Breezy and cool, yet charming and sophisticated—no, we’re not talking about George Clooney, but about linen, one of the world’s oldest natural fabrics. Produced from fibres of the flax plant, linen has a personality of its own—its light, airy feel makes it a summer staple all over the world. Designer Wendell Rodricks has the scientific explanation for the “breathing” quality of the fabric—“If you look at linen under a microscope, you’ll see the fibres are like bamboo sticks that allow moisture from the skin to escape,” he says.
Yes, linen wrinkles a lot, and it is a little difficult to maintain, but this soft fabric is worth all the trouble.
Linen is A.D. Singh’s choice for both formal and casual occasions (Photo by: Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint)
It’s important to identify good linen. Says Rana Singh, managing director of the Dry Cleaning Factory, dry cleaners and launderers in Mumbai, “In India, you mostly get Ramie, a fabric that has the weave and look of linen, but is very stiff. The best linen is from Ireland.”
The Aditya Birla Group’s Jaya Shree Textiles imports the fibre from Belgium and weaves it in India. “Our sales go up in summer. With blends such as cotton linen that gives more body to the fabric, people can get the best of both,” says David Platen, head of design, textile and apparel, Aditya Birla Group.
Ready to wear
“I would wear linen even to a wedding,” says designer Savio Jon. Though some may not want to take it that far, a linen suit is a perfectly acceptable option for daytime outdoor events. For Mumbai-based restaurateur A.D. Singh, it works well for work and play. Work for him is going to his restaurant Olive, having meetings with chefs, managers, alliance partners and bankers. “I don’t like wearing business suits. A dark linen suit cuts across all sections and I could even wear that for a formal evening out,” he says. A pinstripe linen suit, with a cotton or linen dress shirt and brown tie-ups, gets him through his workday. A pink Rajesh Pratap Singh suit and a dark shirt without a tie is his play attire.
Rules for a linen suit are slightly different. The most important, Jon says, is to keep the tailoring clean and well finished. It’s best to wear it with crew neck or Chinese-collared shirts, without a tie. “Pair linen with natural fabrics such as cotton and linen itself, jersey or mull, and tan leather shoes and belt,” he says.
Linen shorts at Mango
The casual look is easy to get. Layer with a linen waistcoat or a jacket with jeans or chinos or just wear a T-shirt with drawstring linen trousers. The colour palette, according to Jon, should be basic and neutral—white, ivory, khaki, denim blue and olive green. “Avoid citrus colours,” he says.
Fashion consultant and stylist Rita Dhody loves linen in white. As shorts on the beach, drawstring trousers with a vest or a linen shirt and jeans for an outing with friends, and as a dress to a brunch, linen is her year-round favourite. “You can dress it up and dress it down. And, you can buy a fantastic designer linen jacket or a simple shirt from the high street,” she says.
To dress up a linen shirt, wear it with designer jeans, a nice belt, sunglasses and carry an eye-catching bag. Wear necklaces and heels with a linen dress. With linen dresses, make sure the construction of the outfit is not body-fitting, so stick to shirt-dresses, shift dresses and designs with empire waistlines, says Rodricks. “Since white linen is transparent, women usually wear white underwear, but the trick is to wear skin-coloured inners,” he adds.
“Linen is just fabulous and so chic. I especially love it on men,” declares Dhody. Besides giving the fabric her stamp of approval, she says that the wrinkles are part of the charm and completely acceptable. Linen is soft and gets softer with every wash, and has a tendency to shrink. Singh advises delicate washing. “I get requests for starching all the time from businessmen who like the stiff look. But starch destroys the natural fibres,” says Singh. And remember, linen runs colour, so after a few washes, the colours will get lighter.
Whites from Wendell Rodricks’ Goa Spa collection for Spring Summer 2008
Though Dhody loves wearing linen in white, she has seen her whites turn yellowish after some time. “Now, I avoid investing in designer labels. If I want a simple white linen shirt or trousers, I buy it from the high street,” she says.
Suits and dresses with detailing such as lace should only be dry-cleaned. Hand-wash in warm water and do not tumble dry because it can cause permanent wrinkling. “Iron the fabric when it is damp. It’s not that difficult to take care of, half my wardrobe is linen,” says Rodricks.
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