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NEW YORK — Much of the talk at last month’s International Fashion Fabric Exhibition focused on fending off price competition.

This story first appeared in the November 4, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Domestic converters and importers said they were responding to lower-priced competitors by developing novelty fabrics and increasing the service aspects of their businesses.

Offering full-package garment production, introducing new fabrics and negotiating things such as terms of payment were some of the ways executives said they were becoming more service oriented.

IFFE took place Oct. 14-16 at the Jacob K. Javits Center in Manhattan while I-TexStyle, a show sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission featuring mills from Italy’s Prato region, ran alongside IFFE Oct. 15-16 in a separate pavilion.

Although Italian mills typically feature more expensive fabrics than importers that primarily source from Asia, executives said the continued strength of the euro compared with the dollar made the higher prices seem more pronounced.

“Italy is great for ideas, but because of the euro and cost competition from China, it can be difficult to buy,” said Bernard Holtzman, president and chief executive officer of Harvé Benard. “Everyone just looks for price and the stores don’t give you increases. But they want [merchandise] to look good. You can buy expensive fabrics for the high-end market, but the high-end isn’t big volume.”

Despite that, Holtzman said he placed a sizeable order with a mill at I-TexStyle.

Trendwise, novelty fabrics were evident. Examples included an abundance of lofty-looking colorful tweeds and a wide selection of brightly hued prints, burnouts and laces.

At IFFE, Ben Paniri, president of Ben-Tex — which showed tweeds with colorful chenille and mohair effects — said, “Novelty creates excitement. It’s just not as inspiring to create something from a plain fabric today.”

Michael Shapiro, president of D&N Textiles, voiced a similar point of view.

“Novelty makes things fresh,” Shapiro said. “It’s hard to compete with all the mass merchants out there and novelty is what makes our line different.”

In addition to embroideries in new colorations, D&N also showed printed stretch laces and tie-dye jacquards on tie-dye grounds. Impala Industries International addressed novelty through a new knit line imported from Brazil, which included cutout stretchy looks in both solid and colorfully printed varieties.

“The strong pastels, or sherbet colors, are doing well for us,” said Howard Klein, chief financial officer of Impala.

Exotic Silks showed velvet burnouts and prints in silk and silk blends, in colors including red and purple. Prints were also key at U.S. Silk Inc., which offered Pucci-like motifs on silk. Alexander Henry showed strong graphic looks in black, red and white. Robert Kaufman’s assortment included Mod-like geometrics in strong, poppy colors. Michael Miller also showed retro prints.

Meanwhile, at I-TexStyle, tweeds in strong color combinations at Picchi, Manteco and Tessitura di Creavacuore garnered lots of attention.

“It’s a very specific season,” said Fred Rottman, executive vice president at Picchi’s U.S. office. “Novelty is much more important and people are really responding to color.”

Rottman also said their selections of geometrics in tweed-like textures were doing well.

At Manteco, supervising manager Matteo Mantellassi said that while bright colors have been strong in Europe for some time, it was finally being more widely accepted by U.S. buyers. Bold, textural houndstooths in bright colors such as orange were among the highlights at Manteco for the new season.

Tessitura di Crevacuore also focused on color. Selections there included geometric patterning on wool, a black-and- white patchwork look on an acrylic blend and a multicolored large-scale plaid on a wool blend.

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