Private Preview 2003: The Great Pretenders

  • William Kissel

For years, suitmakers have sought to lighten wool suits for summer by removing the linings. Next year, with the same goal, Brioni, Canali, Kiton, and Pal Zileri will go a step further and remove the wool.

“We’ve developed a cotton that is similar in all respects to Super 150s wool,” explains Gabriele Napoletano, Brioni’s sales director. “It looks exactly like wool,” he says, “but because it’s cotton, it is much lighter.”

Welcome to the new material world, where cotton masquerades as wool, woven fabrics appear to be knits, and silk has the touch of linen.

Kiton has found a way to produce summer cashmere suits by weaving the fiber at a super lightweight 160 grams, about the same weight as a typical cotton dress shirt. Canterelli will offer pure linen neckwear woven with pinstripes to mirror the look of suit fabrics, and Luciano Barbera puts a new twist on the concept with a wool suit made to look and feel like lightweight linen.

“A lot of the Italian companies are combining their interest in handmade clothing with a larger, more versatile selection of fabrics, which is very appealing to the American market,” says Domenico Vacca, owner of a new signature store in New York. “Attolini did some great jackets out of Sea Island cotton with [tra-ditional wool-style] checks and other patterns that are very fresh. I think it’s very interesting to see a typical shirt fabric used for a jacket. It works beautifully.”

The trend also crosses over from traditional tailored looks to sportswear. Canali has redefined heavy five-pocket jeans by constructing them out of a lighter-weight blend of linen and denim, and at Lorenzini, a linen polo shirt is woven to mimic a traditional cotton jersey knit. At the same time, knitmaker Avon Celli softens a pima cotton sweater by mixing in a rare fiber called organzino, a longer strain of silk that is boiled out of the cocoon rather than spun by the worm.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the new crop of fabrics for next year is the one being touted by Corpo Nove of Vinci, Italy, which produces outerwear for Hugo Boss, Cerruti, and John Varvatos. This spring the company will make cloth from stinging nettle, a strain of weed not unlike hemp that has been used throughout history to make a fabric with the texture of linen and the strength of cotton. The durable material was the fabric of choice when Napoléon was outfitting his troops for battle. Later it served as a replacement for cotton when cotton became scarce during the first and second world wars. After World War II, the material fell into obscurity.

In keeping with the natural fabric, Corpo Nove uses organic dye made from plants such as Isatis tinctoria. Also known as woad, this bluish weed was used to make dye in the Middle Ages. (Scotland’s real Braveheart, William Wallace, and his followers used woad to paint their faces blue for battle.) Corpo Nove has also enlisted the red root of the madder plant, which Alexander the Great once sprinkled over his troops to deceive the Persians into thinking that his army was wounded.

Because modern life, and travel in particular, can demand the stamina of a soldier, it seems fitting that some of menswear’s most innovative manufacturers have turned to history’s greatest warriors for inspiration.

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