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COMO, Italy — Faced with dramatic changes in international trade rules, Italy’s textile industry is trying to find a new approach to business.

For the 32 silk mills that exhibited at April’s Ideacomo trade show, that has meant cranking up the focus on fashion, offering broader assortments of fabrics and more frequent seasonal collections.

The country’s trade shows are also changing. The gathering April 6-8 on the shores of Lake Como marked what’s expected to be the last silk show there, as Ideacomo prepares to join forces with Ideabiella and Moda In for a combined textile event this September in Milan.

In a positive sign, the Italian government released figures showing the nation’s silk industry stabilizing. The sector’s sales for the first quarter of 2005 were up 6.5 percent. Last year, sales were about $1.79 billion, off 0.2 percent from 2003. (Figures converted from the euro at the average 2004 exchange rate.)

Ideacomo president Beppe Pisani said the figures reflected a reawakened German market, a strong Spanish one and stable business in the U.S., combined with a necessity for retailers to add pizzazz to similar-looking collections.

“Now there is even more need for designers to show something different in the windows, and for that, they are using Como fabrics,” Pisani said. “Como is turning into the world’s spice shop of textiles.”

He added the region’s mills “are looking at new directions in the market — reacting to movement in retail by showing new fabrics every month, to give small quantities and ultrafast service.”

One mill at the show that embodied that philosophy was Canepa.

“Every 15 days we have new designs that can be ordered in as little as 36 meters,” said Renato Ghirardelli, the company’s area manager.

Serikos has taken a similar approach, now publishing and shipping to clients a book of its new designs every two months. Pisani, who is also president of Serikos, said the company aims to increase the book’s frequency to monthly and to show swatches online.

“We have spoiled clients and now we are learning the consequences,” he said.

This story first appeared in the May 10, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Another mill, Zibetti Orsini, is focusing on a broad selection, rolling out 300 new fabrics twice a year.

“We are tiny, so we rely on our fantasy to keep clients once we attract them,” said president Giovanni Orsini. “The textile crisis has not hit us so hard.”

Based north of Milan in Gallarate, the company isn’t expecting to grow much bigger than its current sales volume of about $6.5 million a year.

Styles at the show tended toward the ornate. Mills offered a variety of fabrics with metallic fibers, and bright, ethnic looks were also a common theme. Etro, for instance, showed aboriginal dot-painted paisleys on a colorful silk background.

Canepa’s assortment included tapestry floral prints on heavy silk as well as oversized Hawaiian florals and Fifties-inspired red, white and black polkadot prints. Nord Tessile showed double-faced shantung silks, with polkadots and geometric designs.

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