Spring Forward

Advances in modern materials take us through the changing seasons.


Clothing by Samuelsohn

If you still believe that cashmere and wool are for winter and cotton and linen must stay in the closet until the first signs of spring, you may not have a clear grasp on the material world—or at least not on the materials that have been developed in the past decade.

In today’s world, where travel is more commonplace and indoor to outdoor temperatures can fluctuate wildly, the best spring menswear is made from fabrics that are essentially seasonless. Featherweight cashmere in the summer? Why not? A small percentage of tropical wool blended into that linen shirt? Of course, especially since wool’s elastic properties help combat wrinkles.

“The biggest trend is weight-neutral fabrics that travel well and go from one climate to the next with ease,” explains Craig Wertheim of Scabal USA, one of the top cloth makers in the world. The Brussels-based company’s solution this season is Fresh, a collection of tropical-weight, wool-blend suit fabrics treated in an advanced finishing process that makes them more breathable as well as cooler to the touch, especially for spring.

Of course, cotton and linen are still the two most versatile fabrics for the warmer months. The hygroscopic properties of both plant-based fibers make them highly absorbent and resistant to heat. That same characteristic also makes them remarkably durable, and cooler when in contact with the body.

But contrary to popular belief, traditional winter-weight cloths such as alpaca, cashmere and wool—all derived from the downy fleece of animals—are also hygroscopic, meaning they too can absorb perspiration and have the ability to keep the body cool in summer, depending on the weight of the fiber.

Clothing by Samuelsohn

In fact, cashmere’s unique molecular structure actually helps the fiber absorb as much as 35 percent of its own weight in moisture. That compares to 25 percent moisture absorption for cotton, which makes cashmere the better choice for wicking perspiration away from the body.

Thankfully, modern technology can render many classically cool-weather cloths in microscopically thin and lightweight versions. To that end, some extra-fine gauge cashmeres are now as light and airy as a pair of silk stockings, primarily because top knitting factories are using the same weaving machines to produce both.

Or consider the incredible lightness found in this season’s fine-micron wools, some of which are made of gossamer-thin fibers six times finer than human hair. The newest technologies have been embraced by makers of both sportswear and suits, so unless you’re an Icelandic fisherman, it’s hard to believe there isn’t room in your wardrobe for any of these year-round weaves.

For spring 2014, suit makers including Canali and Ermenegildo Zegna have been especially keen on seasonless blends of tropical-weight wool mixed with silk, bamboo and even mohair for a look that can add a bit of iridescence to the finished cloth. Others are using high-tech fabrics such as microfiber, which is lightweight, water-resistant and breathable, as well as Ermenegildo Zegna’s Techmarino cloth and Loro Piana’s Storm System, which both add comfort and breathability to wool and other fabrics for when temperatures rise and fall.

Clothing by Samuelsohn

“Selling wool or cashmere in summer five years ago would have been tough,” offers Arnold Silverstone, president and creative director at Samuelsohn and Hickey Freeman, two of the leading suit makers at the forefront of new trends in fabric technology. “But the weights, the weaving and the technology have all changed so much that you can have jackets that look like cotton poplin and seersucker, but are really made of wool.”

Among the company’s newest fabrics is a proprietary performance-driven wool called Extreme, created in collaboration with Loro Piana’s patented Rain System technology to give it natural stretch and render it water and wrinkle resistant as well. “We also did a lightweight cashmere/silk blend for spring that weighs only 200 grams, so it’s almost shirt weight but gives a soft hand [previously found] only in cashmere,” says Silverstone. “The ultimate summer blazer is no longer limited to cotton or linen; now you can wear a blend of wool/silk/linen and still be comfortable.”