Designs reflect joy of living

Carole Sloan, August 23, 2004

There's a new joie de vivre in home furnishings fabrics.

And it is finding its roots in large measure in designs that were targeted to the younger set — a consumer segment growing as a buying power of its own.

But of late, this consumer group is even more influential, affecting design and color for the decorative fabrics and home textiles targeted to adults of every age.

This new spirit also is enhanced with a renaissance of the mid-century classics in design such as Marimekko and the expanding reach of Missoni's playful patterns and exuberant colors, as well as the tie-dyes and retro motifs of the second half of the 20th century.

While color is the major piece of the new design equation, fun, happy, cheery playful are terms heard again and again in discussing the new design direction.

As Dana Poor, trend forecaster of home for Cotton Inc., explained, "We had a lot of questions in 2003 about the teen and tween markets, and a lot of companies were pushing to address these markets." The result was Overexposed, an intense and saturated color palette inspired by the youth market. "But we quickly found out that it appealed to a broader range of consumers — a mature audience," she added.

Poor also sees the fun and lively designs as "reflecting a new attitude in design — simpler geometrics, tweedier textures, simplification of patterns by taking out excess like using tossed flowers instead of detailed bouquets."

"It's kind of wild," is the assessment of Marion Murray, vice president of design for The Robert Allen Group. "It's an updated '60s and '70s look and a lot driven by ready to wear — hip, mod — and older people are embracing the colors and patterns."

The company, along with a handful of other fabric companies, made major introductions at July's Showtime and found wide acceptance. "There's a lot of interest in 'Happy'," she observed. And most of all, she added, "The look is not heavily packed patterns."

Calling the new design and color wave, "reusable fashion," Pam Maffei-Toolan, vice president of design for Waverly, cites, "whimsical designs that have pop and color with themes like monkeys and fish" as hot looks. "People in their 20s have so much more modern sensibilities and it's fun, she explained."

Interestingly, Waverly is selling into a broad spectrum of product areas from handbags and apparel to tabletop, home textiles and even furniture.

Calling the teens and tweens market a $10 billion-a-year opportunity that hasn't been tapped by the home textiles industry, Greg Lawrence, print director for Duralee, said the "hip, fun, upbeat and optimistic look has tremendous cross-over appeal for the older 20s and 30s groups."

Michael Day, vice president of Textile Fabric Associates, sees novelty looks such as eyelash effects on gingham checks as part of the retro, mod, novelty quest. "People are hungry for fun," he said.

John Ringer, vice president at Richloom, said, "It's absolutely about cutting back" in design detail, "and it's going everywhere from decorative fabrics to upholstery. The looks are pushing the envelope more."

Most important, Ringer added, "There has to be a twist about the design, a fun spirit and colors."

Agreeing that "the tweener and teen market hasn't been addressed by retailers," Andrea Bernstein, director of marketing/merchandising for Chris Stone, emphasized, "The designs cross all age looks — from the young to the very sophisticated. It's basically a modern sensibility."

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