The luxe look still sells well, linen experts say. But natural fabrics and an organic aesthetic are coming into bloom.

MATERIAL MATTERS

Today's buyers are “going more for natural fabrics,” says Daniel Didio, creative director of Seacaucus, N.J.-based Dazian. He names cotton duck, muslin and gauze as hot items. Even real silk has seen a spike in sales, but the fragile fabric isn't for everyone, he warns. Luckily, silk-look polyester offers a hardier alternative, according to Dazian president Jon Weingarten. “If they need something flame-resistant, poly works,” he explains, adding that he's seen a “tremendous upsurge” in the versatile variant.

Silk sales also are on the rise at Spring Valley, N.Y.-based Cloth Connection. “For weddings, we have been selling a lot of pure silks with hand-beaded and embroidered designs,” company partner Michael Davis says. Corporate customers, on the other hand, are asking for imported “poodle and shag fabrics” that feature unusual textures.

According to Judy Goldberg, CEO of Skokie, Ill.-based BBJ Linen, the shift away from fussy fabrics is a matter of value. Two decades ago, “lamé and moiré tablecloths were in vogue,” she says, “but they were a complete waste.” Prone to shrinking and staining, they have been replaced by delicate-looking but durable woven jacquards, damasks and bichons.

CALL FOR COLOR

Goldberg sees distinct seasonal color trends in requests for her linen lines. For summer events, customers are calling for “ice cream colors” including lilac, pink, yellow and blue. Autumn will see a move toward purple, rose and coral tones, she says, adding that she will bring in a new coral shade later this year.

At Dazian, monochromatic color schemes and earth tones are in style. Didio cites red, terra cotta and yellow-green as popular choices. “And brown,” he adds. “I haven't seen browns like these in 20 or 30 years.”

In addition to a natural palette, fabrics with a “patina or sheen” are hot, he adds. “But not sparkly, not garish — burnished, not high-gloss.”

For Ontario, Calif.-based Jomar Table Linens, color combinations are gaining popularity. Executive vice president Mitchell Bluethman says he's seen more and more customers looking to create a “collage of colors,” blending shades like ocean blue, magenta and lime at a single event.

IN SHAPE

When it comes to chair covers, shape is as important as shade, Bluethman says. These days, “people want a clean shape, a fitted look,” he says. “They don't want a bag over the chair.”

Changing chair size and shape has prompted Anaheim, Calif.-based GBS Linens to adapt its product, says vice president of sales and marketing Sujata Mody. “Oversize chair covers are really big for us right now,” she says. It's not that the voluminous look is in, she adds, but that event venues “seem to be purchasing larger ballroom chairs than those that were available in the past.”

For Judith Metzger-Kramer, president of Paterson, N.J.-based Tablecloth Co., three words describe the trend in linen shape for both tables and chairs: “Layering, layering, layering.” “Just a simple tablecloth is not good enough anymore,” she says. “Customers are layering with toppers and runners, or simply scrunching up yardage along a buffet table. Even chair covers are layered with contrasting chair back covers or bows.”

VALUE ADDED

To help customers keep linen an integral part of events during a tight economy, some companies are offering promising promotions. Among them is the 5 percent single-sale discount GBS offers customers who fill out a satisfaction survey. Besides rewarding customers for valuable feedback, Mody says, the discount “is helpful for people who really are looking at cost cutting.”

Manufacturers including Metzger-Kramer insist that event linen is a great bet in any economy. “Linens clothe the venue like garments clothe the party-goer. Basic linens, like basic clothes, generate no distinct mood,” she says. “A dollar spent to upgrade from basic to specialty linens will do more to create a memorable tone than a dollar spent on any other budget item.”




RESOURCES

BBJ Linen, 800/722-0126, 847/329-8400; Cloth Connection, 845/426-3500; Dazian, 201/549-1000; GBS Linens, 714/778-6448; Jomar Table Linens, 866/390-1444, 909/390-1444; Tablecloth Co., 800/227-5251 See this story on the Web at www.specialevents.com.