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A brief history of PVC and PU fabrics
3rd September 2014

Rachel Welsh in Pierre Cardin 1967

The Maker’s Atelier silver pencil skirt is made from PU fabric, so I thought you might like to know a bit more about PU fabric. 

The terms PU and PVC are often used interchangeably as both fabrics consist of a fabric backing with a plastic surface coating. PU means Polyurethane and PVC is made from the plastic polyvinyl chloride. PVC tends to have a high gloss or patent shine and be much stiffer, whereas PU has more stretch with a silky sheen. Some modern PU’s and PVC’s are such good imitations of real leathers and patent leathers; it is sometimes tricky to tell them apart.

Before the 1960’s, plastic fabrications were only really used for protective clothing and raincoats. But PVC as a fashion fabric became synonymous with the 60’s, through the work of French designers Pierre Cardin and André Courrèges. Their futuristic shapes and colour blocked styles were widely copied and seen in films and on TV in programmes like The Avengers. The picture above is Rachel Welsh wearing Pierre Cardin and photographed by Terry O'Neill in 1967. In the mid 1970's black PVC made a comeback as part of the punk uniform for the shock value of its fetishistic connotations.

The recent trend for PVC has seen a softer approach, with paler colours especially nude tones looking fresher than the black usually associated with this fabric. At the same time metalics have been looking good for several seasons and are most wearable in the softer sheen of PU.  

So how to care for PVC and PU fabrics? – Always use a liquid detergent, as powders can stick to the surface. Wash by hand in warm water and rinse in cold water. Dry your garment inside out and away from direct sunlight. Once it is dry on the inside, turn it the right way out and let the plastic surface dry too. If you need to press the fabric, do so carefully - using a pressing cloth and cool iron, on the wrong side of the fabric..