NEW YORK — It may have been a silver anniversary, but it was celebrated with cotton.
Cotton Incorporated capped 25 years of business Thursday with its annual dinner gala at the Metropolitan Museum here, paying tribute to America’s number-one natural fiber.
“A lot has happened since 1970,” said J. Nicholas Hahn, Cotton Inc.’s president and chief executive officer, greeting the nearly 400 industry guests. “[Cotton’s] market share that year was 41 percent and falling. In 1995 that share is 58 percent, and it continues to grow quarter by quarter, year by year.”
The evening, dubbed “A Celebration of American Style,” marked the eighth consecutive year that Cotton Inc., the research and promotion arm of 30,000 U.S. cotton growers, has hosted the event.
Reflecting on the changes that have taken place in the cotton industry over the last 25 years, Hahn said, “In 1970, the average price of cotton on the New York futures exchange was 28 cents. In the 1995-96 season, the average price of upland cotton on the exchange is nearly 88 cents.
“When I talk to the mills, I blame the world market for high prices,” Hahn quipped. “When I talk to farmers, I credit Cotton Inc. for the high prices.”
During his remarks, Hahn drew laughter and applause when, in reference to Cotton Inc., he made a little Freudian slip, stating those who grow and use cotton “run the country.” He meant to say, “run the company.”
Some other 25-year marks Hahn cited:
* Exports of cotton products in 1970 were 400,000 bales; in 1995 they’re projected at 2.7 million bales, a 552.6 percent increase.
* U.S. cotton production has grown from 10.2 million bales in 1970 to 18.8 million bales this year. (A USDA report on Monday showed a slight decline in that estimate. See story, page 15.)
* Total U.S. consumption — the combination of mill use and imports, minus exports — was 8.4 million bales in 1970. It now stands at 17.1 million bales.
Hahn was enthusiastic about cotton’s prospects: “Retail sales have been soft, but cotton’s share of the business being done is growing.” But some executives interviewed at the gala were more reserved about the general outlook.
“We’re kind of playing it middle of the road,” said George Henderson 3rd, president and ceo of Burlington Industries. “There is a lot of good news out there; the price of cotton has come down and consumption and exports are up.
“But the big unknown is China,” Henderson said. “That country’s production has a dramatic effect on what happens here.”
“Cotton continues to be the dominant fiber, but the business is under enormous pressure,” said Carl Rosen, president of JPS Converter and Industrial Corp. “Given the current difficult situation as it exists in our industry, I believe [cotton] could participate in that misfortune. If apparel suffers, so, too, could cotton.”
The evening began with a private showing of the museum’s featured exhibit, “John Singleton Copley in America,” and ended nearly five hours later with the lighting of the museum’s Christmas Tree. In between, guests were treated to a fashion show and dinner in the museum’s Temple of Dendur.
The evening’s runway show featured women’s and men’s apparel from a group of American designers, including Oscar de la Renta, Isaac Mizrahi, Todd Oldham, Joseph Abboud and Han Feng, all of whom used a high percentage of cotton in their spring shows.
The group featured lots of color, from a slinky multicolored-stripe knit dress by Oldham to a bright rugby stripe cotton T-shirt dress from Mizrahi, from de la Renta’s dressy suits to spare black and white column dresses from Han Feng.
The guests included executives from all segments of the textile, apparel and retail industry. Partygoers included John Boland 3rd, president and ceo of Dominion Textile; Paul Charron, president and ceo of Liz Claiborne Inc.; Thomas Belk, chairman of Belk Stores Services Inc.; Dutch Leonard, president of Burlington Denim, and Carlos Moore, executive vice president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute.
Also there were Mackey McDonald, president and ceo of VF. Corp.; Bernard Olsoff, chairman of Frederick Atkins Inc.; Arthur Wiener, chairman and ceo of Galey & Lord, and Bruce Roberts, executive director of the Textile Distributors Association.

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