The use of performance fabrics in tailored clothing is an important innovation that clothing makers are starting to implement, yet too few customers know about. According to a consensus of retailers, who say 20 to 65 percent of their clothing mix involves some type of performance fabric, customers might not be aware of it; but once informed, they love it and come back for more. It’s the future of tailored clothing and as an industry, we should be shouting about it!
Saks SVP/GMM Tom Ott agrees. “Performance is a huge differentiator today. The fabric resources have done great work on technical properties but the big challenge is calling attention to it. I think retailers are starting to do a better job and with the importance of athleisure, customers are looking for and understanding performance. Travel and comfort are huge and to market those features is super important.” Adds Craig Andrisen of Andrisen Morton in Denver, “Our customers don’t come in asking for it; few even know it exists. But it’s a great selling point that we train our associates to play up. For guys who live on planes and for those who want seasonless clothing, it’s perfect.”
Jeff Farbstein from Harry Rosen notes that his customers do ask for performance clothing, which he estimates at 60-65 percent of his tailored clothing mix. “It’s a key selling point in men’s clothing today, more important than construction or fit. We all have suits that look wilted by the end of the day. So whether it’s stretch fabrics, stain-resistant cottons, Zegna’s wonderful Trofeo fabrics or amazing cashmeres that don’t pill, performance is revolutionizing the business.”
While it started at the top (Loro Piana was an early innovator with their patented Storm System fabric), performance fabrics are gaining momentum in collections from luxury designers to moderate brands. As an early adopter, Arnold Silverstone from Samuelsohn launched his first collection with performance fabrics in 2011 and they’re now a factor in about half of Samuelsohn’s clothing. (At Hickey Freeman, stretch was introduced just last season and it’s already about 20 percent of the mix.) Explains Silverstone, “When these fabrics first came out, they tended to be less luxurious. Now, fabric mills like Zegna and Loro Piana offer ultra-luxurious super 150s cashmere with performance features. We were the first to launch, with Loro Piana, a 130s fabric out of Italy that’s waterproof and wrinkle-resistant. Upon touching it, the customer can’t tell its performance but the hangtag seals the deal.”
Fashion designer Thom Browne, known for spearheading the short slim suit model, collaborates with American Woolen Company on a fabric called Cool Wool. Says American Woolen Company CEO Jacob Long, “We recently launched a collection featuring both stretch and water-resistant properties. We offer both natural stretch, which involves high twist yarns that stretch two ways, and mechanical stretch where we add elastic yarns (2-3 percent) for a more complete stretch in all directions. For water resistance, we formulated a process that doesn’t add weight; we just developed it and it’s 5-10 percent of our spring ‘17 collection.”
Stewart Golden of Tailorbyrd had been using a cotton seersucker fabric for his sportcoats for many years. For spring ‘16, he opted for a blend that’s 98 percent cotton and two percent stretch. It booked well but sold even better once he followed a retailer’s suggestion to develop a sleeve label spelling out the properties of the fabric. “We also developed a poly/viscose with spandex blazer that’s the # 1 garment for fall ’16,” says Golden. “Yes, performance is the way to go.”
Gad Bouskila from BMG agrees. “We use stretch in every brand; some of our fabrics for the Versace collection are five-to-seven percent elastic. Our customers love it. Since everything these days is slim, you need the stretch for comfort.” Solly Yamin at Baroni adds: “We use a beautiful Italian fabric with two percent stretch in our Trend collection and in our Prive collection for our Italian sportcoats. For our customers, stretch means wrinkle-resistance, comfort and performance.”
At Zanetti, Jack Banasheha has had much success with his stretch fabrics and also with Zanetti Green, an eco-friendly collection. At Betenly, a proprietary “vantage cloth” is stain-resistant, wrinkle-resistant and water-repellent. “We own the mill and the treatment facility: it shrinks the fabric and adds resilience, with or without the addition of elastic yarns,” says David Abril.
Perhaps Peerless Clothing president Ronny Wurtzburger sums it up best. “Stretch is the trend of today. It represents total comfort, whether you’re reaching, running or just walking. What’s more, it keeps you looking fresh all day. Performance is not just a flash in the pan; it’s being developed in all kind of fabrics and the development will continue to evolve just as it has in the sporting world. Bottom line: you’d better have stretch to move quickly in this quickly changing world.”