Europe Woes Impact Mood at Micam

MILAN ­— As formidable challenges continue to plague European markets, major footwear players attending The Micam show here last week were mixed on their international prospects.

“European retailers are very cautious. I see some more fear compared with last year,” said Joe Ouaknine, CEO of Titan Industries Inc. “That’s not true with Asian customers. All of the [retailers in those] areas are enjoying some great businesses. Customers that did well with us are coming back.”

Regarding the crisis in the Ukraine, Micam GM Fabio Aromatici said attendance from companies in that region declined at this edition of the show due to visa issues and travel restrictions. But those retailers who did make it to Milan were buying, he said, noting their resilency in the wake of the violence. “We’re more concerned about the fact that the euro is so strong compared with the [Russian] ruble and related currencies,” Aromatici added.

At United Nude, director Andrew Kiernan described buyers at the show as “battle hardened” but cautiously optimistic. “Fall ’13 was a ruin for most with the erratic weather, but buyers are still open to investing,” he said, noting that the Middle East and China, in particular, are fueling growth.

During a time when many brands are being more conservative with design, United Nude continues to differentiate itself with unique, out-of-the-box styles. “We just don’t do the usual,” Kiernan said.

Another vendor who takes pride in doing something different is Julian Hakes, founder and designer of his namesake geometric Mojito style. At Micam, he held appointments with retailers from diverse geographic markets, ranging from Australia and Japan to the U.S.

“Some retailers that you would never think would do well with the shoes sell out of them right away,” he said. “Now that we’ve gotten so much interest, we’re going to start expanding the line.”

PLV Studio Inc. made its debut at Micam this season, and Scott Kaminsky, president of sales, said the timing is right for the brand to expand.

“This is our first outreach to European retailers,” he said. “It was important to get the positioning right with both handbags and footwear [before we did it].”

For their part, U.S. retailers attending the show said they were impressed by the saleable collections on display. “I knew what voids I needed to fill before I came here. My strategy is always to buy tight and right,” said Lisa Bufalini, buyer for Boston-based The Tannery. The firm is boosting its European offerings as overall sales continue to increase.

Bufalini said standout items included a 75-millimeter, pointy-toe boot that’s “commercial, but inspiring.” One thing she’s not buying: over-the-top Western looks. “I want something Western-inspired, but it needs to be a regular boot,” she explained.

And while single-sole shoes ruled the trade show floor, Bufalini said she is not abandoning platforms completely. “It’s been hard for customers to give them up. They got used to the height,” she said. “I can’t stop buying the trend unless the customer moves away from it.”

Richie Kirshenbaum, president of retail at The Camuto Group, said the offerings at the show were stronger than previous editions based on several fresh trends, from moto boots and lug-bottom styles to Western looks.

“It’s interesting because there are so many boots,” Kirshenbaum said. “It’s a little hard to find dress shoes.”

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