DESIGNERS EXPAND MENU: COTTON, POLYESTER AND MORE

Byline: Allegra Holch, with contributions from Michael McNamara

NEW YORK--Designers historically have been fiber snobs, eschewing synthetics like polyester or nylon. But times have changed, and so have fabrics, and designers are opening up to new ideas.
While 100 percent cotton, as usual, figures prominently in many resort and spring collections, 100 percent polyester and blends are wending their way into the limelight. Cotton and polyester, with market shares of 56.1 percent and 21.1 percent, respectively, for the firstsix months of 1995 are the two most common apparel fibers. (For more on cotton's market share numbers, see related story on page 11.)
And while the price of both has risen dramatically over the past 18 months, designers are utilizing cotton and polyester more than ever.
Cotton, which hit a high of $1.25 a pound earlier this year--up from about 72 cents in February 1994--is now selling, mill-delivered, at $1.02 a pound. Polyester staple and filament are each hovering at around $1. Last year at this time, polyester staple was selling for about 74 cents a pound, filament at 83 cents.
To help stimulate the use of both cotton and polyester at the designer level, their respective trade organizations have also gotten into the act.
Cotton Incorporated, the research and promotion arm of 30,000 U.S. cotton growers, for the second time, sponsored 12 designers at the recent WWD/MAGIC International trade show in Las Vegas, while the Polyester Council is teaming with Bloomingdale's to promote fashions in polyester and polyester blends.
The polyester venture, dubbed "Modern Times, Modern Fashions," is highlighted by two runway shows, on Oct. 12 at the Bloomingdale's flagship here, and on Oct. 21 at the Old Orchard store near Chicago.
As reported, nine bridge collections will be featured in the shows: Emanuel; A Line Anne Klein; Anne Klein II; Andrea Jovine; Tahari; Adrienne Vittadini; DKNY; Ellen Tracy, and the Ralph collection from Ralph Lauren.
Meanwhile, other designers are broadening their fiber usage. Jennifer George, who is known for her crisp cotton shirts, is one who's testing the synthetic waters.
"For spring, most of my fabrics are soupy, in that they're blends," she said. "Actually, this is the first season that I've accepted polyester. "Normally, it doesn't feel right on the body, but I do like it in blends.
"I'm using odd blends, like polyester and nylon rain-coating fabrics," she added. "If you're using something synthetic, make sure it's really synthetic. It should have that pre-fab look. When you throw nylon into something, it gives a nice, crispy feel, and changes the look of the fabric. It can look really modern.
"Another great blend I used for resort is a cotton, nylon and linen bouclA that has a slubby, terry cloth texture, but it's very fine and doesn't add bulk." But George hasn't abandoned her beloved cotton.
"I'm using a fantastic cotton crepe. It's like a twill and it's great for suiting," she said.
Further on cotton blends, she said, "The minute you put Lycra spandex into a cotton it gets guts, weight and body. For instance, I've got a great stretch cotton piquA."
Mary Jane Marcasiano is finding herself drawn to polyester now more than ever."Lately I've been using a lot of polyester fabric from Italy," Marcasiano said. "I don't even think of it as polyester--just great fabric that's the drapiest I've ever used.
"For fall, I did pants in a polyester twill that feels like a heavy silk, but it doesn't wrinkle," she said. "I'm using another polyester from France in a light waffle weave that's totally unusual."
For spring, Marcasiano is sticking with either 100 percent polyester or 100 percent cotton.
"I love cotton pique for the stiffness and structure, which is great for the shapes now," said Marcasiano. "And I like sheer cottons for their lightness and wearability. I'm also doing a safari group in a super-lightweight polyester twill."
Cynthia Steffe is also playing both sides of the coin.
"I've been seeing some incredible polyester recently," said the designer, "but I love cotton, and I do run both fabrics. Cotton takes color better than polyester, and it breathes much better, but the two are so totally different, it really depends what I'm working on. For instance, cotton is perfect for spring and summer.
"For spring, I'm using some very new-looking cottons like a piquA jacquard and a double woven," she added. "It looks like a very crisp suiting, and takes it away from a classic shirting look. I like polyester best when it's mixed with something else, like acetate rayon. It helps to resist wrinkles."
For the most part, Steffe said, she's using rayon jersey and acetate and rayon "with a drop of polyester," as well as a baby bouclA of cotton, polyester and nylon for resort.
"Polyester is a great active fabric--it's very functional," said designer Nicole Miller. "And polyester and Lycra knits are great for doing heat transfer prints. But if you're putting on a dress and you want to keep cool, you'll put on cotton. For spring, I'm going to be using a lot of cotton with whimsical prints."
Designer Han Feng has always been partial to polyester. She made a name for herself with her pleated polyester georgette and satin pieces. "People know my work in the pleated polyester, and actually, good polyester is more expensive than silk these days," Feng said. But Feng is also discovering the appeal of 100 percent cotton.
"For spring, I'm also using a lot of 100 percent cottons like cotton piquA and men's shirting fabric," she added. "I'm also using a lot of polyester and wool, and polyester and cotton blends as well as a printed polyester satin from Japan and lots of polyester chiffon and georgette."
At the better-price level, fabric usage has traditionally been diversified and subject to change, as illustrated at Liz Claiborne, where both cotton and polyester vie for honors.
"We've increased our use of 100 percent cotton--especially for shirtings," said Glenn Palmer, president of Liz Claiborne Collection.
"We're continuing to use innovative polyesters. From Italy especially, there's been a lot of development in weave and finishing techniques that offer superior drapability and touch.
"And we're always seeking new blends. There's been a lot of development recently in cotton blends with finer, higher twist yarns. We've been using triacetate and polyester blends for over 10 years, and there's been a tremendous amount of development there, too. They're great because they're seasonless and versatile," said Palmer.

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