Saturday marked the official start of Fall, and while I am not quite ready to dust off my tweed; wool was certainly abounding at Bryant Park yesterday. I got a chance to check out “Wool Uncovered,” a 1-day outdoor exhibition hosted by The Campaign for Wool. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales founded the initiative in 1998, in response to the declining value of wool coupled with the emergence of man-made synthetic fibers. The organization now works to spread awareness of the fiber’s virtues, as well as the benefits of using other natural fabrics.
This event marked the campaign’s first foray into the states, as they transformed New York’s iconic Bryant Park into a Wool Salon. The installation included a few dozen sheep grazing in the meadow, a wool “sculpture” flowing out of the stone fountain and several stations where processes such as side stitching and wool separating were explained and demonstrated in detail.
It began with a tour around the park from designer Steven Gambrel who spoke on how and why he uses wool in his projects. Steven believes that surrounding yourself with natural fabrics and fibers gives the space a more authentic feel, not to mention what it does for your karma. Additionally, he enjoys wool for its versatility, as it can be employed in both a traditional and a modern space. He’ll also use a sheer piece of wool on windows to alter natural light to his taste.
Steven also took us through the bedding station, where a Vi-Spring mattress was being side stitched.
“Is it a luxury to sleep well? In New York, its mandatory,” the hilarious Steven Gambrel responded to quips from the audience about the cost of such a luxurious bed.
The mattress is expertly blended for ultimate softness and support, which cradles the sleeper and reacts to his/her movement. Shetland wool, mohair, cashmere, horsehair and silk are hand teased and laid over the springs, and then finished with a damask fabric before the side stitching completes the process. The fact that the finest bedding has been made from the same natural fabrics since the 19th century is a true testament to its undeniable and unwavering quality. Some things never change, and for good reason.
With sheep grazing in the background, I learned the processes that wool undergoes, from sheering through completion. Here, at the separating station.
I also learned about the benefits, virtues and complexities of wool. As a natural fiber, it is not only easier to clean but also handles moisture incredibly well, making it ideal for carpeting and upholstery. In clothing, it functions as a “temperature regulator” with the ability to protect the body in both cold and warm conditions. Wool wicks natural moisture from the body, whereas a synthetic fiber would absorb the wetness and hold it in the material.
Overall, the versatility and longevity of wool remained a theme throughout the entire exhibition, ranging from its use in luxurious carpets and interiors, to clothing and bedding. In addition to being completely natural, wool is 100% renewable, sustainable and biodegradable.
I sat in on a fashion panel, featuring Nick Sullivan, Fashion Editor of Esquire, John Muscat of Line Knitwear, and designer Alan Eckstein, of Timo Weiland. The discussion was moderated by Sonny Puryear of The Woolmark Company. Sonny spoke of his appreciation for the various uses of wool. While it was used as an extravagant display piece for the event, wool can be used in everything from sweaters, coats and bedding, to a super couture nightgown or even an ultra thin t-shirt.
Paralleling the thoughts of earlier speakers, the panel stressed the lifetime of well-made wool clothing, mentioning vintage pieces in their wardrobe that were older than themselves. Alan Eckstein spoke on how wool (and other knitwear) always receives priority when his team is designing a line. While that stems from how the attention to detail affects lead times, it grants the maker the ability to control the entire piece, something not afforded when creating cut and sew garments.
Nick Sullivan discussed how wool, an incredibly traditional menswear staple, has undergone various technological advancements over the last 20 years. While the fabric had always been adaptable to both hot and cool temperatures, high-end companies have recently made improvements in the performance of their high twist garments. He mentioned the revolutionary waterproofing system of Loro Piana and Isaia’s Aquaspider technology, both of which can bead liquid without compromising the integrity of the jacket.
Overall, The Campaign for Wool put on a gorgeous showcase, with beautiful displays and guests that were both informative and witty. When the temperature drops a bit lower and beckons for tweed, I’ll wear mine with a more informed conscience.
Next stop, The Corduroy Club…
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