"You glance a ricochet from every alpha male behind me/Eyes like marbles on a washing machine.", originally uploaded by The James Kendall Of The Pistoleers.
Have you heard about Jos. A. Bank's air-conditioned suit? Or Zegna's suit that defies wrinkling even after the toughest board meeting? Or Penney's latest marvel that you can toss into the washer and tumble-dry? Look, if you can talk to the controls in your car, or dial up thousands of songs on an iPod, why not ask your suit to make a martini? Okay, I'm pushing it, but with the amazing strides the fiber and fabric people are making with high-performance fabrics, who knows what the boys in the labs will dream up next.
High-tech fabrics aren't exactly breaking news. I remember the early days of wash-and-wear dress shirts, odor-free socks, static-free fabrics and outerwear jackets with protective strips that glowed in the dark. And just a few years ago Haggar launched its ForeverNew pants and shirts that put the whammy on fading, shrinking, wrinkling and staining.
What grabs me now is that some of the best performance characteristics yet are happening just when suits are having their biggest comeback in years. The timing couldn't be better for guys just discovering -- or rediscovering -- suits. Why not have your cake and eat it? I think performance should be a given and not an extra.
Something else is happening with performance clothes. They're going upmarket -- try Zegna with its Micronsphere in its Traveller Collection that bows in for fall at $1,995 -- and high-tech is moving in that direction across the board. For example, the new opening retail price point for high-performance suits in department stores is $595, and not a promotional $299. Designer dress shirts begin at about $60, and not $45. And the beat goes on.
FLYING ON YOUR JET OR MINE?
Before getting down to the nitty-gritty of Zegna's Micronsphere, I have to tell you about the company's target customer for this luxe, stain- and wrinkle-resistant suit. The release from Italy reads: "For the international man who values his time and maintains his sophistication and impeccable style by wearing a suit so reliable that nothing in his travels will tarnish his look." Can you beat that one?
Okay, now for the inside story. The Zegna fabric is woven with an elastic, twisted wool that's hydro-repellent, resulting from the combination of spinning techniques and nanotechnology. So forget about the red wine, tomato sauce or espresso stains, says the company -- they disappear with a dab of water. Now that's class.
On a slow plane to China? When I asked Lanier's Mike Sandler about the company's new Perfect Press suit, he said, "If you wore it on a trip to Shanghai, you'd look like you just checked in for the flight when you land." No, he hasn't done it, but he did log plenty of miles to Italy where he worked with his agents for the past three years to develop a fabric "that would be to the tailored business what wrinkle-free cotton is to dress shirts."
Lanier's sourcing people went to the mills to develop a fabric "from the ground up with the wool yarn" to maintain a smooth, wrinkle-free appearance. The launch will be at Federated stores next spring under the Oscar de la Renta label. The retail is $595 for solids and fancies in super 100s to 120s.
His parting shot: "How do we know we have a winner? The perfect test is to fold the suit and watch it pop back into shape. It would be perfect at a 180-degree return. We tested it at 172 degrees."
LIFE IN THE BAKED APPLE
That's summertime in the Big Apple, and while an air-conditioned suit won't replace a weekend in the Hamptons, it can sure help. This is what Jos. A. Bank's "Stays Cool Suit" is all about. I spoke to Jim Thorne, the tailored clothing GMM, and he called it "the next step after natural or Lycra stretch. We're always on the lookout for something innovative and this fit the bill." He wear-tested the suit last September to fabric shows in Europe and said, "It worked."
The suit, made by Bagir, retails at $595, and is made of an Outlast acrylic/wool/Lycra fabric from its sister company Polgat, with a SmartFabric Outlast lining. Thorne continued, "The suit can actually balance your body temperature. Both the lining and suit fabric have thermocules in the fiber that absorb and release the excess heat.
"There's nothing unusual about the fabric itself, but it's the lining that gets them. It actually feels cooler and that makes the sale."
DRESS SHIRTS WROTE THE BOOK
How could I write about performance fabrics and skip dress shirts, the classification that practically put easy-care cottons in business? Like everything in men's wear, performance shirts are trading up. Start with Brooks Brothers with its striped and checked "Non-Iron Dress Shirts" priced from $65 to $75. They're billed on the Web as "specially treated to remain wrinkle-free. These shirts will look as crisp at the end of a long day as at the beginning."
Want more? There's a new pinpoint oxford Kenneth Gordon shirt at Gitman that's made with a few extra steps that eliminate puckering and keep it wrinkle-free. The retails range from $79.50 to $85, and the solids and fancies come in exact neck sizes and sleeve lengths.
At dress shirt giant Phillips-Van Heusen, the Designer Division has Michael Kors and Kenneth Cole performance shirts at $59.50 to $62 in pre-cured, no-iron better cottons in solids and fancies, and several collar styles.
Add Ike Behar to the list with high-performance dress shirt makers with a new entry for next spring that will retail from $145 to $165. Alan Behar reasoned, "Who doesn't know about performance today? We've never offered high-performance because we always felt it was more low-priced. We changed our mind when top Swiss mills brought us their versions of a wrinkle-free cotton that you could almost wear the second day. Our customer isn't concerned about whether a shirt has to be ironed, but he wants to look polished from the beginning to the end of the day."
The shirt is called "Alta" -- Italian for high, like the price -- and it comes in 10 solids, 12 fancies and two collar styles.
The message? Join the performance club and trade up.
Comments? Write to Stanley.Gellers@fairchildpub.com
Gellers, Stan. "BUT DOES IT MAKE A MARTINI?" Daily News Record (2005): 52. Popular Magazines. Web. 16 Mar. 2010.
Gale Document Number:A132751867