FLORENCE, Italy — Exhibitors at the recent Prato Expo trade fair were working overtime trying to find a way around the continued bleak financial outlook facing the Italian textile industry. With economic conditions weighing heavily on their minds, more than 150 exhibitors participated in the 48th edition of the show, held at Florence’s Fortezza da Basso Sept. 12 to 14.
Concern for the Italian fashion system is growing as the sector experiences one of its most difficult periods in 15 years. Statistics from the Italian National Statistical Institute indicate that, based on the first six months of the year, production totals for 2002 will most likely be no higher than those reached between 1998 and 1999 when textile production totals were at an all-time low. An increase in exports from China, plus the current crisis in the German economy — one of the largest markets for Italian textile producers — along with the continued global economic malaise continue to weigh heavily on the minds of Prato producers.
In spite of the global economic downturn, overall attendance at the three-day fair was up. There was an increase in buyers from markets that have not traditionally been major consumers of Italian fabric, giving producers a glimmer of hope that perhaps a real recovery is in the cards. The number of Chinese and South Koreans attending increased by 113 percent and 95 percent respectively, the number of Australians increased by 127 percent and there was a 650 percent increase in the number of Brazilians attending.
Style trends were retro, with a return to lighter-weight fabrics and vintage patterns. Tweeds, chenille and patchwork looks from the 1940s, along with country looks in soft wool flannels and transitional cottons and cotton corduroys in rich fall colors were rediscovered and updated.
At Texmoda, sales manager Brunella Puggelli said country looks are still very popular, and corduroy is making a strong comeback.
“A very fine-wale stretch-cotton corduroy that almost looks like velveteen has been very popular,” Puggelli said. “And everybody wants stretch.” The company also offered classic 1950s black-and-white tweeds, herringbone patterns and transitional cottons in dark colors.
Milior also showed fine-wale corduroy. Sales manager Andrea Dentico said customers focused on sporty, but elegant, fabrics. At Manifattura Premiere, traditional patterns were taking center stage.
“Buyers are cautious and still focusing on classic patterns,” owner Antonio Conti said. Premiere also offered a large selection of washable wools and transitional cottons for sportswear applications.
Along with the retro look, there was a strong return to natural fibers and colors.
“We have made a special effort not to alter the natural look of the fiber,” said Gianni Prologo, product manager at Lanificio Bisentino. “Clients are still a little nervous, so they are sticking to the tried-and-true. In our case, it means natural-looking textiles in classic colors.”
Master Loom, jointly owned by designer Michele Alaura, Paolo Zegna, Silvano Gori and Guiliano Coppini of Lineapiù, offered retro looks in cotton and wool blends, as well as the line’s classic cotton moleskin.
“We are finding it difficult to hang onto our niche of the market,” sales manager Simone Targetti said, “as we are experiencing a lot of competition from Third World producers.”
Several exhibitors raised this concern. In six months, Franco Bini and other Prato Expo organizers have worked to put together a lobbying coalition of Italian and European textile producers. Bini said he would like the European Union, working within the World Trade Organization, to obtain more favorable market-access terms.