Linen like you've never seen it before - that's the 2001/2 winter message from Masters of Linen issued via their corporate display at the autumn 2000 Premiere Vision.

Masters of Linen is the organisation that promotes the interests of the 10,000 growers, 22 specialised spinners and 96 weavers and knitters who jointly comprise the EU's linen industry worth 180 million euros a year.

It is an industry that provides jobs for some 140,000 workers, mostly concentrated in the traditional production and processing areas of Belgium, The Netherlands, France, Italy, Austria, Germany and Northern Ireland.

In a London preview of the collections they will be presenting in Paris - the first presentation for two years - Masters of Linen particularly stressed the value of the fibre to clothing manufacturers offering interseasonal ranges.

But even more important was the emphasis on how far linen and linen blends have moved from the conventional concepts of what linen is and does over the last two years. Latest collections from members include furry fabrics in blends of linen and mohair by the De Vaudricourt division of Hauterive, and near translucent, sparkle dusted fabric in linen and polyamide from Spanish producer Tomas Prate e Hijo.

Delicate see-through cloths, many further embellished with drawn thread work, were featured by Belgium's Libeco-Lagae. This company has been supplying the fashion trade with linen and linen blends since 1858.

Among the Ulster contingent, John England is softening the characteristically dry handle of linen in comfortably cuddly blends with wool, mainly using classic men's wear patterns such as bright overchecks on muted colour grounds.

Future trends forecast
Meanwhile, in her 'future trends' forecast, European style consultant Ornella Bignami predicted that linen would play a major role in the revival of interest in hand-knitting yarns. This is likely to be a major feature of the winter 2001/2 scene. Yarns made from intertwined strips of linen ribbon lend a completely different look and texture to the hand knit market, and she was expecting to see more of these in the season ahead.

Ornella also expects marriages of linen with silk, in the form of both intimate blend yarns and as garment trims, to be a feature of high fashion ranges. These will come from manufacturers of all nationalities, but will be an especially important linen story in France and Italy.

On the yarn front, linen chenilles and boucle yarns in 100 per cent linen will be the basis of a number of manufactuers' high fashion collections. But it is in its embrace of the latest finishing technology that the linen industry makes its biggest break with tradition.

Linens with supple rubberised coatings take the fibre into the rainwear market; while "lacquer" treatments take linen into the evening and disco wear sector.

Throughout the collections to be shown at PV, contrast texture effects achieved through a combination of "sophisticated lustre" yarns with more conventional matt yarns were a constantly recurring theme. So too were double faces and reversibles - mainly blends with wool offering a "comfortable" brushed handle on one side and a traditional linen weave on the other. Ornella says they leave it to the maker-up to decide which is the "right" side on these cloths.

And while linen is most usually thought of as either yarn or piece dyed fabric, for winter 2001/2 printed linens take their bow. These are prints with a difference however. Techniques akin to spray painting are used for the application of contrast colour, giving an impression of randomised hand-painting which is simultaneously softer yet employs dramatically bold motifs.

Both in prints and plain form, the colour palette centres around "natural" autumnal tones. Every variation on wood and tobacco shades is used somewhere in the Masters of Linen ranges, with medium and dark tones worked as blends, chines and discoloured fabrics.

At the paler end of the spectrum, bleach-outs provide a barely tinted base for both prints and textured 3D effects. These echo the looks of traditional Scottish wool tweeds and Donegal tweed pepper and salt colour combinations.

Sonia Roberts