Fashion fabric fair Tissu Premier has now opened its doors to non-European exhibitors and last month's show attracted a large Asian contingent. Fabrics on display included prints, paisleys, florals and formal denims, as well as nets and novelty knits.

Taking its cue from the fact that today 57 per cent of all EU clothing sales are now handled by volume retailers, the Lille fabric fair specifically geared to service the needs of this sector continues to expand in both size and scope. The January 2003 show attracted no fewer than 378 exhibitors as against 348 at the similarly timed event in 2003.

And with its doors now open to non-European exhibitors, the first Tissu Premier of 2003 was remarkable for the size of the Asian contingent. Ten Taiwanese and five Chinese manufacturers offered collections alongside participants from Korea, Thailand and Japan.

Design-wise too, the Far Eastern influence was particularly apparent in the section of the show devoted to printed fabrics. "Here be dragons" was the description early cartographers traditionally attached to uncharted areas of the regions they were mapping. It could equally well be a commentary on print trends for summer 2004.

However it was not the Asian exhibitors who were inspired by these fire breathing, mythical beasts but Italian print specialists. Dragons most notably made their bow in ranges from Seterie Gambara srl and from DP Tessuti as well as in the Eco print collection from Belgium.

Conventional patterns
Oriental producers preferred to take a more restrained line on design. The Wu XI Xiexin group from China concentrated its attention on conventional patterns, particularly woven pinstripes and mini checks in wool, worsted and wool rich blended suitings, targeted to the men's wear trade.

This Chinese company has also declared its intention to expand into the sportswear sector early in 2004.

Meanwhile, fellow Chinese exhibitor Jiangsu Corporation is actively selling into the European sportswear market. At the show it was most eager to talk about the variety of finishes it can now offer in denim alongside basic qualities for the volume market.

From Thailand, Akko International Thailand is eager to impress on potential buyers that present day Thai textiles have more to offer than traditional silks. Especially strong are polyesters as well as in Lycra two-way stretch fabrics.

Akko International offers most of its qualities dyed to shades which reflect up-to-date European colour choices. For summer, Akko proffers a palette centred around vivid orange, bitter chocolate brown, copper and faded lilac.

Prints over plains
For summer 2004 at Tissu Premier, prints tended to take fashion precedence over plains.

This is true even of simulated leathers and 'plastic' outerwear fabrics which at GH Makris are being printed and embossed to resemble oriental brocades, a treatment which is particularly effective in their teal green or claret colourways.

In woven cotton shirtings suitable for wear by either sex, there's a growing feeling for paisley inspired print motifs, while in lightweight voiles and chiffon a liking for animal pelt prints persists. The 2004 approach, however, is to mingle the coat patterns of several different big cat species, and sometimes alternate these with trompe d'oeil panels simulating Chantilly lace.

Talk about US military action in the Middle East has meanwhile made camouflage prints hot property once again, but not as might be expected on sturdy combat cottons.

Instead jungle green and khaki embellish delicate silk or polyester sheers, as at Gallus and again at Franfixtex.

At the same time satins sweep back into favour as day as well as evening wear. In this sector the JCR Groupe SA strikes a new note with floral motifs printed on to high gloss, old gold grounds.

Elsewhere chintzy satins were often displayed with matching printed sheers, usually using some variation on a basically floral theme. Multi-coloured herbaceous border floral prints on dark grounds, most often a rich shade of navy blue, were extensively featured by both French and Italian exhibitors.

In florals, Wurmser picked up on the feeling for botanically correct sprig motifs which at first glance appear to be appliqués of actual pressed flowers. For the general fashion rather than the lingerie trade, however, Wurmser introduced these designs on a crumpled and neutral coloured linen ground, alongside laser cut effects.

Tailored denims
Crinkle textures link to conventional plain dye denims in the latest Thouviste collection which also features super heavy weight (l48 gms) denims, while Italy's Luigi Rudone SPA offers city gent pinstripes on denim qualities suitable for formal tailoring. Also strong are distressed effects which this season include rusted finishes lending coppery glints to standard indigo dyed fabrics.

Meanwhile the message given out by Galliard is that denim is applicable to almost any form of fashion styling. It demonstrated garments including girly look blouses with deep décolleté, draw string necklines and flounced cuffs.

What appeared at first glance to be near transparent denims but were in reality fine woollens dyed and woven to simulate classic cotton denims, were displayed by Jules Tournier.

Tears and tatters
Knitted fabrics, always an important element of the Tissu Premier product mix, now come with  apparently random tears, tatters and mock moth holes applied as finishing treatments to layered or reversible, double face fabrics. This type of novelty fabric in a blend of 60 per cent polyester and 40 per cent cotton was one of the star attractions of the Italian Delvinco range. Delvinco also introduced coarse openwork net fabrics.

Indeed in knitted fabrics one of the most important fashion stories for 2004 centres around the vast variety of nets. Many of which would have previously only been saleable into the hosiery or corsetry trades but are now finding a ready market in the general fashion scene.

They range from the coarsest fishnets to fine tulles, including spidery lace-like constructions and knitted fabrics with purpose-made ladders. There were also openwork jersey cloths which, with clever laser cutting, achieved net-like simulations.

By Sonia Roberts.