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Fantastic Fabrics

The fashion industry keeps raising the bar on fabric fineness, but at what point does it go from the sublime to the ridiculous?
Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Greg Raymer, Sept/Oct 2004

(continued from page 1)

For his part Gill says: "I reckon we take care of the social needs of the sheep better than anyone else."

By that he doesn't mean providing a dating service for the rams and the ewes, but that timid sheep are separated from what he calls barbarians, thereby ensuring consistent feeding for animals less inclined to fight for their grub. If it seems far-fetched, it is more reasonable than how Spanish conquerors reacted when they first encountered the vicuna. They slaughtered them to obtain what the Incas called "the fiber of the gods."

Current wisdom holds that you can shear an animal many times, but skin it only once. Gill produces the proof of the method in all this madness: a shawl that his company, Jemala. It is pure gossamer, sensually soft and light as a feather. It is hard to imagine how this virtual cotton candy of a textile could translate into a suit.

And that's the point that Martin Nicholls, custom tailor for Alfred Dunhill, is making from his office in London. "It's makeable," he says of the prospect of creating a suit from wool of such fineness, "but, let's face it, a suit is a piece of outerwear."

Not only will the final product be far less durable, but his job of hand tailoring becomes far more difficult, because the tailor is working with finer components. The flimsier cloth stretches more in the cutting and requires finer threads to sew the pieces together and a more delicate inner shell. He explains that an integral part of the process that makes a Savile Row so personal to the wearer is the obsessive ironing that is done to form the curves that conform to the customer's body. "At the back and shoulder seam, you're moving cloth, forcing it in and pressing it away. You're putting too much cloth in an armhole and then making it right by pressing. The lighter the cloth, the less you can press it away."

Nicholls judges that Super 150s or Super 120s blended with cashmere are the points where finer cloths can still hold the tailoring—"and a crease, that's quite important."

Above those levels? "If you're a billionaire, yeah, go for it. But you almost need someone to take care of your wardrobe."

Like Katzman, he suggests dry-cleaning only when necessary, and finding someone who understands how to treat a garment of that quality.

While Nicholls doesn't necessarily ascribe to the spiraling Supers trend, he sees the allure. "It's a great tool for driving the market. Whereas Super 100s were once the height of luxury, now that seems almost like a Farmer Brown suit."

Dunhill, Nicholls says, is focusing on local mills and celebrating English cloth, which tends to be more robust and keep its shape better. The look is classic patterns with revived surface interest, such as pinstripes with light blue and beige lines or stripes formed from tiny x's. There's also a multicheck fabric that harks to the classic tweed jacket meant for wearing in the bush, but made from fine worsteds: "the kind of thing you'd wear if the deepest jungle you're going to be in is a sale at Harrod's."

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