Byline: Allegra Holch / with contributions from Alessandra Ilari, Milan

NEW YORK — There’s something to be said for keeping an ear to the ground and an eye on the street — especially when it comes to cutting-edge textiles. As witnessed on the streets of New York, Paris, Milan and London, an outfit’s cool quotient begins with the fabric, whether it’s shiny patent nylon, shaggy fake fur or camouflage-patterned canvas.
For fall ’97, mills and designers are touting function, performance and ingenuity as the key ingredients for trendsetting streetwear. The hottest fabrics, they say, are coming from offbeat sports — especially snowboarding — and quirky club-friendly looks, with synthetic leather, suede and fur leading the way.
“We’ve taken high tech outdoor gear fabrics from sports such as mountain climbing, skiing and swimming and repositioned them for the street,” said Tommy Hilfiger, whose clothing has garnered high-level street recognition worldwide. “These are functional fabrics with a lot of different attributes — breathable, waterproof, reflective.”
For fall, the Hilfiger fabric find that’s likely to be a street sensation is made of crushed glass (among other things), and glows in the dark to boot. “It has a pearlized, glistening look,” said Hilfiger of the Italian fabric, which he’ll be using for trim as well as a few full garments.
“These days, people want to feel secure and comfortable, so fabrics have to be functional,” said Bosha Johnson Stone, design director for Nautica’s women’s division. “They have to wear well, clean well and feel good. People will put the bucks on something that makes them feel good.”
Stone says there will be lots of neoprene in the fall line in silhouettes such as zip-front jackets lined in fleece, hooded pullovers and slim, zip-front vests that “look great with a long jersey skirt.” Other high tech fabrics in the line are a drapy and lightweight fake suede that will be used for shirts and a spun nylon yarn for sweaters. “The yarn is from a Spanish mill called Greenville, and the sweaters are very compact and dense, but very lightweight. We’ll do colorblocked sweaters for our competition line and solid for the sportswear in simple shapes.”
While shopping for fall ’97 fabrics, designer Cynthia Steffe said she noticed more performance fabrics than ever from mills. “There are a lot of fabrics that would normally be used in active sportswear but are now treated in newer and unconventional ways. I’m working with a variety of stretch fabrications that have a sueded, spongy or rubber texture — sometimes with a softly brushed backing.”
“We’re using more development fabrics this season over last,” said Patricia Clyne, design director and head designer of wovens for Oscar de la Renta’s bridge line, Oscar. The company is pushing the envelope on leather and suede looks with stretch versions of the fabrics. “It’s the knitted backing that gives it the stretch,” said Clyne, tugging on a swatch of the fabric in her office here. They’ll be offering the fabric in silhouettes such as boot-leg and classic jeans and belted jackets.
Another innovative fabric look the company is using is a laser-printed wool in a giraffe pattern — an effect that’s similar to burn-out — that will be offered in a long, swingy coat silhouette.
Mills both here and abroad are ready, willing and able to meet the challenge to produce cutting-edge fabrics for fall ’97.
At the Italian mill LDS Leathertex SpA, the season’s bestsellers include a slew of double-faced technical looks, with acrylic or polyester jersey in pique or ottoman armors on one side and a spongy polyester fleece on the other. “Often, these looks are inspired by snowboarding gear,” said Stefano Bellandi, chief designer. The color palette — beiges and light greens — was also picked up from the world of snowboarders. Double-face constructions are also strong at the Swiss company Schoeller.
“What’s popular is the bonded, four-way-stretch fabric with a nylon and Lycra spandex surface and fleece on the backside,” said Christine Jenny, marketing and product development for Schoeller in Switzerland in a telephone interview from her office there. “It’s used in skiwear, such as snowboard pants, but it’s also being used for women’s wear, for a very sporty fashion look.”
And nylon continues to be a hot commodity: “People are looking for new nylons, and we have several four-way-stretch nylons that are used for climbing pants, but they’re also crossing over into fashion,” added Jenny. A new reflective fabric, made with reflective yarns and originally developed for safety wear, is also finding its way into fashion, she said.
Metallic, iridescent and pearlescent effects on ripstop and plain-weave nylon are among the best-selling looks at Tapetex, based in Rochester, N.Y.
“The metallic and pearlescent nylons are functional and trendy,” said Cheryl Hohti, a sales representative. “People really like that look — especially in the junior market.”
Tapetex is also the U.S. agent for Concordia, a Belgian mill that’s producing interesting textured rubber-like PVC fabrics.
“It’s super-popular in Europe, and it’s just starting to hit the States,” said Hohti. “Customers are making full jackets with it, or patches for the elbows, knees and even the seat of a garment to get funky.”
Synthetics that look like napa leathers and suedes are getting attention — especially for jeans-style sportswear — at the Barcelona-based Pielnova.
“There’s also an interest in the crazy disco look with our fake furs and bright Lycra and PVC fabrics,” said Gabriele Klein, export manager.
Double-sided fabrics, such as fake leather on one side and warm pile fleece on the other, or PVC-coated cotton with a wool plaid back, are also strong sellers for skirts, pants, activewear and outerwear, she said.
Innovative fake furs are the draw at the Canadian company Decopap and the French firm Peltex.
At Decopap, a low-pile fake fur called “seal skin” is a hot item in a blend of polyacrylic and cotton. At the fall ’97 edition of the International Fashion Fabric Exhibition (IFFE) at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here, where the firm exhibited for the first time, 80 percent of the sample orders were for this fabric, according to Brian Sackman, vice president.
“It’s our most expensive item, at $15 per yard,” he said, adding that the fabric was drawing interest primarily from junior sportswear, outerwear and athletic wear designers.
Fake fur is Peltex’s specialty — the company also makes teddy bears and other stuffed animal toys. Fall marks the first season of U.S. representation for the company’s fabrics, now available through the New York agent Fitzsimmons Fabrics.
“We took the line to the Los Angeles International Textile show along with our other lines, and it got more attention than all of them,” said owner Beverly Fitzsimmons.