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From the days of Pergamon in 200 BC through the Pope trying to monopolise the alum industry in the 15th century the leather industry has lived in the world of geopolitics. We have just finished a few years where the EU punished China with high duties for subsidising its footwear industry and with recent tensions Russia will not export wet-blue until at least April 2015.
It is estimated that 5% of the hides processed in Italy are from Russia and that 10% of the Italian footwear production is sold there. Of course our industry has been good at finding indirect routes around such barriers but that leads to the unpleasant events that suddenly turn up like the recent arrests in China of those illegally importing leather via Hong Kong. And of course it encourages the illegal traders like the counterfeiters that ACLE dealt so promptly and effectively earlier this year.
A recent trip to Tbilisi makes the point. Drive just a few kilometres north of the city on the Georgian Military Road and you soon see the large flocks of sheep roaming the South Caucasus as they have done for centuries. Pasture fed animals converting grass to protein and doing no harm to the planet or to anyone. But this road is right on the border of South Ossetia which Russia annexed in 2008 and whose border appears to enlarging every night as Russia uncovers ancient maps to prove the existing boundary to be wrong. This new process of “borderisation” is an issue for the sheep and their shepherds. Are they Russian sheep or are they Georgian?
Trade fair wars
By comparison the geographical battle between France and Italy for leather trade fair ascendancy appears a bit petty. While we can hope that competition leads to better shows why two trade fairs that served different purposes needed to have a spat at the expense of all our diaries is hard to imagine. It seems like both are in danger of sliding into corporate sameness. Certainly Milan is a better venue for a big show with the Halls much more manageable but the curious complexity of Bologna and its wonderful tradition in food, culture and education highlighted all that was excellent about Italian fashion.
We already have another casualty and that is a change in name in Paris. The quirky, individualistic French Show, which has quickly captured our hearts is to change from Cuir à Paris to Première Vision Leather. Cuir à Paris spoke to the past, to the memories of the great tradition of La Semaine du Cuir and yet also defined perfectly an intimate show that put top tanneries in front of French fashion houses and luxury brands in a way not possible elsewhere. It was like having an office in Paris for a week many tanneries said. The new branding blunts that direction of travel, loses that feeling of small yet efficient which has been so well maintained through the fast expansion of recent years. Just at the moment when the French leather industry in all its parts has discovered a new purpose let us hope that this new corporate blandness will not stymy the creative thinking that has allowed Cuir à Paris to grow through great ideas, innovative approaches and leading edge use of social media.
We need Cuir à Paris, whatever it is called, to remain creatively French and Georgian shepherds to keep their Georgian sheep.
Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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