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British is all the rage

Heritage fabrics wowed textile fair Première Vision last week, but price hikes were a worry.

Tweed is the word of the season,” says UK Fashion & Textile Association consultant Ann Thomson-Krol, from its stand in the heart of Première Vision’s tailoring section in Paris last week. “The British look is very strong and some Italian mills are riding on the back of it. We have a strong story of good production and finish, with a new take on tradition.”

For autumn 12, a key focus was on fabrics that take their cue from the best of British heritage, such as woollen herringbones and checks, which are brought up to date through colour, oversized proportions and modern finishes, including soft-handle washed effects.

Harris tweed mill HTT (Manufacturing) Ltd on the Isle of Lewis is well placed to benefit from the demand for tweed. With its collection featuring some new takes on the fabric, such as large-scale patterns including a double- faced snakeskin look, chief executive Ann MacCallum has been pleased with the response from fabric buyers from diverse regions such as Sweden and Japan.

“If you want heritage, provenance, UK manufacturing and pure wool then you have to pay more,” says MacCallum.  “[The brands] sell more authentic product, the end user pays more, but they appreciate what they’re buying.”

But concerns regarding the fluctuations in prices of raw materials – notably wool – and their impact on fabric costs remain, following noted hikes last season. At Aus$14 (£8.85) a kilo for greasy wool (wool straight off the sheep), prices are the highest they have been in seven years.

“At this price, wool growers are breaking even,” explains Kara Hurry, regional marketing manager for Woolmark, the not-for-profit organisation that markets Australian wool. “It’s expected that prices will maintain for 12 months but they are uncertain and under the influence of multiple market factors such as US dollar values.

“Wool is a premium fabric at the same level as cashmere or mohair and we are putting the emphasis on building value into the product.”

Despite concerns, there is a feeling of greater calm and the understanding among fabric buyers that quality comes at a price. For British weavers that concentrate on the top end of the market, this is less of an issue. “Our customers aren’t overly upset by the prices we are quoting,” says one wool weaver. “Last season we had to put the prices up mid-season. This time people want to know if the prices will hold. They will unless there’s a drastic price rise for materials.”

Attendance at Première Vision was up 10% year on year, with visitors including design teams from Agnès b, Zac Posen and Paul Smith.

Sir Paul Smith himself was spotted trawling the aisles. “Many designers prefer to see the mills in their studios, but visiting the show personally has often sent me off in an unexpected direction,” he says. “There are secret suppliers and new surprises around every corner. It provides the best overview of suppliers for my design team, which is why we bring a large team each season.”

The next edition of Première Vision will take place from February 14 to 16 at the Parc d’Expositions in Paris.

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