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Making a ConneXion

NEW YORK — For a material fanatic, it’s the equivalent of what a candy store is to a kid.<br><br>Material ConneXion, a research and resource library of over 3,000 materials, is quite the find for the 2,000 members — mostly industrial...

NEW YORK — For a material fanatic, it’s the equivalent of what a candy store is to a kid.

Material ConneXion, a research and resource library of over 3,000 materials, is quite the find for the 2,000 members — mostly industrial and product designers and architects — who use it. The library offers a diverse array of materials, ranging from non-metallic reflective color film all the way to metal and wire mesh.

Founded in 1997 by George Beylerian, a self-confessed material junkie who worked in retail and design for over 35 years, the company has grown from a staff of just three to over 24. Now, Material ConneXion, located at 127 West 25th St., is looking to expand their selection of textiles and specifically gear it toward apparel designers.

Sam Lugiano, director of sales and marketing at Material ConneXion, said the concept of the library is to present apparel designers with things that they may not have considered before. Prior to joining Material ConneXion, Lugiano spent 11 years at DuPont marketing innovative materials.

“We’re really relying on non-traditional manufacturers to bring us materials that are not on fashion’s radar screen yet,” Lugiano said. “We want to offer these designers leading edge and hard-to-find fabrics that will inspire them, as well as things that are not necessarily created with apparel use in mind. Our first clients were fashion people looking for packaging materials, so why shouldn’t we expose them to what we think are innovative fabrics that they can use in their designs.”

The company’s first client, according to Beylerian, was Coach. Its second was Kenneth Cole and today, Fendi and Prada are among the members, as are Reebok, Puma, Adidas, Nike and Target Stores.

Each month, a seven- to 10-person jury of architects and designers — fashion designer Yeohlee has been on the panel — sift through nearly 50 selections that are presented for inclusion in the library. Clients then pay a fee to have access to the final picks. They can poke and prod them before getting all the pertinent information needed to order a sample.

A member for about four years, Katherine Mansell-Moullin, senior materials designer for Puma footwear, said she uses the resource as a starting point on many projects.

“They make the connection between your idea and a supplier who can make it a reality,” she said, adding that the library is a one-stop-shop for worldwide materials. “Having a local resource with such global offerings is so useful because before you literally had to travel to all the different shows to see what you now can see in one place.”

Candy Pratts Price, executive in charge of programming at Vogue, agreed, noting that with budgets continuing to be cut, having the library’s resources available in the U.S. proves invaluable to many.

“It’s really the right time for them to open their doors to the ready-to-wear market,” said Pratts Price, who joined five years ago when she was creative director of Ralph Lauren.

Fern Mallis, executive director of 7th on Sixth and vice president of IMG, was a supporter of Material ConneXion early on.

“It’s a gem of a place for fashion people and anyone interested in the latest technologies and materials,” said Mallis. “You feel like Alice in Wonderland. When you walk out, your head is spinning with new ideas.”

The staff, continued Mansell-Moullin, consists of people from different disciplines, which makes it a breeding ground for new ideas.

“They actually help designers think in a reverse way,” Mansell-Moullin said. “To start with the material instead of the design has produced terrific results for us.”

Designer Yeohlee said she is impressed with the staff’s range of knowledge about materials, especially when it comes to the highly technical fabrics that she uses in her collection. Yeohlee cited a recent example of a fabric infused with paraffin tablets that melt or freeze to supply climate control to the wearer.

“Information about how something like this works is not usually readily available,” Yeohlee said.