While other European fabric trade fairs have been steadily expanding their scope to include exhibitors from outside the region, since its inception in 1984 Moda In has remained faithful to its original objective of providing a showcase exclusively for European - primarily Italian - manufacturers.

Obviously an event jointly promoted by the two main associations representing Italian textile interests - Associazione Tessile Italiana and Federazione Italiana Industriali Tessili Vari e del Cappello - has a duty to support its home industry. The last Moda In featured 387 producers, of whom 304 were Italian.

Whether in the era of the global market this is a strength or a weakness is debatable. However devotees of this fair claim that the continued insistence on offering an essentially European view of the fabric scene lends Moda In its unique "flavour," an essence of all that's best from the region not readily captured elsewhere.

While Moda In is regularly attended by buyers from across the EU as well as the USA and the Far East, the greatest number of visitors also comes from Italy. And this means manufacturers are prepared to take an uninhibited approach to design and colour.

Buyers who travel to the Fiera Milano Portello complex in March can expect a distillation of what makes Italian design "different" and often sets the pace for what will subsequently become high fashion in other parts of the world.

Many will already have had their appetites whetted by the series of previews held in key fashion capitals from November to January, events which have become almost as much a part of the Moda In tradition as the event itself.

This caravan halted in London in December with screenings of typical fabrics and accessories for summer 2006 accompanied by a summary of likely trends for next year from Moda In's style/technical committee chairman Angelo Uslenghi, who himself talked of the fair's special character as "exuberant individualism."

In his presentation Sr Uslenghi also reiterated the importance his committee attaches to the careful screening of would-be new exhibitors to ensure that the overall presentation maintains its "high calibre."

More controversially he talked of spring 2005 as a season of reviving optimism within the worldwide textile trade on a level not encountered since 9/11.

Fusion, Ease and Splash
As regards the offer itself, once again Moda's organisers broke the look of summer 2006 into three categories which they labelled for the benefit of their English audience: Fusion, Ease and Splash.

Fusion was the phrase selected to identify what is essentially a romantic, retro look focusing on the types of fabrics most in favour during the last decade of the 19th century through to the outbreak of the First World War.

Silk georgettes, fine cotton muslins and cottons with glazed finishes and patterns akin to those used on the oriental porcelains of the same period will be the favourite choices for summer frocks and blouses which are unashamedly feminine.

Typically a frilled jabot often adorns the necklines of blouses worn under tailored suit jackets. Fabrics for tailored garments are most often mixes of wool and silk, although linens and hemps echo the general feeling for natural fibres.

Buttons come bubble shaped, often emulating soap bubbles with an iridescent play of colour across the glass surface.

Similarly, trimmings reflect the Edwardian love of abundant decoration in dress - lavish use of silk ribbons, often presented as a mass of tiny bows, plus broiderie anglaise edgings, flocking and embroideries. White or pastel tinted garments will meanwhile take their cue from luxury household linens with drawn thread work and hand crafted hemstitching much in evidence.

On outerwear, waxed finishes are frequently employed paralleling the feeling for chintzes in dress weights. What also appear to be batiks are back in style but most such fabrics are in fact computer simulations

In the section which Moda In's organisers categories as Ease there is also extensive borrowing from the world of luxury household linens and soft furnishings such as classic toile de jouy curtain fabrics.

Similarly, fabrics which imitate the texture of bamboo matting or cane furniture with clever photoprint motifs are expected to be casual and beachwear winners.

Textiles employing fibres derived from bamboo and a variety of other unusual natural fibre sources are also expected to play a greater than ever role in Italian collections for summer 2006, as is cloth coloured with vegetable rather than conventional chemical dyes. Being able to label ranges as "eco-friendly" is seen as increasingly important to maximising sales, especially export sales.

Knitted textures which look like hand crochet work make their bow along with a revival of macramé.

Coarse lace edgings also appear, along with sprig-like sprinklings of tiny artificial flowers scattered across nets and adding a three dimensional appeal to underwear laces which themselves come in mouth watering, water ice shades.

The third trend group suggested by Moda In's experts are fabrics and trims which they put under the general heading Splash. In this sector retro interest centres on a revival of 1960s/70s psychedelia with wild swirls of colour including vivid fluorescents.

Splash is not a look for the faint hearted fashionista, with "electric" a favourite adjective to indicate both intensity of colour and the use of metallic inserts to suggest fabrics impregnated with lightening flashes.

Indeed in the most avant garde collection lessons learned from the functional, intelligent textiles trade introduce actual light-up systems to the mainstream evening and club wear markets, where rippled, ocean wave textures on taffetas and heavy weight silks also make news.

In summer cottons destined for holiday and beach wear the approach to prints is equally bold. Parrots and palm trees vie with tropical sunsets, huge hibiscus blossoms or all-over patterns of exotic orchids giving effects more usually associated with Brazilian manufacturers specialising in the swimwear trade.

By Sonia Roberts.