The picture above courtesy of www.evolutionofstyle.com
As you probably already know, it's safe to say that there is a general consensus that canvassing – or lack thereof – is a key point that differentiates the suits of an honorable-make from those destined for mass consumption. As a key factor in terms of quality, the subject of canvassing may have started out being discussed in a only a handful of forums and style blogs, but has since evolved to becoming a serious concern for suit makers, within most all price ranges. This occurrence is something that, we must admit, pleases us immensely ...
But before going any further, let's review some fundamentals with our good friend Julien Scavini, founder of the excellent Stiff Collar blog. The following is a translated excerpt from his 2010 article, les méthodes d'entoilage (canvassing methods) :
"To make a suit, whether ready-to-wear or bespoke, you will have to put an interlining against the wool at the front of the inside of the jacket. This interlining (2) is traditionally made of coarse wool that is usually woven for this very purpose. It is used to rigidify the front of the jacket, as a way to structure it properly. The interlining goes from the shoulder to the bottom of the jacket, and acts as a kind of framework on which many elements are built upon, such as part of the shoulders, most of the chest area, the lapels, the pockets, etc. This makes applying the interlining a very important, if delicate, part of the process of making a suit.
Most suits found in retail, will, however, skip the canvassing step described above, by instead fusing the front of the jacket together, including the lapels. The fused canvas (1) is most often made from synthetic materials and covered with a layer of resin which, under the the heat of a hot press (or a regular iron) will melt and adhere to the wool inside the jacket. While a fast and cost-efficient solution, it isn't very durable, as the canvas will, eventually, stop sticking. This often happens after several cleanings, with steam speeding up the process tremendously, until bubbles start forming under the wool. The below illustration shows the front of a jacket on the left side, with the right side showing the areas where the jacket has been fused.
The second most common method is the half-canvassed suit, which you'll find illustrated below on the left side of the illustration. It is the method most commonly found in high-end retail stores.
It consists of constructing a real chest piece (3) with several layers of fabrics and materials, including buckram and horsehair, on the interlining. The interlining itself for this method is of a very specific kind, as it is coated in resin only at the bottom of the jacket and at the lapels. The chest piece, as such, is said to be "floating", like in bespoke suits, but the rest of the interlining sticks and fuses with the wool. I personally am not too fond of this method, even though it is extremely common, with some industrial brands having mastered the process thoroughly. Moreover, most of the time, there isn't any wool interlining, and the chest piece is placed directly on the semi-fused canvas which covers the whole front of the jacket. This is what you will find in almost any "high-end" suits priced under 1500€ .
Lastly, the third method (above, on the right-hand side) is the most chic, and certainly the closest to traditional methods of the three (it is sometimes called in french "confection traditionnelle’) ; it uses wool interlinings on which chest pieces are left "floating" all the way through. Using this technique implies that the lapels are not fused but sewn with a very specific machine (usually from the german brand Strobel) called a “blindstitch” machine, which intends to mimic a handstitch (4) . It is the most durable method, though hard to find industrially, despite the growing demand for it. It is harder and more expensive to make, and by extension, to purchase. But fully canvassed pieces are also the most resilient of the lot."
By Julien Scavini @ http://stiff-collar.com/
As more and more gentlemen are passionately educating themselves on all matters sartorial, it has become urgent for suit makers to adapt to this new situation of dealing with the educated customer. As the knowledge level rises, so too does the level of expectations. Canvassing is a major factor that makes a quality suit what it is ; and in a time and age where customers who are interested in men's style are often more knowledgeable than salespeople, it is simply not possible to sell fused suits at outrageous prices anymore, although this has been the case only a few years back. The rise of the educated gentleman is having a very clear effect on the industry, as many brands are stepping up to meet the expectations of higher standards. As a result, it is now possible to find fully-canvassed suits at affordable prices.
While originally exclusive to bespoke houses or very (pricy) high end ready-to-wear brands (Kitton, Attolini, Brioni…), the fully canvassed suit is no longer an Italian exception found only in suits above a 3000 € price tag. Since a couple of years, many serious houses are beginning to offer fully canvassed suits at a price of under 2000 €. In this price range, a young house like the up-and-coming Husbands Paris is the perfect example of providing quality, fully canvassed products (made in a small Italian workshop), cut from a careful selection of fabrics, and offered at a price tag of under 1500 Euros.
But since last year, and under the impulse of extremely dynamical brands such as Boggi from Italy or Suitsupply from the Netherlands, the Canvas War is reaching new heights, with the recent arrival on the market of fully canvassed suits offered at under 1000€ (with Suitsupply's prices going substantially lower).
Boggi, the new Italian Idol, has been the first one to launch a major strike, with a price range of canvassed suits starting at 850€ , which at the time, seemed like a godsend (of course at this price, you pay for the alterations and adjustments).
But this year, Suitsupply, the famous Dutch brand founded on the simple concept of affordable quality (a very successful formula, with over 50 stores around the world including a flagship on Madison Avenue), is going a step further.
By offering a new range of fully canvassed jackets at 599€ , two-piece suits at 699€, and three-pieces suits at 799€ , Suitsupply might very well take the market by storm. Even more impressive, is that the fabrics used in these suits are of a very high quality as well--including Super 150s by Vitale Barberis Canonico, for instance. You can see the complete range here : Jort by Suitsupply
In a similarly competitive price range, Julien Scavini in Paris also has a promising industrial measure offer, priced at 850€.
It would seem that the Canvas War is only just beginning...an event that we should all be celebrating, indeed !