NEW YORK — With price playing such a key role in today’s textile industry, mill executives at the recent round of European trade shows here said the weakened dollar is beginning to create some problems for competitive pricing.

Over the last three months, the euro has risen 8.3 percent against the dollar. On Monday, a euro was worth $1.08.

This comes at a difficult time for U.S. companies since price is a top concern for apparel vendors when shopping for fabric. It is often the first topic of conversation when manufacturers enter a booth, said mill executives at last month’s I-TexStyle and European Preview, which ran Jan. 21-22 and Jan. 22-23, respectively.

To offset the effect of the exchange-rate fluctuations, several European mills have raised prices by about 5 percent, but said they have absorbed some of the increases. Others said they haven’t yet passed on the upsurge. At Billon USA, the U.S. counterpart to the high-end French mill Billon Frères & Cie., the increases could bring a $10-a-yard fabric up to about $10.50 a yard, according to Gera Gallico, U.S. head of sales. This means a 1,000-yard production order that would normally cost $10,000 would increase by about $500.

"We can’t afford to keep absorbing the price," said Gallico. "We hadn’t increased our prices until recently, since the euro has now increased about 8 percent. I doubt it will make a huge difference because you end up negotiating the price with big customers anyway. But it’s difficult with the small customers."

According to Luciana Sikula, a designer at Miroglio Textiles USA Inc. — the U.S. arm of the $1 billion Italian textile and apparel manufacturer Gruppo Miroglio — the company is flexible with price since it’s vertical. So far, it has absorbed the increase.

Furthering the dilemma of price increases is the inability to tell what the euro will do in the months ahead, when fabric orders for spring-summer 2004 are expected to reach their peak. Some mills said they would not firm up their prices until Première Vision next month when they have their full line — most mills had 80 to 90 percent of their offerings, though several booths at I-TexStyle had less than half.The price increases went unnoticed by some designers. Calypso designer Joelle Klein said she thought mills probably just absorbed the effects of the currency fluctuations. Dress resource Kathlin Argiro also said she didn’t notice a price increase.

"The European goods are pricy in general when you can’t do high minimums," said Argiro. "I didn’t notice they were any more pricy than usual."

Florence Perkins — North American sales manager for CTL Nathan and European Stretch Fabrics — said those companies had not yet increased prices. Perkins also represents synthetics manufacturer Frantissor and recently added Maxime Patin Embroidery, another French firm. Once she signs a fifth client, Perkins said she will open a New York showroom in the garment district by the end of February or early March.

Overall, trends at European Preview and I-TexStyle focused on a strong use of color, as well as the continuation of washed looks, especially in florals — which lent a soft, ultrafeminine feel. In addition to florals, patterns included dots and stripes, many abstract in tone. There was also an ethnic feel seen in craftier looks colored brown or khaki and accented with dusty pinks and blues.

At I-TexStyle, Linea Tessile Italiana showed a range of linen and linen blends that featured embroidery, print and jacquard designs, many in acidy brights such as yellow and pink. Some of the strongest were tonal jacquards in linen and rayon.

Seterie Argenti, also at I-TexStyle, combined florals and stripes in washed, two-tone palettes of blue and white and red and white.

"The contrast is key," said Cristina Curti, Seterie Argenti’s export manager for the U.S. "The aged look is also still important, but just a touch."

Exhibitors at European Preview also focused on color. Clerici Tessuto’s sherbet-colored chiffons were well received, as were their craftier, ethnically inspired selections. A representative at Weisbrod Zuerrer said buyers were happy to see so much color again. He noted a cut jacquard stripe in orange, purple, yellow, pink and red was popular.

Bucol showed a range of fluid fabrics, most notably jacquard chiffons, some of which featured touches of gold."Lurex is still very important," said Olivier Fournier, chief executive officer. "It adds to the feminine feel."

Feminine chiffons were very much on designer Alice Roi’s mind at the show.

"This is a look that I usually don’t really like, but it was done so well this time around," she said. Particularly impressive, she added, were the selections of iridescent and faded floral chiffons. The feeling, said Roi, was to create a look that "smelled" like something.

"Not literally, of course," she said, "but something that brought you to a physical place, like a French woman’s closet, for instance."

Color, meanwhile, was also key for the designer. "I gravitate toward a cooler palette and this season I’m really liking cherry red, saffron yellow, bright orange, sharp mints and a warm pinky peach."

Guigou, a knit mill also exhibiting at European Preview, showed color as well but contrasted it with another part of the collection that was more neutral.

"On one hand, you have a very natural feel that features a dry hand, and on the other, the look is brighter, silkier and wetter in feel," said Sophie Véron, marketing and development manager.

Ulmia Stoffe’s new creative director Khaled Bouharrour showed two main families of color: the red side, which featured orange, deep red and dusty pink, and the blue side, which included aquatic blues and greens as well as navy.

"The colors are very clear," he said. "Cool pastels are key while the darker color story is still important for the sport market." Meanwhile, for the latter part of the summer, he said ethnic and earthier tones will emerge.

At Luigi Boggio Casero, jacquard designs that "created movement," were an important element of the new collection, according to Eugenio Boggio Casero, president.

"The construction of some of the geometric designs create that feeling, they have a strong North African influence," he said. That mill showed two-tone looks in brown or gray combined with mint green, blue, yellow and orange.

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