Designers are queuing up to use Tactel, a new-generation nylon fibre renamed by its manufacturer, ICI Fibres, to make it more palatable to the fashion world. Among the designers using Tactel are Paul Smith, Helen Storey, Katharine Hamnett, Ally Capellino, and Joseph.
Tactel, say designers, could be as influential as Lycra, the stretch fibre that was the success story of the Eighties. It gives softness and strength to fabrics when blended with natural fibres and other man-made fibres. Also, Tactel garments have all the easy-care qualities of nylon.
In the Sixties, people sweated through the day in a variety of nylon fashion garments, including 'drip-dry' shirts. The fabrics were shiny, non-absorbent and uncomfortable. Tactel fabrics allow the skin to breathe.
John Crummay, one of a new group of designers inspired by new fibre technology, has used a Tactel-Lycra fabric in every garment in his spring collection of stretch casual clothing for men.
He said: 'Tactel has an incredibly soft, luxurious feel rather like silk but it's cheaper. You can tell people it's nylon, but they won't believe you.'
Mr Crummay, 26, predicted that sales of Tactel-blend fabrics would boom. 'I'm already seeing more and more of it at every fabric fair I attend.'
To date, Tactel has sold most strongly to the hosiery industry. The fibre is used in 15 to 25 per cent of all tights and stockings in the European hosiery market. Brand names favouring Tactel include Aristoc, Pretty Polly, Charnos and Berkshire. The new fibre is mixed with Lycra: Tactel provides lustre and a soft handle, Lycra guarantees a good fit.
The version of Tactel favoured by hosiery manufacturers is Tactel Micro, produced from gossamer filaments as fine as 1/60th of a human hair.
The boom in demand for Tactel coincides with a growing interest in man-made fibres among leading fashion designers. Helen Storey, who is using Tactel lace in her autumn/winter 93/94 collection, said: 'The future is in fibres. The cutting edge of fashion is now in fibre technology.'
Another fibre interesting designers is Tencel, developed by Courtaulds. It is similar to viscose rayon: it softens fabrics, but is stronger than cotton.