In partnership with Italian Trade Agency

Eveningwear is one aspect of fashion that was virtually absent from daily life throughout 2020 – and as the industry reopens with a slow and steadied return to normalcy, the Evening Dresses Show promises to deliver ‘made in Italy’ at its very best.

The Evening Dresses Show (EDS) debuts its third consecutive b-to-b trade event this fall from September 1 to 3 in Salerno, Italy, hosted at the Maritime Station Zaha Hadid, and viewed virtually on the Italian Trade Agency’s ICE platform, Fiera Smart 365. The event is held by the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) and organized by the Italian Fashion Talent Association (ITFA), an organization that develops b-to-b events and meetings for the fashion sector in collaboration with the Campania region and other local institutions to support southern manufacturers, emerging designers, and national fashion schools.

Eveningwear for women, men and an expanded selection for children will be showcased at the event, with designs from 60 brands to peruse – and as it currently stands, approximately 20 international operators from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the U.S. are expected to attend in-person, which offers the added benefit of being able to shop the garments from the show on its last day – a treat that will also be open to the public.

Exhibiting companies can build their communication strategies to present collections to attendees through streaming fashion shows, multimedia catalogues, company profiles and technical data sheets, as was the protocol for EDS’s virtual show in 2020. What’s more is that the entire event can be followed remotely, and attendees can contact companies to organize virtual b-to-b meetings directly on the platform – even a week after the show takes place.

“As is well known, the spread of the pandemic from COVID-19 has had a huge impact – affecting fashion and clothing in particular – as a result of travel restrictions and general closures,” the ITA explained. “In this context, 2020 presented itself as the year of challenges and opportunities related to a necessary conversion to digital activities.”

Here, Paola Bellusci, Head of Piano Export Sud, Italian Trade Agency, talks to WWD about the successes of its virtual Evening Dresses Show, ‘made in Italy’ and shifts in the eveningwear sector post-COVID.

WWD Studios: How is the Evening Dresses Show differentiated in the market? What is unique about its offerings?

Paola Bellusci: EDS is not the traditional “big size” trade show, where buyers can become exhausted by its size and by the miles they need to walk to interact with their perfect size counterparts. Sixty exhibitors have already been selected, I would say cherry-picked, according to certain criteria. Our partner, IFTA, is focused on “made in Southern Italy” fashion and together, we aim to present the best representation of this offering, which is often overshadowed by big brands already present in international markets.

We aim at completing a prestigious picture – the ‘made in Italy’ fashion picture – with details sometimes overlooked. We wish to trigger the curiosity of international buyers, allowing them to get in touch with different ways of creating fashion. Finally, we want to create an environment that is conducive to deepening the knowledge of all those details that make Italian fashion so unique, and we want our guests to go back home with a big smile on their face and new ideas to present to their final clients.

Overall, Italian fashion and accessories have traditionally enjoyed a positive performance in the U.S.: Our exports have grown by 22 percent in the first quarter of 2021, after the inevitable drop of 2020 over 2019 (-15 percent).

A highly textured lilac gown. 

WWD Studios: How has the digital model opened up new opportunities for brands and showgoers? Will the digital model continue past the COVID-19 pandemic? 

P.B.: The digital model has saved so many businesses – we will never be able to “thank” this model enough. Technological progress has never been so timely!

Nonetheless, nothing can replace the direct experience of feeling a piece of fabric, running your fingers through the folds of an evening dress, testing the stitches on the lapel of a blazer…but the digital experience has allowed trade partners all over the world to not lose contact with one another during the worst phases of the pandemic. It has allowed tremendous opportunities to keep abreast with fashion trends and it has taught us to be more proactive, to ship over samples quickly, and much more.

We, for example, have sponsored wine tastings by shipping bottles overnight and keeping sommeliers and Horeca reps engaged over online sessions with wine experts. Vanessa Friedman, the fashion guru at The New York Times, has entertained the fashion community with the most interesting Instagram roundtables over the last year. The digital platforms have acted as an incomparable stimulus to be more creative, more inventive, to not give up. What is going to remain, in my opinion, is an integrated model where the digital model will expand the life of trade shows, fashion weeks and the like, by not confining them within 3 or 5 or 7 days.

WWD Studios: What were some of the most popular or standout brands and designs at the show?

P.B.: Evening Dresses Show focuses on evening and cocktail outfits, both for women and men. Men’s evening fashion has gained so much traction that, in the upcoming edition, with the creative director of IFTA, we have decided to devote a special section exclusively to tuxedos.

The focus is well-deserved, as the “made in Campania” sartorial skills – one of the eight Italian regions included in the promotion – are renowned the world over. So much so, that Guy Trebay, fashion critic at The New York Times, has recently written that, “It took the Japanese to explain denim to Americans and the Neapolitans to demonstrate for the English how to perfect English style.”

EDS is a “tailor made” fashion exhibition, where its size and specific focus allows us to better serve sixty invited buyers who have been carefully selected by the world network of the Italian Trade Agency.

Buyers will be taken by the hand to explore a manufacturer that specializes exclusively in the “little black dress”; or the specialist in tuxedos for women; or a company that only makes “grande soirée chemisiers”; or silk kaftans that feature prints inspired by the Amalfi coast. Finally, we will showcase a sustainability section where buyers will find outfits knitted by craftswomen working with strands of recycled leather, or with organic cotton and silk – all fitted for evening fashion.