A FINE LINEAGE
Italian weavers Solbiati have produced a new linen with such a world-beating yarn count that your shirting this season will feel and drape like silk.
The seasoned dressers reading this will doubtless know that the best linen cloth is weaved in one of two places: Ireland or northern Italy. Irish linen is often densely woven, chalky in the hand and surprisingly heavy for a warm-weather material, though very satisfying to wear in the spring. Italian linen, on the other hand, is softer, lighter and smoother to the touch. And prince among all makers of Italian linen is Solbiati. Dating to 1874, Solbiati were founded in the town of Busto Arsizio by Michele Solbiati, who established the mill as an expert weaver of velvets, moleskins and fustians. The firm passed jointly through the hands of his three sons, on to a third-generation owner, and then a fourth: Vittorio Solbiati, who had the tricky task of guiding Solbiati through an economic low in the 1960s, a time when many Italian cotton mills were going bust. The wily Vittorio knew something had to give. He pivoted to weaving luxury linen for fashion brands, promoting the benefits of natural fibres over the faddish rayons and synthetics that were then flooding the market. It was a gamble that paid off: today, the house specialises in luxury linen and cotton, and is known for everything from making the best seersucker to tropical worsteds in wool, silk and linen. Vittorio certainly knew his stuff. Linen is something of a miracle fibre — even, dare I say, compared with wool. It’s breathable, absorbent, hypoallergenic and antibacterial. It has the highest tensile strength of any natural fibre (in fact, it ranks immediately after high-carbon steel in terms of strength), and its high cellulose content makes it resistant to shrinking, too. Linen also ranks highly in the sustainability stakes, thanks to the flax plant’s natural hardiness, from which linen fibre is harvested. Flax grows happily in water-poor soils and so requires little by way of irrigation or fertilisers. It’s also resistant to parasites and doesn’t need protecting with any nasty pesticides. The best raw material is European, cultivated in northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands, where weather conditions give flax the best chance of producing extra-fine quality fibre, which of course makes for the most luxuriant suiting and shirting fabrics. Now, Solbiati have channelled the best of European linen’s killer properties into a new, world-beating cloth. Named ‘Prodige’, this is the first linen of its kind, woven from yarn with an extraordinary count of 110,000Nm. In layman’s terms, this means that one kilogram of spooled yarn unwinds to a total length of circa 110km (roughly the distance of a return trip through the Channel Tunnel), which is then woven by Solbiati into the finest linen shirting fabric ever produced. For context, the linen textile industry classes an ‘extremely fine yarn’ as anything with a yarn count of more than 54,000Nm. A yarn count of 110,000Nm, therefore, is unheard of, as is using a linen yarn of this quality across both a fabric’s weft and warp. Once woven into Prodige, only circa 150 metres of cloth will be available annually thanks to the rarity of raw fibre available to weave linen at such a high yarn count. Such is its fineness, Prodige weighs a mere 120 grams per linear metre (that’s around 4.5 ounces in old money), which is perfect for shirts that feel and drape like silk but breathe like nothing else in warm temperatures. Despite its featherweight composition, the cloth is highly compact and durable, and is even finished with a special aloe vera treatment, which ensures it is butter-soft to wear next to the skin. It’s a remarkable achievement in weaving terms and reconfirms Solbiati’s reputation as a one-of-a-kind weaver. The cloth will be available before the summer, but you’ll have to get in quickly to lay your hands on it. We can think of few things more indulgent to enjoy this season, so prime your tailor for a treat and prepare to swathe yourself in a shirt like no other. You can also view this feature in Issue 75 of The Rake - on newsstands worldwide now. Available to buy immediately now on TheRake.com as single issue, 12 month subscription or 24 month subscription. Subscribers, please allow up to 3 weeks to receive your magazine. Our customer service team can assist with any subscription enquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.