By  on February 22, 2008

FLORENCE — Pitti in January used to be an all-male affair. Not anymore.

A new trade show, Pitti W — Woman Precollection, made its debut here last month, sharing the limelight with the men's fair, Pitti Uomo.

Forty international brands exhibited pre-fall women's lines in the T-shaped galleries of the Dogana on Via Valfonda, across the street from the Fortezza da Basso, home to the men's event.

The response was positive, with over 6,600 visitors.

Exhibitors lauded the opportunity to promote their brands and products early in the calendar to new and existing customers, tapping some of the traffic attracted to Pitti Uomo. They also viewed it as an ideal opportunity to set up appointments prior to Milan's bustling collections season.

"It's very busy during fashion week. There's no space for the smaller guys. This is the perfect window for them," said Emilia Boggio Lega, press manager for Rebecca Brown.

What's more, exhibitors were happy with the fair's size and setting, saying it allowed prospective buyers to focus on the products.

"If it remains small and intimate with select brands, it could be very successful," said Tullia Nembro, spokesman for Henry Beguelin.

Buyers, who tended to be European, Russian or Arab, also were generally pleased, citing a previous dearth of access to preseason women's stock in Italy at this point in the year. They said they were looking for something new from less mainstream brands and the fair provided a platform to research trends.

Some retailers, however, took issue with Pitti — W's size.

"It's well laid out and there's some good stuff but not enough of it. For it to work, it needs to be bigger," said one Italian buyer, who asked not to be named.

The chief executive of fair organizer Pitti Imagine said the women's show had a good debut and that the next edition, scheduled in June, would be more extensive.

"The first show was designed to be very focused but the objective, of course, is to make it bigger going forward," said Pitti ceo Raffaello Napoleone.Contrary to the fair's billing as a showcase for pre-collections, many exhibitors offered concept lines, or a sample of fall pieces, filling a segment somewhere between fast fashion and high-end ready-to-wear. These collections were broadly focused on multiseason use.

Outerwear specialist Herno Donna offered 12 limited edition raincoats celebrating the Italian company's 60th anniversary. Of note was a lightweight pleated nylon and silk mackintosh.

Herno Donna said it was using the fair to promote the brand more than to convert sales.

"It's a good opportunity to show what we can do," said sales assistant Matteo Marenzi.

Rebecca Brown, designed by Romeo Gigli, presented a "light but warm" line of knits and floaty skirts and dresses in ruby, geranium, orange and face-powder tones, including a cashmere dress in powder and a silk pleated skirt in rusty orange.

Gigli defined the line as a "zero collection" or an experimental range and a taste of things to come. He will present Rebecca Brown's full fall collection on Feb. 25 in Paris.

Archivio Privato Donna went back to the future for fall with slim-cut dresses, trousers, knits, jackets and body-wrapping coats in opaque and glossy materials.

Inspired by the early 20th-century art movements of Futurism and Dadaism, the preview collection included palazzo trousers in black silk georgette overlapped on jersey mirror leggings and a gray flannel jacket, which had whalebone inserts in its sleeves.

Archivio Privato Donna sells in high-end boutiques throughout Europe, Russia, India and Japan. The brand hopes to branch out into the U.S. this year via a partnership with agent BFP Showroom, said Rinaldo Gnaccarini, assistant to designer Alberto Zambelli.

Thes & Thes also played with weight and volume in its collection of multicolored fur jackets and stoles. The highlight was a chiffon and silver fox fur hooded stole "for wearing under a coat or over a dress" in pink, blue, dark blue and black.

Owner and designer Thes Tziveli said she was optimistic about 2008, despite the strong euro and the downturn in the U.S. economy.

"There is a psychological uncertainty because of the dollar, but if there is a beautiful product, you buy it," she said.Henry Beguelin offered a preview of its fall line of handmade leather accessories, which carried two themes — "country chic" and "cobra."

The "country chic" range included a dark brown pony leather doctor bag with rawhide trim and straps. The "cobra" line featured a patent maroon python skin carryall, with calf trim and horse bridle-style straps. The size of the latter bag can be adjusted to work for day or when traveling.

Mulberry also presented a sample of its fall collection, which was bright, bold and polished. Of note was the Maggie family of handbags, envelope clutches and purses. The structured range came in raspberry, green and white patent calf leather and bronze snakeskin, all accessorized with lock components in brass.

Mulberry, which has a separate U.S. wholesale operation, was using the fair to build its profile in Europe, a spokesman said.

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