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Retailers Prep for Italian Trade Fairs

Italy’s fashion fairs are working to attract international buyers, and September is a key month for organizers and exhibitors.

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MILAN — With the domestic market still in a slump, Italy’s fashion trade fairs are working to attract international buyers, and September — when the fashion circus descends on this northern Italian city — is a key month for trade show organizers and exhibitors.

Retailers have more than a few thoughts on strategies to boost business, distinguish assortments and make the fairs more user-friendly.

“During fashion weeks I always check out the trade fairs,” said Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager for men’s and women’s apparel at Printemps in Paris. “One criticism I have of the Italian fairs is that either there are a lot of French brands that I see in France — which I don’t need to see again in Italy — or there are a lot of smaller labels aimed at Italian clients who are buying for Italian customers. I’d like to see more exportable brands, in the fashion sense of the phrase, and not just from France, also interesting [labels] from Italy and other countries, that I won’t find at French fairs.”

Italian fairs are rising to the occasion, with assorted initiatives to woo retailers from around the world. Leather goods show Mipel is introducing an area dedicated exclusively to artisanal Italian products, in response to the 12 percent year-on-year increase in exports of Italian leather and synthetic leather accessories; top importers include Switzerland, France, Japan, the U.S., Hong Kong and Germany, although China and Russia are quickly becoming key customers, too. For the first time, Mipel is participating in the Milanese edition of Vogue Fashion’s Night Out on Sept. 17 and introducing a special e-commerce initiative.

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Shoe fair Micam is partnering with Rolling Stone magazine on an initiative called “Foot Rocker,” presenting street style footwear at Pavilion 10 through multimedia channels. It’s also introducing the Foot Rocker competition for young designers, who can win a six-month internship at a footwear manufacturer. The fair is also offering tourist services, providing information on Milan’s hot spots and facilitating travel to and from the city’s airports.

Meanwhile, a special collaboration with the South Korean consulting group Interfashion Planning will bring new South Korean brands to niche fair White, and just this week, ready-to-wear trade show MI Milano-Pret-à-Porter, known as Mipap, launched its redesigned Web site, featuring a more bloglike stream of images and news. In September, the fair will unveil its VIP buyers’ lounge, where retailers can arrange meetings, relax and sample Italian cuisine. Mipap’s location on Via Gattamelata ensures easy access to the second edition of neighboring fair Super, a joint initiative started by FieraMilano and Pitti Immagine.

“Domestic consumption is in a delicate situation now. You read every day that the sales going on across Italy are not such a success,” said Pitti ceo Raffaello Napoleone, noting that although summer sales began more than two weeks ago, many of the most popular shoe sizes were still available. “That’s an indication of how little was sold during the season.…Exports are definitely growing, however, so we’re focusing on that.”

Ramzi Tabiat, creative director of Kuwait-based Al Ostoura, said he would be scouring the Italian racks for “creativity,” not specific items or categories of merchandise. “It is our role as retailers to keep the consumer’s interest high at all times and under all circumstances.

“I believe it is the biggest mistake to solely think and look for specific products and categories,” he added. “That is a scientific approach based on formulas that do not work, in my opinion.…I look to keep consumers’ interest and curiosity high.”

Tabiat said he foresees a general movement toward more polished looks. “I expect that we will continue to distance ourselves from dressing down and the punk rock look that fashion went through the past few years. It is the time to be totally fabulous and elegant in a modern way.”

“What’s going to interest us in this fragile economic context are standout pieces,” said de Lalun of Printemps. “Clients are still willing to spend money for something different that brings something new to their wardrobes — a color or an unusual cut or style. I’m open-minded, and I don’t go in with preconceived ideas; it’s up to the fairs to propose memorable pieces.”

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Although many fairs are targeting the international crowd, Italian buyers are also prudently approaching the offerings at September’s trade shows. Rosi Biffi, owner of Biffi Boutique in Milan, said, “The moment is calm. Clients have become very sensitive to the relationship between quality and price, although the desire to escape remains. All categories are needed to create a look, especially in a multibrand boutique. Naturally, [we will provide] lots of space for accessories.”

Biffi added she continuously adjusts budgets and has noticed customers’ increased reliance on e-commerce. In fact, Netcomm, the union of Italian electronic commerce, reported that from 2011 to 2012, online shopping jumped 55 percent in Italy.

Alessandra Rossi, multibrand commercial director of Yoox Group, said Christmas will be “full of high-quality products and multimedia content. We expect excellent results from the addition of prestigious brands such as Lanvin and Bottega Veneta to Thecorner.com and Shoescribe.com for fall, starting in November.”

As for key trends from resort, she pointed to “floral and tropical prints that we saw, for example, at Giambattista Valli and Erdem, and we expect to find these also in the main season’s offerings, as well as looks that combine ultrafeminine silhouettes that have a retro flavor with sportswear-inspired pieces.

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