NEW YORK — The weakness of the dollar against the euro posed a formidable hurdle for mills and sales agents at last week’s European Preview show.

On Monday, a dollar was worth 77 euro cents. That’s about even with last year’s level, but off from 93 cents two years ago.

As the dollar has weakened, European fabrics have become more expensive for American buyers. Since European mills tend to price in euros, the ebb and flow of the exchange rate may also effectively change the cost of fabrics between the time they are ordered and when they are delivered and invoiced.

Many Asian competitors work around the problem by quoting prices in dollars, rather than in their national currencies. That means taking a risk that margins will be lower when the actual shipment goes out, but also takes away the problem of the customer watching the price change. It’s also a risk that’s reduced because one of the key currencies in the region — the Chinese yuan — has a fixed exchange rate of 8.28 versus the dollar.

The weak dollar was an issue for many of the 137 exhibitors at European Preview, which attracted about 3,000 buyers. The show ran Jan. 19-20 at the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street in Manhattan and is a first look at trends that will be developed for Première Vision, the Parisian fabric fair set for March 9-12.

There is little that the mills can do to combat the currency discrepancy, so most are holding on and trying to improve their product.

Luisa Foglia, foreign sales manager for Giemme, an Italian mill that specializes in stretch knitwear, said the exchange rate has made business “very difficult.”

“We can’t complain because we do rather special finishes and we have a niche market,” she said of the firm, which produces fine-gauge knitwear. “We’re keeping our share of the market.”

Having a specialized, higher-end product can convince American vendors to brave the exchange rate and fight off competition from lower-cost regions, such as Asia.

“Everybody’s looking for something different, everybody’s looking for special effects,” said Foglia, pointing to light gauges or fabrics woven with metallics.Andrea Brigatti, general manager of Compagnia Tessile, which focuses on cotton blended with silk, rayon or polyester, said, “Business is good, even if it’s tough. If you become too basic…you’re not interesting for the market anymore.”

Brigatti said the firm is always keeping an eye on its prices, which must be kept affordable, but is still shooting for the higher-end market to keep itself from competing directly with lower-cost, more commodity-driven markets.

“Otherwise, there is no future,” he said.

On the fashion front, two trend directions dominated the fair. The most prevalent was densely patterned jacquards, most of which featured silver or gold metallic thread. The other was a turn toward a more natural look in color and pattern, with richly textured plains and ethnically inspired decorative looks.

As a result of the latter trend, cotton and linen were getting a lot of play.

“I’m really loving all the cottons because they look so real,” said Bonnie Young, senior creative director at Donna Karan. “They’re not trying to be something else. I think in general, a lot of mills are revisiting the classics.”

Young said she was also happy to see strong selections of fabrics made from blended natural fibers.

“They are absolutely important, especially for color,” she said. “When you dye blends such as cotton and silk or linen and silk, you get more of a hand-dyed look. It’s not as even-toned and flat. This is especially true for textured fabrics.”

Luigi Boggio Casero followed both trends, with cotton-blended tonal jacquards in white and a soft palette of yellow, purple and pink.

“They’re ceramic tones, very washed and easy,” said Eugenio Boggio Casero, president.

The mill’s metallic fabrics, meanwhile, were done softly. There were touches of gold on abstract and slightly retro jacquard patterns, as well as silver threads added to deep brown or black looks with small chevrons, waffles and dobby patterns.

Dominic Sabella, sportswear design director for Los Angeles-based David Meister, was impressed with the mill’s selection.

“I think the solid textures looked fresh, new and quite young,” he said. “In fact, they were one of three mills I thought offered more of a variety in terms of selection.”Sabella noted that with many of the mills showing the same look, it was hard to fill out his collection.

“The problem is when something is hot, such as metallic jacquards, it seems every mill jumps on the bandwagon,” he said. “I think it’s important for mills to go back to their roots instead of all doing the same thing.”

He said the follow-the-leader approach led to trouble last season, when most mills were churning out bouclés and tweeds.

“Even mills that never did bouclé were doing it and as a result there were production problems,” he said. “Mills need to further develop what they do best.”

Another mill offering something different, according to Sabella, was Cecchi Lido. He especially liked its selection of cotton plaids and stripes, which were well suited for resort styles.

“At the end of the day, you still need great solids and plains to go with all the novelty,” he said. “I love metallic looks, but how much of it can I really show in a collection? There needs to be more of a balance — not just newness in fancies, but more newness in plains, as well.”

One of the mills showing these natural-looking, slightly textured plain fabrics was Crespi, which exhibited voile-like linens — some blended with cotton or rayon — that featured micro textures or allover foils and foil prints. Bisentino also had a collection of crinkled and gauzy white cottons that were slightly ribbed or striped, while Serica Della Marca showed a selection of fine gauge, slightly textured plains, such as a silk-and-linen gauze in a group of soft colors that included a purplish-blue and a shadow-striped wheat.

Weft, a mill based in Lurate Caccivio, Italy, also had natural blends that were organic in look and feel. Blends of silk and cotton and silk and linen were popular, according to Maurizio Casartelli, owner. A group of cotton and metal fabrics made with a new iron yarn was also getting attention.

Ethnic looks were present in many collections. At Picchi, textures that included ribbon-like stripes, some with metallics, had a slight African feel, while at Linea Tessile Italiana, orange and brown dominated the booth with looks inspired by India. At Komar, Fredda Bates said their most requested looks had a global ethnic feel. “It’s lots of different looks meeting each other,” said Bates, president of Fabrics du Jour, Komar’s U.S. sales representative.Seterie Argenti featured prints with ethnic themes from different countries. The palette had an ethnic feel as well with browns, greens and beige tones.

Overall, color was split two ways — there were rich spice tones with a lot of orange, as well as a large variety of brighter blues and purples, deep reds and greens. But vendors also offered natural tones such as brown, white, cream, wheat and soft tones of blue, yellow and pink.

— Evan Clark and Daniela Gilbert

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