Byline: Alessandra Ilari

FLORENCE — A forceful comeback of plush natural fiber offerings highlighted the 38th edition of Prato Expo, where a total of 140 exhibitors showcased their fall/winter 1998-1999 fabric collections.
At the same time, there was a deemphasis on avant-garde techno looks.
“Fashion has flipped over. Once again, our clients are requesting soft coating fabrics, especially angora, wool and cashmere blends instead of technical ones,” said Vincenzo Cangioli, owner of Lanificio Cangioli, summing up a general feeling.
Overall, there’s a revival of classic and rustic men’s wools — flannels, pinstripes, donegals and tweeds that have a modern and unconventional edge thanks to soft and rich hands.
“It’s fundamental that fabrics be fluid and with warm and rich aspects. It’s about luxurious sportswear where nothing is stiff or grungy,” said Michele Alaura, head designer at Masterloom. “To get that effect, we’re using cashmere and silk or silk and wool blends.” To add a feminine touch to mannish looks, Masterloom is dipping into delicate pastels.
Nicola Cecchi, owner of Lanificio Cecchi Paolo, noted that because modern lifestyles and hectic schedules call for practical clothes, buyers were particularly interested in lighter weights.
“In the U.S. for example, we’re selling lighter fabrics of about [9 ounces] because they’re interseasonal,” said Cecchi.
Cecchi reported brisk business in soft tweeds, donegals and waffles in cashmere blended with camel hair, wool or alpaca, mostly in blue, smoky gray and olive green.
“People are buying wool again,” said Cecchi. “Because of less production and more demand, prices climbed.”
On the business side, mill executives beamed about the abundant flow of orders from Great Britain. “This market started to gain momentum about a year ago. It’s very avant-garde and people feel they need to hook up on the latest trends,” said Alaura. The success of the English market was attributed to the fact that London is once again a bustling fashion capital with designers such as Alexander McQueen and John Galliano giving the industry a jolt.
Painting a similar scenario, Cecchi said that he was reaping the benefits of time and energy invested in Great Britain. “I think that the reawakening of the English market is due to two coinciding factors: the buzz for new designers and the economy coming out of the doldrums.”
Cangioli, whose 1997 sales in Great Britain will increase by 30 percent, said he was stimulated by the market because clients there are interested in the product instead of working around price constraints. “If you’re too concerned with the price of a fabric, you kill any stimuli for the consumer,” said Cangioli.
Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to be a vibrant market for Italian mills, producing good business results.
“I really enjoy working with U.S. clients because they are less tied to fashion prejudices than other clients,” said Cecchi. Cecchi expects U.S. sales to reach $2.8 million (5 billion lire), a 30 percent share of total revenues.
To support his U.S. clients, Cangioli just opened a showroom in New York at 110 West 40th Street.
Cangioli’s U.S. sales will account for $14 million (25 billion lire) in 1997.
At the expo, British attendance climbed 20 percent while U.S. visitors rose seven percent, totaling 234 and 328, respectively. Overall attendance increased 10 percent for a total of 8,626 visitors.
Fueled by a positive business outlook, mills continue to let their creativity flow for image-oriented looks and broader product ranges. Picchi delivered brushed polyester and rayon blends with a suede-type hand that can be coordinated with burned-out rayons.
“Another group that performed well was plush wool and angora blends in jacket weights and butter-soft stretch flannels,” said Fred Rottman, export manager.
To target a broader clientele, Alaura of Masterloom noted the firm has just launched a collection of basic sportswear fabrics called Laboratorio.
“The starting point of this collection is cotton because it’s a year-round fiber, but the idea is to make it different with a variety of finishes or dyes,” said Alaura. Ideas include a transparent coating over canvas and printed and burnout velvets. Laboratorio will be priced about 30 percent below the signature collection, with prices ranging from about $5 (9,000 lire) to $8.70 (15,000 lire) a meter.
Giorgetti Tessile, a newcomer on the textile scene, presented its second collection, which focused on elaborate looks such as velvet jacquards, embroidered viscose, glittering lame and Lurex numbers for evening and beefy chenilles. The color wheel rotated around deep jewel tones and hot spices.

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