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MILAN — Italian textile producers exhibiting at the Milano Unica show were intent on diversifying into the casual and sporty arenas with a new generation of high-performance natural fabrics.

This story first appeared in the March 2, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Figures released during the fair from the Italian fashion and textile consortium SMI-ATI illustrated the deep-reaching effects the recession has had on Italian producers, driving home the need to widen the customer base. According to SMI-ATI, the Italian textile industry saw sales drop 22.5 percent to 6.7 billion euros in 2009, or $9.34 billion at average exchange.

The 10th edition of the fair, which ended a three-day run at the Milan fairgrounds on Feb. 18, attracted 441 exhibitors, representing a drop of 18 percent from last year. While business conditions have improved somewhat, a sense of urgency was evident among mill representatives.

“Trends are anything but classic. There’s a lot more innovation and blends of every fiber possible,” said Steven Gronich, U.S. sales director for Lanificio Di Tollegno, on the fair’s Ideabiella section.

“There’s no time to sit and wait for the market to recover, we need to reinvent it,” said Alberto Bertoni, chief executive officer of Botto Fila, which has seen sales increase by 12 percent this year compared with 2009.

Biella-based Botto Fila was acquired by investment firm Management & Capitali SpA in 2006 and has recently undergone a wide-scale reorganization. The mill is now looking to attract a wider client base with a makeover of its traditional wool and silk fabrics. Botto Fila launched a series of high-performance, crease-resistant silk blends with vintage finishes, alongside linen and cotton mixes applied with waterproof membranes offering protection against the elements.

Offering new spins on natural fibers was the key direction throughout the fair.

“We wanted to give wool a performance edge and a sportier feel,” said Paola Botto, marketing director for Botto Giuseppe.

The Biella-based mill unveiled a collection of deconstructed classic fabrics, such as seersucker effects embellished by brilliant touches of yarn-dyed silk, and crease-resistant and waterproof articles.

“We’ve created a new generation of fabrics by blending different combinations of wool, silk and mohair,” said Loro Piana ceo Pier Luigi Loro Piana, who is also president of Milano Unica.

The luxury company unveiled a mohair fabric mixed with artificial fibers that offers a light, dynamic fabric suitable for outerwear, alongside a technical fabric woven from twisted multiple silk fibers with a wrinkle-proof finish.

Lanerie Agnona, part of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group, emphasized silk’s grip on the spring season with the presentation of its first silk collection, the result of a new collaboration with silk mill Tessitura di Novara, which it acquired in December. The partnership resulted in pure silk versions of Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna’s high performance fabrics.

New to the market was a collection of seersucker fabrics and a reversible silk taffeta dubbed Silkite created from fibers used to make parachutes.

“We’re offering silk with a modern aspect,” said Mauro Bellini, marketing manager for Lanifico Ermenegildo Zegna & Figli SpA. “We feel there’s a new modern look. It’s formal, but deconstructed.”

Reda, a traditional wool mill, also mixed technological advances with natural inspiration. The mill introduced Icesense, a thermal insulation material that performs like typical sportswear cloths, lending the fabric a cool handle suitable for summer garments.

“We’re trying to create a versatile wardrobe, colors that can be worn during the day and the evening,” said Fabrizio Alessandro Goggi, communication manager for Reda.

At the Shirt Avenue section of the show, checks were the predominant trend.

“Some of our customers are returning, in particular our American clients have told us they’re no longer able to sell ‘Made in China’ shirts,” said Aldo Ardemagni, ceo of Testa.

The shirting fabric producer showcased an array of check designs in micro, oversize and irregular patterns.

The Albini Group reinterpreted classic styles in soft, washed and lightweight fabrics inspired by classic tailoring and patterns. Preppy patterns in vibrant hues dominated at Thomas Mason, which sells to retailers such as J. Crew and is part of the Albini Group.

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