Think $50,000 overcoat, and it’s easy to conjure a story in Us Weekly about a celebrity shopping binge that also includes $100,000 shoes, a stop for multiple Hermes purses, followed by merengues with Victoria Beckham. A $50,000 coat is an indulgence, but what Hanover, N.H., author Meg Lukens Noonan found in her book “The Coat Route: Craft, Luxury & Obsession on the Trail of the $50,000 Coat ” was something far more reserved. The coat in question represents a hundreds-year-old tradition of bespoke clothing with some of the most luxurious material available, assembled by skilled craftsmen. She traced the route of the materials that make up the Vicuna coat with Italian silk lining, and collected her adventures in “Coat.”
Q. How did you come across the coat?
A. I had done a story about the ultimate down comforter. I had an interest in luxury items that are made in remote places. I was hunting around for other things like that with the idea that I’d write a book about them. But I found this coat. I was so impressed with how multi-layered the coat was and the people behind it that I thought maybe this could be a book on its own.
Q. A lot of people would poo-poo the idea of having to pay $50,000 for a coat. Was that your initial reaction when you heard about the coat?
A. I was fascinated by it. I was so curious about the person or people who would pay this kind of money for a garment. I didn’t know anything about the bespoke tailoring world. I had no idea that there was this subculture out there. There were people, mostly men, who spend money on clothing rather than going out and buying a car or a yacht. I found it fascinating. These clothes didn’t even have labels on them. You can’t even flash your Armani label when you’re taking off your jacket.
Q. How large is the subculture of men buying this level of clothing?
A. I think it’s small. I don’t know numbers. They’re very passionate about it. It’s a small world, but it’s big enough to sustain the number of craftsman producing these things.
Q. From the book, it sounds as if there’s a fear that it’s a generation of craftsman who are dying off and not being replaced.
A. Definitely. Everywhere I went there’s a feeling that these men, the craftsman behind all parts of this right down to the buttons, don’t have sons or daughters coming in. These are third- and fourth-generation craftsman who have been carrying on the family business for 150-plus years. They don’t have successors.
Q. What about the subculture of the men who are buying these clothes? Is it shrinking as well?
A. From what I gather there has been renewed interest in custom-made clothing. Savile Row in London has seen an uptick in orders and they think that part of it might be due to TV shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Mad Men.” Things that show men in beautiful, tailored clothing.
Q. Did you find yourself craving the finer things after writing the book?
A. The first discouraging realization I had was how poorly all my clothes fit because I was around these men who were wearing perfectly tailored clothes. They are wearing clothes that are sculptural. The way that these clothes are built onto their bodies, even if they don’t have the best physiques, is incredible. After the realization that my clothes didn’t really fit and they were poorly made, it was a little disheartening. I did dream that someday I’d be able to order a bespoke something. Maybe a cashmere-blend blazer?
Interview was edited and condensed. Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.