NEW YORK -- Despite a surge in fiber prices, dress and suit makers vow they will increase prices on their collections for next spring only slightly -- if at all -- and are turning to other strategies to offset higher costs.

Alternatives include using more blended fabrics and taking a tougher stance with mills. Whatever their strategy, makers say the bottom line -- given the still-skittish consumer -- is that dramatic price hikes would not be prudent.

As reported, in the last 12 months, prices of cotton, wool and silk fibers have risen between 10 and 35 percent. Increases on better-quality linens have been even steeper.

Greg Marks, president of the Kasper for ASL division of the Leslie Fay Cos., which uses a lot of wool, microfiber and viscose for its suits, said he would work hard to negotiate with mills before he resorts to raising prices. He also noted that the increased value of the dollar over the lira also helps, since the company imports fabric from Italy. Its wholesale prices for suits range from $79 to $149.

"You just can't raise prices right now. It just wouldn't take with the consumer," said Larry Levine, president of Larry Levine Inc., adding he has already negotiated with mills for linen and cotton orders for its suit line for spring 1995.

In starting to buy fabric for fall 1995, Levine said he was finding price increases have eased off, although cashmere prices remain high. Dress designer Cynthia Rowley expects the fiber price increases will have minimal effect on her business.

"We use a range of fabrics, from cotton to rayon," said Rowley."If we have to, we'll do more shifting into other fabrics."

Richard Warren, a vice president of The Warren Group, noted that he was "studying the situation carefully," but said he did not think he would raise prices at present.

"We just can't do it right now because it won't take with the consumer," he said. "We'll just have to absorb the costs. If the situation continues, though, we'll have to increase prices." Bob Pitofsky, president of the MMCF division of Mary McFadden Inc., said the price hikes are of concern to the company, but "it was foreseeable."

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