UK buyers and designers at fabric show Premiere Vision in Paris last week were cautiously loosening the purse strings on their budgets in order to buy fabrics that will differentiate them from their competitors.
Shine, woven mini-structures, luxury mixes and coatings all added something to the fabrics, pushing prices up slightly. A new-found - though still guarded - sense of adventure among buyers meant that Premiere Vision's spring 08 edition was perceived as more commercially relevant to multiple retailers and their suppliers, as well as to designers and brands.
Agent Rory Guina of The Fabric Co said: "There have been lots of UK buyers this season and it feels as though people are starting to believe again. Buyers are paying much less attention to the mills' prices if they can see innovation and creativity in the fabric. They are willing to pay when the fabric is special and different."
Irene Steele, designer at UK mill Linton Tweeds, agreed. "Buyers have been braver than we have seen for a few seasons," he said. "Our offer is all about being different and buyers are now buying into texture and colour, which they have shied away from in the past."
Technical and performance fabrics were key factors. New York designer Tracy Reese, whose two brands Plenty by Tracy Reese and Tracy Reese sell in the UK, said: "The tech fabrics have been really interesting for a long time, but not very usable. But the way these coatings and treatments are now being applied is finally making them relevant in fashionable womenswear collections."
Buyers were encouraged to trade up by the mills, which adopted a more approachable attitude. Chris Ingham, wholesale manager at men's occasionwear brand Favourbrook, said: "Once it was difficult for a niche UK menswear brand to get the time of day from top-end Italian mills. But that's changed now. When I went on their stands this time they pulled up a chair and poured me a drink."
Those same Italian mills were also in a positive mood. Marini & Cecconi director Riccardo Marini said: "For Italian mills, five bad years are behind us and recovery is ahead. UK business is a little up and down, but the core of UK custom is still with us."
Top-end suppliers were more positive than they had been for some seasons. Six months ago, many had been hit by soaring silk prices. But Kate Berkovitch, managing director of UK supplier Henry Bertrand, said these had stabilised and her sales underlined a move to innovation and quality. "Brocades, jacquards and multi-coloured ombres have had a good response and customers have been buying heavier silks," she said. "Taffeta has performed well and people want fabrics with stretch."
This demand for performance was key in denim, where a raft of innovations meant that special features became the barometer of a fabric's value. Stretch, metallic weaves and coatings all competed with super-light weights of less than eight ounces.
David Rumsey, sales manager for the denim and sportswear division at fabric mill Bossa, offered his impressions. "In the UK we expect our triple-dyed Indigo Mania denim to be taken up by volume producers, while AC/DC, which washes down to an ocean blue, will provide fashion highlights.
"Buyers are only just starting to think about spring 08, but I'm impressed that they all have a strong feeling for denim. The outlook for denim remains strong, especially for distinctive looks."
Casualwear trends were mostly based around natural and natural-looking fabrics, while sheen was a consistently strong story. Cotton and linen mixes, light sateens and very fine twills were all important.
Beryl Gibson, trend consultant for the British Wool Textile Export Corporation, said UK mills' sales were showing a clear direction. "Lighter colours in beige and biscuit shades with highlights have had a good response. Soft colours in light weights are important, reflecting a shift towards smart-casual dressing as designers look to offer relaxed garments that soften formal looks."
Beyond Premiere Vision, visitors lauded design show Indigo. Duncan Hemphill, managing director of print design studio Amanda Kelly, said trade was better than expected and demonstrated customers' thirst for newness. Indigo exhibitors said that geometric patterns and soft coloured prints had enjoyed the best response from buyers.
However, Premiere Vision was not an unmitigated success. Yarn show Expofil had its smallest footprint yet. Premiere Vision organiser Daniel Faure showed no confidence in its future: "I can't say how long it will last, but as long as there are yarn manufacturers in Europe, Expofil will continue."
The market is continuing to evolve and Faure said Premiere Vision would evolve with it. But he added: "One thing will not change. Premiere Vision will still be the key show for fabric buyers. We spend more on marketing to individual countries than any other show and will do even more in the future."
Spring 08 continues the growing obsession with natural themes, but the muted palette at Premiere Vision was accented with acid and citrus brights. Tangy spikes of yellow, chartreuse and pink were balanced with occasional rich purples, while blue and green came in neon lightened with a frivolous shine.
SHINE AND SHEEN
Shiny coatings were popular in Paris as metallic looks matured into an all-over sheen, which some UK womenswear designers applauded for its sophisticated appeal. Super-lightweight fabrics came with shine and memory to offer a textured feel, while even denim was coated with a lusty, shimmered finish.
LUSTROUS LIQUID JERSEY
Luxury neutrals were used on synthetic jerseys with a liquid drape. With sophistication and maturity so often the watchwords in Paris, these supple fabrics in light and mid-weights delivered a look that bridges formal and casual styles. Solid colours were toned down into sugary versions in keeping with the smarter look.
In single-colour jacquards and manipulated fabrics, geometrics were key on womenswear. Formal fabrics were deepened with patchwork and mesh effects. In manipulated styles, regular pleating was the favoured option for a softer, smarter look, contrasting with the heavily folded styles seen at Milano Unica.
WHAT THE BUYERS SAID ...
TINA BAUM, HEAD OF BUYING, DOROTHY PERKINS
"Indigo is great. It's an inspirational show and we have bought unique prints on the spot. Spring 08 fabrics will be all about embellishment and prints, as well as sheen and shine, but done in a clean and modern way."
WILLIAM HUNT, TAILOR
"Spring 08 is going to be bold and fun. I'm looking at print shirting and very slim cuts on suiting. I'm interested in the shiny fabrics and sharkskin, which are good for a late 1960s look. And I'm also looking at brown shades - they already sell better than black for me."
SIAN FARRELL, CASUALWEAR BUYER AND LAUREN ANDERSON, DESIGNER, PRINCIPLES
"We're here to check out the casualwear fabrics and have been looking at denim with resin coatings. The finish gives the fabric a different, rubber-like feel and makes it look more refined. It's a commercial option for us, as long as it's washable."
RACHEL BENSON, SENIOR DESIGNER; GILL VADGAMA, HEAD OF DESIGN; AND LORRAINE GRAY, BUYING MANAGER, WALLIS
"For spring 08, technical fabrics will be used on luxe sportswear, with cleaner finishes and metallic effects. But for autumn 07 there's a 1970s feel with solid colour jacquard and pique fabrics."
ANNA HAYCOCK, BHAVANA PATEL AND GEMMA DIXON, SENIOR DESIGNERS, KNITMANIA, SUPPLIER TO TOPSHOP, NEXT AND H&M
"We've come to Texworld before going on to Premiere Vision. There are some nice designs here, including graduated and Lurex stripes, but there's not much that we haven't seen before."
NEIL HENDY, HEAD OF WOMENSWEAR DESIGN, MARKS & SPENCER
"I'm looking for innovative fabrics and have been impressed so far, but now I am looking to the mills to deliver that innovation at a commercial price. There are also some inspirational options for our new bridalwear sector."
CHARLIE MCCARTHY-MORROGH, ASSISTANT SHOE DESIGNER, PAUL SMITH
"I'm here because we want to synchronise with the womenswear and get better continuity between the footwear and the clothes. I've seen some lovely, slightly slubbed linens and thick canvasses in muted tans."
PAULA SMITH, HEAD OF FABRIC DEVELOPMENT, HIGH FASHION, SUPPLIER TO WHISTLES, KAREN MILLEN AND MARKS & SPENCER
"All of our manufacturing is done in the Far East but we've come here for ideas. Indigo is great - there's lots of colour. The main trend is texture, be it creased, pleated or striated."