Micam Buyers Stay Cautious for Fall

MILAN — The mood at the recent Micam show was mixed, with many attendees noting that European retailers and wholesalers had not yet felt the full impact of the recession.

But by all accounts, U.S. buyers attending the show were skittish about fall.

“I didn’t buy from some of the expensive vendors,” said Shaw Dehghan, owner of Shaw Shoes in San Francisco. “I had to limit myself to only a few things, a little here, a little there. We all have to be careful.”

Bruce Wesley, owner of Wesley Shoes in Chicago, was also cautious, placing orders with only two brands: Hispanitas and Thierry Rabotin. “Hispanitas’ styling is right on target right now, and when it comes to luxury shoes, Thierry Rabotin still has the best fit,” Wesley said.

Still, some retailers at the show, held here March 4-7, were looking for the bright spots in the sour economy.

Lisa Gorlicki, buyer for Shoe Inn, which has locations across the New York tri-state area, said she was disciplined, but still placing orders. “You can’t be doom and gloom,” she said. “Business isn’t stellar, but it’s not terrible.”

Gorlicki came to the show to scout product for the retailer’s growing private-label assortment. “We carry all the big Italian brands, but we’re not chasing the designers [when we go] to Italy,” she said. “[Private-label] is a point of difference.”

One positive sign for the buyer — and the Italian resources she works with — is the more favorable U.S. dollar/euro exchange.

“[The factories] are cognizant of what’s going on [in the economy], but their biggest concern was when the euro was at 1.60 [to the dollar] compared with the current 1.25,” she said. “In their minds, things are better.”

While the softening euro is making prices slightly more palatable, some retailers said that cash-strapped consumers are no longer willing to pay top dollar for luxe footwear.

“Anybody who hasn’t changed their business model isn’t going to survive,” said David Assil, owner of several upscale Madison boutiques in Los Angeles. “I’m not expecting the business climate to change in the near future.”

Assil said his wife and a buyer had found several interesting styles at Micam, but that the store was carefully scrutinizing its buys.

The high cost of designer footwear was also top of mind for designers at the show. “Prices have gotten to a point where it’s stupid,” said New York-based designer Heather Williams, who is debuting her first collection, H. Williams, for fall ’09. Even as she acknowledged challenges in the marketplace, Williams — whose line will retail for between $350 and $1,000 — said she is still upbeat. “There is definitely restraint in buying, but I’m happy because the response has still been very good,” she said. “As much as the economy seems sober, it’s important to show inspiring product.”

Among other notable newcomers at the show was New Balance, which debuted a limited-edition women’s contemporary lifestyle line.

“[This line] is very different for us and quite fresh,” said Robert Ward, European category manager for lifestyle. “But the key is retaining the qualities that are unique to New Balance’s athletic DNA.”

Micam drew 36,555 attendees, a 5.7 percent decline from the February 2008 event. Organizers said 17,610 Italians and 18,945 foreigners attended the show, down by 1.5 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively, from a year ago. A total of 1,611 exhibitors participated in the event.

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