Solaro has always been one of those materials I’ve found intriguing but never took the leap on, simply because I was too unsure how much I’d like such an unusual, and in some ways showy material.
For those that don’t know, Solaro was invented in 1907 by a scientist looking for a material that British soldiers could wear in tropical climates, to reflect the sun. While that didn’t work, it did become popular among civilians for summer suiting, and Smith Woollens has woven it and held the trademark since 1931.
Although the overall effect is beige, the red and light-green yarns create a complex effect close-up. It’s usually woven as a herringbone, and the material looks like a striped material with a subtle iridescence that can appear red, green or related colours like warm orange.
The reverse of the material is mostly red and sometimes this is used as an accent, though I would rather avoid that (a miscommunication led to this jacket having a red lining – the only thing Dalcuore got wrong).
Given all this, it’s not surprising people are wary of Solaro. The thing that tends to convert them is seeing others wear it – usually Italians, who wear it casually with suede shoes and in relaxed cuts. (And have a particular reverence for English cloth.)
I was convinced to try it by regular sightings of a Londoner wearing a Solaro suit with a Western shirt. Something about the denim really complimented the beige, and it looked particularly good with suede shoes, in either dark brown or tobacco.
I also liked how – particularly out of the sun – the overall effect was simply of an interesting beige shade. I’ve always liked the idea of a beige suit, but haven’t always been successful with them. Solaro I knew, at least from most angles, was the perfect tone.
So I had the suit pictured made this year by Dalcuore in Naples. Why Dalcuore? Well, since Gigi Dalcuore sadly passed away his daughter Cristina has been leading the cutting, and I knew some readers had questions about that transition.
Perfectly understandable when you’re replacing a master like Gigi, and something that came up when Edward Sexton passed away recently too. If you’re an existing customer, you want to know you’re going to get the same quality; if you’re a new customer, you want to know you’re not losing anything by not using the original.
Cristina therefore deliberately made my pattern from scratch, with her own measurements, rather than using my existing pattern. Of course, she has been present at every fitting I’ve had in the past, and conducted some of them herself, so this was hardly new to her. But good to cover all bases.
The result seems just as good as Gigi’s work, to me, and the trousers might even fit slightly better. There was the miscommunication with the lining, but it’s hard to lay blame there – I asked for a matching lining and they matched the reverse of the cloth, rather than the face. Unfortunately that’s not something that can really be changed without taking apart the inbreast pockets.
Since getting the suit, I’ve worn it perhaps eight or nine times, in sun and cloud. I’m pleased to say I do like it, but I’m not sure it’s for everyone.
The iridescence is subtle unless you’re in direct sunlight, and even then you have to be at the right angle to catch the reflection. So most of the time it’s a beige suit with a touch of interest – the kind someone will definitely notice when they’re talking to you, or standing next to you, but not otherwise.
In some ways it falls into the same category as the brown chalkstripe I featured recently from Fred Nieddu. Its pattern makes it nice without a tie, because there’s something else going on with the fabric, but it’s not as bold as something like a check.
Still, it is more unusual than another beige suit and I think you have to like the effect to make it worth it. I also wouldn’t attempt to justify it by calling it a menswear ‘classic’ or anything simple like that.
Also, it is not cool. It’s just a wool suit, 11/12oz, and not really suited to hot days and many parts of the world. I’d happily wear it through Spring and Autumn, and even much of the Summer here in the UK, but I’m not going to venture into the tropics.
I’ve shown the suit with three different outfits, to illustrate how suede makes a particularly good partner – either in tobacco or brown – and the effect of denim underneath.
Brown suede is easy and conservative, tobacco bolder but certainly works with no tie or hank going on. Mid-brown leathers work too, but suede makes everything more casual, which is welcome.
The first outfit, shown at the top of this article, is with a simple pale-blue denim shirt. The one above uses a heavier Western-style shirt, which pushes a touch along the subtle/showy spectrum. And below is the suit with a white PS Oxford shirt – not quite as nice as blue, but still good; and the fact both blue and white work show how wearable beige is, even if you don’t want that extra kick of Solaro.
Other mills make versions of Solaro, which tend to be lighter or more unusual in one way or another. But Smith’s do also have a smaller herringbone, two twills, a blue version and at one point a diamond weave, which is probably enough.
And in any case I don’t think those add much to the classic, the wider herringbone SW2578. There’s no point trying to make it subtler with a smaller herringbone, because it won’t make much difference. But I also, personally, don’t want to make it more unusual, which is what a diamond weave would do.
Until the age of social media, Solaro was really only worn by the Italians, who had that aforementioned love of British cloth, the example of Agnelli and similar, and the consistent sunshine to dress for. I’m glad the blessing and the curse that is Instagram changed that, although personally I’m pleased I didn’t take the plunge until I’d seen it in person.
Dalcuore suits start at €4500 and jackets €3800. The cloth is Smith Woollens SW2578 (11/12oz) from the Luxury Flannels bunch, and the buttons are a mid-brown corozo. Dalcuore are next in London from October 25-27 at The Stafford hotel.
Oh, and here is the lovely work Ludens did to extend my alligator skin with a length of suede (as mentioned in the article on him here)