Byline: Lucie Muir

FLORENCE — A wide selection of natural and man-made fibers blended for strong textures and light weights was headlined at the 35th edition of Prato Expo here this week.
Nylon was a synthetic getting particularly strong play, and mills generally appear to be coming out with new ideas in blends at a fast pace. Observed one of the exhibitors, Nicola Cecchi, owner of Lanificio Cecchi Paolo, “I’m happy to see such competition among my colleagues; it gives me more drive to keep ahead of them.”
Colors were another broad story, going from delicate pastel shades of butter and cream to blazing hues of acid green, yellow and orange.
The three-day event — showcasing fabrics for spring-summer 1997 from 95 textile manufacturers, most from the historic Prato mill region — ended Monday at the Fortezza de Basso.
The general mood of the event was summed up in the opening address by Mario Maselli, president of Prato’s industrial organization, Pratotrade.
“As organizers of the show, we are satisfied; as entrepreneurs and textile manufacturers, we are a little less so,” he said, noting that the fair’s success has been offset by a period of uncertainty and concern with regard to worldwide sales of apparel.
While lagging retail sales in the big consumer countries for 1995 had an impact on the Italian fashion sector, the region pulled though with good export results, particularly to countries whose currencies are stronger than the weak lira.
Results published by Pratotrade for 1995 reported fabric exports from the region jumped 15 percent from 1994 to about $2.3 billion (3.6 trillion lire), while overall sales rose only 7 percent to $3.2 billion (5 trillion lire).
Manufacturers were hoping for better results this year with a wider assortment of offerings, but they were shaking their heads over the uncertain political climate at home, which has affected orders and production in Prato’s mills. Sales of apparel on the domestic market were also suffering, with consumers preferring to spend their money in other areas such as the home.
Vincenzo Cangioli, owner of the Lanificio Cangioli mill, said, “Low-end fashion has little to offer the consumer, while at the high end the choice is very good — but there is still nothing of note in between.” As a textile manufacturer, Cangioli saw the necessity of making pricing more attractive to the apparel industry and has shuffled price lists to stimulate business at less expensive price points.
Prices on high-end fabrics were hiked 10 percent, while cuts of 5 percent were made on the lower-priced ranges to attract attention in the medium bracket.
“Italy is not the only country to experience a drop in clothing sales,” added company sales manager Alberto Fabbri. “Consumers are overwhelmed by all the designers offer; we have to focus on quality fabrics with timeless designs, not just on passing fads.”
In a similar vein, Michele Alaura, head designer at Masterloom, said, “Designers have to slow down and view fashion as a long-term product and offer a more practical choice to the market if they are to survive.”
“Textiles and yarns,” he added, “must move forward in response to new global temperatures, which demand lighter year-round fabrics.”
Masterloom’s new collection included high tech blends of polyester and polyproprene to give interesting surface sheens, while cotton was left untouched at 100 percent. Nylon shirting fabrics played on surface textures and light, while the color wheel went from blue to bright citric shades.
Among those using nylon heavily was Lanificio Cangioli, where the fiber was used as the basis for a wide range of wool and linen blends to give translucent papery effects. Vincenzo Cangioli said, “It remains a great structural fiber.”
Scott Formby, vice president of the women’s wear division of J. Crew, said of the fair in general, “There’s a lot of nylon, but I do like the way manufacturers have blended it with natural yarns. I think the show is very important, as it gives a running start on Premiere Vision, trend-wise.”
At Picchi, nylon met with linen to give surfaces added crunch. Yarn-dyed cottons were popular with American buyers who were also tempted by the new wools made with rounder trilobal yarns. Colors were subtle and included pistachio, lemon and white.
Fred Rottman, export manager for the company, said, “We’re glad to see that the cost of natural fibers has finally steadied. It’s allowed us to give sharper pricing.”
Carolyn McInney, fabric researcher for Eddie Bauer, was at the Picchi stand looking for “new finishes, heavy twills and new blends with an understated shine.” Activewear fabrics were in the spotlight at Pontetorto, which was introducing its version of a lofty fleece — made of yarns created from recycled plastic bottles — which it calls simply Recycled Fleece.

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