Byline: Katherine Bowers

LOS ANGELES — Despite the dark clouds gathering over California — namely the energy crisis and the softening local economy — exhibitors gearing up for next week’s Los Angeles International Textile Show said they are expecting to see strong interest in the sunny looks that made the Golden State famous.
“I think it will be fairly busy. We have already been getting calls from people who want to see what’s new,” said Brian McLaughlin, a partner in Huntington Beach, Calif.-based converter 58/60, which sells to surfwear companies.
About 350 vendors are expected to turn out for the three-day event, which opens Monday. They’ll be focusing on spring 2002 fabrics, as well as giving the expected 6,000 buyers a chance to snap up immediate orders of fall merchandise.
“The California market is becoming more and more interesting. It has a younger, more risky feeling than the New York market,” said Florence Perkins, a sales executive for Philadelphia-based importer European Stretch Fabrics.
Other exhibitors, including Howard Bobis of Friday Fabrics, said they expect the show, held at the CaliforniaMart, to provide an opportunity to touch base with the strong local manufacturing and contracting industry.
“I see Karen Kane there,” he said, referring to the sportswear designer. “It’s the actual customer and not the middlemen.”
Given the recent economic uncertainty, vendors said they’re focusing on lower-cost embellishments, as demanded by their customers.
McLaughlin, of 58/60, said he’s noticed a drop in requests for embossing and flocking.
“With all that color and extra embellishment, the price of the product increased. And the natural reaction of the consumer and manufacturer is ‘Hold on a second,”‘ he said. “The reaction is to bring the price point down.”
McLaughlin said his company will be showing fabric treated with FX processing, a silicon finish that creates a water-resistant print that is faint when the fabric is dry but springs into sharp contrast when the fabric is wet.
Desiree Faase, designer for junior skate-and-surf apparel line Daesse, said that at the show she would be “definitely looking for print resources, especially for summer.”
She cited tropical Hawaiian prints with photo-realistic flowers and surfers as among the key things on her list, but said she believes people have grown tired of camouflage and Americana-colored prints.
Vendors expressed differing opinions on whether camouflage — a trend sparked by designers such as Nicole Miller and John Galliano — had staying power for the junior market.
European Stretch Fabrics’ Perkins said that camouflage has been getting an “ambivalent” reaction.
“People are attracted to [camouflage], but it seems to have invaded the market so quickly that they are hesitant to go forward with it,” Perkins said.
Despite the risk of oversaturation, a number of textile vendors — including New York-based converter The Brookwood Cos. — are banking that camouflage will continue to be big.
“Right now we’re in the process of recoloring to mix in [accent] colors with the traditional pattern,” said Norris Salano, director of product development. Salano added that Brookwood has also run camouflage on nylon and micro-denier polyester to create a techier look.
In addition to the usual flood of swimwear and surf prints, vendors expect geometrics, preppie stripes and vintage looks from a variety of eras to generate pockets of business. Nicole DeLeon, designer of the cotton print line Alexander Henry, named the Sixties swinger movie “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” as one of her influences for the spring 2002 season.
“I have a great movie still of Natalie Wood in a little, short, floral dress,” said Deleon.
She said “disco-Seventies tropical” was another look she was using.
“It’s about Donna Summer with that single flower in her hair,” she said. “We’ve tried to kick those up with color.”
Peter Ascher, president of New York-based Ascher Design Studio, found a slightly tamer inspiration while leafing through hand-painted designs in archives he inherited from his father, who had run a fabric company in London after escaping from World War II-era Poland.
“They look happy and free and very wearable,” he said.
Still, Ascher was cautious about predicting which designs would emerge as strong for spring.
“I like to go to the show with a lot of new creations and let the market tell us what’s best,” he said.
Among the line’s current top sellers are intricate, colorful, Pucci-like prints and cotton voiles printed with Fifties’ nostalgic florals.
Fifties’ florals are on designer Mattie Ilel’s shopping list. Ilel, whose contemporary line J.P & Mattie has become known for wide skirts and demure, Jackie O-style shifts, said she will be buying a smaller amount of the florals that have become her trademark and instead plans to look for chiffons, satins and cottons nubbled to suggest linen.
Although she spent most of her fabric budget at Premiere Vision on Chanel-like cream-and-beige tweeds, Ilel said she will be scouting for a few more striped fabrics, either yarn-dyed or printed.
“Its pretty late already,” she said, “so if there is something we like, we will definitely order our sample yardage.”
European Stretch Fabrics’ Perkins said she’ll be targeting Los Angeles’ base of contemporary designers with graphic two-toned fabrics and stretch patchwork bengaline from her CTL Nathan line.
Los Angeles-based importer Fancy World continues to focus on embellished styles, including foil-printed and metallic powder-printed polyesters. Fabrics spangled with square or elliptical paillettes have recently been strong, said sales manager Andrew Kim. Several exhibitors said they were seeing a renewed interest in natural fibers. “There is a tremendous amount of interest in 100 percent yarn-dyed cotton,” said Bobis, of Friday Fabrics, a New York-based importer.
Ascher, who has also seen interest in cottons and silks grow, attributes the return to natural fibers as a sort of cleansing in the wake of the technology craze.
“Sometimes people forget how comfortable natural fibers can be,” he said.
Bill Hessi, a sales representative for St. Louis-based converter Carr Textiles, said that cotton twills have been one of the company’s fastest-selling fabrics.
While most attendees will be scouting the trends, others, like Hot Kiss design director Michael Aguirre, will be looking for the gaps in the marketplace.
“I like to go to see what direction everyone is taking,” he said. “Then I go slightly right or left, but never exactly what they’re doing.”