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Fall Suits

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

(continued from page 1)

Armani's fabrics this fall, at once lightweight and textural, are also highly sophisticated in terms of color and pattern. And when combined with a relaxed drapey fit, the result is tailored clothing that in many ways redefines the genre.

While Armani suit jackets may feel like a favorite cardigan when worn, the finely tailored elegance is unmistakable. Expect to pay at least $1,400 for ease and elegance Armani-style. That's for the designer's white label clothing. For the black label collection, which is Armani's signature line and is sold only in Giorgio Armani boutiques and certain specialty stores such as Barneys, the prices ascend to $2,000 and beyond.

Luciano Barbera and Brioni are two more examples of sheer artistry in Italian suiting, the latter a hallmark of what has come to be known as "Roman style"--a conservative yet meticulous approach to fine tailoring that favors economy in balance and shape rather than the generous, relaxed silhouettes typified by Armani. Brioni clothing is made almost completely by hand and is sold only in its own New York boutique and in better specialty Stores such as Neiman Marcus, Barneys, and Maus & Hoffman in Florida.

For those in the know, Barbera represents the Château Pétrus of Italian tailored clothing, so masterful and meticulous is the hand-tailoring, so idiosyncratic yet discreet are the patterns and colors. This is arguably the most luxurious tailored clothing available today and is made exclusively of its own rich and expensive fabrics. In balance, shape, and detail, the man in a Barbera suit strikes an elegant silhouette. This is clothing that will mold to the wearer's shape to ensure comfort and ease of movement. A little more than $2,000 will put you in a Luciano Barbera suit. And a cashmere sportcoat by Barbera, at $ 2,500 or more, is as coveted as a box of Romeo y Julieta Fabulosos.

Stateside, a number of American clothing designers and manufacturers are following the lead of their Italian counterparts, turning out hand-tailored suits of luxurious fabrics that are seriously elegant yet don't sacrifice comfort and ease. Oxxford Clothing, a conservative yet quality-oriented company, has never stopped producing suits that are 90 percent sewn by hand. While Oxxford patterns lean toward the classic, and the styling is more mature, few American-made suits fit as comfortably or will endure as long.

Equal in quality hand-tailoring is the clothing produced in the Brooklyn factory of Martin Greenfield, whose educated eye and remarkable craftsmanship graces the private label suits of such prestigious stores as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Dunhill. Greenfield, who stands as the last of the bastion of hand-tailors who once reigned in New York, also hand-sews the collections of designers Alexander Julian and Donna Karan. Perhaps even more impressive, Greenfield is the tailor of choice for Bill Clinton, whose sartorial style is virtually the only attribute of the president that has not been under siege.

Luxurious tailored clothing continues as a cornerstone of the Polo by Ralph Lauren fashion empire, as the designer continues to be unrivaled as the best interpreter of classic English-pattern suits. Always an inspiration to young designers, Lauren has spawned a wealth of creative offspring such as Joseph Abboud and Nick Hilton.

One of the newest names on a dwindling roster of American designers still in business, Nick Hilton was born to the clothing business as the son of Norman Hilton, a traditional suit manufacturer who recently retired from the wholesale business. Nick reinvented the company in his own image and renamed it Nick Hilton. The objective: to design clothing for the stylish sons of his father's customers.

Combing the international fabric markets for the softest richest fabrics that are still lightweight, Hilton brings a well-trained and tasteful eye to his designing. The clothes are classic yet modern, with unusual mixes of textures and colors--a deft design trick that he performs with ease. The look has fast become a Nick Hilton trademark. This is American-made clothing that artfully combines form with flair. In just two short seasons, Nick Hilton has made serious inroads on the men's fashion front despite the $1,500 and higher price tags his suits can command. Look for a Nick Hilton boutique in the new Barneys scheduled to open on Madison Avenue in New York City this fall.

From Milan to Manhattan, men are beginning to embrace the idea of comfortable suits. While this newfound comfort in tailored clothing has its price, it is worth noting that as the '90s unfold, ease and elegance are becoming an integral part of the new fashion vocabulary. And that spells good news for those who want to be well dressed in the boardroom and beyond.

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