by William Buckley

Buy-Any-StretchThat age-old debate between the chicken or the egg’s precedency is improbably applicable here: it’s impossible to really know whether the customers or the manufacturers are driving the athleisure trend. But there will always be an ongoing evolution in fabrics and techniques that mills and manufacturers create. Innovation is an inevitable part of production; as new technologies provide increased performance, that progression in menswear is assured. “What we’ve seen so far is the tip of the iceberg,” says Saks Fifth Avenue VP and fashion director Eric Jennings. “In the coming seasons we’ll see more performance fabrics in tailored clothing. Theory’s new “neoteric” suit-separate capsule collection uses fabric originally designed for climbers and cyclists, with performance qualities like heat regulation, quick drying and stretch, but Theory is using it for the professional traveling man.”

Men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, Bruce Pask, adds: “The mixture of function and comfort has certainly endeared it to men, and designers like John Elliott have given the category great fashion credibility, creating inventive interpretations, and innovating through fabric and construction.” Meanwhile, Luis Fernandez, creative director at Craft Atlantic, a brand that has quickly become known for its use of innovative fabrics, agrees. “So much of it starts with the fabrics, and there is exciting ‘next-level’ innovation happening at some mills,” he says. “The momentum is also fueled by significant interest from consumers and their desire for performance. Fundamentally, there’s been a major shift in the way we live our lives: more active and less structured, so clothing adapts. Eventually, performance will be a given in all clothing: the future is here to stay.”

In many ways, that future is now. “Men have never been more lifestyle conscious, more active in their time of leisure, and the clothes reflect that,” explains Michael Fisher, creative director of men’s at trend forecasting company Fashion Snoops. “That’s what started this trend from a cultural macro point of view, but comfort is driving the trend forward. We find that consumers are up against more worldly, external obstacles than ever before; it’s tough out there! If clothes can provide comfort, it certainly helps. The suit used to be confined to a very specific look or narrative, but it’s the reverse now. The suit, sport coat, or pant is increasingly dictated by the world in which its wearer lives. This opens up tailoring to whole new markets. A tailored jacket should feel like a favorite knit or bomber. It should go with him from day to night, and most importantly, it should provide the properties he’s come to expect from his clothes, like moisture wicking, flexible fits, performance-driven surfaces and year-round wear.”