Microsoft Signature Type Cover using Alcantara fabric.

Merging fabric to metal seems an unpredictable combination, but Microsoft Corp. designer Rachael Bell was ready to elevate the Surface laptop fabric beyond the computer cover.

Bell, who started life as a tailor and fashion designer, recalled coming across the Italian-made Alcantara fabric years before she started at Microsoft. When the time came, she knew it was the perfect fabric to use to create a totally unique laptop cover.

Most laptops have either a metal or plastic finish. It’s a hard, cold edge. This premium cover’s two-tone gray mélange color is soft to the touch and is designed to age with time.

“Fabric is comforting. It’s a reassuring sense of coziness,” Bell said. She spent one and half years working on engineering the material. “It’s like tailoring a nice jacket,” Bell said. “You don’t want to force a material to do something it doesn’t want to do.”

The design process had to solve for two problems — the outside had to be soft and the inside properties had to resist other chemicals such as hand cream or spills. Bell said maintaining the softness was the biggest challenge. They had to try different adhesives and different thicknesses of the fabric and various coatings were tested. She said they made 30 to 50 different prototypes.

While most textiles fade or get lighter, Alcantara ages like leather. It’s a nonwoven, dense and durable fiber that has a soft hand feel. Each cover takes five weeks to produce with the material getting extruded, crimped, needle-punched and dyed.

At $159, it’s a premium Microsoft upgrade to the Surface. Bell said it has been received well since it was launched in April. “The design crowd appreciates it, but it has been appealing to a broad spectrum,” she said. The U.S. and Japanese markets are the most popular markets for Signature Type Cover.

Alcantara fabrics have been used for industrial purposes such as interiors, cars, yachts and aviation. Fashion designers like Quattromani and Aquilano.Rimondi have used the company’s fabrics. The company was established in 1972 and is located outside of Rome. Microsoft’s application of the fabric is unique and proprietary.

“The final product blends Italian luxury, a Finnish minimalistic design aesthetic and durability that helps it improve with age, like a good leather jacket,” Bell said.