Starting a new tailoring collection is an exciting time and I always approach a new season with the optimism that it will be my best yet. Yet key to the success of any collection will be the ranges of fabrics created by the world’s best mills. Working a full-season ahead of the menswear industry, the mills participate in seasonal trade shows where they showcase their latest ranges to designers, buyers and merchandisers.
The most prestigious show is Milano Unica that traditionally takes place every February and September. This is where the best of Italian and UK mills present their collections. With the increased pressure in the industry for seasons to start earlier and follow the lead of ladies fashion, they have organised a July “pre-collection” show.
Unlike Pitti Uomo, which has become a festival of foppery, Milano Unica is a serious, commercial trade show. Viewing collections is by appointment only and if you have ever suffered from option anxiety whilst mulling over two similar grey flannels at your tailors, imagine looking at hundreds of similar cloths where the swatch is often only a few inches wide.
I am pleased to report that AW17 feels like a vintage year. The mills are offering some truly innovative cloths and designs that will tailor well. I am relieved that the “supers” arm race is over. When I first attended the Italian cloth fairs in the early noughties, many of the mills were competing to create a fabric with the lowest micron or highest “super” number. You would be invited to hold a length of slinky cloth in a dark colour that would slide like mercury through your fingers whilst they boasted about their acquisition and weaving skill - I think one season it got as high as “super 230s”! The price would always be disproportionately high so I never risked ordering a sample length but I doubt they would have tailored well into a heavily structured suit.
Just as butchers and restaurant menus are now proud to offer “unfashionable cuts” of meat, there is a renewed enthusiasm in the cloth industry for un-super wool, which is generally more robust and lends itself to honest cloths with a greater sense of depth to them. When properly spun, woven and finished these wools create fabrics with character and style. They are perfect for traditional weaves such as hopsack, fresco and whipcord and tailor beautifully.
"There is definitely more seasonality evident in these recent collections, which is a good thing. The 'four season' suit has its place, but should never replace clothing that is tailored to a specific season."
There are also some interesting blends on offer. Mills are using silk and nylon to create cloths with innovative textures. Even linen blends were offered for autumn/winter and it will be interesting to see how the market reacts to a cloth that has been labelled a casual summer fabric for decades in the garment industry.
Unlike a decade ago, when collections were strictly split into suitings, coatings and jacketings, the better mills understand that in the modern world a classic chalkstripe can be made into an unstructured blazer and we have customers prepared to wear full suits in bold glen checks, so fabrics are more intelligently categorised. There was some good use of colour, particularly in melange cloths where the more conservative background shade is given a lift with a contrasting coloured wash effect.
There is definitely more seasonality evident in these recent collections which is a good thing. The “four season” suit has its place, but should never replace clothing that is tailored to a specific season in terms of colour and weight. It was also good to see this reflected in the season's shirting collections. More mills are offering a very lightly brushed cotton that is the perfect complement to a flannel suit and cashmere tie. It feels suitably contemporary and textural.
Of course, all these new cloths will require careful trimming and a trip to Milano Unica is never complete without a look at the latest offerings from the button and lining makers. I am a stickler for correct button gauges on tailoring so any new colour or development has to be made-to-order to traditional Savile Row sizes.
My overall impression is that there is an increased understanding and co-operation between the cloth and garment industry. The best mills are paying more attention to the finished product that they contribute to and are also engaging more closely with the consumer. The makers and brands are being more creative with their fabric selections and encouraging the mills to innovate.
I anticipate a great season.