Byline: Allegra Holch
NEW YORK — It’s no surprise UltraSuede — the fabric that’s practically synonymous with Seventies icon Halston — is making something of a comeback. Hip Seventies looks were hot on spring runways. And the 25th anniversary of the technologically advanced synthetic, which Springs Industries introduced back in 1971, is coming up next month.
“UltraSuede is having a major rebirth,” said Clay Rosenberg, vice president/general manager of Springs Ultrafabrics, a division of Springs Industries. “In the Eighties it had a reputation as a product for older women, but now young designers are using it in fashion-forward looks.”
Designers say Rosenberg is onto something.
When Jennifer George started researching fabrics for her spring collection, she had her heart set on genuine suede, but quickly abandoned the idea. “I started sampling real suede, but it looked lifeless and droopy. Something was missing — a certain crispness — and the colors were muddy.”
George cut several dress shapes, from the shirtdress to the sheath, as well as suits and outerwear from classic UltraSuede, which is weightier than UltraSuede Light, a version introduced in the Eighties. For spring, she said, “the fabric has a crispness, but it’s also very lightweight. Everything old is new again, and it looks very modern.”
George says she found “exactly” what she wanted with UltraSuede. “It takes color beautifully — it’s like opening up a crayon box.”
She chose brights such as lime green, orange and hot pink — as well as classic navy and pale lavender.
Barneys New York, Jacobson’s and Saks Jandel are among the stores that have ordered from the line. Retail prices range from $300 for a skirt to $925 for a coat.
Christian Blanken, who also used the fabric in his spring collection, says it was Halston’s association with UltraSuede that inspired him.
“Halston is an ultimate proponent of American sportswear, and he was also one of the first to use UltraSuede,” Blanken said. “My spring collection is, among other things, about American sportswear.”
Blanken’s collection focuses on clean, spare shapes, such as a cap- sleeved shift dress, slim pants and T-shirts.
Retail prices run from $200 for a cap-sleeved T-shirt to $900 for a knee-length coat. Blanken said Bergdorf Goodman and If Boutique have ordered pieces. “Uptown customers like the neutrals — like navy, taupe and white — whereas the downtown customers go for the electric blue, orange and chartreuse.”
Contemporary sportswear designer Serina Iglia, 25, was in diapers when UltraSuede was in its heyday, but she discovered the fabric during her first season a year ago, and now it’s become her signature.
“I’ve used UltraSuede in all of my collections,” said Iglia, who is represented by Showroom Seven here. “About 30 percent of my spring collection is made up of UltraSuede. I love that it comes in rolls, so you don’t have to worry about damaged skins. use the UltraSuede Light because it drapes really well, and the colors are great. For spring I’m working with pastels like ice blue, mint green, light yellow and pink.”
For spring, Iglia has used the fabric in A-line skirts, halter tops and little shift dresses. Retail prices range from $150 for a halter top to $300 for a dress. Jazz in Brooklyn and Saks Jandel have ordered from her collection for spring.
UltraSuede also has its practical benefits, said Rosenberg at Springs.
“All the good things about it are still there — it’s machine washable and it travels well — but the sale of an UltraSuede garment depends on the [design of the] garment,” said Rosenberg. “There’s enough of a demand so that we’re still at $24.95 a yard, which is close to what we were charging 10 years ago. This has been our best year in eight years,” he said.
At $24.95 a yard for a wide-ranging palette of solids and $32.95 for prints like zebra or leopard, UltraSuede isn’t cheap, but the price of genuine suede is comparable.
“When you compare the price of suede with UltraSuede, you have to include the waste factor,” Rosenberg points out.
“Suede is typically $3 to $6 a square foot, but when you’re cutting a pattern on a hide, there’s a big waste factor — at least 20 to 40 percent is waste.” UltraSuede comes on rolls in a 45-inch width, just like fabric.
“Also, UltraSuede’s colors are consistent lot to lot, whereas hides can’t be the same exact color,” he said. Rosenberg said best-selling colors are the natural browns as well as black, although new fashion colors like bordeaux are sampling well for fall ’96.
But some retailers, who remember UltraSuede from the Seventies, are more cautious about bringing it back to the selling floor.
“UltraSuede takes color beautifully, and it goes with the whole Seventies feeling, but as a major fabric trend, I think it’s marginal,” said Nicole Fischelis, fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. Macy’s East is also lukewarm on the trend.
“We do carry Jill Stuart, but as far as I know we didn’t buy any of the UltraSuede pieces from her spring collection,” said Carolyn Moss, fashion director at Macy’s East.
“I’ve been hearing that UltraSuede is making a comeback,” added one West Coast retailer. “There’s a whole other generation out there who thinks it’s something new, but I remember it from the beginning and personally I never liked it.”