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Italy Banks on Global Growth

Trade fair organizers see internet initiatives and customer service as key in tough times.

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MILAN — Italian trade fair organizers were pleased with the first half of the year, despite the gloom and doom surrounding the country’s tepid economy and political chaos, based on strong foreign turnout and the success of new Web and service-oriented initiatives.

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“The national economy hasn’t improved yet, partly because of the political and institutional standstill that we hope will be resolved soon with the new government,” said Silvio Albini, president of the Milano Unica textile trade show, which takes place twice a year in both Italy and China. “But this is offset by the rest of the world’s strong interest in medium-high to high-end Italian manufacturing.”

He noted that China is now the top importer of Italian coated wool, ahead of Germany.

The next Milanese edition of Milano Unica, in September, will focus heavily on “art, sustainability, new talent and synergy with the fashion world, direct contact with foreign markets, and direct contact with the final client, to build greater awareness of the importance of textiles for the finished garment,” Albini said.

“We’re happy with the results we obtained, especially on the foreign visitors front,” said Emanuela Forlin, exhibition director for Fiera Milano, which organizes ready-to-wear fair MI Milano Pret-à-Porter, or MIPAP, and the Sposaitalia Collezioni bridal fair. “The road is still uphill, but we’re better prepared to face it.”

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Fiera Milano has been building up its Web presence “to give a voice not only to companies, but also to buyers and consequently to the whole system,” said Forlin, noting that the updated Sposaitalia Collezioni site is already running, while MIPAP’s revamped portal will launch soon.

Vicenzaoro, the high-end jewelry show, also restyled its Web site, and will introduce a new, more digital fair format at the next winter edition, slated to take place in Vicenza from Jan. 19 to 24, 2014. The Boutique Show concept, created with input from buyers and retailers who took part in Fiera di Vicenza focus groups, will divide exhibitors into six thematic “districts,” making it easier for visitors to navigate the fair. At the spring edition in May, a concept show lab will make its debut outside Vicenzaoro, giving visitors a preview of what to expect next January.

White, the niche men’s and women’s fair, saw a 20 percent on-year increase in exhibitors at its most recent edition in February, with 189 new entries, of which 101 were Italian. White president Massimiliano Bizzi said he was “very satisfied” with the fair, and emphasized that for fairs to stay competitive in a tough economy they had to guarantee exhibitors contact with international buyers.

Bizzi also highlighted the need for cohesion among Italy’s trade fairs, echoing efforts by the Camera della Moda to make Milan Fashion Week more globally competitive.

 

“I believe that for Milan and for Italy, fashion represents a great source of income and value,” he said. “Specifically in terms of fairs, I think it’s crucial to create a network and collaborate to maintain our undisputed leadership at an international level.”

Forlin agreed: “Right now, the number-one priority is to support companies, both Italian and foreign, in their certainty that the market will keep growing, even if it changes.”

Eyewear fair Mido closed out its 43rd edition in March with a 3 percent on-year increase in visitors, with 60 percent from outside Italy, and a matching 3 percent increase in exhibitors, all of which Mido president Cirillo Marcolin deemed “encouraging.”

“The feedback from the exhibitors was very positive,” Marcolin said. “The industry members seemed particularly focused on doing business and this gives us reason to hope for the future,” adding that many small and medium-sized operations had chosen to launch their new collections at the fair.

Citing Mido’s new train shuttle service from Rome to Milan for opticians as an example of a concrete response to visitors’ needs, Marcolin said although it was initially conceived for about 300 people, more than 600 signed up last March. He said this and other services would certainly be on the agenda for future editions of Mido.

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The January editions of Pitti Uomo and Pitti W in Florence and the debut of Super in Milan in February were a success, said Raffaello Napoleone, chief executive officer of fair organizer Pitti Immagine.

“We registered what’s happening on the market: a certain amount of suffering in the Italian market, with fewer Italian buyers, but all the foreign markets are doing very well, from Japan to the U.S. and South America,” he said. “It’s what’s happening in our country and in fashion in general.”

Pitti Immagine’s Web site, e-Pitti, continues to grow — up 20 to 24 percent in traffic since its launch in 2011 with Fiera Digitale — and will soon add another language, Napoleone said.

“What people appreciate is the ability to revisit the fair and examine products in greater detail,” he said. “It’s a tool that complements the physical fair…the amount of time people spend on the site is significant.”

This June, Kolor and Damir Doma will be the guest attractions at Pitti Uomo and Pitti W.

“We’re pushing hard on young designers, and on strengthening our offering,” said Napoleone, who added that Turkey would be the guest nation in June and Pitti W would likely take place inside the Fortezza del Basso fairgrounds, instead of at the Dogana, a former customhouse.

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