January 31, 2019

Alps to Catwalks

From humble beginnings in the Austrian Alps to the catwalks in Milan and Paris, loden could be considered the quintessential fabric. It allowed the Alps to be tamed, trends to be set, and progress to be made. Some significant changes have occurred during the evolution of loden, but the processes and traditions have been steadfast.

Rugged sheep

The type of wools used to make German coats has changed, and the scale of production has changed, but the tradition of woolen manufacturing has not. Austrian craftspeople first used coarse wool from mountain sheep to make men's loden coats. The herdsmen sheared the sheep in spring, sometimes autumn, and collected the greasy wool for spinning. The greasy wool (which still contained lanolin or “grease”) would be cleaned of any vegetable matter and dirt then spun directly into yarn. The lanolin gave the yarn waterproof properties; a much-needed benefit while herding sheep in the Alps. Similar greasy yarns were used in fishermen sweaters characteristic of the British Isles and Scandinavia. The craftspeople would then weave the yarn into fabric and carry out the loden process by hand.

alpine loden coat

Alpine pasture.

Fine luxury

Nowadays, merino wool, cashmere, and alpaca are used for making men's loden coats and women's loden coats. Merino wool is fine and most people can enjoy it worn next to skin without any “itch.” Cashmere and alpaca offer similar benefits and is often blended with Merino to create a unique, extra soft feel. Today, wool is also scoured. Scouring is basically a washing process that removes the lanolin so the wool doesn’t retain its raw, greasy feeling (no need to feel like you just wrestled a sheep). Often scouring is carried out with just warm water and soap. Lanolin is then separated from the wastewater for use in cosmetics. From there the wool is carded or combed, a process that aligns the fibers in one direction creating filaments, and then spun on modern machines to create a uniform yarn. Yarn then finds its way into the looms where it is woven into fabric. Once that is complete, the loden process can commence.

loden process

Clean wool in the beginning stage of processing.

What makes loden, loden?

Fresh off the looms, loden undergoes a process called “fulling.” Fulling gives loden its signature characteristics. One method involves passing the fabric through warm water while it is beaten with wooden hammers. This process shrinks the fabric up to 40%, which makes it nearly waterproof. From there, the loden makes its way to a “raising” machine, where a series of natural fuller’s teasels raise and brush the fibers (“nap”). The nap can be trimmed or left depending on the final purpose of the loden. For example, a blanket could be left fluffy, but a formal jacket fabric would be cut. This gives the loden loft, which warms in the winter and cools during the summer. Once the fabric is finished it is ready to be cut and sewn into traditional German coats.

Planning

Robert W. Stolz men's loden coats and women's loden coats undergo meticulous cutting and sewing in Europe. Europe’s rich tradition in textile production lends its hand to modern day craftsmanship. Centuries-old techniques and equipment can still be seen in mills that create Robert W. Stolz’s German coats. The process of ‘cut and sew’ begins with a pattern or paper template, conceptualized by a designer. The template serves as a guide for fabric dimensions and stitch placement. Once a preliminary pattern is complete, a prototype is cut and sewn. The prototype is tested on various models for feedback on the fit, and another prototype is designed and tested. This process can require several iterations. Finally, when the pattern is deemed perfect, size grading is completed and coats in each size are produced for another round of testing. When that is finished, and adjustments are made as necessary, the design is done.

Pattern making for German coat

Cutting a pattern for a men's loden coat. See the finished product here.

It’s an art

There is a deeply embedded sense of pride amongst artisans for craftsmanship. This pride translates to loyalty amongst consumers who value history and authenticity. It’s why mills across Europe are investing in the next generation of skilled artisans. One only has to look at the fast fashion trends that dominate today’s marketplace to realize how important a skilled set of hands are. The intrinsic battle between mass-produced, mechanized garment production and handmade is wedged at the forefront of conscious consumerism. Robert W. Stolz’s loden coats buck the fast fashion trend, only contracting with mills that remain steadfast in tradition.

The result of meticulous craftsmanship.

It takes time…

German coats are the epitome of slow fashion. It takes upwards of a year from the time a sheep is shorn to a finished garment. Compare that to synthetic garments, which can be produced in a mere month. The production of men's loden coats confirms the old adage that “good things take time.” In the case of German coats, time means quality. The mills take time to guarantee the fabric and garments exiting their doors are up to European quality standards. Nothing is rushed. Slow fashion is vital to the future of the industry. Obtaining quality garments that will last for decades, yet remain on trend, is essential to lowering fashion’s impact on the environment.


Leave a comment