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Fall Suits

Ralph DiGennaro
From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93

He cuts a figure at once elegant and authoritative as he strides confidently into the boardroom. Some glance at the perfectly dimpled tie tucked neatly under the soft collar of his dress shirt; others focus on the brown suede perforated oxfords. As he walks to the head of the long table, all notice the subtle glen plaid double-breasted suit that seems to move effortlessly with him, like a second skin. Taking his seat, he fails to unbutton the suit jacket, which doesn't tug or pull but instead drapes perfectly to accommodate the position of his body. He is the very essence of executive style, yet something is amiss.... It is almost as if he looks, well, comfortable in his clothes.

It is not by accident or divine intervention that the finest tailored clothing today fits with all the softness and comfort of sportswear. While few have noticed, a new era in men's fashion has been ushered in--that of the seasonless suit--and there will no doubt be scores of men more comfortably dressed as a result. That collective sigh of relief you hear is Corporate America finally relaxing, from Wall Street to Walla Walla. Indeed, it is reassuring to know that ease and elegance need not be mutually exclusive in men's suits, at least for those with the means to afford such tailored luxury.

Credit for this development in men's clothing may be traced to a handful of progressive Italian fabric companies that have been making technological strides in producing lightweight, supple yet sturdy woolens and worsteds. In turn, clothing designers such as Giorgio Armani, Ermenegildo Zegna, Luciano Barbera, Nick Hilton, Oxxford, and Donna Karan have worked these soft lightweight fabrics into suits that offer comfort and drape without sacrificing propriety in the process. The man in the gray flannel suit is now the man in the lightweight, 100s high-twist (superfine weave) worsted. And certainly not just in gray.

Of course, most of these luxurious wool fabrics, which are spun from superfine yarns--sometimes in combination with cashmere and baby alpaca--require a good amount of hand tailoring, with natural canvas-sewn fronts as opposed to fusing (a process in which nonwoven material is glued between fabric layers). Hand-tailored clothing, like the special fabrics from which it is often produced, doesn't come cheap. But for style-conscious men in search of the finest tailored clothing offering the greatest amount of comfort and refinement, only the best will do.

"High-quality hand-tailored suits wear so well, they can last more than ten years or so," says Derrill Osborn, vice-president and senior buyer of men's tailored clothing for Dallas-based Neiman Marcus. "And that represents a good investment. This is clothing for the man who has arrived, who doesn't need to dress fashionably to get to the top. He already has the best money can buy on his back.

"We need to appreciate fine clothing more," continues Osborn. "It's like fine paintings; we have to hold on to these precious things as long as we can."

One of the earliest purveyors of luxurious clothing in seasonless-weight fabrics is Ermenegildo Zegna, an 83-year-old Italian clothing company, which is unique in that it raises its own sheep, spins its own yarn and weaves its own fabrics, in addition to manufacturing finished clothing. According to Barry Miguel, Zegna vice-president and creative director, the most exclusive Zegna suits, which range from $1,300 to $1,600, are made of a high-twist fabric known as Tindaril, which keeps the wearer cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It also travels extremely well, since it's resistant to wrinkling.

"We live in a modern global society," explains Miguel, "and businessmen travel and need to wear suits that are comfortable enough and versatile for any climate. And in today's economy, a man wants to be able to wear a suit at least nine months of the year."

Giorgio Armani's preoccupation with comfort and drape in tailored clothing dates back to the late '70s, according to Ed Glanz, senior vice-president of merchandising and production for Giorgio Armani Fashion Corporation, when the Milan-based designer started turning out suits in lightweight natural linen that wrinkled like crazy. To further shock, he often showed them worn over white T-shirts, condemned by some at the time as a form of fashion heresy. In fact, the look was immortalized in the movie American Gigolo, about a suave hustler played by Richard Gere, whose extensive wardrobe was designed by Armani.

"Back in the '70s, the statement was that casual can also mean a suit, whether it's day or evening," explains Glanz. "Armani's look then, and even today, reflects a casual approach to tailored clothing without turning it into something it isn't."

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