Search and State (SAS) is a cycling apparel brand that prides itself on being made in America (Mid-town Manhattan to be specific.) However, what is truly appealing is their approach to design and branding. I'd describe their style as a freshly subdued departure from the over the top logo centric designs of their industry counterparts, SAS stands out more for what is not there, than what is. Never wanting to be a rolling billboard myself, and since I'm a fan of details rather than brash, this minimalist approach is exactly what drew me to SAS. Over the past few seasons I've picked up two of their garments. First the S1-A jersey (available in 4 colours, mine is black) and the S1-J jacket (available only in black). It's fair to say I've put them through their paces and formed some appreciations, and some concerns.
Both of my SAS purchases arrived promptly in nicely branded plain brown shipping boxes. Well packed and presented, akin to what you'd receive from Rapha. First impressions were that the SAS product quality is higher than so many others on the market. Visually, the SAS apparel is quite stunningly simple and that is maybe my favourite aspect. The jersey was heavier than I expected and the jacket was lighter, but both felt great as soon as I put them on. After getting to log some long miles in each I've been able to appreciate some finer details built into their garments.
Design is simple without a lot of flair. Being nearly naked of colour and flash, bad product quality wouldn't have anywhere to hide on these garments so simplicity only serves to highlight good craftsmanship. The SAS line is cut to be very athletic and form fitting without being a typical race cut. Keep this in mind before you purchase, and if anything size up. The SAS website does include a sizing chart which I'd say is much more exacting than how others present their fit measurements.
The S1-A jersey has the standard 3 rear pockets. Note that the middle pocket is narrower than the sides, but the side pockets don't seem larger than normal. The sleeves are a tad longer which is more on trend and looks better in my opinion. The downside is that it's longer than the sleeve length of t-shirts or summer shirts so you may end up with a very visible tan line to show with pride. The sleeves and bottom cuffs have rubberized hems to help keep them in place. Over 2 years it's held up very well.
The S1-J jacket is a real no-frills affair, designed to give you what you need and nothing more. Heavily patterned and tailored, the jacket is all black with a slight grey to the zippers. The main feature of the S1-J is a large volume single pocket on the back with a Riri zipper. A small detail to appreciate is that the front zipper has a cover detail at the top so it doesn't aggravate your face or chin (nice touch). There are no vents or gussets in the jacket, I'll note this later in my critiques.
Personally I really like the SAS garments just the way they are, and the jacket looks as good off the bike as it does on. I will admit that I've worn the jacket maybe more times off the bike than on.
Branding is at a minimum on SAS apparel. The S1-A has a small visible logo on the cuff of one sleeve and a small patch logo on the back pocket. Their small size keeps the branding relatively unobtrusive, and it's really well executed. The S1-J takes it a step further to minimal. The only visible branding is on the interior zipper flap near the collar. When the jacket is zipped up there is no visible branding and even when it's open, it's barely noticeable. The logo itself actually looks more like a design feature from a distance. Both jackets have a label tag inside on the collar with a larger logo but you'd be the only one to see it. All logos are white on black.
The basics of good cycling apparel are all included , yet done well. On the SAS website they describe their approach as an "attention to quality, fit, styling, and an unmatched selection of luxury performance fabrics". No doubt there is a great attention to quality in craftsmanship. Each garment feels well made and there is no sense that any part of is going to come apart at any time. The entire SAS lineup is clearly stylish but I'd have to be honest and say that the selection of unmatched luxury performance fabrics may be a stretch (no pun intended).
The S1-A jersey is denser material with lighter reliefs for ventilation. This creates an almost basketball jersey mesh appearance and texture. The fabric is quite heavy in comparison to modern cycling apparel but it feels great on the skin. I'll expand on my overall feelings about this material in the critiques section.
The S1-J jacket is made from Schoeller C-change fabric and it's really nice. It's light, flexible (about as much as Gore-Tex pro shell), and works well to the SAS anatomical pattern. The C-change fabric handles the weather elements well. Honestly I haven't been caught it a full downpour in it but I have been in the rain while kept dry. Rain beads off quickly. The front and rear pocket zippers have a water proof (aquaproof) Riri zipper. The hems and seams are well crafted and hold well under the stress of riding. The sleeve cuffs are not elasticized, but are kept trim with decent reinforcement. In my experience they have not stretched out.
I have a lot of praise for SAS garments. Comparatively they are nicer than so many pieces hanging in the closet but as with anything there are some downsides. After a few seasons of use I have a few nits.
The weight of the S1-A is too heavy for hot summer riding. I've seen this noted in other reviews. Although the meshing of the material does help with ventilation it is not a highly breathable jersey compared to those from Santini, Rapha, Louis Garneau, etc. It feels great but is limited to the conditions it suits. This may be why they've release a more performance based jersey in the SR-2.
With great sadness, I have to say that the S1-A has a serious downside in durability. You can see 3 fabric pulls in the photo here. On the very first ride I created a pull in the fabric. Over the past two seasons there have been a few more added. My jersey actually has 6 in total. It's just an unfortunate side effect of the textile chosen. It catches on gloves, keys, zippers, corners of gel packs, you name it. My heart sank the first time it happen but I've come to accept it. Although I haven't seen the new S2-R (their performance jersey) in person, this may also have been addressed by the new fabric.
UPDATE: SAS contacted me and let me know that yes they were aware of this problem and it has been addressed across their line. Unfortunately I don't have the updated garments so I'll take their word for it because they always seem be upfront and open to their customers.
There are a few things I'd point out as critiques to the S1-J. First the zipper. Maybe it's just my jacket but the rear pocket zipper gets stuck all the time. The generous width of the rear pocket is an advantage to functionality but it seems to make the zipper harder to open while riding. Frequently the Riri zipper has gotten stuck in the open position and I've had to take the jacket off and fight to get it moving again. Thankfully it hasn't ripped the jacket or any seems but it shouldn't happen at all. Second, the jacket folds up well but it's still a bit too big to fit smoothly into that smaller middle pocket of the jersey. You can get it in there but it's a tight fit and you won't get that in there while you're riding. Third, breathability. The C-change fabric almost magically does adapt itself well to varying weather conditions. I wore my S1-J on a 100km solo where the temperature rose by over 10 degrees celcius and I never took it off or felt I needed to. However, the jacket doesn't ventilate body heat or moisture out as well as some other membranes. So expect to get a bit sweaty. This would be a non-issue if the jacket had venting to let the body heat escape now and then. You're only respite is to open the front zipper and let the jacket balloon out in the wind. If I could ask for just one thing in the S1-J it would be some venting relief. Until then, you have to regulate body temperature at the front zipper.
Look, at the end of the day the SAS garments are really nice. They are not revolutionary, they don't use the highest tech fabrics, and they are not perfect but perfection is relative. They clearly stand out from the crowd by being all that traditional cycling apparel is not, quiet and simple. For me there is a thick sense of 'yes' in the SAS apparel. It works for my tastes and what I want.
I get asked all the time, what they are and where they are from. SAS have found an under serviced market of customers like me who want clean well crafted cycling apparel and are willing to pay for it. When the conditions are right I will happily and quickly reach for either the jacket or jersey. They are definitely favourites in my closet. I even frequently use the S1-J for other activities like running or when I just need a simple jacket for the day that will pack up small.
The S1-V (vest) is incredibly lust worthy and receives a lot of praise in reviews. It's on my wish list but it's always sold out and rightly so. It's a beautiful piece of technical apparel to add to any cycling kit. This paired with the S1-A is likely a killer combo.
In terms or price, SAS are right up there at the upper end. For the cost, I'll be honest that you can find other well crafted garments with technical fabrics. I think SAS are going to see a lot of competition from brands like newcomers 7 Mesh and from new apparel like the A2B Commuter Hardshell from well known brand Arc'Teryx. What you won't find at this price is all those things but with a focus on simple style and subdued branding. That's where SAS has found its sweet spot.