No Ka 'Oi

MILAN — Contemporary apparel and accessories trade show White Man & Woman shifted its focus to the robust ath-leisure and streetwear market, in light of a shrinking number of men’s wear exhibitors, compared to last January. This is largely in line with the shortened Milan Men’s Fashion Week calendar, which ran Jan. 13 to 15, during the same period, as brands such as Gucci and Bottega Veneta, for example, have moved to the city’s Women’s Fashion Week.

White was held at Milan’s Tortona Fashion District and hosted 217 companies total, down from 270 in January 2017, as organizers strive for a more curated selection of designers and brands to enhance its fashion appeal as a must-see stop on the men’s week calendar.

Last year, White combined men’s, as well as women’s pre-collections during men’s week, in order to increase buyer turnout. At this edition of White, organizers reported a 3 percent increase in international buyers who visited the show — mainly from Japan, South Korea, the U.K., Germany, as well as Canada and the U.S.

At the fair, there was a noted push toward contemporary urban and sporty styles.

“Buyers are searching for this product, because this is a good alternative from the low-cost that people today are tired of, and to luxury which is too high. We’re the middle path,” White founder Massimiliano Bizzi said in an interview.

The upcoming Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, served as a news peg, off which the sports theme was highlighted at the heart of the fair.

An exhibition, curated by Alfredo Canducci Pais Ferreira, executive director of strategy and development of showroom and consulting group Tomorrow London Ltd., included six emotional Getty Images, which told the story of six historical moments from the Olympic Games.

Canducci united brands such as C-Clique, Sapopa, White Mountaineering, Geym, Kappa x AFL x Shauna T./P.A.M. and Kappa x AFL x Posh Isolation, who tailored their collections around competitive sports. Sportswear brand Kappa, for example, centered the lineup around the idea of Olympic warm-up suits — unfurling a collection of athletic socks, shower sandals and mesh caps, while brands like Geym focused on innovative weather-resistant materials and more whimsical, artistic Oriental prints.

Exhibitors such as Italy-based No Ka ‘Oi, which was launched in 2014, is one of those brands aiming to change the Italian dress code, whilst riding the buoyant ath-leisure trend. Their designs are suited for the jet-set and for women who want their yoga pants to be acceptable for an inner date. Owned by the Bologna-based Rilievi Group, No Ka ‘Oi seeks to captivate its customers with a zen mantra and designs inspired by the colors and nature of Hawaii.

“Since 2014, our sales have been growing double digits,” said Franca Foligatti, No Ka ‘Oi sales and marketing director, noting that, in 2017, the brand posted an increase of 30 percent, driven by its “Moda” selection of leggings, tops and pants made with innovative materials and decorations. Going forward, No Ka ‘Oi is focused on growing its U.S. sales, Foligatti added.

There was also a contemporary artisanal focus at the fair. Ex-Gianfranco Ferré designer Liborio Capizzi provided an artistic highlight with his haunted marionette fashion and lighting installation under the Di Liborio moniker.

This artisanal focus was further underscored by a showcase of graphic T-shirts and live painting, highlighting the artisanal touch that goes into cutting edge T-shirt brands Bassel Moussa Creations and Made in Me 8. Made in Me 8 is designed by Italian artist and photographer Francesca Galliani, who works with vintage T-shirts, emblazoned with messages of social activism. Bassel Moussa is a 28-year-old Syrian designer born in Damascus. His creations include tattoo-like ink pen pieces of art that range from people’s portraits to elaborate animal renderings.

White’s guest label fashion show, showcasing the unisex collection of Miaoran, also offered an international highlight. Miao Ran is from China and the 30-year-old designer and pattern-maker homed in on his sartorial skills for men’s and women’s fashions, defined by easy comfort, for an ageless demographic. Ran invited models in their 50s and 60s to walk the runway, some of them real-life moms and working women who had never walked the runway in their life.

Buyers at the fair noted they were on the lookout for innovation and fresh names.

“We have 15 percent of our budgets available for newness and things that we recognize as interesting to buy in the fair period, and of the fashion week period, that means even for new brands that you can find outside the fairs. But this is 15 percent of the budget we always have for men and women,” said Mario Dell’Oglio of the Palermo-based Dell’ Oglio boutique. Dell’Oglio is also the head of Italy’s association of buyers.

Buyers, across the nation, he explained are currently enjoying robust sales from their e-commerce channels, rather than in-store traffic. The challenge, Dell’Oglio said, is that the product’s online life cycle is much shorter than an in-store item. “I’ll give you an example. Back in the day, a sneakers trend would go on for three seasons — sometimes four or even five. Now that trend will go on for two seasons and that is it. It’s ended,” Dell’Oglio said.

More established brands like Pasotti Omnrelli — a small family-run company known for their umbrellas fashioned with wooden handles and Swarovski-studded creations that range from rock-inspired skulls to exotic safari animals like zebras — also found value in the fair. “Our clients are mostly international, and while White is not as big as Pitti, it is still a very important place for us to talk to buyers from other countries,” said Nicola Begotti, grandson of the company’s founder. Begotti said his company has made hand-crafted creations for stars like Johnny Depp and Jennifer Lopez.

Across the board, organizations such as White, Pitti Immagine and Italy’s Chamber of Fashion, as well as the government, have heeded the call to showcase and bolster promising new brands to buyers worldwide.

Despite a drop in calendar events for the men’s market, sales growth is forecast for the Italian fashion industry overall, according to association Sistema Moda Italia figures released earlier this month. As reported, the Italian men’s wear fashion industry is expected to close 2017 with a 2.1 percent increase in sales to 9.2 billion euros. Men’s wear accounts for 17 percent of total sales generated by the textile and fashion pipeline and for 27.3 percent of ready-to-wear alone.

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