Breaking Down The Art of Dressing Up: The perfect parka

For the past ten years, everyone has been blowin’ up about Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as the new East Village (never!). It has become a recognizable destination for tourists and style seekers alike. But Isaac Spiewak was making noise in Billyburg back in 1904, when he set up his company selling sheepskin vests to dockworkers.

Today Spiewak is one of America’s great outerwear companies. It has never lost its touch; it may just be more American than many others, as it has a uniform division keeping our police force and others properly attired.

I saw the line at (capsule) recently and fell back in love with it. I used to sport it in Atlanta in the ’90s and it has come full circle for me, especially with this epic winter in mind. I spoke to Josh Chapman, director of marketing and PR, to hear more about the perfect parka.

What makes Spiewak parkas the best?

As the old adage goes, “practice makes perfect.” Spiewak has been making outerwear — and only outerwear — since 1904. Spiewak utilizes this century of experience and extensive garment archives to craft jackets that are current and yet timeless. Every piece of outerwear relates back to this incredible heritage of understanding style and crafting well-fit men’s and women’s outerwear.

What kind of customer is buying Spiewak these days?

Spiewak jackets are purchased by a wide variety of men and women. The customers tend to have a good fashion sense. They wear iconic brands that have history and meaning; the same person who has the Spiewak parka might also have a beautiful pair of Red Wings or a Filson bag.

Spiewak takes pride in the frequent calls from stylists and wardrobe departments that explain to us that Spiewak is their own best-kept secret. In other words, Spiewak dresses those whose jobs are to dress others. You can’t get a better compliment than that.

Many people also don’t know that Spiewak’s industrial history is still represented by a huge uniform division that makes technical outerwear and uniforms for thousands of fire, Emergency Medical Service, and police departments. I guess you could say we supply both sides of the law …

When did you first launch the parka?

The iconic Snorkel parka was born out of utility. In 1945, during World War II, Air Force designers researched traditional Inuit parkas designed for the extreme cold and applied their knowledge to a new-style “N-3” parka. Spiewak has been making N-3-style parkas ever since.

Since Spiewak was originally known for woolen vests, what is the closest item you still sell to the original?

The original garment Isaac Spiewak made was a sheepskin vest that he hand-cut and sold to the dockworkers of Manhattan and Brooklyn. If this vest was characterized by its hand-hewn quality, attention to detail, and local sourcing of materials, its fall 2011 equivalent could be found in the Gerald Spiewak limited-edition collection. The G. Spiewak N1 Deck Jacket uses a 20-hour hand-waxed cotton army duck from a seventh-generation New Jersey company and is assembled in our domestic plant in Mississippi by employees, some of whom have been there for over 50 years.

Is there a style that is more popular?

The pea coat is another style that Spiewak has made since 1917 that is a staple of any man’s wardrobe and continues to be one of our most popular styles. Spiewak’s line is extensive enough that there seems to be a jacket for almost any occasion and one’s own unique sense of style.

Take us through the process of making a Spiewak.

A Spiewak parka begins as a stored pattern. Each individual shape in the pattern is laid out like a puzzle to maximize the fabric being used and is subsequently printed out onto a long roll of paper. It is then laid over many sheets of fabric and cut with a special saw along our 130-foot cutting tables. Bundles of the various shapes are created and sent to the seamstresses, who work on assembling pieces into larger components like sleeves and eventually into garments. Remarkably, this process is largely the same as it was in 1904. Your finished domestic Spiewak N-3 parka will have been worked on by over 50 workers over the course of two weeks.

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