Leather, fur or brocade - fashion revels in high-quality materials and elaborate textures. Furniture design is holding back for the time being.

Raf Simons showed how it is done when he was Jil Sander Creative Director: He used upholstery fabrics from Danish manufacturer Kvadrat to fashion voluminous coats and evening dress for men and women. Understandably they were somewhat inflexible. Then in 2014 he turned the whole thing around and presented a collection of furniture fabrics for Kvadrat, which is much more varied than we are accustomed to seeing for furniture covers. It included softly shimmering velour, weaves made with bouclé yarns of Merino wool, while the latest additions are twills with fluorescent color effects.

We find the greatest overlapping between fashion and furniture in certain materials with special textures, mainly textiles, but also leather. Wood, metal, stone or plastic rarely feature in fashion. Yet direct comparisons are difficult. Basically, you can say: On the one hand aspects such as quality, comfort and durability are more evident in both areas, yet some fashions are short lived as ranges alter quickly, and there is an increased price pressure.

Chaotic, but highly effective

As such, the return of fur in clothing can probably be ascribed to the fact that luxury is interpreted and communicated differently today: Not through the superficial flaunting of certain logos or “it pieces” as in the 1980s, but solely through the prestige of the material itself and its exquisite finishing. The same holds for leather, which increasingly shapes entire looks. Currently there is an insistence in fashion on mixing different materials in an unconventional way and layering them over each other in an arrangement that at times seems coincidental if not downright arbitrary. Pioneering in this field are Prada, Gucci, Dries van Noten, Marni or Miu Miu, whose collections include an unusual mixture of materials aimed to provoke, which can also be read as mirroring an people’s lack of orientation and having too much choice.

Startling trompe l’oeil-effects attained using the latest printing and refining techniques are probably the most innovative things fashion currently has to offer regarding materials and texture. For example, for next summer Miuccia Prada has created outfits that seem to be made of tweed or neoprene. However, in reality it is double-face jersey with three-dimensional applications that merely resembles a classic checked English wool or is given a shine so it resembles the practical man-made fiber used in wet suits. Moreover, these special effects can only be detected close up or when touched.

Apart from these anomalies the collections have been given a shot of dynamism through the opposites of strong versus fragile” and “rigid versus flexible”. Patchworks are the simplest examples, but you also find striking examples of patent leather with lace, silk with boiled wool, knit with nylon, or the blending of highly divergent yarns.

While Rei Kawakubo, Hussein Chalayan and Junya Watanabe have been exploring the potential and limits of materials and textures since time immemorial designers such as Valentino, Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Saint Laurent, are using different materials and surfaces to revamp their style. And that actually works: because in an age which is constantly overtaking itself and becoming bored customers are increasingly looking for what they know and love but with a surprising twist.

Cozy, but luxurious

Once the post-modern game with reminiscence of the past was over and the transition to a functional, rather cool look had been completed, a certain coziness returned both to furniture and materials as part of the cocooning trend. The cool, white “showroom world” was replaced by the charm of the used with a weakness for the “vintage“. And alongside this retreat to the cozy nest young, emancipated women suddenly started to knit again – but not only pullovers and loop scarves; trees, bicycles and even lampposts received knitted attire.

Furniture saw a similar trend: Suddenly, poufs and cushions also got knitted covers. Or knit was abstracted to create quilted household fabrics – as the model “Picot” by Paola Lenti demonstrates or “Foliage” by Patricia Urquiola for Kartell. The popularity of light, untreated wood that you find primarily in the collections of young Scandinavian designers indicates a similar trend and reflects the greater environmental awareness of the younger generation. By contrast, high-quality materials like marble, brass and copper are en vogue again; their counterparts in fashion being fur, silk, brocade and cashmere.

As the collage principle has asserted itself in furnishings it is difficult to pick out a single prevailing material or a certain texture. Here, too, the mix itself is important. What has changed compared with the situation a few years ago is a much greater acceptance of hand finishing but also of materials and surfaces with a stronger tactile quality, or that come over as warm. Generally, there is a stronger focus on fabrics in interior design; ingeniously made covers give upholstery series a new look. Take for example the collections of Kvadrat developed in collaboration with designers such as Alfredo Häberli and the Bouroullec brothers. Even the classic hand-knotted carpet is back, albeit in more of an artistic version than a traditional design.