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MILAN — A strong euro and increasing competition from China and other low-cost countries spurred Italian manufacturers showing at Modaprima to find new ways to be competitive.

In addition, the interest of Japanese buyers visiting the midprice fashion and accessories show raised hopes of a recovery, as most exhibitors lamented a slow 2004, following an even slacker 2003. The outlook for 2005, on the other hand, was generally optimistic, with exhibitors reporting a promising first five-month period this year.

“The medium range has been repositioning itself, focusing on an attractive price, and highlighting fashion trends and quality, turning away from more basic items,” said Luisa Pandolfi, director of Modaprima. Pandolfi was pleased with the number of foreign visitors at the exhibition. “More than half of the visitors came from outside Italy, mainly from Japan and Europe,” he said.

That said, Modaprima, which ran May 29 to 31, reported a drop in visitors to 2,654 from 2,936 last year. 

While the general trends ranged from African and gypsy folk skirts to floral patterns and distressed or embroidered fabrics, most exhibitors focused on expanding their core business with a wider product offering. Case in point: Paolo Busatto, owner of Maglificio Venezia, said for spring 2006, he started developing a total look under his Carla B label.

“Knitwear is our core business and our forte, but we have expanded into T-shirts, coordinated looks and even ventured into denim, from a formal working woman to a more practical and dynamic one,” said Busatto.

The company showed viscose crepe skirts and tops with jungle motifs that played with transparencies, T-shirts splashed with strokes of color or sequins and sheer blouses in strong, sunny oranges or deep green.

“We are showing more of a holiday look now,” said Busatto. However, he was vocal about the show’s organization and said that while exhibitors strive to find new ways to be more competitive, fair organizers are not as reactive. “They should try to be more dynamic, developing marketing skills, opening up new markets and attracting new exhibitors,” he said.

Maglificio Venezia saw a 10 percent drop in sales in 2004, but Busatto said he’s already seen 10 percent growth in the first five months of the year and orders are in line with last summer’s.

This story first appeared in the June 20, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Edymir Line sought to attract a new customer base by rejuvenating the company’s core product, which was formerly ladies’ blouses and shirts, with a collection of fun, edgier stretch T-shirts in colorful prints. “The fit is more snug and, by applying embroideries and sequins, and adding graphics and colorful flower patterns, the product is more appealing to teenagers and young women in their 20s and 30s,” said Edda Gavioli, one of the owners and sales manager. The color palette ranged from bright geranium fuchsia to emerald green, mint and turquoise.

In accordance with Gavioli, but on the other end of the spectrum, Leonardo Pollastri, designer at Florence-based Barone, said he was working to attract a less girly customer. Known for its hand-made leather clothes and fun furs, the company is adding pieces with a fit better suited for a more mature woman. “We want to take steps toward that customer; for example, denim pants with a higher waist. After all, she is the one who can spend,” said Pollastri.

Barone showed cotton flouncy skirts with napa inserts and fitted napa jackets with stitching en relief under the Massimo Romolini brand. “This is a difficult moment, reflected by a slow Modaprima, but we must never forfeit quality,” said Pollastri, pointing to the feather-light leather and careful detailing of the pieces.

Luigi Scagliotto, owner of Piedmont-based Algis, which produces the André Maurice brand, said this is the moment to invest in technology and machinery and to fight competition with innovative technological solutions. “Many are raising the quality of their products as the midrange tier is suffering, but we can’t all fit in the top range. I try to watch what’s happening without wasting resources and offering a wide range of products, using automatic machines and saving on labor costs,” said Scagliotto, who believes the Made in Italy label is more significant for high-end designer names.

The company showed an array of lightweight cotton, cashmere and viscose knits and printed T-shirts featuring floral prints, marine landscapes, stylized tiger heads or lizards. There were also tank tops with sparkling, sequined teddy bears and graphics.

“We strive never to exaggerate the look, however,” said Scagliotto, adding that sales grew 20 percent in 2004, recovering lost ground in 2003. “In 2005, we hope our revenues will be in line with 2004,” he said, declining to disclose a figure. “This edition of Modaprima is not a good one; the same clients we’ve had for decades are coming back, but there are no new buyers,” lamented Scagliotto.

Hanaa Hazelhurst, owner and buyer of Spazio Moda, an importer and distributor that sells to 130 boutiques in the U.S., including Wilkes Bashford, San Francisco, and Lindissima, Greenbrae, Calif., agreed with Scagliotto about the Made in Italy label.

“Americans don’t care about that. They either go for the designer brand or for clothes that make an impression,” she said. “The labels I work with at Modaprima, such as Beatrice B. and Sfizio, appeal because they are not too edgy and not too classic, and the target customer is aged from 18 to 60.”

Beatrice B. showed long, multicolored gypsy and African skirts with flounces contrasting with military, fitted jackets. Paolo Mason, owner of Plissé, which produces the Beatrice B. and Sfizio labels, said he has been adding more accessories, such as shawls, belts, shoes and bags in an effort to propose a more complete image to the clients. Mason said the company registered a 20 percent increase in sales over the first five or six months of 2005.

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