Fashion - How nylon and modern artificial fabrics came into our lives

Without synthetic fibres brought about by the chemical industry, fashion would have never been the same. Since the introduction of nylon - the first completely synthetic fibre - in 1939 as a "miracle" fibre for women's stockings, lycra®, polyester and other man-made fibres have revolutionised fashion.

In the 1950s, synthetic fibres offered to liberate women from the drudgery of ironing. In the 1960s young designers in England discovered synthetics as a medium for making outrageous clothing intended to shock the stodgy establishment.

Because they were everywhere and in everything, their very success however led to nylon and polyester's downfall in the 1970s. John Travolta's portrayal in a white polyester suit and a black nylon shirt in "Saturday Night Fever" (1978) defines the moment when a drastic fashion collapse hit synthetics.

The fashion exile of man-mades was to last for more than a decade, when Japanese designers saw synthetics as avant-garde for their alternative clothing. Japan also stole the lead in developing advanced textiles with the creation of micro fibres that allowed synthetics to be as comfortable to wear as natural fibres.

Intelligent fabrics and smart clothing will be the fashion phenomenon of the 21st century. The concept of "intelligent" textiles is not the stuff of science fiction. It is here and now. Recent developments include solar-heat fabric that absorbs sunlight, converts it into heat and stores it for chilly days, and fabrics that can be impregnated with fragrances, aromatherapy oils or odour banishing bactericides.

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