By  on November 23, 2005

Italian fairs move forward by working together.

MILAN — Unity at last.

In November, Prato Expo announced that it will join Italy's new unified textile supershow, Milan Unica, a decision that ends years of wrangling and in-fighting among various textile trade organizations over how to create a formidable competitor to Paris' Première Vision show.

Initially, Prato Expo's organizers didn't want to move to Milan, but last season's drop in attendance prompted a change of heart. Prato Expo's dilemma is endemic to the Italian trade show landscape: Fairs are constantly competing for buyers' time and travel budgets amid the crippling effects of a strong euro-to-dollar exchange rate and the emergence of mighty China.

Some fairs, such as footwear fair Fashion Shoe, have shut down all together. But Unica is a clear example of how Italian fairs can survive and even boost their might through collaboration. Last season, textile shows Ideabiella, Ideacomo, Shirt Avenue and ModaIn came together for the first edition of Unica. Now, with the addition of Prato Expo, five shows will participate in the second Unica, which runs Feb. 14-17 at the new Milan fairgrounds in the suburban area of Rho-Pero.

"[The Prato Expo move] completes the project, which allows a client in four days to get a clear understanding of what's on offer from Italy's textile companies and European manufacturers," said Pier Luigi Loro Piana, president of Ideabiella and a key Unica organizer.

Loro Piana estimated that Prato Expo's participation in the event would boost the number of exhibitors by about 16 percent, or 100 companies, from the 609 that participated in Unica's first edition. He said the number of visitors should grow by at least 10 percent from the 27,500 registered last time.

"Milano Unica is a new event so it hasn't fully realized its potential. It still has growth opportunities and the potential to acquire new market share," he said.

Overall, Unica and other fair organizers are optimistic that buyers will flock to Italy for the best fabrics, apparel, accessories and leather hides.

"There's an air of expectation. We have definitely not emerged from a difficult economic period, but we're definitely hoping to come out of it soon," said Mauro Muzzolon, director general of AIMPES, the leather accessories manufacturing group that organizes trade fair Mipel. Like others, he said that growing interest from buyers in new markets such as Russia can help compensate for "static" U.S. and European markets.Mipel runs concurrently with footwear trade show Micam, March 16-19. It will be the second edition of those fairs held in Rho-Pero. Home furnishings fair Macef (Jan. 20-23) is also leaving the old downtown Milan fairgrounds for the expanded space in Rho-Pero.

The futuristic-looking glass and steel structure, designed by architect Massimiliano Fukas, cost 750 million euros, or $885 million, to build and covers an area of about 22 million square feet.

According to Muzzolon, Mipel attendees and exhibitors were overwhelmingly positive about the new fairground's spacious layout.

"In terms of location, we are definitely satisfied," he said. "[In the old venue] there were these different levels and passageways that were a bit awkward and they created some areas that were difficult to visit."

Still, several fairs are staying at the older fairgrounds in Milan for now. Next year, the city will start working on a project to transform the area into a new park and residential and business center. Most of the fairgrounds will be dismantled, although a handful of the more modern pavilions will be kept intact for smaller trade shows and events.

Nonetheless, Milan's old fair has a packed calendar for the first part of next year, including ready-to-wear event Milano Vende Moda (Feb. 10-13), fur show Mifur (March 15-19) and eyewear fair Mido (May 5-8). Many of the Milano Moda Donna runway shows taking place Feb.16-28 will also be held at the old Milan fairgrounds.

Florence is also gearing up for a packed calendar. The men's ready-to-wear trade event Pitti Uomo starts Jan. 11 at the Fortezza da Basso center and runs through Jan. 14, wrapping up a day before the Milano Moda Uomo men's runway shows kick off in Milan. The shows run Jan. 15-20.

Raffaello Napoleone, chief executive officer of Pitti Immagine, which organizes Pitti Uomo and several other trade shows, said that fair organizers are paying increasing attention to the needs of buyers in terms of cost and time. He said that Pitti Uomo's vast offering makes the show a lure for clients. "[Pitti Uomo is the only show] with a cross section that can offer the market everything from a high-end product to a more sporty or fashionable product," he said.As usual, Pitti is planning several other events for next year, including children's wear show Pitti Bimbo (Jan. 20-22) and yarn show Pitti Filati (Feb. 1-3), both held at Florence's Fortezza da Basso.

In Milan, Pitti will organize its third edition of Pitti Living, an event that coincides with Milan's ever-growing furniture and design show, Salone Internazionale del Mobile. It runs April 5-10 at Via Tortona 58, a complex of converted factories and warehouses.

Although large-scale events like the Pitti fairs and Milano Unica dominate the Italian trade show calendar, there are several niche shows emerging on the scene. Retailer interest in edgy apparel show White, and its sister fairs Neozone and Cloudnine, is definitely on the rise. Overlapping with the women's rtw shows in Milan, White and its satellite shows will run Feb. 23-26 in the Via Tortona district. White focuses on emerging labels and trendy fare, while Neozone offers more classic rtw and Cloudnine exhibits accessories. Next year marks a shift in management of the White, Neozone and Cloudnine shows. Efima, the organization that founded and currently runs these fairs, recently announced that they have outsourced the shows' organization to Pitti Immagine. The company will also organize Modaprima, May 28-30 at the old fairgrounds in Milan.

Agostino Polletto, a board member at Efima, said that the number of exhibitors at the White, Neozone and Cloudnine fairs will increase this edition to about 400 from 316 last time. He also forecasts a double-digit jump in visitors. "All three of the shows have good growth prospects," he said. "A high-end buyer, particularly a foreign one, has no choice but to come to these events."

Also coinciding with Milan's rtw shows, jewelry and fashion accessories event More makes its initial showing. The juried show runs Feb. 17-20 at the old Milan fairgrounds, and expects to have about 300 exhibitors, with a special portion dedicated to new design talents.

"[It's] a trade show event based on a new formula, in which prospective participants don't just sign up, but rather have to pass a selection process based on quality," said Marisa Corso, More's exhibition director.

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