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Water World

NEW YORK — It may be fashionable, but if rainwear doesn’t keep you dry, what good is it? Although in the past, it often seemed that style and function in rainwear were mutually exclusive, today, it’s possible to have both....

NEW YORK — It may be fashionable, but if rainwear doesn’t keep you dry, what good is it? Although in the past, it often seemed that style and function in rainwear were mutually exclusive, today, it’s possible to have both. That’s something, say designers, that’s a welcome change.

“It’s great that today’s rainwear fabrics have so much texture,” said designer Yeohlee Teng. Case in point: a white cotton jacquard treated for water resistance that she used for her spring 2003 line. “It’s very structured and high tech, but still has an interesting element thanks to the texture the pattern creates.”

The fabric, created by 110-year-old Italian mill Limonta, is part of the firm’s new Delto-To line. It combines the best in fashion and function, according to Howard Strachman, the U.S. agent for the mill for the past 24 years. Made of a highly twisted cotton yarn that is woven into a panama construction, the fabric is then treated with three layers of a water-resistant finish specially developed in Limonta’s laboratory that “enriches the woven fabric by giving it both a special hand and unusual shine, as well as a great deal of protection,” says Strachman.

Schoeller, a Swiss mill also known for its high-performance fabrics, has new technologies on the horizon, as well. One of the latest is its WB formula. According to the mill, fabrics with this technology are both water- and windproof, as well as breathable, lightweight and stretchy due to an elastic membrane in the fabric. And function works hand in hand with fashion, as textured surfaces, such as a dimpling effect, create interest.

As the demand for better-quality rainwear continues to rise, many mills are creating top-of-the-line looks that also happen to be water resistant. One of them, Loro Piana, a high-end cashmere and wool mill as well as a manufacturer of luxury ready-to-wear, introduced Storm System in 1994. This exclusive technology is applied to a selection of the mill’s fine cashmeres and wools. The system, where a light micromolecular membrane is applied to the back of the fabric to make it wind and rain resistant, creates a fabric that is both breathable and keeps the wearer warm by retaining up to 40 percent more heat than a normal fabric of the same weight, according to the mill. All this, they add, without compromising the integrity of the fabric.

Elena Reggiani — president of Reggiani, an Italian-based mill known for its line of high-end stretch wovens — also has, in the past few seasons, felt a move away from the more classic rainwear fabrics. “What feels new to me now is taking the fabrics our customers love from the line and making them water repellent,” she says. For fall 2001, the mill created a water-repellent cashmere and Lycra blend for boots designed by Sergio Rossi. “We use special treatments developed in conjunction with DuPont, for instance, on both the yarn and the finished fabric. The treatments are durable, yet they don’t alter the look or the hand of the original fabric. That’s what I think designers want today.”

She could be right. For designer Ralph Rucci, luxury is always the operative word, whether he’s designing evening gowns or raincoats. Consequently, he collaborates with high-end mills to specially coat fabrics. Whether it’s a silk faille from Italian mill Taroni, treated with a water-repellent finish; a satin duchesse silk from Lyon, France-based Bucol, coated for the elements, or a cashmere with a weatherproof finish, Rucci doesn’t let function get in the way of his highly luxurious looks.