As the classic American outerwear brand relaunches, David Hellqvist looks at the role Spiewak played in 20th century history, and what impact that has on today’s consumers
Clothes are defined by more than just their quality and durability. Our relationship with garments aren’t just based on where they’re made and what designer name is on the label. Clothes, when they’re at their best, mean a lot more than that to the wearer… they’re part of mythology and keepers of legend. It might just be a personal one, a lonely one-man club, but power isn’t necesarrily manifested in numbers: it takes just one person and his beliefs to make it true. Honesty is not measured in quantity, but quality. Memories are a powerful force, associations can make or break most things, and clothes are no exceptions. When you try on a jacket, wear a specific pair of trousers or select a certain shirt, you make a conscious decision – sometimes it’s just based on the fact that you need to wear something, if nothing else to keep warm and dry, but on other occasions they’ll actually mean something, and then your clothes of choice matters.
Exactly 110 years ago, having fled Warsaw, Poland, for a better life in America, Isaac Spiewak founded his eponymous outerwear company, selling hand-made sheepskin vests to dock workers in Brooklyn, New York. A couple of years later, as the family business expanded, a local manufacturing space was built. Around the time of America entering the First World War in 1917, Spiewak signed up a new client that would come to define the brand and its products: the US army. Having clothed two world wars, the brand was then picked up by various uniform-wearing units, such as the US Postal Service and numerous police forces around America, in the 1950s.
Since then, based on the idea of functional safety and versatile utilitarianism, the Spiewak jackets have been worn by generations of soldiers, police officers and fire fighters because of their recognised quality and durability. For me, and many others, those men are part of the reason we wear Spiewak today. Sure, the actual design, the way they’re made and the function they fill are main criterias that need to be filled when buying a jacket, but let’s also recognise that clothing is about more than pragmatic needs, it’s poetry.
Perhaps the garment actually reminds you of something. Or someone. The smell, texture or atmosphere takes you back to your childhood, or last year. The coat might represent a place that no longer exists, or a long gone era. Only you and the garment can testify to that relationship. Maybe your dad had one. Maybe there was one lying around in the boat your family sailed every summer. Or those trousers you wore every Saturday for years when hiking in the woods. Those garments are relics, as such they’re priceless. Then there’s the other kind of pieces, the ones we associate with a third party, a non-family related person or event in the past. Growing up, we’re fed history lessons in school. Often the only ones I truly paid attention to were about war and adventure, the times when history dressed itself for action.
Throughout the 20th century, mankind experienced enormous amounts of heartbreaking traumas, both man-made conflicts and natural disasters. On every single such occasion, there were uniformed men there to assist and help, be it from the military or police. Through two world wars and every single conflict since, plus countless incidents that’ve required a police presence, uniforms have come to represent a sense of protection. There are definelty cases when they’ve meant the opposite as well, that we can not forget about, but in the case of the Spiewak coats – the fabric, fit, colours, smell, styles and atmosphere – they mean security and safety. Deck jackets worn by tank drivers manoeuvring Shermans through Belgium, sailors wearing pea coats on the Atlantic during the First World War, paratroopers from the 82nd airborne division in field jackets preparing for Operation Overlord in 1944, or US Air Force pilots in flight suits during the Korea war in the 1950s, Spiewak was there, enabling them to do their work.
And, in a way, it’s that association that makes Spiewak unique. Over a hundred years old, Spiewak not only produces garments for organisations that rely on them for quality, they also keep that mentality alive for the rest of us. Newly relaunched and with design veteran Maurizio Donadi as creative director, Spiewak Golden Fleece – the brand’s premium line – is bringing back the classic styles, modified with luxury fabrics – like melton wools – to make them relevant for a 21st century lifestyle.
These jackets, while paying respect to the people who fought in them, are now passed on to us – it doesn’t mean I’m a firefighter or off to war, it’s not about that. It’s about a feeling, an atmosphere. And it’s not just about the quality or the make. The fact that Spiewak’s jackets have been good enough for Brooklyn dock workers, soldiers, police officers and postal worker for 110 years, and that I can now wear the same jacket, means I’m able to share something with them. Memories, stories, legends and feelings are, it appears, stronger than the stitches of any overlock machine.
More info on Spiewak HERE