Milano Unica gambles on physical show, with acceptable results
The aisles of the Milano Unica show's pavilions were sparsely populated, but grins could be glimpsed under the exhibitors’ face masks once the Italian trade event ended in the afternoon of September 9. At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is still spreading, causing Milano Unica’s French competitor Première Vision to cancel its September physical session to concentrate on a virtual event, owing to the strict health protection measures introduced in France, Italian textile manufacturers can look proudly back on a gamble well taken. It was indeed not a foregone conclusion the benchmark Milanese textile sourcing event would be staged at all, owing to Italy’s stringent health protection measures.
“It went better than expected. Right from the first day, the aisles were reasonably busy and there were plenty of contacts. Clearly, we can’t make comparisons with past [editions]. This show marked a new beginning,” said Alessandro Barberis Canonico, at the helm of long-established family company Vitale Barberis Canonico and the president of Milano Unica, talking to FashionNetwork.com.
It's worth reminding that this 31st edition of Milano Unica, dedicated to the Fall/Winter 2021 collections, was initially scheduled in July. It was then postponed to September 8-9, lasting only two rather than the usual three days. The event was held as always at the Rho Fiera Milano exhibition centre, on the outskirts of Milan. It hosted 207 exhibitors, as opposed to over 400 in past editions, and 2,400 visitors, 400 of whom came from outside Italy.
FashionNetwork.com spoke to Barberis Canonico at his stand, just before he went to join the wrap-up meeting of the show’s executive committee. He made no secret of the difficulties facing the textile market. “The truth is no one is happy about the current situation. The majority of companies are struggling. The economic situation is very tough, not to say disastrous. Demand is non-existent right now,” he told FashionNetwork.com.
Barberis Canonico clarified his statements further: “We must adopt a long-term perspective. Our goal is to help [textile manufacturers] navigate the next two seasons, steering a course in the direction the market is taking, and relying on a recovery in the second half of 2021,” he said.
In the background, loudspeakers were regularly broadcasting their message, urging visitors to wear face masks and respect social distancing. In the meantime, final conversations were held at exhibitor stands, and some designers dwelt by the long tables where market trends were showcased.
“The market is objectively tough. Since the start of this year, textile manufacturers’ revenues have shrunk by 20% to 50%. Notably, the US market is weak at the moment. Wool was hit harder, while high-tech fabrics, sought after for sportswear, have fared better,” said Stefano Albini, president of the Albini group, specialised in shirt fabrics.
“Up to the eve of Milano Unica, uncertainty predominated,” he added, explaining that “there was half the usual number of exhibitors, but we wanted to send out a signal, we wanted to show Italian textile producers are alive and kicking, and ready to restart. We did well to gamble and stage the show, because in the end we had more visitors than expected. The majority of them were from Italy, and 15% to 20% of them from abroad.”
Albini underlined that “this was the first major trade show held in Europe after the health emergency. There was, among manufacturers and buyers, a strong desire to meet, discuss the situation and feel new fabrics. Meeting in person has been very positive for all concerned.” Albini then emphasised how this was a very special session for Milano Unica: “We are living in a world that is fundamentally different from the past, but this show has marked the beginning of a return to a normal state of affairs.”
The same opinion voiced by fabric specialist Loro Piana, which met chiefly clients from Italy, as well as from the UK and Germany, and some Americans based in Milan. Previously, buyers used to visit in groups of four or five, but this time there were no more than one or two in each team, something which helped to better comply with social distancing requirements.
Another lesson learned at this edition: the demand for comfortable clothes is rising. After months of working from home, the place where people’s lives are increasingly centred, labels and designers are looking for fabrics that are more elastic and can contour the body, to create cosier clothes.
Knitwear and jersey specialist Maria Cristina Cucchetti was happy to see that the results of the show were better than expected, even though “there were no French, British or Chinese [visitors]. It was a gamble, but it went well. Of course, we had less than half the usual number of meetings. It has to be said the show lasted two days only, and even if opening times were extended by one hour, this didn’t make much difference.”
Many exhibitors remarked on the cautious mood felt at the event. “There was an air of uncertainty, inevitably so. Going ahead with Milano Unica took a great deal of courage, and it didn’t go too badly. I had to go back twice to speak to some suppliers, they were so busy,” said Roberto Pelizzoni, creative director of the Lucio Costa label.
“Anticipation was palpable. People are keen to get going again, there is much expectation. But no one is taking a very strong stance,” said the marketing director of a major label, who wished to remain anonymous.
The latter held several virtual meetings in parallel with the show, but reckoned that “we cannot do without the physical show. It remains a crucial development hub for the entire textile industry. Clients can meet many fabric manufacturers at once, generating plenty of interesting discussions. Digital [shows] have limitations, especially in terms of tactile experiences, which are key for fabrics,” he concluded.
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