The scene at the 115th edition of Mipel.

MILAN — Handbag and accessories trade show Mipel has changed its skin over the past four years in an attempt to boost its global relevance, working on drawing more international and domestic buyers and building a reputation as an upscale fair spotlighting Made in Italy.

Organizers and exhibitors said the efforts paid off. The 115th edition of the four-day trade show, which closed here on Feb. 13, attracted around 14,000 visitors, up 7 percent compared with the September edition, although the number dropped by 2.9 percent compared with February 2018.

Despite market instability and uncertainties over trade deals on a global scale, the number of buyers from Russia — a priority market for leather goods companies — grew 33 percent and buyers from Spain, France and Germany all registered a double-digit increase.

Positive signs of recovery for the domestic market, already seen in September, were confirmed by a 10 percent uptick of Italian buyers at the Milano-Rho fairgrounds during the event.

Riccardo Braccialini, president of leather goods association Assopellettieri and Mipel, expressed his enthusiasm noting that “despite a range of difficulties…we embarked on a path that allowed us to ease business development for our associated companies, as well as improve the attractiveness for international players, which helped transform Mipel into a more contemporary [trade show] able to satisfy the global needs of the market.” A number of side initiatives animated the fair, including the Vivienne Westwood brand, which teased the designer’s African Ethical bag and vegan collections of handbags.

According to preliminary data released by Assopellettieri, exports for the leather goods category were up 10.3 percent in the January-to-October period, reaching 6.76 billion euros. Along with Switzerland and France, both important logistics hubs for Italy’s leather goods, the U.S., Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan topped the list of importing countries. In particular, the U.S. showed a 5.7 percent increase in the first 10 months of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.

The handbags and accessories collections for fall 2019 explored what seemed as many territories as the number of exhibiting companies, each one banking on its heritage, identity and know-how while trying to diversify their products’ range through capsule collections and new lines.

Storied luggage and leather goods company Bric’s unveiled a brand within its portfolio. BY — which stands for Be Young — taps into younger, cosmopolite consumers, with prices starting from 119 euros for a cabin-size baggage. “It’s a sister brand with its own dignity addressing a new target for us, but backed by Bric’s expertise, which still has a value,” said the firm’s president Roberto Briccola.

A suitcase from Bric's BY new line.

A suitcase from Bric’s BY line.  Courtesy Photo/Fabio Cravarezza

For the project the company tapped industrial designer David Dolcini, who conceived highly functional suitcases in rigid and soft versions, for the Ulisse and Itaca lineups, respectively. As part of the former range, pastel-hued shells were produced by injection moulding and featured a lattice design on the front bearing decorative and functional purposes, as it helped reinforce the structure while reducing its weight. “The [BY] brand expresses the values of the contemporary way of traveling [which is] essential and demanding,” explained Dolcini, who pointed to highly resistant luggage grips, as well as to USB ports installed on the cabin-size, as some of the range’s key features.

For its “affordable-luxury” main collection, as Briccola put it, the company introduced trunks within the signature Bellagio and Capri ranges, which Briccola said could be particularly appealing for the Asian market. The latter represents the best-performing one along with the U.S. for the company, which generated sales of 40 million euros in 2018. “We are ignoring the domestic market, with the exception of locations with touristic relevance,” explained Briccola noting he doesn’t plan to negotiate on prices to gain market shares.

Also positioned on the upper contemporary segment is Caterina Lucchi, a brand founded in 1986 and today within the portfolio of the family-run Campomaggi & Caterina Lucchi group, which includes the Gabs brand. The group generated 33 million euros in 2018.

The namesake designer noted “products are niche, they address a customer with a certain artistic sensibility and are firmly rooted in the European sense of style.” To wit, the label generates most of its revenues in the region — especially in Spain, France and Germany — with a handbag collection injected with an artisanal, bohemian vibe.

A bag from the Caterina Lucchi fall 2019 collection.

A bag from the Caterina Lucchi fall 2019 collection.  Courtesy Photo.

“Customers are seeking signature products and the chance to recognize the styles each season,” Lucchi said, adding she usually reworks successful designs to give continuity. A rusty-toned flap leather bag came enriched with exotic skins, including python and crocodile, while a messenger city carryall was punctuated with laser-printed Maori-style designs for fall. Banking on craftsmanship and an affordable price range (handbags retails at between 250 euros and 550 euros) proved successful, as Lucchi noted stockists’ open-to-buy budgets have increased.

Enthusiastic about the success of the first three seasons, Calicanto designer Pietro Leonardi also projected an optimistic outcome for the label, which is owned by iDNA Italia, a third-party manufacturer that has supplied luxury brands for 40 years. “Buyers are coming back and saying the handbags’ sellout was great,” he said, adding that also the directly operated e-commerce platform is gaining traction. “On the upper segment of the market — when talking about luxury products — business is still consistent,” Leonardi noted, citing Asia — particularly Indonesia — and Japan as the best-performing markets.

The fall collection Calicanto presented at Mipel was an expansion of its signature lines, which include a soft calf-leather tote bag featuring sculptural, 3-D details highlighting the brand’s craftsmanship. The latter was evident in a design called Abside: a black bowler bag with a pleated front, which featured a trompe l’oeil design depicting an eye in the style of anatomy books illustrations.

A Calicanto flap bag introduced for fall 2019.

A Calicanto flap bag introduced for fall 2019.  Courtesy Photo.

Acquired by Arezzo-based jeweler Graziella in 2017 for 6 million euros after it filed for a petition of composition with creditors, Braccialini is forging the next steps of its reboot by banking on its heritage, rooted in flamboyant and embellished designs, which returned for the fall collection. Themed after the coalescence of prehistoric animals and futuristic spacelike elements, which informed the premium line and the Braccialini Tua lineup of faux-leather styles, the vast collection included for instance a T-Rex shaped bag; a new trademark style called Audrey splashed with floral and dinosaurs prints all around, as well as the signature Cartoline bags decorated with postcard-like patches.

Eleonora Gori, sales vice president of the company, explained that although Italy still accounts for 50 percent of its sales, international buyers are growing, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. “If we manage to engage Japanese consumers we can make our foray in other countries,” Gori said noting the company will open a temporary store in the country in 2019. Braccialini is also planning to expand in the Middle Eastern market by opening a corner at Tehran’s Iran Mall this year.

In keeping with its commitment to support young talents, Mipel renovated its Tailor Made project, matching emerging designers with established leather-goods manufacturers for the creation of capsule collections showcased at the Scenario area on the fairgrounds. Partnering with Milan’s department store Coin, the bags were displayed at the city’s shopping destination throughout the four-day trade show and were available for purchase.

Among the tie-ups, Abruzzo-based Arcadia partnered with designer Irma Cipolletta on a range of sleek and minimal leather styles drawing inspiration from the botanical theme. A rigid satchel bag crafted from dusty pink leather featured a conical base allowing for spinning when the bag is placed on a surface while a baby blue bum bag recalled the shape of a leaf and could be detached from its belt to be carried clutch-style.

Alessandro Tondi, the second-generation owner of the family-run business established in 1975, noted “the company is experiencing a fast-paced growth, especially in the U.S.,” where Arcadia is available at the TJ Maxx retail chain, for example. On the contrary Russia — once a strong market — is still sluggish due to fluctuations in the ruble/euro exchange rates. The company posted revenues of 4 million euros in 2018.

The next edition of the trade show will run Sept. 15 to 18.