Byline: Robert Murphy

PARIS — Putting aside thoughts of the recent terrorist attacks and their spring collections, designers and mill executives focused on fall 2002 fabric trends at this month’s Premiere Vision show.
But the aftershocks of last month’s events continued to be felt, both in a dearth of U.S. buyers walking the aisles at the Villepinte exhibit halls just north of Paris, and in concerns about what the shaky consumer economy will mean for spending.
Fabric sales were off before Sept. 11, vendors said, and many in the industry already believed they were in for a slow holiday shopping season. The further blow to the global economy caused by the incidents in the U.S. and military retaliation in Afghanistan left buyers convinced that they’ll need fabrics that are distinctive enough to prompt nervous consumers to open their wallets, but also offer a feeling of comfort and familiarity.
Mario Boselli, president of the Italian mill Marioboselli Jersey SpA and president of Italy’s governing body of fashion, said that he believes the industry is in for a short period of rough going.
“Events are sure to cause severe problems in the short term. But the long term looks good,” he said. “The economy is healthy. The current situation is political crisis.”
Boselli said he expects business to nosedive in the immediate future, but added, “When the turnaround comes, it should be equally dramatic.”
“We have to scramble to salvage the season,” said Giancarlo Onnis, sales manager at Italy’s Ones textile firm. “This time, we can’t wait for the business to come to us. We have to go to the business. I’m going to be in the air a lot for the next couple of months.”
“About 70 percent of appointments scheduled with Americans have been canceled,” said Mario Melchisedecco, sales manager at Italian woolen mill Luigi Boggio Casero. “The U.S. is our most important market. It accounts for half of our production. Of course, we will do everything in our power to retain our business in the U.S.”
American and Japanese buyers were in particularly short supply during the Oct. 4-7 event. Attendance from the U.S. was down 66 percent and Japanese attendance was off 62 percent, according to show organizers. Overall professional attendance was down 27 percent from a year ago, to 27,639 visitors.
Organizers said that most fabric-buying organizations that regularly attend the show arrived, albeit with smaller entourages.
“Am I the only one here?” asked Donna Karan, one of the few visible American visitors. Owing to her stature as a signature representative of American style and moxie, her presence boosted the morale of vendors and show organizers.
“True, there aren’t many Americans,” said Daniel Faure, Premiere Vision president. “But Donna Karan came. She wasn’t supposed to — she had planned to cancel — but she did. That’s courage in the face of fear. She’s an example: We can’t bow to terror. Certainly we must be prudent. But business must go on.”
For the most part, it did. On Thursday, reserved for professionals buyers only, and again on Friday, stands swarmed with clients. Vendors reported activity on par with last year. For many, just being present became a matter of personal pride.
“Mayor Giuliani told us New Yorkers to go back to normal, to do business,” said Tony Conetta, president of the Americas for Abraham of Zurich’s textiles. “That’s why I decided I needed to be here. I knew a lot of the American buyers would elect to stay at home. But we have to be strong and continue.”
In terms of trends, designers said that the current soft consumer environment simply means that apparel makers have to work harder to develop looks that will spark shoppers’ interest.
Said Karan, “Designers have to reach out to the customer. Something must come out of disaster. We have to retain confidence and transmit that confidence to the customer. There’s been a certain laxity [in fashion]. We have to establish a new type of communication with our clients.”
Givenchy’s women’s wear designer, Julien Macdonald, said interesting looks he had spotted included worn leather-like and jersey fabrics at Italian mill Mariobosselli Jersey SpA and France’s Cadena.
“Certainly the distressed, worn-out and antique-like looks will be very strong for winter,” predicted Macdonald. He also cited fabrics that appear to be “falling apart” as piquing his interest.
“Fabric must look special and unique,” said Macdonald. “The market was saturated with too-technical looking fabrics, now people want something softer and more sensual.”
Macdonald stressed that his season he was particularly keen on finding textiles he considered special enough to justify an elevated price point.
“The economic climate will be tough,” he said. “People are more price conscious and the competition is stiff. Gone are the days when people would buy just to buy. There has to be value in the garment.”
As for colors, Macdonald pinpointed the movement away from a very bright register to more muted, yet richer tones. “I like colors that [evoke a picture] of an old French chateau. Really rich and sophisticated colors.”
Among other trends Macdonald cited were fluffy cottons, ultralight cashmere and high-volume fabrics.
For their part, husband and wife team An Vandevorst and Filip Arickx, the Antwerp designers known together as AF Vandevorst, said they were gravitating toward dark colors.
“I’m not so keen on black, but I do like all the deep tones I’ve seen at the fair,” said Vandevorst.
Michel Klein, the Paris-based designer, said he liked everything that had a “light” aspect.
“In periods of crisis, like the one we are weathering now, it will be important to have a very strong image and offer items no one else is able to offer,” explained Klein. “I don’t really like too much black at this time, it’s a little too bleak. But there are a lot of dark tones that are very interesting.”
Klein also said that he liked the “old-looking fabrics I’ve seen at the show. They are very fresh, and they communicate a certain restraint — while still being interesting.”
Among the colors most pronounced at the show were all variations of taupe, burnt orange, purple, rust, cognac, chocolate and amber.
Yvan Mispelaere, designer at Feraud, said he felt a move back toward minimalism. “I want very clean-looking fabrics. I don’t like the ethnic thing, which is very pronounced [at Premiere Vision]. I’m very attracted by all crepe fabric, anything very neat.”
Texture was also an important fashion story, including distressed corduroy and velvet, while glen plaid and herringbone patterns were also shown in abundance.
“I like all the worn velvet and Kashmiri-like fabrics,” said Giambattista Valli, creative director at Emanuel Ungaro. “There’s a lot of ethnic-looking fabrics, which could be a beautiful trend.”
Gilles Dufour, the Paris designer, was attracted to fabrics that looked old.
“I don’t want anything that looks shiny and new,” said Dufour. “Fabrics must look a little worn out — as if they’ve been around for a long time,” he said. “I don’t think people will want things that look too slick. They want the dignity of traditional-looking fabrics.”