NAPLES — Most people interested in fashion probably know that Naples is one of the world’s capitals — if not the capital — of high-end, tailored men’s wear. Some brands, like Isaia and Kiton, are already well established. But there is a plethora of smaller, equally highly skilled, artisanal producers — many hardly known in Naples itself, let alone internationally — that make everything from ties and gloves to shoes, pants, dress shirts and suits. Many work for world-famous retailers; some are even contractors to their better known “cousins.”
“Naples Meets the World,” a four-day event financed by the Italian government’s foreign trade agency, ITA — and organized together with the city’s industrial association and key, local brands — sought to help these companies emerge from the shadows of Mount Vesuvius.
From Oct. 21 to 24, a delegation of about 80 foreign buyers and journalists from some 20 countries met executives from these companies — including some producers of women’s apparel and accessories. Organizers said the idea behind “Naples Meets the World” was to help smaller brands get on an internationalization path, for the Italian market alone — which has been more or less flat for the past several years — is not enough for many of them to survive.
This is serious business: According to figures supplied by ITA, the fashion industry in Italy’s Campania region (of which Naples is the capital and the largest production center) generated some 2.9 billion euros, or $3.86 billion, in revenues in 2014 and accounted for some 37,000 jobs. Fashion exports from the region reached 1.1 billion euros, or $1.46 billion, over the same period. In the first six months of 2015, sales of the Neapolitan fashion industry increased 7.6 percent on the year-earlier.
Dollar amounts have been converted at average exchange rates for the periods to which they refer.
ITA selected some 60 of the best producers to present to buyers in business-to-business meetings. “The selection process was very rigorous. We have buyers coming from 20 countries; so first of all, the companies we present have to be able to work internationally,” ITA president Riccardo Monti told WWD. “We wanted to present a mix of all Naples’ excellences and we had so many requests for participation that we had to refuse some.”
Monti said, considering the positive interest received, there are already plans to repeat the initiative next year.
Amina Rubinacci, Barba, Cesare Attolini, Finamore, Isaia, Kiton, Marinella, Portolano, Russo di Casandrino and Tramontano Napoli — brands that Monti and other organizers referred to as “ambassadors” — supported the event by offering to give factory tours to the visiting delegates.
Welcoming participants during a gala event held at the fabled Teatro di San Carlo on the evening of Oct. 21, Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris said, “In Naples everything is harder, but everything is also more beautiful. This is a city of passion.”
Maurizio Marinella, head of the Marinella high-end tie-maker, said the hosts wanted to “show a beautiful Naples over the next few days, one that works.” Pointing to the city’s plethora of small producers, Marinella added, “Naples has so many artisanal firms but if they are not supported, they will disappear.”
Luciano Cimmino, founder and chairman of Pianoforte Group (which from its Naples base controls brands including underwear-maker Yamamay and accessories-maker Carpisa), said at the opening ceremony that he was “happy and proud” to be involved. “Naples is a bit excluded from the fashion circuit but here we have not only style but also technical ability,” he said.
“We have come to believe in this idea that large is indispensable,” Cimmino added. “But I believe in small. ‘Naples Meets the World’ offers a production platform, we are proposing to be a Naples fashion system.”
Claudio Marenzi, head of Sistema Moda Italia, another event sponsor, said the sartorial tradition in and around Naples “is a strength that has no equal in Italy’s south.”
In a sense, ‘Naples Meets the World’ was a miniature, very high-end Pitti: The 60 local producers – including brands like Roger (shoes), Portolano (gloves and accessories) and Ulturale (ties) – set up stands with their products in Castel dell’Ovo, the medieval castle on the sea that is one of the city’s landmarks.
One firm working on foreign expansion is high-end travel accessories maker Tramontano Napoli, one of the 10 brand “ambassadors.” “It’s a complex project, we are looking for real partners, not just distributors,” said Davide Di Blasio, the firm’s chief executive officer. The company is already present in Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and France and has contacts in South Korea. It is interested in expanding in the U.S. but the American market is harder to crack, Di Blasio said, because the firm’s type of product gets distributed in high-end apparel stores since there are no accessories-only retailers. “Stores buy us but we are not their core business,” he said.
To help move things along, Di Blasio said he is working on a project with Nordstrom, with which Tramontano will “attempt a new approach to part of their channel.” The new project is slated to start in 2016.
Workmanship remains a key opportunity driver for many local brands. Massimo La Porta, sales manager of the dress-shirtmaker by the same name, said, “This type of product is in increasing demand abroad. Artisanal products, paradoxically, are worth more abroad than in Italy. And our customers specifically want the product to be ‘Made in Naples.’ In Japan, for example, [some customers] want to see that on the label.” Aside from working under its own brand, the firm produces private label for Barneys New York and Ralph Lauren Purple Label, among others, La Porta said.
Research and attention to consumer’s needs were also cited by some of the brands as one of the main draws with foreign buyers. Matteo Germano, the third-generation owner of pants-maker Germano, said his company — which is already distributed outside Italy, including in the U.S., Japan and Sweden — is in demand with customers for “our extensive research in fabrics, details, structures and micro-structures.” He said his firm’s focus on fit — with slimmer fits in Europe and more relaxed fits in “Anglo-Saxon” markets — was a draw.
While craftsmanship and quality were the key characteristics pointed to by most exhibitors at “Naples Meets the World,” technology was also on display, as could be seen at Neapolitan dress-shirtmaker Youareu. The firm’s patented-technology, magnetic-button shirts — produced entirely in Naples — are attracting interest from potential buyers in Holland, Germany and Japan, cofounder and business development director Liliya Kolesnikova said. The company was the first fashion firm to raise money on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, she said, adding: “The Japanese — who are especially into technology — are very interested.” The company — which presently sells only online — is “close” to signing a distribution deal for the U.S. market with a multibrand distributor.
While the event wasn’t one geared toward signing contracts and making sales, buyers expressed satisfaction with what they found.
Dai Yamazaki, ladies and intimate apparel buyer for Isetan of Japan, said the event was an excellent occasion to “find many ideas.” Isetan already carries local brands including Finamore and Barba and Yamazaki said that, aside from their high quality, Neapolitan brands are associated with “elegant casual.” Brands’ stories are becoming increasingly important: “When we propose a new brand, we also propose its story,” he said.
While many buyers said “made in Naples” is important, it isn’t the key draw for everyone. Koumei Takahashi, men’s wear buyer for Barneys Japan — which also carries brands including Finamore and Barba, as well as Isaia and Abla — said while “Made in Naples” does add to the story, the real value is in the fact that what one finds here is “handmade products, artisanal. These aren’t factory-produced; this is the real added value.” He said he liked shoes by local producer Roger and Paolo Scafora.
Dwane Stover, men’s wear buyer for Axels in Vail, Col., said he came to the event to “to find lines that no one has yet in the U.S.” He said he was impressed with Caridei gloves and Tramontano accessories, especially the brand’s small, unisex bag. He said he liked Amina Rubinacci because “they’re good with elegant casual for women, which is good for where we are. Women who come [to Vail] on vacation want to look nice but not be too dressy.”
Tony Maddox, buyer from Norton Ditto in Houston, said: “We are principally tailor-driven. The purpose of this trip is to explore.” Asked about Naples, Maddox said: “Naples has its own aesthetic, its own sensibility. I’m drawn to it, but I have to see if it translates to our customers.” He said that he was looking for accessories, like small wallets, luggage, gloves (he, too, singled out Caridei) and belts. Heritage is important, he said, but it has to be explained. “It’s our job as sales people to bring back some of the romance and share that with the customers. Otherwise to them it’s just another article of clothing.”