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The Waiting Game

Italian fair organizers and fair exhibitors are facing difficult times. The recent military action in Iraq pushed the Italian textile and yarn industry into a state of suspended animation. Predictions of an economic recovery, particularly in the U.S....

Italian fair organizers and fair exhibitors are facing difficult times. The recent military action in Iraq pushed the Italian textile and yarn industry into a state of suspended animation. Predictions of an economic recovery, particularly in the U.S. markets, seem less and less likely, and the boost in consumer confidence predicted to occur following the end of the short-lived war in Iraq has yet to materialize.

This story first appeared in the May 28, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In spite of the gloomy outlook, most Italian producers are managing to remain positive. “We are living a particular moment in history,” said Rodolfo Botto Poala, owner of Botto Poala SpA, and president of the Como-based yarn fair, Filo, “and we just have to wait and see what the future brings. Most certainly fewer orders are being written and the market is in a state of flux. Plus, there is more competition now and we need to develop long-term strategies to deal with all of these changes.”

The long-term strategy some fair organizers were considering was to direct marketing and promotional activities eastward and away from the United States, the market of choice for many years. A weak dollar and the stagnant American economy has prompted the Italians to shift targets and look toward Japan, as well the emerging markets in China and Russia, to replace the business they are not writing in the U.S. The Italian Trade Commission, along with various fair organizers, has been sponsoring groups of Asian buyers as part of an initiative to help promote sales of Italian textiles and yarns in Asia, and many Italian producers have participated in trade shows in China.

Though by all indications, the spread of SARS in Asia is being contained, with the number of new cases reported in Hong Kong dwindling daily and cases in other cities slowly being brought under control, it is unclear how long it will be before a SARS-induced slump in business travel subsides.

Flights in and out of Asia have been greatly reduced. Travelers arriving at any of Italy’s international airports are being checked by health officials. But just how this will affect fair attendance in Italy this summer and next fall remains to be seen.

According to Mario Boselli, president of the Camera Nazionale dell Moda Italiana, if buyers from the Far East are unable to attend the fashion shows sponsored by CNMI, it’s possible that fashion show organizers will take the shows to them.

“It is difficult to predict the course SARS will take, and even more difficult to predict just how many people from the Far East are planning to attend fashion shows that will take place six months from now,” he said. “But if the SARS emergency isn’t under control by the time the fashion shows take place in late September, we are prepared to broadcast, via the Internet, live coverage of the shows to buyers who are not able to attend the shows in person.

“The broadcasting system was developed after 9/11, and it was designed to be used if there was an increase in the number of terrorist attacks around the world,” he added. “Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but the system is in place and if we need it, we can use it,” he added.

Raffaello Napoleone, managing director of Pitti Immagine, which organizes a variety of trade shows at the Fortezza da Basso in Florence, said he has faith in the health controls that have been implemented at all of Italy’s international airports. Napoleone said he was not overly concerned with the epidemic and he felt the situation would be under control well before the men’s wear show. He said he is greatly encouraged by the number of new applications Pitti Immagine has received from producers who are interested in participating in future Pitti fairs. Other Pitti shows include children’s wear event Pitto Bimbo, June 27-29, and the yarn fair, Pitti Filati, scheduled for July 2-4 at Fortezza da Basso, Florence. Umberto Amato, one of the owners of Amato Studios, the company that organizes Shirt Avenue, which showcases shirt fabrics and tie silks, said he is also encouraged by the large number of applications received from potential exhibitors at the next edition of Shirt Avenue, which will be held at Villa Erba in Cernobbio, Sept. 10-12. “Our sector continues to do well in spite of poor economic conditions, so it is possible the next Shirt Avenue fair will grow from 33 exhibitors to 40 or more,” he said. “We are carefully checking the applications. We are encouraged because out of the 2,100 qualified buyers in the shirt sector that are invited to attend Shirt Avenue each season, between 1,900 and 2,000 attended the last edition.”

Also waxing optimistic is Dr. Armando Mammina, director of Expo Cts, a Milan-based company that produces trade fairs. Expo Cts has added three fairs to the already crowded Italian fall fair calendar, all to be held at the Milan fairgrounds: Undress, a lingerie and swimwear fair (Sept. 14-16, in Milan), Milanovendemoda, featuring women’s ready-to-wear (tentatively scheduled for Oct. 3-6) and Expo Textile, a fair dedicated to retail mass marketing (Nov. 11-13). Undress has stepped in and taken the place of the now-defunct Intimare, but according to Mammina, it will be a more upscale and fashion-oriented fair, with increased international participation. More than 100 brands, including Blumarine, Dior and Gianfranco Ferré, will share the 7,500-square-foot exhibition space set aside for this fair at the Milan Fairgrounds.

The second fair Expo Cts is promoting is Milanovendemoda, a women’s ready-to-wear fair, which has replaced Moda Milano. Once again, Mammina’s goal is to bring in new designers and increase the level of international participation. During the course of the fair, several fashion shows will be featured, including American designer Susan Cianciolo’s Run Collection and a selection of fashions carried by Showroom Seven in New York. Three hundred and forty fashion exhibitors are expected to occupy the 30,000 square feet of exhibit space reserved for this fair.

The first edition of Milanovendemoda, which was held the first week of March 2003, was attended by more than 11,000 buyers from Germany, England, France, Spain, Greece, Russia, Japan and the U.S.

Mammina’s third entry is Expotextil, a fashion fair for large chain stores, retailers and wholesalers who deal in volume. The fair features outerwear, knitwear, accessories, sleepwear and lingerie, socks and stockings for men and women. Approximately 25,000 square feet of exhibition space has been devoted to the first edition of Expotextil, which will take place Nov. 11-13. More than 250 exhibitors will show their collections for fall-winter 2004-2005.