Byline: Luisa Zargani

MILAN — Italian leather manufacturers are offering colorful and detail-laden handbags in an effort to stimulate sales in a saturated market.
That trend, seen over the past couple of seasons, was confirmed at Mipel, the four-day leather goods trade fair that ended here on March 19.
At the latest edition of Mipel, which showcased accessories for the fall and winter seasons, the dominant trends were animal skins — real and mock — such as ostrich, crocodile, patent calf and python; tartan and patchwork patterns, and details such as Mongolian lamb and leather fringes, sequins, beads, buckles and pockets.
Shapes were generally rounded, flat, deconstructed and large, but other styles on display included baguettes, clutches, and more structured designs with a retro feel.
The color palette did not include the more somber hues usually associated with the winter season, as vendors favored instead varying shades of red, as well as lilac, burgundy, wisteria, acid green, mustard yellow and forest green.
Vendors are hoping this infusion of inventiveness will drum up some excitement in the market. Over the past two years, the Italian leather goods industry has suffered a slowdown due to a variety of factors, including an overly branded market, the Asian economic crisis, competition from countries that produce at lower costs, and illegal counterfeits.
“People today buy only to satisfy a desire, and designers try to appeal to the customer’s hidden wishes, through innovation, details, colors and imagination,” said Roberto Briccola, president of Mipel, during an opening-day press conference.
Organizers were pleased with attendance figures, reporting a 12 percent increase in visitors for a total of 11,284. About 175 Americans attended, an 18 percent drop compared with the March 1999 edition. Exhibitors, however, were satisfied with orders from American buyers.
David Dewar McMillan, designer for Pibra, was extremely pleased with the traffic. “We were caught by surprise — the turnout was exceptional, and Americans were a significant presence at our stand,” said the designer.
In accordance with Briccola’s comments, McMillan said he “strives to stimulate an emotional purchase.” This season, the designer said he is inclined toward three-dimensional designs, which he believes are eye-catching and pleasing. “Three-dimensional designs can be obtained through a juxtaposition of either colors, textures or materials,” said McMillan.
For example, some of Pibra’s bestsellers were baguette bags with a patchwork combination of laser-treated pony skin, suede, snake skin print and ostrich.
In the U.S., which accounts for 40 percent of company sales, Pibra is available at Bloomingdale’s, Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco, Giorgio Beverly Hills and Fred Segal in Los Angeles. Wholesale prices range between $120 and $250.
For the third season, McMillan also designed the Mali Parmi line, and for the first season, part of the Rodo line. The three-dimensional patchwork motif was also dominant at Mali Parmi, with the addition of the company’s signature thick leather stitching on the rims of the bags, and details such as wool fringes or sequins. Small, soft beaded bags reminiscent of the Seventies, were also a hit at Mali Parmi, based in Padua.
Gianni Dori, owner and sales manager of Rodo, better known for its stunning cocktail and evening bags, asked McMillan to design the daywear division of the line. McMillan played with materials such as a shaved tartan plaid, python skin, spotted leopard prints, shaved pony hair and satin for flat and deconstructed shoulder bags, clutches and baguettes.
The evening division included dainty wristbags with nature-inspired motifs such as butterflies, swans and daisies made with hand-applied Swarovski crystals and feathers. Rodo also showcased small structured bags made with lapin fur and round metal discs, clutches and sachets in iridescent velvet and beaded floral brocade.
“Compared to last season, we registered a 25 percent increase in sales the first day,” Dori said.
In the U.S., Rodo is available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.
The trendy patchwork theme has always been a favorite at Braccialini and was picked up once more with pony skin, printed python, suede and handmade crochet details.
“I believe in label identity and in maintaining a company image, so that a bag can be identified at a first glance,” said Carla Braccialini, who together with her son Massimo, designs the company bags.
Braccialini also produces accessories for Mila Schon and Vivienne Westwood. At Westwood, the tartan theme, a strong trend at Mipel this season, is a staple for the English designer, and Westwood has also added a plastic coating to the pattern for a set of travel bags.
A patent red tartan design was a hit at Nannini, which also showed patent ostrich in luminous colors. An orange tartan pattern was also shown at Gherardini, designed by Deborah Martinelli and Alberto Onesti. Gherardini also reelaborated its historical 12-12 bag from the Sixties with a spring clasp. Once only in calf and crocodile, the 12-12 bag is now also shown in cowhide, python and tiger print.
At Mauro Governa, which is known for the quality of the leather and its traditional, handmade craftsmanship, the animal skins are all real hides.
“Non-ostentatious luxury and exclusive hides are my guidelines,” said Governa, owner and designer of the Parma-based company.
Governa showed ostrich, python and naturally treated calf in different hues of green, burgundy, azure and brown. Shapes combine elements of softness and structure, with brass details. Among its offerings are satchels, clutches, bucket bags available in a flattened shape with side tucks, tote bags, shoulder bags with an accordion side panel, baskets, rounded trapezoidal bags, and boxes with double handles.
In the U.S., which accounts for around 25 percent of sales, the line is available at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys. Wholesale prices range from $200 for calf and $750 for Louisiana crocodile. Japan is the company’s best market, accounting for 60 percent of sales.
Desmo played up the brocade and damask theme in velvet and satin, and the patterns were often embellished with Mongolian lamb fringes or fox fur. The organza flower theme, which Desmo has been showing for the past few seasons, was shown with mock-Astrakhan fur. The bags were in feminine and dainty shapes in pastel colors, mint green and camel. Desmo also showed suede sacks with a tie-dyed look made with a blotting technique.
Francesco Biasia and Minobossi showed a wide selection of handbags representative of the trends seen at Mipel. Minobossi, produced by Lamb, which also manufactures accessories for Antonio Fusco, showed python prints, patent calf, mock Astrakhan and ostrich-skin. Francesco Biasia also showed ostrich and python prints, iridescent patent, calf with patent inserts, shaved pony patchworks with patent inserts and mock Astrakhan.
The patent theme was also strong at Cerruti, produced by Principe. The company is investing in the U.S. market, and recently tapped American designer Peter Speliopoulos in an effort to boost its U.S. sales. Cerruti showed structured bags in glazed wool with a patent leather look, and a mohair stripe visible through the surface.

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