One of the great privileges of working in social (lower rent and supported) housing in London is that you meet some amazing people.
In my early career I realised we were housing Stalin’s daughter. Olympian sprinter Linford Christie used to live in a Notting Hill Housing Trust flat. But it is not all about household names – I spoke to Linde Carr last year, and this week I met a professional pattern cutter, now more or less retired after 51 years in the industry. Eion Todd has worked in the UK, New York for 7 years, Israel, Sri Lanka and India – 11 different countries, and taught at St Martins.
I went, with Marianna of Sew2Pro, to see Eion Todd at his Notting Hill Housing Trust home in Shepherds Bush. He took us into the shared lounge and proceeded to unpack a bag that contained his greatest hits.
Eion first explained the importance of the pattern cutter in history. “Tailoring approaches (of which Savile Row remains in London) generally use body measurements, which are chalked onto the cloth, leaving sufficient fabric in the seams for individual fitting. Then the garment is hand-cut, hand-stitched and then hand-finished. All this changed with factory production, and it was the skill of the pattern cutter that allowed this to happen – miles of fabric could now be cut and stitched into ready-made garments. The skill of the pattern cutter is in planning, in advance, every single, tiny detail of the garment, so that a skilled seamstress (but much less skilled than a tailor) can make it up successfully time after time. The production line eventually broke the process into smaller and smaller jobs. As the machinists were deskilled, the pattern cutter become more skilled.”
Then one by one Eion brought out various garments he had designed and made. First off was a wool jersey shawl, beautifully smocked to give it shape and movement. Eion explained how he had created this when he was living in hotel rooms and suffering from the cold – he didn’t have a sewing machine but he had a needle and thread.
Eion was born in Newcastle, but his early attempts to study Art were unsuccessful. But, visiting relatives in Hertfordshire, he saw an advert for a job working at Rodex in St Albans. This was “the posh end of Aquascutum” and “they had their own factories and traditions Some of their clothes were patented. Later I went to Shoreditch College, which is now part of St Martins – and then to work with tailors in Saville Row. My next job was with the International Wool Secretariat in Ilkley, Yorkshire (1969-72) where we produced garments for Jaeger.” “Later, when I worked in America, I created stage wear for a very famous performer. With stage wear the fabric is the star and you need to design bearing the lighting and staging in mind”.
Eion believes his best work was his creation of unisex/one size/unfastened jackets from a square or triangle of cloth. “I have always been interested in symmetry and problem solving.” He showed us several examples of these made up in lovely Indian woollen scarves, and black or pink jersey fabric.
He worked with Koos van der Akker and gave him one of these jackets which, Eion believes, entered his collection in Winter 2011/12. Perhaps it is this one. There are certainly a number of similarities in the design, including the spiral sleeve, the raglan shoulder and the collar stand. Eion’s version celebrates the shape of the cloth, whereas Koos has rounded off the hem.
Lots of these garments appealed to me. Especially the lovely collar on the Indian scarf jacket. Eion said he had developed it into a hood that would appeal to women in the Muslim world, and I think he might be right. He also suggested that this sort unstructured jacket could be developed to make a man’s suit, with matching trousers. And lots of pockets. Eion is really into pockets! It is a good point. Why are men’s suit jackets so limited in their shape? Maybe it is time for the suit to evolve more.
(Update) When we met Eion spoke about his design of “double helix” jeans. Since I published this post he kindly sent me a photograph of his jeans, well worn! He writes “All the structure is built into the two helical seams, with the result, just classic “five pocket jean”. A bit more sophisticated than the Levi’s “engineered” jean, eh?