The Forgotten Matka

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Traditional spring/ summer fabrics tend to be a little flat in texture, at least compared to their fall/ winter counterparts. Whereas men wear heavily ribbed corduroys and hairy tweeds in the colder months, in warmer weather, everything gets pulled back to subtler cotton drills and spongy linens.

Things weren’t always this way. Only a generation ago, tailors would sometimes make summer suits and sport coats out of slubby silks, such as Dupioni and tussah. Commonly referred to as “raw silk” – even when they’re not actually “raw” – Dupioni and tussah are characterized by their irregular yarns, which give them a beautiful, nubby texture. There’s also Matka silk, which seems to be the most forgotten out of the three. While Dupioni is tightly woven, and tussah is loose, Matka is somewhere in-between. Think of it as a slubby hopsack.

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I recently found a Matka silk sport coat on eBay. The condition is less-than-great, and the chop-shop alterations makes it unwearable, but it’s still a nice example of how excellent this fabric can look as a jacketing. Made by J. Press, it features machine-stitched swelled edges, flapped patch pockets, and a welted breast. Richard Press – grandson to the original Jacobi Press, and former CEO to his family’s company – tells me that J. Press used to produce Matka silk sport coats in small quantities.

“Matka was always a fringe item for us,” says Richard. “We primarily used it for custom because the material was better suited for hand-tailoring, rather than the kind of basting and machine-work that our ready-to-wear factories were only able to provide. The problem with the fabric is that it’s loosely woven and often fragile. It can also have a lot of variation in its thickness, weight, and color, depending on the length of the bolt, which makes it hard to work with in volume.”

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The difficulty of working with Matka meant that it became even more obscure after World War II, as J. Press and other companies moved away from custom tailoring and focused more on ready-to-wear. Mine was certainly made in the postwar period (Richard thinks it was produced after his time at the company), but you still rarely see garments like this anymore. 

There are some people who are keeping the flame alive, however. Chipp Neckwear has some Matka silk neckties, while Sid Mashburn uses the material for both neckties and summer jackets (the jacket looks especially good). I’m going to see if I can’t track down some of the material myself and have it made into a sport coat (soft shouldered, single breasted, 3/2 roll, with triple patch pockets). Whether in tan or navy, I think it would be a great way to introduce a little more texture into a warm weather wardrobe. Consider it something like summer’s tweed. 

(Pictured below: suits, sport coats, and ties in Dupioni, tussah, and Matka. Pictures via Voxsartoria, Beijing1980, A Suitable Wardrobe, and Sid Mashburn)

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