Thursday, November 04, 2010

Tonight on the Fabric Channel: Ultrasuede, the Revolution That Fashion Cotton Forgot

The ads were ubiquitous that season -- from Bridget Loves Bernie to The Waltons to Police Woman you would hear that familiar line: "Imagine...storm clouds are looming, and you step out on the street in your suede blazer without caution, without concern."

At a press conference during Fashion Week, Halston and Bill Blass named it "The fabric that will be a bridge between the 20th and 21st centuries...and likely to the 22nd and 23rd."

A 70-foot billboard in Times Square of a beaming Lena Horn featured her in an ankle length suede trench coat in a downpour as she gallantly threw her broken umbrella into the dustbin. Looming above her blazed the fabric's iconic motto: "Suede without Fear!"

ULTRASUEDE. The fabric with as much providence and provenance as an opera window on a Mark IV Givenchy designer edition. When Halston launched his JCPenney line, Jean Luc Godard was working on a film about him called Suede Ultimante and his Studio Fifty-4 meals at JCP, the snack bars at the proletariat department store featured tiny mirror balls in the children's Pleasure Island meals until they were warranted as being a choking hazard.

The evolution of Ultrasuede in the late 20th century is perhaps the least documented and most fascinating chapter in its still emerging history. After being dismissed by the early 1990s as a relic of the flashy, hedonistic synthetic era, a Uruguayan agronomist discovered a way to produce it organically through hybrid silk worm-alpaca fauns which produced a fleece that had all of the properties of Ultrasuede. Though not quite as rain repellent as its synthetic forefather, it was even more wrinkle resistant and did not melt or explode when ironed.

Sadly, Halston did not live to see this innovation. Regardless, it is proof that fabric does not die but evolves.

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