Fashion: Vive Europa

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Glance over at the monochromactically decked-out cell-phone abuser whipping through the first-class lounge, the one wearing the minichecked sport coat softened by a merino sweater cascading from his shoulders and flowing, creaseless trousers that dip just above low-vamped glove-like leather driving moccasins. Validate this one Venice, Italy…tailor-made, Milano.
The Italians have always conceived of great style and achieved it with equivalent craftsmanship. High style lies at the cornerstone of the entire Italian lifestyle, but applies more to clothing than perhaps any other category of consumption.
Italians take to heart Giorgio Armani's three rules of style and design: "Eliminate the superfluous, emphasize the comfortable, and acknowledge the elegance of the uncomplicated."
When Italy first waved the fashion scepter sometime in the early 1400s, Renaissance Romans were weavers and creators of beautiful fine fabrics that they sold throughout Europe. Ancient lore has it that Italians mastered the art of working with tender silk after two monks visiting the Orient smuggled out silkworm eggs in their telescoping canes. Italy conquered the use of other fine fabrics as well, among them cashmere, super woolens, vicuna and linen. A vivid sense of color inspired by the Mediterranean Sea and sky has always imbued Italian clothing with intense and bright saturated hues: such as azure, coral and sage.
Italy discovered tailoring by way of the English suit model in the late nineteenth century. Its skilled craftsmen emulated the form and added their own elegantly insouciant details as they caught on to the style in the early twentieth century.
The Italians made great inroads on the '50s fashion catwalks with their own versions of the tightly fitted suits the French were creating.
Italy's claim to recent fame coincided with Giorgio Armani's seduction of the world in 1980 with actor Richard Gere erotically dressing for the evening in the movie American Gigolo. Italian (and American) style would never be the same again. Armani's genius was not that the suit made Gere look great (that's easy enough). It could make anyone, particularly the man of a heftier American build, look good. Armani's flowing new business silhouette was born of physical reality. You could hide an entire corporation under the generous drape of yards of luxurious fabric. It was just what Americans wanted after years of trying to pinion their milk-fed physiques into European hourglass suits.
Clearing Customs
Today, Italy represents the assimilation of fabric mill technology and designer creation of shape and silhouette. Design houses such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Canali and Giorgio Armani operate mills where fabrics are woven, new technologies tested and bested, and styles manufactured.
Joseph Barrato, Brioni's chief executive officer, speaks of his company's exclusive high-performance wool that emphasizes natural stretch along with the hand of cashmere. Called Escorial, the material -- although quite expensive -- is used for suits that can be worn 12 months out of the year.
Ermenegildo Zegna pushes the envelope, too, when it comes to high-performance textile development, which it then incorporates into its various clothing collections. According to Djordje Stefanovic, Zegna's fashion director, the family reworks techniques for fabrics with the softest hand and highest resilience. One such process applies chemicals to linen, providing a finish similar in appearance to Irish linen but with a softer hand and greater endurance.
Boarding Pass
The Italian suit customer is a man of many talents driven by aesthetic desires, a world traveler. He may be young or older, in the best physical state or just aspiring to it. Wear suits that are relaxed confidence boosters from designers such as Brioni, Zegna, Canali, Corneliani, Armani, Gianfranco Ferre, Nino Cerruti, Luciano Barbera and Etro.
Kimberly Cihlar is a freelance writer living in New York.
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