Pattern puzzle: Parrot jacket 2

I meant to follow up with the first post over a week ago, but I’m still fighting off this cold I brought back from Mexico. Not exactly productive around here and still cranky too. Complain complain. Anyway, I appreciate the leads and tips that came in from visitors about East West Musical Company (and I got a few more photos too). The first email I got was from Carrie, one of their cutters. This is what she said, imparting a bit of flavor and the process used by her previous employer:

I was the only woman cutter ever at East West and one of the first, getting shown the ropes by Steve Ball who helped Norman Stubbs get into the business. There were both men and women sewers. In the early days we laid out the actual stiff paper patterns on the hides and traced around them with marker pens before cutting out with scissors. Later, at the beginning of a season, several of us would trace the pieces for each design and all sizes thereof onto masonite, cut them out on a band saw and lightly sand the edges. These masonite patterns enabled us to cut directly around the templates with our super-sharp knives on woodblock table tops. As you noted with the Parrot, many coats had numerous pieces in different colors and even combinations of suede and smooth sides up, so the time to cut them really varied by this complexity.

Every morning we cutters took turns drawing from the stack of the day’s orders, so that we could each get our fair share of the simpler designs along with the more complex ones. We were paid piece work by the jacket or pair of pants. This was great work for young people and took lots of energy. We had to haul huge sacks of leather from the storeroom, lift and sort hides and be on our feet all day. But we all really had a good time knew that we were doing something quite unique and creative.

As far as I can tell, all of their past employees still rave about their experiences working for the company. I think that kind of reputation and longevity is something every manufacturer should strive for. The process of cutting Carrie outlines is something I’ve seen a lot of smaller scale leather companies do. Nadine (who teaches accessory design) does something similar. Masonite is an option if you can’t afford dies or die cutting equipment. I have some masonite patterns I bought from a company that went under. Their patterns were awful (click through, it’s funny) so I haven’t been motivated to even test walk them. Obviously, East West’s were better as you’ll see a little later on.

Other Kathleen found some links to more East West styles. Here’s the “Wren”, style # 3777. It’s for sale at $2,745.00. The piecing on this is exquisite, check out those sleeves and don’t miss the center back panel; it’s one curved piece.

Kathleen also includes a link to an exhibition page with more pictures of East West jackets in one place than I’ve seen elsewhere on the web. There’s yet another version of the parrot jacket there too. Apparently they re-ran this style over and over in different colorways. That’s a hint for you. As if I’d never suggested it before.

Here’s photos of another style I like, the “Smoke” (boy I hate the naming thing but whatever). Here’s the back:

Here’s a view of the inside back so you can see the seams and stitching. Check out those allowances, this most definitely wasn’t haphazardly engineered. There’s no way these pieces would line up so neatly otherwise.

It’s just kind of funny in a weird sort of way. East West had a reputation for being a stoner’s hang out but stoned or not, these results took some dedication and discipline. Below is the front of “Smoke”.

Anyway, hope you like! Maybe it’ll inspire someone to step up to the plate. The value of these isn’t so much that they’re vintage but that the design details are so unique. Like I say, there’s plenty of room in the market for people making nice stuff…I wonder what a pattern for one of these things would go for? I should make one instead of talking about it. I really like the “Wren”.

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  1. Todd Hudson says:

    This jacket is beautiful! If you want proof that the makers liked to indulge in “alternative medicine”, take a peak under the collar at center back and you should find a zippered pocket in the under collar piece meant for storing small objects. Post a pic if you got em!

    My question: would a lining improve the value if you were going to reproduce this type of jacket (imagine same tight fit for same market)? I rarely find old leather jackets that are unlined. I wonder why East West choose not to. Maybe because of how they were worn skin tight over t-shirts in hot environments? Or maybe because the lining would always rip and disintegrate over time before the leather.

  2. Kathleen says:

    I would think a lining improves the value. I’ve only made one leather jacket without lining and that was deerskin. The suede side (inside) was just too lovely, buttery snuggle soft to cover it up. I couldn’t bear to do it. I still have 45sqft of that around.

    I can’t imagine why they didn’t line the jackets. A counter culture protest? Linings from a pattern standpoint introduce a whole other layer of complexity to say nothing of sourcing and bagging. They also didn’t fuse anything and they were partial to glues (which I don’t like). Some of the E-W jackets didn’t fare as well; the glued hems were obvious and detracted from the smooth finish that is typical of quality specimens like the ‘Wren’.

  3. Heather says:

    From the description of the wren it is lined. I would guess that some customers would order without lining to decrease price. If I found the Wren in my size, I would totally buy it. Well, if I had 3 grand to spend on a jacket I would.

  4. nadine says:

    PURE BLISS! Thanks for the morning article. You have to understand that the leather jacket construction utilized by East West is a step up from leather accessory construction. I.E. using glue instead of fusible. I don’t think there was anything better than stiff pellon back in the early 70’s. I have also seen a factory on the east coast that made leather bomber jackets and did production for Burberry using heavy chipboard (080 chip) patterns and cutting with a long blade like a bookbinding knife. This was the old school way of doing it when you didn’t own a clicker (hydraulic cutter). Since class is starting for me tomorrow, I’ll send a photo of how leather knives are used in cutting accessories. E/W Instruments apparently took a similar approach. LOVE IT!

  5. cdbehrle says:

    Around 1995, I was handed one of these “Parrot” jackets and asked to replicate it for Patricia Field’s in NYC. It was a size medium and I doubt it would have fit a 12 year old in it’s day. It was cut sooo small, way, way beyond tight. I set about re-creating it- Keeping it faithful in detail-including the stash pocket under the collar which was a trademark of these jackets! Updating the fit and re-imagining the colors.

    Shortly thereafter I met one of the (maybe the) original salesmen from EW Musical Instruments. He saw my version, (in metallics) which I called “Swan” (it was numbered too) at a trade show and flipped! He loved it, and could tell right away that the fit had been updated.

    According to him, he’d sold over $850,000.00 worth of jackets one year and not one of them fit! (I’d have worked my tail off to fit into one of those originals and I’m sure many did!)& between that and the freebies the company gave away to celebs and musician for buzz, EW Musical Instruments went belly up. …and the designer was brilliant. (even in a haze- as noted) He obviously loved the guy’s work and after maybe 20 years was still heartbroken about the company’s demise. This was his story.

    The original jacket, besides being insanely tiny, was beautifully constructed, all inlay and applique work, unlike “Smoke”.
    It was unlined, and a true classic of 70’s art leathercraft. My version was lined, the front seams were used for fit (original was not) and was finely finished.

    When the limited run of jackets hit the store, the manager called me to warn me to keep an eye out-a big Euro designer’s head of PR had bought one. Pat Field’s had been having a run of very big designers shopping there that year and copying their merchandise, so they were keeping tabs.
    I really doubt they ever tried to copy my homage jacket. It took at least 8 hours per piece to build-in production, had tons of hand prep work before stitching and used almost twice the footage that a small fitted jacket would usually take.

    And it was so much FUN to do! These posts got me looking up old pictures and I am still thrilled with the way my old homage came out!

  6. Paul says:

    I found an East West musical instruments jacket in the “SMOKE” style. It is lined, so they obviously lined some jackets. I found a $2 bill in the stash pocket. The $2 bill was given to a guy named Jeff in 1977 by A girl named Emily and told him to keep the $2 for luck. This was written on the bill. There it apparently remained until i found this jacket in a local thrift. It is a gorgeous jacket and i sure wish it fit. Any one have any idea of the value?

    • Kenn Fung says:

      Only if the lining used the same Lavender color sewing thread on the leather label and throughout the garment. If the lining thread is a different color then a former owner had the lining put in for them.
      Hope this clears that a little.
      Kenn Fung
      Leather artist from SF since 1971.

  7. David Himel says:

    Some of the EW jackets were lined some were not. Often the people wearing the jackets would remove the liners which were a typical burgandy rayon. I suspect the reasons varied but mostly EW was being sold to young skinny hippys who prefered the feel of natural leather on the skin. Rayon liners would increase the “heat” factor wearing the jackets. The “young and skinny” factor often explained the sizing issues. As well people today are just fat compared to the late sixties and early seventies. The big market for these jackets developed and became collected not in North America but in Japan, where ironically people are smaller and not “fat” therefore the EW jackets fit them perfectly. I have owned over 40 EW jackets bought and sold and I can tell you the majority were worn on bare skin as you can see the sweat and oil transfered to the inside of the jackets. EW was not the only hippy jacket company of the era doing these panelled styles. Oshwahkon, Gandalf, Mango Road, William Barry, Natural Comfort, Adam and Eve, and the list goes on and on , all made this style of jacket. What happend was the rise of cheaper leather manufacture in South America and Asia. North American leather companies could no longer compete by the late 1970s with cheaper leather products and much like today moved their production offshore to Japan, Uraguy and Korea where they copied their own designs with inferior leather and sewing practices. It signalled the end of the great hippy era companies.

  8. WDC says:

    Hi there ive got one of these jackets in the parrot design, the colours on mine are silver, pink, blue and the leather is almost glittery, like shiny. I was just wondering if its one of the more rare designs and if its worth anything? its it good condition, apart from wear because of its age, oh yeah its got had written on the label the size which is a M and the serial number 4124, hop someone can help!!



  9. crystal says:

    Hi, I know I’m wayyyyy behind all of you!! I just wanted to comment that I recently had the privilege of purchasing the EWMI “smoke” jacket at a thrift shop. I listed it on ebay and it went for a whopping $2360.00!! I was very happy with the outcome & it sold to a Japanese buyer. I really thought it would go to an American. I then found out that the buyer has a vintage store online & he’s selling an EWMI for over $20,000!! I guess they are in really high demand there. I just could never imagine that a thrift store bargain of $20 would sell for over 2grand!!!!!!!!! I hated getting rid of it and contemplated keeping it, but the sleeves were too long. It was an art form, the piece work was amazing & the color was to die for!

  10. Clara Rico says:

    Its funny that the fit was awful. The first think I thought when I saw “wren” 3777 was that that is the way to do a stylish yoke over the BP for fitting without darts. In fact, all the lines seem to be placed for improving fit.

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