While the only chemistry most fashion folks tend to understand is the inexplicable allure of the perfect outfit, there’s one polymer in particular that designers are strengthening their sartorial bonds with. Thanks to this evolving equation, neoprene — a synthetic rubber, hitherto relegated to active wear and performance clothing — has made quite the style leap from functional to fashionable of late.
From scuba gear to designer swimsuits, from laptop sleeves to luxe jackets, and from utilitarian wetsuits to stylish jumpsuits — neoprene has gone from the science lab straight to the catwalks of DKNY, Alexander Wang and Tommy Hilfiger, among others. On Indian shores, the “scuba fabric”, as it is popularly known, has made a sporty splash on the ramps of Namrata Joshipura and Sanchita Ajjampur, and made waves with the “neoprene lehenga” created by Narresh Kukreja and Shivan Bhatia of the label Shivan & Narresh.
Joshipura, who has developed a distinct and urbane sporty chic oeuvre over the years, says she’s drawn to neoprene because of its strong affinity to performance wear. “Thanks to the current popularity of the sportswear trend, designers have been experimenting with performance fabrics such as neoprene, mesh and jersey. I like neoprene because it has a very structured and futuristic feel and can be sculpted and contoured to any form. Plus, it’s very light and doesn’t fray easily,” says Joshipura, who has rolled out glam sweatshirts, jacket dresses, skirts and jumpsuits in the fabric over her last two Fall-Winter collections. She says part of the fabric’s appeal lies in its versatility: “You can tweak it beautifully to make chic and sporty day wear as well as glamorous evening wear.”
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Or even wedding wear, if resort wear specialists Shivan & Narresh are to be believed. Part of their Spring-Summer 2014 line was the “neoprene lehenga” — an embellished full-length skirt that is “water-friendly, voluminous without excess tulle or weight and is a modern take on a traditional silhouette”, catering to the summer bride jetting off to a destination wedding. But this was not the first time the duo has used the wonder fabric. “We have used neoprene previously for our swimsuits, cruise dresses and coats where the shapes have structures that cannot be created with woven fabrics or jerseys,” says Kukreja.Thanks to this pliability and resilience, neoprene has also found a place of pride in Vizyon’s summer collection, fashioned into a line of pop-coloured separates and dresses by designer Shradha Murarka. She believes it’s also fashion’s move towards the minimal and fuss-free that has triggered off this trend. “People have had their share of embroidery and ostentation. And we’ve also done our fair share of drapes in heavy crepe and satin that our clients love. I was looking to do something innovative and this fabric projects a very simplistic, fresh and easy look,” says Murarka, who also credits neoprene with being low-maintenance and thus, ideal for travel.
While it may be easy to imagine a neoprene capelet for those chilly winter evenings and the words synthetic, rubber and summer may not go together really well, designers insist that it’s not a season-specific fabric. “It depends entirely on your interpretation and how you treat it. There are different compositions of neoprene available in the market and one can experiment with them. For summer, you can keep it light and raw, and dress it up dramatically with beads and crystals for a Fall presentation,” says Karan Berry, one half of designer label Karleo, which made its debut at Lakme Fashion Week Summer-Resort 2014. Berry and his design partner Leon Vaz used neoprene innovatively by employing techniques such as painting with rubber and covering rubber components with fabric to lend form and create a 3D effect.
Whether used as a mere prop or designed to be the star of the show, this fabric is here to stay, say designers. “Neoprene fills in a void that is not achievable by natural fabrics — complex structures and shapes. It is almost similar to why you don’t use natural materials like wood to make complex structures which concrete can build. If neoprene is able to achieve an innovation that natural fabrics can’t, it obviously fits into the scheme of moving forward,” says Bhatia. So, next season you can watch out for more swimwear as well as bomber jackets, trousers, capelets and gowns in neoprene in Shivan & Narresh’s Cruise collection. And this isn’t the last you’ve heard of the “neoprene lehenga” either.