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Seeking a New Spin at Expofil

PARIS — Buyers attending last week’s Expofil yarn fair here came in search of bargains and unusual yarns to jump-start consumer demand in a difficult marketplace. <br><br>Coming off a string of difficult seasons, vendors cited continued...

PARIS — Buyers attending last week’s Expofil yarn fair here came in search of bargains and unusual yarns to jump-start consumer demand in a difficult marketplace.

Coming off a string of difficult seasons, vendors cited continued slow business and reported that traffic at the three-day fair was light. They said sales of their most luxurious products were suffering as buyers took refuge in lower-priced yarns.

That came as no surprise, with consumers tightening spending in the face of continued economic and political angst. Vendors, showing yarns for the spring-summer 2004 season, said this was reflected in a move away from cashmere and other top-shelf fibers to less-expensive silks, cottons and linens.

“We can’t sell expensive yarns to save our life,” said Jorg Scheiwiller, chairman of Audresset, a high-end French mill. “Everybody wants inexpensive yarns. Price is the issue.”

Scheiwiller said that silk and cotton-blended yarns were his bestsellers.

“Business can’t get any worse,” he added. “But I don’t expect it to get better this year.”

Mario Boselli, president of Italy’s Mario Boselli yarns and the head of Italy’s Chamber of Fashion, painted a gloomy picture, too. He said he had hoped business would improve this fall.

“But it hasn’t,” he said.

Still, Boselli insisted he was keeping a brave face.

“I’m not pessimistic,” he said. “You can do business. But you have to be right on the money with everything. The turnaround hasn’t come yet. But it will eventually.”

Boselli said silk and silk-blended yarns were his bestsellers.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so much silk,” he said. “It’s the fashion trend. It was everywhere on the runways.”

Even fair organizer Philippe Pasquet was grim.

“It’s a bad period,” he said. “We have to face it. We are at the crossroads and the world economy continues to slide downwards.”

Pasquet said the fair had some 20 fewer exhibitors this staging than the comparable session last year. Many of the firms absent had simply gone out of business.

“One firm was a last-minute no-show,” said Pasquet. “I learned that they had gone out of business the day the show opened.”

He did not name the firm in question.

Meanwhile, buyers perusing the fair, held at the Villepint exhibit halls, said their seasonal spending budgets would be trimmed around 10 to 20 percent.

“Price has become a very important issue,” said Yvonne Delille, product development coordinator at Sara Lee Personal Products, based in Munich, Germany. “We’re spending less next year. It’s no secret that business is tough.”

But even if buyers said spending would be down on the whole, they said they would still spend on special or unusual yarns.

“When the economy’s tough, you have to motivate the customer to buy,” said Joanna Bowring, fabric designer director at Britain’s Marks & Spencer. “The customer has to see the benefits of the garment. It can be an aesthetic benefit or it can be a technical benefit. But it has to be present.”

Buyers described natural yarns in soft colors, including blue, yellow, pink and gray, as eye-catching.

“For spring, I’m thinking natural fibers,” said Sophie Seller, a London-based design consultant. “I like textured yarns, such as tweedy or twisted looks. But they have to be very lightweight.”

“Natural is very important,” said Sophie Roet, a London-based textile designer who works with Cerruti and Mandarina Duck. “And touch is very important. It must be very soft. But I also see cotton yarns that feel like linen, or a yarn that looks like wool but feels like silk. That type of novelty will be important to customers. People are always looking for quality and innovation.”