NEW YORK -- Anything that has a look of novelty in fabrics and treatments is expected to be the driving force of robe and at-homewear business next year, say manufacturers.

Cotton chenille, in particular, has been a big item this year, and the classification is expected to get even bigger next year with lots of variations, reflecting the interest in textures. Other key items will continue to be embellished pants and coordinating tops that have an innerwear-outerwear appeal.

Stan Herman, designer of robes and at-homewear at Crowntuft Manufacturing Inc., a division of Kellwood Co., stated: "Chenille has become a fashion item. We are ahead in bookings for spring by 20 to 25 percent."

Herman noted, however, that there's been such a demand for chenille, that sales could have been still greater: "The sell-throughs at stores have been fantastic. We would have shipped more if we had been able to produce and sell more."

Herman noted that the chenille looks that are getting the best reaction have textured treatments, such as waffle-weave patterns, corduroy looks and drop-stitch effects.

Peter Keyloun, national sales manager for John David Associates, maker of robes and at-homewear under the Ariel label, noted 1994 bookings ran 30 percent ahead and projected a gain of 20 percent for the first six months of 1995. He attributed the projected gain to the ongoing demand for embellished two-piece pants and coordinated tops that have a look of sportswear.

Independent sales representative Olivia Feldman noted that a line of robes by Susan Barry, a Seattle-based designer, has been getting good response for spring.

"Susan designs very pretty, softly tailored robes, but I think her success is based on the fact that she uses ready-to-wear-looking fabrics and colors," said Feldman. Colors for spring in Barry's line are khaki, pink, sky blue and red. Fabrics include blends of striped rayon and linen, cotton seersucker, and woven cottons in tone-on-tone stripes.

Sheila Solomon, national sales manager at Priamo Designs Inc., said a line of robes and at-homewear will be expanded for early fall.

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