By  on January 9, 2012

Following a dispiriting Christmas season filled with talk of austerity measures, European designers are putting on a brave face for the upcoming Pitti Immagine trade shows in Florence. Pitti Bimbo, the three-day children’s fair, kicks off on Jan. 19, and brands are eagerly preparing to showcase their collections, hoping the replenishment nature of the kids’ sector, as well as other marketing initiatives, will yield positive results.

Raffaello Napoleone, ceo of Pitti Immagine, said the euro zone’s economic crisis did “not penalize companies’ profits in 2011,” and that data so far are positive.

“The problem will be with consumption in 2012,” he said. As European countries adopt debt-reducing measures, consumers with less disposable income will spend less on clothes.

The first signs of the crisis came with disappointing Christmas sales.

“Our impression is that 2012 will be a difficult year,” Napoleone said.

Italy, which is struggling to pull itself out from under heavy debt, will see a year of “light and shadows,” Napoleone said, but will manage to pull through.

Gucci, which is showcasing its kids’ line privately in its Florence showroom, has maintained a “very positive momentum within the sector” despite the “challenging macroeconomic scenario” said president and chief executive officer Patrizio di Marco.

“Since the introduction in 2010, the seasonal collections have been extremely well received both by the market and the press,” di Marco said. “We have consequently expanded the points of distribution across a growing number of our directly operated stores worldwide and through corners in selected department and multibrand stores.”

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Citing Gucci’s exclusively Made in Italy products, among other key attributes, di Marco said the brand’s ongoing support for UNICEF’s Schools for Africa initiative contributed to the strength of its children’s collections even during the difficult economic moment.

At Italian apparel firm Jeckerson, which makes kids’ as well as adult sportswear, “We realize that we are facing a complex economic moment,” said ceo Francesco Tombolini. “The customer is increasingly attentive and selective in choosing what to buy.” His strategy revolves around “a return to the brand’s origins,” with fresh twists such as denim leggings for girls, as well as utilizing an interactive stand at Pitti Bimbo. It’s the way the company is approaching fairs now, as it will also have an interactive presentation to showcase its men’s collection at Pitti Uomo.

“It will be possible to personalize your own trousers, visible on mega-screens that will project your favorite garment. And the Jeckerson ‘personals’ will take center stage in a Web contest,” Tombolini explained.

Also on the interactive front, Pitti Immagine launched online versions of its Pitti Uomo, Pitti Donna and Pitti Bimbo fairs in 2011, and last June began studying the most popular queries in its search engines. For children’s wear, key phrases were “cerimonia” (fancy dress), “cotton” and “casual.” The fair’s ecological section, called “Ecoethic,” also garnered numerous clicks and searches.

Napoleone said that currently the fair is using data from its online fairs as an internal tool to develop better services for exhibitors and buyers. As Pitti learns what buyers are searching for, it can give feedback to brands on successful products.

“Today we have objective data,” Napoleone said, adding that Pitti will expand its online services in the future.

Citing preliminary data collected by Istat, Italy’s National Institute for Statistics, Napoleone said Italy’s top export markets for children’s wear are currently Russia — up 23.7 percent in the past year — Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. Greece is the only country that reduced imports of Italian kids’ clothing in 2011.

Alberto Piantoni, ceo of Missoni, said that as a niche brand, Missoni Kids “does not suffer particularly” from the economic crisis, although since “the crisis concerns all product categories, therefore [it also affects] the children’s market.”

Missoni’s strategy, Piantoni said, is “to expand the commercial offering and maintain a price point coherent with the brand’s positioning.” He added that Missoni strives to offer top materials and workmanship consistent with the adult lines. “We think of the children’s line in the same way as we think of the main collection, investing the same professional skills and making it an icon of artisanry and Made in Italy.”

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High-end Parisian brand Bleu Comme Gris is optimistic about the opportunity Pitti Bimbo presents, calling the show “an opening to the world, a chance to present our collections outside our boutiques and attract foreign buyers,” said creative director Vanessa Marrapodi.

The company opened in 2008, initially specializing in school uniforms and smocks. It still designs those, but it has expanded to include a wide range of “bobo chic,” or bourgeois-bohemian, children’s gear.

“To start off, we focus our work around colors, so the collection as a whole is harmonious,” Marrapodi said. “The materials are chosen exclusively based on their inherent beauty and quality. We complete our own dyeing on all our cottons and knits, which allows us to achieve perfect shades. Our garments are made more precious by chic details and the inclusion of leathers and furs.”

She added that while the majority of Bleu Comme Gris clients are European, the brand is “resolutely focused on Asia and Russia, whose clientele we plan on meeting during the Pitti fair in Florence.”

Marrapodi stressed that the American market is also important for the company, and it will have its first U.S. presentation this March in New York at ENK’s Children’s Club.

Marni will present its inaugural kids’ line at Pitti Bimbo, for girls ages two to 12. The collection introduces a variety of floral and geometric prints, diamond and star patterns, brightly colored down jackets and polka-dot backpacks, which creative director Consuelo Castiglioni called a “distillation” of the Marni spirit.

Moschino is also targeting junior fashionistas with its latest fall line-up, which creative director Rossella Jardini said channels “the world capitals of the fashion system: Milan, New York, Paris and London.”

Moschino’s Teen collection delivers jersey leggings bonded with lace, a padded nylon leopard-print cape and a gold-sequined dress, while the Kid collection presents velvet trousers with flounces on the hem and a short cloth coat with large gold buttons, among others.

For boys, the Italian brand is introducing a rock-star theme, featuring black denim trousers with an all-over graffiti print, or a feather-padded flannel bomber jacket with nylon lining.

Angela Missoni, creative director of her family’s house, said kids’ wear too often falls into boring casual or fancy dress “sets,” and her brand aims to liven things up.

The Missoni Kids fall collection, for girls ages four to 14, evokes “fairies and pixies in a magical wood,” she said, playing with the brand’s celebrated stripes and zigzags in a palette of purple, gray, pink, beige, ocher and brown, with layered knitwear and touches of fur trim. For the first time, the brand is offering outfits for newborns, in pink-and-ivory or blue-and-ivory cashmere.

Suzanne Basini, ceo of I Pinco Pallino, a high-end Italian children’s label, said her company will introduce some more casual attire at this edition of Pitti Bimbo. “We will present developments for the season in daywear, which up until now has not represented our core business,” Basini said.

I Pinco Pallino, which has its primary markets in Russia and the Middle East, will offer floral prints in velvet, crepe de chine and jersey, with a special focus on roses, which hold “great romanticism and appeal for girls,” Basini said. “For boys, the selection ranges from formal pieces to a sporty and dandy-chic mood.”

The brand’s proposals for babies include soft cashmere wraps and down tracksuits in ivory, pink and sky blue.

Stella McCartney’s fall children’s lineup blurs the line between boys’ and girls’ wear. “We have a lot of androgynous pieces, and for me it’s really important that you can put something on your girl that also your boy can wear,” the designer said. For girls who still feel like princesses, McCartney proposes tea dresses inspired by items “that I’ve found in flea markets or things my mother used to wear.”

She added the collection is “definitely for kids, and for them to express themselves, and not just for parents buying clothes for their kids.”

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