FRANKFURT -- Grumblings and kudos marked last week's edition of the Interstoff fabric fair here.

European exhibitors complained about the show's late timing, the continuing abundance of low-cost goods from the East, and what they deemed as too many visiting buyers seeking lower-priced fabrics. However, the exhibitors from Asia and the handful of U.S. mills at the show said the event gave them an opportunity to meet new business prospects they might have missed had they stayed home.

The three-day show, which ended Friday, featured 1,076 exhibitors and drew about 22,000 buyers, according to an Interstoff spokeswoman. A year ago, there were 1,057 exhibitors and slightly less than 22,000 buyers.

"The mood is predictably uneventful," said Peter Gottlieb, president of Natural Resources Unlimited, a broker and international agent in gray goods, yarns and finished goods, based in Pound Ridge, N.Y., who was shopping the show. "I come to do networking. This is not a buying trip."

Like many others, he blamed the dwindling attention to Interstoff on the growing importance of other textile fairs around the globe.

Dominique Jacoud-Frydman, marketing director of Utexbel, a Belgian maker of cotton and denim sportswear fabrics, argued that the large number of Asian resources showing at Interstoff was what drew many of the buyers seeking low-priced goods. Her remarks reflected the strengthened protectionist sentiments among the Europeans, in the wake of the European recession.

"The objective in participating in a fair is to meet prospective new clients," she said. "Here, that goal is just not fulfilled. Before Interstoff opened its doors to Asia, there was a good client base.

"The only appeal is the Eastern European buyers, but even those had already come to see us at our plant.

"What shocks me most about Interstoff is that they have no respect for European resources," added Jacoud-Frydman. "Opening the doors to countries that have competitive prices like Canada or the U.S. is fine, but not to Far East countries that make eight-year-olds labor in factories.

"In Europe we want to protect the European industry and that's what Premiere Vision is doing," she said, referring to the big fabric fair in Paris, whose timing is earlier than Interstoff's.Thomas Wolenik, Interstoff's project manager, said he is aware of Premiere Vision's protectionist aspect and defended Interstoff's international thrust.

"Our profile is completely different." Wolenik said. "Premiere Vision is THE European textiles fair for the European market. In a way, it's protecting the European industry. Interstoff is looking at the whole business. The idea is to build up global textile sourcing for the European market.

"Our main idea was to find new ways of offering trade shows," he said. "It's more than a fair. It's about offering services and it's about marketing and communication."

Although several exhibitors said they appreciated the new, spacious layout of the fair, which was organized by product group, they also complained about the lack of buyers at their individual exhibits.

"At Premiere Vision I get 500 customers," said Francesco Notturno, managing director of Marino Olmi Lanificio, an Italian fabric resource. "Here, I'll be lucky if I get 100. Way back, it was the only international fabric fair in the world, so everybody had to wait. But now with Prato, Ideacomo and Premiere Vision, all held earlier, Interstoff gets the rest of the customers."

"Each sector has its own timing," said Wolenik, who took issue with exhibitors' complaints that Interstoff is held too late in the season. "Our main clients are printers, and the timing is perfect for them because they can readjust their collections."

The dour mood of the Europeans was in contrast to that of the U.S. and Asian exhibitors, who were generally pleased with the event. The show included 227 Asian exhibitors, with Taiwan in the lead with 81. The U.S. had 12.

Taiwan-based Knittex, with its fancy bouclÄ and crushed velvet, had a busy stand, as did Indian handwoven silk specialist Rawsitasa.

"We've been at Interstoff for 2 1/2 years now and we do 40 percent of our business here," said Rawsitasa's director, Khemraj Dewangan. "People are price-conscious, but since we do handwoven silk, they accept the price with negotiation."

"This has been a fabulous introduction to the European market," said Jeffrey Schechter, vice president of operations for New York-based Horizon Textiles Corp., showing at its second Interstoff. Schechter, whose firm specializes in jacquards, crepes, embroideries and fancy novelty fabrics, said, "I'm surprised at the price range that people do here. Prices just haven't been an issue. We have a very styled line, all coordinated. It's a real story and buyers seem to like that here. "Everybody says this show is late, but lots of resources show here because there's no other alternative," Schechter said, noting that Premiere Vision is closed to non-European resources."Interstoff is important for us for the worldwide market, not only Germany, but for Africa, Asia and South America," said Gerry Ross, president of Alpine Fabrics, New York, a supplier of novelty fabrics. "We even met some American customers, who didn't know about us until they came here."

Ross noted that while buyers may head first to the European displays "to dream at French and Italian exhibitors," they come later to the U.S. exhibitors "to buy at reasonable prices."

As for the top trends at Interstoff, linen, whether in 100 percent form or in blends with viscose, polyester or cotton, was key. In addition, surface texture -- whether in mouline or ribbed knits, a revival of seersucker, or in crinkled, pleated, armored or open weave effects -- was also important, as were fancy embroideries, soutache on tulle or organza, and sheers. Colors stayed in naturals, including ecrus, beiges and soft earth tones. Other top looks were stripes and floral patterns.

"People want classics," said Gunter Ransmann, product manager at Van Delden, a diversified German mill. "Beige tones do much better than loud colors." Ransmann reported that he sees mostly northern European and German buyers at Interstoff, adding that the timing was too late for his best buyers.

Tosco Line, an Italian manufacturer specializing in blends of linen with polyester and viscose, was selling more of its Pronta Moda winter line, with four-week delivery, than its summer line. Tosco exports 95 percent of its business, mostly to the U.S., through its New York importer, The Textile Group.

Tate, a British firm specializing in linen blends and looks with nubs, slubs and high-twists, reported good response to its collection.

"The linen look is strong and linen blends have the advantage of being easier to take care of and often cheaper in view of the world shortage of linen," said Linda Woods, Tate's export sales manager, noting that Tate has raised its export business in three years from 18 percent to 47 percent.

"Within three years we'd like to reach 80 percent export," added managing director Geoff Legg, "Linen is the trend but it doesn't need to be 100 percent linen. It just has to have a natural linen look."Price was also an issue in many sectors, due to the increases in raw materials, which have seen increases of 10 to 15 percent for wool, cotton, silk and mohair.

"The whole trouble is price," said Martin Kaiver, export manager of Dechamps, a German woven woolens firm. "Wool is going up, and no one is willing to pay money for fabrics. Raw wool has gone up about 15 percent."

Marino Olmi's Notturno, however, said he felt business was picking up in the wool sector.

"Lots of customers were looking for wool, especially in coating weights," Notturno said.

"Linen prices," he added, "are still going up, and it's hard to find on the market so we have to go to India and Asia, which don't have the same quality."

George Rule, corporate marketing manager for Hof, a German mill doing denim and cotton sportswear fabrics, reported that the German textile industry is still simmering in difficulties.

"This is the year of decision for the local textile industry," he said, noting that weaving gray cloth remains a problem because 75 percent of gray cloth in Europe is imported, so weaving is very pricy. "But our cotton yarn business is heavily booked and doing well."

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