NEW YORK — Ratti SpA — one of Italy’s leading natural fibers companies, known especially for its silks — is expanding in China, a reflection of its interest in the Asian market as a potentially important customer.

The company has been in China for two years, producing silk prints for the Western markets. Its operations are in the Sichuan area in plants owned jointly with Chinese textile firms, said Antonio Ratti, president of the company, based in Como.

Other Ratti facilities are in Italy and France. Total volume last year was $180 million.

Now, the company is involved in two new joint ventures for more silk print production in China: one in Sichuan to be completed in 1995 and another, near Shanghai, in 1997, said Ratti.

Both ventures involve renovations and expansions of existing plants, with the size of the facilities yet to be determined. Chinese textile firms will be partners in both areas, and Pepsi International World Trade, a division of Pepsico Inc., is an investor in the Sichuan venture, according to Ratti.

In both Sichuan and Shanghai, Ratti said, the output of silk prints will be geared to Asian markets.

“I feel these markets will grow considerably in the near future,” he said. “China is not just a place to produce, but a place where we can build up some good business.”

Ratti was here last week for a lecture to students at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He also presented “Nature, Art, Technology,” a film produced by his company that describes its approach to fashion design.

As for the firm’s U.S. business, Ratti expressed disappointment about the market for his top-priced designer lines, but said this is being more than offset by growth in bridge markets.

“It is difficult to sell our haute couture collection here because the market has shrunk so much. It almost does not exist here,” he said.

While attempting to maintain quality, Ratti is working with new segments of the market.

“The bridge and private label is becoming more important to us,” he said. For these markets, fabrics such as wool challis prints, wool and viscose blends, and wool crepe are $16 to $20 per yard. The silk and wool georgettes, which are also important cloths, range from $25 to $32.

Volume for the U.S. was up 50 percent in 1993 due to growth in the bridge market, the spokesman pointed out. According to latest available figures, the U.S. accounted for 6.7 percent of Ratti’s total volume in 1992.

While designers are still viewing fabrics, early bestsellers for spring 1995 include prints with soft paisleys and flowers on cotton and viscose, linen and viscose and cotton and linen.

In addition to the spring fabrics, Ratti has begun to market its own line of R di Ratti silk scarves. The company is also the licensee for Valentino, Gianfranco Ferre and Karl Lagerfeld scarves.

The Ratti scarves, pricewise, will be more accessible to the American market than the designers’ own lines, he said.

As for business elsewhere in North America, Ratti noted that he’s been established in Mexico with men’s necktie fabrics for some time.

“We’ve been there for 15 years and have an agent there, and business in men’s ties has been tremendous. For women’s wear fabrics, we have to work a little bit longer in that market. I feel that in the near future, new designers and apparel companies will surface because of all the changes Mexico is involved with. Ladies’ wear is not that strong, and there isn’t much of a market there for us now,” he said.

On other points, Ratti said he was irked by the copyists in Korea who come to Italy, buy the designs and produce them on inexpensive silks.

He says it’s a problem that won’t end soon.

“There is no solution. They have no creativity, so they must absolutely copy,” he said.

“The key to our success is that they do not have our creativity and technique. Not everyone can print on a silk organza, a wool challis, a very soft silk jacquard or a mousseline.”

Does Ratti feel that the new Italian government, headed by Silvio Berlusconi, will have a positive effect on the textile industry?

“Yes, because the new Italian government will give Italy more power, increase the quality of life, and the more credibility for Italy, the more possibilities for export.”

What’s ahead for fall 1995?

“We’re going back to classic fabrics, not as luxurious as in the past because the fabrics have to be accessible to markets that cannot pay high prices,” he said. “There will be yarn-dyes, solids and novelties that are very special, not looking ordinary. The prints will have artistic designs and have high impact. Ethnic? no. Paisley? Yes, and very large and unusual with sophisticated colorations.”

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