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Focus shifts to tweaking color palettes

The mad scramble of recent markets to constantly one-up the competition with ever-higher thread count offerings seems to have slackened. Similarly, there is little layering in of additional solid color lines this market, and the frenzied construction trade-ups that characterized solid-color sheeting development in 2000 and 2001 has also cooled.

Save for a new licensed Nautica line by Springs Industries and a step-up 410-count introduction by Croscill, most of the solid color focus has hewn to the fundamentals — namely tweaking palettes.

A wide range of new colors, with inspirations drawn from as far as India's Bollywood to as nearby as the cherry blossom tree in the front yard, are on this October market's hit parade. But how rich a color is, or how pastel the color is, seemingly is the determining factor on how high a thread count it adorns.

Apparently, in a trend continuing from last market, the higher a sheet's thread count the more cosmetic or pastel its color. On the flip side, as the thread count gets lower its color becomes more enriched and bolder in flavor.

But Gretchen Dale, vp of design and new product development for Pillowtex, said it may not be necessarily a thread count issue but more of how a product is perceived by consumers.

"It's all about how a brand or product is presented," Dale said. "Charisma, for instance, is our luxury brand, so it has a lighter palette." She added that as a general rule the higher the thread count, the more pastel the color becomes.

"It's that pristine perception," she said. "Luxury connotes white, ivory and pale colors for some reason."

Croscill Home, Dan River, Design Works, Pillowtex, Springs Industries and WestPoint Stevens are all taking their own direction when it comes to color, but there are some marked similarities.

Perhaps the most noticeable similarity is the appearance of "grayed" or "misty" colors — almost as if one is looking through a pane of very slightly frosted glass — in most, if not all, of the palettes. This end of the spectrum usually dwells in the upper echelons on thread count.

Another commonality between many of the new palettes is the appearance of deep, infused colors. Not necessarily jewel tones, these shades are perhaps closest in comparison to the true version of the color and are generally found on those sheets with lower counts.

"It's not about being bright; it's about capturing the feel of the color," explained Pillowtex's Lois Fortson, design director for fashions towels and fashion bath.

As always, manufacturers and suppliers are introducing new shades in the neutral family. These colors, which don't necessarily make a bold statement stylistically, have a wide appeal and are extremely versatile when it comes time for coordination with the top-of-bed and color scheme of the room.

"Colors give consumers the feeling that they need to buy something," said Marcia Brandwein, creative director for the Atlanta-based Design Works, supplier of the Royalty family of sheeting. "They have to feel something about the item to want it, and colors give them that something."

Fort Mill, SC-based Springs is one manufacturer that always seems to take advantage of the semi-annual market and its wide attendance to unveil a new palette.

Springs will debut the licensed Nautica solid color sheet program, which coordinates with the Nautica fashion bedding program produced by American Pacific and is designed to deepen its penetration in the specialty channel. Made of 280-count Egyptian cotton, the line is slated to be sold as open stock and features a woven label of the signature Nautica sailboat sewn into the pillowcase between the hem and body. The line launches in 12 colors: white, ivory, canvas, khaki, sage, pale pink, glacier blue, yellow, navy, hunter, poppy and French blue. Product is scheduled to drop in late September or early October.

Elsewhere in sheets, "the saga continues" in the retailer-driven push for higher thread counts, according to Nancy Webster, vp of creative development, Springs.

"We're trying to relieve this pressure on counts," she said, adding that Springs is readying two patterns designed to serve as "a true innovative approach to the solid-color business." The new line will coordinate with 300-count sheeting, but is neither a print nor a jacquard, she said.

Meanwhile, the 300 Pima sateen program remains committed to its saturated palette, adding five colors to enrich the assortment to 20. New here are chamois, willow, chablis, palmetto and currant.

Springs is adding more colors to the 280 Pima-rich cotton/poly line it introduced last market. "The initial read has been strong," Webster said. Expanding the palette to 12 colors are four new hues: Wedgewood, mauve, spice and forest.

In the 400 sateen line, Springs will build on the pastel story it brought out last market, with the addition of sterling, mist, chiffon and nectar.

The brights-oriented 250 Soft and Easy program continues to be positioned as a younger, more fashionable solids line with a number of new color infusions: chambray, lemonade, rose, melon, blueberry, petunia and grass.

In general, Webster said, red remains a strong color story for Springs, and gold is taking a step forward. "We also feel strongly about the blue family — from denims to chambrays to aqua," she said. Webster also believes charcoal and black will serve as strong flanks to the cooler tones in the blue family.

Pillowtex unveiled its new palette during its annual Royal Velvet Color College held in June. As always, Pillowtex turned out a veritable rainbow of new shades for its various Royal Velvet towel and sheet lines during the June event, but the major mill also opted to wait and unveil several new shades for its Charisma and Elegance lines of products this market.

The new RV towel colors are cherry blossom, a warmer pink; java, reminiscent of coffee beans; sedona, a deep cinnamon; ginseng, a soft linen green; amber, a deeper patina yellow; Chesapeake, a rich blue/green; concord, just like the grapes of the same name; shadow, a true gray; and hydrangea, a true purple. Being dropped are aloe, bayshore, mermaid, mimosa, mist, mystic, orchid, peach sand and water lily.

On the sheeting side, five colors are new for the RV 275-count line, many of which are the same as on the towel side but less infused. Cherry blossom borrows its soft tones from the tree, and sedona takes its tone from the color of red earth. Ginseng is a calming tone of green, and hydrangea is a slightly grayer purple than the towel shade of the same name. Newport blue is the true blue of denim. Disappearing from the line are wisteria, cloud blue, azalea and canyon.

Pillowtex's Charisma 360-count sheet line adds the ethereal oxygen, as well as pomegranate, pastis and lapis, but no colors were dropped because the existing colors, said Lois Fortson, design director, fashion towels/fashion bath, "are performing well." Oxygen, explained Fortson and Mij Adams, vp of Charisma design, is "neither blue nor green" but the color one sees when combining water and air. The Charisma towel line also adds oxygen as well as bloom, a combination of many shades of pink, and sandalwood, a "taupy sand color," but does drop three in return: green mist, clay and juniper. Elegance adds honey, cabernet, plum and sandalwood but also makes no drops.

"We're showing cleaner and cooler colors and much more daring colors," Adams said. "It's the beginning of that more passionate thing we see coming in color."

Joining the "rainbow wars" is West Point, GA-based WestPoint Stevens, which is offering its customers two color philosophies, new foundations and Bollywood. New foundations represents a range of colors inspired by the subtle shades of cosmetics, while, true to its name, Bollywood is inspired by the colors of India. The new colors for the 350 Egyptian cotton sheet line are pearl, cameo, jade mist, opal, twilight, rose dust and sable on one end, and on the other end are misty, African violet, tigerlily, cinnabar and iris.

Croscill is also offering a new 410-count construction, supplementing its upper-tier Croscill Couture, which last market concentrated on solid jac 310 sheeting. According to designer Melanie Shonek, lavender and gold are being added to the 310 program, while updated versions of robin's egg blue, celadon and raspberry also join the line as tie-backs to some of the better selling top-of-bed ensembles. Croscill is also considering some darker shades.

Shonek also said monochromatic prints are being added to the market offerings. A stripe and a damask, both in blush, beige, gold and celadon, are being offered as a freestanding line.

"We've found that with sheets in the open line, the prints are where we want to grow," said David Kahn, ceo and president.

Dan River, based in Danville, VA, is adding to its Alexander Julian Watercolors 220-count, all-cotton line. According to Allison Rearer, product manager for the designer line, hibiscus, cashew and nutmeg are launching this time, joining 18 existing colors.

Rounding out the list of suppliers adding new colors is Design Works. Its Royalty line of sheeting is a 410-count program offered in three groups, Floral, Check and Diamond. In Floral, the new color addition is the grayed-off blue of mist, while the very deep, rich brownish purple of mahogany joins the Check group.

"I think the reds are going to go browner somewhat and you'll see a lot of gold," said Brandwein. "That's a tremendous story that started last market and is probably continuing into next. And I think we'll see a lot of green, but much more in the olive feeling.

"Color can make you feel warm and cozy, and it's what makes you feel good," she continued. "It's really what's motivating everybody."

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