It’s been said that dead men tell no tales, but would they stay equally mum about their tailoring? For artist Hormazd Narielwalla, author of the limited-edition book Dead Men’s Patterns, the tissue-paper templates that bespoke tailors fastidiously preserve speak volumes about the gents they’re modeled after, even long after they’ve shuffled off the mortal coil. Narielwalla discovered his first “dead man’s pattern”—carefully folded and marked with “dead for ten years”—during an apprenticeship with Dege & Skinner on Savile Row early in his career. The book chronicles Narielwalla’s experiences with these archived scraps of paper, which were utilitarian in life but are now a poignant memento of a man’s relationship with his tailor. They’re quite beautiful, albeit in a creepy, voyeuristic kinda way.
Wrapped in the same tissue that tailors use for their patterns, the book has the weight and feel of a old tome you find in someone’s musty attic. Inside, you’ll get a peek into the rather secretive world of bespoke tailoring, an art form that has languished in the era of ready-to-wear and off the rack.
Molded perfectly to each person’s contours, the templates reveal the intimate measurements of bodies long turned into ashes.
Leafing through the pages, which also contain sepia-toned photographs of Narielwalla’s tutor, master cloth-cutter Robert Whittaker, the book sheds a light on how much care and painstaking exactitude went into creating a single jacket or pair of pants. Folded up inside are reproductions of the titular dead men’s patterns. Molded perfectly to each person’s contours, the templates reveal the intimate measurements of bodies long turned into ashes and dust. “Hidden beneath the bespoke menswear, there is a secret,” he says. “Everyone sees the suit, yet few are privy to that private dialogue which assesses, measures, and catalogues the subtle details which make up one single man.”
But although Dead Men’s Patterns is essentially about death, it also offers an element of rebirth. Towards the end of the book, Narielwall reimagines the templates in new configurations, such as pockets as epaulets or arm panels as the sides of a waistcoat. “[The] “shapes created by and for a body long-since dead can give new dimensions, new perspectives for the body of someone alive,” he says.
Dead Men’s Patterns is available at select booksellers, including Betram Rota.