By and  on September 30, 2008

PARIS — Designers shopping last week’s Première Vision textile fair played it safe with orders as they considered the global financial crisis and contended with a French train strike during the show’s four-day run.

Many designers said they planned to reorder sure sells and invest in “eye-candy” fabrics to stimulate collections. But the higher end showed some resilience.

“In Russia, the world banking crisis hasn’t rendered a strong influence on a demand of luxury products,” said Moscow-based designer Igor Schapurin, adding the company is opening boutiques and increasing distribution.

“We haven’t stopped buying luxury fabrics, we’re just forced to be a little more focused,” said Proma Roy, chief designer at New York label Ports 1961.

“It is important to keep designing special pieces rather than commercial pieces and that is our forte,” said designer Collette Dinnigan, who added she’s keeping sexy, pretty things and adding more daywear.

“Yesterday we had a client from New York who yelled, ‘Your fabrics are more valuable than money,’ as she was leaving,” said Martin Leuthold, creative director of the luxury Swiss mill Jakob Schlaepfer.

Leuthold, who noted brisker business than last season, listed the U.S., France, Russia and Asia among continuing strong markets for the firm.

Bestsellers included the firm’s new takes on the synthetic Seventies fabric Helanca that Leuthold first presented to Pierre Cardin and Courrèges in the Seventies. “We’ve brought it back as embroidery in a new range of colors, using laser cutting or encrusting it with rhinestones,” he said. “Designers love it as it has great volume and it’s stiff.”

Undyed, rustic fabrics and natural materials were key directions.

“We saw cashmere that looks really itchy, but is beautifully soft when you touch it,” said Ports 1961’s Roy, citing Louis Vidon knits.

Emanuel Ungaro’s designer, Esteban Cortazar, lauded new, modern lace at the salon’s Seduction section. “Lace that doesn’t look like lace,” he said, adding that jersey was his main mission.

Continuing trends included 3-D, raised textures on fabrics and contrasting patterns on structured fabrics such as stripes on chevron.

“It’s not new, but it’s a strong direction,” said Silvie Herrera Ortega from the purchasing department at Inditex Group’s Berschka label.

Fabrics and function were also mixed.

“I liked the jogging fabrics used for a technical purpose,” said Carol Wu, product developer for Japanese activewear giant Asics.

However, price emerged as a major preoccupation.

“It’s very hard, we are negotiating on price,” said Christine Fillou, designer at French fashion chain Carroll. “We have to be careful with regard to lace and guipure, which is expensive.”

Fernanda Blasco, women’s wear designer for Zara’s higher-priced sister brand Massimo Dutti, said her budget was down “quite a lot.”

Andrea Motta, owner of Motta Alfredo, an Italian tannery that specializes in lambskin, goatskin and suede, said it was vital to resist lowering prices to appease designers.

“Prices in general are going down because people aren’t willing to pay for creativity anymore, but if we follow that trend it will be impossible to survive,” he said.

Exhibitors at Eurovet’s Zoom by Fatex section, dedicated to high-end local contractors, said they’d made vital contacts, but that traffic was slow.

“I think many are frustrated with the cheaper quality and delivery problems associated with Asian manufacturers,” said Kris Pidial, managing director of Fit U-Garment Ltd.

More consumers are looking for cheaper eco-friendly fabrics which, given the economy, are hard to find, said Vicky Wilson, a freelance textile buyer who lauded the recycled fabrics proposed by Japan’s Toray.

In a bid to stand out, some mills had upped marketing efforts. Scotland’s Holland & Sherry, with clients such as Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue, has sent samples of its fabric that’s a play on the American Stars and Stripes, a blend of merino wool containing Texan wool and American buffalo fiber with a navy blue background and red-and-white pinstripe design, to presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama as well as to President Bush.

Creativity abounded among the winners of British textile design competition Texprint.

“There’s sheer talent here,” said Emma Manston, head of fabric design for London’s Liberty Fabric, which has commissioned Victoria Shepherd, whose origami-like, 3-D designs took top prize together with print artist Hannah Jeffries, to create seven designs for fall-winter 2010.

“It’s what textile design should be,” said Manston. “There’s so much copying nowadays.”

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