PRICE, TEXTURE KEY FOR WORSTEDS

Byline: Margaret Mazzaraco

NEW YORK--As worsted mills look to spring 1996, two topics dominate the scene--texture and prices.
Some mills are still booking major business for fall, reflecting the late buying that has been going on for several seasons. But buyers are also sampling--and in some cases, even ordering--for spring. They are attracted to such ideas as lightweight textured piece-dyes, fancies, boucle weaves and matte-and-shine effects in pretty pastels like pink.
The mills are also doing more blends, mixing wool with silk, linen, rayon, cotton and polyester. Sometimes, three fibers are used in a blend. One major wool fabrics firm, Forstmann & Co., while still offering wool for spring, has developed a new major program in other fibers (see related story, page 13.)
As for prices, executives said they continue to feel uneasy about passing on increases to apparel manufacturers. But with the cost of wool fibers up 30 to 40 percent against a year ago, prices are going up. Most executives are reluctant to pinpoint exactly how much, presumably in light of the negotiations that will take place when apparel firms sit down to write yardage.
Some described the prices as going up "a bit," but others indicated the hikes were greater--in one case, as much as 25 percent.
Executives at F.W. Tipper of New York Corp., said that while they are seeing wool fiber price increases of 30 to 35 percent, the firm is honoring fall 1995 price lists. However, they said they feel it's inevitable that prices will be increased.
Amy Altieri, executive vice president, said the firm is starting to show spring 1996, and so far the reaction has been favorable to texture weaves and novelty yarns.
"The crown weave and crow's foot weave checks in baby pastels are being sampled in 100 percent wool," she said. " Fall business was strong and we're looking to do a substantial business in novelties for spring, and from early indications we're having an excellent start." At Anglo Fabrics, Leonard Siegel, president, said the firm is doing spring business with 100 percent wool worsteds "in lightweights in a beautiful range of bright and pretty colors rather than the dulls."
"And if it's a neutral, it's a little pinker," he continued. "We're sampling and selling worsted piece-dyes, stripes and checks in colors, including pinks, blues, greens and reds."
Textured interest is showing up in fancies--patterns in blends, such as silk and wool and linen and wool, Siegel said.
He added that there's still much resistance to higher prices, but buyers are beginning to bend because they know the fabric companies are paying more for their raw materials.
Chuck Milber, president of the women's wear division of the Worcester Co., said, "We're starting to do a little [wool] worsted business, which we never did for spring. Buyers wouldn't even consider it before, but now we're doing a worsted wool with linen and also a lightweight worsted wool tricotine."
So far, he said, buyers still want neutrals or olives mixed with muted brights like rust.
Milber also noted, "We're getting away from 100 percent rayon fabrics and doing 85/15 rayon and linen or rayon and silk. Price has become a major issue because of the increase of raw material, and we're trying to maintain last spring's price points, which will enable us to stay in a customer's niche."
A blend of rayon and cotton is a top story at Franetta Fabrics, where designer Joanne Radnetter said a textured piece-dye with shine-and-matte yarns is a bestseller. The cloth was introduced in October and is becoming an important year-round quality. Radnettersaid it's been selling for spring in a creamy natural color, and the firm is getting a good reaction to lively pastels such as mint julep green, lilac and baby blue.
Radnetter added that the firm is trying to hold prices but noted that "in certain qualities, such as fabrics with novelty yarns, prices will be increased up to 25 percent."
At Stillwater Sales, executive vice president Larry Alpert said, "We've been showing spring the last month to some early program clients, and the direction is the continuation of textures, but not heavyweight, with finer yarn counts."
Two of Stillwater's best-sampling fabrics are one called Baby Boucle in a blend of rayon and cotton, and another boucle in rayon, linen and polyester, he said. Aimed at the moderate price market, they range in price from $5.95 to $6.95 a yard. The best-selling colors are flesh tones and brights, including fuchsia, red and lavender.
Alpert further noted: "Our prices are stable in that we purchased our fiber six months ago, taking an early commitment."
Pat De Virgiliis, U.S. vice president of design at Loro Piana, cited buyer interest in surface effects, including faille, fancy crepe and other fancy weaves, in all of its wool worsted fabrics. She also is getting a good reaction to fancies in silk. The colors are "cleaner" but still in the neutral palette, coordinated with strong contrast tones, she said, and there is also interest in lighter neutral tones.
"Fabric prices are always a very serious concern, and they always have a final impact on the garment," Virgiliis said. "But we're striving to maintain the best quality at the best prices. We're unable to define the exact percentages of increases, as a lot of factors are involved, including raw material prices, production costs and efficiency of production."
At Carleton Woolen Mills, president Larry Heller said ideas sampling well are textured jacketings in wool and nylon tweeds, white and pastel wool flannels and wool crepes and weave effects.
Heller noted that due to the increases in wool fiber prices--as well as other factors--fabrics are eventually going to cost more, but he couldn't say how much. As many others did, Larry Stein, director of women's wear sales at High Mills Textiles, said his firm was still actively selling fall.
"The spring line, which is being formulated now, will feature rayon and linen blends, 100 percent linen and polyester and worsted wool blends. The linens are plaids, checks, stripes and windowpanes," he said. "The polyester and worsted wool blends are plaids--tartans and glens--as well as stripes. Colors include neutrals with pastel tones such as natural and pink, or neutrals with black, such as a variegated stripe in rayon and linen."

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