FLORENCE, Italy — Exhibitors at last month’s Pitti Filati were focused on two main concerns: when the global economy would start improving and how the luxury market is changing.

While few had concrete ideas about the former, there was a variety of theories on shifts in luxury tastes and how Italian yarns would fit into the market over the years ahead.

The event, which featured spring-summer 2003 yarns, ran Jan. 24-26 at the Fortezza da Basso in Florence with the preview showing of spring-summer yarns for 2003.

“We won’t see a recovery in the fashion sector until the second half of the year,” said Mario Boselli, textile magnate and president of Pitti Immagine, which organizes the Pitti fairs. “The success of this fair, as with Pitti Uomo, is an important factor, but I don’t think we will start to see the first concrete signs of recovery until March or April. The real test will come during the second half of the year when the fall-winter collections are presented.”

“It’s been tough,” conceded Giacomo Festa Bianchet, president of Lora Festa, SpA. “There has been a drop in the luxury market, but fortunately for us, we have not felt it as much as some of the other groups. And if the business we’ve been doing at this fair is any indication of what is going to happen in the future, the market should stabilize by the end of the year.”

The experiences of other textile industry executives were similar. At Luigi Botto, general manager Roberto Baratella and account executive Vince Mancini said orders were coming in slowly, but they were coming in.

“We haven’t had any actual cancellations, either,” said Massimo Colombo, sales manager for Cariaggi Lanificio. “But more and more of our clients have developed a wait-and-see approach to buying. I can appreciate their caution, but if they expect to have merchandise in the shops in six months, they have to make some fast-and-hard decisions now.”

Some of the exhibitors interviewed felt that the decline in the luxury market has been blown out of proportion and claimed that a few buyers are now refusing orders to try to get out of bad buying decisions.

Figures released by ISTAT, the Italian bureau of statistics, showed that in 2001, Italian yarn exports were down 23 percent. However, the export figures cover all types and quality levels of yarn exported, not just the luxury yarns represented at Pitti Filati. In terms of production, yarn destined for knitwear increased 2.5 percent.

Some exhibitors worried how long Italian spinners could maintain their strong position in the luxury yarn market.

Alberto Pecci, owner of Pecci Filati, said the rapid economic development that is currently taking place in China, which has recently been admitted to the World Trade Organization, is cause for concern.

“Even if in Europe the presence of knitwear produced in the Asian market is currently limited, it can’t help but become more important,” he said, “just as it has in America and Japan.”

But Festa Bianchet of Lora & Festa disagreed: “I don’t think Asian competition is capable of infiltrating the luxury market that we serve, even though they have been present in the low-to-medium markets for some time.”

Paolo Corrias, marketing manager of Filatura di Grignasco, concurred: “The Asian market is more concerned with large-volume business, and luxury yarns by definition are not part of that segment of the market.”

Luciano Bandi, manager of international sales at Loro Piana, suggested that the entire luxury market is changing and splitting into two tiers.

“Whereas before there was only a high-end market, now there is a middle luxury market, as well,” he said. “The high end is taking in some of what used to be middle-level customers, while the middle end has become the normal market. It is a situation that is in a constant state of flux. It’s hard to judge what is actually going on.”

In terms of fashion, exhibitors were showing a new crop of transseasonal yarns. They presented featherweight blends of cashmere and cotton, linen and rayon and other variations, in a wide array of colors.

“I want to wow buyers with the range of colors we can provide,” said Giacomo Festa. In addition to pale flower-garden shades, sharp tones of green and yellow and mellow variations of tobacco were prominent throughout the fair. Less-traditional offerings included milky, dusty tones and a return of heather. Texture was important, as was shine. Grignasco touted a new line of silver-fiber yarns that, by blending silver with other fibers, created a shiny finish.

At Zegna-Baruffa, airy, gossamer cashmere, from their ultrafine cashmere Shamir line, was transformed into delicate flower-like patterns, while IGEA was at the other end of the texture scale with a fat, but lightweight rayon and nylon yarn, ideal for bulky applications.

Comfort and easy care were on everyone’s mind, and nearly all of the producers included yarns with these features in their collections. “There is most certainly a return to more essential values,” said Corrias, of Grignasco. “Our lives are more complicated than ever, so we are all looking for ways to simplify things, and easy-care, easy-wear clothing is one of them.”

The introduction of the euro hardly caused a ripple at the fair.

“We serve a global market,” said Mila Zegna-Baruffa, “which means a dollar market, so the introduction of the euro really has had little effect on us, although it is certainly more convenient for our European clients.”

Another topic of debate at the show was who would replace Mario Boselli, who will be stepping down after serving as head of Pitti Immagine for the past seven years. Those being considered as his replacement are Sergio Loro Piana, Gaetano Marzotto and Domenico De Sole.

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