Byline: Daniela Gilbert

NEW YORK — Back in the early Seventies, when most textile manufacturers were busy catching up on the latest trends, Attilio Reggiani was working on what would be the biggest thing to hit fabric in years: stretch wovens. When DuPont invented Lycra in 1958, the focus for the fiber’s use never extended beyond lingerie and hosiery. Then, in the late Sixties, Attilio started to toy with an idea.
“My inspiration came from the modern woman,” he said. “By this time, women had begun to evolve, they were working, traveling. I wanted to create a fabric that remained true to a woman’s femininity, yet gave her something new.” The stretch woven was born.
DuPont executives are not shy about praising Attilio’s work.
“Without him, there simply would be no stretch wovens,” said Karen Eways, senior marketing specialist for Lycra spandex ready-to-wear. “They were the first woven mill to use Lycra.” Eways noted that, while Reggiani is not the biggest volume producer in stretch wovens, they are undoubtedly the finest. “They spend a lot of time developing new combinations with other fibers,” she said. “Every major designer in Europe and the U.S. is completely loyal to this mill because they’re not about trends, they’re not techy stretch, they produce fine, luxurious wovens that just happen to have stretch in them.”
“Attilio has always believed in Lycra,” added Gianluca Fanti, director of Lycra and Tactel for DuPont’s ready-to-wear division in Italy. “Twenty years ago, people thought he was crazy for wanting to use it in wovens. He really pioneered a revolution.”
A founding partner with Lycra in their worldwide Lycra Assured program — which provides fabric buyers with a network of accredited mills experienced in using Lycra fibers — Reggiani, said Fanti, “goes beyond meeting our high standards in terms of performance and quality.”
Today, Reggiani is an over-$60 million company headquartered in Varallo Sesia, in the Biella region of Italy. They are repped exclusively in the U.S. through J.P. Doumak. While Attilio still consults on the line, the company is now run by his daughter, Elena, the styling and sales manager, and his son Giovanni, the technical designer.
For Elena, the modern woman who first inspired her father is still her focus today. “It is very important for us to follow up on the concept of modernity,” she said. “This is why we continue to use the latest in technology when developing our fabrics.”
Luxury, she adds, is an important theme as well, but she stressed that it must be “intelligent luxury — it should always be mixed with functionality.”
The list of Reggiani’s customer base reads like a who’s who in fashion — from Prada and Helmut Lang to Michael Kors and Donna Karan. Neil Barrett — formerly the menswear design director at Prada and now producing both a women’s and men’s collection under his own name — used Reggiani throughout his tenure at Prada and now uses it in his namesake collection. “Mr. Bertelli was the one that introduced me to Reggiani fabrics at Prada. They were already a large part of the women’s collection,” he said. Barrett then integrated the fabrics into Prada’s menswear collection.
“Every season, about 15 percent of my collections are made of their fabrics. You can’t beat the selection, whether it’s a stretch gabardine, a stretch cotton poplin or a stretch silk. If you imagine it, it’s already been developed by Reggiani.”
For Alex Shuman, design director of Michael Kors’s women’s collection, the mill’s focus on stretch fabrics is what draws her in. “We don’t do a lot of stretch, so it’s really important to us that it’s done well,” she offered. “What I love about Reggiani is that they’re so specialized, they’re one of only a few stretch mills that we use.”
Shuman also noted that, while many mills produce stretch fabrics that look synthetic, the selection at Reggiani doesn’t appear to be stretch at first. “It has a density and richness to it that’s so important to Michael [Kors] because he’s all about luxe,” she said. When looking for the perfect stretch twill for their fall 2001 riding pants, the team at Kors turned to the mill and got exactly what they were looking for. “It was our key piece of the season, so it was imperative that the fabric be perfect,” Shuman noted.
The newest collection, shown earlier this month at Premiere Vision, was largely inspired by both Meryl Streep’s character in “Out of Africa” and Britain’s Colonial Empire.
For part of the Collezione line, one of five in the collection, safari motifs abounded. “It’s really an Hermes feeling,” stated Elena of the earthy textures on cotton, linen and silk — all mixed with Lycra. Three-dimensional dobby effects, as well as cavalry twills, were also featured.
New technology also played an integral part in the line this season, with a cotton- and-Lycra blend fabric designed for rainwear. “It’s not a finish,” offered Elena. “It’s water-repellent because of a special technique that’s done at the weaving stage.” The other part of Collezione featured an English colonial feel — madras plaids atop textured grounds in neutral colorations, for example.
These concepts were refined for the Zen line, which, according to Elena, is much more precious. “It’s more of an evening look,” she said. Zen featured a variety of rich looks for spring 2002, including double-faced silk and Lycra satins, super-fine, high-twisted wool crepe blends, featherlight linen blends for shirting, Egyptian cotton blends in gauze constructions, lightweight silk and cotton georgettes, as well as silk and Lycra voiles featuring a slight sheerness that is “super-feminine,” she added.
The three other lines, Nautica, Genesi and Aqua, are equally as diverse. While the sea is the primary influence for the Nautica line — which features, for example, a tonal starfish embroidered on the mill’s classic white cotton- and-nylon stretch shirting fabric — Genesi offers a sleeker, more metropolitan approach. Aqua, meanwhile, is the firm’s swimwear selection, made of Tactel nylon and Lycra.
With technology at its core, Reggiani is able to produce items, said Elena, that are special in more ways than one. This is due largely to the fact that the mill replaces their machinery every two years. “It’s an enormous expense,” she said, “but if we want to pride ourselves on being the best, we need to follow through and keep up on the latest in loom technology.”
Attilio, she added, works exclusively with loom technicians in order to help them create machinery that meets the ever changing needs that weaving with Lycra presents. “He also works directly with yarn suppliers and dyers to create fibers that are patented,” added Elena. A prime example: the cotton, nylon and Lycra shirting fabric that is the mill’s staple.
Edward Wilkerson, formerly of Donna Karan and now head designer at Lafayette 148, created a variety of wrap shirts using the fabric. “We can’t keep them in stores,” he offered. “The fabric is like a second skin, it moves with the body and is comfortable and soft. It’s really an easy way of dressing, yet is incredibly innovative as well.”
Continuing to move these concepts forward is a goal Elena strives for constantly. Windtex, she noted, is a perfect example. Part of the Nautica line, the fabric features a poplin on the outside that is completely weatherproof and a soft jersey on the inside that wicks moisture and regulates body temperature.
Many designers agreed that it’s not just the technology the mill uses, but the way they use it that differentiates their product. At Susan Dell, Sarah Lord, director of fabric and product development, admires Reggiani’s subtle approach. “They don’t produce ‘in-your- face’ stretch,” she offered. “What makes them great is that they design finer looks that still hold onto their performance aspects.”
Jeffrey Kong, a designer who has done stints at Iceberg and Ungaro and is now with Angelo Della Croce, has been working with Reggiani for 12 years. “They are always one step beyond what everyone else is doing, even non-stretch mills.”
For Ann Gentile, fabric buyer at Ellen Tracy, Reggiani is the perfect blend of classical and directional. “We’re not that trendy, we like to stay classic but bring in a modern element. Reggiani allows us to stay true to our core customer, who is about 55 years old, while bringing in a younger one as well.”
Staying true to their customer is also key at the firm itself. “What has always been and will always be important to us is that we stay pure to our craft and remain honest to our customers,” said Elena.
“It is not possible to live today without Lycra,” she continued. “It brings an added value that is undisputable and unbeatable.”
And timeless. “The beauty of a Reggiani fabric is that it has a long life,” offered Kong. “I have shirts made of their fabrics that are seven years old and still look brand new.”