Byline: Luisa Zargani

MILAN — After a three-year lag, Italian leather goods have begun to rally.
In the first four months of this year, total exports registered a 36.3 percent increase, a fact that lifted the mood at Mipel, the leather goods trade show. Fair organizers also reported that, compared to a year ago, sales in Japan regained their strength, increasing a whopping 57.8 percent, and U.S. sales gained 36 percent in the same period.
The offerings at Mipel’s spring-summer 2001 edition — which ended a four-day run on Sept. 24 — reflected the renewed vigor, displaying imaginative designs and a bountiful array of colorful styles detailed with sequins, jewels, embroideries, beads, ribbons, leaves and flowers.
Dominant handbag trends included ladylike shapes, two-toned, leather-edging and basket styles made of raffia or straw. Patterns included diagonal stripes and abstract colorful prints.
“It felt like 20 years ago — business is booming,” said Gianni Dori, owner of Rodo, which logged a 50 percent increase in sales of its spring-summer collection. Dori noted that European sales alone grew 27 percent. He said that although the collection was extremely decorative, it was well received by buyers.
“There is a Carmen Miranda feeling to these bags,” said Dori, who pointed to some of the firm’s best sellers, including bags accented with appliqued shells, canvas shopping bags embroidered with leaves and flowers, raffia baskets trimmed with braided suede ribbons, metal and sequined dragonflies applied to structured handbags and shopper tote styles with trims of feathers, leaves or fruits.
Sandra Nannini, an owner of handbag maker Nannini, echoed Dori’s feelings about the pace of the show, when she said, “This edition of Mipel was perhaps the best of all, with a significant increase in foreign buyers visiting our stand. These were buyers who knew what they wanted and came to us meaning serious business.”
Nannini pointed to a general boom in accessories, better quality at all levels of the market and the ability of high-end designer names, who have recently gotten into the bag business, with attracting interest in leather goods.
She said the company’s Regimental line was particularly well received by U.S. stores. It features soft kid leather with diagonal stripes in different sizes and contrasting colors, such as coffee, beige, butter, blue, green and red.
David Dewar McMillan, designer for the upscale Pibra firm, pointed to a tendency by consumers to mix and match designer and non-designer labels as another factor in the Italian leather goods boom.
“In the Eighties, we were all competing against each other, but now the look is more varied, with [women wearing] combinations of different brands [at once],” McMillan said. He described the main trends as: futuristic, graphic prints or gardening-related.
Handbag maker Desmo picked up the gardening theme with basket-shaped bags trimmed with organza roses, lace and raffia crafted into floral patterns accented by iridescent sequins and embroideries of stylized floral sprigs. There were also baskets with a Provencal inspiration in natural straw with a white and red cotton checkered lining, ruched edges and red or blue leather handles.
Other leading manufacturers put their own spin on the trends. Braccialini showed classic, structured bags accented with large leather flowers, but also included its signature traditional India and Africa-inspired ethnic fabrics. Mali Parmi gave its collection a Seventies flower-power theme, complete with beads, straw and sequins.
Francesco Biasia showed baskets with a fabric that looked like straw lined with raffia, or made with interwoven leather. A spokeswoman for the company said that two-toned, leather-rimmed canvas bags were a hit, together with shiny patent bags with stripes in colors such as apricot, azure and brown, contrasting with a beige or biscuit-colored base.
Attendance at Mipel also reflected the business’s renewed health. Total visitors were 16,607, a 9.1 percent increase against the September edition last year. Organizers reported a 21.4 percent increase in Japanese buyers and a 30.9 percent increase in American buyers, to 246. Since September 1999, Mipel has been held in conjunction with the footwear exhibition, Micam.
In another development, Mipel hosted the debut of Consorzio Centopercento Italiano, a recently founded association that certifies its leather goods are completely made in Italy.
The association presented the Acciaiolo Castle project, located in Scandicci, Tuscany, which is a renowned leather goods production area. The 14th century castle is to be renovated to include an accessories museum, an exhibition space and a meeting and training center.
“We need to attract young people to leather goods production and create an entry- and management-level skilled work force,” said Andrea Calistri, president of the association.
The project is due to be completed by early 2002 with the support of several major manufacturers. An opening exhibition featured archival handbags from Gucci and other Italian leather goods companies. Gucci sponsored the project with a donation of around $1.4 million.
“More than 50 percent of Italian leather goods are produced in the Scandicci area,” said Riccardo Braccialini, vice president of Mipel, “It was important and significant to develop such a project there.”