ECONOMIC ANGST AT SOMBER EXPOFIL

Byline: Robert Murphy

PARIS — Vendors put on a brave face at Expofil, the yarn fair held here Dec. 4-6, despite grim prospects for the upcoming season.
With the specter of prolonged economic uncertainty haunting the fair, which marked the debut of yarns for the spring and summer 2003 season, exhibitors said business was particularly slow.
“This will be a nightmare season,” said Jorg Scheiwiller, chairman of Audresset, a French mill known for its high-end yarns. “There are no Americans. We’re hoping things improve next season. If the situation doesn’t improve soon, we’ll all go bust.”
Despite this dire prediction, exhibitors said they were trying to drum up business in the U.S. by visiting clients there. Meanwhile, they said there has been a stark shift in the fashion pendulum away from the unbridled exuberance of recent seasons to more conservative looks.
“Buyers are being very cautious,” said Scheiwiller. “They are taking refuge in value. Budgets are being cut, which means frivolity is being cut.”
At Loro Piana & Co., an Italian luxury weaver of cashmere and fine woolens, Luciano Bandi, divisional sales manager, explained that buyers were increasing their focus on high-quality yarns.
“We’ve seen that customers want only the top-of-the-line product,” said Bandi. “If a house is going to sell a product at a high price, the customer has to feel that the product is worth the money. I think luxury will still flourish. But only if it’s a product with quantifiable quality.”
Bandi said business was depressed in America and Japan, but that Loro Piana was staving off losses by courting clients in America. He said that the drop of about 25 percent in cashmere sales had also helped spark some business.
At Cariaggi Lanificio, a spinner of fine woolens based in Italy, sales manager Massimo Colombo also acknowledged that buyers were looking for high quality.
“The most expensive yarns are selling,” he said. “I think the recession will result in a polarized market. High and low prices will sell, but the middle market is disappearing.” Colombo said buyers were ignoring yarns with a high fashion element. “What people want is money for money,” he said. “Buyers want stable products that will last. The market is in a period of reflection and product needs to project confidence and value.” Reflecting the more sober mood, bright colors were largely absent from the fair. In their place, buyers said they were seeking more muted tones.
Marine du Fretay, the head designer at Hermes for the women’s ready-to-wear not designed by Martin Margiela, said she was interested by “aquatic” colors such as blue and green.
“I like colors that are luminous, but not too bright,” she said. “I also think black and white will continue to be important.”
Fretay added that she was particularly pleased with new hemp and cashmere yarn blends that were being shown by Loro Piana. “It makes for a luxurious yarn that still has a recognizable luxury hand,” she explained. “But at the same time it is new and fresh.” Irene Muller, designer for Escada Sport, said color will continue to be important to spice up a collection.
“They are more muted colors, but one cannot bore the client,” she said. “We have to find new color combinations, and have bursts of color in a collection to make it sell.”
Muller said she was most interested in the chalky pastel colors, such as blue, green, red and gray, that were featured at the fair. She added that she liked braided yarns that combined two different colors.
“They create an interesting texture in knitwear,” she said, while examining one such yarn at Audresset.
Meanwhile, organizers blamed the 15 percent decline in visitors, which totaled 5,827, on fear of air travel and the lagging economy. They said they were also penalized by an impromptu air traffic controllers strike in France that disrupted air travel across Europe. The number of American buyers dropped 46 percent, while the number of Japanese buyers dropped 25 percent.

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