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MILAN — Italian fashion trade fairs have tackled fierce economic headwinds lately with deep renovations to format and offerings, and one of Milan’s oldest — the 60-year-old leather goods and bags trade fair MIPEL — made an ambitious new plunge into high tech.
MIPEL’s March 3 to 6 edition marked the birth of an online “virtual” fair, enabling anyone who knows how to download smartphone apps and scan QR codes to zap product information into their Androids or iPhones.
The fair’s 367 exhibitors — an increase of nine from the same time last year — were invited to build digital portfolios, scanning products in a 3-D “light box” that takes 360-degree digital pictures.
“We’re working on a way for exhibitors to be able to sell all year round,” said Giorgio Cannara, president of MIPEL, noting that this is the group’s answer to e-commerce.
For now the virtual fair remains a way to conveniently store and peruse exhibitor information, as the B2B transactional end of the new portal is still under development.
Meanwhile, a studio manned by a photographer and model — placed at the disposal of exhibitors — and a mini-TV studio for MIPEL-related interviews were also tucked among the stands.
The fair also revamped its layout, reorganizing exhibitors for the first time by four typologies: Made in Italy goods — guaranteed to be at least 80 percent made in Italy — were in one area. Exhibitors bent on broadcasting brand identity showed in self-made stands in another. Start-ups and new venues had a third area, while international exhibitors were positioned in a fourth.
Despite these innovations, however, visitors were down by 12 percent over the same edition last year, to 14,188 visitors from 16,401 in March 2012.
Italian buyers drained away, while international visitors were actually up 4 percent. Internationals made up 56.4 percent of the total versus 48 percent in March 2012.
“Once upon a time, the Italian domestic market consumed 50 percent of Italian-made leather goods. Today they are very scarce. They mainly go abroad,” said Cannara.
From January to October 2012, Italy consumed just 1.5 billion euros ($1.95 billion) of non-shoe accessories, while it exported 4.2 billion euros worth ($5.46 billion), according to Italian leather goods association AIMPES — and the divide is getting wider.
Exports of non-shoe accessories — belts, purses, work bags, luggage, backpacks, wallets and umbrellas — rose 21.8 percent in the first 10 months of 2012, whereas in Italy the average price per product slumped 23.8 percent. Sales dropped 5.3 percent and turnover sank 5.1.
Italy’s export market has rewarded big-name luxury players, and thrashed smaller operators and more affordable products, lamented AIMPES.
Not surprisingly, leather purse start-up Nunzia Palmieri — named after its designer — is taking aim at rich, tech-savvy clients abroad, with new luxury purses equipped with an iPad side pocket.
Removing a decorative protective leather insert opens a window for directly tapping the iPad while on the go.
The design won MIPEL’s prize for most creative new offering in the fair’s “Design Studios” area for start-ups and fresh brands.
“We’ve managed to sell some bags, but mainly we’ve taken a lot of contacts,” said Ignazio De Pasquale, Palmieri’s head of sales.
De Pasquale reported promising nibbles from the U.S., London and other Western European distributors, but his wholesale prices of 965 to 1,235 euros ($1,260 to $1,614) might cause some to gasp — similar-size Gucci purses retail for $1,295 to $1,850 at Gucci’s American online store.
While De Pasquale suggested a 30 to 40 percent retail markup, a 250 percent markup is the industry standard, WWD learned from purse makers at MIPEL and other fairs.
But business was brisk at Italian purse and bag specialist Campomaggi e Caterina Lucchi, which sells three distinct lines of bags, all made in Italy: Campomaggi, Caterina Lucchi and Gabs.
The Campomaggi and Caterina Lucchi bags have a deliberate weather-beaten look. Campomaggi evokes outdoor trails in natural-tone, washed leathers and khaki military fabrics, and Lucchi taps women’s vintage looks. Gabs, on the other hand, offers transformable bags in cheerful hues like turquoise, green, orange and fuchsia.
Founded in the Eighties, the company’s sales grew 50 percent in 2011 and another 25 percent in 2012, according to communications manager Fulvia Venturi.
Turnover was 24 million euros ($31.2 million) in 2012, with product distributed at 1,500 points of sale in 47 countries.
Venturi said the company had hit a market sweet spot with its price-to-quality ratio — Gabs handbags, for instance, average 70 euros wholesale ($91), but the 25-year-old company has also cultivated a network of 50 agents and distributors, according to its Web site.
“In the last 10 years, showrooms have been cannibalizing the trade fair business,” said Attilio Briccola, sales director at Italian luggage specialist Bric’s.
Briccola said the company’s consolidated turnover for 2012 was 40 million euros ($52 million), with about 60 percent sold abroad and most of its Italian sales coming from stores in tourist centers.
“Italian sales were down 20 percent and foreign sales up 10 percent last year,” Briccola said.
Bric’s showed a capsule collection designed by Francesca Versace, Santo Versace’s daughter, who is not part of the Versace family’s fashion house.
Briccola confessed that Bric’s presence at MIPEL was “more sentimental than about business,” since for the last four years the company has been represented by a showroom that sells its products all year long.
“The fair has become more of a place to become known or to do research,” he said.