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MILAN — The spring-summer edition of Mipel featured trends that ran from large, soft deconstructed looks in bright, fluorescent colors harking back to the Eighties to tiny clutches with silver or gold streaks.

The four-day handbag and accessories exhibition that ended here Sept. 23 reflected the industry’s brisk business and a more positive outlook. To boost their businesses, Italian leather goods manufacturers are generally investing in higher-end hides, design and innovation.

“The quality of the merchandise on display has continued to improve,” said Giorgio Cannara, president of Aimpes, Italy’s leather goods association.

“Price does not seem to be an issue,” said David Dewar McMillan, who designs the David & Scotti line. “We are moving up in price category to a new luxury level, which is an alternative for those that are not looking at designer brands.”

McMillan teased, pleated, shirred and gathered soft calf or lambskin and juxtaposed matte and gloss surfaces at David & Scotti.

To add fashion content to the brand, Bric’s tapped designer Marc Gourmelen as creative director.

“We no longer want to be identified with travel,” said Roberto Briccola, chief executive officer at the family-owned firm, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this year.

Gourmelen, who has worked at Gianfranco Ferré, Louis Vuitton and Emilio Pucci, and launched the 31 Février brand with Hélène Neponiatzi in the late Eighties, reinterpreted the proportions of Bric’s historical pieces, adding a more modern spin to the silhouettes.

Redwall, once a pillar of Mipel that had been absent for years, returned to the exhibition with a new logo and a fashion-conscious collection inspired by the Eighties and Andy Warhol’s pop spirit: bright PVC shopping bags in fluorescent yellow, neon blue or cherry red.

Mipel drew 19,097 visitors, a 15 percent drop compared with 22,479 a year ago, but the breadth of buyers from important markets boded well for the industry. Visitors from Russia and Japan grew 84 and 47 percent, respectively, and the number of U.S. buyers increased 6 percent.

Aimpes said in the first five months of the year exports of leather goods grew 16.5 percent to 1.29 billion euros, or $1.82 billion at current exchange rates, compared with the same period last year. With the exception of Japan — hurt by a weak yen — where exports dropped 7.6 percent, sales showed growth across the board geographically. Exports were up 17 percent in the U.S., 38 percent in the United Arab Emirates, 52 percent in England and 44 percent in Russia.

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“We have seen positive signs from all countries, in particular from the East, confirming our strategies in those countries,” Cannara said.

In addition, most companies are banking on retailing in emerging countries and in more consolidated markets, such as the U.S. and Europe. Braccialini has earmarked investments to open 12 new stores in 2008, in cities such as New York and Washington. Principe, which produces the Fornarina and Energie lines, among others, plans to open five stores in China.

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