Byline: Rebecca Kleinman

Many women who travel frequently, whether for business or pleasure, don’t have the time to pay a visit to a dry cleaner, but still want the dry-clean — or at least wrinkle-free — look. The fashion industry’s answer is washable fabrics, one of the fastest-growing categories since stretch fabrics revolutionized the women’s wear market.
Though certainly not a new concept, today’s washable options are anything but the polyester, elastic-waist pants that grandma used to toss in the dryer. Instead, they are stylish pieces, including supple suedes and faux leather that look, feel and fit better than the real thing.
There are also silk and silk blends, suede denim and synthetics that befit Space Age Barbie. They are then adapted into fashion-forward silhouettes and trimmed with the latest novelty.
Leading manufacturers in the contemporary and updated missy markets report devoting more than 50 percent and upwards of 95 percent of their lines to washables, a figure they expect to keep climbing. Even those that haven’t removed “dry clean only” labels for marketing or price factors are in the process of doing just that. The issue is inevitable.
“Anything that makes life easier is here to stay. Washables are like stretch, which took a little time to catch on. But once women acclimated, we couldn’t get them out of it,” said Yansi Fugel, owner and design director of the eponymous, New York-based firm and one of the forerunners in the washable evolution.
Claiming to love the option herself, Fugel said 75 to 80 percent of her line is washable and doesn’t require pressing. “If I have to iron, it’s not really easy care,” she explained. Everything in her microfiber stretch crepe constructed jackets line is washable and wrinkle free, except for those that are fully lined. For spring, the firm will offer 18 colors, including clay, a grayish sage and icy pink mixed back to black and white.
Each season, Fugel uses her microfiber stretch crepe as the base for other novelty fabrics, including tweed, pinstripes or checks. A bi-stretch, nylon in black-and-white mini-checks has received great response. With red mesh or trim, silhouettes are a camisole, slipdress and sculpted pants. But none compare with her piece de resistance, a machine washable and dryable suede.
Now Fugel is off to her next challenge: washable wool.
“That will be for fall,” she said. “We don’t want the category to be limited to synthetics.” Tark 1 for Avenue Montaigne, a contemporary firm based in New York, has experienced similar accolades for its machine- and hand-washable fabrics, which account for 95 percent of the line. Rather than suede, their major achievement has been a faux leather that “looks more like leather than leather,” said vice president Peggy Sandin.
Best of all, care involves turning the garment inside out and popping it in the wash. “It seems to come out more beautiful each wash and it goes back to its original shape, unlike real leather. Dry cleaning would ruin it,” she said.
At first, Tark 1 was hesitant to introduce washable, faux leather, even decreasing the wholesale price of its pants from $160 to $140. Surprisingly, “it sold like mad” once word got out about how real it looks and feels, and most of all, that it’s washable. “The faux leather is one of the only cases where being washable really seals the purchase. For our other items, I think the factor is more of a plus, whereas style and fit come first,” she said. Tark 1 also does washable velvet, fake fur and skins, satin jacquards and a nylon polyester blend similar to Prada’s. “The last one is especially great because if you get a spot on it, you can just take a washcloth and wash it off,” said Sandin.
Sandin lists excessive dry-cleaning costs and a Southern as well as large Los Angeles-based clientele who prefer easy care as reasons for washables. But for the most part, she attributes our fast-paced society.
Sandin said, the firm’s typical “customer is buy at noon, wear at night,” not the type who has time to worry about clothing care. By the very nature of its name, Womyn, a New York-based separates company, also addresses that customer, though in a different phase of her life.
Described as a soccer mom, Sandin’s very busy and wants her clothes to have shape without being tight. Having already added stretch to everything, Womyn is currently considering the washable factor. Thirty percent of the line is washable, according to Andrea Marks, director of sales, yet the label reads “dry clean only.” At a wholesale price of $65 per pair of pants, the company chose that strategy to protect accounts, mainly because people aren’t known to take good care of their clothes.
Marks reports that retailers at regional markets questioned why Womyn’s stretch techno fabrics like “Barcelona” couldn’t be machine-washed, while New Yorkers never thought twice, having access to a good dry cleaner on every block and regarding apartment building washing machines as instant fabric death.
Though unsure of what to do about lined jackets, Womyn has plans to remove “dry clean only” labels from “Barcelona” and “Margarita,” a cotton-Lycra blend that the company prewashes for a slightly distressed look. “I’ve even tested my Barcelona pants in the New York torture machine, and they’ve come out fine,” said Marks.
It would have to be pressed, but a tiger twill, or two-way, cotton spandex blend, could be washed, too. Soccer moms also don’t take shorts, white twill or white denim to the cleaners. “We’re looking for more things to fit that requirement,” said Marks.
Alex Garfield, owner of Go Silk, a contemporary-bridge firm based in New York, said most consumers aren’t even aware of washability or “turn their noses up” at the notion. “But once they learn, they’re hooked. Easy care means freedom, which is what we all want,” he said.
Creative director Barbara Devries reports 65 to 70 percent of the line is washable, depending on if the customer wishes to iron or not. With the absence of shoulder pads in fashion and improved construction, even jackets can be thrown in. Garfield adds that the most expensive pieces like down-filled, quilted pop coats, which retail between $400 and $500, can be washed with light detergent and laid on a towel to dry.
“Every one of my accounts is seeking washable resources now, whether it’s for casual or travel, or for people who are lazy or on the go,” said regional sales manager Jaime Nortman.