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New Directions

Whether they're discovering the other side of fabrics, making an old type of needlework fresh or developing a rich look for less, designers this season have plenty of tricks up their sleeves.

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Fabric’s B Side
Like the song on the flip side of a 45 record that was rarely listened to, the reverse sides of fabrics usually have been ignored in fashion — until now.

As designers search for ways to set themselves apart in an ever-expanding global market, a fabric’s B side is often proving to be the perfect solution, something that’s unexpected and new.

Lela Rose actually began using the back sides of fabrics several seasons ago. “I love tapestries, but the front can sometimes look so heavy and home-furnishings-like,” said the designer. “But on the back, the pattern is more blurred and obscure. We also use a lot of florals, and the back always looks more roughed up and not as cutesy.”

At Rose’s fall 2005 runway show, she showed both sides of a gray-and-gold floral jacquard. The more subtle front was used for a dress, while the glitzier back — which shows more of the gold threading — was made into a coat. And for spring 2006, the designer is using only the back side of a yellow-and-gold jacquard. “The front has so much chenille on it, which is great for a sofa, but not for clothing,” Rose said. “It was too fancy, too New York doyenne of society. The back has more metallic in it and bright orange colors that you don’t get on the front.”

Francisco Costa, creative director of Calvin Klein, often prefers the reverse of fabrics because it can look more “fresh” than the front and offer something completely different. “So often, the front is so precious,” Costa said. “The back is more interesting in that it gives you a different perspective.”

For Klein’s resort collection, Costa was inspired by Chitao fabrics, which are large-scale floral prints traditional in the northeast part of Brazil, the designer’s homeland. “The prints are wild-looking — brightly colored and very kitsch,” he said. “They’re almost tacky, in a way, but fun and naive.” Costa designed a more subtle fabric, featuring midtones in place of the brights. And by using the reverse side, the look appears more washed with even lighter colors. Said Costa: “It’s a more refined, more Calvin way to present the look.”

This story first appeared in the May 10, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Meanwhile, Tuleh designer Bryan Bradley admits that there’s something “off” about the reverse sides of a fabric — and that’s exactly why he’s drawn to them. “It’s less than perfect, which I like,” he said. “If you want perfect clothes, you can go anywhere, but the Tuleh customer wants something different and that’s why using the back side of fabrics works.”

For the firm’s resort collection, Bradley found a vintage upholstery print that he thought would make the perfect coat. But after dyeing the piece in his studio, he thought the front side looked too strong. That’s when he discovered its other, “more comforting and prettier,” side. “It looks like soft focus, which is a theme I’m exploring for resort,” Bradley explained.

Similarly, when designer Cynthia Steffe found a blue-and-black floral jacquard from Italvogue too shiny, she flipped it over and used the side that looked more vintage, worn and casual. “Sometimes the back can look more rustic and homemade,” Steffe said. “The colors are more muted and distressed.”

This trend is now trickling down into bridge lines as well. Jerry Dellova, the design director at Barry Bricken, used the reverse of a Pollack tweed for a fall jacket. “The colors are less optic and bright on the back,” he said. “It’s a little bit more subtle.”

Moving into spring 2006, Dellova is using the back sides of four fabrics. The front of one, a printed plaid on linen from Albini, was “too men’s wear and madras-looking,” the designer said. “The reverse was more streaky, which makes it more interesting and gives it more dimension. It looks less like an ordinary plaid.”

Net Effects
Grandma’s favorite kind of needlework is hip again. Crochet — which was created in the 16th century by nuns looking for a quick way to make lace-like fabric — has turned into one of spring’s biggest trends. Karl Lagerfeld trimmed dresses with it at Chanel, Miuccia Prada put it on coats and hats for Prada, while Marc Jacobs detailed shoes in the motif. And last month’s textile design shows in New York proved that the look will only continue for the spring 2006 season.

“Crochet is our main trend right now in knits,” said Peter Westcott, owner of Westcott, which at Directions showed crochet with a tribal spin, complete with wood buttons and beads. And Nixe, also at Directions, featured crochets with sheen yarns. “These looks complement the underwater trend that is so strong right now in fabrics,” said Shareen Naaman, sales director for Nixe. “The yarns are glossy and watery looking, almost like a fishing net.”

Meanwhile, at Printsource, Zinc showed crochet mixed with jersey, while Mint added embroidery and appliqued chiffon flowers to its version. “Crochet goes along with the vintage, homespun feeling that has infiltrated fashion of late,” offered Jane Graham, owner of Mint. Knitwear Network president Helen Sharp is another who has a penchant for crochet; she likes it simply for its versatility. “It can be used all over or as an applique,” she said at Printsource. “Or it can be placed in combination with another knit.”

For Richer
Gone are the days when it took several seasons for interpretations of high-end designer looks to make it to the racks. Now, stores such as H&M and Zara are churning out styles just weeks after they appear on the runways, and better and moderate designers are rendering the latest from New York, London, Milan and Paris at a rapid rate.

The newest trend to trickle down? The use of rich and ornate fabrics such as dense brocades, damasks and tapestries. Better lines Nine West and Liz Claiborne used such fabrics in their recent collections, as did moderate lines O Oscar, Beliza and Sangria.

“We’re in a very embellished phase in fashion, so fall is looking to be a very rich season fabric-wise,” said Richard Ostell, creative director for Liz Claiborne Apparel, which features brocades and velvets in its fall 2005 collection. Ostell said he plans to continue the trend for spring 2006, showing similar looks that are more toned down and natural.

And at Nine West Apparel, Suzanne Klevorick, vice president of design, said she sees lavish fabrics as the perfect replacement for tweed, which she said there is now too much of in the market. So for fall, jackets and light coats feature brocades and jacquards, and metallic has been added to some of the looks, even for day. “Our customer still responds to novelty,” Klevorick said. “Women are dressing more eclectically today, and there’s a real versatility to these pieces — they’re almost like an accessory.”

The trend appears to be gaining additional momentum at the moderate level. Every season, Kathy Pullows, director of design and merchandising for O Oscar, works with textile mills to develop versions of the lavish fabrics used in Oscar de la Renta’s ready-to-wear collection. “Every woman loves luxury and we want to be able to interpret these looks for our customer,” said Pullows. “We’re fortunate that we have Mr. de la Renta’s line as a reference; it’s an endless source of inspiration.” So much of an inspiration that some of O Oscar’s looks for fall are direct interpretations of pieces from de la Renta’s signature collection. Case in point: a camel, black and red jacquard jacket with fake-fur trim for holiday that was inspired by a reembroidered brocade jacket with a fur collar from the rtw line.

Beliza, meanwhile, often translates runway looks by using similar fabrics. “Using these lush fabrics allows us to give our customer an opportunity to participate in the trend,” said Lynne Smith, general merchandise manager. “Fall is a very tactile season and these types of fabrics are perfect for that.”

The firm’s fall collection includes a variety of jacquards — some look romantic, while others are more bohemian and Asian-inspired. “There’s a rich feeling to these fabrics,” added Moya Donnellan, Beliza’s creative director. “The bohemian ones, with their floral and paisley motifs, look very vintage. These looks enable us to give our customer visual interest at a lower price.” She said she’ll continue the trend for spring 2006 on cotton and linen, which will appear washed and more casual.

Embellished velvet is the fabric of choice this fall for Kunal Shah, design director at Sangria. “The beading really brings out the opulence in the velvet,” said Shah, who also has added necklaces to several necklines for fall. For spring 2006, a Sangria sportswear collection will be introduced, and Shah plans to use ornate fabrics such as brocades and other jacquard in it. One fabric, a tapestry with a matte finish, will be used for jackets, outerwear and skirts. “These looks are very regal,” he said. “It’s an expensive look done in a very wearable manner.”

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