MILAN — Commodity prices dominated the conversation at European textile fair Milano Unica.
Fabric producers at the three-day show, which ended Feb. 17, were dealing with wool, silk and cotton prices hovering at unprecedentedly high levels as they kicked off the spring 2012 season. According to figures compiled by the Italian fashion and textile consortium SMI-ATI, cotton prices were up 74.8 percent in 2010, silk costs rose 52.8 percent and the price of wool increased 39.6 percent.
After being caught off guard by raw material price surges last year, manufacturers came armed with adjusted price lists for the coming season. But they remained concerned about sourcing commodities and jeopardizing company profits just as the sector seemed to be steering itself toward recovery. After two years of economic crisis, the Italian textile industry registered an 11.8 percent sales increase last year to about 7.5 billion euros, or about $10 billion, compared to the previous year, according to SMI-ATI.
Pier Luigi Loro Piana, president of Milano Unica, praised Italian entrepreneurs for the sector’s recovery during the fair’s inaugural press conference, but added, “We are aware that the results of 2010 are not sufficient to close the gap and return to precrisis levels. Even though manufacturing plants were used constantly, production levels came nowhere near the 2008 figures.”
Despite the turbulent backdrop, the fair attracted 442 exhibitors, and 20,000 visitors, up 2 percent compared to the February 2010 edition. The number of international visitors increased 11 percent.
“As raw materials are more difficult to source, producers have gotten more creative,” said Steven Gronich, U.S. sales director for Lanificio Di Tollegno, underlining the fair’s upbeat vibrant offerings. “The shortages are forcing manufacturers to create new blends from all forms of fibers.”
On show at Tollegno were new cotton, mohair and linen soft-handle blends in macrodesigns, including checks and bright hues such as reds.
Elsewhere inside the fair’s Ideabiella section, manufacturers featured classic collections alongside more experimental lines. Key trends included lightweight and extrafine luminous fabrics in radiant tones, whereas vintage and weathered effects that previously dominated the sector were sidelined for spring.
Hoping to stand out from the crowd, Botto Fila exhibited a collection of unusual weaves. Women’s wear offerings included noble silks in shiny and matte versions blended with wool, cotton and viscose mixes alongside high twist wools with enhanced stretch properties. For men’s wear, the focus was on reworked classics that included finer weights, silk and wool blends in contrast mélanges and an array of nonsolid colors and patterns. The Biella-based manufacturer saw sales rise about 18 percent to 20 million euros, or around $27 million, last year compared with 2009.
Botto Fila chief executive officer Alberto Bertoni said he hopes to consolidate the company’s market share in the Middle East, China and Japan by focusing on the heritage of the brand, which is celebrating its centenary this year. According to the company, exports to these regions increased 35 percent in the past two years.
International expansion was a key topic throughout the fair, bolstered by a special guest, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, who urged fabric producers to focus on exports, citing as an example the luxury sports car manufacturer, which exports 90 percent of its production. Show president Loro Piana said the textile industry currently exports around 60 percent of production, but emphasized there is room for growth in the world markets and that is essential for recovery.
Mauro Bellini, marketing manager for Lanicifico Ermenegildo Zegna & Figli SpA, said the U.S., China and Japan continued to be strong markets for the company. It showcased two collections: a new fashion offering of two-tone fabrics in blue hues and an array of technological fabrics including cool-effect fabrics that reflect sunlight, and an antistain fabric. The company’s silk mill, Tessitura Novara, exhibited a collection of silks with the addition of waterproof membranes.
Italian mill Botto Giuseppe also harnessed technology for spring with its “liquid wool” line that blends silk with techno fibers to produce effects such as stretch, shiny and iridescent surfaces and soft hands.
Men’s suiting wool mill Reda combined a melting pot of cultures in its collection that featured preppy-inspired Vichy squares alongside a colonial-themed line in intense metallic, green and sand hues.
Luxury producer Loro Piana showed lightweight blended yarns in cashmere and silk with evocative names including sunset, referring to its intended use for cool summer evenings. Natural fibers were utilized to produce the company’s sporty outdoor collection that aims to inject natural fibers, including linen-wool blends in neutral colors, with performance qualities. Loro Piana said he intended to strike a balance between supporting existing customers in the U.S, Japan and Europe with reaching out to expanding markets such as China.
Although strong cotton prices are unable to provide the much-needed stimulus required by the shirting sector, increased Asian manufacturing prices and delivery times are injecting the Italian shirting industry with a new energy, according to exhibitors. Within the fair’s Shirt Avenue section, Italian producer Testa spearheaded the sector’s fascination with newness for spring, showcasing its traditional Made in Italy range alongside a sportier line, also produced here.
“Our clients are demanding something different for weekends and evenings, but want to retain a luxury aspect,” said chief designer Gian Luca Bena, referring to the collection’s modern striped qualities in bold colors and modern lightweight denim-look fabrics with jacquard prints.
Taiana featured new techniques, including subtle chalklike prints over florals, Liberty-style prints, and blue hues such as subtle tie-dyed effects.
“There’s finally a willingness to try something new,” said Matteo Taiana, manager of Taiana’s shirting division, which also previewed a new collection of stretch jacquard blazers.