By  on September 23, 2008

MILAN — Italian textile producers at the Milano Unica show last week worried that the U.S. financial crisis could set off a decline in their already weakened businesses.

“We’re a little bit dazed,” Beppe Pisani, president of silk mill Serikos, said during the four-day fabric fair that ended Friday at the Milan fairgrounds. “We walk out of one problem — the dollar plummeting — and walk into another, the current bank crisis.

“Now, it’s par for the course to deal with problems,” Pisani said. “In times like this, it’s true that consumers think about everyday costs and not upgrading their wardrobes, but at the same time we see many contemporary fashion clients from the U.S. coming back to Italian silk rather than buy an inferior product.”

Many mills expected no sales gains in 2008, noting some clients had begun to cut back orders.

“Demand is still there, we just see our clients being more cautious,” said Michele Vigano, chief executive officer of Seterie Argenti. “They will buy less meters. It’s a reflective moment for them.”

Some mills have opted to cope with the downturn by using more luxurious fabrics.

Jackytex came to the show with Jackytex Unique, a line of 30 fabrics woven from blends of cashmere, silk and mohair. Mill president Piero Giachi said he intended to offer clients heightened service and selection.

“We want to provide a personalized service, so that clients can order certain colors in smaller quantities, from as little as 10 meters,” Giachi said. “The idea is that the fabrics will not be season-specific — to be ordered also between seasons or at the last minute.”

Others hoped better sales in the first half of the year would buoy tough times ahead.

“We are concerned about the latter part of the year, but until now business has been good overall,” said Pier Luigi Loro Piana, co-ceo of Loro Piana.

The mill presented two new ultralight cashmere fabrics for coats, one an updated version of a classic pile done in supersoft cashmere in rich colors including pearl gray, club green and chocolate brown.

Meri Riva, export director for Lanificio Colombo, which produces high-end coat fabrics, said, “We are optimistic because our product is so luxury, but it will suffer.”

Lanificio Colombo produced a new soft, pliable woven that felt like a jersey, available at three price points. The fabric is done in a wool and cashmere blend, in pure cashmere and in baby camel. A superluxurious cashmere and ermine fur blend fabric was also on offer.

At Crespi 1797, ceo Francesco Crespi said the mill sold many of its organic cotton fabrics to the North European and U.S markets.

“Organic remains a niche business, but we are starting to see results,” Crespi said. “If you stop investing in the research for new materials and fabrics you are finished.”

Stretch cotton with a resin finish, achieved by treating the fabric with a nanotechnology process to allow the silicone to penetrate into the fiber, was among Crespi’s new fabrics. Crespi also showed velvet cotton cord with cherry blossom and diamond graphic overprints.

Other trends included printed twill, crepe de chin and taffeta silks with oversize floral and paisley patterns that appeared to be painted on with watercolors.

Designers shopped the show for multifunctional fabrics.

Remo Ruffini, creative director and president of Moncler, said, “I’m looking for fabrics that have been difficult to find, yarn-dyed checks with oily finishes, intense colors like forest green and acid yellow.”

Pierre-Henri Mattout, creative director at Victorinox Swiss Army, sourced wool and cashmere blend jersey for dresses and cottons with a bit of Lycra spandex for comfort.

“We looked for fabrics for a series of hybrid type garments we will be doing — shirtdresses, apron dresses and shirt coats,” Mattout said. “We were happy with what we found. The Italian mills are being more flexible with designers and are willing to do shorter lengths, which is great.”

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