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Mipel: New Venue, Same Challenges

A new location outside Milan did not discourage exhibitors and visitors from attending Mipel, the four-day leather goods exhibition here.

MILAN — A new location outside Milan did not discourage exhibitors and visitors from attending Mipel, the four-day leather goods exhibition here.

The exhibition was held in the new sprawling fairgrounds designed by Massimiliano Fuksas in Rho-Pero, about a half-hour subway ride from the center of Milan.

“The new site is fabulous,” said Roberto Briccola, chief executive officer of Bric’s. “The space is more rational and there are no more booths that seem to be privileged.”

Others, however, claimed there was room for improvement.

“I wish organizers had ventured into a new interior design, as well, rather than sticking with the same old blue carpeting and black fixtures,” said David McMillan, who designs David & Scotti.

Embellishments, vivid prints and ethnic touches were still dominant trends at the show, but there was also a return to more solid colors and subdued looks in comparison to last spring, especially on the larger shapes. More details adorned smaller bags.

“Minimalism is not back,” said McMillan. “If so, it’s more [seen on bags that have] an urban use and not in fashion. Embellishments are still there, but more tone-on-tone, with less contrasting detailing.”

Mipel, showcasing products for spring-summer, closed Sept. 25 and drew 20,614 visitors, a 4 percent increase compared with a year ago. Giorgio Cannara, president of Mipel, said he was pleased with this edition, although he conceded it was not marked by “euphoric business, given the international recession over the past few seasons.”

According to AIMPES, the Italian leather goods association, in the period between January and May, exports grew 18.2 percent compared with the same period last year, for a total value of 956.4 million, or $1.14 billion at current exchange. Exports to Japan rose 11.6 percent, 27.2 percent to Hong Kong, 41.2 percent to Taiwan and 29 percent to South Korea.

Europe also showed signs of improvement. Exports jumped 22.7 percent to Spain and 18.4 percent to the U.K.

Sales in the U.S. were flat with last year. Referring to the American market, Cannara said: “After a good 2004, business seems less dynamic, and is mainly supported by performance of travel cases, which registered a 35 percent growth.” Sales of handbags in the U.S. market grew 4.2 percent.

Although suitcases still account for about 70 percent of business at Bric’s, the company has been expanding its offering of fashion bags and accessories. Bric’s showcased canvas and leather beach totes featuring large starfish appliqués.

Fornarina also presented a collection of bags with eye-popping patterns and colors. Materials and themes were mixed and matched, such as embroidered cotton and suede, metallic details with flower patterns and canvas and calf. The line is produced under license by Principe, which also manufactures accessories for Cerruti and Energie.

Marking its 50th anniversary, the company introduced its new concept store at Mipel. The retail project is named “Less is more.” With its minimal and functional look, chromium-plated metal and glass shelves, orange elements and coconut-wood floors, the stores, corners and in-store shops will carry all the lines produced by Principe. The first in-store shop will open at Milan’s Malpensa airport in December and the first flagship will open early next year in Via Manzoni, off tony shopping street Via Montenapoleone, replacing the existing brand store.

At David & Scotti, McMillan noted he will register a 60 percent increase in sales at the end of the year, reaching 4 million euros, or $4.8 million. Although he pointed out that Japan, the U.K., Hong Kong, Spain and France are the brand’s biggest markets, the designer said business in the U.S. grew by more than 30 percent.

In Japan, the company will open a brand store in Tokyo’s Aoyama district this winter. Three stores in China are also in the works.

“The sector is improving; we’ve passed the disaster zone and the market has cleaned out the nondirectional companies — as bad as this sounds,” said McMillan. “People must be more aggressive, and spend time on research and development. Design is the only weapon.”

McMillan said he expects to double sales within the next two years. The designer said he used “materials from common everyday use,” such as shoelaces or rope coils, to create crochet bags, embroideries and weaving. Knitted raffia and jute, sun-dried beading and hand-painted coconut wood flowers and fish added a summery feeling to the collection, also reflected in the color palette, which ranged from lemon, lime, tangerine and aqua to sand and brown.

“The market is stalled, but the high-quality and the Made in Italy [production and label] is an added asset,” said Mario Biasutti, president of Andrea Mabiani.

The company showcased soft totes in python skin; roomy holdalls in napa, ruched and clinched by a belt-like closure, and calfskin bags embellished with tiny studs.

Nazareno Gabrielli showed totes in mock ostrich skin and canvas in mustard, and roomy document cases, which are iconic Nazareno Gabrielli items.

In March, consultancy Key Group took control of the leather goods company, which was in financial difficulty. Key Group is investing 8 million euros, or $9.6 million, to 10 million euros, or $12.1 million, to relaunch the brand, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2007 with the opening of a museum in Tolentino.

“We plan to roll out 30 stores in Italy over the next three years and expand the brand outside Italy,” said Sauro Ramazzotti, general manager. “With the spring-summer collection, we’ve doubled our points-of-sale in Italy to 200.”