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Channeling John Crocco

John Crocco’s approach to the mill appointment is methodical.

PARIS — John Crocco is early to his 11 a.m. meeting with representative Amy Keats of Turkish mill Soktas, but apparently he’s already in distress. “My hotel doesn’t have any Red Bull in the refrigerator. It’s a real problem,” the creative director for Perry Ellis says with a chuckle. But it doesn’t show, as he’s surprisingly cheery, even after nine appointments at Première Vision the day before. His orange journal is packed with fabric photos and scribbles. His cool, crisp PV ensemble consists of a khaki blazer, black T-shirt, jeans and (gasp) white sneakers. “I’m wearing them because I just bought them and I like them,” says Crocco. It’s then that his practical side emerges.

Crocco’s approach to the mill appointment is methodical. Laid out is his white trend board with small, square color swatches attached with Velcro for easy removal for comparing to sample fabric books. Each book is preceded with a brief introduction from Keats, and a big fabric swatch to touch. “This is our 140s two-ply with a great hand feel,” says Keats. Crocco takes it in his hand and coos, flipping to see it in various colors and patterns. “I don’t know,” he says. “We’re having a hard time with people appreciating higher-quality fabric. The perceived value is not there.”

For an hour Crocco peers through books, looking and feeling, and always asking for prices. One make at $11.75/meter draws a quick “no.” Another at $8.10/meter causes Crocco to consider. “I’ll take that, and that, and that,” he says, as he points to pages of Easter egg pastels in solids and stripes. Keats’ bar-code scanner beeps like a supermarket counter as she scans each one.

“This was a beautiful light peach before,” Crocco whispers to Perry Ellis design director and sidekick Joakim Udden, upon pulling off his trend board swatch. He holds it up in the air next to a sample page. “It looks pink in this fluorescent light. So bad.” This season he’s going for soft hues and an über-traditional look. “We’re feeling for a preppy season,” he says. “I like these,” as he approaches an array of brights, “but I can’t do this particular one because I’m doing it out of China cheaper.” About 85 percent of Perry Ellis fabrics come from China. Instead he takes a gray and green basketweave, as well as a blue cross-shaped, ombré check pattern.

Crocco’s buying habits include crisp whites, pastels, no metallics and no black. “I’m over black,” he quips. Soktas’s Agricotton line doesn’t go over well. “I’m over the organic thing. I was going down that path but I’ve backed off. Customers aren’t willing to pay,” he says.

Crocco samples about 30 percent of what he sees at Soktas, and it all fits a preppy desert theme dreamed up by his design team and himself. Only one swatch fits the bill, though, of being truly fabulous during the visit—a grassy green stripe with tiny squares within, similar to polka dots. “That’s it!” Crocco shouts. “I love the desert feeling!” Out comes the orange journal, filled with photos and fabric deemed worthy for his next show. He orders 20 sample meters, and snips the swatch to tape in his book.

And with that, everything after pales in comparison. After two more books, Crocco concludes the visit with a quick comment. “Send me the invoice,” he says, tying the strings on his journal to a close. He checks his Blackberry and concludes, “Now I’ve seen it all.”