Byline: Phyllis Macchioni

FLORENCE — Textile producers at the recent Prato Expo fabrics show emphasized delicate, almost transparent looks and moved away from the black and gray minimalism of seasons past.
The shift to natural fibers for spring and summer 2001 also continued at the Florence fair. Cotton, linen and silk were shown extensively, although there was also a variety of viscose on display.
Master Loom’s head designer, Michael Alaura, said his company was going with fresh summer colors like marigold and cornflower blue.
“We are doing quality linen, silk and lots of cotton,” Alaura said. “There is a dominance of natural fibers, a little techno…and more often than not, mixed with natural fibers. Silk is big for 2001 because it holds color so well, plus it is a glamorous fabric, and glamour definitely is back.”
Exhibitors were hoping the revival of color and a return to natural fabrics would jump-start a much-needed recovery in their sector. However, the lure of color was not enough to draw larger crowds. Closing figures showed a 12 percent drop in attendance from last year’s edition, in spite of a change in the show calendar, landing it immediately after Milan’s Moda In event. The show ended its three-day run at the Fortezza da Basso on Feb. 19.
“We saw only a few Americans,” said Endrio Guarti, president of Roma Textile Group, who noted that many foreign buyers were holding off to attend the later Premiere Vision show in Paris.
“Most buyers like to see the collections in advance, get a head start on what is going to be shown,” he said. “But the shows were too far apart this year. In the past, the fairs were held closer together so buyers would come here first and then go on to PV. One thing I did notice, though, is that the Americans have finally understood the difference between what is trendy and what is fashion.”
Despite Guarti’s observations, the number of U.S. visitors at the event was about flat with last year’s show. However, there was a 16 percent drop in attendance among Italian buyers. Asian attendance was down, as well, with the number of Japanese visitors off 58 percent.
As production figures continue to shrink, the Prato-based wool industry is struggling to keep its head above water. Figures recently released by the Italy’s Division of Statistics showed a 5.5 percent decrease in the production of wool cloth in the Prato area during the first 11 months of 1999.
Part of the blame is being put on the decrease in demand, as clothing designers and manufacturers switch from natural fibers to new synthetics, particularly for sportswear applications. Other critical factors center around the high duty those who import Italian wool have to pay.
At the fair’s opening ceremony, Mario Maselli, president of the textile manufacturers’ organization Unione Industriali and PratoTrade, criticized the high custom duties levied by the U.S. and China, two markets high on the list of export destinations of Prato wool producers.
“Wool cloth imported to Europe carries a 12 percent duty charge,” said Maselli. “The duty on that same cloth exported to the U.S. and China jumps to 30 percent, and even higher in India, which levies 40 percent duty on imported wool cloth.”
Italy has more than 400 companies and about 30,000 people working in the textile sector, with a total billing of almost $4 million at current exchange rates, $2.5 million of which came from exports. Sales in the first half of 1999 dropped 5 percent from the previous year, and there was a 6 percent drop in foreign sales, despite the strength of foreign currency, especially the dollar, yen and British pound, against the lira.
Despite the less-than-rosy picture, textile manufacturers here are predicting a 3.8 percent increase in production for 2000, and along with it a much-awaited increase in exports, as they scramble to resolve the problem of increased competition worldwide.

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