By  on October 16, 2006

MILAN — The appetite for Italian leather goods is not slowing down, with Asia, Russia and the Middle East continuing to drive imports.

Mipel, the international four-day leather goods exhibition that closed here on Sept. 24, reflected this brisk pace of business.

"Things are looking good," said David Dewar McMillan, designer at David & Scotti, which showed large, soft bags with hand-carved cow-bone details and bags made with woven shoelaces.

McMillan, an Australian now based in Florence who works with artisans around the world for his handcrafted bags, said he is opening a design studio in Shanghai as he enters the Chinese market.

At the opening press conference, AIMPES, the Italian leather goods association, said that in the first six months of the year, exports grew 56 percent to Russia, 42 percent to the Arab Emirates and 56 percent to South Korea. Business in Japan and the U.S. grew 5 percent, consolidating a positive trend in 2005. The industry's exports totalled 1.1 billion euros, or $1.3 billion at current exchange, in the first half, with a 15.8 percent growth in value and a 10.4 percent growth in volume.

The 90th edition of Mipel reported a total of 22,479 visitors, up 9 percent from a year ago. The exhibition was held once again at the new Massimiliano Fuksas-designed Rho-Pero fairgrounds, just outside of Milan, together with footwear show Micam. This season, however, both were scheduled to run at the same time as apparel exhibition Milano Vende Moda, a nod to the growing synergies between the different fashion industries.

"There is a new, bubbly mood," said Giorgio Cannara, president of Mipel. "The clouds have not disappeared, but we can look to the future with more hope."

The number of visitors from Russia and Germany grew 47 percent and 47.9 percent, respectively, while Japan represented a 10 percent increase in visitors. Although business with the U.S. is growing, the number of American visitors dropped 10 percent.

Bags were generally large and soft, with natural-looking embellishments, such as tone-on-tone embroideries or laser-cut openwork. Presenting accessories for next spring-summer, Mipel showed a lot of raffia and a number of wicker baskets, but there were also totes in metallic hues or with silver or golden metallic accents."I'm cautiously happy," said Roberto Briccola, chief executive officer at Bric's. "We are focusing on our retailing strategy, which is bringing us added visibility and which has raised our image."

Bric's, which based its reputation on high-end luggage and which will celebrate its 55th anniversary next year, has been expanding over the past few years into more fashion-oriented handbags, as well as bags and travel cases that can be mixed and matched, through recurring colors or patterns. Briccola has also opened 24 Bric's stores in the last five years, including one in New York.

Tardini, known for its luxurious alligator-skin bags, took this material a step further, creating an embroidered effect obtained through the use of lasers. The Italian company based outside of the northern town of Modena also employed this technique on ponyskin, at times combining it with alligator.

"We want to maintain our identity and our strengths, but we work on renewing our looks to avoid sameness," said Stefano Tardini, one of the owners.

Denim and sportswear label Fornarina, produced by Principe, showed leather goods with chinoiserie patterns and, for the first time, a trolley suitcase. The suitcase was in bright pink, in line with the young, fun essence of the line.

The Tuscan firm Braccialini, controlled by the Mariella Burani Group, revisited its iconic patchwork bags with lacquered stone pendants accenting the closures. It also showed bucket silhouettes made from python or denim with flower patterns and sequined details, ethnic-looking satchels and mock crocodile bags with fringe or buckles.

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