Byline: Lucie Muir

FLORENCE — As the 40th edition of Pitti Filati wound up at the Fortezza da Basso here, Italy’s yarn manufacturers were in good spirits.
Orders were up, the price of some key fibers — including cotton — had dropped, and interest from the American market, a key growth area for the yarn producers in recent seasons, was said to be vigorous.
Andrea Lupi, general manager of Lanerossi, the wool yarn division of Marzotto, summed up the general mood of the fair: “Business is going very well; carded yarns are a top trend, which suits us just fine, and orders are higher then usual.”
The three-day show ran through Feb. 13, and increased attendance added to the upbeat mood. According to show organizers, visitors totaled 8,387, up 7 percent from a year ago. The count included 186 Americans, compared with 110 a year ago. In addition to the 64 mills showing yarns for spring/summer 1998, some 45 leading Italian firms unveiled fabric collections ahead of schedule as part of a new preview section called Pre.Tex.
Organized by Prato Trade, which runs Prato Expo, Pre.Tex was designed to show the latest fabrics simultaneously with the new yarns to a select number of manufacturers and international designers.
Price lists, for the most part, were holding steady, and a strengthened exchange for the dollar — worth more than 1,600 lire against 1,520 a year ago — made the offerings even more attractive for U.S. buyers, exhibitors noted. Aside from the exchange factor, many noted that the attraction of innovative yarns for U.S. buyers was having a beneficial impact on their business.
Patrick Lonn Wennborg, export manager at E. Pecci, said, “The American market is in continual growth, thanks to the new American designers who are looking to Italy for technically advanced threads.”
“To Italian yarn manufacturers, anything that’s American sounds very good,” said an enthusiastic Roberto Baratella, marketing director for the Luigi Botto mill. A spokesman for the mill added, “At last year’s show we saw 14 important U.S. buyers. This year we’ve booked in 20.”
Baratella noted that U.S. buyers at his stand had been looking for crispy merino wools, blended with Tencel and stretch yarns.
Among the Americans shopping the show, a team from Donna Karan was browsing over the new cashmere, viscose and silk blends at the Lora & Festa stand. Nylons were also of interest to this group. Wallace Shaw, director of design development for the knitwear division, said, “I’m hoping to find novelty yarns for spring, and so far I’ve seen some great nylons with a lustrous hand and a good price.”
At Lanerossi, a collection called Mozart Amico — machine-washable wool yarns with a cashmere hand specially designed for the U.S. — was shown in a range of cool pastels. Its success was confirmed when orders doubled last year’s bookings, although general manager Lupi was quick to point out the difficulties placed on Italian mills by American customers.
“Americans are quite difficult to please and also unpredictable, especially with colors, which they like to change at the last minute. In order to keep up, we have to work alongside them with fast service and good stocks. Those who can’t take the pace are out of the picture,” Lupi said.
In addition to the machine-washable yarns, the mill featured worsted merino wools blended with silk, acrylic fibers, angora and lambswool. Lanerossi’s Vegetal collection included cotton and linen blends, which were being pushed even though a number of mills were busy promoting viscose yarns as a replacement for linen.
Indeed, viscose was everywhere, in varying weights and sheens to suit upcoming body-hugging fashions. E. Pecci was one of many mills developing new dimensions for viscose.
“We’re working a lot with viscose and have produced new yarns that have the look but not the feel of linen,” said Alessandro Grassi, Pecci’s technical adviser. Its Modal yarns, made with a light version of cotton and viscose threads, caused a flurry of interest.
At Industria Italiana Filati, viscose, three-ply nylons and rayon yarns were displayed in a range of earthy colors.
Meanwhile, the domestic market continues to be problematic for Italian mills. Many manufacturers pointed to Italy’s current unemployment rate of 11.4 percent and sluggish apparel sales as major hurdles facing the industry. Things remain fairly static throughout the rest of Europe.
“Europe is at a near standstill saleswise, and I don’t think we are going to see any revivals until 1998,” said Francesco Lucchesi, export manager at Industria Italiana Filati. “As a result, we have decided to focus our energies on the international export markets, which look a lot more promising.”