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Suitable Visions

By Kimberly Cihlar | From Gene Hackman, Sep/Oct 00

Casual Fridays, dot-com startups, and jeans notwithstanding, the classic business suit is--as it was for the last century--the corporate uniform of the day. After all, who would, for instance, hire an attorney who went to court in shirt sleeves? When it's time to really get down to business, the traditional suit comes out of the closet.

And yet, as with all things fashionable, styles change. So we asked a select group of men's clothiers to create ensembles from their wares and share their visions for the suit in the coming fall season. Some spoke in specifics--noting variations in button stances, lapel widths, shoulder padding. Others were more general--referring instead to directions in style, flexibility, casualness. But all affirmed their belief in the suit as the mainstay in a man's wardrobe.  


"It's just not true that this casual-Friday trend is destroying the suit market," Brioni USA chief executive officer Joseph Barrato confidently states. The expanded Escorial line includes a new model, the Millennio, "geared to the young man." The look is very '50s, with a higher gorge and button stance, shoulders that are very soft and a slightly narrower lapel. Predominate colors are gray and blue, with new tones such as tan, rich greens, browns and neutrals. The line also includes exclusive patterns. Shoes by John Lobb.  


Executive vice president Jack Ferrari is sweeping in describing the Hickey-Freeman approach for fall: "'Your statement, perfectly made' is our philosophy for the season, encapsulating our belief that the Hickey-Freeman man expresses his own distinctive tastes and individuality while wearing our clothes." The key elements to a lasting impression, he says, are "quality, luxury, comfort and perhaps most significantly, versatility." Shoes by John Lobb.  


William Foy, sales manager in the United States, is more exacting. "In this new collection, the novelty is the classic three-button jacket that buttons very high, in several fabrics that reflect the tradition of the bespoke suit but with a more modern point of view." The look depends on "new and precious fabrics" such as cashmere in various melange nuances, enriched with double-hand stitching. Other fabrics include English wool finished to produce more brilliance, vicuna and guanaco. Foy also touts the D'Avenza evening suits, which include velvet tuxedos infused with Lurex and one model featuring a longer length with hidden buttons. Shoes by J.M. Weston.  


"More than through a garment or a style, the Giorgio Armani man defines himself through his attitude to life," according to Armani. Nevertheless, Armani's fall look is definable in far less ethereal terms. Precise lines emphasize the contours of the body. The waist is defined, shoulders are strong, trousers are straight. Flexibility is maintained through the combination of innovative and traditional fabrics that are full-bodied: double-face wools and techno-wools with polyester for a washed effect and subtle padding. The palette is wintry: iceberg gray, polar blue, frozen aquamarine, frosted lilac, fog white and intense, deep-sea blue. The Giorgio Armani signature of subtle patterns, optical signs and micro-geometry is reaffirmed.  


Modern, easy and metropolitan, this is a collection that, in the words of president John R. Wilson, is "dedicated to men who appreciate refined timeless pieces where comfort and quality stand in each garment." Three-button and double-breasted shapes are soft, shoulders straight but natural. Fabrics, like a worsted-spun cashmere, are rich. Shoes by John Lobb.  


"For us, we believe in details, in the construction, the lightness and softness of the fabrics," says Zegna fashion and public relations director Djordje Stefanovic. "The fabrics are warm to the touch but lightweight." His nod to the casual trend is a suit jacket that can be worn separately. "Day colors," or natural shades, instead of gray or navy, predominate in patterns like glen plaids, windowpanes and overchecks. The leading silhouette is the three-button jacket with lapels a bit narrower and higher and shoulders very natural. The suit is very deconstructed, sometimes with no lining, for a trim but comfortable fit.  

CORNELIANI "We're addressing the casual Friday issue, looking at the business place and a way to dress down clothing," says executive vice president and chief operating officer Roger Cohen. "A gentleman can wear a great suit with a great sport shirt. So, we obviously don't think suit business is waning." He refers to one new model as the "Savile Row for the twenty-first century." Slightly more relaxed in the chest and with a rich sleeve head and sloped shoulder, it is soft yet sartorial. The trousers are more tapered with a flat front. He describes the patterns as light with a beautiful patina. Super 150 fabrics are strong, and the season's colors are dark gray and green backgrounds with vibrant accents in the pattern. "Nothing garish or overly bold. Men want temperate cloth, with all the travel and leisure time that's part of a man's schedule." Sweater by Canali.  


"Color and structure are back," pronounces chairman and chief executive Werner Baldessarini. The colors are dark rich tones in purple, dark red and green. The structure is predominantly three-button single-breasted with natural shoulders, cut close to the body. Lapels are high and so is button stance. Trousers are wider, more relaxed, with a fluid, elegant feeling. Shoes by J.M. Weston.  


"The elegance of Purple Label," according to Lauren, "is underscored by the new 'Manor' jacket's unconstructed design and natural shoulder, this suit being a take on the sophisticated craftsmanship of Savile Row. Throughout the collection, tones of gray are complemented by subtle shades of blue, thistle and lovett. English tailored suits have a refined look, made contemporary with narrow lapels and sleek silhouettes." Shoes by J.M. Weston  


"This season, it's all about ease," declares vice president, North America, Giorgio Canali. To that end, he strives for clothing with unique combinations of color, texture and clean, uncluttered designs to epitomize his European style. "These are clothes with a focus on detail. Everything is soft and slim. Jackets are impeccably tailored in luxurious, supple fabrics and given a new elongated shape and leaner fit offset by rounder shoulders for a more relaxed look."  


"The suit has always been the foundation of a man's wardrobe, taking him from day to night, uptown to downtown, to any city on the globe, and has always been the inspiration for my collections," says Donna Karan. Her pronouncement for fall 2000 is a sleek suit, sophisticated and cut to the body, in fabrics like innovative wools and stretch cashmere. A "modern tweed" provides texture and the palette is rich with jewel and mid tones. A new design is a convertible jacket, worn as a classic two-button or as a three-button with banded collar when buttoned at the neck. "Flexibility," she says, "is what modern dressing is all about."  


"Clothes are cut to mold and articulate the body," says Calvin Klein. "The look is very sexy, forceful yet unassuming, subtle and disarming. The suit is young, sexy, modern, cut lean and linear with narrow shoulders and lapels." Shoes by John Lobb, Rolex watch.