There was a time when I co-signed on the fake news that the the sun didn't damage melanated skin. By the time I realized this was non-factoid, I was mired in poor sun-blocking habits largely because SPF is not a friend of brown skin. The streaks it leaves behind are just awful, so I usually just skip it all together.
That's why I find King of Prussia dermatologist Erum Ilyas' 14-piece women's wear line, AmberNoon, so intriguing.
Last August, Ilyas launched a surprisingly fashionable collection of sun-protective basics: stretchy slacks, loose hoodies, sporty long-sleeved tops, midi A-line skirts, curve-friendly maxi dresses. This week, on perfect cue with the heatwave, Ilyas will introduce two one-piece bathing suits: one sleeveless and one featuring a rash guard.
Each AmberNoon piece is guaranteed to block 99.2 percent of ultraviolet rays. A product's ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating measures how effective clothing is at blocking both UVA and UVB rays. AmberNoon's UPF rating is 50+. In comparison, a plain white, cotton T has a UPF rating of 3 to 7.
Ilyas designed AmberNoon — a play on the word "afternoon" that incorporates Ilyas' daughter's first name — with the idea that the separates can easily be mixed and matched together in a very Donna Karan, seven easy pieces kind of way. An AmberNoon outfit can be worn with classic pumps as easily as it can be paired with Converse All Stars. This makes it different from a slew of other sun-protective lines because it's not all floppy hats and crunchy cargoes. It's as haute-worthy as it is hike-worthy.
"I designed this line with myself in mind," said Ilyas, a 43-year-old mom of three. "I'm one of the few working moms at my kids' school and I often have to run from work to an outdoor game."
The AmberNoon collection is yet another local example of how pragmatism is trumping fabulousness in today's finicky world of fashion retail where shoppers would rather spend their hard-earned dough on seasonless clothing that fits seamlessly into their wardrobes. Sun rays are just as harmful for your skin in winter, too.
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This is also why AmberNoon's color palette is so neutral, Ilyas explained. Each of the 14 styles comes in navy, black, gray and white. There is an air of athleticism — one of the collection's Sadja wraps in white is reminiscent of the Lululemon zip-up jacket Kerry Washington wore as Olivia Pope on Scandal. And there is a little Tory Burch boho-chic in the signature print Ilyas created to resemble the lattice concrete screens found in castles in southern Asia's ancient Mughal Empire.
"Those screens were designed to keep the sun out," Ilyas said. "I'm trying to block the sun from the skin in a beautiful way as well."
But what is it about AmberNoon that makes it stylish and sun safe?
The sun-blocking magic has nothing to do with chemicals, Ilyas explained to me last week in her suburban practice's conference-turned-showroom. It's all about the tightness of the textile's weave. AmberNoon is fashioned from a combination of dry flex, moss, and tencel infused with some spandex. So not only do the pants make your butt looks good, it allows for little sun to seep through.
In addition to the tightness of the textile's weave, Ilyas added contemporary designed elements for style as well as to keep the sunshine from burning our sweet meat. We are talking hoods and generous collars that fold up and down. Ilyas also added zippered decolletage that she's named the v-reveal and zippered ankles she calls ankle-reveal. Both names are pending trademarks.
"I see about 150 skin exams a week," Ilyas said. "And I kept seeing the same patterns of sun damage: on the hands, the forearms, the chest. The same sun that burns you on the beach is the same sun that beams through your window during a traffic jam."
Ilyas, 43, comes from a family of female physicians and entrepreneurs. Ilyas' great-grandmother was a midwife in India and her grandmother practiced gynecology there. Ilyas' mom, a pediatrician, recently retired from her Baltimore practice.
She moved to Philadelphia in the 1990s to go to Hahnemann Medical College, now a part of Drexel's medical school. And in 2009, Ilyas started her own practice.
Two years ago while driving home from work, she felt the hot sun beaming down on her arm. She reached into her glove compartment for sunblock and found a sticky mess. She drove the rest of the way home trying to cover her forearm with her long sleeve. The next day she went to look for sun protective clothing and couldn't find anything at all.
"Everything looked so medicinal," Ilyas said. "Like people were hiding from an illness."
Why not develop her own line? She began sketching and soon hired Dana Fried, the consultant who helped Taryn Rose launch her comfortable, adorable eponymous shoe line. AmberNoon debuted last August. In February, she launched a blog. And this past weekend, as part of her branding strategy, Ilyas rolled out her YouTube channel where she gives tips on how to take care of your skin.
Since the launch, she's had modest success, selling out of several items, including the Naseem pant and the Sarah hooded cover-up, each selling for $165. The most expensive piece is the Amber Casual Dress that goes for $225. There is talk of licensing the AmberNoon name to national department stores and on-line retailers, but nothing is set in stone — yet.
"AmberNoon is one more tool in your sun-protective management plan," Ilyas said. "You should be able to throw on something that protects you … and it should be cute."