PARIS — Buyers attending last week’s Expofil yarn fair here said they planned to keep a tight rein on spending since they expect business to remain difficult through at least the end of the year.

Yarn vendors, who have suffered a string of challenging seasons, cited slow business and complained that many of their top American and Asian clients did not make the trip to the show this time.

They said the surging euro and the aftereffects of SARS, which is now showing signs of remission, added to their woes. Vendors, showing yarns for the fall 2004-winter 2005 season, said buyers continued to express interest in less-expensive products and that most clients were placing smaller orders.

“Since the downturn, this is shaping up to be the worst season we’ve had so far,” lamented Francisco Javier Vilaplana Blanquer, president of Spain’s Manufacturas de Estambre, which specializes in fancy yarns.

Blanquer said organic colors and natural-synthetic blends were his bestsellers.

“The market is very slow on all fronts,” he added. “But we’re beginning to think that the market could improve early next year.”

“There are no Americans and no Chinese here this year,” said Tomaso Boldrini, head of production at Luigi Boldrini & Filgli, an Italian high-end mill. “It’s not going to be the best season.”

Still, Boldrini said there were bright pockets. He said Americans he had seen before the fair had placed strong orders, leading him to believe a recovery could loom on the horizon.

“Sales will probably be flat for the season,” he said. “We’ve been helped out by a demand for yarns for handknitting, which is a big trend. Demand for chenille has also been growing.”

Jean Jacob, president of Jacob SA, a French mill that manufactures upscale fancy yarns, said he had seen renewed confidence among buyers. “It’s a good sign,” he said. “Confidence has not been the mood in recent seasons.”

Bolstered by demand for creative yarns, Jacob said he expected business to increase slightly for the season.

Factors that have adversely affected business for most, such as SARS, have been a windfall to others. Turkish mills, for example, said SARS had prompted many firms to transfer production from other parts of Asia to Turkey.“We’ve picked up a good amount of business from companies that didn’t want to deal with Asia because of SARS,” said Suat Altun, marketing director of Gap Guneydogu Textile, an Istanbul-based firm that offers fancy and basic yarns in the midtier price range.

Meanwhile, buyers perusing the fair, held at the Villepint exhibit halls, said their seasonal spending budgets would mostly be flat to slightly down.

Nonetheless, buyers said they would spend money for innovative and special yarns.

“It is imperative to find imaginative yarns right now,” said Sophie Veron, creative director at Guigou, a French textile company. “I don’t think it is the time to take refuge in the classics. We need something fresh to get people to open their pocketbook.”

“Creation is most definitely the key right now,” said Mehmet Bingol, a designer at Turkey’s Ora, a women’s knitwear brand. “Our budget is on par with last year’s, but it’s sure to be a difficult season. We don’t think it’s the time to concentrate on basics, but to take risks. When it’s a difficult market, you have to motivate the customer to buy.”

Buyers said natural yarns in organic colors, including chestnut, chocolate and Bordeaux were noteworthy.

“We want color right now, but we don’t want it too bright,” said Valerie Roubaud, a trend consultant at We in Paris. “I think there’s a move toward more sophisticated yarns, too. The big trend for destroyed and worn yarns is no longer valid. Now the yarn needs to look richer and more chic.”

“The trashy look is out like old dishwater,” agreed Guigou. “We are back to a finished look. For people to spend money now, they want a yarn that looks like it’s worth the money.”

Organizers said attendance dropped 35 percent to 4,020 compared with the same session last June. They blamed the slide on the bad economy, SARS and widespread transport strikes in Paris that kept visitors from the fair on the last day. French visitors made up the majority of attendees with 2,139, followed by the U.K. with 237 and Germany with 323. Fifty-six Americans, down from 96 last year, made the trip to the fair. Overall, 47 percent of the visitors were from outside of France.

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