By  on January 26, 2006

FLORENCE — Trade show organizer Pitti recruited skateboarders, spray painters and break-dancers to inaugurate the first edition of its streetwear and denim fair, Welcome to My House.

Dozens of women's and men's collections seeking to broaden their European distribution, including Ecko Unltd., Enyce, Tokidoki and Ezekiel, along with a few emerging European players, displayed embroidered denim, graphic-printed hoodies and funky boardshort s. Stazione Leopolda hosted Welcome to My House, which ran concurrently with the men's event Pitti Immagine Uomo and ended its four-day run Jan. 14.

"I've never seen pure streetwear like this," said Umberto Alessandrini, an Italian distributor for Los Angeles-based label Tokidoki, which just inked a production and distribution deal with Italian firm Fornari in a bid to expand internationally.

Thirty-nine brands were at the fair, although not all of these labels presented full-fledged collections. Some stands featured little more than a smattering of products and promotional items like stickers.

Livio Travasoni, sales and marketing director for Slam Jam, an Italian distributor for brands such as Carhartt, Stussy, Paul Frank and Zoo York, thought Welcome to My House could become viable if it stays "underground" and doesn't grow too big and too commercial.

"This show serves a purpose. People need to understand what streetwear is and that there's a business behind it," he said, noting that the Italian market for street apparel and accessories is especially fertile for growth, worth an estimated 500 million euros, or about $600 million.

At Tokidoki's stand, the brand's signature Japanese anime-style characters adorned a variety of items, including shrunken Ts, a wide selection of vinyl toys, charms and jewelry and LeSportsac bags.

"A clothing retailer might traditionally just take up the shirts and jeans, but we are pushing the other items," said Ivan Arnold, who created Tokidoki with his wife and Hard Candy Cosmetics co-founder, Pooneh Mohajer.

Brands like Ezekiel and Insight offered plenty of other girly looks with a surfer influence. Ezekiel's stand featured a series of mix-and-match pieces like tight, bottom-baring shorts, floral skirts, track jackets and tops featuring eyelet lace trim. Australia-based Insight is hoping that its unusual color palette will convince beach babes to buy pistachio green cropped jeans, a violet knit poncho or a melon-hued sweatshirt.Marc Ecko is trying to win over street-smart girls and young women with his Ecko Red line, featuring T-shirts bearing old school hip-hop imagery, baggy cargo pants, Eighties-style bomber jackets and pullovers in cotton piqué. The brand opened a freestanding concept store in Milan late last year and it counts some 250 sales points throughout Italy.

Serena Salvucci, Ecko Unltd.'s Italian market fond of the brand, and streetwear in general, because "it's a basic sort of uniform. It shows that you are a part of a group."

For some prospective buyers, that repetitive sameness was precisely the problem at Welcome to My House.

"I wanted to find more of a new language here. It seems like the same graphics are repeated," said Salvatore Melita, 29, who is looking to open a store in Sicily with his business partner, Luigi Orofino. "They aren't risking with their projects. They are just going with the safe approach to be commercial."

The second edition of the fair will be held concurrently with the next Pitti, June 21-24.

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