- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

Think Lauren Bacall in a fitted British tweed suit: the little jacket with lightly padded shoulders and the pencil skirt skimming the knee.

Feminine and no-nonsense, a fabric that screams to be taken seriously, tweed always has exuded class, from Harris tweed riding jackets to Holmesian herringbone toppers.

It was legendary French designer Coco Chanel who made her

tweed and wool boucle jackets a signature of high-end 1950s and ‘60s style. Worn with long pearls and a chain-and-leather belt, Chanel suits raised the fashion bar for Ladies Who Lunch.

This fall, designers have a need for tweed, and the fabric is showing up on everything from shoes and bags to wallets and dresses. This is not Miss Marple’s tweed.

“It started about three years ago when tweed came back in fashion,” says Austin Frazier, manager of Georgetown’s cutting-edge boutique Intermix. “Chanel is certainly the one who started it. Tweed looks refined and sophisticated. Very classy.”

The store recently sold out of its Theory $300 tweed pants and has stocked numerous versions of tweed jackets and shoes.

“A lot of women wear basic black to work. Tweed takes it up a notch,” he says. “Combining textures makes you look more pulled together.”

The current tweeds are made of lighter material, thanks to manufacturers using new mixes of yarns. Worn with jeans, the new tweed jackets and coats express casual style along with the current trend toward ladylike 1950s wear. The newer fabrics are softer and thinner, less likely to add bulk to the frame. Chenille and Lurex are woven with cotton, wool and cashmere to create subtle patterns of dogtooth, windowpane and Irish speckled blends.

In the beginning, tweed was worn mainly as outerwear, as in long cloaks to ward off the English chill while walking the moors. By the 1890s, British tweed had grown in popularity, and both men and women found the fabric durable and cozy in tailor-made suits and coats. Of course, men always have adored their Brooks Bros.’ tweed jackets, and vintage riding jackets are much in demand by retro lovers.

In recent years, designers such as Michael Kors have rediscovered the allure of tweed and may have sparked the current tweeding frenzy.

“I think there’s a menswear influence this fall — taking tweed and feminizing it,” says Tara Luizzi, manager of the boutique Relish in Georgetown. The store has nearly sold out of its Junya Watanabe Chanel-inspired edgy tweed blazers ($1,150), which come in black and white with cobalt blue and other colors.

“We love tweed jackets worn with jeans,” she adds. “A little splash of color.”

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