At a time acknowledged by most traders as difficult for European textile manufacturers, the Italian industry appears to be hedging its bets by offering three very distinctive design stories for summer 2004.

Creamy and dreamy, brashly Brazilian with overtones of the l950s, or inspired by sun parched landscapes of barren rock and desert sands are the looks suggested by exhibitors scheduled to show at Milan's Moda In fabric trade fair on 9 February 2003 and recently previewed for an invited audience in London.

The pastels on offer centre around lush satins and delicate chiffons, the latter double-dyed to create an effect of overlapping layers of watercolour. And as well as fabrics borrowed from the bedroom for general fashion use, the prediction from Moda In's organisers is that yarn dyed linens and terry towelling will also play a major role in the summer 2004 scene.

Trimmings will include frothy Chantilly lace plus translucent ribbons and bootlace ties executed in silk or satin. Glass or glass-like buttons encapsulating miniature artificial flower arrangements or shells complete the picture.

By contrast, the Brazilian influence brings back the brightest possible colours in a comic book meets Carmen Miranda look of vivid prints on crisp cottons. Colour woven designs featuring gingham checks or dots also find a place in the collections which manufacturers are planning to take to Milan. There's scope for textures too, with interest reviving in pique and in seersucker finishes.

This look also involves borrowing - but from specialist sportswear. In summer 2004 glossy neoprene bonded to a cotton jersey backing, a fabric normally used by wetsuit manufacturers, will be seen on dry land too as part of a general fascination with simulated wet surfaces. Wet looks even extend into trimmings with a vogue for super-sheen, ceramic or plastic buttons in mini mosaic designs.

Counterbalancing the interest in wet look coated fabrics many Italian manufacturers are now turning to natural fibres. As a result summer 2004 looks like being a bonanza season for growers and processors of hemp, which finds an important outlet in hopsack weaves and tweeds scaled down to weights suitable for summertime wear.

By Sonia Roberts.