Byline: Phyllis Macchioni

FLORENCE — What a difference 10 days make.
The 44th edition of the Prato Expo ran about a week-and-a-half earlier than it has in recent years, helping it to change its attendance trend from a decline to an increase. The fall-winter 2001-2002 show opened its three-day run at the Fortezza di Basso here on Sept. 14, the day after Moda In closed, allowing buyers to attend both shows the same week.
Fair organizers and the 118 exhibitors had been concerned about the effect the change would have on the fair, but the lines of people waiting to enter on opening day helped convince them that the switch was a positive one.
Closing figures showed a 3 percent increase in traffic, raising the number of buyers in attendance to about 8,000. A large number of buyers from Romania, Russia, Hungary and the Ukraine were primarily responsible for the 8.2 percent increase in non-Italian participation. American attendance was down 23 percent from last year.
“We are just starting to recover from two bad years, so this fair is very important to us,” said Franco Bini, president of Pratotrade, the consortium of textile producers from the Prato area that produces the show. “We are counting on the renewed interest in wool and the strong dollar to keep the recovery moving along.”
A return to elegant, luxurious fabrics, both in feel and color, was evident throughout the fair. Natural fibers and blends of natural fibers were prominent, with wool still riding the wave of popularity that began last season. Still, synthetics continue to play an important role in many applications, as microfibers, polyester, nylon and stretch fibers are perceived as indispensable elements for comfort, fit and easy care.
Colors were deep and opulent: chestnut, terracotta, sunset reds, eggplant, golden yellows and the intense blue-green of pine needles. Fabrics rivaled Renaissance tapestries in their rich designs. There were checks and plaids of every size, and prints were back with a vengeance as the look of the Eighties steamrolls ahead. There was still quite a bit of metallic yarn around, although not as much as last season.
Designers and buyers at the show said they were pleased with the variety of prints being offered and the return of classic herringbone and houndstooth designs, as well as the checks, tweeds and plaids of every dimension.
The sumptuous colors and prints at Migotex drew positive reviews.
“The selections here are particularly good,” said Nancy Taflin, president of Neckworks, a Pennsylvania company that manufactures winter jackets, hats and scarves for women. “Their designs are unique, I particularly like those that have a handcrafted look.”
At the Allegri stand, owner Marco Allegri showed nylon-and-silk cut velvets with multicolored designs that, from a distance, looked like prints.
The company’s recent acquisition of Lanisa has given them an added range to produce fabrics for an entire line of clothing, including coats, suits and jackets, Allegri added.
Unusual color combinations of violet and turquoise or burnt sienna and soft orange, plus plaids in interesting mixes of deep blue, violet and dark green were featured at Bisentino. Owner Lorenzo Gramili said that retro-Chanel-inspired looks will probably be his mill’s big push next year.
In addition to spectacular color, texture was an important element at Prato Expo this season. The addition of long-haired fibers alpaca, mohair and angora created an extra-soft, multidimensional quality to many fabrics. Bumpy napped boucles and chenilles were popular, as were knitted effects using soft, large yarns, which create interesting surface textures.
“The Italians have all the hot stuff,” said designer Walter Baker of the New York-based better contemporary resource View. “The patterns, the glitter, the looks are exactly right for my customers.”
Knitted effects were doing well at Cangioli, particularly the wool, angora and poly blends, according to sales manager Alessio Sarti. He said ttheir customers liked the details of the soft large-weave fabrics.
“Even with the return to more intense color,” he said, “traditional blue, camel and black will still be around next season. It’s just a continuation of the classic, elegant turn fashion has taken.”
Perhaps the biggest news coming out of the Italian textile trade fairs this season is the number of Web sites making their way into the Italian textile industry. Fabria.com, a U.S.-based business-to-business Web site targeting the textile industry, had a booth at Prato Expo, as did the Italian company Pagine Tessili.
Pagine calls itself “the Yellow Pages of the Italian textile industry.” According to Luigi Sorreca, director of sales and marketing, the company hopes to become a primary B2B site for raw materials, yarn, finished goods, machinery and all types of services for the textile industry in Italy.

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