Byline: Katherine Weisman / With contributions from Sarah Raper

PARIS — Designer Alber Elbaz was navigating the stands at Premiere Vision at a frantic pace, raving about the raft of trends he found at the fabric expo.
“It’s like I have just finished my lunch — I’m full, and now I have to plan the menu for dinner,” explained Elbaz, who was still ironing out the details of the Guy Laroche fashion show slated for next week even as he shopped for the fall-winter 1998 collection.
Despite his frenetic agenda, Elbaz raved about the new things European mills had conjured up for next season.
Reflecting the general enthusiasm being ignited by this season’s showings, Elbaz ran through such ideas as: flannels and felts in their original weaves, or their effect in knits; deep dark shades running the gamut from burgundy to charcoal gray; heather effects on fabric surfaces achieved through fancy blends using mohair; heathery denim shades that mixed gray with pink, green and even blue, and stretch styles in an assortment from wovens to denim.
The four-day European fabric show, which closes today, opened on Saturday, a day later than in the past, to accommodate the Jewish New Year holiday. For its first two days, a total of 34,614 visitors attended, an increase of nearly 8 percent compared with the October 1996 session, which opened on a Friday.
Eleven new companies participated this season, for a total of 789 fabric suppliers. Newcomers included Italian silk specialist ISA, which holds scarf licensing agreements with Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein, among other companies, and displayed some of its cutting-edge techniques. It showed a silk chevron pattern that was brushed to create a fuzzy, degrade effect similar to cashmere, and a velvet with luminous reverse-side prints.
The designer end of the fashion market was served by companies like France’s Dormeuil and Italy’s Loro Piana. The latter had a double-face Peruvian vicuna fabric, while Dormeuil offered Pashmina cashmere from the Himalayan Pashmina goat, priced at $500 per meter.
Dominic Dormeuil, joint managing director, explained that Napoleon used to import Pashmina scarves to give as presents. He added that Dormeuil is trying to work out an exclusive deal on the material for a handful of luxury houses.
Despite wool prices having shot up more than 10 percent in ’97, women’s buyers didn’t seem any more price-resistant compared with previous seasons, exhibitors noted.
One issue among buyers and exhibitors concerned velvet. At the same time that the frenzied demand for velvet and velvet devore effects is peaking, top velvet mills are finding themselves forced to compete with lower-priced imports from quality fabric makers in China and Korea.
“We are three times more expensive than these makers,” complained Jean-Claude Renaud, the owner and president of French jacquard velvet specialist S.A. Bouton-Renaud. Moreover, executives pointed out, it is very difficult for the consumer to recognize the difference between the labor-intensive jacquard velvet weaving of Bouton-Renaud and the chemical burnout process used by hosts of other mills who hopped on the devore bandwagon.
Renaud said the only way to survive in a competitive market is to push the creative side of the product. Mills are making multi-color designs as complicated as possible, and new variations of burnout, to attract customers.
“We’ve seen devore for two seasons, and now its over,” said a sales representative from ISA, “We’re focusing on flocking techniques.” ISA showed a yarn-dyed iridescent velvet flocked with a floral pattern.
France’s Bucol, a division of Groupe Perrin, was also experimenting and showed am updated reverse-printed devore velvet.
Donna Karan, who made news using Bouton-Renaud’s velvet two seasons ago for a group of evening dresses, said she still likes the material.
“But it has to be balanced with other fabrics,” she said while shopping at the Bouton-Renaud stand. It was only her second time at Premiere Vision. She noted that she was able to make the trip because she had finished work on her spring collection.
Elsewhere, Jakob Schlaepfer, the Swiss maker of specialty couture fabrics, enchanted designers with a host of novelty sparkle fabrics. There was a “Jazz” sequin fringe — rows of sequins individually attached so they moved and seemed quite feathery — an alternative to traditional beaded looks. They were shown on a viscose and polyester blended fabric with colored Lurex thread for an iridescent look.
Also, an embroidered wool and cashmere fabric that resembled lightweight flannel was dotted with heat-set bijoux for a light touch of sparkle.
Schlaepfer creative director Martin Leuthold was excited about all the mohair looks he and his team created, such as the mohair sandwiched between two layers of silk tulle for a degrade effect, or the salt-and-pepper wool embroidered with mohair in a windowpane check. But Leuthold was also enthusiastic about a laser-cut polyester fabric that doesn’t fray for a paper-cutout look.
Custom fabrics and small-sized orders were big business for Premiere Vision exhibitors who are finding service to be almost as important as product to buyers.
France’s European Stretch Fabrics is seeing heightened demand from better and designer resources, including Theory in the U.S. and Equipment in France, for custom striping for shirts, with no minimum yardage.
“Of course, I prefer to sell 300 meters instead of just 30 meters, but the only thing we ask for is a minimum of time,” said director Albert-Jean Michel, noting that ESF, a vertical mill, can go from sample to full-run order in eight weeks. “This service lets us do custom striping for a brand, as well as exclusive colorways for the brand’s different clients.”
ESF’s efforts to customize fabrics constitute just one example of the trend toward partnership between fabric maker and client. The constant response heard among exhibitors at the show when asked for a special order was “Yes, sure, we can do that.” Many fabric executives said that partnering is the best wayto move forward.
The Ratti group featured stretch in some of its collections, including Ratti Donna, which featured a printed stretch satin. In the less expensive Ratti Seven line, which targets sportswear, buyers were enthusiastic about a new cotton velvet stretch, and a velour-like stretch in viscose and polyester printed with hunting scenes in muted colors.
Jersey makers are also benefiting from buyers’ demand for stretch, thanks to the natural give in jersey knits. And woven specialist Artextil came out with stretchy wovens in the same hues and nearly the same hand as some of their non-stretch wovens.
At France’s Guigou, the company had mossy, lofty weaves and lightweight translucent jersey in a loosely woven mohair.
Women’s apparel clients at traditional men’s wear fabric resource Dormeuil were going for stretch, tweeds, mixed yarns and wools with mixed shades “versus clear-cut, flat looks,” noted Dominic Dormeuil.
At Loro Piana, the women’s business now accounts for about 20 percent of volume, according to Michel Zimmern, the sales director for the Italian mill, whose specialty is double-face cashmere. Zimmern said the challenge for mills shifting away from their traditional businesses is tricky, since the factories’ fabric runs and shipping need to be readjusted. Zimmern admitted that Loro Piana has had a tough time delivering to its women’s clients because they order small quantities close to the season, compared to men’s wear manufacturers that order huge, early runs. The quest for technical, performance fabrics also remained strong at Premiere Vision, where suppliers like Switzerland’s Schoeller have seen demand spread from active sportswear to designer sportswear, accessories and shoes.
Schoeller experimented with a new heating technique to create a bubble-like warping of a fabric using aluminum thread. Christine Jenny, vice president, noted that a new reflective fabric made with glass, monofilament thread and cellophane attracted interest among accessory makers and athletic shoe companies. But Schoeller’s bestseller was the double-face stretch wool flannel bonded with a thin velvety fleece, which was sampled by ski apparel and designer ready-to-wear firms, Jenny noted.
For denim, there was a trend away from basics. At Tavex, the Spanish denim mill, there was a new, eight-ounce stretch fabric, as well as new colors for its denim blended with Modal rayon and Lycra spandex.
Tavex marketing director Paul Marcoartu said darker blues, achieved with very light washes, were important and the blends were even more sophisticated. One fabric introduced five months ago is 20 percent cotton, 40 percent Modal, 20 percent wool and 20 percent polyester. “It’s warmer, it wears well, and it’s different,” he said.

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