MILAN — Shrugging off negative macroeconomic headwinds, Milano Unica featured a series of new beginnings.
The three-day fair that closed Thursday was held for the first time at the new, more expansive Milan-Rho fairgrounds instead of the traditional venue Fieramilanocity in order to open on the last exhibition day of the Micam and Mipel fairs.
In addition, Milano Unica also lent space to the exhibition “Origin — Passion and Beliefs,” showcasing high-end finished and semi-finished products made by Italian artisans and emerging designers. The showcase is a product of online talent incubator and e-commerce Not Just A Label and Fiera di Vicenza SpA.
Milano Unica’s goal is to underscore the political and economic importance of teaming up with its peers in order to face the growing challenges of the uncertain global climate. The fair registered 6,000 visitors, which was in-line with September 2015’s edition. There were 442 exhibitors, of which 139 were foreign — 79 from Europe, 39 from Japan and 21 from South Korea.
Revenue for the Italian textile industry fell 0.9 percent to 7.91 billion euros, or $8.8 billion at average exchange, in 2015, with exports registering a drop of 1.4 percent from the previous year, a report compiled by Sistema Moda Italia and Statistics office ISTAT said. In the first half of 2016, industrial production was down 1.6 percent, while exports inched up 0.5 percent in the January to May period.
For the full year, exports in value terms to Italy’s top single market, Germany, fell 2.2 percent, while shipments to the U.S. plunged 11.2 percent. Given the uncertainty surrounding the U.K.’s exit from the European Union and the consumer slowdowns in China and Russia, mills here are hoping that the U.S. market will help them through one of the most uncertain periods.
U.S. economic growth has slowed since the second half of 2015, but reportedly grew in the second quarter, expanding at a 1.1 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department estimated last month.
“In particular, during 2015 we have strengthened our position in the U.S. market, where the reorganization and strengthening of our New York office is bearing good fruit,” said Albini 1876 president and chief executive officer Silvio Albini. “Once again, the international presence of our group, particularly the commercial presence in over 80 different markets, has allowed us to divide the geopolitical, economic and currency risks between the different areas of the world.”
Shirt-fabric maker Albini 1876 took center stage during the fair’s festivities with its 140th-anniversary celebration that hosted about 600 guests at Milan’s posh Palazzo Clerici. Albini 1876’s parent company, Albini Group, consists of Albini 1876, Thomas Mason, David & John Anderson and Albiate 1830. Together they produce over 20,000 fabric variations and export to over 80 countries. In 2015, the group’s revenues rose to 148.5 million euros, or $164.8 million, from 145 million euros, or $192.7 million, in 2014. Some of their top U.S. clients include J. Crew and Ralph Lauren.
Fellow shirt-fabric maker Gruppo Tessitura Monti said despite uncertainty worldwide, it is still holding strong. Its firsthalf sales are in line with the same period last year, while revenue for 2015 were also even with the year before at 104 million euro, or $115.4 million.
“There is some frustration in the market and competition is hard, but it really depends on a brand’s network and their ability to stay afloat,” said ceo Luca Belenghi, who noted that Tessitura Monti is still seeing promise in key markets like Russia and experienced moderate growth in the EU and the U.S.
“The United States is still very important to us,” said Tollegno 1900 ceo Lincoln Germanetti. “It represents about one-third of our sales after Europe and Asia. So despite headwinds in the U.S., we are still concentrating on that area geographically.”
Market leaders like Veneto-based Bonotto, known for its fashion-forward jacquards and upmarket denim fabrics, said it’s still growing in China, despite the nation’s slowdown. Its sales to China continue to rise 2 to 3 percent each year, said Giovanni Bonotto, owner and creative director of Bonotto SpA. Bonotto continues to grow and now produces about 600 new innovative pieces each season, with over 2000 each year.
In 2014, it launched Bonotto Editions, an art program that has been successful in showing how textiles can be applied to modern life — whether it be through apparel or tapestries. Curated by the brand’s creative director, creative entrepreneur Cristiano Seganfreddo, Bonotto Editions latest venture is called BE + Luxarity with China’s Lane Crawford retail chain for which Bonotto Editions will exclusively design a collection of limited-edition skirts giving life to upcycled materials from Bonotto’s mill.
“For now these are all just headwinds, but I would be very pessimistic if a new disaster developed in the near-term,” said Stuart McCullough, ceo of Australian Wool Innovation.
In terms of product, the Italian textile sector’s cash cow is still the wool’s industry. Its market share is equal to 39.3 percent, while cotton represents 20.6 percent, knits about 18.7 percent and silk 17.7, with linen at 3.7 percent. But exports of linen fabrics outperformed, surging about 20 percent between January and May of this year, as the market turns toward more eco-conscious materials that are completely biodegradable and natural. Wool exports rose about 5 percent, while silky and knitted fabrics experienced a slight drop, falling about four and three percent, respectively.
Loro Piana’s newly acquired Solbiati linen mill unfurled a new collection that “changes the rules of the style game and interprets materials in a new way” for winter. Soft wool and mohair bouclé pieces woven with linen and cotton yarn was just one example of how Loro Piana is infusing its knitwear know-how with Solbiati’s linen heritage.
At the heart of the fair was the trends exhibition curated by Milano Unica’s art director Stefano Fadda. Layered looks and 3-D patterns were paramount. Correlations were drawn between the art of Argentine painter and sculptor Lucio Fontana and Edo-era Japanese painter Katsushika Hokusai, as well as the Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi, who rose to fame during the Twenties and Thirties.
Loro Piana’s Solbiati experimented with knit basket weaving to create rich micro-patterned materials, while Bonotto and silk-maker Mantero unfurled layered silk jacquards that embraced both baroque and Thirties design accents.