PARIS — Bad weather, a struggling global economy and scheduling that bumped up against the beginning of New York Fashion Week cast a pall on the Première Vision and Texworld fabric fairs here last week.

This story first appeared in the February 17, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Visitors attending Première Vision, which wrapped up its four-day run on Friday, were generally disappointed to find a lack of innovative, cutting-edge textiles for spring. Instead, designers and buyers said they found the dismal economic conditions had prompted mills to play it safe.

“It’s rather a boring season, but there’s lots of cloqué, which is very new,” said designer Walter Van Beirendonck.

“There’s nothing new, which is a drag, as that was already the case for fall,” said Jay Ahr’s Jonathan Riss, who disclosed he has just acquired a 300-year-old embroidery firm based in Beijing. “We’ll be focusing on accessories for next spring.”

Scandinavian designer Christina Ribel was frustrated that more effort hadn’t been made to flag eco-friendly fabrics.

“It’s surprising as even the car industry is onto that,” she said.

Closed airports due to extreme weather conditions affected traffic on the opening day, but more significantly, the event’s new earlier positioning, falling the same week as New York Fashion Week’s kickoff, added further turbulence to mills already negotiating rough waters.

“The timing of the show did not help and I heard that for September it’s going to be the same issue,” said Jacki Deena Tutelman-Bender, director of sales for Ratti USA. “It’s going to hurt the Americans.”

The mill showcased a colorful range of digitally printed couture fabrics, from overprinted to mottled silks.

“It’s a disaster,” said Adrian Wildhaber, head designer at Weisbrod Zürrer. “We’ve lost lots of U.S. clients who have fashion week next week. It’s also very early for the Chinese and Japanese.”

Key trends included a shift to cleaner, feminine fabrics, with a plethora of light and sheer textiles, as well as textured designs. The season’s ubiquitous flower story is still strong, notably in smudged prints. Important colors included effervescent pastels and brights, especially blues, oranges and greens. Several designers found it a confused season, however.

“There’s not a singular line,” said Floriana Zupardo, a fabric buyer for Prada Red Line, who lauded the ranges of Japanese mills Kuroki, Kurabo and Takihyo.

Sam Lambert, a designer for London’s Ozwald Boateng, approved the fair’s range of men’s suiting fabrics, notably a waterproof wool by Lometex. Lambert’s budget was up 10 percent.

“It’s an exciting time for men’s fabrics, though I’m picking things with a traditional touch,” he said.

Bestsellers at Kuroki included a cotton chino fabric with subtle tonal shifts on the weft and the warp, as well as a double-weave denim, featuring a white background with blue, black or brown weaves in front.

“You’ll see a lot of the major brands selling that next season,” said a mill spokesman.

Libby Gibsome, a researcher for London-based textiles consultancy Hodgesellers, noted lots of “humble” creased and worn fabrics with sand-washed and stonewashed finishes.

“Colors split into two stories: pure, eco-looking shades opposite strong statement colors such as peacock reds and peacock turquoises,” she said.

Though most designers claimed budgets were stable, mills spoke of customers squeezing prices.

“Mills are very conscious of pricing and seem to want to make things work,” said Paula Hian, a Philadelphia-based designer who only works with European mills.

However, several visitors who were mainly trend-scouting at the event confessed they were prioritizing Asian mills showing at Texworld.

“Our strategy is to buy less expensive fabrics,” said a designer for French supermarket Casino, who requested anonymity. “We’re more after Asian than European.”

Hannah Ward, a designer for Jayroma, a supplier to British retail giants Next and Debenhams, said, “It’s price at the end of the day.”

Couture fabrics continue to flourish, with business at Jakob Schlaepfer still “very strong,” said a spokeswoman. The mill expects to see some of its embroidered fabrics, notably featuring “big stones” and sequins, surface in some New York collections, such as Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein.

“It’s the first time we’ve worked with them in a long time,” she said. “Embroidery is in, but not in a flashy way. Even with stones, the colors are more tone-on-tone.”

Texworld closed its four-day run on Thursday. Fewer buyers attended as firms around the world cut expenses. Organizers said 13,733 buyers visited this year compared with 16,340 last year. The steepest declines by region were the Americas, with a 28 percent drop, and Asia, with a decrease of 35 percent.

Michael Scherpe, president of Messe Frankfurt France, which organizes the show, said textile shows in general have felt a 15 to 20 percent decline in attendance since the beginning of the year.

“In this context, we didn’t do too bad,” he said.

As with PV, Texworld had to contend with bad weather that closed Paris airports Monday and Tuesday.

With business tanking, buyers said finding special and inexpensive fabrics motivated their visit to the fair, which featured 660 exhibitors from 40 countries. Texworld, which convened in the halls at Le Bourget just north of Paris, featured more inexpensive fabrics from mills from China to South Korea. In the face of quicker fashion cycles and more demanding customers, mills at Texworld emphasized quality and invention, and investing in fabric research.

With price a greater issue than ever, many buyers said they were focusing on digging out inexpensive fabrics at Texworld while cutting back at vendors that show at PV. Buyers said the economy was sure to deal another blow to Europe’s fabric firms, already under pressure from inexpensive foreign competition.

Business at Texworld was subdued. Exhibitors reported slow traffic, especially from the U.K. and the U.S.

“I think that we’re seeing fewer people traveling now,” said Ayush Murarka, who oversees Ventures, an Indian mill specializing in embroideries. “It means that I will be spending more time on the road taking the collection to show clients.”

Exhibitors and buyers emphasized the importance of flexibility to deal with economic uncertainty. Many exhibitors said they were reducing their minimum order amount and that they were scaling back prices in an effort to spark business. Even if some exhibitors said they had increased the number of clients so far this year thanks to firms looking for more inexpensive fabrics, most said that hadn’t translated into an increase in business.

“We have more clients,” said Keisuke Mitsui of Japan’s Toko Shoji Co. “But business is stable so far. What the customer wants is high quality, not high quantity. They are asking for more flexibility in order to deal with the economy.”

Buyers said they wanted sophisticated embroideries and colorful fabrics to spark business. Price was a primary motivator, with many buyers saying they were asking their regular suppliers to cut their prices to help them weather current turmoil.

“This show is really about price,” said Deborah Lloyd, co-president and creative director of Kate Spade, who was shopping for fabrics to use in the New York firm’s upcoming women’s ready-to-wear line. “We need flexibility [in this climate]. We want to be able to order small quantities at good prices. But creativity has to come first.”

Stefano Pierattini, technical manager at Smart Yard, an Italian firm that sources fabrics for sportswear, said, “Business is not very good. But it was a good year for us because technical fabrics are doing fine. Price is the most important issue.”

Sue O’Brien, fabric buyer for Karen Millen in the U.K., said, “We are asking for more flexibility from our vendors. We are asking for price cuts from everybody. At this fair, we are looking for alternatives.”