Byline: Phyllis Macchioni

FLORENCE, Italy — The uncertain future of the Italian textile industry was the focus of the spring edition of the Prato Expo trade fair. Exhibitors at the event wrestled with issues ranging from the possibility of moving the show to Milan, to whether Italian mills should consider cutting short their traditional vacation periods to meet designers’ demands for earlier fabric deliveries.
At a press conference at the Fortezza da Basso, where the show closed its three-day run in Florence on Feb. 17, Mario Maselli, president of the Prato Industrial Union, said the textile sector is riddled with problems. He said he would like to see more cooperation and less competition between the various companies that make up the textile industry in Prato. High taxes at home and high duties on exports together with a slowing of the American economy added to the concerns of fair exhibitors and organizers.
Exhibitors at the event again speculated about the possibility of combining the Prato event with Moda In, which is held in Milan. The organizers of each event have not yet offered their thoughts on the matter.
Franco Bini, the president of Pratotrade, the consortium for the promotion of Prato’s textile industries, said the only certainty is that the fall edition of Prato Expo will be held in Florence.
“We are evaluating the benefits of combining the shows, but before making a decision, we need to wait and see what the exhibitors think,” said Bini. At the show, a questionnaire was circulated to learn how Prato Expo exhibitors felt about the idea.
While the results of the survey have not yet been revealed, some participants in the event suggested that the organizers might want to move the spring-summer edition to Milan. Teaming Prato Expo with Moda In, they suggest, would give Italian mills a platform to compete with the dominant Premiere Vision trade show in Paris, which kicked off March 1.
Italian and American buyers said they were in favor of combining the two shows. Enzo Di Gioia, who is responsible for fabric purchases at Giorgio Armani, said he hasn’t attended the Paris textile fair, Premiere Vision, for three years. Di Gioia said he felt there would be an advantage to having one Italian fair, either in Milan or Florence, that ran four or five days.
Levi Strauss & Co. creative director Janet Howard and buyers Marita Aikonen and Lynn Neulander agreed. They suggested that if the Italians put together one large textile show similar to Premiere Vision, they wouldn’t go to Paris at all.
In addition to discussions regarding a change in venue, the Prato textile industry is actively looking for new ways to meet the challenges of an ever-changing marketplace. One of the major problems the industry has been wrestling with is meeting global production schedules.
This is apparently the motivating factor behind the decision of many of the Prato-based textile companies to reduce the sacrosanct August vacation period from four weeks to two weeks, an initiative that was publicized by a brochure sponsored by the Prato Industrial Union and distributed at the fair.
Some executives, including Fabio Mascii, owner of Il Telaio, are in favor of the initiative and consider it to be a step in the right direction. Others, including Alessandro Benelli, the general manager of Linea Tessile Italiana, disagree.
“It is very difficult for small producers like us to split vacation periods, because if three people are on vacation the mill can’t run,” said Benelli. “We close for three weeks in August and then for two weeks at Christmas, which means that when we are open we are operative. Besides, it’s useless to only close for two weeks in August because most of the industry’s exterior support systems, such as transportation companies, are closed for the entire traditional vacation period.”
Despite their worries, the Prato group kept their focus on their new ideas for spring-summer 2002. Key trends included cotton plaids and seersucker in primary colors as well as grainy linen in earth tones.
Vendors showed blends of silk and rayon in small patterns, particularly in black and white. Grainy linen and gauzy transparent fabrics in sepia and earth tones of sand, honey and ivory, plus colorful embroidery were also on display. The glossy shine of last season was conspicuously absent, replaced with a softer, more lustrous finish. Ethnic looks, embroidery and fringe and black-and-white geometric prints sat side by side.
Raffaele Riela, quality control manager at Lanificio Lamberto, said his company’s summer line featured colorful cotton seersucker reminiscent of the Fifties.
“The next step is to develop our textured linen looks and the seersucker line a little more and then present it again,” he said. Black-and-white plaids, stripes and checks were also an important element of their new line.
Rustic looks and natural colors were the order of the day at Picchi, Emmeci and Linea Tessile Italiana.
According to Alessandro Benelli, general manager of Linea Tessile Italiana, silk and linen continue to be important, on their own or mixed with cotton or rayon. They offered traditional flower prints and ethnic embroidery work and an oil print on linen.
Rustic looks in cotton, hemp and silk were also shown by Master Loom’s designer Michele Alaura, who recently became part owner of that company, along with Paolo Zegna, Silvano Gori and Guiliano Coppini of Lineapi¥.
At Emmeci, general manager Paolo Colzi explained that at his mill, because many consider comfort essential, many of his company’s fabrics contain a small amount of spandex. Stripes, checks and plaids made up the better part of the Emmeci collection. Stretch was also featured at Milior where a new line of cotton and nylon called Flexture was presented. The Milior looks were clean, with a dry hand, in glen plaids and checks in black and white or jacquards in black.
The corridors of the Fortezza da Basso, the fair’s venue, were crowded, with overall attendance up 1.6 percent, and the number of foreign visitors showing a 3.1 percent increase. However, those increases are compared with year-ago numbers, when attendance was down 12 percent.
Nonetheless, some exhibitors expressed doubt about the feasibility of continuing with a spring-summer edition in Florence.
“It’s clear the spring-summer fabric boom of ten years ago is over,” said Franco Miliotti, president of Milior, and president of the textile division of the Prato Industrial Union, “it’s probably time for us to return to what we do best — winter fabrics.”