MATERIAL GIRL

Byline: Alessandra Ilari

MILAN — When Yon designer Nicoletta Leo recently visited a fabric trade fair here, she was extremely disappointed by the paucity of new ideas : “flat and boring” is how she described it.
Coming from a designer who used glass, carbon and foam rubber fibers in last March’s debut collection and is fashioning PVC for spring-summer 2000, the outburst is understandable.
“Trends kill fashion. Everybody looks the same and few people have the courage to go their own way, at least in Italy,” said Leo.
When fabric mills leave Leo’s creativity dry, she clicks her heels and heads to those industrial companies that use unusual fibers to build cars, canoes and roads. The added stress of adapting them to fashion is no deterrent. Glass fibers, for example, can be slippery and difficult to sew, while other fibers can irritate the skin so the lining becomes very important.
Leo, who spent the past 10 years designing fine jewelry, also likes to experiment with cuts, usually graphic and cut on the bias.
“I love the clean cuts and drapes of the Japanese designers,” said Leo. “Usually, anything that has a peculiar shape attracts my attention whether its a detail or a vase.”
Even if the fall 1999 season only included 15 styles, it set the tone for the collection. There were carbon fiber jackets with a long fold down the back; asymmetrical, wrap skirts in long and short versions, and skimpy coats in foam rubber that were longer in the back. All the pieces are lined with a layer of cotton gauze or silk twill. To brighten up an otherwise somber palette of grays, Leo featured cashmere knits in hues such as lilac, prune and orange.
“Gray is carbon fiber’s natural color and you can’t dye it,” she explained. For spring, Leo is tripling the number of styles.
Silhouettes will continue to be graphic but with a soft and feminine undercurrent. Aside from PVC, there will be linen, cotton and silk. “PVC is a great fiber to work with. It’s extremely light and it has the same translucent reflections of mother-of-pearl,” said Leo. Colors revolve around light gray, strawberry red and lemon yellow.
Yon is manufactured by Airone, an Italian company that produces for a slew of top-notch designers. Wholesale prices average $230 for a foam-rubber skirt and $340 for a carbon fiber coat. Yon, which means “far away” in old English, wants to be an extremely selective and niche product. The line is carried in only 10 high-end salespoints throughout Italy.

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