U.S. BUYERS SEEK HIGH-PRICED ITALIAN KNITS

Byline: Valerie Waterhouse

MILAN — Buyers shopping the Modamilano bridge market trade show found no shortage of innovative knits, skiwear and leatherwear for fall 2001.
In turn, exhibitors said the strong dollar boosted sales of their higher-priced ready-to-wear, especially merchandise that boasted innovative production techniques.
The fair, which ran from Feb. 23-26, attracted 6,973 non-Italian visitors, 3.1 percent more than last February’s edition. The number of U.S. visitors rose by 20 percent. The total number of visitors, however, dropped slightly to 22,492.
“This fair is about production rather than fashion,” said Saeed Arabian, buyer for The New York Look stores on Fifth Avenue and Broadway in Manhattan. “There’s a feeling that the Italian bridge market is about to make a comeback. Whatever happens, the Italians will remain the kings of knits. I’ve ordered patchwork sweaters in stretch wool from Kuxo and fur-trimmed skiwear from Visconf.”
Architectural structured knits with Eighties touches in black and white merino wool were the preferred items among U.S. buyers at Gemma Zanzani and She’s So.
The company’s new knitwear ranges have sold well enough that export manager Nicola Nicolini expects to double sales to the U.S. during 2001.
“We exported 7 to 8 percent of our product to the U.S., for a value of $160,000 in 2000, and hope to achieve U.S. sales of $320,000 in 2001,” said Nicolini.
At Tricot Chic, general manager Flavio Nava said sales to the U.S. increased by 10 percent last year, thanks to the company’s new U.S. distributor, Kathy Costanzo of Design Exchange in New York.
“The fair is buzzing and we’ve seen numerous clients from the Mideast and Asia and a few from Canada and the U.S.,” said Nava.
Knitted dresses in a complex jacquard patchwork, and fitted, feminine knits in skin tones were among the fair’s hits. But Tricot Chic’s production know-how was most strikingly seen in post-apocalyptic skirts and jackets in felt, based on a 1,000-year-old fabric made from pressed strands of chunky wool, then lined with silicon-coated nylon.
Other companies confirmed their intention to break into the U.S. bridge market.
“Our brand is only two years old and although exports to the U.S. still account for a small percentage of sales, we intend to expand through our New York agent, Roberto J. Dugarte,” said Luca Baroni, general manager at knitwear company Kuxo. “Modamilano has been a great investment and we’ve seen clients from Japan, Germany and the U.S.”
Top picks included fitted, stretch knits with patchwork and striped designs, military-colored tops in polyester crepe with merino wool necks and cuffs, and zip-up, fitted cardigans with merino-mohair contrasts.
The second edition of Modamilano’s White section, showcasing 31 trendy fashion and accessories firms in a screened off area, was buzzing with buyers.
Among the highlights were shoes and accessories by Robert Clergerie, Patrick Cox and Henry Beguelin, and fashion collections by Swedish company Amaya Arzuaga and the Italian company Collection Privee.
Designer Massimo Bizzi of Collection Privee said his collection of leatherwear, knits and fabric items was popular with buyers from Japan, Hong Kong and Italy.
“We already sell shoes and accessories at Barneys and at Otto Tootsi Plohound in New York, and hope to see our newer clothing line at similar stores in the U.S. soon,” said Bizzi.
Among the company’s best sellers were vintage-effect leather jackets with raw edges, dyed as finished garments in skin and makeup tones and a double-dyed cotton canvas parachute dress worn with a wide, powdery brown leather belt. Most striking of all was a wrap-around skirt made from raw-edged hide.
Other exhibitors offered less-streamlined alternatives to the glitzy looks that have dominated past seasons. In the fair’s Contemporary section, Italia Italia Collection offered a new take on wearable hobo-chic that relied on layers of clothing to create style and warmth.
Here, too, new production techniques including velvets dyed as completed garments, were evident. Key looks included a double-dyed denim jacket in cherry over a cream merino polo sweater worn with a fringed chunky merino melange skirt over a double-dyed denim skirt.
“The idea is to mix everyday and precious materials to create a look that you can wear all day,” said designer Cinzia Parazza.
Because of the high U.S. duties on Italian imports, the company finds that premium-quality items do best. Sweaters with landed wholesale prices of around $250 are among the top sellers, said Nicolini.