Byline: Robert Galbraith / with contributions from Lucie Muir

MILAN — Italy’s trade fair organizers are upbeat about prospects for the first half of 1997 and say the U.S. market is one of the key reasons.
They are banking on the U.S. to help counter limited demand in Europe and sluggish consumer spending in Italy. The domestic economy is almost at a standstill, and consumer confidence is expected to be demoralized further by proposed tax increases.
“The market in the U.S. is sparkling at the moment,” said Raffaello Napoleone, general director of Pitti Immagine, the Florence-based group that organizes men’s wear, children’s wear and yarn fairs.
“Designers are working the trade fairs, looking to interpret the fashion that is bubbling up from the street,” he added. “It is very exciting, and you can feel the energy that is being generated at the trade fairs.”
Napoleone said Pitti Immagine has added 21,600 square feet of exhibition space for its fairs.
Vittorio Giulini, president of Efima, the fair organizer based here, said Italian mid-to-high-end bridge lines have a strong potential in U.S. markets.
“U.S. customers are only just beginning to discover them and will provide a strong incentive for Italian producers,” said Giulini, who organizes Modamilano, Progetto Intimo and Moda Prima ready-to-wear and innerwear fairs.
He is upbeat about prospects in the Far East, too, noting that an increasing number of buyers from Japan, Korea and Hong Kong are attending his fairs in quest of fashion goods.
Organizers of Prato Expo, a mid-to-high-end fabrics fair, are banking on the creativity of their exhibitors.
“Textile companies here have been making major investments in new machinery. This is a sign they are focusing increasingly on quality and innovation,” said Vincenzo Pagano, director of the Prato Trade Consortium, which organizes Prato Expo.
One shadow over the development of stronger import business, however, is the growing value of the lira. The more robust lira has begun to erode export earnings, and the industry is hoping its strength will begin to wane against the dollar.
Pagano, for example, said, “We are hoping that the lira has reached its upper limit and that exports, which represent 70 percent of the sector’s sales, can generate business that is missing at home.”
New shows are being developed to match the new rhythms of the global marketplace, expanding the trade fair calendar. Yet these new efforts have not all been instant or consistent successes.
This fall, organizers of Ideacomo, the high-end women’s fabrics showcase, introduced Ideacomo Inprogress, a follow-up event to the main show, to meet the changing needs of the participants.
“The days when buyers placed all their orders in a month are long gone. Today, they place smaller orders over a longer period of time,” said Gino Frassi, secretary of Ideacomo.
“The second, smaller event provides buyers and exhibitors with an opportunity to consolidate their contacts and relationships and to catch up with new developments which have emerged in the meantime,” Frassi added.
However, after the first edition of Ideacomo Inprogress, held Nov. 12-13 with 47 exhibitors, some buyers grumbled about the timing and asked whether there were really enough new ideas to justify coming back for a second show. Yet, many mills came out with fresh twists on fall ’97 trends, and many thought the show mainly served the local market.
Among the Inprogress exhibitors, Roberto Bre, an area manager for Braghenti, a division of the Ratti Textile group, said the fair was inconvenient for U.S. buyers.
“It would make more sense to take the show to New York. To ask Americans to pay for a second trip to Europe for a 48-hour fair just isn’t reasonable these days,” he added.
Another exhibitor executive, however, Roberto Mantegazza, export manager of Clerici, said, “We’re here because we believe in this event. Today the customer wants news, so the concept of this kind of fair is right. This is the first fair to be held out of season; if it’s good, the Americans will follow; if not, we can’t say we didn’t try.”
Whether they will at the second edition of Inprogress remains to be seen. It will be held in April, a month after the main Ideacomo fair.
Another new effort is Progetto Intimo, an innerwear fair launched successfully last January in Milan by Efima. Its second edition in August, however, was disappointing. Organizers blamed the poor turnout on Intimare, a rival event in Bologna, and on the show’s late summer date. A third edition of Progetto Intimo is on the spring show schedule, and Giulini said Efima will wait and see how future editions proceed.
“Obviously, it depends on how things go, but the high profile that lingerie has had in the women’s shows this year makes you wonder if there really is the need for an independent innerwear fair,” Giulini said.
Finally, in summing up the general mood, Pitti’s Napoleone put it this way, “These are challenging times. Italian manufacturers are responding, as they always do, by concentrating on originality and innovation to keep their respected position on foreign markets.
“The positive feedback we have been getting from foreign visitors throughout the fall shows is testimony to their abilities and makes us optimistic for the coming year,” he said.