Noble shirt fabrics :
three makers you
must know
(Marol Academy 2)

Sonya Glyn NICHOLSON

Noble shirt fabrics : three makers you must know (Marol Academy 2)

The world of fashion can at times, seem too overwhelming to comprehend.

To put a finger on the pulse of the luxury fashion market, a recent Business of Fashion (BOF), State of Fashion Report summed the current state of affairs:

Fashion is one of the world’s most important industries, driving a significant part of the global economy. In 2016, the industry is projected to reach a staggering $2.4 trillion in total value.

If it were ranked alongside individual countries’ GDP, the global fashion industry would represent the world’s seventh largest economy. And yet, for some observers, fashion is still regarded as simultaneously frivolous and indulgent; and many of the sources of information about the industry are fragmented, incomplete, or unreliable.

~Imran Amed and Achim Berg, BOF ‘State of Fashion Report’ 2017

Even if the luxury market is thriving, it’s not clear how many consumers are educated about the merchandise they purchase and how many consumers simply buy on impulse.

As explained above, attitudes play a big role in buying behaviors, with the overall market being made up of some consumers who view the market as ‘frivolous and indulgent’, and others who view investing in fashion as viable.

Ponder with us as we peek into the world of buying behaviors of luxury goods such as noble fabrics.

Or, for immediate information about Three Shirting Makers to Know, skip directly to the interview section below.

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LUXURY SHIRTING (FABRIC) : WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?

Shirting : a material for making shirts, especially a fine cotton in plain colours or incorporating a traditional woven stripe.

To clarify, the term ‘shirting’ and ‘shirt fabric’ mean exactly the same thing (on the other hand, shirting and shirt-making are completely different–the former refers to only fabric and the later refers to building a shirt).

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Demonstrated here: (click to enlarge) The Dritto Filo technique is often used to get an ‘exact fabric-cut’ on fine cloth. Dritto Fillo involves stripping individual threads by hand after fabrics are first cut, to expose a line across the fabric. The fabric is then recut along the exposed line to ensure the line is straight, clean, and free of loose threads along the edges.

It’s difficult to describe what makes luxury shirting special unless you experience it yourself.

Of the brands we interviewed below, one respondent touched on the conundrum:

How can one describe the feeling of wearing luxury fabric with a weave and finish so beautiful, and a tactile experience so intense of lush cloth laying against the skin with unparalleled comfort, breathability and silky softness?

Enter the words ‘magic of weaving’ into a search engine, and you’ll see millions of hits, because the art of weaving–whether a basket, a Panama hat or noble shirt fabric, is an artisan craft that touches the senses in a way that can leave one without words.

NOBLE SHIRT FABRIC AND UTILITARIAN OBJECTS …

You may ask yourself: Isn’t fabric a utilitarian object that is simply…necessary?

What would influence a person to spend three times or more on a shirt fabric–when most any standard fabric would be good enough to make a plain shirt?

A utilitarian object is designed to be useful and practical…not attractive and ergonomically pleasing!

Yet, we have the ability to make most any utilitarian object as trite or as amazing as we choose. Even utilitarian actions can be viewed in any way we choose. Consider the ‘useful and practical’ act of polishing one’s shoes : One man may view the act as a necessary chore—while another man thinks of shoe polishing as a ritualistic delight!

Thus, individual attitudes about utilitarian objects (like shirting) are key indicators of buying behavior.

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The word utilitarian was coined by the philosopher and judge Jeremy Bentham, who argued that his principle of utility would create the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.’ The noun form of utilitarian refers to a person who adheres to this philosophy of usefulness.

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You probably put a shirt on your back most every day, so the shirt has indeed become a utilitarian and sensible object.

In another vein, the digital age likely has played a role in desensitizing us towards ‘useful and practical’ objects and actions.

In a ready-to-think and not-ready-to-move world, the very absence of crafted objects and actions like home cooked food (instead of fast food), walking (instead of driving), and reality shopping (instead of one-click-Amazon purchases), have created a void of tactile experiences of which humans were born to partake.

Thus, we see many utilitarian objects being resuscitated from the ordinary to the extraordinary realm. Take for example, the common ink pen being traded for a fine writing instrument, computer-printed business cards traded for heavy stock elegant artifacts, and even discount underwear/socks traded for high-level undergarments.

And indeed, fine shirting may also give satisfaction to those who seek the extraordinary.

On the above subject, I paraphrase our founder, Hugo Jacomet’s words :

When you spend an inordinate amount of money on an object because of a shallow reason, e.g., as a status symbol, with no clue about how the object you’re buying has earned its price, this is called vulgarity and carries the risk of you being suckered into buying plastic for the price of mother-of-pearl.

But if you spend money on an item while knowing precisely what you are paying for, such as raw materials involved, how the item is made, the amount of time it takes to finish the work, and the quality of the make…then you step into another arena that not only is not vulgar, but can even become transcendental as an experience—this is the stuff of craftsmanship and art itself.

Further, what about the financial support of fine craftsmen?

Your education and my education affects the existence of artisanal companies who make objects like luxurious cloth—and it is our buying behaviors which will decide the fate of these special producers (some of which are third to thirteenth generation craftsmen).

THREE SHIRTING MAKERS TO KNOW

If you venture into the world of noble shirting, you may find an exhilaration you didn’t know before.

Today, with the expert help of Manuela Vignudelli and Marco Fari of shirtmaker extraordinaire MAROL, we’ve interviewed three epic shirting brands to get answers about their fabrics.

The first thing we learned : There are two magic words for noble shirting … Switzerland and Italy.

Thus, the following shirting brands are either Swiss or Italian:

ALUMO : SWISS QUALITY

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Renowned bespoke makers and ateliers are sure to respect Alumo, a Swiss mill located in the village of Appenzell.

Weavers do their work within the walls of an impressive building with open views of their quaint town.

The environment is a welcome change from the florescent-lit, windowless, soulless walls of which crafters of other brands are accustomed (Is it possible that an elevated mood of the weavers may translate into a more beautiful fabric)?

While the work area is visually soothing, the sound of the 85 looms on the first floor requires ear protection, as around one million meters (still a modest amount compared to other major makers) of cloth is targeted to be produced each year.

But up on the fourth floor of the building, silence falls…as Alumo designer (and clockmaker-renovator hobbyist) Raphael Sommer designs the next shirting fabric collection. His designs will be used for high-end fabrics like Egyptian cotton GIZA-45, with ultra fine fibers weighing only 2 grams per 1000 meters of yarn!

Just as water is important in making whiskey and even bagels, fabric companies are obsessive with their water!

Alumo is located near an abundant spring, which has earned Okotex-1000 certification for its purity. This purity factor remains, even after processing, with water oftentimes even more clear at the end of the processing cycle.

After it is woven, the fabric is placed into enormous washing machines, then stretched for drying on a giant rotating device with hot rings. The cloth surface is then ironed to render a beautiful luster.

One roll of Alumo fabric (60m) can produce 33 shirts, if the cutter is using 1.8m per shirt. But if one wants to buy Alumo fabric, there is a four roll minimum requirement.

Quality is king at Alumo and as the Swiss will be Swiss, parameters are tested for performance factors, as well as inspected for flaws and analyzed for tactile properties (e.g., silky poplin, airy voile and batiste, grainy oxford).

Past and present clients have included Brioni, Hermès, Kiton, Stefano Ricci, Zegna, Zilli and Marol.

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Alumo fabric, pleated 

Interview with Sandra Geiger, CEO Alumo :

1.What should we know about your company story, including key names and dates ?

ALUMO is a small weaving mill, located in the mountainous area of Appenzell in Switzerland. We’ve made the finest of two ply fabrics for almost 100 years. All fabrics are in-house woven to produce highly specialized fabrics and the finest Swiss Cotton cloth.

ALUMO is an abbreviation of the former company name Albrecht und Morgen, the surnames of the two founding partners.

2. How are your shirt fabrics special, when compared to other shirt fabrics?

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ALUMO fabrics have an unmatched soft, silky touch. They are sought after for long lasting quality and durability, even after many washes–and they can be addictive, as tailoring clients who try ALUMO once, come back asking for more.

The soft touch comes out best on our poplins, namely Soyella and Supraluxe—two bestsellers which are well known within the trade.

Dobbies, oxford, voiles and many fantasies are made of pure cotton from yarn counts 120/2 up to 240/2 – exclusive two-ply yarns, which are superior to single yarns in terms of durability.

We select the best raw material available in the fields, mainly Giza from Egypt, Sea Island and Supima cotton.

Cashmerello, a cashmere-cotton blended flannel is another highlight.

Fabric quality has been fine-tuned during the long history of our mill, to achieve the  maximum level of performance and make.

Additionally, we finish our fabrics with pure mountain spring water which comes from six of our own sources.

We’re also known for our personal service, reliability and exclusive Sartoria Program (400 Never-out-of-Stock items) for high end bespoke tailors worldwide.

ALUMO fabrics are on the shelves of the best tailors in town, mostly double folded on 75cm bolts.

3. Describe any other special information about your how your fabric looks and feels when worn on the body, including descriptions of fabric beauty, drape, and comfort.

ALUMO shirts are to be found in the wardrobes of many-a-royal, which speaks volumes. Again, it’s the outstanding soft and silky touch which stands out, and is best appreciated when wearing the fabric directly against the skin.

4. Are there any special care instructions for your fabrics when worn by customers? What are the care instructions?

ALUMO 100 percent cotton fabrics can be washed up to 60°C. They need to be ironed when still humid–due to the use of natural cotton fibers.

5. Name a favorite fabric made by ALUMO.

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Alumo “Cashmerello” brushed cotton/cashmere

Cashmerello Twill with 15% of cashmere is a dream!

Our 170/2 Soyella (see below) has a feel close to silk, but it is made of 100 percent of the finest Swiss cotton! It pleases the tactile senses in way that is hard to put into words :

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 Alumo, Soyello, Egyptian cotton 170/2

The refined designs reveal themselves with incredible clarity and the colours are wonderfully brilliant.

GRANDI & RUBINELLI : CRAFTMANSHIP CHARM

G&R G&R

Grandi & Rubinelli is a smaller mill than you may imagine.

With a core team of just 35 people, all of its fabrics are produced on fewer than 15 looms! Yet, even with its modest size, the Grandi & Rubinelli name has become known for design acumen and textile mastery.

On the outskirts of Milan, high grade American Supima and West Indies Sea Island and Egyptian cotton are woven to produce very select shirting. Natural fibers like cotton, linen, wool, cashmere, and silk are sourced with 2 ply yarn to ensure strength properties. Thread counts (number of threads per square inch) can reach as high as the 200s.

Co-founder, Mr. Rubinelli likes to visit clients to speak about Grandi & Rubinelli fabrics, and his warm, personable spirit has endeared customers to the product.

Based on close customer connections, small batches of specialized fabric can be made (which bigger mills would not be interested in producing). Milanese attention to detail is an obsession, and quality control is not far from the standards of the Swiss.

Grandi & Rubinelli uses their small size to an advantage, as they are able to attempt most any reasonable request for special productions, gaining unique experience–since most other larger mills aren’t willing to dabble in their production line.  Along with this specialization, the benefits of being a small company (who is able to allot time to details) has helped G&R earn a reputation for making among the finest shirting in the world.

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grandiPoplin Grandi & Rubinelli 200/2

Interview with Aimone Sambuy of Grandi & Rubinelli :

1. What should we know about your company story, including key names and dates ?

Grandi & Rubinelli has been founded in 1992 by Remo Grandi and Ubaldo Rubinelli, to fulfill the dream of producing 100 percent, made in Italy, high-quality, noble shirting. Together, they’ve brought a treasure trove of experience to the company, after working for years for top shirting brands and serving as highly skilled technicians.

Their vision has become a unique reality, built on the principles of using only the finest cotton yarn from Switzerland, paired with intense Italian creativity and textile craftsmanship–in order to aim for the highest level of product quality possible, without compromise.

2. How are your shirt fabrics special, when compared to other shirt fabrics?

G&R Chambray

Grandi & Rubinelli light blue chambray

Meticulous attention to each and every working process is what makes our fabrics unique.

Our Creative Office never stops creating new fabric structures and designs…with a knack for great taste as we focus on finding the right colors to combine with quality raw materials to yield stunning shirt fabrics.

We visit customers around the world to know their needs and requests, and stay close to the fast-moving world of fashion, while sticking to traditional crafting.

Twice a year we present fresh , new and trendy collections to build on our distinguished customers’ exclusive designs.

The highest standards available in yarns, dying of yarns, warping, weaving and finishing, give our fabrics a particular, rich and precious texture.

We prioritize control throughout all operations, so each step is brought forward with extreme care to get the best possible quality. Passion and skill drive us to excellence.

Our offers range from classic poplins to twills and oxfords, all in very fine yarn counts (up to 300/2)…to a vast selection of flannels, jerseys, and structured fabrics.

3. Describe any other special information about your how your fabric looks and feels when worn on the body, including descriptions of fabric beauty, drape, and comfort.

It’s difficult to describe such a unique  tactile experience in words. To touch and feel a unique fabric is something that can be done only by actually sliding ones fingers over the fabric, or simply by getting some shirts out of the drawer and wearing them one after the other.

The most precise thing I can say about this, is that I should leave our customers to speak. Or even better our customer’s customers.

In the made-to-measure and bespoke business, our customers get immediate feedback for every shirt they produce. It is with great satisfaction that when we visit and talk to our bespoke-tailored customers, we keep hearing excellent feedback about our Grandi & Rubinelli fabrics. Once customers try our fabrics, they come back and ask for more shirts to be crafted with our cloth.

4. Are there any special care instructions for your fabrics when worn by customers? What are the care instructions?

Shirting fabric care instructions have always had points of long debate. For example, a certain kind of customer requires non-iron fabric, but it is common knowledge that non-iron fabric has a poor and dry touch.

High yarn count fabrics should not be treated with non-iron products during finishing, because they will lose their precious and lush touch. When you want to wash an expensive cashmere sweater, you have to use precautions. You must hand wash the sweater in lukewarm water, avoid putting it in the washing machine, and then dry it on a towel.

High quality shirting fabrics also need good care. It is normal to :

  • wash them in the washing machine, using a mild washing program (40°C) and absolutely no tumble dry.
  • Shirts should be hanged to dry and lightly pressed over with an iron that is not excessively hot.

By using this method your shirts will get better and better with every washing. Remember, hot water, tumbling, and hot irons destroy the fabric.

5. Name a favorite fabric made by Grandi & Rubinelli.

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Cashmere/Cotton Flannel called Zermatt

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MAROL cotton shirt made with Grandi & Rubinelli twill

We weave a very special cashmere/cotton flannel called Zermatt that combines the special soft texture of the cashmere fiber with the cotton flannel elegant country look. We weave Zermatt and all our fabrics at a lower speed in order to get the right fabric tension. The result: an exceptional smoothness that you have to feel to believe.

I want to also must mention our magnificent cotton twill (see above) with a 140/2 ply warp and a very fine 120/1 weft.

The different finishing process used on these fabrics have special and unique recipes which guarantee super softness and richness. We are also certified by OEKO Tex Standard 100, a Swiss certification system that guarantees no harmful chemical substances are used. This certification complies with all European standards, but also with particular ones issued by other major markets such as U.S.A., China, Japan, India and Korea.

CARLO RIVA : AN ITALIAN TALE

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Upon entering the steel-gated factory door surrounded by concrete walls near Como, Italy, dozens of machines hum away, producing gorgeous grenadines, silk jacquards, printed silk and cottons.

As one of the most mystical and fantastical legends in shirt fabric-making, Carlo Riva uses vintage machines which weave slowly. Bolt size ranges from a width of 75 cm for linen to 90cm for other fine shirting (the industry standard for one bolt is 150 cm wide). The fabric is sold by the roll only.

Riva cloth creates visual effects like none other. Using large shuttle looms on timber frames, from as early as 1910 (also combined with computer-operated looms), Riva churns out cloth with a unique appearance–sometimes achieved by modifying silk shuttle looms to produce cotton cloth.

NOTE: To clear the confusion many have about Carlo Riva, a different company named Bonfanti also makes a more modest production of Riva fabric with fewer looms (but nonetheless a nice production). The reason the production split-off and formed two separate companies was a result of Carlo Riva’s assets being divided in 1995, when the original owner passed away — creating different companies using some of the same historical core equipment.

The production we refer to here is of Carlo Riva, owned by Fermo Fossati, and helmed by Dr. Ottaviano Mantero Scheuten, affectionately referred to as the Willie Wonka of shirt making.

As Iyorito from Styleforum put it, when describing Otto’s Carlo Riva fabric:

“Riva poplin 180/2 feels buttery smooth whereas DJA 200/2 poplin feels smooth but a bit dry […]. Riva fabrics are woven with old machinery which weaves much slower and narrower (90cm) and that seems to give extra softness to the fabric compared to the fabrics woven by more modern machinery which weaves faster and wider (150cm).

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MAROL safari shirt/jacket in heavy Carlo Riva silk/cashmere

Interview with Barbara Fumagalli of Carlo Riva:

1.What should we know about your company story, including key names and dates ?

Before establishing Carlo Riva, our father company, Fermo Fassati, operated as one of the oldest silk makers in Europe since 1871, with careful attention to preserving old looms. These historical looms are capable of making three-dimensional embossed fabrics, especially grenadine, which are unrivaled in appearance and comfort, and cannot be produced with automatic looms. With the integration of Carlo Riva in the 1990s, the old looms (which are sacrificed by other companies on the altar of  ‘faster production’) of the company have been preserved and reclaimed to preserve a unique and visually delightful production of fabric that steers within a strict canon of classic pattern designs.

We offer special fabrics in cotton, twill, voile and poplin (including ‘Linen Arsenal’ and ‘Super Riva’).

2. How are your shirt fabrics special, when compared to other shirt fabrics?

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Other than the obvious weaving advantages of running production at slower speeds, and using ancient (and modern) looms and producing more narrow bolts, our shirt fabrics are special  because they don’t need harsh chemical finishing, thanks to strict biological finishing only with highly purified water. Not only is the fabric beautiful, but the touch and feel are also special.

We also acclimate some of our fabrics such as Egyptian cottons by keeping the fabric in a climate room for three months in order to give the cloth the same humidity level that cotton flowers in Egypt have when they are born.

3. Describe any other special information about your how your fabric looks and feels when worn on the body, including descriptions of fabric beauty, drape, and comfort.

Our fabric breathes well, has a unique delicacy of appearance and is friendly to the skin with a silky soft touch that customers find incredibly comfortable to wear.

4. Are there any special care instructions for your fabrics when worn by customers? What are the care instructions?

Our care instructions are the following:

Wash in washing machine at no more than 60°C. Prior to washing, your cloth should be put in a nylon net bag or in a pillowcase.

5. Name a favorite fabric made by Carlo Riva.

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Our voile cotton cloth is peculiar in that it is deliciously light yet non-transparent with thermal properties that work well for all four seasons

ANOTHER GREAT MAKER : S.I.C. Tess

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Situated in Masate, Italy, S.I.C. TESS caters to made-to-measure, with reams of luxurious fabric, and is a shirting company with a century of history of making updated collections of quality fabric offered at rational and typically un-inflated prices.

S.I.C. TESS produces about 700,000 meters of shirting annually on 92 looms. Shirting is made of 100 percent cotton (2 ply construction) and is known for its dusty tones and atypical shades like powdery lilac and sage green.

High quality offerings include the finest yarn count (300), dobby and jacquard fabrics with classic weaves and updated designs and colours.

Poplins: from 120/2 up to 200/2.

Platinum 240 : has the aspect and touch of silk, while keeping fresh cotton properties, and woven with a 240/2 warp and weft, with the best Egyptian Giza 45 cotton yarn. Twills, oxford, voiles, panamas, zephirs and jacquards crown the offer of an outstanding range.

Exceptional summer fabrics : specializing in pen weaves (Cellostar with a fine honeycomb structure, and Cellulare 15, which is similar but with a wider construction—both classic shirting of Neapolitan elegance).

Winter fabrics : Softer and warmer, fabrics include flannels made of 120/2 twills smoothly brushed, Cashpima, a mixture of cotton and cashmere, and the new cashmere–a unique 100 percent cashmere shirting weight which is great for the discerning sportsman.

Top Lino 90 – A pure white 100 percent linen fabric, known to be some of the finest available in 150cm width, available by the yard  (1 1/2 yards wide so each yard is 3′ x 4.5′ or 13.5 sq/ft).

Combining different weaves, S.I.C. Tess also offers satin stripes with poplins and twills, oxford with ottomans, and open and plain weaves, mixed to create a whole world of modern shirting fabrics.

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Specialty S.I.C. Tess shirt made with vintage 3 ply yarn

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Additional reading : The Truth About Fine Shirts (Marol Academy 1)

Marol SRL

Via Gorizia 38, 40131 Bologna, Italy

+39.051.614.1200

Contact and appointments : marol@marol.it