Byline: Lucie Muir

MILAN — The Mipel leather goods show here found exhibitors in a confident mood, bolstered by both a rising number of American buyers and general signs of recovery after Italy’s economic and political uncertainties of the past couple of years.
The four-day show ran through March 12, and overall attendance, according to organizers, was up 58 percent to 5,294 from 3,349 in March 1994. More exhibitors were on hand as well — 422 against 397 a year earlier.
The continuing revival in interest from U.S. buyers — which was evident at the September edition of Mipel — was one of the bright notes. American retailers at this latest show numbered 397, against 310 in September. Underscoring this were figures released by the AIMPES — the association of Italian leather goods manufacturers — showing strong export growth, with the weak lire getting a lot of credit. Exports to the U.S. for 1994 were up 35 percent to $160.2 million (271.5 billion lire) at current exchange, compared to 201.1 billion lire in 1993. These figures cover leather accessories and do not include shoes or apparel.
“We’re enjoying an excellent period in the U.S., with a 60 percent growth over a year ago,” said Riccardo Braccialini, one of the owners of the Braccialini handbag company. “We’ve invested a lot of time and money in the American markets to expand our presence. We seem to have entered at the right time to fill a large niche for quality handbags.
“Our first [New York] showroom will open on Fifth Avenue in May to meet the needs of our American clients who, I think if they have a choice, would prefer to meet on home ground.”
The Braccialini firm offered a range of soft silhouettes in printed damask suede and elaborate tote bags woven with strips of red and moss-colored velvets and black snake-print leather. Bestsellers included patchwork totes with contrasting squares of metallic leather and kid, and napa shoulder bags with suede flower details.
The later timing of this Mipel — moving its schedule closer to other leading fashion events, such as the Micam footwear show, the Comispel leather apparel show and the Milan women’s wear collections — was seen by many as the reason for the show’s surge in attendance. Others, however, saw the growing importance of accessories to complement the current retro and glamour clothing styles as a key reason.
Overall trends indeed were in line with the new retro apparel looks and both day and evening bags were plentiful in soft round and oval forms and butter-soft fabrics such as napa, kid and calf. Evening styles were created from soft velvets, silks and satins, and colors ranged from moss green to red and hot pink.
Faux animal prints made a comeback on daytime totes and backpacks in moc-croc, snake and tortoise. Prominent colors included eggplant, red, slate gray and metallic shades of silver and gold.
One of the show’s attention-getters was a new licensed collection of Armani bags of suede and leather, produced by Redwall. It featured soft drawstring bags and totes in soft napa and calf in diamond shape inserts. Colors included shades of slate, coffee and black. The eveningwear collection included small purses with tasseled drawstrings, in silk, satin and silicon-coated velvet. Tiny box bags were completely covered with pearls.
Redwall has already established a strong business with its licensed Moschino, Katharine Hamnett and Gigli lines. The new Gigli styles included velvet evening bags with beaded shoulder straps and geometric handbags in padded satin. Colors had a rustic look, including cinnamon, brown and moss.
“The glamour theme will continue into spring 1996,” said Gabriele Fantappie, one of the owners of the handbag firm Desmo, which featured strong geometric shapes for bucket bags and knapsacks. Napa was padded to give a hefty feel to some bags, and polished black calfskins replaced patents. Full-grain contrasting calfskins were popular on handbags in chocolate and navy. Evening styles featured polished faux crocodile leather on small purses, as well as ebony suede and black satin.
Encouraged by last year’s growth of 20 percent in the U.S., Desmo is currently scouring New York for a prime site to open a flagship store.
“In my opinion,” said Fantappie, “American and European tastes are the same. Quality is becoming more important for American women, and accessories are chosen to complement and not detract from an outfit.”