MILAN — Despite the strong euro and dates clashing with Paris-based Premiere Classe, Mipel organizers reported solid business and attendance propelled by international visitors.

The four-day leather goods exhibition here ended on March 2.

Trends at Mipel fall-winter 2008 included the use of soft fabrics such as velvet, with a matellassé or tapestry effect, and a vintage or retro look. Hides were often treated with a metallic shine, with bronze, silver and gold streaks. Shapes continue to be large and soft, although not as oversize as last season.

There were many clutches and envelopes. Woven details, wooden accessories such as handles or buttons, embroideries and pleats contributed to the luxurious, handcrafted image of merchandise. The color palette revolved around many different hues of gray, from mother-of-pearl to light pink and azure, contrasting with strong magenta, lemon and vibrant green.

“Sales went very well, especially during the first two days,” said Giorgio Cannara, president of Italian leather goods association Aimpes, as well as Mipel. “Therefore, forecasts are moderately optimistic.”

There were 18,251 visitors, compared with 18,204 last year. Increases of 11 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively, in the number of Russian and Japanese guests, helped balance a drop in U.S. attendance.

“Despite signs of recovery in 2007, the domestic market remains weak,” said Cannara. “More than 50 percent of Mipel visitors come from abroad, which confirms the international interest in the event.”

Reflecting the industry’s performance last year, statistics show production grew 10.6 percent compared with 2006, reaching 3.85 billion euros, or $5.22 billion at average exchange rate for the period, mostly drawn by strong exports. In 2007, exports grew 18 percent compared with 2006, reaching more than 2 billion euros, or $2.74 billion. Over the last few months, there was also a 5.5 percent growth in domestic consumption.

Compared with 2006, sales to Russia rose 47 percent, reaching more than 100 million euros, or $137 million. Sales to the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong gained 45 and 25 percent, respectively. Exports increased 61.5 percent to England, 31 percent to France, 24.3 percent to Greece and 21.6 percent to Spain.

This story first appeared in the March 17, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Mauro Muzzolon, general manager of Mipel, said “the weakness of the dollar was not a deterrent for the American consumer.”

In the period from January to October, sales grew 17 percent to the U.S., reaching more than 300 million euros, or $411 million.

“Italy is the second country after China to supply leather goods in the U.S.,” said Muzzolon.

Conversely, exports to Japan dropped 7 percent compared with the previous year.

At Bric’s, chief executive officer Roberto Briccola said sales to Eastern European and Arab countries are helping to compensate for thinner margins caused by the weak dollar. Rather than compromising quality or design, Briccola believes in shifting the brand to a higher end of the market.

In tune with this strategy, Bric’s last year tapped creative director Marc Gourmelen to add a fashion content to the brand and enrolled photographer Robert Wyatt for its new image and ad campaign. At Mipel, Bric’s introduced a line called Magellano that has a more luxurious look, with golden macro zips, small lockets and precious details. It is made with a technical material that is highly resistant to rubbing, abrasions and light.

Briccola expects first-year sales for the new line to reach 3 million euros, or $4.3 million at current exchange.

The company, which produces one million pieces annually, and expects to reach sales of 45 million euros, or $65.7 million, this year, also will open seven stores, reaching 40 worldwide.

Braccialini is investing on restoring luster to the historical Gherardini brand, now under the same Antichi Pellettieri umbrella, and expanding its own product range with a new footwear line designed by industry veteran Andrea Pfister. Braccialini will open a store in New York on Friday, followed by units in Washington and Los Angeles. The company has also signed a license with the Brazilian brand Amazon Life Bags for an organic, recycled and ecological line of handbags.

Ceo Riccardo Braccialini said the brand is expanding its customer base while maintaining its iconic offerings of patchwork and embroidered bags. Among the hits this season: Mayan-inspired trapezoid bags and ribbed napa totes with patent stripes.

Two brands that insisted on manual craftsmanship were David & Scotti and century-old Leu Locati.

“The artisans we work with have become experts at transforming hides and fabrics, embellishing them with pleats, tucks, fringes, folds and 3-D kid furs,” said designer David McMillan, who despite “brisk business” was especially displeased about the timing of the exhibition, coinciding with Premiere Classe.

Alessio Battelli, in charge of communication at Bianchi & Nardi, also said the dates penalized the show.

“It’s hard for a new brand approaching the market,” said Battelli.

Bianchi & Nardi, which is already available at Takashimaya in New York and sells well in Asia, aims at the luxury end of the market, and showed bags made with lapin, python or crocodile.

Leu Locati, which provides made-to-order bags for royalty and Hollywood celebrities, and produces for designer brands, also showed precious alligator bags and needlepoint wrist bags.

“It takes two or three years for one of these, once you place the order,” said owner Paolo Amato.

The company only produces 20 tapestry bags a year. Amato said Leu Locati has a strong business in Asia and the Far East, where evening galas and formal dinners are regular events.