A Southern-Minded Sport Coat

Chapel Hill’s Alexander Julian fashions a sport coat to beat the Southern heat

Lissa Gotwals

Julian's exaggerated herringbone coat (and North Carolina-made pheasant tie)

The Fashion designer Alexander Julian has spent decades building a name for himself as an artist whose favorite medium, he has said, is tweed. In the process he’s won five Coty Awards, the fashion industry’s highest honor, and been inducted into the  Fashion Hall of Fame. But as a North Carolina native, Julian also understands well the central issue for anyone wearing a wool sport coat in the South: It can be hot as hell.

“I grew up in Chapel Hill in the fifties and sixties, and we sold Harris Tweed and Shetland wool jackets in the fall,” says Julian, remembering a youth spent on the floor of his father’s iconic clothing store, Julian’s. He laughs, considering the role of tweed in the region today, when each year seems just a bit warmer than the last. “Well, you have to be very devoted to wear heavy wool in the South now.”

Julian and his son Huston in front of their Chapel Hill shop.

Lissa Gotwals

Jacket Required

Julian and his son Huston in front of their Chapel Hill shop.

With Julian’s fall collection, he may have found the perfect solution. By developing a newly engineered fabric called Cotton|Tweed, Julian—with a heavy assist from his son Huston—has created a lightweight sport coat that looks almost like wool tweed yet would be well suited to a long walk to a warm afternoon tailgate. The trick is a unique design in which one piece of fabric serves as both exterior and lining: Its outer surface is brushed cotton, while the inner is a rayon mix with a bit of stretch. This single layer keeps weight down and increases breathability.

“It could fool a moth,” Julian says of the convincing digital printing that transforms the cotton into a trompe l’oeil of tweed. “This gives us the opportunity to do something new that looks old.”

Julian rose to the top of the fashion world with his clothing line Colours in the 1980s and is known for his design of the distinctive argyle pattern on the uniforms of University of North Carolina sports teams. He also redesigned Carolina’s graduation robes, which Huston—at twenty-three the second-youngest of Julian’s seven children—donned in 2014 while receiving his diploma. Though Huston studied environmental science, as graduation approached he contemplated joining his father and grandfather in the family business.

“I grew up in a design studio,” Huston says. “I felt like it was my duty.” Soon he was sifting through archives and sketching new silhouettes. “I see fewer people wearing sport coats,” he says of his peers’ sartorial inclinations. “For my generation, I feel like that’s a missed opportunity.”

“Huston played a central role,” Julian says of the development of the new line, which in addition to the sport coats includes shirts, vests, ties, and jackets in moleskin and (actual) lambswool. Those heavier sport coats, Julian says slyly, “are for those above the Mason-Dixon Line.”