MILAN — After a season filled with new initiatives and efforts to increase attendance, fair organizers in Italy still aim to attract foreign visitors while they ride out an unhurried economic recovery.

This story first appeared in the May 18, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Mauro Muzzolon, director of leather goods expo Mipel, said there has been a decisive upturn in the industry, especially regarding bags and small leather goods, though figures have not yet returned to pre-crisis levels.

“What really continues to puzzle us, though, is the Italian market, which is at a standstill due to low prices,” said Muzzolon, noting that makers are having difficulty earning profits. “We’re seeing new buyers from the Ukraine and China — the foreign market is indispensable.”

Mipel, along with the other three Milan-based accessories fairs — Mido, Mifur and Micam — conducted a joint communications campaign called “All Accessories” in February to promote the salons abroad, particularly in the U.S., Russia and Japan. Muzzolon said the initial trial “was an all-around positive experience,” and that “these synergies will surely continue to be an important weapon.”

Marco Serioli, executive director of Fiera Milano Rassegne, which organizes several trade shows including Mi Milano Prêt-à-Porter, said, “Based on our survey, exhibitors provided positive feedback and indicated that there is a pickup in orders.”

“We’re seeing positive signs in export data, especially for Made in Italy products,” echoed Raffaello Napoleone, chief executive officer of Pitti Immagine, which organizes the Pitti shows — Uomo, W, Bimbo, Filati and Fragranze in Florence — as well as ready-to-wear and accessories fairs Modaprima, Touch, NeoZone and Cloudnine in Milan.

Napoleone also emphasized the importance of foreign participation, citing a new initiative called “Guest Nation,” which involves promotional activities in a specific location deemed strategic for the Florence trade shows.

“This year, we have chosen São Paulo to try to increase attendance from Brazil, which has been showing encouraging signs,” he said.

Although the dollar’s fluctuations continue to cause concern, fair organizers are not worried. Serioli believes the intrinsic value of Made in Italy products is enough to cushion the impact of the weakened greenback.

“Additionally, Italian manufacturers are always attentive to economic trends and therefore tend to offer competitive prices,” Napoleone added. “Despite the instability of the dollar, the U.S. is becoming more important to us.”

The upcoming June edition of Pitti will be headlined by Rodarte and Band of Outsiders, both of which hail from California.

Pitti is also in the process of ramping up its online presence. After a successful pilot edition in January, the organizer, alongside FieraDigitale, will officially launch its online portal, e-Pitti, essentially putting the entire fair on the Web, with an investment of around 1.5 million euros, or $2.2 million at current exchange. Photos and videos of the more than 1,600 collections from the men’s, women’s and children’s divisions of the show will be available online, in addition to the new Marketplace section where registered buyers will be able to place orders.

Also bowing in June is a revamped home page and a Web site for Fondazione Pitti Discovery, the group that organizes cultural events surrounding the semiannual fairs.

White, which runs from June 19 to 21 for men and Sept. 24 to 26 for women, is also investing heavily in the Internet, according to the show’s president, Massimiliano Bizzi.

“WOW [White on Web] is an extremely important project for us — it’s our community, and right now, it’s a priority for us,” he said, adding that the recently launched portal gets about 3,000 visits per day.

As has been the trend for a number of seasons, trade shows are turning to innovative events to raise their profiles.

Bizzi indicated that, though it is too early to reveal details, there will be two important events in collaboration with the municipality of Milan because “it is important for the city to breathe fashion.” Last February, White hosted a fashion show in a moving subway train for young designer Alessandra Marchi.

Mi Milano’s ongoing Collisions program will once again pair young designers with historic Italian textile companies, and its HotHouse space remains dedicated to emerging talents, an initiative particularly appreciated by foreign buyers, according to Serioli. Additionally, for the first time, beauty show Intercharm has aligned its dates with Mi Milano and will take place in the same venue. It’s another example of fairs seeking out synergies.

Joining the young designer competition fray, jewelry fair organizer Vicenzaoro will hold a contest for designers under age 30 in collaboration with the Politecnico University of Milan. Vicenzaoro Choice will take place from Sept. 10 to 14, following About J, a smaller sister event dedicated to higher-end collections running from Sept. 8 to 10, both in Vicenza.

Pitti will launch Dress Like a Man, described as a “performance event that provides a unique interpretation of the new contemporary classic look.” It will take place on the evening of June 14 and is being curated by Olivier Saillard, the recently appointed director of Paris-based fashion museum Musée Galliera.

Mipel will celebrate its 100th edition this September with a book dedicated to the bag fair’s 50 years of history.

“This is a celebratory moment for us, a chance to look back on what we’ve accomplished but also as a stimulus to go forward,” said Muzzolon.

Finally, just before the ready-to-wear collections get going in Milan, the Milano Unica textiles fair runs from Sept. 13 to 15 at Fieramilanocity.

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