By  on February 6, 2007

MILAN — Italian textile mills are focusing on producing higher-quality products and ramping up efforts to put a new spin on popular jersey and viscose fabrics as they head into next week's Milano Unica trade show.

The fourth edition of the combined fabric shows Moda In, Prato Expo, Ideacomo, Shirt Avenue and Ideabiella will run at Milan city's fairgrounds from Feb. 13 to 16.

Textile collections for summer 2008 will be presented by 681 mostly Italian exhibitors, who have been buoyed by an improved economic climate for the Italian textile industry, driven by a growing desire for more expensive luxury fabrics. Many textile manufacturers are opting to boost the quality and feel of traditional luxury fabrics through new technology. Riding the crest of the trend for jersey in the fashion industry, specialist Dondi Group closed 2006 with a 25 percent rise in sales, to 20 million euros, or $25.1 million at average exchange.

"It's a golden moment for jersey right now and it's important for us to keep proposing it differently," said Guido Capelli, product manager for Dondi Group.

Based in Carpi, the mill experimented with new jerseys for spring and summer woven from ultrafine cotton, cupro and silk to give liquid-like structure. As an alternative to using metal fibers that produced a jersey that was uncomfortable on the skin, Dondi Group mixed viscose with polyester to produce the same shiny effects. Capelli said the mill also wove some jacquards with floral and geometric designs.

Lanificio del Casentino worked with textile structure to create a collection of fluid fabrics in silk, cotton and linen in pearly hues of gray, white and pink.

"Shiny and opaque looks to fabrics are in right now," said Alfio Aldrovandi, general director of Lanificio del Casentino. "There has to be some movement to the fabric, which we do with the weave. Manufacturers want clean-look textiles that aren't as washed as they were in the past."

For extra shine, the mill developed a filmy transparent plastic coating in silver, gold and bronze that was applied to some jacquards.

"It's very subtle and it resists many machine washes," said Aldrovandi, adding that the mill, which increased volume by 20 percent in 2006, was slowly regaining lost ground in the market, after it reorganized its internal structure and upped the quality of its fabrics.Shiny and opaque textile looks are also part of Verona-based Gruppo Bonazzi's spring-summer fabric collection. Elisabetta Gaspari, brand manager for the mill, said its new viscose and cotton blend fabrics, part of its casual Esmeralda textile line, created contrasting glistening and matte effects when woven together. The fabrics were piece-dyed in cold pastel tones.

The mill also created some cotton and nylon stretch jacquard fabrics that displayed oversize florals and geometrics in strawberry, red and orange. For sportswear, Gruppo Bonazzi offered the cotton and nylon blend in athletic colors popular in the Eighties, such as red, green and sunflower yellow.

Viscose was woven into a georgette jacquard featuring large leaf designs in Gruppo Bonazzi's more sophisticated Luck line that also features linen combined with polyester for a lamé look.

"With this fabric, it's all about the touch," Gaspari said. "Traditional lamés have a scratchy feel. This blend makes it very tactile and it isn't uncomfortable to wear."

The mill started 2007 well, thanks to viscose's popularity. Other mills also noted the rise in demand for viscose fabrics. Viscose specialist Jackytex prepared several new types, including one woven tightly to give a satin sheen. The Tuscany-based mill worked with new viscose and nylon and viscose and cotton jacquard designs of gigantic florals, micro geometrics similar to those in men's neckwear and dévoré-like effects.

"All of the jacquards are woven with dyed yarns, so the colors are very intense and give shiny and matte results to the fabric, depending on the composition," said Piero Giacci, co-chief executive officer of Jackytex.

Giacci said viscose's popularity was due to garment manufacturers not limiting the fabric for tops, and also using it for pants, skirts and outerwear. Giacci, who recently visited the family-owned mill's New York office, said the company had sold more of its viscose textiles in America in the past year and hoped to increase sales there again in 2007.

"Our margins there are much less, though, especially with the dollar value slipping again," he said. "Yes, we want to grow there, but it's important for us just to keep a tight relationship with our clients."

Fedora, based in Prato, is also focused on its U.S. market in 2007. Last year, 30 million euros, or about $39 million, of the mill's overall 70 million euros, or $90 million, in sales were attributed to the U.S. This year, the mill will start producing some basic fabrics in China and India to serve U.S. clients better."It's not easy producing Italian product outside of Italy, but we have to do it," said Giorgio Silli, vice president of Fedora. "Most of U.S. garment manufacturing is in those countries, so it makes it easier."

The mill will present some shiny viscose satins and glossy cotton and polyester blends from its high-end fabric line at Unica.

The weakness of the dollar versus the euro also affected early 2007 sales for Lanificio Lamberto, another Prato mill.

"I am sure we would have been able to sell five times as much textiles to the U.S. if it weren't for this dramatic dollar," said Raffaele Riela, vice president and U.S. market manager for Lanificio Lamberto.

Riela said the mill had tailored some of its new collection to its U.S. clients, after it sold viscose and cotton jacquards well last season. To that end, Lanificio Lamberto included more jacquards with a Lycra spandex or elastane stretch that were overprinted with floral patterns and embroidered.

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