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IWTO President, R. Peter Ackroyd takes a look at fabric fairs in Milan and Paris

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The organisers of Milano Unica (9-11 February) were well pleased with their recently published attendance figures as exhibitors and buyers enjoyed the now rather shabby but very buyer friendly town centre location of Portello for the last time. From 8 to 10 September, the event will be held in the vast exhibition ground at Rho-Pero, home to the recent Expo Milano extravaganza and another ten Metropolitana stops north of Milano Unica’s current location.

The many worsted weavers in the Idea Biella sector of MU were clearly satisfied with both the quality and quantity of visitors as US, Korean and Japanese buyers in particular, according to more than one exhibitor, spent ‘quality time’ at the show. The event organisers reported a +13% increase in the number of buyers, a figure that must have included several international visitors steering clear of Paris, for the time being at least.

Italy is currently making the very most of its reputation for the genuine article ‘Made in Italy’, a label trumpeted as a rare transparent beacon of manufacturing excellence in the somewhat murky world of fashion country of origin claims. This unique key competitive advantage was stressed in the maiden speech given by the incoming President of MU, Ercole Botto Poala from Reda, the Biella worsted weaving company and one of the founder members of the Milan event.

A similar theme of home grown excellence was carried over into Milan Fashion Week that opened last week in the presence of Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi in the neoclassical splendour of the Palazzo Reale in central Milan. In an unusual show of unity, Vogue Editors Anna Wintour and Franca Sozzani were joined by an unprecedented number of luminaries whose names grace the store fronts of the nearby luxury thoroughfare, via Montenapoleone.

Renewed emphasis on excellence, provenance and the genuine ‘Made in Italy’ will not be without consequences for the wool industry, as leading brands seek ever increasing supply chain assurances.

It was no surprise to learn that the externally audited visitor numbers to the last edition of Première Vision were down by -5.8%. Over 55,000 professional buyers did, nevertheless, visit the six sectorial events that make up Première Vision, held in Paris from 16 to 18 February. Serious no-shows from Asia were responsible for much of the reduced footfall as Chinese New Year once again clashed with Europe’s key fashion fabric event. The -15% fall in visitors from Korea and Japan was, one assumes, due almost entirely to the ‘fear factor’ following the terror attacks of 13 November 2015.

None of this seemed to deter the British who headed the league table with a little over 12% of the total number of buyers, followed by the Italians at 11.5%. Somewhat surprisingly, American attendance was up at 1,847 visitors, reflecting the current buoyancy of the North American markets, as suppliers reap the benefits a strong US dollar.

The Texworld series of trade fairs, held 15-18 February in Paris, also saw a drop in visitor numbers, down -7%, again largely due to a decrease in visitors from Asia. Nonetheless, countries such as Spain, the Netherlands and Russia helped balance out the losses, indisputably contributing to the strong economic performance of the fair

Much of the chat in the aisles in Paris was around the recent rather bold decision by Christopher Bailey at Burberry to move his flagship fashion shows to become ‘consumer facing’ events showing merchandise readily available to the public. Burberry was immediately followed by Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger. This effectively means that instead of showcasing fall collections at Fashion Weeks exclusively for buyers and press in January and February, as is currently the custom, some catwalk shows will move to September to coincide with on line and retail store availability. The fashion press last week was hailing all this as ‘revolutionary’ and many concurred that the digital age was responsible for such a radical change in approach.

Many years ago, anyone caught clicking a camera at a fashion show was unceremoniously escorted off the premises after the film had been unspooled and exposed as their name was promptly placed on the blacklist. Today, every event is videoed, streamed, tweeted, Instagrammed and beamed to the four corners of the globe before the models have left the podium. Whether many more luxury brands will follow what is now called the ‘Burberry example’ remains to be seen.

To add to the current upheaval, Paul Smith announced recently that, as of next September, he would be merging his men’s and women’s shows into one event. To date there is no indication he will follow the current trend to go ‘consumer facing’. Fashion week organisers around the world are indeed living in interesting times, as is the trade in general. How all this downstream upheaval will affect the rest of the wool pipeline remains to be seen.

Source: IWTO

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