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Molto Italiano

Southern Italy is wooing Americans, and not just tourists.

Southern Italy is wooing Americans, and not just tourists. Apparently the heel of Italy’s boot is an untapped resource for textile and leather manufacturers, who are eager to stamp “Made in Italy” on U.S. designs. At a press conference Tuesday at New York’s Metropolitan Pavilion, a group of representatives from Pit9, an organization of manufacturers from southern Italy’s Salento region, stated their firm’s interest in building an American clientele. And they are intent on doing it Italian style, complete with plenty of sweet talk and a leisurely pace — 30 minutes after the scheduled 5 p.m. start time. Domenico Delli Carpini, director of America Oggi, joked that the conference would begin in “10 Italian minutes.”

This story first appeared in the July 25, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Once under way, the panel — Silvio Astore and Caterina Mastrogiovanni of Pit9, Remigio Venuti, mayor of the city of Casarano, Giuseppe Petracca of the Lecce Chamber of Commerce and Delli Carpini — made a case for Salento’s network of small family-run operations that specialize in handmade products, from socks to swimsuits to shoes to textiles. In between emphasizing Italy’s amore for America and how happy he was to be in New York, Venuti explained that Salento is home to hundreds of small factories, many of which have worked with high-profile Italian labels such as Valentino and Moschino, but aren’t equipped to approach the American market independently. Pit9 is working to change that. Mastrogiovanni estimated that over the last six years Pit9 has invested 60 million euros to support the region’s companies and develop their production capacity. “They’re ready to be in the U.S. market,” she said.

That may be true on a technical level, but judging by the post-conference runway show, which featured original designs from nine of the region’s companies, Salento’s fashion has a long way to go. Aside from swimwear by Sucrette and Gio Beachwear, the men’s wear, mostly sport jackets and trousers by firms such as Tielle, far outshone the women’s collections, the majority of which flaunted an overtly flashy vibe, i.e., metallic leggings by Angelo Mele and wayward fur-embellished dresses by Ettore Negro.