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Color Climbs at Showtime

Color it clear, almost bright, and mix with stylized, simplified renditions of old-time favorites, whether traditional or contemporary in mood.

That's the view of many decorative fabrics designers whose work will be featured in lines this week in fabric showrooms here during Showtime.

No, neutrals have not disappeared, but there is a freshness to the favorites of recent seasons, as well as new players in the neutral family.

Despite the gloomy atmosphere of the overall economy and the super cautious mood of the home furnishings industry, the consensus among fabric designers is "lighten up." And while simplification of pattern and design is the operative direction, designers also see exaggerated scale, new interpretations of Asian themes, drier linen-like looks. And for wovens, both all-over textures and jacquard grounds, the freshest are those with a lot of surface interest, many designers believe.

"There's a definite trend to brighter colors, partially to counter the gloom, but there are also wonderful things happening with neutrals," commented Louise Cullen Robinson, creative director of Richloom's Platinum division.

"There's also a West Elm sense of fun and whimsy spreading through the market," she said, referring to the young adult, trendy division of William Sonoma. "There's a simplification of pattern, but at the same time more styling. Whether for indoor or outdoor use, there's more graphic simplicity."

Robinson also pointed to "more powerful overscaled designs, even geometrics." And, she added, "We're seeing prints more with base cloths with a touch of sheen."

"As we move forward we're seeing luster and embellishment coming on using traditional motifs but overscaled and stylized," Eileen Sarrasin, senior stylist, residential at Wearbest Sil-Tex Mills remarked. "Designs in these jacquard directions also are more graphic but still with an old-time look."

For Debbye Lustig, vp of design and merchandising at Cone Decorative, "We see texture with more variety emerging, better looking textural effects combined with clean, graphic looks and a mix of traditional influences."

"It's a linen world — lots of linen looks, definitely in jacquards with a casual, drier look," said Laura Levinson, senior vp product development at Valdese. "Important will be faux embroidered looks within the weave and lots of florals on jacquards — not in a classic format but in new shapes and designs." Levinson added, "There will be lots of geometrics but not intricate nor fussy patterns as well as traditional designs that have been simplified."

Continuing, she said "There will continue to be some ethnic looks but not in the traditional sense." Overrall, she said, "It's a linen-y world."

For the upholstery and interior design markets, "It's a playful, happy, exotic and tribal mix," Cythia Clark Douthit, head of design for American Silk observed. "Everything's more simplified, whether neo-traditional or bold modern."

"We're still big in textures, especially for upholstery with playful patterns and bigger scale," said Michael Day, vp of design for TFA and now parent Swavelle/Mill Creek.

"We're seeing playful patterns and bigger scale as well as a drier linen-y look and all cottons. Menswear looks are taking over from skins in TFA."

Jennifer Hendren, vp-design for Sunbury, noted that all markets "want a lot of surface interest, including shiny and matte effects for visual effect." Overall the looks move from transitional to traditional as well as ethnic, Southwestern and dry and shiny looks.

But the company, which is launching its first "real, true bedding collection of fabrics designed to that market's needs with 36 patterns," also designs to jobber and furniture specific needs. "The bedding producers are looking for domestic suppliers, but they still have to keep to price point parameters."

"Jobbers are looking for what is truly green. They're getting away from the original polyester push. They want natural' like cotton, but cotton in general rather than organic."

"We see uplifting, brighter and fresher in feeling — a little more retro a la the '70s," said Pam Maffai Toolan, vp of P/K Lifestyles, which producers the Waverly fabric collection and the newly launched signature fabrics 3 PARK.

Important looks are both classic and modern, she said, as well as classic looks with today's influence.

"I see coarser rather than finer yarns with lots of strie rayon warps," said Wesley Mancini, head of Home Fabrics by Wesley Mancini, a division of Valdese.

"There's a new look of the Asian influence, and updated traditional with a modern flavor. And I always love bigger scale, but also offer half scale."

Designers see more color rather than less moving forward. Said Cone's Lustig, "It's all about color. We'll see a continuation of cleaner, brighter colors. But there are new color like magenta, acidy green, fuchsia and tangerine — often used as accents with the new neutrals."

Those neutrals, she added are warm ivories, straw rather than taupe and "gray as the new beige" with slate and charcoal in the forefront.

"Colors will be very classic — off white, gold, cashmere, a grayed taupe, indigo, light yellow green and chocolate," noted Home Fabrics' Mancini. There will be minimal use of plum and lavender.

Color favorites will range from "the incredibly safe to brights" said Sunbury's Hendren, with lavender and an orange that is not "screaming" very important as well as sun yellow, teal, aquamarine — all on white grounds. "Also important will be a cleaner, fresher blue moving away from the navy to indigo shades" she commented.

"Along with the ying/yang of linen and naturals there will be pearlescent and metallic accents," said P/K Lifestyles' Toolan. Overall, the color palette will be uplifting, brighter and fresher in grays, yellow, Clementine, silver, fog and a brighter green like clover.

For Valdese, :Levinson sees gray holding its position for the mainstream. But new color favorites are expected to be eggplant with more brown versus mulberry, magenta, pear, citrus and a mix with white and lime, turquoise and magenta.

"We see copper, silver and gold for contemporary and a bit of transitional as well as toiles with multi-colors," she added.

"We see pretty, true colors like oranges and greens," remarked Swavelle and TFA's Day. There will be more creams and naturals "with colorful shades like coral and lots of greens in different shades, he added.

American Silks' Douthit sees the color palette including such as magenta, purple, and fuchsia being used on a cream ground as well as black/chocolate/brown for skin looks and peacock/coral/turquoise for exotic themes as well as brilliant blue.

For Wearbest's Sarrasin, "metallics and loots of steel" will be key as well as bluer than spa blues, pale canary, mossier greens and navy with ivory.

Graphite is the new gray for Richloom's Robinson, who also sees black with citron or purple emerging — along with naturals moving to gray. "It's a wonderful thing happening with neutrals," she said.

Overall, Robinson sees primary colors — raspberry, mandarin, sangria and magenta — "as being very fresh against white."

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