Despite a slight drop in attendance at the 61st Pitti Immagine Filati in Florence last week, the venue was still filled with the palpable air of business. The dip, mainly due to the Asian and US markets both being hit by poor currency exchange rates, failed to cloud the glimmer of resurgence among European fabric manufacturers.
With the number of Asian and US companies attending down compared with last July, UK buyers now make up the second biggest foreign contingent. They were joined by a rise in the number of firms from Eastern Europe, whose new class of wealthy consumers covet the European look, according to Pitti Immagine president Gaetano Marzotto. "They are here to buy a lifestyle," he declared. This factor has been identified as a building block towards recovery in the textiles market, with producers and retailers striving to distinguish their product from lower-cost yarns, fabrics and clothing.
Cost remains a key factor. In the case of cashmere sourcing takes place in US dollars but high wool prices due to the drought and currency rates are also having an effect. The trend of keeping more stock in a greater range of colours is continuing, with spinners trying to serve changing markets at short notice.
For autumn 08, there is a move towards capitalising on the growing international consciousness of green issues. Marzotto underlined the advantage for European producers. "Groups in Europe have been conscious of the environmental impact for 25 years. China and India are a disaster in this respect," he said. Leandro Gualtieri from Italian yarn mill Filpucci said organic cotton had been specially requested by UK customers last season and that 2% of the company's sales already came from organic yarns. Among other mills, recycled yarns from Fildi generated interest, Manifattura di Legnano showed organic long staple cotton, Manifattura da Sesia had natural hue wool yarns and Tintoria di Quaregna unveiled natural herbal dyes.
The weather again influenced designs - the much referred to "absence of winter" affected sales of heavier-weight garments in Europe last season, and the emphasis now is on light and airy alternatives that retain a substantial visual appeal. Chunky yarns are substantially lighter and softer, in merino, cashmere, mohair and alpaca, attracting buyers and designers with a more practical approach to comfort.
UK buyers noted a lack of mid-weights - designs coalesced around chunky hand-knits and fine, gauzy knits. Colour in darks, purples and greens vied with natural animal-hair tones and winter pales, often enlivened with subtle sparkle, were welcomed. Fancy effects, such as boucles, slubs and knops, provided texture for simple constructions. Geometric designs and jacquards were interpreted in wools and cashmere. Blends were impressive, with individual yarns comprising various different fibres. Cashmere, wool, mohair and alpaca were combined with linen, silk and cotton, while synthetic yarn components were used for particular effects, such as nylon, viscose or metallics to produce shine or an unusual handle.
Many yarns were soft and fuzzy, or brushed. Interesting stitching gave an uneven surface and textural effects that enlivened darker tones.
Glitter featured prominently, but was underplayed, with sparkle only seen on movement. Simple and more complex knits were galvanised by shiny yarns.
Graphics, asymmetric and colourful geometric shapes on jacquards and prints pepped up soft knits, and went large-scale for knitted outerwear.
Light yarns in soft wool, mohair or merino/cashmere and airy knits gave warmth without weight, while polyamide provided shine for a wearable look.
WHAT THE DESIGNERS THOUGHT
Jenny Allerton, design director at UK high street supplier Intro Clothing, London
"We visit the show not only to buy fabrics, but also to get some indication about styling. Colour has been interesting; we liked the maroons, inky tones and charcoals. The darks are enlivened by blends with other yarns and colours with some shine and sparkle. The super light cashmeres are really good."
Gemma Colao, knitwear designer, Esprit, Germany
"I had expected to see more developments in knitwear, although chunky looks are much lighter this season. Fine yarns and viscose mixes are ideal for us - we are looking at soft, drapy fabrics, so the lighter weights are attractive. Colour was good, such as the grey/blues, but where are all the middle weights?"
Anne Barthelme, president and design director, Lily McNeal, Los Angeles
"I'm looking for novelty in the cashmere and worsted area. Colour-wise, the trend is fun and the dark and bright twists are interesting, as are the new blends. Organics are really taking off in Los Angeles. Californians will pay more for organic yarns and sustainables such as bamboo with natural dyes."
Billie Tuttle, women's sweaters and knitwear designer, Calvin Klein, US
"Blends are really important, particularly linen/wool and mohair for fuzzy details. There's a lot of shine but it's subtle. For women, there are more neutrals, with less contrast and more tone. One stand, Fildi, was a good find, it makes yarn from recycled T-shirts, which is a growth area in New York and LA."