Reflective, dissolving, electric, purifying, movements-sensitive and, in some cases, even bullet-proof – the latest fashion fabrics could easily be the stuff of science fiction.
For its men’s autumn show, Prada introduced jackets made from Jersey pesante pieces using polyamide (usually used for fencing) for extra density.
Outerwear brand Moncler has created an ultra-light nylon outerwear fabric that weighs just 40g per metre (compared with Egyptian cotton, which can be 800g per metre) and is windproof (from £450). This follows their ski wear made from specially coated waterproof tweed. Italian men’s wear house Ermenegildo Zegna is launching “Zero Weight”, an outerwear and suit fabric weighing 145g a metre with a yarn count of 600 (the highest in existence). It has also introduced “Cool Effect”, a fabric made from Australian wool that enables dark colours to replicate the properties of white and reflect the sun’s infrared rays, thereby reducing body temperature by up to 10° Celsius.
The high street isn’t shying away from high-tech fashion, either. This spring Uniqlo is launching a collection of protective clothing with UV ray-blocking material, underwear designed to support posture and a summer vest range made of moisture-regulating material (all from £7.99).
Anna Zegna, the image director at Ermenegildo Zegna, says: “We are living in a new era. People lead global lifestyles and need fabrics that can adapt to all conditions.”
High-tech fabrics have become a big selling point for brands. Uniqlo, a long-term champion of “clever” fabrics, has had a runaway success with its HeatTech underwear (from £9.99), made from a mix of Pro Rayon, a cellulose fibre, and milk protein fibres that convert moisture generated by the body into heat while also controlling odour using anti-bacterial agents. According to the Japanese brand, the HeatTech range accounts for 25 per cent of annual sales.
While Japan has traditionally been known for fabric innovation, some of the most exciting developments originate in the UK. Designer Helen Storey, professor of fashion and science at the London College of Fashion, has helped create dissolving fabrics and air-purifying textiles. Last September, London-based designer Manel Torres unveiled the world’s first spray-on garment in collaboration with Imperial College London.
Torres’s “material” is sprayed on to skin and solidifies as it is layered, whereupon it can be peeled away (while retaining its form) to become real, reusable and washable fabric. The spray, which is now marketed under the name Fabrican, is made with “short fibres” mixed with solvent and polymers, making them both easy to spray and binding (seamless, a bit like felt).
“It has huge potential both in fashion and the medical field, as the fabric is sterile,” says Torres, who adds that a French couture house and an Italian luxury fashion brand have approached the company about a collaboration.
London-based company Cute Circuit was founded four years ago by Francesca Rosolla, a former designer for Valentino and Esprit. The company made headlines for making singer Katy Perry’s lit-up ballgown for the 2010 Met Costume Institute Gala in New York (the dress, with LED lights woven in to the fibres, switched colour every time Perry touched a sensor).
It has also introduced motion-sensitive, self-lighting T-shirts and a mobile phone dress made with fabric that acts as a receptor.
The company was stocked in Selfridges at Christmas, and has a new collection of LED-woven dresses for spring. “Fashion is expressive but I like the idea of using technology to make it even more so,” says Rosolla. “I like to create clothes with magic powers.”
The company’s “Hug” shirt (which in 2006 won the Time magazine invention of the year when it was unveiled as a prototype) will also go on sale this year via its website.
Anyone with Bluetooth can send the wearer a wireless “virtual hug” from anywhere in the world: the shirt contracts and heats to replicate the feeling of a hug.