Byline: Allegra Holch

NEW YORK — Call it the chameleon fiber. Tencel — most often used as a peachskin-finished alternative to cotton denim — can take on some unexpected guises, and Courtaulds Fibers is out to educate mills, converters and designers on the possibilities of its trademarked brand of the lyocell fiber.
Suzanne Watkins, applications development manager at Courtaulds’ Coventry, England, office, recently spent a week at the company’s office here to present a collection of spring/summer ’98 research and development fabrics and garments made with Tencel fibers to mills, converters and apparel manufacturers.
The presentation originally was given at Premiere Vision in October to about 130 mills, and Courtaulds plans to prepare similar presentations for future sessions of the semiannual fabric fair. Apparel applications development is a new, in-house service of Courtaulds’ Tencel division, said June Lauck, marketing communications manager at the company’s office here.
“It’s time to think beyond indigo and casualwear,” said Watkins in her presentation to a group of fabric researchers from Liz Claiborne. “It’s time to come up with more sophisticated applications.”
Watkins introduced three basic apparel categories the company is working to develop: “practical and casualwear,” which Watkins referred to as familiar ground, and the newer “dress and fashion” and “knitwear” categories.
In casualwear, Watkins showed new fabrications of pure Tencel or blends with cotton, in textured dobby effects. Tencel and linen blends were another new idea that Watkins referred to as “a happy union — they’re both stiff fibers, so the linen esthetic is retained, while getting the soft Tencel hand.” For a cool and soft effect, Watkins displayed fabrics of Tencel combined with filament nylon. And without the usual softener wash, Tencel has an interesting, crisp feel, which Watkins described as “the opposite of the peachskin hand we’re used to.”
For the dress and fashion category, Watkins focused on lightweight fabrications with a cool and fragile effect that also have softness and drape. Treatments she discussed were fancy slub yarn effects, complex uptwisting for a crepey yarn effect and a dry, “almost worsted hand.”
Turning to knitwear, Watkins brought out smooth, 100 percent Tencel knits in plain interlock and stretch knits in blends of Tencel and Lycra spandex on which the finish was manipulated to give either a silky or a cottony hand.
She also showed very fine-gauge, semitransparent knits that she suggested for lingerie, and Tencel and cotton knits with a pique texture.
Watkins said a Tencel and wool blend was still in development, but seemed promising as an alternative to lightweight wools.