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Italy: In the Shuffle

Italian trade fairs are mixing it up, changing dates and updating formats to better suit buyers’ needs.

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Moda In remains an independent textile show, but may soon join forces with other textile fairs under one banner.

WWD Staff

Italy’s trade show lineup has been full of surprises, from a dramatic last-minute cancellation of a united textile event to the increasing additions of edgier niche fairs.

All of these changes come amid a challenging business climate. The ever-weakening dollar-to-euro exchange rate is making American buyers more selective than ever. They also are becoming choosier on how much time and expense they can dedicate to European buying trips.

Nonetheless, for the most part, fairs both big and small expressed optimism about the coming season.

“We think that we’ll continue to see growth in foreign buyers,” said Rossano Soldini, president of shoemaker foundation Anci, organizer of the Micam footwear fair, which runs concurrently with leather fair Mipel March 19-22 at the Milan fairgrounds. “With the U.S. elections over, we hope that the euro-to-dollar exchange rate will return to more reasonable levels.”

Still, some economists have warned that President George Bush’s economic policies could further weaken the dollar-to-euro exchange rate. At press time, the euro was trading at about $1.30.

“[Exchange rates] create some concerns for us, but what can we do?” said Piero Costa, president of Efima, which organizes White, Neozone and Cloudnine, among other trade shows.

The biggest news in the calendar for the first six months of next year is the collapse of a highly touted plan to create a unified Italian textile show to better compete with Paris’ Première Vision. A couple of months ago, Shirt Avenue, Ideabiella, Moda In and Ideacomo confirmed that they were going to combine operations into one large Milan show for March. It has since emerged that these shows are staying separate for spring and now are focusing efforts to come together in September for an event dubbed Unica.

The points of contention, ranging from the show’s layout to its catering, differ, depending on the source. But the prevailing theory is that Unica is holding out for Prato Expo to join in.

“We share the belief that this type of united trade show is necessary, but first we need to discuss it within our organization and then we need to hold talks with the heads of the other trade shows,” said Vincenzo Pagano, director of Prato Expo, which organizes the Prato Expo textile fair.

The dates for most of these textile shows do at least overlap, making it easier for international buyers to organize their trips. Shirt Avenue runs Feb. 27-March 1, and Ideabiella runs March 2-4, both at Villa Erba in Cernobbio. Moda In runs March 1-3 at the Milan fairgrounds, while Prato Expo runs March 3-5 at Florence’s Fortezza da Basso. The laggard of the group, as in years past, is Ideacomo, which begins March 22 and wraps up March 24 at Cernobbio’s Villa Erba.

But the textile show shuffle isn’t the only adjustment for the Italian trade show calendar. Other noteworthy changes come from storied Florence fair-organizing body Pitti Immagine. Pitti Uomo’s fall-winter 2005 edition will start a week later than usual and, instead of the standard Thursday-through-Sunday run, organizers said the next edition would start on Jan. 12 and close on Jan. 15.

Since the Milan collections historically start the Sunday Pitti Uomo closes, the vast majority of press and buyers vacate Florence early Sunday morning, leaving vendors with nothing more to do than pack up early. The move is expected to encourage longer stays and an easier transition for attendees.

“[We made this change] so that people can spend more time at the fair, looking at the collections and getting work done,” said Raffaello Napoleone, chief executive officer of Pitti Immagine.

Meanwhile, Pitti has made other adjustments to its show offering. It has cancelled home textiles show Pitti Immagine Casa and leather preview fair Modapelle as exhibitor interest waned. Napoleone said Pitti has reevaluated the industries worth focusing on and new concepts for presenting products, of which Pitti Living is an example.

Pitti Living, which debuted last April to convene with Milan’s ever-growing furniture and design show, Salone Internazionale del Mobile, presents home furnishings in stylized vignettes of living spaces. Pitti chooses the items and works them into rooms rather than giving dedicated stalls to exhibitors. This year’s Pitti Living kicks off April 13-18 in the trendy Via Tortona warehouse district.

Pitti’s efforts to focus on new areas and play with new formats reflect an overall trend in the fair industry. Over the past couple of years, a new batch of smaller fairs and events has cropped up. These shows, such as White, Neozone and Access Code, put the emphasis on creativity, both in terms of the products they show and their locations. Rather than opt for traditional convention centers and fairgrounds, they seek out unique staging areas such as a Baroque palazzo or a renovated factory space.

“It’s a lost cause to try and compete with the other trade shows. We just want to propose something different,” explained a spokeswoman for Access Code, an independent cottage fair organizer that debuted on the Milan scene last fall during the spring-summer 2005 shows.

The last edition included emerging names such as Belgium’s Xavier Delcour, Sicily’s Giuseppe Patané and Australia’s Hannah McNicol. The show attracted reps from stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.

Access Code once again will stage the event at Milan’s frescoed Palazzo Visconti, this time during the women’s ready-to-wear runway shows Feb. 21-24. A fair dedicated to accessories runs March 19-22 at the same location. Access Code also is staging events dedicated to design and men’s wear throughout the year.

White, an edgy rtw fair that has been gaining momentum over the past few years, also is attracting interest from top retailers in the States. White, along with its sister fairs, Neozone and Cloudnine, coincides with the women’s shows and runs Feb. 24-27 in the Via Tortona neighborhood. White focuses on emerging labels and trendy fare, while Neozone offers more classic rtw and Cloudnine exhibits accessories.

“Buyers are a bit tired. They are looking for shows that give newness, both in terms of the products and also in how they are presented,” said Costa of organizer Efima.

Agostino Polletto, a board member at Efima, said that White and its satellite fairs have a challenging task in front of them: They must grow and reach the critical mass needed to attract buyers without losing creative credibility. He explained, “We have to increase the number of exhibitors without risking the selection process of high-quality items.”

— With contributions from Courtney Colavita and Valerie Waterhouse in Milan

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