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MILAN — Organizers at Mipel, the international leather goods trade fair, were pleased with the foreign attendance — particularly given the challenges facing the global economy.

The number of visitors at the four-day event, which ended here on Sept. 21 and showcased products for spring and summer 2005, was up 1 percent compared with last year, totaling 19,800. Of that number, 12,160 came from outside Italy. Foreign visitors grew 3.4 percent, a figure that organizers say reflects the 4.5 percent growth in exports in the first five months of the year.

Giorgio Cannara, president of Mipel, said that the trade fair “behaved like a diesel. It started slowly but picked up over the days, showing how this exhibition is still an important reference point for the industry at a global level.” He said that Mipel proved “foreign markets are vivacious once again.”

Exhibitors showed fun and colorful products, with plenty of details that displayed the Italian manufacturers’ craftsmanship, including leather appliqué flowers, buckles, studs and beads. Large, roomy bags were a must, generally in soft and deconstructed shapes.

Reflecting a summery, fun-loving mood, Francesco Biasia tagged the new bags with names reflecting hot vacation spots, such as Capri, Formentera, Tenerife and others, and offered them in colors from yellow, red and orange to turquoise, gold, silver and white. Among the hits were soft bags made with washed calf leather and decorated with vintage-looking brass studs, hooks and rings, and napa bags trimmed with snakeskin inserts on the front panels and shoulder straps and nickel sailing-hooks.

Josef Louzon, owner of the S&T store in New York’s Brooklyn, said Francesco Biasia “always offers a wide range of different accessories that cater to the young crowd.” Louzon praised this edition of Mipel, which, he said, was “better than the one before, with lots of color and more stylish products.

“The biggest problem is the strong euro,” he said.

Mali’Parmi moved a notch away from ethnic to hippy ground, with flowery and striped bags, roomy satchels, jute totes and beaded sandals.

Braccialini’s Roman Holidays bags, with brightly colored reproductions of the city’s staple tourist sites or its new Far West stagecoach style, exemplified the company’s desire to experiment with colors, patterns and shapes. “This is why our clients return to us,’’ said Riccardo Braccialini, chief executive officer of Braccialini. “We offer them unique items, and the need to find new, innovative designs is back.”

This story first appeared in the October 11, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In fact, while praising the more forward-thinking and innovative exhibitors for showing new, refreshing designs at Mipel, Steve Ginsberg, owner of three accessories stores in New York, including Verve, lamented that many simply copied popular handbags by fashion designers.

“However, I still go to Mipel to pick up on the new trends,” said Ginsberg, noting that he saw a lot of bags made with snakeskin and crocodile hides, or detailed with studs and sparkling rhinestones. “For my stores, I bought bags with studs — either you love them or hate them. As for anything that is sparkly, that doesn’t work in New York, I think. Italy goes for either extreme or very conservative looks, New York is in the middle,” he said.

At David & Scotti, which showed at Mipel for the first time but debuted five seasons ago, designer David Dewar McMillan said the line was up 45 percent on the third day of the fair, versus a year ago. McMillan showed dainty totes made with woven cotton, hobos with the softest pleated or stitched napa and exotic raffia or printed croco bags. All were very feminine and showed exquisite craftsmanship.

McMillan noted that American retailers visiting the fair were looking out for “new labels with content and growth potential” and were willing to pay the price for quality. “For example, I noticed [the buyer from] Bloomingdale’s was looking at more upscale products, and loved the leather of our most expensive bag,” said McMillan, referring to a hand-colored, laser-treated and leather-lined pony-skin bag that wholesales at $293, or 240 euros, at current exchange rate.