MILAN — The Italian trade show calendar always has been a kinetic entity, characterized by last-minute venue changes and political wrangling. This September's first megatextile show — a feat that literally took years to come together — marks a significant step toward unity, which is not to say the Italian calendar isn't still full of activity.
The consolidation seen among textile shows has several causes. European manufacturers, especially those in the textile industry, are suffering as China emerges on the scene, and a strong euro-to-dollar exchange rate is eating companies' margins. A consistently sluggish European market and signs that U.S. economic growth could be slowing don't help, either.
But overall, organizers of fairs small and large are staying upbeat and optimistic that buyers will still flock to Italy for everything from the finest silks to Tuscan leathers. There are hopes that a bigger, more unified textile trade show will create a more formidable competitor to Paris' Premiere Vision, and Italians are banking on Milan's newly opened fairgrounds in Rho-Pero to accommodate more exhibitors and buyers.
"People still have to come to fairs to continue doing business," said Raffaele Napoleone, chief executive officer of Pitti Immagine, which organizes several fairs, including men's wear event Pitti Immagine Uomo, to be held July 22-25 at Florence's Fortezza da Basso.
The birth of the unified textile show, called Milano Unica, Il Salone Italiano del Tessile, comes after years of mulling the prospect. Fair organizers said late last year that they had finally gotten it together for a show in March — only to postpone it once more until September. Insiders said organizers from different trade entities argued over everything from location to the regional provenance of the food and beverages to be served at the event.
But in the end, organizers managed to work past those differences to combine men's wear fabric shows Ideabiella and Shirt Avenue with women's textile events Ideacomo and Moda In. The unified show will take place in the older downtown Milan fairgrounds Sept.13-16.
Unica organizers had hoped that Prato Expo would join up for the event, but the Tuscan textile show is sticking to its original separate format for now. It runs Sept. 15-17 at Florence's Fortezza da Basso, overlapping Unica by two days."Just determining the dates and logistics and harmonizing everybody's old habits wasn't that easy, " said Ideabiella president Pier Luigi Loro Piana, one of the key figures behind Unica. He's expecting more than 600 exhibitors and 20,000 visitors at the fair. "A foreign buyer can now see in just a few days the best that Italy has to offer in textiles," he said.
Loro Piana said organizers have yet to determine how entrance passes will work, but most likely, there will be one pass for all of the fairs except Ideabiella, which is considered a more exclusive event and will require its own entrance pass for access.
Vincenzo Pagano, director of Prato Expo, said he's not completely against joining Unica sometime in the future, but he's convinced buyers will come to see Prato Expo, regardless. He said he thinks buyers will come to Italy for smaller, more specialized fairs; the key is to offer what they are looking for rather than vast quantities of products.
"The idea of coming together can help [the situation of too many fairs] but it can also run the risk of becoming too generalized," Pagano said, adding that Prato Expo will likely see 10 to 15 percent fewer exhibitors this year than last season due to Italy's overall textile crisis.
Micam and Mipel are the first fashion-related trade shows making the move to the new Milan fairgrounds in the suburb of Rho-Pero. A subway link to the new fair was inaugurated earlier this year. Micam, dedicated to footwear, and Mipel, which covers other leather goods and accessories, both run Sept. 22-25.
Rossano Soldini, president of shoemaker association Anci, which organizes the Micam fair, said a bigger exhibition space will allow the fair to broaden its scope. The new fairgrounds, which cost some 750 million euros, or $964.4 million at current exchange, boasts more than 3.5 million square feet of exhibition space.
"Moving to Rho-Pero means having more space so that we can accommodate more Italian and international vendors," Soldini said.
Over the years, smaller niche trade shows have emerged and battled for the attention of both vendors and buyers, with mixed results. Juggling dates, locations and funding proved too much for some. Access Code, a cottage fair organizer pushing emerging designers, canceled its apparel and accessories events earlier this year as its organization disintegrated.But some smaller trade events have persevered and are actually growing, such as White and its sister fairs, Neozone and Cloudnine. White focuses on emerging labels and trendy fare, while Neozone offers more classic ready-to-wear and Cloudnine exhibits accessories. The three fairs coincide with Milan's women's wear runway shows Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in the hip Via Tortona neighborhood.
"We're trying to put more of a focus on the creative side," said Agostino Polletto, a board member at Efima, the organization that runs the three fairs. "We want to create a sort of platform for new designers," he said, adding that he's expecting the number of exhibitors to jump 20 percent from the last edition to about 300 companies.
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