By  on September 25, 2007

PARIS — The offering of eco-friendly fabrics, ultralightweight wools and shiny finishes drew praise from buyers attending the Première Vision textile show here last week.

But the soaring value of the euro — the dollar is trading at historic lows to the European currency — raised concerns from mills and designers, who said the situation would have serious ramifications.

"It is definitely a huge problem," said Lisa Bovino, director of fabric research and development for Ann Taylor Loft. "We are focusing on novelty. We want to know exactly what we are getting."

Laura Feit-Hoffmann, director of trend fabric research and development for Calvin Klein Jeans, said "European mills are extremely expensive," adding that shines with a "liquid" look, jacquards and "high-tech blends" were key directions at the fair.

While most American and Japanese buyers said budgets were flat compared with last season, designers from Europe said they were increasing their spending by as much as 15 percent.

"American customers are suffering," said Giorgio Coda, sales manager for Prato, Italy-based Lanificio del Casentino. "They are having to pay up to 30 percent more than last season."

While attendance at PV from the U.S. and Japan remained strong, many manufactures feared they would lose key accounts from those countries.

"I'm afraid for the future [of American clients]," said Stefano Rigotti, co-chief executive officer of Prato, Italy-based Ultra.

Coated lightweight fabrics such as wool and chino doubled with high-tech laminations were sought after by designers, according to Rigotti.

"We are doing what we can to reduce certain costs, such as in dyeing and finishing, in order to have the best price, but it's impossible to cut corners on quality," said Rigotti.

A spokeswoman for Swiss high-tech fabric manufacturer Schoeller said, "We've missed a lot of Americans. We [try to compensate for] exchange rates to a certain point, but there is a level you can't absorb."

The spokeswoman said highlights included natural fibers with high-tech features such as fully waterproof wools and cottons. Lightweight fabrics and polyamides with a soft touch were also top sellers, as were organic fibers.Mills continued to increase their eco-friendly offerings in order to cater to growing environmental concerns.

"There is an increasing number of mills using environmental fabrics and natural fibers such as hemp and bamboo," said Hande Sadic Ozcan, research and development of fabric for Gap Europe. "Every mill is getting into it, but it is still very expensive. With increased global warming awareness, people are willing to spend more for eco-friendly fabrics."

Climate changes also prompted many designers to shop for lighter-weight fabrics.

"We are looking for more seasonless styles," said Loft's Bovino. "Environmental conditions are forcing us to work earlier and smarter."

Meanwhile, designers expressed a growing concern regarding the global wool shortage due to a combination of a prolonged Australian drought and an increase in demand.

"Wool is getting more expensive year after year," said Franceso Bellucci, sales director for Mario Bellucci. "Also, this season buyers are requesting lighter-quality fabrics. Average weight for wool fabrics used to be around 560 to 580 grams, but today designers are asking for between 400 to 450 grams."

Designer Veronique Branquinho said, "It is getting more difficult to sell heavy-weight coats. I'm looking for lighter fabrics and wools."

Despite the increasing euro-dollar divide and escalating environmental concerns, buyers said they uncovered many new fabric trends, such as subdued shimmers in bronze and gun metals, as well as a variety of jacquards and matelasses, and fabrics with a soft hand.

"There is an interesting finishing on fabrics and laminations that have a futuristic quality," said Ann Hardiman, design manager for U.K.'s Karen Millen. "Everything looks slightly plasticized even on furs."

Hardiman selected Italy's Selecta Como for its matelasses.

"Mills focused on textures this season and optical illusion through textures, fabrics that look very different up close," said New York-based designer Erin Fetherston.

Mills took a chic yet somber approach to next winter with predominately navy, dark purple and black color palettes. However, buyers all noted dashes of bright colors including orange and yellow.

"It's a somber season, but we've noticed hints of orange and yellow," said Trina Turk, president of her label.Turk, who noted she was increasing her budget by 20 percent, said she "liked all the laminated fabrics," especially those that juxtaposed wool and cotton with shinny coatings from mills such as F.A.N.S. Textile Factory, Texmoda Tessuti and Riopele Port.

Helen Turner, design director for Uniqlo, said, "Fabrics have a rounded and more molded feel," adding she was also seduced by double-faced fabrics used for colorful linings or second textures.

Meanwhile, Japanese mills continued to be a favorite among denim designers.

"There is a continued strong demand for selvage denim," said, Ash Suzuki, sales director for the Far East and U.S.A for Kuroki.

The Fiber Price Sheet
The last Tuesday of every month, WWD publishes the current, month-ago and year-ago fiber prices. Prices listed reflect the cost of one pound of fiber or, in the case of crude oil, one barrel.
FiberPrice on 9/24/07Price on 8/27/07Price on 9/25/06
Cotton59.85 cents63.74 cents55.40 cents
Polyester staple85 cents88 cents85 cents
Polyester filament78 cents84 cents82 cents
August Synthetic PPI114.4113.5114.9
Crude oil$81.62$71.09$60.55
*The current cotton price is the September average on fiber being delivered to Southeastern region mills, according to Agricultural Marketing Services/USDA. The wool price is based on the average price for the week ended Sept. 21 of 11 different thicknesses of fiber, ranging from 15 microns to 30 microns, according to The Woolmark Co. Information on polyester pricing is provided by the consulting firm DeWitt & Co. The synthetic-fiber producer index, or PPI, is compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and reflects the overall change in all synthetic-fiber prices. It is not a price in dollars, but a measurement of how prices have changed since 1982, which had a PPI of 100. Oil prices reflect last week’s closing price on the New York Mercantile Exchange of future contracts for light, sweet crude oil to be delivered next month.

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