FLORENCE — An intimate group of about 100 Tuscan textile designers celebrated their deep-seated roots at the Prato Expo trade show, which ended its three-day run here Sept. 17.
Some 6,000 visitors made their way to Florence’s fairgrounds to see a show that highlighted Prato’s flair for comfortable wool blends. While the number of Italian attendees declined 16.5 percent, there was a 2.5 percent increase in foreign visitors, due to what organizers said is Prato’s special appeal.
“We are specialized in excellent textiles for women,” said Riccardo Marini, Prato’s president. “We want to be a complement for Milan because we have such creative collections and textiles with character.”
The organizers said Prato, a small town outside of Florence, pioneered the fabric-making industry on the banks of the Arno river nearly 1,000 years ago. Today, some 100 family-run brands are contemplating joining the recently united Milanese trade show Milano Unica.
Marini’s son Francesco, 27, is the head of design at his father’s platinum label, Marini and Clicconi. Smoothing his hands over carefully woven herringbone tweeds and cotton and viscose blends printed with fleur-de-lis, Marini explained the techniques applied to his 140 new textile designs.
“We have things that are more particular,” he said, gesturing toward several worked fabrics, including a powdery damask rose floral printed flannel. “There is a return to things more elegant this year. Definitely less cotton and more wool.”
Vincenzo Cangioli, president of Lanificio Cangioli, said he has kept his family’s company steadily afloat, making a turnover of nearly 30 million euros, or about $36 million, for the last three years.
“Our challenge this year is to keep on growing in a market condition where the majority of businesses are shrinking,” he said.
Asked if he thought it would benefit his company and his fellow Prato-based manufacturers to join Milano Unica, he said, “We will follow the consensus. Trade shows don’t necessarily mean that we sell more or survive more. Our work is done on a one-on-one basis.”
Marco Saccenti, design specialist at Dinamo, said eveningwear for next season will boast a multitude of finishes. Dinamo’s booth was covered in 60 materials in midnight blue to classic black. Materials for jackets and gowns ranged from velvet to satiny linen blends.
“People are looking for technical looks, like velvet made with a cotton and linen blend,” said Saccenti.
Dinamo’s parent company, Ultra, also exhibited an array of innovations for its niche market. Primary color tartan plaids and houndstooth patterns were magnified to accommodate a Sixties-inspired winter collection.
Started in 1999, owner Stefano Rigotti said his Prato-based company aims to “create a high-level product that utilizes the latest in research.”
Rigotti said moving to Milano Unica might be “something to consider.” Although the numbers were the same as last year, “We have to help clients not complicate their lives. It’s not like they have two weeks to stay away from their jobs traveling from Milan to Florence.”
Perusing the metallic blends and linear designs paramount at Ultra’s crowded booth, Susanne Klevorick, Nine West’s vice president of design, said she prefers Prato Expo over Milano Unica.
“It’s a little less crazy here,” she said while looking for novelty jacquards. “It’s much easier to cover and see here than in Milan.”
Lanificio Mario Bellucci mixed cashmere with angora, wool and cotton for comfortable layers under winter coats this year. Colors ranged from melon to heather gray.
Wool woven with mohair, alpaca and silky metallic yarns and fabrics incorporated with rosy pink and grassy green colors characterized Prato’s overall motif.
Taking a break from working his booth, Marini said, “We have to decide what the future holds. We can stay or go to Milan and we have to see if business does well here or there.”
On the fairgrounds of Milano Unica, just two days prior, Massimo Dubini, president of Moda In, discussed economic challenges facing the Italian manufacturing market. Dubini said Prato’s presence was the missing link in their united market front.
“We hope that Prato’s exhibitors come here,” Dubini said. “We would like to have a complete [Italian] vision on the global market.”