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Stormy economic conditions have darkened prospects for many Italian yarn spinners in recent seasons, but industry operators say long-awaited recovery in Japan, plus growth in the U.S. and other export destinations, are reshaping the sector to benefit high-end specialists, and stoking the forecast for the coming season.

This story first appeared in the June 25, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Spinning mills will show their fall-winter 2014-15 yarn collections at the Pitti Filati yarn fair July 3 to 5 at the Fortezza da Basso in Florence.

“What is interesting is that high-quality yarns are growing, while medium and medium-low level yarns are stagnant,” said Raffaello Napoleone, chief executive officer for fair organizer Pitti Imagine.

“It hasn’t been a bad season,” added Napoleone, meaning sales for the spring-summer 2014 yarn collections were not as negative as industry figures seem to indicate.

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Italian yarn exports dropped 6 percent in the first quarter of 2013, said Napoleone, citing Italian fashion and textile consortium Sistema Moda Italia. An SMI report also found that yarn exports contracted 4 percent in 2012, giving the impression of a negative trend.

“The greatest suffering was found for spinning” in the Italian textile sector, while “silk weaving appears to be the best performer,” wrote SMI.

Napoleone maintained that the outlook is positive. Prepaid visitor registrations to Pitti Filati are up 15 and 16 percent for foreigners and Italians, respectively. The return of Italian visitors marks a significant change from recent fairs that have seen a squeeze on domestic buyers due to Italy’s troubled economic climate.

“We’re beginning to see positive signs,” Napoleone added. “We are expecting a good fair.”

Napoleone explained that yarn exports to higher-cost manufacturing markets like Germany, France, the U.K. and the U.S. have picked up, while exports had contracted to lower-cost manufacturing locations such as Romania, Turkey, the Czech Republic, China and Tunisia.

SMI found that exports for the textile and clothing sector — including yarn, fabrics and garments — grew 15.1 percent to the U.S. and 14.9 percent to Japan in 2012.

“We had Japanese visitors who we haven’t seen for a long time,” said Stefano Salvaneschi, head of the premium cotton yarn-maker Iafil, speaking of the January edition of Pitti Filati.

Premium cashmere yarn-maker Lanificio Cariaggi reported sales were up nearly 14 percent in 2012 over 2011, closing at 106 million euros, or $141.4 million at current exchange, for 2012.

Cristina Cariaggi, a director, called sales “on trend” for 2013 with “modest growth.”

“In terms of turnover, 2012 was a good year,” said Stefania Bernardi, area manager for high- to medium-end merino wool yarn specialist Lanificio di Tollegno, who added that 2012 sales were about 150 million euros, or $200 million, up 6 to 7 percent over 2011.

While 2013 has so far proven more difficult, Bernardi said there was reason to be upbeat. She explained that the year is far from over, since the wool yarns for winter collections account for about 80 percent of sales.

Premium viscose and exotic animal fiber-spinner Lineapiù forecasts light growth in 2013. Lineapiù is expecting turnover of sales of 36 million euros to 37 million euros, or $48 million to $49 million, this year compared with 35.5 million euros, or $47.3 million, in 2012, president Alessandro Bastagli said.

Bastagli called the firm’s creative viscose offerings the “battle horse” of the business, although the winter collection is enriched with exotic woolens such as mohair and baby alpaca.

Fancy viscose yarn-maker Filpucci reported earnings up 5 percent in the first quarter over the same period in 2012, but orders soared by 30 percent, driven by fashion demand for viscose for summer 2014 high-end collections, vice president Federico Gualtieri said.

Filpucci focuses on satisfying a narrow luxury market for summer, but spans a wide range of luxury and diffusion yarns for the high-volume fall and winter season, a strategy that “is going very well,” Gualtieri said.

“We offer three winter collections made in Italy,” he said. “One is fancy [viscose] yarns for the high-end market. Then we have the ‘Woolens’ collection [based on animal fibers] for the medium range. We also have a diffusion line of fancy [viscose] yarns for the medium range.”

Filpucci will introduce “Glow” yarn in its upcoming winter collection. The idea for the glow-in-the-dark fluorescent mohair came from fashion designer Alexander Wang, Gualtieri said.

While Filpucci is also banking on continued interest in shimmering Lurex, Cariaggi’s winter cashmere collection is headed for warm natural tones like amber, honey, beige and white.

Cariaggi has elaborated on the idea of wrapping up in “clouds” of yarn that have the lightweight qualities of the spinner’s summer yarns, but with added volume, softness, luminosity and furlike effects.

Cariaggi is introducing Wave (87 percent cashmere, 13 percent silk) as part of its “Fantasia” range of cashmere-silk blends that was launched last winter. Wave joins silk and cashmere fibers through a special technique, creating unusual printed effects. Also part of the Fantasia range are Nuage (74 percent cashmere, 26 percent silk), which exposes cashmere fibers for a brushed knitwear effect, and bouclé (93 percent cashmere, 7 percent silk), a Persian-effect bouclé yarn.

Lanificio di Tollegno is also fluffing volume into extrafine wool for soft, lightweight chains, and is reinterpreting merino wool through a spirited yarn called “Wild” and a voluminous yarn dubbed “Scout.”

While the high season for premium Egyptian cotton yarn spinners Iafil and Filmar is fading with warm winter yarn collections, neither is sitting out the July fair. Iafil is offering carded Peruvian alpaca worked in Italy’s Biella wool district with a double-dyed finish. Filmar is launching a book and a Web site on the Egyptian Cotton Museum in Cairo to share the history and culture of Egypt’s long-fiber cotton production.

Filmar and spinner Olcese are also continuing their efforts to relaunch Filoscozia-certified, gassed-cotton yarn they reintroduced last season. Devised in the early Eighties, the soft hypoallergenic cotton was made with extralong staple cotton from Egypt, enabling spinners to make silkier yarns that were less prone to pilling. A Filmar spokeswoman said certification and rebranding initiatives are under way, as well as collaborations with New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and Milanese art school NABA.

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