NEW YORK — Buyers and mill executives at last week’s European Preview were facing price increases, a by-product of the widening gap between the euro and dollar.

Most mills said they planned to pass along the price increases that have resulted from the fluctuations, or absorb only a small part of them. Others were in a wait-and-see mode, planning to hold off on setting firm prices until Première Vision in September, according to apparel vendors.

The dollar Monday stood at 0.89 euros, off 10.1 percent from a year earlier.

Only a few mills hadn’t changed their prices, such as Soieries Chambutaires, which holds a French bank account in U.S. dollars, allowing it to continue offering uninflated prices since it’s not planning on exchanging the money until the two currencies return to more equal levels. Gary Birns, a U.S. sales representative for the Lyon, France-based silk mill, said it is able to take this risk since it has enough European customers to sustain business.

However, fabric buyers found this approach not to be the norm at European Preview, which took place July 16-17 at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan.

Andy Jassin, partner of Jassin-O’Rourke, a retail consulting firm, said hedging currency is actually a risk that apparel manufacturers used to take when buying fabrics, though few do it today. At this point, Jassin said, the biggest issue is whether or not the consumer will be willing or able to pay more for some clothes. In addition to the currency fluctuations, Jassin noted many European manufacturers are facing rising labor costs.

“What we’re seeing is not just in textiles, but on the finished garment side,” said Jassin. “Companies that would have traditionally done business in Western Europe are not doing so because prices are 25 to 50 percent higher, not only because of the euro, but because of labor prices, as well. At what point does the luxury consumer, designer consumer and retailer revolt because of [high] prices?”

Jassin said many apparel vendors have turned to suppliers who can offer full-package garment production, since the traditional route of buying fabrics from a European mill and sending them to a manufacturer in the Far East can cause logistical headaches.Many of the exhibitors at European Preview don’t offer full packages. They contend their advantage is the ability to fill smaller fabric orders.

“Even luxury retailers are probably as price-conscious as ever before, but there are retailers that want special product,” said Jassin. “Those products that don’t require huge yardages from mills will still rely on Europe because they can’t buy small [fabric] quantities in Asia.”

Doris Bobik, women’s fabric director at J. Crew, said she was looking for luxury fabrics with a twist, such as cashmere blends or authentic donegals.

Diane Beaudry, creative director for Garfield & Marks, said she was looking for fabrics geared to career clothes.

“It looks like it’s going to be a strong suit season, as well as [a strong season for] occasion dresses such as two-piece ensembles,” said Beaudry. “I’m also looking for suiting and trouser fabrics with low wool content, since about 30 percent of our buyers come from warm-weather climates that you can’t sell wool to.”

Meanwhile, Dana Buchman also mentioned fabrics for career apparel as a key trend for fall 2004, as well as luxurious fabrics such as tweed and lace.

“This season there is a lot of texture, which my customer loves,” said Buchman. “Color continues to be important every month of the year. I have to be aware [of prices] but I still start the same way. I pick what I love, then I ask about price. Sometimes you charge more to the consumer, then you add something to make up for it [elsewhere in the collection].”

Jill Stuart, which develops some of its fabrics while working with outside mills, meets with mills at European Preview to get an idea of what new products they’re capable of, according to Nathalie Bley, a fabric resourcer for the company.

“Prices are definitely higher,” said Bley. “Something that was $12 is now $15 or $16.”

At Robert Noble, a wool and tweed mill based in Peebles, Scotland, prices have rose about 10 percent since a year ago. Currently, prices are between $12 and $30 per meter, with most running between $12 and $17. According to Richard M. Ryley, sales and marketing director, the hike has not been a major issue with customers who are willing to pay the premium for high-end European fabrics.For Gera Gallico, sales manager at Billon USA, the U.S. arm of Billon Frères, there are three types of customers at European Preview.

“There are the ones that turn so quickly that they are still buying for 2003 to put into stores, then there are the customers that are running late for spring,” said Gallico. “Then there are some that are ahead of schedule that are looking for fall 2004.”

Small metallic accents were a key part of many vendors’ fall 2004 collections. Billon showed a nylon blend bouclé knit with gold fibers throughout.

Vivid color, which has been an important part of fall fabric collections for some time, was a particularly pronounced theme for the season. Mills also showed fabrics in soft, rich plains with small accents of metal or pattern.

The color explosion, mostly seen in silks and silk-like blends, felt spring-like even though this show was geared for the fall 2004 season. However, the move is intentional, according to mill executives.

“There is definitely a push towards using summer-like colors for winter,” said Pat D’Amato, director of sales at Mantero, who showed off her colorfully printed corduroys.

Other mills followed suit with bright yellows and reds on silk at Bianchini and pinks, reds and greens at silk mill Marc Rozier.

Weisbrod Zuerrer’s brocades also featured strong color combinations such as purple and yellow, as well as pink and yellow.

“Colorful brocades are still key for [the mill],” said Leslie Fink of Filtex, Weisbrod’s U.S. agent. “They’re very novel and very bright.”

Even traditional mills were jumping on the color bandwagon. At Luigi Boggio Casero, a high-end Italian mill, many of its neutral-colored tweeds featured shots of neon-like color such as pink, yellow and green.

“It’s our understated way of showing these new, brighter shades,” said Eugenio Boggio Casero, president.

Clerici Tessuto showed a black silk jacquard, complete with colorful fils coupe patterns in green, yellow and purple. On the quieter side, the mill also showed tonal jacquard designs of small geometrics with quilting and ribbed patterns.“I think there’s definitely a shift to more refined things, in the yarn, the finishing and the execution,” offered Jeffery Kong, designer at Escada Sport.

Knit mill Guigou showed a supersoft, hefty felted wool that looked like a woven and that, because it was a knit, also had a fluid drape. Italian knitter Marioboselli showed refined looks as well, with soft cotton jacquard velvets and wool-blended jacquards with Lurex metallic fiber accents.

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