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Men are cottoning on to linen

Posted on June 14, 2004

Finally, men are realising what women have known for a number of seasons — linen is the answer to summer fashion survival.

But linen in itself is just one factor in the great relaxation in men’s summer fashion laws.

There’s a much greater acceptance of relaxed business wear today, even for the most formal of meetings. Business wear used to mean smart and smart only. In the winter it was heavy weight wool and in the summer it was lightweight ‘tropical’.

It was always navy or charcoal and it was always a suit. Life used to be that simple. Now our business/work lives are far more hectic and a softer, more fashion conscious dress is much more acceptable.

Tailoring is still very in, in fact it’s flourishing. But the fabric’s changed. It’s softer both in fabrication, — linen and linen blends — and in styling and garment construction, giving a relaxed silhouette.

In Europe, linen fabric production lies historically with skilled producers in Ireland and Belgium, but perhaps is more renowned in Italy, because it sits side-by-side with high quality design and production industries.

It’s an international fashion fact. See ‘Italian made’ and you know the inherent quality.

This whole Italian fashion infrastructure helps labels like Ermenegildo Zegna reach almost legendary status by achieving the pinnacle of their art. Developing from a formal grounding in sharp Italian tailoring, Zegna has become a bit of a cult by using innovative quality fabrics in shirts and suits.

Zegna did indigo-dyed linen years ago, and they wouldn’t think of using a polyester button, only shell, horn and corozo (coconut hull) will do.

A more relaxed weekend line called Zegna Sport was launched several years ago but there’s a brand new Z Zegna line designed by Alessandro Sartori, just arrived in Newcastle at Cruise and Jules B in Jesmond, Aimed at those open to change, at first glance it is contemporary, has a strong identity, looks a little bit vintage, is certainly individual and therefore extremely promising.

Think you couldn’t turn up to a business meeting in denim? Think again. And Z Zegna certainly epitomises the linen look for the summer. “It is the only fabric to wear in summer,” says Julian Blades of Jules B. “It’s a look that just gets stronger and stronger. We’re having warmer summers and people are travelling much more and see how nice a look it is, particularly in Europe.”

Industry figures back up the story. Linen jacket sales were up 200pc recently at Moss Bros and in smaller sizes, which roughly translated means, that a younger, more fashion conscious customer is behind the trend making it a sit-up and notice statistic.

Healthy sales in linen are also reported at Cecil Gee, with a two button single-breasted suit in white cream and black retailing for £150 for a jacket and trousers at £65. Both are available separately which means there’s potential for mix and match.

“The great thing about buying a linen suit is that you can split it up and wear the jacket with jeans. It’s a tremendously versatile outfit, and very wearable,” adds Julian.

He knows his menswear. The Jules B menswear division in Jesmond opened in 1986 and is sharply divided into formal tailoring upstairs, with visiting Venetian tailors every season, and casual downstairs.

Julian’s father, grandfather and great grandfather are and were, all tailors. Menswear surrounds him. It’s in his genes, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Men who claim to notice nothing about fashion may instinctively look at cotton suiting for summer just because it is the fabric we’ve all worn at this time of year since our childhoods. But it tends to be a sharper, sometimes shiny, very smart look; and it’s not so popular in the UK.

“The Italians love cotton, they’re a much cleaner-dressing type of society, but linen has a much softer crease and British men don’t mind looking slightly dishevelled. They’re not into bling, or being polished,” continues Julian.

Is that in a rumpled academic kind of way? Yes, exactly. Apparently the USA hasn’t really adopted linen. “You’ll see it New York and Los Angeles, but in general they can’t get their heads round it,” Julian says.

Julian’s personal favourite suit of the season is a silk linen mix pinstripe by Pal Zileri. It is as light as the finest pure linen but has a little bit more luxury about it, and an even softer crease, he reports. Other blends you’ll often see are wool/linen; usually light fine merino wool, which gives a lovely sheen and hemp/linen, which adds a little weight.

A best selling linen line currently in the shop is German label Oska with customers often buying several pieces at a time. It’s even more casual styling looks so comfortable, and worn with trendy Birkenstock sandals, it couldn’t be cooler, both literally and in fashion terms.

So, what does Mr Blades’ Snr, the tailor who creates typical fine English suiting, think about the trend towards the dishevelled? “He can’t understand it,” Julian laughs. “It’s two very different mentalities. He says ‘but my suits will last for ever,’ and of course (being in retail) I don’t want that to happen at all.”

Elvive for Men Thickening Shampoo with Regenium-Xy from L’Oreal really does make a difference to those who have fine hair, or are beginning to thin ever so slightly.

It happens, but it’s easier to disguise with this texturising shampoo, which encourages air to cling and cross over rather than slide apart, so it creates a less sparse appearance. Available from Boots, Superdrug, chemists and supermarkets, at £2.49. Also in an anti-dandruff formula.

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