PARIS — Economic angst shrouded business at last week’s Expofil yarn fair outside Paris.

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Coming off a difficult season blotted by Sept. 11, vendors said business remained uncertain and slow. They said European clients, especially in the luxury sector, had trimmed orders. However, they reported that American clients — who had largely avoided overseas travel last fall — returned to the show this season.

Overall, though, vendors at the Villepint exhibition center, where the show wrapped up its three-day run on Thursday, painted a grim picture.

“Anyone who tells you business is good isn’t telling the truth,” said Jorg Scheiwiller, chairman of Audresset, a high-end French mill. “If there’s any good news, it’s that some of our American clients are coming back. Europe remains in the dumps.”

To underscore the gravity of the situation, Scheiwiller said many of his clients have yet to confirm orders for the forthcoming winter season. He said customers are waiting until the last moment to avoid building up excess stock.

“Everyone’s tightening their belts,” said Scheiwiller. “No one wants to take a chance in the current uncertain business environment. And when the going gets tough, it’s always the first link in the supply chain that suffers.”

Carlo Boselli, managing director at Italy’s Mario Boselli Yarns, predicted that business would improve in the second half of the year.

“For the moment, sales for ready-to-wear yarns are slow,” he added.

At Cariaggi Lanificio, a spinner of fine woolens based in Italy, manager Massimo Colombo, said evidence of a turnaround remains scant.

“We’re putting on a brave face, but business is far from solid,” he said. He predicted that in the current environment, innovative yarns would drive sales.

But many buyers interviewed at the fair said they were returning to more traditional designs. As evidence, they pointed to the sustained trend for muted colors.

Spinners have trumpeted color in recent seasons. Changing seasonal color trends, they contend, motivate consumers to buy more clothes. Over the last two years, colors featured at Expofil have swung back and forth between bright yellows and reds, to more muted tones of brick and orange.

But even as mills promote color, some buyers say their customers gravitate more readily to basics in black, gray, beige and blue. Trying to better understand how customers react to shifts in color, Expofil organized a round-table discussion on the subject.

Maria Luisa Poumaillou, who operates the Maria Luisa designer boutiques in Paris, bemoaned that it is often more difficult to sell designer garments in bright colors. But she blamed this on designers’ inability to manipulate color in new and striking ways.

“What we need in fashion is more accomplished colorists,” she said. “If there were more designers who knew how to use color, then we would sell more colorful garments. Who wants to buy another black suit? It could come from Zara or H&M. There’s nothing about it that says designer, or different.”

Meanwhile, buyers at Expofil, which marked the debut of yarns for the fall-winter 2003-2004 seasons, cited brick, orange, rust, purple and lilac blue as key for forthcoming season.

“We want some color, but we want that color to be restrained and easy to market,” said Julia Robinson, who — with Julie Boddey — runs London-based knitwear design firm Kiosk.

As for yarns, Robinson said the trend was for fluffy or felted yarns.

“It’s not a big change from recent seasons,” she said, “but chunky, lightweight yarns will be important.”

Joel Dages, a designer at Paris firm Christophe Lemaire, said he was interested in “basic looks.” He said yarns in orange and ochre looked attractive.

“There’s less gray and black than in the past,” he said. “The colors are happier. That’s good.”

Buyers also described chenille yarns as eye-catching.

“I think chenille yarns look great,” said Alexandra Vieira, a design consultant at knitwear consulting firm A. Ferreira & Filhoos in Portugal. “I also like the variety in bulky three- and five-gauge yarns. They are interesting because they are very lightweight.””

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