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MILAN — Amid a push to render wool ever more luxurious, raw material prices are likely to rise in the coming months, said industry executives showcasing their 2014 winter collections at the Milano Unica trade show.
“We see wool prices going up,” said Woolmark and Australian Wool Innovation chief executive officer Stuart McCullough, adding that China’s growing affluent class, an overall rise in the world’s population and limited raw wool supply are all factors pointing to higher prices in the near term.
According to McCullough, wool is currently trading at 11.16 Australian dollars, or $10.39 at current exchange, per kilo, in line with the same period in 2012. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s September report has wool selling for $4.61 a pound, compared with $4.55 a year earlier.
Silky to the touch, a luminous royal blue swathe of wool dubbed the Grand Cru 1663 was unveiled at the Vitale Barberis Canonico SpA stand in honor of the company’s 350th anniversary. Exclusively woven for luxury men’s wear brand Berluti, owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the fabric’s yarn exceeds 200 kilometers for one kilogram of fine wool, creating a yarn with a count of 201,000. Barberis Canonico said it invests 5 to 8 percent of total revenue into technology and textile research.
High-end international buyers are on a quest for the premium wool and silk that Italian textile makers can offer, said Silvio Albini, president of Milano Unica.
“Consumers have an increasingly high standard in terms of quality,” Albini said. “All high-end raw materials have the potential to rise [in sales].”
In 2012 revenue terms, woolen fabrics represented 38.1 percent of Italy’s fashion textiles production chain, cotton fabrics totaled 23.8 percent, knitted fabrics 17.9 percent, silky fabrics were 16.8 percent and linen made up 3.4 percent.
Fabric firms such as Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna & Figli SpA were not fazed by the prospect of rising wool prices.
“We are pleased if wool prices are on the rise, that means that there is more demand,” said Franco Ferraris, ceo of Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna.
Australia produces 90 percent of wool destined for apparel. China, Italy, France, the U.K., Japan and India rank as Australia’s top consumers.
Both Ermenegildo Zegna and Loro Piana award the best Australian wool growers (Loro Piana’s award also includes New Zealand wool growers) every year, spurring breeders to produce bales of finer, higher-quality fiber each year. Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna & Figli displayed its prize Australian wool fabric printed with an elegant houndstooth pattern commemorating the 50th year of competition.
Attention to wool detailing was evident on the fairgrounds. Tollegno 1900 showcased 100 percent wool fabrics with a silklike finish and stretch material blended with 97 percent wool and 3 percent stretch fabric, while Botto Giuseppe & Figli SpA showed wind-resistant, breathable wool fabrics coated with protective polyester for fall 2014.
Silk specialist Ratti, which is controlled by the Marzotto Group, said wool was a crucial component in its array of accessories that are more fine, soft and lightweight for its fall collection. There are opulent floral, polka dot and Art Deco prints, double- and single-sided decorated scarves and materials for ties and shirts.
Mario Ratti, director of Ratti’s men’s wear division, said silk prices rose 8 percent in the first half of 2013 versus the first half of 2012.
“A rise in raw material prices will be a challenge for the sector this year,” Ratti said.
Aimed at educating the general public about the wool supply chain and its ecological and sustainable attributes, Milan’s La Rinascente department store placed a flock of sheep in front of its store as part of the “Campaign for Wool,” supported by Woolmark. The initiative, established in 2009, is slated to touch down in capital cities in Asia and Europe in the next few months.
“We don’t want to apologize for pitching wool to the pinnacle of the fashion triangle,” McCullough said. “We don’t want wool to be mass-marketed.”
Woolmark also renewed its partnership with Milano Unica for “On Stage,” a project dedicated to the promotion of upcoming talents.
On the opening day of the fair, which ended its three-day run on Sept. 12, six international labels — J. JS Lee, Isa Arfen, Ostwald Helgason, From Britten P/L, Tillmann Lauterbach and Yang Lin — showcased pieces of their collections with a runway show at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade.