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Performance fabrics range from the wildly exotic to subdued & spicy

Performance fabrics introduced at the Showtime fabric show in High Point, N.C., last month elevated the theme that outdoor fabrics have gone upscale, attracting not only those in the casual industry, but the residential arena as well. Color was vivid and texture more apparent than ever, as terry, chenille and velvet performance fabrics were part of several suppliers' collections.

"The whole approach to outdoor living has truly been a movement," said Debbye Lustig of the Cone Jacquards and Burlington Contract division, International Textile Group. "We're taking a decorating approach, working more with collections of coordinating fabrics."

The bulk of Cone's outdoor business is replacement cushions, where the neutral colors still reign, but brighter combinations of blue/brown and green/brown have shown popular for fabrics specifically designed to coordinate with casual furniture frames.

"Color is vivid and strong, with a lot more matching and custom work to frame colors," said Rocco Simone, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sunbury Textile Mills.

In 2006, Sunbury introduced more than 2,000 patterns — "more than ever before," Simone said — due mostly in part to custom work fabric suppliers and specialty retailers are providing to customers to be a step ahead of mass merchants.

"Everyone wants to be different," he said.

Black and white is emerging in fabrics to achieve a sophisticated, contemporary look, while spice tones such as rosewood and sunset help ease the transition between indoors and out. Instead of moving from a more neutral indoor fabric to fabrics that burst of lime greens and hot pinks once you step outside, spice tones act as a nice buffer between the two.

"We're seeing the indoor starting as a performance story," Simone said. "It's slow because of business today — everyone is looking for value — but the aesthetics are there and the cleanability and performance will get there."

Craftex Mills debuted its Meridian Sun collection of performance fabrics, specifically taking an indoor-outdoor approach. There is the brightly colored French Country look, the wildly exotic and fun Skins collection of zebra and other animal patterns, the lodge appealing Mountain Retreat palette and the Flair collection, achieving a more urban, metropolitan style.

Covington Fabrics introduced Soft Sun, a 100% spun polyester cloth with an extra soft finish, ideal for both indoor and outdoor applications. Fabrics included in the line are Nagu, a diffused and textural brush stroke stripe printed on the Soft Sun cloth, and its companion, Panay, a paisley pattern. Additionally, Margarita was named for its designer, Margarita Cushing, and is inspired by Venezuelan islands, rendered with zinnias, trumpet vines, pineapples and geraniums silhouetted against a shadowed background of palm leaves.

Sunbrella unveiled several fabric collections, including lines from Joe Ruggiero and Richard Frinier.

"There are a great number of trends attracting the attention of consumers, and we have fabrics for all of the different ways that people live and decorate their homes today," Ruggiero said.

Ruggiero's introductions included Exotic Lands, Color Country, Menswear, Provence and Park Avenue, running the design gambit from bright and colorful to urban sophisticated and virtually everything in between. A few highlights include a new Sunbrella chenille in the Exotic Lands line, Rivoli, that offers a texture similar to an oriental rug, and Ruggiero's first traditional gingham Sunbrella fabric in the Provence Collection.

A 25-year career of globe trekking in search of design inspirations is evident throughout Frinier's extensive fabric collection for Sunbrella, including 10 new patterns introduced at Showtime.

"The specific design inspirations are too numerous to name — Japanese cherry blossom trees, ancient Chinese geometric patterns, palm tree fronds in the tropics and hand-woven patterns used for basketry and mats across the islands of Oceania," Frinier said. "These are just a few of the images I have captured in these new fabrics."

The new collections include Sakura, a striking botanical pattern created using Frinier's Sasian construction paying homage to the Japanese cherry blossom tree known as Sakura, Sisalana, a bouclé construction with an ultra soft hand and Fiji, Kiribati, Polynesia and Samoa, four patterns inspired by the Oceania region of the South Pacific, each with its own culture and art. All four patterns share a depth of texture, richness and color ways that are exotic and natural in appearance.

Coming away from Showtime, texture seemed to be the buzz word. Bella-Dura debuted Bella-Dura Plush; the Surf Collection, crafted of terry yarn, was introduced by Craftex Mills; and Silver State, through an agreement with Sunbury and Glen Raven, exhibited its exclusive line of velvets, chenilles and sheer fabrics.

"We definitely see performance fabrics getting more involved, there is textural interest," Simone said.

Fabrics left to right: Joe Ruggiero for Sunbrella, includes, from top to bottom, Fusion in Mist, Zensation in Aquafer, New Coat in Spa and Lancaster in Shale; Nagu and Panay are both shown in Batik Blue. From Covington Fabrics, Nagu features a diffused and textural brush stroke stripe and Panay a paisley pattern. One of Richard Frinier's collections for Sunbrella features, from top to bottom, Kiribati in Ginger, Sakura and Ming, both in Papyrus, and Sisalana in Ginger.

Sunbrella's Happy Hour made its debut at Showtime, and features, from top to bottom, Limbo in Parakeet, Ring Toss in Twilight and Flagship in Lime.

Margarita in Sorbetti by Covington Fabrics features zinnias, trumpet vines, pineapple and geraniums against a ground of palm leaves.

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