FLORENCE — Yarn producers at this month’s Pitti Filati trade fair said the slow economy and weak dollar had taken a toll on their business this year, with several of the Italian companies acknowledging that sales were running about 10 percent below last year’s levels.

They pitched new fashions for the fall 2004-winter 2005 seasons and focused on new technologies and varieties of yarn they hoped would spark the interest of buyers.

But some at the three-day event, which wrapped up in Florence July 4, said they weren’t expecting much of an uptick in business until the dollar gained strength against the euro, which would make their products seem less expensive to American importers.

“It is going to depend on the U.S. dollar and we just hope it doesn’t decrease further,” Massimiliano Zegna Baruffa, director of Zegna Baruffa said. He said the company’s sales have been down 10 percent this year, though he acknowledged he’d expected worse.

At Grignasco Group, marketing manager Paolo Corrias said the company was likely to see its sales for the year run 10 percent lower than last year’s as well.

“We have expectations of 2004, but let’s wait and see that something will change,” he said. “We hope that will be the economy of the U.S.”

Reporting a flat second quarter, Igea president Stefano Borsini said, “Business could be better, frankly. The weak dollar is killing us because our price seems higher.”

At fancy yarn producers Filpucci, executive director Sergio Locali agreed business had been tough as a result of the weak dollar.

While Locali is sure the future will be difficult, he is hoping Filpucci will be able to pull in 10 percent more in volume, driven by its lower-priced line, Filati Italiani.

To counter the soft business environment, more than 100 exhibitors showed new fancy, worsted and classical yarns for autumn 2004-winter 2005 to 7,477 visitors, a number down 5 percent from last July’s edition. Attendance from some Asian countries was down, with 19 percent fewer buyers from South Korea and Hong Kong attending, though 8 percent more Japanese buyers made the trip. Attendance surged among Russians, who were up 66 percent; Turkish buyers, up 44 percent, and Canadians and Norwegians, both up 40 percent. Attendance by U.S. buyers nudged up 2 percent, with the number of British buyers rising 13 percent.In terms of fashion, designers focused on color. Most yarn assortments began with a white, gray, black, blue and green palette, with stronger pinks and reds added for accents.

The attention on color was a reaction to customer behavior on a retail level, executives said.

“Color is very important at the moment because when people are going out to buy, they are not stopping at a window to look at shape,” said Lora Festa president Giacomo Festa Bianchet. “If there is good color, they will go inside the store.”

Color adds value to the yarn, according to Mila Zegna Baruffa, a spokeswoman for the Zegna Baruffa yarn company and a member of the family that owns the spinner.

“You want to use colors that remind people of something they saw, something they liked, so they need to touch it,” she said.

Zegna Baruffa showed cashmere and merino wool blends for women that were in bright pink and hot purple, reminiscent of some Sixties designs.

Reds and whites featured strongly at Loro Piana in classic cashmere and cashmere-nylon mixes. Director Luciano Bandi said he believed the market is moving away from fancy yarns.

“Today is not the fancy yarn time,” he said. “Fashion wants minimalism. It’s more in the application than in the yarn, and application is a result of final design on the product instead of buying fancy raw material.”

He added Loro Piana’s classical yarns had pushed their autumn-winter 2003 volumes “surprisingly 10 to 15 percent more than what was budgeted.”

Lora Festa showed yarns in beige and black, and offered melange merino yarns and some with mouline effects.

Luigi Botto unveiled a new spinning process that it said intensified color. It showed a four-ply merino yarn named T-Four. The spinning process, called XT, can produce a multichrome effect, in shades of red and beige.

One of the key benefits of the XT process, according to Luigi Botto director Arianna Leone, was that it produces yarn faster, allowing shorter lead times and lower minimum-order requirements.

Pecci Filati focused on finishes, showing wool and cotton mixes, as well as multicolor cashmere yarns, which it called “rural chic.”Zegna Baruffa officials said they had given their merino wool a new look by adding felted and lustrous finishes.

Filpucci showed a heavy Eighties influence on felted wool-and-nylon yarns that were sprayed with multiple colors.

Lineapiù offered a new, ultrafluffy yarn made from a merino wool-and-nylon mix named Cincilla.

By mixing silk with merino wool and cashmere, Grignasco produced yarns with a flannel finish. Grignasco also produced a yarn made from Ingeo, the Cargill Dow brand of corn-based synthetic fiber.

Paul Rees and Andrew Neal, two designers from Burberry shopping the Grignasco booth, said they were looking for technical yarns with stretch properties that were pill resistant to be used in golfwear.

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