NEW YORK — As if the whirlwind of runway shows in New York, Paris, Milan and London isn’t enough to keep the industry off balance, fabric buyers and designers in February will once again have to decide between attending the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Bryant Park or Première Vision, the key fabric show in Paris.

While PV, set for Feb. 12-15, isn’t a critical show for writing orders, the high-end European mills said it usually represents valuable face time with big-name designers. PV’s organizers said they try to avoid overlap with the runway shows, but that it’s all but impossible given the length of the runway season. Further, they contended, with the European Preview show in January offering New Yorkers a first look at preliminary collections, there’s still a way for U.S. designers to shop the European mills.

Still, with 7th on Sixth set for Feb. 7-14, it will mark the second time in a row the two events have overlapped.

"We were surprised when they did it in the fall, it just doesn’t make any sense," said Fred Rottman, president of the New York office of the Italian mill Picchi. "The show is great because it’s nice to be able to see 80 to 90 customers in four days, but we do have an office in New York, so if the U.S. attendance continues to dwindle at PV, we would send less people from our office to the show."

François Damide, president of the U.S. office of Solstiss and Bucol, said: "The dates definitely affect us, not in terms of sales, but in terms of the fact that Première Vision is the first time designers see the entire feel of the collection. That’s very important for the relationship we have with them. While they don’t finalize much at PV, it’s still important for them to get that first glimpse. PV is still the most important show for textiles, it’s a must and the show organizers need to realize that people are not happy with the earlier dates. The ideal time would be right after the Paris ready-to-wear shows. Also, it’s important for the mills to see the New York shows, to see the direction that the designers are taking.Designer Yeohlee Teng — who flew to Paris to attend PV only a few hours after her runway show last season — said she’ll end up with an equally tight schedule in February.

"PV is important because a lot of what I do is driven by fabric innovation," said Teng. "I understand they’re locked into these dates, so one has to be pragmatic. Since this is what it is, I don’t waste my time thinking about schedules."

Still, Teng will leave for Paris the same day as her show for the second season in a row.

Meanwhile, Bill Blass creative director Lars Nilsson, is faced with a similar hectic schedule.

"Our runway show will probably be on Tuesday and then I’ll leave the next day," Nilsson said. "Thursday through Saturday at PV will be enough time. It’s tough because you’re usually exhausted. I wouldn’t mind if it were a week later."

Both Teng and Nilsson said the lack of communication between show management and the U.S. design community is frustrating, especially since it’s now a reoccurring problem.

Designer Heidi Weisel said she simply can’t go to PV since it’s market week in New York. While she said choosing fabric is one of the most important parts of her business, being face-to-face with buyers is a necessity.

"I’ll try to see agents when they come back, but a lot of the fabric selections are made at the show and the range of what you see is so much bigger than what you see here," said Weisel. "The timing is bad for designers and the industry as a whole."

PV’s dates are less of a problem for designers scheduled to show earlier in the week. Calvin Klein, Carolina Herrera and DKNY are among the shows tentatively planned for the early part of the week, by Feb. 11, which would allow the designers or their teams time to then attend the Paris trade show after their shows. Cynthia Rowley plans to show on Feb. 12 at night and then fly to Paris the next morning to catch the end of the fabric show, a spokeswoman for the designer said.But Ralph Lauren is expected to show on Feb. 13 and Donna Karan is planning to show on Feb. 14. A spokeswoman for Karan said the company will send some members of its design staff to PV, but that the show would still take place in New York, as it did last season.

Daniel Faure, PV president, bemoaned the overlap, which he blamed on scheduling difficulties at the Villepint exhibit space, north of Paris, where PV convenes.

"It’s not because we don’t like the Americans," stressed Faure. "We just haven’t found the solution. It was the same story last year. But in the past, PV has always had scheduling difficulties."

Faure recalled that, in the past, the show has overlapped with either the Milan or Paris runway schedule.

"Unfortunately, there’s no way to please everyone," he said. "If we please one country, we’re sure to displease another. With the moving fashion schedules, it’s very difficult to coordinate the show’s dates."

Nevertheless, Faure said the show hoped to skirt the problem in February 2004, although dates for that edition have yet to be firmed up.

He said the fair has no contingency plan to cater to Americans unable to visit the show. But he mentioned that PV’s smaller European Preview, to be held in New York Jan. 22-23, would provide a glimpse of the season’s major trends. Otherwise, he said that mills usually coordinate with important clients who are unable to attend.

"Even if the dates seemed problematic last year, they didn’t cause a major disruption in business," he said. "You have to remember that not all of the fashion firms show on the runway. And those that do usually send someone on their behalf."

Faure said that, according to a survey last year, exhibitors expressed content with the number of Americans at the fair.

"But I can’t say whether it had or will have a marked economic impact on vendors’ business," he admitted. "I really don’t know."

It’s also not clear whether the overlap really reduces U.S. buyer attendance. Despite last season’s overlap, North American buyers represented 5.9 percent of the 34,249 attendees at the fall edition of PV, up from 4.8 percent of 32,634 last spring.It’s also an industry truism that, no matter when an organizer schedules a trade show, someone will be unhappy with the dates.

Proving that, several mill executives complained about the February timing for reasons beyond the overlap with 7th on Sixth.

"The seasons are just too close together," said Anthony Vecchione, president and owner of Da Solo Ltd., U.S. agent for the Italian mills Reggiani, Ones and Crespi. "Right now, the mills are knee-deep in producing spring 2003 yardage and sampling for fall 2003, it’s unrealistic to think they can complete a whole new collection in time for February. At the same time, designers are dealing with spring 2003 production, as well as the fall 2003 shows, the last thing they’re thinking about in February is the following spring."

Similarly, Howard Strachman, president of Strachman Associates, U.S. agent for several European mills that show at PV, said: "The dates are simply too early, it really inhibits the creativity that comes out of the mills. For the textile designers, there isn’t enough time between collections and for the apparel designers, they’re too busy with their shows to really concentrate on the next season."

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