Like many fabrics, leather has its imitators made from synthetic fibers. Remarkably similar in their characteristics to their natural counterparts, faux leather, including faux suede, faux grain, and faux patent leather are now seen on the catwalk. This chapter looks at the history, properties and the construction techniques particular to sewing these fabrics.
For centuries, people have tried to mimic the beauty and luxury of leather. The earliest known attempt was by the Japanese who experimented with paper some 300 years ago. In 1870, Leatherette, a non-porous coated synthetic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) over a fabric base, which when embossed, simulated leather, was introduced. The early 1900’s brought Naugahyde, made from polymer-coated plastic, called ‘pleather’. Soon the name pleather was applied to any artificial leather product, but not all pleather’s are the same.
Polyurethane can be washed and can be dry-cleaned and lets some air to flow through the garment while PVC pleather, indifference, does not “breathe” and is hard to clean. PVC cannot be dry-cleaned because the washing solvents can make the PVC intolerably stiff.
Prior to World War II, American companies such as Goodyear and DuPont began offering faux shoe leather materials, but faux leather for garment making posed a greater challenge because the material needed to soft. After seven years of research, Dr. Miyoshi Okamoto, a scientist at the Japanese company Toray Industries, developed a synthetic suede using advanced ultra-micro fiber technology and the result was a soft, breathable and wearable facsimile. Originally, Toray called the product Aqua suede, but six months later it was marketed in the United States under the brand name Ultrasuede.
American designer Halston fell in love with Ultrasuede at a dinner party where he spotted a shirt worn by Japanese designer Issey Miyachi. Halston single-handedly catapulted Ultrasuede into fashion market the following season, in 1971, with his famous shirtdress, and later with his Braniff Airlines flight attendant uniforms, in 1977.
Ultrasuede is washable, soft, colorfast and resistant to stretching and shirking. A wide range of jewel colors is also available.
It did not take long for designers and their customers to discover the unique advantages of easy-care Ultrasuede compared to genuine suede. It is compared to 65 percent polyester ultra-micro fiber non-woven with 35 percent nonfibrous polyurethane binder. The material is machine washable, has a plush suede surface and a soft hand. It is resistant to crocking, pilling, stretching., and shrinking, and has excellent colorfastness in any kind of light. Since it contains no tanning oils, there is no leaching to cause discoloration. Unlike real suede, Ultrasuede travels well., does not wrinkle or crease, and holds its shape. In Europe, it is known as Alcantra.
Toray Industries offers three garment-weight qualities in 37 colors. Designers such as Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Anna Sui, Baby Phat, Tracy Reese, Alice Roi, B. Michael, Mark Montano, and Costello Tagliapietra have all included the product in their collections. From Tagliapietra have all included the product in their collections. From Anna Sui’s 2001 seductively avant-garde dress to its use as luxury activewear by House of Field, it is quite versatile.