The material was developed in the early 1970s by Miyoshi Okamoto, a scientist working for the Japanese chemical company Toray Industries. It was based on the same technology as another product from the same company named Ultrasuede. Around 1972, a joint venture between Italian chemical company ENI and Toray formed Alcantara SpA in order to manufacture and distribute the material. The company is now owned by Toray and Mitsui.
Alcantara is produced by combining an advanced spinning process (producing very low denier bi-component "islands in the sea" fibre) and chemical and textile production processes (needle punching, buffing, impregnation, extraction, finishing, dyeing, etc.) which interact with each other.
Alcantara is composed of about 68% polyester and 32% polyurethane, giving increased durability and stain resistance. The appearance and tactile feel of the material is similar to that of suede, and it may be identified as such.
Alcantara has applications including furniture, clothing, jewelry, helmets and automotive (such as in seating, dash trimming and headliners in many high-end OEM automotive suppliers). In the world of high fashion, Louis Vuitton uses Alcantara linings in many of its bags. Most famously, in the collaboration with Takashi Murakami under the creative direction of fashion designer Marc Jacobs, wherein the white Multicolor Monogram bags all have a bright fuchsia Alcantara lining.
Alcantara is being used currently as a flame-retardant driver seat covering material for Formula One race cars, including the Williams Formula One 2011 FW33 car. It is also used as a covering material for high-end headphones including the Sennheiser HD800, the Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear, and Bose QuietComfort 35 as well as for other consumer products such as Microsoft's Alcantara keyboard cover for Surface Pro (2017) and Surface Go, Microsoft's Surface Laptop keyboard and Samsung's Galaxy S8, S8+, S9, S9+ and Note 8smartphone covers. Alcantara is also used in SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.
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