FLORENCE, Italy — Natural fabrics, particularly denim, were a key trend at this month’s Prato Expo trade fair at Florence’s Fortezza da Basso, where spring-summer 2003 fabrics were on display.

At Prato-based Lanificio Roma, owner Endrio Guasti predicted another strong year for denim in 2003, but said he thought that might be the peak of the fabric’s recent run in the limelight.

“Denim is going to continue to be big next year,” he said. “But then it’s finished.”

His company was offering denim worked in a variety of ways: stonewashed, texturized, burned, fringed and satinized. Many fabrics contained a small percentage of spandex fibers.

Elegance was the theme at Il Telaio, where soft spring colors and subtle textures took center stage. Linen, cotton, hemp and silk fabrics dominated the assortment, though they were designed with easy-care properties in mind.

Owner Franco Miliotti said his clients were pleased with the small amount of stretch in his lightweight wool, and his new anti-wrinkle finishes. “The new finishes we have incorporated make our transitional wool fabrics great for travel wardrobes,” he said.

At Emmeci, stripes and plaids were still important. Cotton was the fabric of choice, sometimes mixed with other fibers. Rayon blends and all-cotton fabrics led fashion looks at Cuccirelli, which also featured stripes and plaids for summer. Red and white were the colors of choice at both stands.

Fashion trends exhibited in the trend center of the fair indicated a continuation of light and colorful feminine looks for spring-summer 2003.

Exhibitors at the fair expressed concern that export figures for the first few weeks of the year were below expectations.

“This edition of Prato Expo will be the real test of the actual state of the market,” said Vincenzo Pagano, director of Pratotrade, the fair organizers, “but the indications are good, and hopefully we are moving on.”

Franco Bini, president of Pratotrade, said his organization was rethinking the timing of the show, which ran Feb. 14-16 this year.

“While our September date has already been established, we are looking to alter the date of the next spring edition,” he said. “I would like to see it moved closer to the end of February, which is more in keeping with the needs of our clients.”

Some exhibitors expressed dissatisfaction with the early timing of Italy’s fabric trade shows this season.

“One of the reasons we are doing Prato Expo,” explained Paula DeToma, sales manager for the Como silk company Gruppo Colombo, “is that Moda In was too early for us and our samples weren’t ready. We notified our clients that we would be here instead, and they have come to see us. An added plus is that we have made new contacts, which is the real reason we participate in trade shows.”

That sentiment was shared by Paolo Cuccirelli, owner of Cuccirelli & C., another Como-based company. “We were at Moda In, but just with a representative selection of samples because the show date was so early this year, our sample line wasn’t ready.”

Another first-time exhibitor was Dondi, a jersey manufacturer from the Modena area. “This fair meets our clients’ needs,” said Guido Capelli, the company’s owner. “We usually do Moda In, but the early date didn’t allow us enough time to prepare our samples, and there was no point in participating in a textile fair without textiles to sell. It isn’t fair to our clients.”

Final figures showed a 3.7 percent increase in attendance over last year’s spring fair, with a 5.9 percent increase in Italian visitors. Organizers said American attendance was off following the I-Texstyle event in New York earlier in the month.

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