Surfers, an influential cast of characters and their friends came in droves to the original M.Nii Tailor shop in Makaha because the garments they made were known for their fine details and bulletproof durability. We still mirror the methods implemented over sixty years ago tailored to the modern man who appreciates the same attention we focus on in the construction our fine American-made clothes. Our creative director, John Moore shares more about our process.
The M.Nii Tailor shop was known for making some of the most durable clothes for surfers, Hollywood celebrities and their friends. What techniques were employed to ensure these things were going to last?
Many of the stories about the M.Nii tailoring process have been passed down through generations so depending on the source we’ve heard some colorful tales. Walter Hoffman told us that he remembers a bunch of rolls of twill in the corner of the tailor shop in different colors, “So that was really your only choice of cloth.” Why only twill? Our best guess is that because they were building band uniforms for the local schools before they started making bespoke surf trunks for these legendary watermen and their friends, that’s what they had available. And what worked for the band uniforms was going to work for the surf trunks- out of necessity! Greg Noll later told us that the fabric was “bullet-proof!” So I think it really comes down to the cloth. The original M.Nii trunks, dubbed “The Makaha Drowners,” were essentially a surfer’s uniform. They were literally a piece of equipment and the “bullet-proof” twill that Greg and Walter speak of which was going to stand the test of time in the sun, salt water and the constant beating of the wild surf.
Also, on the usage of the word “celebrities,” I would much rather think of them as luminaries of their time—these were larger than life men with huge personalities who went on to run the free world—guys like JFK and some of the most rugged men on the silver screen like John Wayne. Today, the word celebrity is tossed around so easily, but these luminaries came through the M.Nii shop because they respected the bravery of men like Greg Noll and Walter Hoffman in the giant surf, and they aspired to brave the ocean just like them. JFK’s brother-in-law was Peter Lawford, a M.Nii regular and John Wayne were buddies with Duke Kahanamoku (the Duke hangin’ with the Duke), so these luminaries called these wave riding pioneers friends and family and would hangout and paddle out with them.
Bottom line, these luminaries were rugged classics just like the reputation of the product that came out of the M.Nii shop. “The [Gunslinger] Duke” wanted a pair of trunks that would last as long as his timeless legacy! These men didn’t have stunt doubles on the screen, so they sure as hell weren’t spectators at Makaha.
On our surf trunks and shorts the buttons need to be especially strong. Can you talk more about how those are fastened to the shorts?
Believe it or not, the original buttons on M.Nii trunks were ceramic, which was considered a durable option in that era. Today we’re working with the same button company that made those original ceramic buttons, now the material is a stronger polyester base, but the design and style of the button is exactly the same. And we are using a tex60 thread with a double stitching operation to ensure that these buttons remain exactly where they are supposed.
To what extent are the new M.Nii items similar to what we being produced in the middle of last century?
With regard to our trunks, there are many similarities including the fact we still build our “Drowners” with the same flat-cut waistband and contoured side seam, which allows the shorter length to sit lower on the hips. When I really consider the similarities to the original process, I think about the fact that we employ the same hands-on approach and attention to detail as the tailor shop did sixty years ago. Everyone who came to the shop was measured and every single item of clothing was built just for them. We’re employing the same approach by building 100% of our product in our backyard of Los Angeles with people we know and trust. Michael (our lead designer) and Raul (our production manager) spend 90% of their time in our factories monitoring every stitch and working with our pattern maker to refine the fit and construction. We don’t send anything into the great unknown and cross our fingers that some factory overseas will get it right. We know we’ll get it right ‘cause we’re watching every needle go into every stitch with the same great people that have been sewing our goods since we put our first trunks in Partners & Spade two summers ago.
Are there any proprietary technologies being used in the modern construction of M. Nii items?
We are still building our “Makaha Drowners” with the same button-fly fold over tab construction that the originals were built with, and our notched-corner pocket shape with our double-button patch and flap construction is indelibly linked with M.Nii’s heritage. In fact, this pocket shape is the sure-sign detail that identifies an M.Nii trunk in unidentified images from the fifties and sixties.
Also, Raul wanted to make sure that you know “we use Perma Core Tex40 thread, and all of our shorts are constructed with an SPI of 16 to 18 stitches-per-inch, making our garments impossible to rip.” And although the concept of stitches-per-inch might sounds more analogue than it does technology, this is just the type of proprietary sameness that we are bringing into our modern construction…. “Bullet-Proof” quality and great fits.
What about the rest of the items that go into this year ‘round brand like the wovens, pants and sweaters?
Ultimately, we bring the same mentality into the rest of the collection as we do with our trunks. Most of what we make is really challenging to produce—an example of this is our stitches-per-inch requirements. Most manufacturers don’t even want to do this for us, because it’s time consuming and really costly. These features define the soul of the M.Nii brand. It’s incredibly important to everyone who touches the M.Nii brand that everything comes from a very genuine place, regardless if it actually had origins in the M.Nii shop. We know the shop made band uniforms, great trunks, and even suits for legendary surfers and luminaries. Today, when we’re designing woven shirts and sweaters, even though we don’t have any original M.Nii reference samples, we still try to build them with timeless style and unbreakable quality for the modern man’s wardrobe—and we build them right down the street.