By and
with contributions from Alessandra Turra
 on April 21, 2010

MILAN — Pop the Champagne.

Fashion houses should, as they exult over the booming sales registered in their Milan stores during the six-day Salone del Mobile furniture fair, which ended here Sunday, making the dampened spirits of the recession a seemingly dwindling memory.

The 350,000 or so people who flocked here to attend the largest furniture fair in the world helped generate spending estimated at 250 million euros, or $337 million. Not even the fashion shows rival the Salone’s buzz, which is fueled by its more democratic nature. While 2,542 exhibitors show in 5.7 million square feet at the Rho-Pero fairgrounds, all of Milan is kicking with 500 open-door events that woo a mixed crowd, from grungy arty types, boho fashionistas and dapper men in boardroom stripes to Milanese high society. And they all keep the cashiers going ka-ching.

Most fashion houses couldn’t break down sales figures during the fair, but the percentage increases are significant, underscoring how business during the Salone is the briskest of the year and easily surpasses the Christmas season.

“The traffic is phenomenal and year after year, it gets more exceptional. People are more relaxed and have easier schedules, so it’s easier for them to carve out some shopping time and indulge,” said Nicola Giorgi, general manager of Hogan.

According to a Diesel spokeswoman, compared with last year, sales for the brand’s five-pocket jeans grew 26 and 16 percent for women’s and men’s styles, respectively, and watches advanced 39 percent. Only the first week of the sales season does better.

Marni registered a 43 percent increase in accessories and 26 percent in apparel versus the same week last year, while overall business ballooned 50 percent compared with any regular week. “It would be great if our local administrators would sponsor more events like the Salone because business in this period is amazing,” said Gianni Castiglioni, chief executive officer of Marni, which organized an installation with Matteo Thun called “The Wooden Beacons” in its store.

Together, the Moschino and Moschino Cheap and Chic boutiques registered a 95 percent sales increase versus the previous week and a 58.8 percent leap compared with the women’s shows in February while a Valentino spokeswoman said sales hit a record on Saturday, reaching the month’s total budget.

Given the action, it’s no surprise designers clamor to be part of it.

Those companies with full-fledged home collections such as Giorgio Armani, Versace, Bottega Veneta, Fendi, Missoni, Blumarine and Diesel hosted showroom or store presentations, while others — like Ferré, Moschino and Sportmax — lent their spaces to artists.

Mario Boselli, the president of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, confirmed he met with the mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, to try to reproduce some of the Salone’s buzz.

“It’s obvious that by nature the shows can’t be open to the public, but we would love to open the city up and organize special events on the sidelines to attract a vaster crowd, like special events inside stores that would stay open late at night,” said Boselli.

Giovanni Terzi, town councilor for fashion, design and events, confirmed that fueled by the success of the Salone, the town hall is looking to apply a similar formula to fashion week, adding fashion and design together account for 50 percent of the city’s gross domestic product.

Marc Jacobs took advantage of the fair to open its Marc by Marc Jacobs store-cafe, while Stella McCartney inaugurated her store here with a dinner cohosted by her husband, Alasdhair Willis of Established & Sons, and guests who included Renzo Rosso, Francesco Vezzoli, Lapo Elkann, Giambattista Valli and Italian actresses Carolina Crescentini and Martina Codecasa. Paul Smith also made a big push at his store in Milan with exhibits that included Smith’s reinterpretation of the 50-year-old designs of Arne Jacobsen from Stelton of Denmark and some special designed bicycle helmets in collaboration with Giro.

“We always make a huge effort with Milan Furniture Fair, of course, because of my love of design but also traditionally it has always been a very busy week, often busier than fashion week or Christmas,” he said. “To be honest, this year was slightly more subdued probably because of all the travel worries in Europe with the erupting volcano.”

Indeed, spending in Milan was perhaps boosted by the volcano since many of the Salone’s visitors weren’t able to get out of town until Tuesday.

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