MILAN — When leather trade show Lineapelle announced in February that a physical edition slated for March 23 and 24 had to be moved online in the wake of surging COVID-19 cases in Italy and a slow-paced vaccination campaign, it was hard to predict how much the virtual fair — set up in less than two months — could manage to replace the usual IRL rendition.
Yet organizers were able to transfer the showcase of Italian tanneries by setting up a platform filled with webinars and digital interview-style presentations of the spring 2022 collections from 174 leading companies. The Meet and Match platform aimed at fostering conversations between industry professionals and offering business opportunities was flanked by the 365 Showroom, a marketplace displaying key products from each company along the same lines of what other trade fairs, including Milano Unica, Pitti Connect and Première Vision, have done.
Against the backdrop of a fragile economy and an uncertain landscape, tanneries presented reassuring spring 2022 collections, focusing on tactile and earth-toned hides that exuded a cocooning vibe. Natural shades like tan, chocolate brown and tangerine stood out at the digital fair, with suede and grainy cow or goat hides appearing in the collections of several exhibitors.
The sector as a whole has been underperforming in recent years, impacted by an economic instability that was already casting a shadow on leather sales before the pandemic hit. The appeal of real leather was also undermined by cost-containment measures implemented by mass market players.
Scuppered by the COVID-19 outbreak, 2020 made no exception.
“At the tail end of 2020 we were hopeful enough about the sector, but the first months of this year have already signaled a complex and lackluster outlook for Italian tanneries,” said Fabrizio Nuti, president of Unic, the association gathering the country’s tanneries. “Business is showing a spotty performance and unreasonable increased costs of raw materials, chemical compounds and transportation are worrying in that they might undermine a potential recovery,” he added.
According to preliminary figures provided by Unic in the January to November period last year, the Italian tannery sector is expected to close 2020 with sales down 26 percent compared to a year earlier, signaling a downturn in global consumption of leather products across sectors, with hides destined for fashion decreasing by 30 percent.
Reiterating the resilience and strength of the sector despite the hurdles, Nuti underscored that it’s hard to make predictions for 2021 as the performances of the main sectors the tannery industry serves, including fashion, design and automotive, are still uncertain.
According to the latest Bain & Co. Luxury Study in collaboration with Fondazione Altagamma, the leather goods category is expected to be among the first product categories to see a rebound in 2021, growing 16 percent compared to 2020 and returning this year to pre-pandemic levels, while ready-to-wear and shoes — on track to increase 14 percent — have yet to gain back lost market shares.
WWD surfed the Lineapelle Meet and Match Digital platform looking for the key leather trends for spring 2022.
TEXTURED VS. SOFT
Thick and textured hides and soft, malleable versions were equally popular at the fair, both exuding a tactile feel. The spring 2022 collection from Tuscany-based Sciarada included the Derma Line, full-grain hides suitable for women’s leather goods, and the Piuma calf option featuring a bigger grain that’s appropriate for men’s items, while the Velvina reversed calf and Satin baby calf were softer options for shoes and handbags.
Over at Conceria Gaiera Giovanni SpA, which was acquired last year by Chanel, Chicca Miramonti, among the company’s owners, explained that the focus for spring 2022 was on exalting the natural qualities of lamb and nappa leather, which was rendered locally in a broad range of colors. The thin Pashmina lambskin looked particularly soft and perfect for rtw pieces and in sync with the season’s mood.
SAME LOOK BUT MAKE IT GREEN
Metal-free hides are becoming a true market standard, as companies continue to invest in sustainability by reducing chemical compounds, especially chrome, employed in the tanning process.
At Conceria Gaiera Giovanni, metal-free options were luxurious, soft and available in similar shades as regular hides, a testament to the company’s efforts in research and development and achievements in color fastness. Miramonti said blending high-tech sustainability with performance without sacrificing the natural look and feel of skins is a challenging process.
Similarly, Sciarada’s chief executive officer Simone Castellani underscored the eight-year research put into the Evolo line of eco-friendly suede. Based on circularity, hides are partly crafted from regenerated suede coming from pre-consumer waste without adding chrome to the production process. Boasting the Bureau Veritas certification, it allowed the company to save 66 percent of previous water consumption, 36 percent of chemicals and halved carbon dioxide emissions, all while requiring 10 production steps instead of the 16 needed for regular suede.
Meanwhile, the Cuoio di Toscana consortium of seven tanneries based in the Tuscany region proved the versatility of their outsole leather tanned with bio-based compounds derived from chestnut and quebracho trees or mimosa flowers for a capsule collection of accessories, including sunglasses, leather goods and shoes, developed in partnership with Milan-based stylist Simone Guidarelli.
LEATHER FROM THE FUTURE
Some companies have experimented with innovative and high-tech solutions to enhance leather performances by employing unexpected materials and compounds.
Conceria Nuvolari, a small, Marche-based company with a start-up mind-set, applied innovative treatments to its signature sheep and goatskins. For example, by using a graphene coating, leather boasts scratch-resistant and breathable qualities while achieving a 99.99 percent antibacterial property, a feature that has surged in demand across the entire fashion textile and material sector.
Along the same performance-driven lines, it introduced the Neptune range, boasting a tenfold water repellency that makes it perfect for outerwear. Additionally, by leveraging its Nature-L proprietary tanning technique, introduced three years ago, Conceria Nuvolari managed to offer a chrome-free and 80 percent biodegradable leather that was assessed for the LCA certification by the Politecnico di Milano University.
Working a range of doubles, Sicerp combined suede and cowhides with other materials in order to enhance their performances. For instance, the tannery based in the outskirts of Milan employed recycled split suede coming from its own production of stretch leather, combining it recycled Lycra, denim and net, the latter aimed at sneakers and other footwear styles.