Byline: Daniela Gilbert

NEW YORK — As runway looks continue to focus on luxury, leather’s role in fashion is becoming more firmly grounded. And with advanced technology in place at many of the world’s finest tanneries, the future is looking bright.
Stretch leather, while around for many seasons in footwear, has recently found its way into apparel thanks to DuPont. “We’ve really gone full force with it in just the last 3 months,” says Karen Eways, global coordinator for Leather + Lycra.

Achieved by laminating a cotton and Lycra fabric to the backside of the hide, Leather + Lycra is manufactured in just two tanneries, Stretch Leather Corp. and Socop, both in Paris, right now. “When created, the technology was patented and we are now working to license it throughout Europe,” says Eways.

Savania Davies-Keiller, co-owner and design director at DDC Lab, the first manufacturer to use Leather + Lycra in the U.S., created a pair of low-slung leather pants in 1998 that DDC Lab stores “still can’t keep in stock,” she says.

“At this point, the pants are really a basic in our collection. But the first season we designed them, we really underestimated the response.

“Women love them for two reasons: They’re revolutionary because of the recovery they offer and the skin is so lightweight and has the most amazing hand,” adds Davies-Keiller.

But even with all its success, DDC Lab refuses to rest on its laurels. With the latest technology from Stretch Leather Corp., the manufacturer will premiere stretch leather pants that have a waterproof coating, which makes them washable.

Other new techniques coming out of the tanneries include a newer way of waxing leather, in addition to a variety of finishes that include distress, tie-dye and watercolor.

The Andrew Marc collection uses them all. Suzanne Schwartz, vice president of the 20-year-old better leather manufacturer, says that in the past, waxed coats tended to be very thick and heavy, but today’s technology allows for a “very thin and supple coat to be applied, giving the skin a polished finish, smooth to the touch and still sturdy.” For spring, Andrew Marc will offer these waxed leathers in a variety of pastel colors. “Tanning techniques have improved tremendously,” adds Schwartz. “It’s especially evident in the vast array of color options that now exist for leather.”

Watercolor finishing is another example of the experimentation that’s occurring across Europe. The technique uses a final wash over the color in order to give it gradation and tone, “like a monochromatic watercolor,” Schwartz explains. “We applied it to an aqua, iguana-embossed leather and it just enhanced the texture of the skin and gave it a more natural appearance.”

Bottega Veneta’s spring 2001 runway, meanwhile, featured another new look in leather: paillettes, handcut in leather, which “creates the illusion of a reptile skin,” notes Emilia Fanjul, public relations director for the luxury firm.

At Trussardi, founded in 1911, fine leather craftsmanship is rooted in tradition but still produces technologically advanced garments. For spring 2001, for example, leather is woven with chamois or combined with other materials such as silk bourette and jersey twill, a “process that makes the leather as light as fabric,” says co-owner Beatrice Trussardi.

Other high-end designers also are giving leather a special touch. At Bally, the key word is lightweight for both the men’s and women’s lines. “For us, it’s most important that leather is seasonless,” explains Scott Fellows, creative director. This lightness gives it a more fabric-like quality. Napa leather laser, for example, is laser-cut in a lattice pattern, which makes it “more breathable,” he adds. Another lightweight option is combining leather with jersey and cotton.

Both the latest in technology and the purity of fine craftsmanship will continue to further propel leather into the future.

“Advanced machinery, tools and the nimble hands of gifted craftsmen allow for more tailoring options in designing the collection,” offers Andrew Marc’s Schwartz. “It’s the details that are added thanks to these things that can update even the most traditional black lambskin design.”

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