MILAN — The tough Italian economy contributed to a decline in visitor numbers at the latest edition of Moda Prima.

Held June 6-8, the fair attracted 2,936 visitors, down from 3,400 at the December edition.

“The indications from the trend of fair visitors closely correspond to [Italian] economic forecasts. The particularly adverse world economy created a negative effect throughout 2003 — especially in regard to the medium segment,” said Piero Costa, chairman of show organizer EFIMA.

While EFIMA said it eventually hoped to increase attendance at the women’s knitwear and accessories show, exhibitors said they feared it wasn’t attracting the number of buyers they wanted to reach.

“This time, we haven’t seen the amount of clients we normally do,” said Stefano Scarselli, export manager at the Florence-based knitwear company Mehari, which reduced its space to about 350 square feet from 500 square feet in December.

Director of Moda Prima Luisa Pandolfi said the fair would survive the current negative economic trend because of the niche product it offers. She added the economy’s prospects were brightening, though it was too early to talk about a solid recovery for the industry.

Suffering a 15 percent loss on turnover for 2003, sales manager for Venetian knitwear company Maglificio Venezia Paolo Busatto echoed the wait-and-see attitude. “At this fair, we haven’t seen anyone new and it’s been very quiet. People say there is a feeling of resurgence in the air but it’s difficult to tell — I believe it’s not here yet,” said Busatto.

The country showing the least sign of recovery was Italy, according to Simone Baglioni, sales manager of Florence-based leather and knitwear company Barone.

“Italy is still in crisis, we are seeing signs of recovery in Japan and selling well in England and Spain. It may be a bit early for Russia, but I am sure it will be a strong client of ours in the future,” said Baglioni.

Barone recorded a 10 percent increase on sales last year, but expects sales to be flat in 2004.

Exhibitors showed spring-summer 2005 collections filled with color to catch buyers’ attention. Many exhibitors also extended their lines to other products. For example, at Carpi-based knitwear company Ella Lu, designer and owner Graziela Costantini added swimwear and caps to her collection. And at Maglificio Venezia, which usually offered conservative knitwear lines for mature clients, a younger, sportier line was created to catch more customers.“Usually, our product focus is for older women, but this time we included a chic, sportier line with navy and white stripes and red details — we wanted to do a lighter, modern look this season,” said Busatto.

Massimo Spelta, a company that offers knitwear for younger women under its line, Simona, showed its fall-winter 2004-2005 collection in addition to its spring-summer 2005 one. The reason, according to director Massimo Spelta, was to offer customers the opportunity to make last-minute seasonal buys.

“There are still clients who are after winter pieces, and we have quick turnaround times of 30 to 40 days of delivery so we can offer that service,” said Spelta.

Simona’s rabbit-fur stoles with satin ribbons dyed in contrasting colors of lilac and pink and green and yellow were selling, as well as summer knit tanks in blush pink with crushed satin effects, said Spelta.

Swarovski crystals were used in several collections. At Barone they were featured as design applications on paper-thin suede, knee-length skirts in cream and rose pink and on jean pockets. At Algis, an 83-year-old company from Piemonte in northern Italy, Swarovski crystals were applied onto crisp white tanks in designs of boats, flowers and parrots.

Algis also showed under its Andrè Maurice line a collection of multicolored striped knits in tanks, T-shirts, and three-quarter-length shirts.

“This type of basic knitwear always makes up the most of our sales,” said export manager Monica Baruscotto. The company recorded a 10 percent increase in sales compared with the same time last year because of a strong winter collection, said Baruscotto.

While crystals were popular detailing in some collections, pearls were added to denim jeans at Mehari. The company also showed fine baby blue and cream bouclé jackets and flower-print organza shirts. Despite selling out of some pieces of its spring-summer line, the company saw a 15 percent decline in sales for the period compared with 2003.

Over in the recently added Moda Prima International section, the show’s layout was adjusted to be more similar to that in the Italian area. The international section was introduced in the December edition and featured exhibitors from countries including China and South Korea. Despite receiving complaints from Italian exhibitors during the December show, Pandolfi said she planned to let the international space grow, with several Moroccan companies expected to exhibit next season. At the June edition, the international area attracted 32 exhibitors, including new entrants from India and Nepal.“We didn’t invent the competition between Italy and China — local exhibitors will get used to it,” said Pandolfi.

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