Anatomy of a Collection – The Black Lapel Take on Men’s Spring Fashion 2016
A cup of coffee, for Calvin, is not a ritual like it is for so many of us. He doesn’t add a set amount of sugar or cream or fret over the origins of the beans, or even care if it’s hot (he’s been known to microwave an old cup of joe around the office). No, he’s not particular about much of anything, with one major exception: clothes. That’s why he heads up our process of building new collections twice a year at Black Lapel.
Early on the process looks deliberate. He’s gone for a few afternoons, visiting fabric vendors and the product of these caffeine driven sessions (fabric vendors, Italian or not, love their espresso) starts to arrive shortly thereafter. Boxes of samples start coming in. Soon the area around his desk is piled high with swatchbooks and loose samples of wools, linens, cottons, mohairs and silks. These swatches, even though they’ve been narrowed down from the thousands he looks at, would start to run together for most people, but not to Calvin. Each one has its own nuance of texture, color and composition that Calvin revels in, like a coffee aficionado (aka hipster) enjoys the many origins and blends and roasts of a fine cup of coffee. That stack of fabric signifies, to all of us at Black Lapel, that fresh clothes are soon to follow.
The Man With The Plan
The process begins a long time before those first swatches of the season show up. Calvin goes into the seasons with a plan. And he sticks to it…most of the time.
“We see plaid fabrics every time we build a collection and usually mix one in,” he says. “But this season when I saw these plaids, I knew we had to have them all. They’ve just got so much personality and depth.” Striking the right tone with that personality was the challenge.
“I believe every man should have something in his closet that can instantly raise his style cred. That’s what these plaids are about. Whether you’re trying to make a strong statement or your style is a little more reserved, one of these will work.”
It wasn’t easy getting everyone on board with the plaids at first. The initial selections were met with skepticism by the stylists at Black Lapel.
“So many people have this picture of plaid suits as the kind old-school stuff you see out there from heritage brands. It took making some sample suits to prove to everyone that these patterns, even the punchier stuff, could still look up to date and modern if the cut is modern. Once everybody saw them, though, we knew we had some winners.”
In fact, this collection has roots that stretch back even farther than the plaid revelation. Technically, work on this collection began over a year ago.
White Light Gray Whale
Each season’s collection includes something that has been years in the making and the new Spring/Summer ’16 Collection is no different.
“I had hoped, in the spring of 2015, to update our light gray selection but I wasn’t able to find something that was up to my standards,” says Calvin. Since last spring his failed attempt at perfecting the light gray suit haunted him, like the white whale that haunted Captain Ahab. (Sounds dramatic, we know, but the fact that the previous sentence was an accurate portrayal should give you a sense of how deep Calvin’s obsession with fabrics is.)
“I hate to sweat in a suit. I made it my mission to find a fabric that would let air circulate but didn’t feel paper thin,” says Calvin.
The search for the perfect light gray summer suit finally led him to a lesser known fabric type. Fresco, a wool fabric that is the same weight as an all-seasonal, year round wool but with an open weave that allows for circulation, gave him the ability to produce clothes that stay cool without sacrificing.
“A heavier weight drapes better than lighter weight fabrics that tend to wrinkle easily. Fresco holds its shape. It’s the perfect fabric for all the guys who need a cooler suit.”
With the plaids and frescos in place, it would have been quite natural to stop there. Still, something else was nagging at Calvin.
“I love the look of linen suits but wear one for an hour and it’s so wrinkled it looks like you slept in it for a week,” says Calvin. “That’s why, for years, we’ve offered blended linen and wool fabrics which have the look and feel of linen but don’t wrinkle as much because of the wool.”
The market spoke and those linen blend suits have done quite well. “Selling those suits has never been a problem,” says Calvin, “guys love the linen blends for special occasions and more casual settings.”
But men still wanted suits that they could wear to work during the summer. And so, the Spring/Summer ‘16 Collection addressed that need head on. “Now we’re offering linen blends in colors that are more office appropriate,” says Calvin, “so you can wear these suits anywhere.”
Don’t Tie Me Down
Don’t let that last point about the office appropriate looks fool you, though.
“One of the things I’m most proud of, with this collection, is that everything can be worn casually,” says Calvin. That versatility was on display in the photo shoot, where we mixed in some classic spring and summer casual pieces like chambray shirts (without ties), sneakers (without socks) and polo shirts. The results were a new level of casual cool that should, as Calvin puts it, “inspire guys to think outside of the nine to five suit.”
So after countless cups of unimpressive yet necessary coffee, Calvin pieced together the Black Lapel Spring/Summer ‘16 Collection. Thousands of swatches were narrowed down to eight new suits, each with their own personality.
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