Armani would work for 6 entire years at Cerruti, and there he would learn the other half of his spectacular preparatory foundation that would enable him to build what would eventually become a 5 billion dollar a year empire under his own name. Cerruti was a great master and he taught Armani the lessons of his revolutionary vertically integrated designer concept which could design and make everything from the cloth to the clothes to selling through its own stores. Above all, more than just about any other designer in the history of the field, Armani really learned about fabric and its total production process at Cerruti. After all, it was the roots of the family business.

            Nino Cerruti photographed in 1987, 1994 and 2002. Cerruti took his family's textile firm Lanificio Flli. Cerruti and used it to form the base of a revolutionary vertically-integrated clothing company concept and Italy's first international men's designer label. He was also fundamental in the development of Giorgio Armani's career.

            (continued on next page)
            Last edited by Geoffrey B. Small; 01-02-2021, 09:37 AM.


            • Geoffrey B. Small
              Senior Member
              • Nov 2007
              • 618

              (continued from previous page)

              I will never forget digging through a L’Uomo Vogue magazine in 1978, that I had just spent about 20 dollars on when I was a student (I grew up in Boston, and that was an enormous sum for a magazine at the time) and finding a 2-paragraph interview with no photos buried in the back pages on a then practically unknown new avant-garde up and coming designer in Milan who was doing some great work and beginning to be talked about in informed industry circles. His name was Giorgio Armani and he said “To be a competent designer today and for the future requires that one knows and master every aspect of the process from the creation and making of the fabric and texiles, to pattern making, cutting and clothing manufacture, to distribution, and then selling through on the retail floor. Only by mastering all elements of the entire process will one be able to adapt to and withstand all the competition and challenges that will present themselves now and in the future.” I was permanently influenced and inspired by those words and their fundamental reality and integrity. I didn’t know it then, but even though it was one of Giorgio Armani’s very first press quotes, that was Nino Cerruti talking too.

              One of the first retail store customers to ever buy my collection back in 1993 was a legendary buyer named Charles Gallay. Gallay was one of the greatest avant-garde buyers of all time and worked in Los Angeles, where he had an intense rivalry with a rival store whose very recognizable name I will not mention in this text. Gallay was the first buyer in America to bring in designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Azzedine Alaia, Martin Margiela, Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yammamoto, myself and Rick Owens to the American market. A visionary maverick, Gallay would find and buy the lines first based upon his passion and convictions alone, and then by sheer force of will and talent, proceed to convince the market to go a new way, one movie star or Hollywood producer at a time. Once the market had been built, the famous rival store would come in and take the line as well and make a killing with it commercially. The rivalry was a fierce one, and at times even bitter, Charles would find the designer and build the market, the famous rival would make the money and take the credit.

              And in Milan in 1975, Charles Gallay was also the first to buy Giorgio Armani’s very first collection, and he recounted his experience years later…. “in a tiny room with a single light bulb hanging down over a table of fabric swatches, it was just the 2 of them, Sergio and Giorgio. Sergio Galleotti wrote the order with me and Giorgio was right there looking over my shoulder--checking all the fabric selections that were being made for the order and making sure that he liked them.” Even for Armani’s very first customer in the United States, fabric was first once again.

              Armani changed and dominated men’s fashion for almost 2 decades, and at the heart of this influence was his use of fabrics. Natural subtle quiet colors that from a distance never shocked but upon closer inspection surprised the viewer. He took or reinvented the best of classic fabrications from Italy’s thriving textile industry and presented them to a growing and affluent world designer label market that he had very much helped to create and develop. Combined with a very precise reinterpretation of 1940’s and later early 50’s American and European clothing style, he was able to forge a look that was able to successfully transition from its ultra avant-garde introductions in the late 1970’s to a mass market worth over a billion-dollars by 1990...influencing an entire generation of menswear and later, womenswear too.

              The late Sergio Galleotti (left) and a very young Giorgio Armani in the early 1980’s.

              Giorgio Armani on the cover of Time Magazine in 1982.

              Giorgio Armani in 2009 at 75, is perhaps the penultimate
              industrial fashion designer... having been recently nominated
              for an honorary lifetime seat in the Italian senate and
              still head of his multi-billion dollar a year fashion company,
              Giorgio Armani SpA, which today counts 5,000 employees, 13
              factories and 539 company-owned stores in 46 countries,
              all built upon a genius for fabric and understated design.

              The importance of fabric in great clothing design is both obvious and fundamental. And it fueled the enormous designer made-in-Italy boom during the 1980’s where the biggest names achieved unprecedented sales volumes of hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars-a-year.

              Yet even by the middle of the 1990’s, few designers, even in the highest echelons were giving it the quality and priority it truly deserved any more . Part of this had been a result of consistent, dragging industrial-costing pressures where many of us in the field had been conditioned into prioritizing the saving of every possible fraction of a penny, on every meter of cloth used in the design of any article, that will be put in a collection that was intended to be sold and produced.

              Another part, had been the constant introduction of synthetic yarns and fibre contents in the materials from textile producers to achieve various characteristics like shine, stretch, weather-proofing, and also costs. Many very successful designers went with this flow and developed creative uses of these new industrial “high-tech” fabrics including Prada, Helmut Lang, and even Comme des Garcons and Margiela. Armani himself had also championed many of these types of fabrics with synthetic components beginning in the mid to late 1980’s. All of these effects seemed logical in an industrialized global market with a sizable middle and upper middle class interested and capable of buying designer clothes and fashion.

              But then all of a sudden, the whole world started to change….

              End of Part 1

              (to be continued...)


              • asis
                • Dec 2008
                • 47

                very insightful Geoffrey, looking forward to the next installment.


                • calv
                  Senior Member
                  • May 2009
                  • 101

                  excellent read. lots of knowlegde and information, thanks for sharing..


                  • SuperTurboTaco
                    • Oct 2009
                    • 89

                    This was great! Really looking forward to more. Thanks for taking the time to write this!


                    • venjeans
                      Junior Member
                      • May 2008
                      • 1

                      great article!


                      • delirium
                        Senior Member
                        • Sep 2008
                        • 164

                        article did not disappoint
                        going to reread this several times
                        looking forward to the rest of the series


                        • tjoek
                          Senior Member
                          • Apr 2008
                          • 113

                          Brilliant! Looking forward on the exclusive series.


                          • Chim
                            Senior Member
                            • Dec 2006
                            • 427

                            really love the article Geoffrey. Thank you so much for your insight.


                            • clay
                              Senior Member
                              • Sep 2006
                              • 284

                              This subject is very close to my heart. Fabric quality is something i urge you all to appreciate and i thank Geoffrey for bringing this topic to this thread. Many, especially new or student,designers really don't understand fabrics importance.


                              • eugenius
                                Junior Member
                                • Sep 2007
                                • 7

                                Hello Mr. Small.

                                Thank you for all your input here..Such a fascinating read.

                                Also, thanks for your details re: Louis Boston, back in the day. Though I rarely visit and/or purchase anything from the store these days, Louis Boston was the very first store that introduced me to designer clothing (by way of Dries) in my early 20's, and for that reason alone, I will always have a soft-spot in my heart for them. I remember them selling Helmut Lang, and also Veronique Branquinho & Balenciaga's menswear (when both of those lines were first developed), but I never knew they once sold Ralph Lauren products.