NEW YORK — Italian weavers from areas including Prato, Milan and Como were on hand with their spring 2003 lines at this month’s I-TexStyle fabric show.

The show was held at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.

Mill executives and their U.S. sales representatives said the event ran smoothly, even though the dates for the show — which ran Feb. 4-5 — were not officially confirmed until one month before.

They also said business was slow, both in Italy and the U.S.

Gabriele Godi, owner of Prato-based Tessilgodi, lowered his line’s opening price points last fall to accommodate the growing number of buyers who are looking for less-expensive fabrics. Godi said that trend started about six months ago, but plans for a turnaround by fall 2003. His opening price point is now $4 a yard, as opposed to $5.50 to $6 last year.

“People are buying less and postponing their orders,” he said. “A customer that used to buy around $7 is now looking for $6 fabric.”

Andrew Koenig, the North American sales representative for Chieri-based rayon and linen mill Fil, cited designers’ last-minute decisions about orders as a contributing reason for the lag in business.

“Business is difficult,” he said. “Buyers tend to commit later and later and the fabric shows get progressively earlier and earlier.”

Koenig complained staging I-TexStyle the week before the fall collections in New York only decreased the chance of buyers coming to the show.

Marci Barnett, a sales executive at Chantal Fabrics, which represents Chieri-based Tever, said linen with 2 to 5 percent spandex was a popular seller.

“Stretch did very well,” she said. “It’s always done well in Europe but I think Americans want it now.”

Export manager Marcello Mazzei at Montemurlo-based Ibla, which specializes in linen, rayon and linen-cotton blends, said he is losing business to fabrics from the Far East. Mazzei said fabric creativity is Europe’s main advantage over imports.

“Europe’s power is quality, not quantity,” he said. “There are too many importers from Asia, so Europe doesn’t have the chance [to compete].”

The most directional looks shown at the fair were rich brocades and matelasses, as well as laces and mesh-like fabrics. The focus was decidedly more ornate than at the last show, and many exhibitors said that buyers were focusing on both feminine and highly textured luxe looks.

At Prato-based Picchi, vice president Fred Rottman noted its brocades, laces and eyelets were doing very well.

“All these looks will be very important going forward,” he said. “They’re feminine and provide a great deal of texture in a luxurious way.”

Thanos Kamiliotis, president of E. Boselli in New York, said richly colored matelasses were heeding the call from buyers for more highly textured fabrics.

At Linea Tessile Italiana, textures were mixed together with colorful printed florals atop linen blends with stripes in the ground. Also key at the Prato-based mill, according to general manager Alessandro Benelli, were tonal flocked looks on linen. He said the tonal effect lends a subtle look.

Textures at Bisentino, meanwhile, included softly colored tweeds, as well as jacquards that look like prints, said Lorenzo Gramigni, export manager for the Prato-based company.

“Most important to the buyers now is that each fabric have some kind of textural quality,” said Gramigni.

This was true for Katrina Johnson, a designer at Nanette Lepore. “What I noticed right away at the show was that everything was textured in some way — whether it was an embroidery, a jacquard or a wrinkled and washed effect,” she said.

Johnson noted eyelets were going to be important going forward and that she had seen many that were combined with other features, such as a sheer cloth or mixed with other patterns.

Sheila Marks, licensing director at Bill Blass, said she saw more texture than in the past, in both wrinkled and tweed looks.

“It’s not a heavy, ropey surface interest but very subtle and fine such as wovens that look like pique knits,” she said.

Natural blends using linen or cotton continued to be key as well, with a group of exhibitors showing textured plains in white or khaki.

Sales manager Andrea Dentico at Prato-based Milior showed a group of fresh white cotton blended shirt fabrics, some that were sheer or with Lycra spandex. He said he’s seen a response to natural, pretty fabrics.

Exhibitors and buyers agreed color was more muted this time around, with natural tones such as sand and white being mixed with soft midtones like earthy oranges, browns and blues.

“The colors were beautiful,” said Blass’s Marks. “There were both soft and bright pastels, as well as deeper tones that I think looked really wonderful.”

According to show manager Amy Bonomi, 103 weavers participated in I-TexStyle, which is produced by the Italian Trade Commission and MAGIC International. Attendance figures were not disclosed.

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