Silk Route

An homage to the ultimate suit fabric

Among luxury fabrics, silk is the great equalizer. That is to say, there is silk and there is everything else, which is why the material has historically been associated with those at the top, whether a Chinese emperor clad in silk robes or the Italian-American godfather Lucky Luciano, whose sartorial taste ran to silk underwear. "We are all Adam's children," wrote the English physician Thomas Fuller (1654-1734), "but silk makes the difference."

Even at the top, however, there is hierarchy, and among silk for men's suits dupioni is first among equals. The name comes from the Italian word doppio, or double, and refers to the fact that dupioni is made only from a double silkworm cocoon, a very rare freak of silk nature. When a pair of silk filaments are reeled (or unwound) from a dupioni cocoon, they can be as long as a kilometer. It takes as many as 5,000 dupioni cocoons to produce a single suit.

If dupioni silk is fabric perfection, it's ironic that its hallmark is its imperfections—or slubs (a most unsilky word). These arise from minute variations in the thickness of the yarn produced by the twin silkworms. More important, they occur randomly, which means no two pieces of dupioni silk are exactly alike. "A computer has never been able to duplicate a dupioni silk yarn with slubs," states William Wallace, vice president of merchandising at Hickey-Freeman. Thus a custom-made dupioni silk suit is unique on two counts, the fabric and the cut.

Luxury fabrics are on a roll right now. Just look at how much cashmere is being produced. But there is low- as well as high-quality cashmere, whereas with silk there is nowhere to go but up from fine. Which is why many top men's houses have turned to silk as the ultimate canvas for their finest tailoring, as the five suits in this portfolio, all but one dupioni, attest.

Kiton made this three-button, single-breasted suit from two different color dupioni threads, a dark cream and a coppery tan, both yarn-dyed, which means the threads are colored before they're woven. To maximize the color play, Kiton made the fabric using a weaving technique called end-on-end, which allows for subtle color variations because the warp and weft threads are equally prominent. From a distance the suit looks like a solid; close-up it has depth and texture as a result of the contrasting hues. Three-button single-breasted dupioni silk suit with notch lapel ($4,200) and white handsewn linen vest with lapel collar ($395), both from Kiton; white handsewn linen dress shirt with spread collar from Luigi Borrelli ($350); stainless-steel and 18-karat yellow gold Reverso watch ($4,990) from Jaeger-LeCoultre.

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Where to Buy:
Tan three-button single-breasted dupioni silk suit with notch lapel from Kiton: At BERGDORF GOODMAN MEN New York; 800-218-4918 • ULTIMO Chicago; 312-787-1171 • L'UOMO MONTREAL Montreal; 514-844-1008 • WILKES BASHFORD San Francisco; 415-986-4380 • STANLEY KORSHAK Dallas; 214-871-3600 • LOUIS BOSTON Boston; 800-225-5135. White handsewn linen vest with lapel collar from Kiton: At BERGDORF GOODMAN MEN New York • LOUIS BOSTON Boston • STANLEY KORSHAK Dallas • WILKES BASHFORD San Francisco • NEIMAN MARCUS select stores; 800-937-9146. White handsewn linen dress shirt with spread collar from Luigi Borrelli: At BERGDORF GOODMAN MEN New York • NEIMAN MARCUS select stores • LOUIS BOSTON Boston • WILKES BASHFORD San Francisco • TYRONE Roslyn, New York; 516-484-3330. Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso stainless-steel and 18-karat gold watch. For information: 800-552-8463.

To commemorate its centennial, Hickey-Freeman commissioned a special dupioni silk, Century Silk Dupioni, for the beige three-button single-breasted Boardroom suit, the company's top-of-the-line model. The fabric was woven on vintage 1930s looms to achieve the micro-herringbone pattern. Hickey-Freeman specified a four-ply silk construction (versus the usual two-ply) in order to emphasize the slubs. The suit has all of the Boardroom hallmarks: slightly elongated silhouette; lightly padded, slightly pitched-forward shoulder; working sleeve buttonholes; handset armholes; and 35-40 percent handstitching overall. Three-button single-breasted dupioni silk suit ($2,000) from the Hickey-Freeman Customized Collection; natural with white mini-windowpane Italian linen dress shirt ($137.50) and gold/yellow French silk ascot ($135), both from Paul Stuart; tan box-calf laceup dress shoes (about $700) from Sutor Mantellassi; taupe mercerized Pima cotton cable-knit socks (about $22) from Mountain High Hosiery, Ltd.

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Where to Buy:
Beige three-button single-breasted dupioni silk suit from the Hickey-Freeman Customized Collection: At NEIMAN MARCUS select stores • BERGDORF GOODMAN MEN New York (special order only). For information: 800-295-2000. Natural/white Italian linen dress shirt from Paul Stuart: At PAUL STUART New York; 212-682-0320; and Chicago; 312-640-2650. Gold/yellow French silk ascot from Paul Stuart: At PAUL STUART New York and Chicago. Tan box-calf lace-up dress shoes from Sutor Mantellassi: At WILKES BASHFORD San Francisco • LOUIS BOSTON Boston • STANLEY KORSHAK Dallas • NEIMAN MARCUS select stores • MARIO'S Seattle; 206-223-1461. Pima cotton cable-knit socks: At MITCHELLS OF WESTPORT Westport, CT; 203-227-5165 • SAKS FIFTH AVENUE select stores; 212-753-4000 • NORDSTROM select stores; 800-695-8000.

Ralph Lauren used silk shantung—"the mink of silks," according to Dick Lembeck, fabric specialist at Textile Import LLC, which supplies fabric to many of the best men's houses—for this Ralph Lauren Purple Label suit. Shantung is lighter in weight than dupioni and easier to produce, because it's most often made from one dupioni silk yarn and one mechanically spun silk yarn. The jacket is fully lined, the trousers half-lined. Ivory three-button single-breasted silk shantung suit with notch lapel ($1,995), white Windsor broadcloth dress shirt with French cuffs ($195), and ivory/black-pattern silk tie ($115), all from Ralph Lauren Purple Label.

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Where to Buy:
Ivory three-button single-breasted silk shantung suit with notch lapel from Ralph Lauren Purple Label: At POLO RALPH LAUREN select stores; 800-756-7656 • SAKS FIFTH AVENUE select stores. Windsor broadcloth dress shirt from Ralph Lauren Purple Label: At POLO RALPH LAUREN nationwide • SAKS FIFTH AVENUE select stores • BERGDORF GOODMAN MEN New York. Ivory/black-pattern silk tie from Ralph Lauren Purple Label: At POLO RALPH LAUREN select stores.

Oxxford Clothes' Seta del Rae suit was specifically modeled on silk suits worn by the Duke of Windsor, as Oxxford Clothes bought a portion of the duke's wardrobe of dupioni silk suits at auction last year. Black three-button single-breasted dupioni silk suit with notch lapel ($2,700) and charcoal linen dress shirt ($145), both from Oxxford Clothes; hand-finished American alligator belt in black with hand-cast solid-sterling-silver buckle (about $975) from Torino.

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Where to Buy:
Black three-button single-breasted dupioni silk suit with notch lapel from Oxxford Clothes: At OXXFORD CLOTHES New York; 212-593-0204 • SAKS FIFTH AVENUE select stores • NEIMAN MARCUS select stores. Charcoal linen dress shirt from Oxxford Clothes: At OXXFORD CLOTHES New York. Black American alligator belt with solid-sterling-silver buckle from Torino: At NEIMAN MARCUS select stores • SAKS FIFTH AVENUE select stores • MITCHELLS OF WESTPORT Westport, CT. For information: 800-932-9402. • Black three-button single-breasted dupioni silk suit with notch lapel from Oxxford Clothes: At OXXFORD CLOTHES New York; 212-593-0204 • SAKS FIFTH AVENUE select stores • NEIMAN MARCUS select stores. Charcoal linen dress shirt from Oxxford Clothes: At OXXFORD CLOTHES New York. Black American alligator belt with solid-sterling-silver buckle from Torino: At NEIMAN MARCUS select stores • SAKS FIFTH AVENUE select stores • MITCHELLS OF WESTPORT Westport, CT. For information: 800-932-9402.

Brioni went with its lightest-style construction, Nomentano, to create this two-button single-breasted dupioni silk suit. Like all Brioni suits, the silhouette is strongly articulated and cut close to the body, the shoulder natural but strong. The open-patch pockets, however, leaven the highly tailored look. Olive two-button single-breasted dupioni silk suit with notch lapel (about $3,500) and mustard wool-knit polo (about $300), both from Brioni; tan box-calf square-top slip-on dress shoes from Sutor Mantellassi (about $700).

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Where to Buy:
Olive two-button single-breasted dupioni silk suit from Brioni: At NEIMAN MARCUS select stores • SAKS FIFTH AVENUE select stores • BERGDORF GOODMAN MEN New York • WILKES BASHFORD San Francisco • BRIONI New York (special order only). For information: 888-778-8775. Mustard wool-knit polo from Brioni: At NEIMAN MARCUS select stores • SAKS FIFTH AVENUE select stores • BERGDORF GOODMAN MEN New York • WILKES BASHFORD San Francisco • BRIONI New York (special order only). For information: 888-778-8775. Tan box-calf square-top slip-on dress shoes from Sutor Mantellassi: At WILKES BASHFORD San Francisco • MARIO'S Seattle • LOUIS BOSTON Boston • STANLEY KORSHAK Dallas • NEIMAN MARCUS select stores.