Last week, the winter edition of the world’s largest shoe fair, Micam, and the largest leather fair, Lineapelle, were held in Milan, Italy. Shoegazing was there, here’s a summary of the impressions from the fairs as a whole and from some selected exhibitors.
I’ve visited the shoe fair Micam a number of times through the years. First time was eight years ago, last time was in 2020 just before Covid hit (you can read a report from that in this article). It’s always been in connection with the Lineapelle leather fair, but I haven’t had the chance to stay around for that. Now they’ve changed so that the two fairs are more intertwined than before, with two overlapping days, which made it easier to attend both.
If we start with Micam, this is a fair that has passed its peak. It doesn’t mean that it’s a small fair, it’s still huge with lots of exhibitors and visitors, but two major things have changed since I first was here. Firstly, on the exhibitor list, the classic men’s shoe brands are very few, especially non-Italian ones, compared to eight years ago. For this segment Pitti Uomo has taken over as the most important fair to frequent, and it’s too expensive to be both there and at Micam two times a year. Some have showrooms in central parts of Milan during the fair week, where their customers come, to come away cheaper and / or to give a different experience.
Secondly, when it comes to visitors, there were loads of Asian buyer’s here back then, they have not returned after the pandemic – yet at least. And even if visitor numbers are up since the September edition, the general talk was that orders were more conservative. The inflation and uncertainties around the world means that most retailers don’t want to risk standing with large stocks.
Among those exhibiting, as always Italian brands are most in numbers, even if large brands in the segment like Santoni, Sutor Mantelassi, Moreschi, Silvano Sassetti are not present. Some that are here though are Branchini, Silvano Lattanzi, Harris and Spernanzoni. The latter who also has the brand Il Gergo is one of those Italian makers that’s been around for many years but, outside of Italy, never really make it big other in some local markets. And as many, they offer a wide range of types of shoes, from rather cheap Blake stitched ones to handmade Norvegese, and all in between. For Spernanzoni, business was rather ok, they don’t have many Asian customers so didn’t miss people from there anyway.
Another Italian maker that’s even lesser known to the large masses is Arbiter, based north of Naples. They also do lots of different things, where their more fashion-focused Blake stitched stuff sell well in South Africa and Brazil, while the more classic Italian stuff are for the domestic market. Arbiter’s specialty is rather advanced patinas, done especially on their more expensive hand welted or Norvegese stitched shoes sold in Italy.
The only British Northampton-based brand that were here this year – compared to maybe ten of them first time I was here – was Barker. Their Head of Sales Adrian Gell mean that they still meet a fair amount of their customers here at Micam, so it makes sense to still come here.
– Especially the first two days were rather busy, so it was good, Adrian Gell says.
They showed some new styles, mainly casual styled boots like a new chukka boot model with storm welt in several leathers, and new make-ups in suede of one of their popular chelsea styles.
– These things are more sought after now after the pandemic. We’re still not where we were in terms of production before Covid and before Brexit, but things continue to go up and hopefully we’ll be back in full swing again soon, says Adrian.
Moving over to Lineapelle, the leather fair. Here things are rather different when it comes to exhibitor line-ups. Everyone still comes here. Among the larger tanneries producing upper leathers, it would go quicker to list the few rare ones that doesn’t come. For sole leather brands it’s a bit different, it’s not as important to be at Lineapelle even if some still show-up. It’s also noticeably more crowdy among the stands here. Lineapelle surely is back strong after the pandemic.
As with Micam, you have all types of leathers being displayed at Lineapelle, but focus in this article will of course be on the ones used for quality footwear. One such tannery that has been big for a long time, but continue to prosper, is Charles F. Stead. They don’t do fine smooth calf, but their finer suede is the go to one for many dress shoe brands, at the same time as they have loads of leathers for more casual footwear and heavy boots.
– The type we see most increased demand of at the moment is our waxy commander leather, which is why we’ve introduced new colours of this, Director Andrew Bailey says.
The Italian tannery Ilcea, famous for its fine chrome tanned calf leather, has got a new life under Gruppo Vecchia Toscana, who bought the bankruptcy estate a few years ago. Talking to the people of Vecchia Toscana, I really felt that Ilcea is in the right hands. Francesco Testai from the sales department got a bright smile on his face when I wanted to talk leather more in detail.
– For a company like us who work with various luxury brands, it’s so great to also have shoe factories making welted shoes and similar, who understands and can appreciate good leather in a different way, he says.
What Vecchia Toscana has done, with their own leathers and Ilcea’s, is to find ways to work both with the large companies that buys very high quantities, as well as middle ones like European welted shoes factories, and also small one man operations.
– We have a stock service where single hides can be ordered, and this is also available through a webshop. It’s obviously not a main moneymaker, but a service that we want to stand for and are able to provide, Francesco Testai says.
Another Italian tannery, which do very different things compared to the above, is Maryam. A tannery that solely does vegetable tanned leathers, most famous for their horse leather and cordovan, but they also tan calf hides, deer and kangaroo. From a good horsehide, they can get a lot of material. A large animal like this often have the hide cut into three parts, the butt, and front section divided into two sides. From the butt they ideally also can use the two shells, the muscle membranes on the inside of each buttocks, and tan these into cordovan leather. Apart from the cordovan which needs to be treated a lot and in many peoples’ eyes do good of a rather heavy finish, Maryam’s other leathers are in general very plain and natural in the finish.
What’s clear when I talk to the people at the above tanneries – and other good ones like Weinheimer, Annonay, Badalassi, Opera, Sciarada, Horween, Opera, Zonta and so on – is that albeit the challenge to have access of good raw material is a battle that everyone fight, demand for excellent leather is high and one are willing to pay for quality.