By and  on February 26, 2008

PARIS — Despite economic woes and the strength of the euro against the dollar, high-end brands and designers applauded Première Vision's offering of innovative technical fabrics, bold color stories and underlining artistic flare for next spring.

"The economy is definitely a concern, but European fabrics are what differentiates us from the competition, it's the icing on the cake," said Trina Turk, president of her eponymous label, who reported a positive winter season. "When the economy is bad, you have to do something even more interesting. Customers need an emotional reason to shop. Basics are not the answer."

While Turk noted that certain fabrics, especially wool, had seen price resistance, she said she would be increasing her budget for her spring and summer purchases. Wool prices have risen substantially in the past year due in part to a drought in Australia. Turk lauded textured wovens such as linen blends and cottons from F.A.N.S. Textile Factory and Texmoda Tessuti.

"The euro is killing the dollar," said New York-based designer Erin Fetherston. "It's very difficult. The fabrics have to be innovative and inspiring to warrant the high price tag. We have to inspire people to go shopping, especially now."

While Fetherston enjoyed the explosion of vibrant fabrics at the show, she voiced concerns that taking bold directions also could be a risk factor, especially during cloudy economic times.

An artistic mood, seen in modern surrealist prints and Impressionist takes on the Pop Art genre was a clear direction for next season, according to many designers.

"We saw a rich variety of disturbed prints, such as blurred checks and free-hand [illustrations] inspired by Prada's fairy collection," said Jane Rowling, head of design at the British fashion chain Principles, who predicted that cosmetic colors, such as Sixties brights, will be hot for next spring.

"Paint-brush prints and stroke prints are very strong, as are prints with an abstract modernist feel," said Anna Fahy, designer for the U.K. fashion chain Dorothy Perkins, noting that overdipped dyes were also key for summer 2009.

Several mills reported a satisfactory show despite the fashion industry's gloomy economic perspective. However, some saw fewer orders, although with better quality."All of the main U.S. brands have shown up, as the fair has been better timed in view of New York's ready-to-wear shows," said Thierry Filafero, export manager for Hurel, which took orders from the likes of Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana. "People are asking for rich textiles, something that makes a difference — the opposite effect of a gloomy economic atmosphere."

Hardy Amies, part of the design team from the firm Savile Row, was pleased with the fair's offer of luxurious yet technical fabrics. The brand is looking to substantially develop its women's line. Cerrutti's ultralightweight blend of cashmere and linen scored top notes.

Vesna Milinkovic, Savile Row's head of rtw, said the brand was moving away from "in your face" unconventional fabrics. For spring 2009, the focus will be on natural fabrics with technical finishes, such as a chalky effect on a linen.

"It's more about washes and treatments," Milinkovic said.

Hans Schreiber, creative director of Forster Willi, which produced the range of embroidered guipure fabrics that featured in Prada's fall show last week, said designers were after hidden luxury, such as embroidered textiles that resemble weaves.

"They're after modern, interesting hands and volumes," he said, showing one of the firm's best-selling embroidered cotton fabrics. "It's a soft, round, complex fabric with a hand that cannot be achieved by any weaving technique."

Certain designers were in the mood to experiment. Belgian Walter Van Beirendonck said he'd been sourcing clothing fabric in the accessories section.

"I've come across some really special finishes, such as silk with techno surfaces," said Van Beirendonck, adding that the most interesting trend to emerge was the fusion of natural with synthetic fabrics. "A few years ago, one would have never imagined such combinations. There are some amazing tactile sensations at play, a new approach to the feel of fabrics."

Eric Wright, who designs the Cavalli men's line, said he was shopping for "ultralightweight" women's fabrics to use in his spring '09 men's collection.

Many visitors observed a quieter turn-out.

"Middle-market brands from the U.S. have skipped the show this season," said Ken Mulligan, sales director of New York-based fabric supplier JP Doumak."There is definitely pressure on prices, but this is less relevant to the high-end textiles sector," said Guglielmo Minni, chief executive officer of Larusmiani, a Milan-based cotton specialist.

Bestsellers at the fair, he said, included cotton linen and cotton silk blends, as well as high performance stretch fabrics. While the firm's eco-friendly line is growing, Minni said designers are still prioritizing image and style. Noting a slight dip in business with American designers, trade with European brands was up by around eight percent for the mill in 2007, he said.

Some mills noted a shift in buying behavior, with designers asking for smaller quantities of a variety of fabrics in shorter lead times, in a bid to stimulate the market.

"It's now a question of running, not walking, to keep up," said Ju Hashimoto, sales manager of Japanese cotton specialist Itoi Textile.

Hashimoto estimated that business was up by around 20 percent on last year's fair, with growing demand from European designers for special Japanese fabrics. Bestsellers included an eco-friendly Sasawashi paper fabric, as well as linen and cotton blends.

"Japanese fabrics are very technical," said Pernille Schwartz, women's designer for Copenhagen-based label Won Hundred. "They have come much further in their research than European mills."

Schwartz lauded Japanese Mill Iwanaka Co. for its bleached, stained batik prints.

The Fiber Price Sheet
The last Tuesday of every month, WWD publishes the current, month-ago and year-ago fiber prices. Prices listed reflect the cost of one pound of fiber or, in the case of crude oil, one barrel.
FiberPrice on 2/25/08*Price on 1/28/08Price on 2/26/07
Cotton71.82 cents66.76 cents55.73 cents
Wool$4.06$4.18$3.25
Polyester staple88 cents88 cents85 cents
Polyester filament81 cents81 cents82 cents
July Synthetic PPI115.3115.3113.7
Crude oil$98.81$90.71$61.14
*The current cotton price is the January average on fiber being delivered to Southeastern region mills, according to Agricultural Marketing Services/USDA. The wool price is based on the average price for the week ended Feb. 22 of 11 different thicknesses of fiber, ranging from 15 microns to 30 microns, according to The Woolmark Co. Information on polyester pricing is provided by the consulting firm DeWitt & Co. The synthetic-fiber producer index, or PPI, is compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and reflects the overall change in all synthetic-fiber prices. It is not a price in dollars but a measurement of how prices have changed since 1982, which had a PPI of 100. Oil prices reflect last week’s closing price on the New York Mercantile Exchange of future contracts for light, sweet crude oil to be delivered next month.

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