Quilt resurgence leads bedding trends

Marvin Lazaro, Staff Staff, October 12, 2001

What's old is new again in top-of-bed fashion.

When it comes to the hot new products circulating for fall market, quilts have made a resurgence and are suddenly appearing in many manufacturer's assortments. And luxury, whether through embellishment, color or construction, remains in the forefront of consumer needs and what manufacturers are providing.

Aside from sheets, quilts are one of the oldest bedding items around. But whether they've been updated with hot new colors or are keeping the traditional look millions have become familiar with, quilts are hot once again.

"It's hard to explain their comeback," said Steve Castella, vp, design for Guilford Home Fashions, which is based here. "I think it's like any trend item. It pops up and just takes off."

Of course, quilts have come a long way from the days of hand-stitched panels, snowflakes and images of grandma with one wrapped around her shoulders, sitting in front of a blazing fire. Today's looks include embroideries, bright colors, scalloped edges and any other embellishment, as well as the traditional and seasonal looks often associated with them.

"It's a remarkable thing the industry has done, translating that look into a young, contemporary, casual lifestyle," said Sandy McNeil, senior vp, Hollander Home Fashions' Fashion Bedding division. "They have filled a void for the customers who want a really nice, casual cotton product."

Not surprisingly, there is a growing debate over what strategy is more popular: quilts with lower, more promotional retail price points or those with higher price points and better quality. Towner Lapp, national sales manager for Newark, NJ-based Tessile, believes the relatively recent influx of higher price points and the move away from promotionally priced items has helped to drive the business even at the discount level. Bob Levitt, marketing manager for Divatex Home Fashions, said the inexpensive prices have made quilts more appealing to a greater cross-section of consumers. Regardless of price customers were paying for the quilts, both agreed the highly fashionable and diverse looks available in quilts now make them much more versatile and appealing.

Quilts, Lapp said, give consumers a different look but "are also an item that interests the customer so much that they go out and buy one not only as a decorative item but also as something that's functional, adding to their versatility."

Despite their popularity right now, McNeil warned that quilts may disappear from retailers' and consumers' minds within a year.

"I think prints will replace them," she said. "Casual, lifestyle prints on interesting fabrications and textural feelings will come to the forefront."

When it comes to sheeting, luxury remains in the forefront of the design trend, as manufacturers continue to offer higher thread counts, more luxurious constructions and more embellishments to their ensembles.

The Greensboro, NC-based Burlington House is adding different fabrics to this fall's introductions. Embroidered silks, dyed and pieced silks, embroidered and beaded taffetas and ornate trims will all make their appearance. "Embellishment," said Myron Bass, vp, sales for retail branded bedding, "may be the key trend this market."

Levitt believes the present state of the economy will lead to two kinds of consumer: those who looked expressly for promotional goods and price points, and those who want luxury.

"I think people are still looking for luxury," Levitt said. "We continue to see as a major opportunity the woven part of the bed."

For this market, Guilford will expand upon its tufted chenille collection. And the company has had great success with its velvet program and is introducing a new dupioni program, Castella said.

According to Castella, although the "lux" part may not necessarily extend into the retail price point, it extends into how the bed looks and feels.

"Now that the industry is so into imports, everybody is getting incredible value out of that," Castella said. "We're able to get some great looks at much lower prices. I think that's really what the customer is reacting to now."

"Cotton prices are down and competition is tough," McNeil agreed. "And when the environment is tough you want to offer the customer the best value, and consumers are more aware, too.

"In tough competitive times, you've got to step up to the plate a little more."

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