Menswear materials, pinstriped and tailored, are turning up as dapper window dressings.
By Susan Morgan, Special to The Times October 19, 2006
WINDOWS dressed in wool with a neat pleat and deep side vents? Not quite, but men's suiting materials ” elegant worsteds, tropical-weight gabardines and other Savile Row woolens long revered for the way they drape the human body ” are increasingly designers' choice for dressing windows.
"Wool is just a spectacular fabric," says designer Mark Cutler, whose West Hollywood-based company is known for its contemporary-traditionalist style. "Wool is a timeless fabric: It's been around forever, but it's very tailored and modern."
Forget those Alpine boiled-wool jackets with the little silver buttons, or the dense blue felt of old school blazers. Fine woolens, especially the worsteds favored by upscale haberdashers and custom tailors, are the fabrics of choice, supple with a beautiful, smooth surface. Tightly woven from yarns made with the longest and most expensive fibers, they are luxurious and durable alternatives to cotton, linen and silk.
Remember "North by Northwest" and the graceful silhouette of Cary Grant, unflappable throughout calamitous circumstances, in his gray bespoke suit? Refined fabric, impeccably cut, is what decorators are using for custom drapery.
"If something looks great on a body, why can't it look great in your home?" reasons interior designer Betsy Burnham, who, with an Ivy League degree in visual studies and a previous career developing menswear for the Gap, is fluent in the ways of twills, gabardines and khakis.
"I'm a big fan of tailored drapes," Burnham says. "You can get a sleeker look with suiting material; it's a luxe fabric that drapes really well. You can't use anything too heavy or too tweedy. I love the straight line of inverted pleat draperies that just touch the floor and don't balloon out in any way."
Menswear fabrics have been slipping out of the wardrobe and into home furnishings for quite a while. Picture those neatly striped duvet covers sewn out of pastel-hued cotton shirting, or the dapper look of a Case Study daybed upholstered in classic gray flannel. But only recently has fine wool moved to drapes ” an odd delay when you consider the warmth and elegance the material can bring to interiors.
After designer Kenneth Brown, host of the HGTV show "reDesign," moved into a West Hollywood loft with polished concrete floors and a bank of 18-foot-high windows, he installed floor-to-ceiling drapes custom-made from pinstriped suiting material.
"I use men's suiting all the time, every job it seems," Brown says. "The fabric is very tailored, clean and has a more masculine vibe. With draperies, I like to use what is called a ripple fold. It's not a pinch or a pleat; the fold really allows the fabric to flow."
Tall drapes can soften an industrial setting while delivering a minimalist interpretation of drama and a feeling of intimacy. Brown praises super-fine wools for their softness and the way they hang, and he says super 100-ply worsteds are a favorite. Wool worsteds are rated by number: The higher the number, the finer and softer the cloth.
"When Kenneth first recommended using suiting material, it was hard for me to picture it," client Kurtis Mooiman says. "Once he showed me the fabric ” the colors, texture and the way it would hang, I was 100% committed."
Even in Southern California, wool transcends seasons, designers say. Its open-weave structure breathes easily, insulating against heat and cold and allowing for easy movement. "It hangs beautifully and always looks neat," Cutler says. "Linen always looks like you've been rolling around in the back seat of the car."
The elasticity of the material gives it a resiliency uncommon in other fibers. Because individual wool fibers are so long, they have a natural strength ” what Cutler calls "inherent architecture."
Wool is a protein and, like hair, is easy to dye and has a great capacity for holding vibrant color with a subtle sheen.
"It's very luxurious when you are able to match the color of your drape to your wall," Burnham says. But as with anything tailor-made, expect expenses to rise.
Ready-made versions ” the equivalent of an off-the-rack suit ” do exist but can't compare to custom designs. Fine wool is more expensive than cotton and comparable in cost to good-quality linens and silks, the standards high-end fabrics for draperies. And like a good suit, custom wool drapes need to be lined.
"I think it's always wise to see how it is going to look from the street," Burnham says. "Maybe you want to spend a little more on a lining if it's going to be visible from every room. Buy khaki instead of plain white. With menswear fabrics, you want to line it right."
To plunge a room into total darkness, Burnham recommends a tailoring solution: Rather than use a bulky blackout curtain, construct the drapery with interlining, a soft fabric placed between the wool facade and the drapes' lining.
At the Pacific Design Center, the Mimi London showroom carries menswear fabrics imported from Holland & Sherry, an esteemed London weaver and textile merchant founded in 1836. In the downtown L.A. garment district, you can experience a relic of local history: B. Black & Sons is a family-owned business specializing in "the world's finest woolen and tailoring supplies: serving the trade since 1922."
Like the ineffable pleasure of a Savile Row bespoke suit, custom draperies in menswear fabrics can be worth the investment, designers say. The result is simple and modern.
"What you save in tassels, silk and brocade," Burnham says, "you can spend on your yardage."