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Shimmering, Iridescent Fabrics Straddle Escapism and Sustainability

Fashion has always offered an element of escapism, and for this season’s runway presentations, the need to  break free was probably never greater given the coronavirus outbreak that quickly dominated the mood.

One key trend that emerged were shimmering and iridescent fabrics in ready-to-wear, particularly special occasion and party attire.

Aoife Byrne, retail analyst for Edited, said ’80s partywear was a major story on the Fall 2020 runways and leaned heavily on metallic fabrics, in primary hues of gold and silver.

“Sequins also fed heavily into occasion-wear stories, from all-over embellished jumpsuits at Balenciaga to suiting at Oscar de la Renta,” Byrne said. “Iridescent sequins were utilized by A.W.A.K.E Mode, JW Anderson and Christopher John Rogers, creating another-worldly and futuristic aesthetic.”

Brocades also bubbled up for the first time in some time, Byrne said, adding an air of nostalgia to suiting and dresses at Dries Van Noten and Celine. Latex was a new-found fabric trend to emerge, spearheaded by Balmain and approved by Kim Kardashian West, who wore a head-to-toe look from the brand’s Fall collection to husband Kanye’s Sunday Service, and Saint Laurent, where the material was offset with boujee, ladylike blazers and blouses.

Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent
Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent JULIEN DE ROSA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“Latex brings sex appeal, a healthy, skintight counterpart to the voluminous trend that took the runway by storm this season,” she said. “Though the bulk of designers went the other direction, it could be construed that such glossy, dominatrix-inspired looks channel the power back to women. On the other hand, iridescent sequins and foil-like fabrics hold futuristic appeal–all too appropriate for the current climate’s dystopian outlook.”

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Sharon Graubard, founder and creative director at MintModa, also noted that high-shine fabrics where all over the Fall runways.

“I think the trend started with Richard Quinn’s Spring-Summer 2019 collection, where he showed his signature 1950s-ish floral gowns over shiny latex turtlenecks and leggings, which gave the dresses a punky or fetish-y edge,” Graubard said.

She noted that designers used shiny materials in garments like high-shine pullovers or glossy pants to create an edge that contrasts with more classic fabrics like plaids or tweeds. Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent showed skin-tight leggings in jewel tones, and a liquid-shine bow blouse under plaid blazers, while Dries Van Noten showed patent pants and Virgil Abloh of Off-White used a slick glazed leather in an antiseptic green, “sure to be interpreted by high-street manufacturers in pleather.”

“Of course now, in our current pandemic-infused reality, the thought of latex, or any material that can be cleaned with a sanitizing wipe, is appealing,” Graubard added.

Premiere Vision’s Spring-Summer ’21 fabric forecast said “shine is obtained by calendaring,” a mechanical finishing process used to smooth, coat or thin a material, “rather than coating.”

“Surface irregularities are explored in all their nuances, with laminated knits, wavy aspects, effect yarns, sinuous ribs, foamy bouclette and honeycombs,” PV said. “The fabric expresses itself visibly, and all in lightness. Fineness and density are accentuated to lend body without adding weight. Even transparency takes on a notable substance.”

Many of these fabrics are made from synthetic fabrics or require special finishing or ingredients that could bring environmental concerns.

Christopher John Rogers
Christopher John Rogers Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock

Huntsman Textile Effects aims to address that with its new Terasil Blue W, the latest addition to its Terail W/WW range of wash fast disperse dyes. Huntsman noted that the demand for polyester and man-made fibers is expected to rise over the long term, as sports and athleisure apparel markets expand around the world. At the same time, leading brands, retailers and mills are increasingly focused on achieving brilliant and deep shades, as well as water, energy and cost savings.

“Terasil Blue W breakthrough technology raises the benchmark of wash fastness in the industry, helping mills overcome the challenges of dyeing polyester and its blends, while achieving production efficiency and sustainability,” Dhirendra Gautam, director of marketing dyes at Huntsman Textile Effects, said.

Similarly addressing sustainability concerns, The Lycra Cos. last year introduced Lycra EcoMade fiber, which offers the same performance as the original Lycra fiber with pre-consumer recycled content.

Like the new faux leathers, many of these high-gloss fabrics are glazed jerseys or coated wovens, Graubard said.

“Latex is biodegradable, but takes several years to disintegrate, during which time it can damage wildlife and environment,” she said. “New plant-based polymers are being developed. There are even biodegradable iridescent sequins made of cellulose, and sequins are another way to achieve the liquid shine look.”

Bryne said sequins and latex have a “notoriously harmful impact on the environment, as they are difficult to break down.”

“However, sequin occasion-wear boasts a long shelf-life,” she said. “Brands can offer high-quality, premium buys in classic shapes which can draw customers in with the promotion of the ‘buy better, buy less’ movement.”