NEW YORK — Buyers headed out to last week’s pair of European textile preview shows in Manhattan to get an early feel for mills’ fall 2003 collections. It turned out that feel was just what many of those collections were about.

Texture is expected to be a key theme for that season, according to buyers and exhibitors at European Preview and I-TexStyle, which ran Wednesday and Thursday. The shows held at the Metropolitan Pavilion and Lexington Avenue Armory, respectively, were a preview of collections that will be unveiled in Europe this fall.

This marked the first time the two shows have run concurrently, as in the past they had overlapped by no more than one day. That, along with the four other trade shows running in New York last week, had some buyers complaining that they had too much to see and too little time to see it. (See related story, page 12.)

But some vendors said the dates, while unfortunate, didn’t really make a difference since customers weren’t focused enough anyway.

"It’s early; they’re just looking," said Barbara Machetti of Montemurlo, Italy-based Nova Fides, who exhibited at I-TexStyle. "Some are just coming here to get a feeling for what the Italians are doing."

Machetti said customers are trying to avoid mistakes in orders, like buying too much or too little of a certain fabric, which results in late buys. Buying later makes it easier for designers to plan, but mill officials complain that it leaves them too little time to fill orders.

"Sometimes I think with the early shows, the designers just have meetings to have more meetings," Machetti said. She added that Nova Fides’s wool blends such as moleskin, flannels and suiting fabrics were garnering the most attention.

Liz Claiborne senior fabric researcher Christine Standal was on the hunt for textured cottons in shirt-weight fabrics. Standal, who seeks out shirt fabrics for Liz Golf, Liz Sport, Liz Wear and Liz & Co., said she normally does not commit on fall fabric orders until September.

Day- and evening-dress designer David Meister said he noticed a lot of prints, elaborate taffetas and satin as well as opulent patchworks with a tapestry-like feel."I’m looking for novelties," said Lisa Hayes, designer of Mimi Maternity, which is owned by Mothers Work Inc., a maternity chain with over 750 stores under the Mimi Maternity, A Pea In The Pod and Motherhood banners.

Hayes said her company was looking for novelty fabrics at the European shows.

While Loro Piana is well-known for its cashmere, its booth at European Preview was one of the few that offered vicuña, which started at $582 per meter for jacket-weight fabric and $727 per meter for coat-weight fabric.

The main trend at both shows was texture, on many grounds and in varied forms. While many mills were focused on subtle texture, using jacquard designs, others offered chunkier, rustic looks that included mostly tweeds, many of which had a metallic sheen.

Fashion illustrator Ruben Toledo and designer Isabel Toledo said they are always looking for fabrics with a strong tactile element.

"This season is like coming home," offered Isabel Toledo, "these looks that have a crafty feel and are warm and emotional and feature faded colors, what I call non-colors, they all feel very familiar to us and they’re great to see."

Jacquard designs that provided a quieter texture were on offer at both fairs. At European Preview, Luigi Boggio Casero featured a variety of three-dimensional fabrics with Fifties-style patterns that included waves and puckers, all in cotton, wool and spandex.

Sarti, which exhibited at I-TexStyle, used finishes and weaves to achieve a feeling of movement. Maurizio Sarti, sales manager, said he expected such looks, many of which were on cotton and wool, to be key for fall 2003.

"Anything fluid and lightweight is especially important," Sarti said. "Cotton and wool blends will be very strong for winter."

Other mills with strong examples of this kind of texture included European Preview’s Weisbrod Zuerrer. It showed embossed silk and a jacquard design on cotton and wool, which was washed to give it a softer, antique quality.

Clerici Tessuto, which exhibited at the same fair, showed jacquard designs intended to convey a romantic feel.

"Nothing is heavy this season," said Andrea Ambrosini, sales director. "Everything is drapey and very fluid."Other looks at Clerici Tessuto included vintage-inspired jacquards in silk and wool as well as soft Japanese-inspired floral prints on wool.

Vendors at both shows offered examples of another key trend: tweeds that featured a rustic feel combined with touches of metallic fibers. They used yarns that were a bit rougher than last season’s, but added metallic fibers to make the look more luxurious. Designer Peter Som described it as approachable luxury.

"I’m loving these fabrics with a rough-hewn, hand-made look," Som said. "There is so much surface interest at this show, and the combination of luxury with a rustic feel is great."

Key tweed vendors at European Preview included: Linton Tweeds, which used a mostly neutral color palette; Mahlia, whose brighter palette included orange, red and purple; Gratacos, where tweeds were shown in a palette of warmer, cozier colors, and Tirorler, where the entire collection was a re-creation of the mill’s archives from the late 1920s, this time with finer yarns.

For designer Yeohlee, who admired the collection at Tirorler, merging these older, familiar styles with more urban looks, such as the selections seen at Schoeller, was key.

"I think it’s important to build a collection around the old and the new," she noted.

Meanwhile, at I-TexStyle, noteworthy fabrics included Picchi’s collection of colorful tweeds, as well as a selection of darker, bouclé-like grounds with bright floral prints. Another mill, Bisentino, used chenille yarns to give tweeds additional surface interest.

While many mills focused on naturally toned palettes that included wheat and ivory, others used lots of color to spice up the season’s selections.

At Legnano, Italy-based Erica I.T., which exhibited at I-TexStyle, merchandiser Michele Vecchietti said many people were asking for color, even for the winter. Vecchietti added that Erica’s main color story centered around purple and included everything from a variety of plums and violets to shocking pinks.

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