By  on October 12, 2009

MILAN — The Mipel leather goods and accessories fair reflected the ongoing challenges facing the sector, particularly exports to key countries.

Concerns about the strong euro and lackluster sales in the first half of the year were balanced by early signs of changes in the status quo.

“We feel the sharp descent is over and that our production is gradually becoming more desirable, although we will have to wait to see a change in the performance of our exports,” said Giorgio Cannara, president of AIMPES/Mipel. “Although there are some feeble signs of improvement in domestic consumption, there is little likelihood that the second half of 2009 will see the main business statistics restored to health. The industry’s general weakness can be expected to remain for much of 2010.”

While reporting a slight improvement in business in the second half of the year, Italy’s leather goods association AIMPES registered a decline in production ranging from 15 to 20 percent in the first five months of the year and a 20.4 percent drop in exports to 1.09 billion euros, or $1.44 billion at average exchange, compared with the same period last year.

In particular, the industry was hurt by a collapse of sales in Russia, down 42.6 percent. Russia had for a number of years helped Italian manufacturers balance a weak performance in the U.S. and Japan. In the January to May period, sales fell 35 percent in the U.S. and 15 percent in Japan. The situation was no better in the United Arab Emirates, where sales dropped 27.6 percent.

The four-day Mipel exhibition that ended here Sept. 19 reported 14,251 visitors, down from 17,369 a year ago.

To help boost sales, exhibitors focused on research and innovation and eye-catching yet practical styles, such as roomy, deconstructed bags embellished with fringes, studs, sequins or embroideries. The focus for spring was on natural materials such as raffia or woven hemp and cotton. Faux snakeskin, at times with a washed look, ruched hides and perforated, open-work calfskin were other trends. Eighties’ pop colors, such as metallic blue and fuchsia, were also spotted at many booths.

“Too much design craziness is not going well with customers,” said Desmo owner Gabriele Fantappié, who is relaunchingthe brand. “Value for price and made in Italy quality are increasingly top priorities.”

Alessandra Gucci said she is starting to distribute her AG Limited Editions handbags in Japan at the end of November. The Gucci heir launched her collection a year ago and has been steadily expanding it. Produced by the Milan-based Leu Locati, AG includes a silky python skin bag combined with napa leather in powdery sky-blue or pink, among others, with the “torchon” handle that marks the AG bags.

At David & Scotti’s booth, April Witt, owner of the Salang boutique in Bethesda, Md., said she was looking for “special” items.

“I’m picking what I love, what others don’t have, because my customers can spend, but they want what other stores don’t have,” said Witt.

At Redwall, newly minted creative director Yossi Cohen injected a more feminine identity into the historic brand, with quilted, stonewashed denim bags and plenty of heart symbols decorating the accessories.

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