Thursday, September 28, 2000

Leather still a cut above

Designers shape it into one of season's smoothest fashion trends

By Shauna Scott Rhone
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's soft and tough. Stylish and smooth. It's leather — and it's back on the runways, in the stores and on the street.

[photo] New leather styles include bold prints and colors.
        Its fashion sense enhanced by this summer's movie Shaft and boosted by actress Sela Ward's leather top at this year's Emmy Awards, leather has been declared one of this fall's must-haves for the fashion-conscious.

        “I think it's the influence of having a healthy economy and designers are picking up on it,” says Sandy Blye, director of public relations for the Leather Apparel Association. “There's been a strong trend toward luxury fabrics. People are looking at leather, fur and cashmere as all-year-round fabrics, as whatever's appropriate for the season. It's an extension of the traditional use of leather.”

        Designers are taking that direction to every part of fashion — for babies to grandpop. They're broadening the use of a wide variety of skins, making leather T-shirts, bandeaus, long skirts, pants, shirts, jeans, as well as new versions of the old standby, the leather jacket, Ms. Blye says.

        Leather has come a long way since it was seen as the rebel armor of the '50s or the pelted magic that turned men into cowboys. Now entire suits are made of the stuff in wild colors and in practically every size.

        “We think it is the single most important trend of the season,” says Sheila Kamensky, vice president and fashion director for Lazarus. “Early indicators show leather has been well accepted in Cincinnati.

        “More people are wearing leather,” she says. “People are owning more than one piece now, it's turning into a fabric wardrobe. We feel strongly about the popularity of the jacket, coat, skirt and the pant.”

        Ms. Kamensky mentions leather's versatility — popular styles range from smooth to embossed in crocodile or snake print. There's a lot of color in leather, too, from red to camel, brown and deep green.

    While it repels water, leather is a breathable fabric that needs special care, such as a moisturizer and a protector that should be applied before the first wearing to shield against stains and soiling.
    The Leather Apparel Association offers the following suggestions for leather care. Log on to for more tips.
    • Don't keep heavy objects, such as key chains, in pockets. It will stretch the leather.
    • Leather jackets should be hung on wide or padded hangers to maintain their shape and stored in a dark closet that is neither too dry nor humid. Never store leather in plastic or other non-breathable covers as it will dry the leather.
    • Do not use waxes, silicone products or other leather preparations that impair a garment's ability to breathe.
    • If you get caught wearing your leather jacket in the rain, let it dry at room temperature away from heat.
    • In winter, promptly remove salt deposits from garments and footwear by sponging with clear water and air drying away from any heat source.
    • Avoid spraying on perfume or hair spray while wearing your jacket or shirt. They can discolor or damage leather. And wear a scarf at the neck to keep body oils away from the collar.
    • It is perfectly safe to iron leather, although most wrinkles and creases should hang out. If ironing, set the controls to rayon setting and use heavy brown wrapping paper as a pressing cloth on the right side of the item and iron. Wrinkles should come right out.
    • Spill ketchup, wine or salad dressing on your jacket? Take it to a professional cleaner as soon as possible and tell them exactly what the stain is. Don't try to clean it yourself.
        “There's even gold and iridescent leather coming for the holidays,” Ms. Kamensky says. Nevertheless, she adds, “the biggest statement is in traditional black.

        Suzanne Hamblin agrees. “We're doing very well here,” says the manager of Wilson's Leather in Northgate Mall. “We're selling more coats now that it's fall, but all our stock is moving well.”

        What about the question of comfort when wearing leather clothing?

        “I wear leather pants,” Ms. Hamblin says. “One thing people forget about is that leather breathes so you don't sweat when you wear it. It conforms to your body so it stretches with you, it doesn't sag. A lot of people think it will make you cold or stretch out of shape, and nothing could be further from the truth.”

        Leather can be worn practically year-round. The thickness of the garment's lining determines how long it can be worn in any season.

Feel is everything

        When selecting leather, the feel is everything. It not only determines wearability but the value of the pelt. In general, the softer it feels, the higher the price.

        Traditionally, there are three kinds of leather: durable rawhide or calfskin, supple lambskin and silky pigskin suede. Some designers, especially footwear designers, routinely ride the cutting edge by using ostrich, snake, crocodile and other exotic skins.

        How do you know you're getting the best value when buying leather apparel? A good tip is to consider the cut, style and lining of a garment. A bomber jacket can look great in the window but looks awkward on a long-waisted person unless the jacket's cut accommodates that body type.

        “If you want high quality, you have to be prepared to pay a high price,” Ms. Bly says. “However, the wide variety of leather used now makes it more affordable to everyone. The versatility of styling makes it available to everyone from the young to the young at heart.”


Pleather inexpensive, embroidery upscale chic

        What if you like the look of leather but not the price tag? There's one word for you: pleather.

[photo] Sela Ward's leather top at this year's Emmy Awards.
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
        Some fashion-minded scientists have blended plastics into a material so similar to leather that some designers have to sniff it to tell if it's real or not.

        The synthetic clone is a godsend for the economically challenged; prices are a third of the real thing and, if it's made well, gives the same appearance and wearability of leather.

        Leaping from one end of the price range to the other, an emerging leather trend is the exact skill of embroidering. Designers like Pelle Pelle are creating high art with elaborate stitched designs on their jackets for men. One Pelle Pelle bomber jacket features the label's seal with a layer of mink sewn into the embroidery. Another features a panther that looks like it's crawling down the back of the wearer. Prices range from $425 to more than $700 and they are hot.

        “We sell a lot of leather jackets and coats here,” says Tony Domineack, manager of Man Alive in Northgate Mall. “Used to be, men's leathers were only available in brown or black. Now we get them in all colors and men are buying them.”

        For those who prefer the Emma Peel look from The Avengers, House of Elegance in Ithaca, N.Y., sells custom-fit leather cat suits for men and women. The form-fitting, suede-lined suits retail for $825 and are available online at


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