Byline: Merri Grace McLeroy

Leather sales among many manufacturers and suppliers to the apparel industry rose up to an estimated 200-300 percent last year, leading some at Miami’s PanAmerican Leather Fair, held this January, to wonder whether, after just one year in the spotlight, the leather apparel market may already be saturated.
The consensus was that 2001 sales will significantly trail 2000, but consumer demand should remain strong, despite rising costs.
This projected success is based on new tanning techniques, improved weatherproofing technology and advances in printing and embossing that will boost sales and extend the trend window into the sportswear category.
Says Marc Garson, chief executive officer and creative director of New York leather sportswear maker Rem Garson, “Leather is becoming a part of the culture; it isn’t just for outerwear and basic pants anymore. There is saturation in basic leather, like outerwear and five-pocket jeans, but leather is just beginning to show its personality.”
Rem Garson experienced a 300 percent growth last year and projected another 50 percent in 2001, said Garson.
Paul Crystal, vice president, Global Leathers, a supplier of finished leather skins and hides agreed. “The market was very strong in outerwear last year, but it will slow down. Sportswear sales, however, should remain strong.”
Technology is a major contributor to leather’s extended trend cycle. New water- and stain- resistant leathers, washable and dryable suede, stretch leather, new printing and embossing techniques and highly polished and glazed finishes are securing a leather stronghold in sportswear.
From sleek, wet finishes and metallic shine to distressed naturals, there are many options in new soft, ultra-thin leathers. Rem, Garson, licensee for leather apparel under the XOXO label, offers 85 pants silhouettes and featuring low-rise and midrise styles and pocket details.
Some designers are taking options beyond sportswear. Bowman Cardona unveiled a white leather bridal gown at the Hispanic Designers Gala in November, proving that new, thin, highly drapable leathers are very designer-friendly.
Leather is breaking out of the traditional outerwear arena. The PAL Fair trend forum, designed by architectural design house Au Dela de L’idee of France, divided fashion trends for fall-winter into four themes: “Graphic Sensations,” “Happy Time,” “Light and Shine” and “Soft Elegance.”
“Graphic Sensations,” reminiscent of Sixties styles, featured colorblocks and geometric patterns in mostly black and white and metallics. “Happy Time” featured cheery colors and bold motifs. “Light and Shine” conveyed the richness of the Eighties, with sequins, sparkles and sheens. “Soft Elegance,” portrayed quiet luxury in neutrals and subtle motifs.
“Leather continues to play an important role in all major collections,” said Fashion Institute of Technology professor Francesca Sterlacci, who presented a trend seminar at the show. “I expect that trend to continue into fall 2002. Color is strong, as are new prints and patterns.”
Her presentation included new finishes, rich color (purple, orange, blue, red and matte metallics), new Scandinavian and African geometric patterns, floral prints, textural embosses and the continuation of reptile prints. From highly textured embossing to wet glossed patents and pearlescent glaze finishes were a major focus of trendsetters. Details such as embroidery, ruffles and perforations add excitement.
Elisabeth Saliba, PAL Fair promotions manager, said PAL Fair attendees were looking for exotic leathers. “Donna Karan buyers were after new, bright and shiny leathers, Liz Claiborne was searching for new trends and fashion accessories and Maki Yamazaki, a well-known Mexican fashion consultant was searching out new trends,” she said.
“Leather’s popularity should lead to price increases,” said Crystal. “The better market is having a hard time getting quality leather, so prices are firm. Mad cow disease, currency exchanges and adverse weather conditions have all contributed to the shortage, yet demand has continued to rise.”
Adds Garson, “Prices increased 30 percent last year and should increase another 10 to 20 percent this year. The ‘pretenders’ — those flooding the market last year with lower-quality goods, will go; better quality and more consistent pricing will prevail. Leather has trickled down from high-end fashion houses to middle America, but at this moment, leather sportswear will probably trend too high for discount stores. Manufactured leathers will still be strong in the juniors market because of price considerations, but the misses’ market won’t embrace them.”
Leather sportswear should continue to strengthen in the fashion market and remain popular for some time to come.