Jhane Barnes built a faithful following with her boldly colorful sportswear, but the New York designer has encountered difficulty establishing a foothold in the more conservative suit business. Barnes’ early attempts at suitmaking were hampered by inferior quality, somewhat gimmicky details, and her predilection for bright colors. “The suits were simply never as fashion-forward and well made as the sportswear,” she explains. Barnes therefore has elevated the quality of her tailored clothing, and this fall, she quietly is introducing Jhane Barnes Signature, her first collection of upscale suits and sport coats.
The two- and three-button suits, which start at $2,000, feature narrow shoulders—to prevent puckering under the arms—and are paired with plain-front slacks to emphasize the lean silhouettes. Although at a distance many of the suits appear classic and subtly solid-colored, a closer look reveals fanciful fabrics that integrate a rainbow of colored threads and sophisticated textural combinations. Barnes’ computer-generated fabric designs originate from photographs or geometric drawings that she manipulates to create her patterns. “Jhane doesn’t need to produce another navy or charcoal suit,” says Sal Giardina, vice president of tailored clothing for Barnes’ namesake company. “Her clothing needs to be a little bit left of center—not just in terms of fabric but in design as well.”
The new collection, which is identified by Barnes’ signature on the label, incorporates such distinctive details as horn buttons, rainbow-colored interior stitching, and multihued, jet-printed linings. Barnes plans to introduce a 30-piece Signature sportswear line, which will be produced in New York, for fall 2006.
To address quality issues, Barnes severed ties with her previous American manufacturer and partnered with two factories in southern Italy. Both operations use full horsehair canvas interior construction—a hallmark of fine tailoring—and they are known for their precision hand-finishing. She also worked with major Italian textile mills to secure superior wools and cashmeres, as well as more exotic cloths such as Orylag, a fabric that incorporates a fiber from an animal that is similar to a chinchilla.
Four stores—Syd Jerome in Chicago; Lee Newman in Cherry Hill, N.J.; Ken’s in Dallas; and Parkway in Edmond, Okla.—were the first to carry the collection, but about 45 others soon will offer the higher-quality Signature cloths as an extension of Barnes’ made-to-measure clothing program, which launched in spring 2004. Nevertheless, Signature is intended for upscale stores that have not stocked her label in years, says Barnes. “It was an opportunity to design some of the really special things that the bigger stores just won’t take a risk on.”